Jenna, Cally and Lantro were in the dining area, sharing another evening meal aboard the smuggler's cruiser. The evening had passed pleasantly so far. Cally had even told them an Auron equivalent of a joke, which had left Jenna and Lantro looking at each other puzzled, then they had burst out laughing. Cally was certain they had not gotten her joke, but she wasn't quite sure.
"Lantro, I want to talk about something more serious," said Jenna. It seemed the opportune time to bring up the topic she had been waiting to bring up since she had told her plans to Cally several weeks ago. They had been biding their time and trying to establish a good, easy relationship with their captor. Jenna knew Lantro was ruthlessly professional, but he was also a good man, for a smuggler.
The fingers of Lantro's right hand had a nervous habit of playing with the bird charm hanging from the chain around his neck but he only did this when he was relaxed. At Jenna's request to change the tone of the conversation, the already guarded man was instantly on the alert. Cally noticed that his fingers were no longer nervously touching the charm.
"As long as you stay away from the commission or the utiliser, go ahead," he told her.
"Of course. I know that this is business for you Lantro, and I accept that, but you've put a spanner into my own plans. There was a reason I came looking for you on Gelentrix."
"I had almost forgotten."
"I haven't. I don't know what your commission is or who your utiliser is, and I won't ask. It may be that I will not survive once you deliver me."
"If you're trying to gain sympathy so that I will not give you to the utiliser then you don't know me at all Jenna. None of this has made any difference to my commission."
"I know that. You are a professional. But if I am to die," which I don't plan to by the way, but I'll deal with that when the time comes, thought Jenna, "I would like to, with the knowledge that I had completed my own task; my own commission, if you will; with your help since I can't do it myself now."
"What is this commission?" Lantro asked. Despite his hard manner, he was not a man without a heart; and though he did not tell her, Lantro had always liked Jenna and admired her skills as a pilot. She had done him some small favours in the past which he was not unappreciative of. The last few weeks of relating with her had also caused him to respect her wit and intelligence. It would not stop him from completing his commission, as Jenna had noted correctly, he was first of all a professional, but if there was anything else he could do for her, he would give it serious consideration.
"I assume that you still hate the Shovoan Group?"
"With my dying breath," Lantro said with unexpected vehemence. His reaction was so strong and so deep that Cally could feel his strong hatred; it was as strong as his hatred for the Federation. She could sense that somehow the two feelings were connected.
The Shovoan's had killed Lantro's bond-mate. They had betrayed an alliance between their two smuggler groups when the Federation had put pressure on them to give up their territories. The Shovoans had accepted, but Lantro's group had not. The Federation refused to accept the agreement unless both groups agreed. This had caused the Shovoans to turn on their former allies. When Lantro still refused, and it seemed imminent that military forces would invade and take their territories by force, the Shovoans had kidnapped his bond-mate in order to force him to surrender. He had, but the Federation had killed his bond-mate anyways and tried to wipe his group out, considering them too troublesome to deal with.
Lantro developed a real hatred for the Federation, and he held the Shovoans responsible for the death of his mate. What was left of his smuggler group had gone into hiding. They had been practicing their trade out on the border rims for the past fourteen years, a nameless band of wanderers with no home, but with a reputation for ruthlessness. He had never forgotten the Shovoans though.
"Why do you bring them up?" asked Lantro. His voice was hard.
* Don't be too quick Jenna. * Cally projected to Jenna, even though she knew the woman would most likely not hear her. Jenna had never heard her before.
"I wanted to hire you to stir up some trouble for them. How much depended on you." Jenna knew that the 'how much' would result in more than just 'some' trouble, it suited her perfectly; which was why she had originally chosen Lantro's group.
"Do you know the Amagons?"
"Not much. Haven't had many dealings with them before."
"Well, let's just say, I have good reason to stir up trouble for them too."
"What does one group have to do with the other?"
"How would you like to practice a little deception?"
His eyes narrowed, "What do you have in mind."
"At the moment, you don't have enough resources or manpower to take on the Shovoans; else you would have done it long ago."
Lantro was about to dispute that but Jenna continued, "But the Amagons do."
"Ahhh." He smiled. "You have a plan?"
"Yes, I did."
"Did, or still do?" he asked her.
Jenna smiled. She told him her plans.
Vila was in the teleport room. He had just snapped on a teleport bracelet and was checking his kit bag. On the floor lay an equipment box with tools for Allren and Ture. ORAC sat on the teleport console.
"Vila do this, Vila do that, open this safe, bring that box…who does he thing he is?" The thief was grumbling to himself. "Well, before I open anything, we're going to have some serious words about this 'no alcohol' policy. Maybe I'll just leave after this. Go back to CC," he said angrily.
"Ten minutes until the specified time sequence window for teleport," ORAC reported.
"You're as bad as a mother hen," said Vila ill-humouredly. "I will not be bossed around by a plastic box."
"There is nothing about this unit which resembles a...," started ORAC.
"Oh shut up ORAC," said Vila irritably.
"How long will the security cameras be out," Argus asked Allren. The two tech mercenaries were standing the night guard in front of the sensitive stores vault. They were all waiting for Vila who was due in less than a minute. It was extremely quiet, it was the early hours of the morning, and everyone was asleep except for the duty guards.
"Two hours," Allren replied. He had looped footage from his previous night duty into the security system already. Ture would not be able to by-pass the computer-linked sensors without the equipment Vila was bringing.
"That's more than enough time," remarked Argus.
"How's your friend?" asked Allren, referring to the Lieutenant who had recognized Argus.
"So far, he seems to have accepted the story, but he's starting to get suspicious. It's a good thing we'll be out of here soon. Our other friend," Argus was referring to ORAC, "should have already have arranged the new transfer orders. It just needs to clear the red-tape."
"You mean Commander Foren," joked Allren. He knew that Argus detested the Complex commander and hated having to spend time everyday listening to the man's boring stories and conspiracy theories and pretending that he was interested.
"Keep that up and I'll have you cleaning out the food freezer next. We're still stuck here until the new orders come through."
A previously locked door, which Argus had checked earlier, suddenly opened behind the rebel leader. Argus spun around, it was Lieutenant Klesson. Klesson had his standard Federation pulse rifle pointed at them. Argus had enough time to draw his weapon but in that split second between thought and action, had decided not to because of the charade. By the time he registered Klesson and his pulse rifle pointed at them, it was too late.
"Put your hands up," Lieutenant Klesson told them. "and keep them away from your weapons. That means you too, 'Captain Carver'. Move away from the vault door," he directed them. Allren and Ture moved as instructed, their hands held high. Argus hesitated, he knew Vila was about to appear any second.
"I won't ask a second time," Klesson waved his rifle threateningly at Argus.
At that moment, Vila shimmered into view beside the vault door. Startled, Klesson fired. Argus shoved Vila out of the way and took the full blast on his right shoulder. Within a split second, Klesson fell dead as both Allren and Ture's pulse shots hit him full in the chest.
Argus crumpled to the floor, an ugly red stain was already spreading on his uniform where the shot had hit him.
"Argus," exclaimed Vila as he knelt down beside the rebel leader.
"Get the safe open," Argus ordered him. He couldn't feel the pain yet, but knew he would once the adrenaline wore off. "Ture, by-pass those sensors." Without a word, Ture picked up the equipment box which Vila had dropped on the ground, and set to work. Allren provided cover for them.
Vila did not move. He had been intent on arguing with Argus the moment he had teleported down. Being shot had never occurred to him, and having Argus shove him out of the way, and take the shot meant for him, had definitely not been on his mind. The thief was frozen; he could do little more than crouch beside Argus in uncomprehending shock.
"Vila, you don't have time for this, you have to get the lock open," said Argus "If you want to yell at me for the trick with the alcohol dispensers, you have to finish this first," he added, trying to get the thief to react.
That line made Vila remember his anger; it produced the effect Argus was hoping for. Vila picked up his kit bag and began working on the lock. Argus could feel himself starting to go into shock. He put pressure over the wound in order to stem the bleeding.
Within a few minutes, the safe was open without tripping any alarms; Ture entered the vault and found the crystal they were looking for. He began taking the required readings from the LC crystal with a light diffuser.
"How are you doing Argus?" Allren asked.
"I've been better," replied Argus, he was now propped up against the wall. He addressed Ture,"Did you get it?"
Ture nodded, put the diffuser unit back in his equipment box and handed it to Vila. He put the crystal back into the vault and Vila closed up the lock.
Allren "We should get you back to the Justice."
"No," said Argus.
"You're going to bleed to death," said Allren.
"Not if I get to the medical bay on level three."
"You're still going through with the plan?" asked Vila incredulously. He had finally found his voice and was now angry that the man who had just saved his life was intent on killing himself.
"Leave it to me," said Argus. "I can convince Foren that there was a conspiracy and that someone was out to discredit him by sabotaging the Banking computers. He's so paranoid about conspiracies aimed at him that he'll believe anything."
Argus had not told them that he had been planning this alternative ever since Klesson had entered the picture. He had hoped that this provision would never have to be used. As "Captain Carver", he had been encouraging the Complex Commander's increasing paranoia towards some areas which would be useful for them. Argus was learning to be devious. He didn't know if he liked this.
Argus addressed Allren, "Do you think you can move the body, and me, down to corridor fifteen on sub-level two without being detected?"
"With Ture's help to by-pass the cameras and sensors, and the right tools, yes," replied Allren. "That means Vila can't leave yet."
They all proceeded to sub-level two without incident.
Once Argus and the body were positioned, and the two mercenaries had returned to their posts, it was time for Vila to leave.
"Look, Argus," began Vila.
"The code to release the dispensers is beta seven seven six."
"I wasn't about to ask that."
"I know. Now go, before I pass out," said Argus, as he leaned against the wall, next to the alarm button. "It would be embarrassing if I bled to death standing here."
"Just embarrassing?" asked Vila.
"What else. Now get out of here."
Vila thumbed the comm on the teleport bracelet, "ORAC, take me up."
As Vila shimmered out of view, Argus pressed the alarm, and then crumpled to the ground.