Everyone was gathered on the flight deck. Considering the majority of the soldiers were not small of stature, it felt crowded. Mission protocols were agreed upon and each team took turns going through their roles. Every stage of the operation was set.
"Well done everyone," said Argus after the last run-through. "Get some rest. We'll gather tomorrow morning for a final briefing before the operation begins. 0800 Federation Standard time."
Everyone began scattering to their preferred pre-mission activities. At this stage, after the preparation and planning had been completed and everyone knew their assigned roles, the most important thing left was the mental preparation.
After most people had filed out, Avon was still intently studying the holographic schematic of the building that was their objective. Argus came up behind him and asked, "What do you think?"
Avon looked up. "The plan is sound and the teams appear ready."
"Then why do you look as if you're deep in thought?"
Avon said, "Not about the operation. I was thinking…It seems such a waste to access their computers, only to gain control of the security system."
"You have something else in mind?" asked Argus.
Avon turned around, a conspiratorial smile touching his lips. "We should see what else is on their computers which may be of interest."
"You mean we might be able to find something that might end this war quicker?" Argus mused. He looked at the schematic too, as if he were trying to discern what mysteries lay in the building they were about to penetrate tomorrow.
"It would be a shame to miss the opportunity."
"Yes, it would be," agreed Argus. "But I still need you to monitor the security cameras."
"That won't be a problem and we can use Sester. It's time he made himself useful," said Avon.
"Alright. Have fun."
"Oh, I will," said Avon. There was a look of anticipation in his eyes.
The next day was upon them; they were all ready for the rescue mission. There was an air of anticipation and quiet competence. Most of the teams were lined up in the corridor just outside the teleport room.
Argus, Avon, Vila, Sester and three of the Athol soldiers stood on the teleport platform.
Argus said, "Alright, Cally, send us down."
"Good luck." Cally activated the controls in front of her and the group disappeared. The next team got ready.
The team appeared a short distance from the target building. It was a dark overcast night, just perfect for infiltration. After watching for a few moments to ensure that the coast was clear, Argus signalled his team forward. They moved quietly at a half-run, trying to keep low.
At a side window Vila set to work quickly while the others positioned themselves to keep watch and provide cover in case they were discovered. Argus directed the lieutenant's team to come down next and cover the perimeter and warn of any unusual activity.
Vila looked over the window carefully, his eyebrows knitted in concentration.
"What do you think?" asked Argus, who stood beside him.
"The lock isn't a problem. I can handle that easily. It's the security alarms. There's more than one and they're tied together. They both have to be disabled at the same time. Just doing one of them will set off the other one. I've only got two hands."
Avon, who had been listening from behind them, said, "I'll take care of one."
Argus turned to look at him, "One of these days, I'm going to ask for a full list of skills from everyone. Especially you." Somehow he doubted if he was going to get one from Avon. He probably preferred keeping some skills to himself unless they needed it. Avon was looking at him expectantly. Argus got out of the way and Avon took his place beside the window.
Vila said to Avon, "I'll take the motion sensor. That one's trickier. Requires a more delicate touch." Argus noticed that Vila didn't have any questions as to Avon's ability in this area.
Avon nodded and began studying the other security measure. "IR sensors with ambient monitors," he remarked.
"That's right," said Vila. "You've seen them before?"
"Yes," said Avon without explaining anything further. He opened up his equipment satchel and took out a tool. They both began working silently while their guardians waited.
As they worked in tandem and coordinated their efforts, Vila glanced at Avon while he waited for his partner to catch up. They had always known each other's value, even though they never acknowledged it. In the past, the other man's arrogance had been all the worse because none of them could deny that they needed his abilities; without him, they would never have been able to achieve even half of what they had been able to; without him, they would have been dead a long time ago.
No one had ever asked Avon how he managed to acquire so much knowledge and so many skills in vastly different areas. He was not a person who invited personal questions. But things were different now. Things which had only been hinted at before - their similar points of view, their common interests - and a friendship which had barely been explored, were within reach; if they both wanted it.
Once they were ready, Vila said, "On my count. Countdown from three. Disconnect on the cut. Ready?"
"Ready." Avon held a red hand laser to the final connection. Vila did the same with his.
"Three. Two. One…Cut." They both sliced the last wires in unison. Everyone held their breaths, waiting for alarms which never came. They were still undiscovered.
"Well done you two. Now get that lock open, Vila," said Argus.
"Right." In less than a minute there was a soft click, Vila pushed the window open a crack and smiled. "Nothing to it."
Argus climbed through the window quietly, checked that the room was clear and then helped the others through. He assigned one of the three soldiers to keep watch at the single entrance to the room while Avon immediately sat down at a computer terminal with a large sectioned screen and began working. Another soldier was stationed by the window. Images flashed through quickly as Avon began searching through the system for access to the security network. Argus wondered how anyone could possibly read so quickly. Sester tried to keep out of everyone's way.
Avon told them, "The security protocols are good, but not good enough." He took a handheld computer unit from his satchel, popped open an access panel on the computer and made several connections. For the next few minutes he worked between the terminal on the desk and the handheld unit.
They all kept their ears sharp.
Sester stood nervously against a wall; his heart was pounding so loud, he was surprised no one had said anything. Technically, he knew that this was a foolishness thought. As a psychostrategist, he could identify all of the fear reactions but had never experienced most of them personally. His eyes scanned the other faces in the room. Vila looked nervous too. Avon's face was focused on his task. Argus radiated a calm alertness. The soldiers were ready and waiting.
A schematic of the building appeared with various zones marked in different colours. Avon said, "I've re-routed all security feeds. They will only see what I want them to see." Argus came over to see the results of Avon's efforts.
Avon said, "Turning off security zones. Disabling energy screens." They could now use the teleport inside the building. As he spoke, one by one, each of the zones turn red as they were rendered defenceless. "Now for the final step, the location of their 'guest'." Avon's hands began dancing over the controls again. More data scrolled past on the monitor. Shortly another schematic of the building appeared again. Avon showed Argus, "They're holding her here."
"Good." Argus studied the schematic.
Avon said, "Unfortunately, there are no security cameras inside the room. There is one guard just outside the door."
"That's alright. We'll carry on with what we originally planned. Teleport to the corridor adjacent. But first we need to secure the lifts."
"I can disable them," said Avon. As he said this, he pulled up the footage from the security cameras. The monitor screen split into eight views, showing various corridors and rooms.
"No, don't do that. If someone tries to use them while we're trying to rescue Galena, they'll know something's wrong. We'll let them come up but we'll cover the lifts to catch them coming out."
Argus tapped on his comm, "Reya, I need your team to cover the lifts and control access to the floor. Avon will send Cally the coordinates."
Avon entered several commands into his handheld unit.
Cally's voice replied, "Coordinates received. Team Two is ready."
"The corridor is clear. But someone just stepped into the lift," reported Avon.
Argus spoke to Reya on his comm, "The corridor is empty but someone is coming up on the lift."
"Alright. We'll take care of it. Coming down now."
Reya and her team of four Athol soldiers were ready on the teleport platform; they had ranged themselves to cover each direction with their weapons up. "Now, Cally."
Cally nodded. "Good luck." She activated the controls in front of her.
Reya and her team arrived and quickly arranged themselves on either side of the lift. The door slid open. Reya quickly reached in and yanked the astonished civilian out before he had time to react and press the emergency alarm button. She put her pistol to the man's head and whispered into his ear, "Don't make a sound if you want to live."
The frightened man gulped and nodded. The crazy woman holding his arm in a tight grip, sounded like someone who took what she did very seriously.
On the screen, Argus and Avon saw Reya use her comm. She reported over Argus's teleport bracelet. "Lifts are secure."
"We can see that. Good job. It's our turn now. Avon, send Cally the next set of coordinates." Argus instructed the three soldiers, "You three stay here and provide protection."
Argus contacted Cally, "Vila and I are ready to come up."
The two men appeared on the teleport platform. Argus's team was waiting. "Let's go." The five remaining soldiers stepped onto the platform beside him while Vila stepped off.
Argus said to Vila, "Stand by until we secure the corridor."
Argus contacted Avon, "How does it look, Avon?"
Avon's voice said over the speaker, "Still clear."
"Alright, send us down, Cally."
Argus took a quick peek around the corner using a small reflective square. There was a single guard as Avon had said. In a single motion, Argus slid his stiletto out of its sheath and sent it flying towards the guard. As the man fell, Argus rushed forward and guided the body silently to the ground. The soldiers placed themselves in positions to cover the door and the corridor while he listened at the door. There didn't appear to be any sounds coming from inside. Probably asleep.
Argus whispered into his comm, "Send Vila down."
Vila, carrying his kit, appeared seconds later. Without a word he began working on the panel. Argus continued listening at the door.
Vila stopped; there was a puzzled expression on his face. He whispered into Argus's ear, "This door is locked from the inside."
Argus's face reflected Vila's confusion but they didn't have time for speculation. There was a guard on the door so she was definitely a prisoner; they still had to rescue her. He whispered, "Just get the door open. We'll ask questions later."
Vila nodded and continued working on the door panel. When he was done, he nodded silently to Argus and stepped back out of the way. Argus opened the door and they all went in slowly. As the door closed behind them, one of the soldiers activated his hand torch to a low setting and provided light for the others.
The only person they could see was the one sleeping on the bed.
Argus approached and gently shook the woman's shoulder. She woke with a start and pulled the covers over herself protectively. "Who are you?" Even in the dim light, Argus could see that she was a beautiful woman.
"It's alright," Argus reassured her. "We're here to rescue you."
"Rescue me?" the woman asked in a frightened voice.
"Yes. Kameron Reve sent us to rescue you," said Argus.
"Kameron," the woman repeated the name. "I'm glad you're here," she said relieved. Even her voice was beautiful. Light and melodic.
Vila found a light control and turned it on. All of the men stared at Galena. She was more than just beautiful, she was stunning.
Galena slid out of the bed and stood up. Vila's mouth fell open. One of the soldiers took a step backwards. Even the Pleasure City women paled in comparison.
The woman was tall and statuesque; the light grey nightgown accentuated her soft grey eyes. Long brown hair framed a perfect face. She smiled shyly at the stunned looks on their faces; she was obviously used to such reactions from men but was feeling a bit self-conscious.
No wonder the door locked from the inside, thought Argus.
Galena took up a robe and put it on. Each movement was graceful, further enhancing her beauty. "Do I have time to get dressed first?" she asked Argus. Her voice made her words sound like music.
"Uh. Yes, of course," said Argus. "We can wait outside."
"There's no need for that. There are toiletry facilities just over there. I'll be right back." Seven pairs of eyes followed Galena while she picked out some clothes and went to the amenities room. Even after the door closed, they still stood staring at it.
Argus cleared his throat and activated the comm, "Leader One to all teams, the target has been rescued, prepare to return to the ship."
"Acknowledged, standing by," responded Cally's voice.
They heard Avon's voice replying, "I'm not done yet."
"You have one minute. No more," said Argus.
Within a few minutes, Galena came back out dressed in a simple dark grey and black top and a black skirt. The men were back in mission mode, but they couldn't help staring at her again.
"You're all so kind and brave to come to rescue me. Thank you," said Galena with a genuine smile which lit up her face and warmed the hearts of everyone who saw it. "I'm ready now."
No wonder Kameron is crazy about you, thought Argus. It was hard not to be drawn in by this woman. I should be careful.
Galena asked, "Did you access the computer network in order to break into the security system?"
This was such an unexpected question that Argus stared at her dumbly for a moment. "Yes. One of my men did that."
"You might want to ask him to check out some of the other information on the network. Ellis has a lot of information stored here."
"Don't worry, we have it covered," said Argus. Beautiful and smart. "Vila."
Vila took a teleport bracelet out of his kit and handed it to her.
"What's this?" asked Galena.
Vila explained, "It's a teleport bracelet."
Argus said, "Just trust us. It will get you out of here. Put it on."
Galena snapped it to her wrist without another question.
Argus activated his comm, "Team One ready for teleport."
All of the teams returned to the ship without incident.
All of the men had the same reaction to Galena that Argus and his team did; much to the consternation of Cally and Reya.
Argus decided that the poor woman had faced enough stress for the day and said, "Reya. Cally. Why don't you escort Galena to one of the guest cabins so that she can rest. And make sure no one disturbs her."
"Good idea," said Reya. She and Cally led Galena out.
"You're going to have trouble," remarked Avon with a slightly amused look on his face.
"I don't suppose you would like to do a leadership turn now?" asked Argus tiredly.
"It's one of those 'rigours of everyday leadership' I'm not very good at," said Avon.
"This is not an everyday thing," said Argus. "More like an emergency situation."
"I'm certain you can handle it. I have every confidence in you." A smirk touched Avon's lips.
"Thanks," said Argus sarcastically. He stretched and said, "I'm going back to the flight deck."
"You're going to set course for Borel's headquarters?"
"Yes. Unless you have a reason why we shouldn't." Argus was looking expectantly at the other man.
"We can't leave yet," said Avon.