Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Part of a multi-part series.
She felt the polymer barrel against her temple, pressing into her skin as she squinted, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. She paused for moment, finger on the trigger.
"Now isn't the time to end it, Ami. You still have options." She said out loud, exhaling as she lowered the weapon. She had often though about taking her own life, especially during the last few cycles living on the run in the Outer Sectors, always looking over her shoulder for Imperial agents stalking her from the shadows. But now wasn't the time for cowardice, the Imperials have likely landed a second boarding craft - given the noise, and lack of heavily armed Imperial Marines breathing down her neck from the ventilation shaft.
Dragging herself to her feet, she cricked her neck and holstered her sidearm. Taking a moment to collect herself, she set her sights back on the category C bulkhead; this time she pushed emotions out of her head to think more clearly.
Cat C, a medium-density blast resistant door. This was a connection point between the main mast under the stern of the Cerrivin-class platform, and one of the smaller 'piers' branching out to various docking facilities. Of course, you wouldn't normally access the pier from the maintenance shaft that runs down the external support mast, but from within the environmentally regulated access way from the main platform compartment. Problem is, the Imperial Navy was likely scanning the main sections for biological activity; the densely packed electrical equipment and pipework from the maintenance section was certainly shielding her signature to the nearby imperial warship that launched the marine boarding pods.
Manual override. Yes, that could work. Civilian shipping platforms like this always had a manual override, if only she could...
Before she had time to formulate a plan, the bulkhead hissed loudly as the atmospheric pressure normalised, the massive door eventually retracted with a metallic clank as the locking mechanism rotated enormous clamps into an open position; revealing a dimly lit passage way within.
"Okay." She said, surprised. "Not what I had in mind, but that works, too." There was no time to question her mysterious guardian angel - someone disengaged the lock. Climbing into the compartment, she took a few steps, levelling her sidearm to check for threats. Satisfied there were none, she holstered her weapon and began trying to make sense of the network of corridors in the pier's docking wing. A few moments later, the Cat C bulkhead of which had mysteriously opened, began to close again; internal rotating warning lights flashed as the massive, twenty-ton blast door rotated back into position, sealing with a loud hiss as the hermetic seals engaged.
Amiori raised an eyebrow for a moment as she glanced back to the bulkhead with her hand atop her holstered sidearm. Someone was controlling the platform bulkhead remotely. Perhaps Kasake had escaped and was helping her? Or maybe it was a trap? Regardless of the questions she had, there was no time to sit and think about what had happened. Time to move again.
"Confirmed, Invader. Routing Lancer to assist: your squad is to return to the staging point and await Concealer team immediately, prepare for extraction." The reply came through from his superiors as the Marine captain took one last look around the living compartment the terrorist had been living in.
"Move out. Take the prisoner to the Staging point for extraction, Concealer team will meet us there. Let's go!" he ordered, shouldering his weapon as the three other marines followed suit; two of whom forcefully dragged Kasake along with them.
In the vacuum of space beyond the pressure hull of the maintenance compartment leading from Amiori's room, a powerful searchlight scanned the external hull panels of the station; the beam focusing on a small emergency access port a few metres above. Moments later, jets of drive plasma exhausted into space as an Imperial gunship maneuvered within a hundred metres of the hull.
"Sec-Com, Lancer here. We are in position. Awaiting orders". The pilot spoke into the intercom, clutching the control column tightly as he flicked a couple of switches on the overhead dashboard; putting the Spider-class gunship into a static 'hover'.
"Confirmed, Lancer. The second infiltration team is already en route. Hold fire. Priority is to take the target alive." The reply came over the intercom from Sec-Com on the Imperial Navy corvette operating in the area.
"Copy, Sec-Com. Holding fire". The pilot responded, the gunship's multi-barrel FIMD autocannon chin turret rotated into position but remained silent for now.
Someone was definitely watching out for her. Whether they were friendly or not, was not the top of the list of concerns currently; they had helped her so far, why save her from the Imperials just to kill her later? Amirori arrived at a junction in the maintenance access way, four corridors linked together with some sort of pipe interchange, and a single access manhole with a ladder leading down to the deck below. She might have missed the access hole if it wasn't for the emergency lights illuminating it in the near darkness.
Approaching the top of the access way, Amirori took a moment to look down below, the ladder tunnel was about ten metres deep; making it impossible to see what was on the deck below. Ensuring her sidearm was strapped on properly, she gripped the railing on the top of the ladder and placed her foot on the metal step below, gently pressing it to test if the pre-fall metal construction was at least stable. Tentatively, she began the descent amidst the creaking of metal on metal, travelling between pressure decks. What awaited her below?
Pausing a few steps above the opening, Amirori took a moment to think. A deep breath was all she needed before making the couple metre jump to the deck below. She impacted with force, immediately gripping her sidearm as she did so. What did she even expect to find down here? A rescue party? Imperial soldiers?
Nothing. Just more metal corridors and pipes. Lots of pipes, this must be close to the bottom of the mast. This deck was fairly well lit, the regular warm glow of the overhead lights was somewhat comforting, but did little to offset the feeling of anxiety that someone... or some thing was watching her...
A subtle noise echoed from further ahead; a large bulkhead separated the deck she was on from a sort of loading bay, but this bulkhead was partially open; stuck about a metre from the deck. Convenient. Amiori looked around her, the other choices were more darkness and metal access ways leading to who-knows-where, or the apparently obviously lit hallway, through the mysteriously half-opened bulkhead and into the bay beyond. The choice was made as the ex-navy captain shouldered her weapon and cautiously approached the bulkhead. She kneeled down on one leg and peered under the bulkhead.
The room ahead was indeed a loading bay - a large sign above read 'HANGAR D12A'. It soon became clear that whoever opened these bulkheads was trying to help her escape. Or at least, she felt some comfort in believing that - it was better than thinking about the moments before being executed for treason before an Imperial Naval Tribunal.
She heard the same noise again, this time the direction it came from had moved to further into the loading bay. Amirori clutched her weapon as she tentatively entered the bay, staying close to the wall on one side. There was definitely something here.
The sound of heavily armoured Imperial Marines marching on the metal deck had awoken many of the residents of the station, most of whom had come to the doors of their compartments to see what the commotion was about. A squad of half a dozen Imperial Rapid Response Marines, known as "Crimson Thunder" in the Imperial Navy, barged their way through the residential area on Deck 12; one deck below where the terrorist was apprehended.
Imperial Marines can only mean trouble, it was best to shut the door and hope it wasn't you they were looking for. As the soldiers forcefully pushed there way through a small crowd, immediately dispersing the civilians, the captain of the squad slung his UMX5 carbine over his shoulder and gestured to the other marines to move into position on either side of a large, prison-like housing block - alarmed residents leaning over the railings above, looking down at the soldiers below.
"Civilians, return to your compartments!" The marine captain exclaimed. "Failure to comply with ATIS directives will result in lethal force being directed against you."
The inhabitants of the Crimson North slum stations cared little for Imperial 'order' or 'directives', but they complied nonetheless, as it wasn't something worth dying over. The marine captain gestured to his men to follow as they made their way through the residential block to a junction in the deck - a tram line linked most of the central deck structures up and down the 'spine' of the pre-fall space station, each deck had a junction with a platform to board the tram system. Platforms like this were often several kilometres from end to end, so the magneto tram was not just a convenience, but a necessity for travel between sections. Moving into the tram station, the marines branched out, gesturing forcefully to civilians to move out of the way - it was likely they would be shot if they did not comply promptly. Beyond the tram station was another hallway with a large, rectangular bulkhead, upon which the signage read "HANGAR D12A".
Amiori made her way up a catwalk to the control room of the hangar; there was a single light freight shuttle sat silently in the centre of the loading bay, but the blast doors were sealed shut, preventing it from being loaded into the exit tunnel leading to the external pressure hull doors, and into the vacuum of space beyond that. If she wanted to escape, she'd need to open those blast doors and manually load the shuttle into the exit tunnel. Piece of cake, right? Well, it would have been for a cargo operator in 3500 AD, but it was what it was.
The control room was well lit, perhaps too well lit for an abandoned derelict section of the station, but that wasn't enough to deter her from inspecting the control consoles in the centre of the room - various switches and buttons presenting a myriad of interfaces for interacting with the loading equipment in the hangar below. For a moment, Amirori let her guard down as she punched an access override to the main command console. It was at that moment that she heard the noise again - this time it came from right behind her, in the control room. With lightning reflexes, she drew her sidearm and pointed it directly at the source of the sound.
Towards the rear of the control room was a small access corridor with another bulkhead, likely leading to another section of the loading bay. The bulkhead was sealed, but judging by the vapour leakage on the rims of the bulkhead port; it was only just sealed. Maybe a few minutes ago. Someone, or something was toying with her. Time to think about escaping and a life on the run from the Imperials, or try to find out who had been stalking her through the abandoned loading bay?
"Who are you?" She shouted, trying to remain calm but anxiety clearly in her voice as she kept the firearm pointed at the bulkhead port at the rear of the control room.
Amirori wasn't expecting a polite reply, but before she could wait for one, the blast doors around the freight shuttle roared into life; retracting into positions neatly around the launch pad. The noise startled her, and she damn well nearly pulled the trigger this time.
"What?" She exclaimed, glancing at the central control console - the HUD reading displaying 'LAUNCH SEQUENCE ENGAGED'. Time to get out of here.
The marines stacked up on the bulkhead and gestured to the captain they were in position. Within moments, the reinforced door began to retract into the overhead port; the marines swung their weapons around, scanning the bay for hostiles.
"Move in." The captain ordered, gesturing with his hand at the loading bay. "Watch your fire. We are to take the terrorist alive".
The Imperial Navy corvette operating near the slum station had been tracking Amiori's progress through the abandoned deck for some time, relaying this information to the gunships operating close to the station and the marine teams within. However, it was as much a surprise to them as it was to Amirori that the bulkheads had opened, allowing her escape. Considering the priority of the target, it was likely the terrorist had help from within the station.
The marines swept the opening of the loading bay, using their targeting optics to make out any moving - or living - objects that may be present. It wasn't long before they realised the hangar adjacent to them was in launch preparations. The captain simply nodded in acknowledgement as a marine officer in front of him pointed to the adjacent bay - the squad converged on the bulkhead separating the two hangars, their weapons trained on the opening. Sec-Com on Imperial Navy Corvette had already accessed the station's control system, but something was blocking them from issuing commands to certain parts of the network.
"Sec-com, this is Invader Two. We've hit an obstruction to the target. Long story short: Can you get this bulkhead open?" The marine captain spoke through his helmet's communicator.
"Copy, Invader Two, We're working on it." Sec-Com replied as the corvette's sensors tracked the exact location of the marines.
It wouldn't be long before the highly advanced electronic warfare capabilities of the corvette would be realised, forcing the previously locked bulkhead to engage into an open state. As it did so, the marines conducted a tactical entry and sweep; the freight shuttle had already been lifted into place by the loading bay crane - it was now ready to engage the launch sequence proper and enter the exit tunnel to the vacuum of space.
"Sec-Com, Invader Two. Target is attempting to flea the station on a small civilian craft. We've secured the main loading bay but we did not find the target. Advise a space-borne intercept of the fleeing craft."
The sight of the Imperial Marines came as no surprise to Amirori, who had seen them approaching from the station security cameras from the main control console - apparently someone had the knowledge to hack the security system externally - all while mitigating any trace leakage to the imperial electronics officers who almost certainly were doing the same thing. Whoever was helping her meant business.
She needed to get to that shuttle, the boarding pad was raised to the exit tunnel; the blast shield for the shuttle's engines was in place and it was only a matter of time before the autonomous launch would take place. Time to move, again.
Amiori moved quickly but quietly to the boarding pad, the radiation shielding of the control room was preventing her from lighting up on the Marines' tactical scopes for now, but the moment she stepped on that pad; they would know exactly where she was.
She clutched her sidearm and took another deep breath. This last part would be tricky, Imperial marines shoot to kill and rarely miss, so unless they wanted her alive, it could all be over in seconds. Time to make her move.
"Contact, tango!" one of the marines exclaimed over the suit's squad communication system, pointing directly ahead to an overhead catwalk leading from the control room to a deployed boarding pod next to the shuttle.
"Hold your fire." The captain ordered. "They won't get far. Sec-Com, Invader two. Target is boarding the craft.".
A few dozen kilometres from the station, a ghostly silhouette emerged from the debris fields, light refracting over its surface, distorting like the surface of water; an Imperial Navy Infiltrator-class Stealth Corvette lowered its full spectrum cloaking system and engaged fast cruise at full burn towards the station.
"Understood, Invader Two. Situation contained, return to the staging point for extraction."
The corvette's forward thrusters flared up as it rapidly deaccelerated, approaching the station from below. The exit tunnel for Hangar D13A directly ahead. The ship's captain stood from his command chair as the corvette approached within a kilometre of the station; the vast expanse of the kilometre-long platform spread beyond the bridge's observation window.
"Prepare gravimetric tethers" the captain ordered.
As Amiori settled into the pilots chair of the shuttle, she couldn't help but wonder why the marines didn't open fire. Perhaps they didn't see her? Unlikely, she was all too familiar with the highly advanced targeting optics employed by the latest generation exosuits deployed by the Imperial Marines. They knew she was there, and they let her escape. Escape, she thought. The most wanted 'terrorist' out of Aquarius, and they would just let her escape? No, they had a plan B. Experience serving in the Imperial Navy told her that marine boarding teams operate from Navy ships, often small, fast ones such as corvettes when operating in a stealth insertion role. It hit her rapidly that it was likely she was flying directly into an Imperial Navy trap.
But then, who helped her 'escape'? Where they working for the Imperials all along? Maybe this entire thing was a well orchestrated trap; and she had fell for it like the naïve little girl she was. Or maybe her mysterious guardian angel had other plans.
As the shuttle entered the exit tunnel on its magneto rails; the internal pressure door sealed behind it. If there was a time to hope this likely five hundred cycle year old ship had a working atmospheric seal, it was now. Depressurisation of the exit tunnel was rapid, you could always tell when the vacuum hits because the external windows of the cockpit ice up as moisture condensed from the pressurised hangar freezes, eventually breaking off into crystals. Amiori took yet another deep breath, this time she felt somewhat stale, yet definitely breathable air fill her lungs. That was a good sign, at least.
Strapping herself into the chair, she braced for the launch. Moments later, the external pressure doors opened; the brilliant red-tinted light of the Crimson Barrier Nebula flooding into the darkness of the exit tunnel as running lights flicked on along the rails leading out into space. The inertia of the launch was reasonably mild, civilian ships often placed more emphasis on comfort than utility, something Amirori was glad of as she exhaled a breath of air; the vapour from her lungs clouding up the cockpit as the atmospheric temperature of the shuttle dropped, leaving behind the warmth of the loading bay and into the cold abyss of space.
"Visual Contact established". The sensory officer exclaimed as tones chimed on the corvette's tactical heads up display; highlighting a small civilian freighter as it hard-burned into space from the exit tunnel of Hangar D13A.
The captain nodded at the first officer who punched a command into the console in front of her; the corvette's bow munitions bay doors retracted, revealing the harpoon-like gravimetric tether.
Moving fast on an intercept course, the hundred metre long corvette would catch up to the freighter in moments.
Proximity alerts sounded from the shuttle's dashboard, as Amirori wiped the grime from the ship's rather ancient sensor read out. A single, large contact was approaching rapidly from the rear. The speed and mass indicated a corvette, almost certainly the Imperial Navy wanting to have a 'word' with her about this escape attempt.
"So, what now?" she asked out loud, almost as if talking to the mysterious assistant from the station several kilometres behind her. But it wasn't like she could go anywhere long-term; the shuttle lacked any form of JDA for FTL travel, and likely only had enough power and air to last a few local days, at best.
Reality would soon dawn upon the ex-imperial captain. A cold, harsh reality of being a traitor to the Empire the Aquarians were making. Traitors do not live for long in Imperial Prisons, if they live long enough to make it that far at all. So, if there was a time and a place for that last moment, it would be now. Her hand made its way to her thigh holster as she clutched the grip of her sidearm, holding the control column of the shuttle with the other, and gazing distantly at the natural beauty of the Crimson Barrier Nebula stretched out for parsecs beyond her. The proximity alarms increased in frequency as she drew the weapon and closed her eyes.
Then she heard it. The intercom, it buzzed and crackled into life, the distorted sounds of what she thought was a voice emanating from the dashboard.
"We've got her" it said. The voice sounded familiar, yet not so, like a relic from the past. An almighty flash erupted from beyond the cockpit, likely only a few kilometres from the shuttle's flight trajectory. It couldn't have been the imperial corvette, it was far, far too big. Mass signature alarms went off the charts as Amiori slowly opened her eyes to gaze up at the sight laid out before her. Was this a dream? Was she dreaming?
It couldn't be.
Within moments, the flashes of precision weapons fire erupted from one of the emerging ships, pulsing violently past the shuttle; shaking its spaceframe. An almighty eruption of light and energy formed behind her - the Imperial Corvette was reduced to a rapidly expanding cloud of super-heated debris and twisted metal as a very subtle smile formed on Amirori's face.
"You bastards." She said softly, shaking her head. "You fucking bastards".
The lead ship's name and insignia was clearly visible. Neo Pathfinder, flying the colours of the Eridonia Free People's Fleet. Her father's ship.
"Neo Pathfinder to Little Stray Shuttle, care to land before the Imperial Navy shows up in force?" CoRE's electronic, yet comforting voice forcing the subtlety of the smile into a full-blown grin on Amiori's face.
"Much Obliged, old friend. Is my father home?" She asked, replying over the intercom.
"I'm here, Amiori." Ronin's voice came as a surprise to the girl, she didn't know what to feel. It had been so long. So much had changed. They had fought on opposite sides, both for reasons close to them. But it would be soon revealed that old Kasake was right all along, for Ronin could not be happier to see his beloved daughter, alive and well. History is history, and there was much to be done.
A future to make happen.