I was looking forward to clearing my mind on the long trip to Reche. Tasha however, was not going to allow that. She went on a manic tirade from the time she left the launch tube until the final jump to our destination. It was a sudden overload of information I could have done without.
In a matter of a couple of hours she caught me up on her life as a researcher. It was a dangerous world, much like mine. There were a lot of people that made a living stealing and taking research. Some were out for themselves, while others worked for corporations. Murder and sabotage were tools of the trade.
I always thought of her life as safe. Maybe it would have been if she hadn’t been so brilliant. Creating an implant that could send data to a clone outside of a pod was the biggest discovery since cloning became viable. The amount of money she could make would rival the wealth of CONCORD. Whoever owned her discovery would become the most powerful person in the known universe.
In light of this new information it was no surprise Tasha and Peter had such an elaborate protection system in place. One jump out from Reche she sent him a coded message. That was all the communication they would risk. After that, if he was alive, he would meet us at one of six locations on the station. We were going to have to split up and try to find him as fast as we could. The idea did not sit well with me, but it was the best idea we had.
She sent me three of the locations and a digital photo of Peter. I made the jump to Reche station first, enjoying CONCORDs standard pissed off response about my lawlessness. As soon as the com channel was silent, I could feel the storm of emotions beating at the back of my brain. For now the pod feed drowned it out. But soon it wouldn’t be there as my shield.
I docked at the station and let the massive machines pull me to my spot. I ran my checklists through power down and almost suffocated in the onslaught of emotion once I disconnected from the pod. I closed my eyes and did my best to visualize shoving the torrent of feelings into little compartments in my mind.
It was something I learned to do as a part of my training a lifetime ago. In battle, if you lose control of your thoughts and emotions things go bad. I managed to shove the majority of the shit storm going on in my head into little mental rooms and slammed the doors shut. I could feel the doors straining under the stress.
Out of habit I ran the power up checklists to the point where I would connect my mind with the pod, and then I jumped out. All I had to do was find Peter and get him and Tasha off the station. Then I was getting the hell away from Tasha. I could go off somewhere and lick my wounds. Maybe I could salvage anything that was left of my life. At least that was the promise I made to myself to get my feet moving towards the arms vendor near the lifts.
I purchased a DF-34 blaster at a ridiculous price. Once that business was taken care of I headed to the lifts. While I waited, I scanned the hanger for any signs that we might have problems. The bay was filled with the clangs and clatter I expected from a fairly busy station. The fact that no one was trying to kill me or kidnap me yet made me feel pretty good about the situation.
Once the lift arrived, I checked my communicator for the first location on the list. Ten people joined me inside before the door closed. Only one of them grabbed my attention. He was an Amarr pilot wearing a flight suit. He was completely plain. His average height, weight, and face would help him blend in anywhere. Unless you had any situational awareness what so ever. Most people don’t.
The lift was scheduled to make a stop a floor below my destination. I stepped off with the crowed and the man followed. I feigned hesitation, looked up at the floor number, and then I rushed back on the lift before the door closed. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I had a pretty good idea that I wasn’t.
At the next floor I was off and headed to the first location. By now Tasha would be docked and I was hoping to find Peter before she had too much time to get into trouble. We didn’t have time for any trouble.
The location turned out to be a bar in the middle of a bustling bazaar. The outside was a little shady, but the inside was relatively clean and busy. All kinds of station inhabitants were kicking back after work and having a few drinks. I relaxed a little until I saw the first Amarr man that looked too plain in a booth by himself. He had a buddy at the bar.
I ignored the Amarr twins and headed to the far side of the bar. While I waited for my drink, I alternated between messing with my communicator and scanning the room for Peter. Half way through the second look I saw him sitting at a booth by himself. Even if Tasha hadn’t sent me a picture I would have known it was him instantly. He was the pasty white cliché of a scientist sitting there nervously drinking his beer while he subconsciously pushed up his glasses.
I sent Tasha our location and waited for her to respond. I didn’t want to go to him too quickly in case the Amarr men decided to try and stop me. As soon as I went to the booth they would know I was connected with him somehow, if they didn’t already.
I waited until I got the message she was only a few levels away, then I casually strolled over to the booth.
“This seat taken?” I asked with a wink.
“Um, no. But I was just leaving,” he said, as he started a panicked slide out of the booth.
I set down next to him to stop his escape. He retreated to the wall, fear radiating from his eyes. I put my drink down on the table to free up my hand in case the little man got crazy.
“Relax, I’m here to help you get off the station,” I said, in the most reassuring voice I could muster.
“I don’t want help,” voice now raising to a panicked level.
I put my hand on his arm trying to get him to calm down. He recoiled and smashed himself further against the wall.
“Listen, keep it down. I’m here with Tasha. She is on her way. We want to get you safely off the station.”
He seemed to calm, at least he wasn’t crawling up the wall anymore. He started to fish around in his pockets. I tensed, readying myself to move, then immediately realized how silly that was. He clumsily looked down as though his vision would somehow help him find what he was digging for.
Once he found it, he looked up at me with a renewed hope. He grabbed my hand and slid something into my palm.
“Please, let me out of this booth. I don’t want help. I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to help anyone anymore. You can have all my data. Give it to Tasha, but please let me go.”
His smile was genuine, and I could tell how innocent he was. It bothered me that this poor man had been pulled into such a mess. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling pity anymore. Maybe I was still human.
I opened my hand to find that he had slipped me a micro data chip. I slipped it into my communicator in case the fool had actually given me his research in a bar surrounded by Amarr agents. The communicator flashed with the receipt and download message for 20 petabytes. If it wasn’t his data it was a shit ton of something. I set the communicator for a remote upload to my computer back home in case I didn’t make it off the station.
When I looked up, Tasha was standing at the table. Peter slid back against the wall and any hope that had been in his eyes disappeared. If it was possible I think he turned a brighter shade of white.
“Peter, I’m so glad we got to you before anything bad happened,” she said, as she slid into the booth.
“Yes, I guess that is for the best,” he gulped.
“We need to get out of here as fast as we can. There are two Amarr agents in the bar, and I saw one on the way up,” I said to get us moving.
“Okay, let’s head to the closest lift,” Tasha said, sliding back out of the booth and heading toward the door.
I stood and stepped aside, allowing a hesitating Peter to go in front of me. I didn’t like Tasha taking the lead, but maybe it was better if I was watching our backs. I risked a quick look back as the bar door swung shut to see the two Amarr men on the move. We didn’t have a lot of time.
Tasha was already waiting at the lift when we got there. The next car wasn’t due for two minutes and the Amarr men were about 30 seconds away. This plan was not going to work out for us. I grabbed Peter with one hand and Tasha with another and launched us down the hallway toward the nearest stairwell. If the floor was set up like most stations the emergency stairs would be around the next corner.
“Laka, we need to take the lift or we will never make it to the hanger,” she complained as I yanked her around the next junction. She seemed to recognize my plan and protested with a shake of her head as she sprinted toward the door. I pulled Peter at a run behind her.
As she started messing with the control panel I turned to see what kind of trouble followed. Rounding the corner, taking their time, were three Amarr men with shit eating grins on their faces. The one on the right pulled his stupid plain jacket back to reveal a not so plain handgun. I responded with an arrogant stare and a gesture that would make a Minmatar slave blush.
Peter slid next to Tasha and started working on the door. I hoped between the two of them they could get it opened. The men stopped and waited. Time was on their side, and there were probably more of them on the way. Maybe they weren’t sure which of us they were after. I could have shot them, but the last thing we needed was station alarms going off. Not to mention the one or two guards who gave a fuck showing up to add to our problems.
There was a beep behind me and a happy yelp as Tasha threw open the door and she and Peter ran inside. The three men came sprinting toward me with determination on their faces. I made it inside and shut the door right before the first man slammed into it knocking me backwards onto the grating. He lost his balance and fell through the door onto the floor. The other two men bounded in, the second falling with a sickening thud on top of the first, and the third clearing the pileup onto the landing in front of me.
I got to my feet as he reached for Peter and launched myself into him at knee level. He fell into the railing and I followed, world turning end over end as we tumbled down the first set of stairs. I tucked my head in and hoped all the way down I survived this long enough to punch him in the face. I fell what seemed like forever, and then slammed into the corner of the wall where the steps made their turn down toward the next landing.
Once the world stopped spinning I looked up to see the agent, already standing near the railing, hands holding his head. Neither of us was moving fast. I took in a deep breath and forced myself into motion, crossing the distance between us and managing to push him with all my weight before he knew what was coming. He tumbled over the railing and screamed right up until a sudden silence accompanied by a thud. Either his security status was questionable, or he didn’t die close enough to me for the station computers to set off the alarms.
I looked up just in time to see Tasha bend over and grab the last conscious agents head and slam it into her knee. There was a loud crunch, and he dropped like a brick. I would have been impressed if not for the stairwell door opening about two floors up followed by the shouts men moving down toward our location.
Tasha and Peter didn’t need any more motivation to move quickly. Tasha sprinted by me and Peter grabbed my hand as he passed. I looked back long enough to see a stream of agents pouring down the stairwell. I yanked my hand lose from Peter’s and picked up the pace. The injuries from my fall burned into my muscles with each step.
We were pulling ahead of the agents when the first shot burned through the banister behind me. It was followed by two more, and I realized that the shots were coming from below. Return fire rained down from above accompanied by the muted sound of station alarms.
Tasha and Peter stopped a few steps below me and pushed themselves against the wall. I slipped against the next corner and risked a look below. What I saw struck an unnatural fear in my heart.
“What’s going on,” Tasha yelled over the gunfire.
“Blood Raiders,” I groaned.
We were trapped between what looked like a platoon of Amarr agents and at least 20 Blood Raiders.
Just fucking great.