Cael left his suitcase with Alberich and weaved his way back between the looming towers of metal crates. He hovered in the personnel entrance for a moment. Still safe from view, he adjusted his narrow, tan jacket and buttoned it down to where it hung mid-thigh. It wouldn’t do much, but it was better than nothing. He took a deep breath and dove into the night air, flipping up his collar as he ran to protect his face from the icy wind.
He kept close to the row of warehouses, skirting around the edge of the expansive lot. The many ships sprawled about, being loaded or unloaded by teams of men in puffy coats and pants, were a hodgepodge of independent suppliers. Not one vessel matched another in class, size or origin. Some were bulbous shells waiting to be filled, others were smaller and more aerodynamic, a few were pretty beaten up; more still were simple discs or much smaller egg shapes that were intended to drag their wares behind them.
Was this truly all they had coming in? With no provisions coming in from the Company? Rayner may have understated how dire the situation really was here.
Cael had to stop behind a caravan of parked utility trucks, freshly unloaded from the back of a refurbished military craft; its every angle utilitarian yet menacing, and the insignias all haphazardly blacked out. He crouched within the center tire of one of the trucks to catch his breath. His lungs were working hard in the thin atmosphere. Three years of sitting around also hadn’t done his body any favors. Out of habit, he pulled the flask from his back pocket, but could feel that it was empty. He silently cursed himself, but his head was already swimming a little. It would have been a bad idea to drink right now, anyway. He took deep breath and pulled himself out of the tire.
Alberich sat against the wall of his wedge shaped hiding place and hugged the kampdator to his belly. He flipped the screen to another camera angle as he followed Cael’s progress to Lukas’ ship in the distant corner of the concrete platform. Every few seconds, his eyes involuntarily darted to the triangular opening only twenty feet away. Leaving the ship seemed like a good idea at the time. He hadn’t liked the idea of being trapped in there, waiting for Lukas to show up; but here, even in the hiding space he felt so exposed.
Cael crouched behind a stack of the great, coin shaped containers, the first one reaching just over his head. The dome craft loomed on its side before him as he snuck around the side of load to peak at Lukas’ black wing. Just as his eyes grasped the silhouette in the shadow, a metallic boom rocked the containers he was leaning against. He dove to the ground and looked up to see the three fingered claw of a crane gripping the very top container.
“Oy! You can’ be goofin’ around down there!” Cael looked further up to see a man riding in the crane’s cabin which was safely held aloft on sprawling stilts.
He waved up at him. “Sorry!”
There was no other obstacle between him and Lukas’ ship. So… no choice but to just walk up, he supposed. Plan A, in action.
He was still a bit winded from the run, but Cael stuck his hands in his pockets and walked up as casually as he could. He was approaching the wing from behind, and as he got closer, he could see the entrance hatch was down. Cael stopped a comfortable 50 feet away and waited. He shivered as a gust of wind swept over him. Now to wait; the bait must wait, so… he waited.
He looked down at the laveli pad on his forearm. No sign of Lukas. Wait and wait; wait, wait, wait. No longer warmed by the exercise, Cael hugged himself and shivered as he looked around. The stack of containers lost another few layers to the crane. He peered into the darkness under the dome craft. As he recalled, Lukas had some kind of stealth getup that let him melt into the shadows.
Seriously? Cael was freezing out here! Where the hell was this guy?
He pushed up his sleeve and typed at the laveli pad.
He’s not coming.
Alberich replied. He has to. It was part of the deal.
Cael hopped around a little. He looked to the open hatch. How nice it would be to at least get out of the wind. He looked back to the now squat tower of disc containers. He scanned the shadows again. Was Lukas really not going to show up? Was it a trap? Was Ilya even in there?
Another cold gust of wind blew through him.
Screw it. I’ve been waiting for almost an hour.
Alberich replied. He’s here somewhere. Be patient.
So what are you going to do?
I’m going in.
That’s not in any of the plans!
Cael pushed his sleeve back down and started walking. His heart raced as he reached the ramp up to the hatch and his head began to swim again in the thin air. He needed to get himself together! Ilya was counting on him. He took a slow, deep breath and stepped onto the dark, rubbery surface of the ramp.
No alarms. He took another step and paused. Nothing.
Cael looked up to the black hatchway, then turned back to the platform behind him. The tower of containers had been completely cleared now, but from his position, the dome craft, back lit in the orange safety lights, blocked his view of most of the grounds. He could see no one coming, no movement or sounds that would indicate alarm so he turned back and slowly crept the rest of the way in.
Except for the orange glow cutting in from the entrance, it was pitch black inside. Surely Lukas was waiting for him in darkness. Cael held his arms out from his body, readying himself for an attack as he took another step.
Suddenly, the hall flooded with UV light, and an alarm seemed to flood his ears; a high tone that throbbed, like the vibration of a bell after being struck. Not a particularly distressing noise, but piercing, impossible to ignore.
He looked down to his chest to see if his Legion infected skin had accidentally been exposed, but he was safely concealed under the jacket. Cael remembered the flashing on Lukas’ wrist that sent him running when he was only in the air lock. He was beginning to get an idea of the technological superiority of Lukas’ and Alberich’s people.
Well, no time to lose. Cael looked left and right down the arched hall. He ran to his right and reached a dead end without seeing a single hatch or doorway. He ran back, passed the original entrance and hit another eventual dead end. Completely at a loss, he turned around and ran back to the entrance. And there, across from the entrance hatch there was a definite gap in the wall.
That was new. Wasn’t it?
The new wall set into this recess leaned over him and reached the ceiling in a smooth curve. In the center was an air lock door with a bar handle. Cael wrenched the handle up and the door swung down to reveal the flight cabin, also lit up with the UV light. All kinds of warning graphics were going wild on the windshield that arched over him, hiding the starry sky beyond it. The floor was at an even steeper angle than the ramp, but he was able to climb up to the empty pilot’s chair.
Cael felt like a child sitting back in it. He leaned forward and tried to find something that looked like a control panel. There had to be other rooms on this ship. There had to be a way to access them, but everything in front of him looked blank. He reached a hand up to the windshield and the warnings blinked out. The UV lights and alarm also died. Cael froze.
A small, bright square popped up. It was a room, gray, bare. He could see Ilya sitting on a large bench, hugging her knees, staring blankly in front of her. Was this on the ship?
The room blinked out and he was staring up at the stars again. It took him a moment to realize one of his arm was burning up. He rolled up his sleeve and slapped at the laveli skin until it self-illuminated. Alberich had keyed two words.
Cael looked back up to the stars and slapped at the windshield. Nothing happened.
“Where are you?!”
He fell back pressing his palms into his eyes. What should he do?
“Cael?” It was faint and muffled, but it was Ilya.
Cael pushed up from the chair.
There was a long silence and then:
He jumped out of the chair and slid back to the dark hallway.
“Ilya! Tell me where you are!”
He turned left and ran blindly into the inky blackness. He slapped at the laveli skin again to brighten its glow.
“Ilya! Ilya, where are you?! Say something!”
He hit the end and tried not to panic as he listened for her. Nothing. He headed back and followed the hallway to the other end.
“Ilya! Say something! Please! Tell me where you are!”
She was there, behind the wall. He ran his hands vainly over the surface, trying to find something he knew wasn’t there, a crack or panel, anything. He knew he would have seen it before, but he held up his laveli arm like a lamp anyway and searched.
“I’m going to get you out of there, Ilya! Are you okay?”
He did a double take at the laveli. He was such an idiot. He could use it to talk to the ship’s computer. Alberich would lose his access to the cameras, but there was no time to worry about that now.
“Ilya! Don’t worry. Everything’s going to b-”
The wall gave way and he fell forward into the darkness, planting face first on something hard as he went down. He rolled over and looked up from the floor but the shadows cast by the laveli only confused everything. A wave of nausea hit him and he closed his eyes.
“Ilya?” He whispered. “Ilya, are you okay?”
He reached out, hoping to feel a soft hand or leg. Instead, he hand brushed cold metal, then rubber tread. Cael opened his eyes again to see Ilya’s bike propped up next to him.
He tried to sit up and was rewarded with fresh pain and overwhelming pressure in his sinuses. Cael felt under his nose and drew his hand away to see blood running down his fingers. He looked ahead of him to see a solid wall. It was a trap then.
It felt like Alberich had forgotten how to breathe after he watched Cael sneak into Lukas’ ship. He kept surprising himself with ragged gasps as he constantly switched between the cameras, trying desperately to keep an eye over the entire loading platform. The poor quality of the video that streamed through was driving him crazy. He kept thinking he saw an odd shadow move here or there, forcing him to sit on that view until he was sure it was just his imagination.
This had not been part of the plan!
He switched the kampdator back to the remote view of Lukas’ ship.
“What the hell is he doing in there?” Alberich hissed to himself. He shook the boxy kampdator in his lap. “Give me the signal, dammit!”
A quiet click echoed in the hangar and Alberich’s heart skipped a beat. Was that a door closing? He held his breath, eyes glued to the triangle opening. Maybe it was noth- He heard footsteps. Those were definitely footsteps. Steady, purposeful; they were moving slowly and getting louder. Alberich almost couldn’t move his hand to reach the keys only a few inches away from his grip on the kampdator.