"Yes, let's," said Avon dryly.
Argus deliberately turned to Kern and said, "Sevisia mentioned that he had set up a base here. Do you know where it is?"
Kern thought for a moment. "I don't know about a base but I do know that they've been building a new research facility."
"Can you show us where?" asked Argus. He nodded to Avon to proceed with the next part.
Avon directed, "Zen, bring up Pleasure City on the main viewer."
Zen responded, "Orbital view of Pleasure City on main view screen."
"Selective magnification, minus ten," said Avon. The picture pulled back to show some of the surrounding environment.
"Can you pinpoint it?" Avon asked Kern.
Kern walked closer to the viewer and studied it. "I've never seen it. None of us have." He reached out and pointed to a spot just to the north east of the city. "But it should be around here."
"Zen, magnify grid location 22-48 by 31-46," said Avon.
The picture zoomed in until they could see the vegetation of the planet.
"I don't see anything," said Vila.
"I don’t either," said Cally.
"Zen, do a visual survey of the surrounding area," said Avon.
"Confirmed." The scene began to move over the surface of the planet.
"Still nothing," said Argus.
"It may be camouflaged to avoid aerial surveillance," suggested Reya.
"Yes. Another application of the holographic technology?" remarked Argus.
"That's possible," said Avon.
"Could we have the location wrong?" asked Cally.
"Let's do a sensor sweep of the entire area. See if we can pick up anything that indicates a structure of some kind," said Argus.
"Zen, bring the short range sensors online. Scan for any infrared signatures or communication pulse or wave radiation in the area surrounding Pleasure City within a twenty kilometer radius," instructed Avon.
"Confirmed. Initiating scan." They all waited as Zen worked. "Scans complete. No presence of infrared, pulse or wave radiation was detected."
"Maybe Cally is right, we have the wrong location," said Argus.
"Or they are heavily shielded to avoid detection from scanner activity." said Avon.
"We have to find out which," said Argus. "Let's attack this on three fronts. Avon, expand the search area and continue looking. Is there a way to detect shielding from sensor sweeps?"
"That's an interesting idea. Detecting the shield itself. It depends on the type of shielding used. Whether it is physical or energy based."
"Can you adapt our sensors?" asked Argus.
"Kern and Panner, I'm going to send you back down. I need you to find out what you can about this new research facility. Search your computer network for material manifests for construction. New energy distribution nodes. That type of thing."
"We can do that," said Kern.
"Don't take any unnecessary risks. Keep it low level. The last thing we need is for Sevisia to find out that we're looking for his base."
"I think I can manage that," said Kern.
Argus continued, "Meanwhile the rest of us will go down and do a visual reconn of the area."
At that Vila said, "Now wait a moment, shouldn't we wait? Maybe Avon will find something with his scans or our new friends can find something. It seems an awful waste of effort going all the way down there if the others find something. Besides all that walking. I'm not sure it's good for my health. I've got flat feet."
"Exercise promotes improved physical health and mental concentration," said Reya seriously.
"It does," said Cally in agreement.
"Exercise?" asked Vila, sounding as if this was something only aliens would find natural.
"You don't believe me? I could set up a regular exercise routine for you," offered Reya helpfully. "You will be amazed by the results. You would have to wake up early, of course. It's always best to do these things in the morning."
"Early?!" said Vila. He looked around to the others for help from this crazed woman. No one was offering. He could swear that both Avon and Argus were trying not to laugh.
Vila was right, Argus really was trying not to laugh. At first he didn’t realize what Reya was doing. But it didn’t take long. He knew that Vila didn’t stand a chance, especially not with Cally also providing support. Sometimes even Argus didn’t know when Reya was kidding or not. He knew she preferred it that way.
"Yes. That is essential," said Reya. "I would say, five o'clock would be best. What do you think, Cally? You're our resident medic."
"I'm not sure that would be early enough," replied Cally. "He has flat feet."
Vila looked at them both suspiciously, he was sure they were kidding him now.
"And you could stand losing a few pounds after your experiments into the Justice's cuisine, Vila," said Cally.
"I am not fat!" exclaimed Vila in an affronted tone.
"I didn't say fat. Did I?" Cally asked Reya.
"I don't believe you did," said Reya.
"I could develop a balanced nutritional plan to go with your exercise schedule," offered Cally accommodatingly.
"You might as well give up, Vila," recommended Avon. "It will be less painful in the long run."
"Going down to do some reconnaissance might not be that bad an idea…" said Vila.
"As long as you can keep up," said Argus dryly.
"Now don't you start," said Vila.
Argus grinned. "Well?"
"I'll go," said Vila. "But not because I don't want to wake up early, or avoid doing exercises or anything like that."
"Of course not," said Argus gravely.
"Just so it's clear."
"Very. Are you saying that you want to exercise?"
"You keep doing that and I'm going to change my mind," said Vila.
Argus smiled and then he said, "You really don't have to go down. I prefer people on a team who want to be there."
"What if you run into a lock?" asked Vila.
"I'm sure we'll manage. I have had training in the basics of disabling locks."
Vila wasn't sure he liked the sounds of that. "Wait a moment. That's my job! You're not doing it without me. I'm going to get kitted up. Don't go without me." Vila rushed off.
"Nicely done," said Avon.
"I've never seen Vila run so fast to get kitted up before," said Cally.
"When can you get the sensors adjusted?" Argus asked Avon.
"It should take several hours."
"Good. If either one of you find out something definitive, contact me. I'm not too fond of wasted efforts either. Let’s get kitted up.”
As the others followed Argus, this time it was Avon who held Cally back.
He touched her arm. “Cally.”
“I know you can take care of yourself, but be careful down there. The crimos are dangerous, especially Sevisia.”
She put her hand over his. “I will, Avon.”
“I don’t want anything to happen to you. I…” He was finding words difficult; he always did when it came to an expression of illogical sentiment.
“I know, Avon. You don’t have to say it.”
He looked at her in gratitude.
“I will come back, I promise,” said Cally.
Argus, Cally, Vila, Reya and Ture appeared in a densely wooded area to the north east of the location Kern had pointed out.
“I don’t see anything,” said Vila as he looked around. He lifted his foot in annoyance, he seemed to have landed in a small puddle of water. “Oh wonderful. Just what I need. A wet foot.”
“I’d be surprised if you did see anything,” said Argus. “We’re about two kilometers from the site Kern pointed out.”
“What? Why?” asked Vila.
“We don’t want to land right on top of them if that is where the base is. It’s better to approach it gradually and scout out the surroundings. Besides, I believe Reya and Cally think you need some exercise.”
“I do not!” said Vila indignantly.
“We’ll see,” said Argus. “Let’s go. Spread out but keep in line of sight.”
By the time the team neared the site, Vila was huffing and puffing away when Argus put up his hand in a closed fist, indicating for them to stop. Vila nearly barreled into Argus. But running into Argus was like hitting a brick wall, Vila nearly bounced back if he hadn’t been grabbed to keep him from falling.
“Careful,” said Argus. “I think we are going to start you on an exercise program when we get back.” None of the rest of them were winded. Vila would have glared at Argus if he had not been trying to catch his breath. He thought they all looked unnaturally healthy and fit.
“Argus, there’s light up ahead,” said Reya. “Just at the edge there.” She pointed out a distant spot.
“Yes, that’s why we’re stopping here,” said Argus. “Cally, can you sense anything? Is your Auron sense able to detect life signs from this distance?”
“I’ll try.” Cally closed her eyes and concentrated, pushing out her awareness. With the practice she had been getting with Avon, her abilities seemed to be expanding. After awhile, she shook her head. “Nothing. It’s too far off.”
“Alright, we’ll keep going. Silence protocol from now on. If this is their base, there might be patrols. And keep an eye out for automatic detection equipment and traps. Reya and I will take point. Follow behind us.” They all nodded wordlessly.
This time they continued at a slower pace.
Kern was sitting in his office, in front of his access terminal. He was trying to find out the information that Argus had requested.
“Equipment manifests…that shouldn’t be too hard. Shipping area.”
After routing through the Pleasure City network, he located the right request displays. “Now. Building materials.” All of a sudden, a security alert screen popped up requesting a bio-metric entry. Kern stared at it in disbelief, “That wasn’t there before. I could have sworn it wasn’t.” He immediately shut down his terminal. Kern hoped that it hadn’t set off any alerts.
After avoiding several automatic perimeter sensors, the reconn team had come to an energy barrier. Light shimmered across its surface at random intervals. There was no question they had found the base.
Argus whispered into Vila’s ear. The thief nodded and put his equipment bag down and began rummaging through it. Argus signaled Ture to stay and help Vila and provide watch.
Argus took Reya and Cally to do a scout around the barrier.
Argus, Reya and Cally were lying flat on the ground in some underbrush, watching the main entrance to the compound. It was a much larger facility than any of them had expected. The security was heavy and the troops looked fit and disciplined. This was going to make their task much harder. It wasn't a force being set up; it was one almost ready for deployment. If they were to take it out, there wasn't much time.
Cally urgently signaled for her companions' attention. She pointed. After a few moments, a patrol appeared. She had been able to sense them coming. The three of them flattened themselves further into their concealed position.
Avon received the communication from Kern, reporting his difficulties in tracking the information they needed.
“Don’t do anything else,” said Avon. “We still have other avenues.”
“I’m sorry I can’t be of much help,” said Kern’s voice over the ship’s speaker.
“Keep a low profile. We’ll be in contact if we need anything further. Justice, out.”
Avon redoubled his efforts on reconfiguring the sensors while keeping an ear on Zen’s continued reports of its methodical scans over the planet’s surface.
Argus, Cally and Reya waited silently. The patrol didn't seem to be in a hurry. They were relaxed but alert.
"I can't wait to get out there," said one of the soldiers.
"Yeah, I can't wait to get rich," said another.
"They say that we get bonuses depending on how fast we take the planet."
"You believe that?"
"I guess we'll find out."
"What are they waiting for? I mean, they don't have any more training scheduled."
"Well, I hear that they've got new advanced weapons coming."
The patrol passed out of their hearing.
Argus signaled his team to retreat back the way they came.
Avon had only partially reconfigured the sensors when the others returned to the ship. They all gathered on the flight deck for a debriefing.
“At least we’ve found it,” said Argus.
“Zen, bring up coordinates indicated earlier,” directed Avon.
“Confirmed.” The main view screen showed the area pointed out by Kern. This time there was a small red light.
“Vila’s laser cutter is providing a good signal,” remarked Argus.
“Kern’s location was correct,” said Avon.
“Yes. We need to get through that energy barrier,” said Argus. “From our scouting, it’s a large training and housing facility for military troops. We can’t allow Sevisia to deploy them.”
“I hope you’re not proposing to storm the place with just a handful of people,” said Avon.
“Not without an equally large army behind us,” said Argus. “It’s not simply a matter of blowing the whole thing up. Am I right to assume that this barrier is also impenetrable to our teleport?”
“I’ve been taking readings of the barrier since you identified it. Any teleport activity would be haphazard at best,” said Avon.
“What do you mean haphazard?” asked Vila.
“Not all of you would be able to materialize at the same time, or in the same location,” said Avon.
“I’m to going get nightmares now. I just know it,” said Vila with a look of distaste.
Avon had a thoughtful look on his face.
“Avon?” Cally asked.
They all looked at him with concern. Avon tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “I’m fine. I had an idea.”
“Yes?” asked Argus.
“I was thinking about your idea of a large army,” said Avon. “We’re going to need some help from the people in Pleasure City.”