Argus and Vila weren’t back yet with the lab uniforms. Corinne stayed by the door keeping watch as Cally continued using her psi abilities and Avon worked on the security system.
Avon intently tracked the flow of data across his screen. Only slight flares of interest separating the man from the machine that processed information.
Two meeting places. He checked the feeds to see if he could access the gatherings. If he could, then there was no need for Cally to risk the mission.
He grimaced slightly. It was as he had expected. He couldn't find a feed to one of the meeting rooms. It must have been disconnected. Unwanted observers were not welcome. It was a good sign that something was going on in the room. Possibly something alien.
She came over to look over his shoulder.
“This is the most likely location.” He showed her the schematic view of the building. “I will position the support unit here.” He indicated the spot on the screen. “There are two identity access points but you don’t have to worry about them. I will change the records to allow you access.” Avon looked up at her. “I won’t be able to track you once you enter the room. Keep in close contact.”
“You mean like this?” Cally lightly brushed along the edges of his hard consciousness with her mind.
Avon took in a deep breath. “Cally, this is serious.” His eyes were intent on an otherwise inexpressive face.
Cally could ‘see’ the depth of concern that made him want to keep her safe. Hidden behind logic and action was the man she had always known, the one who was capable of more than anyone could understand. Only people who cared deeply were capable of being hurt deeply. Enough to make him want to hide himself forever and never want to care again.
Cally said, “I know. I will contact you every ten minutes while we’re in the room.”
“That will have to do.”
There was a prearranged knock on the door.
At first, Vila was nervous about walking through the hallways boldly and with no attempt to hide, but after passing the third group of people without incident, he began to feel better. No one made mention of the equipment satchel he had slung over his shoulder or demanded if he had any burglary tools hidden on his person. He tugged at the end of his tight-fitting uniform, all white with the triangular crest of the Chandaran Military Research Department. He said with nervous cheerfulness, “These are good. No one’s paying any attention to us.”
Cally said, “They should be convincing. These are real uniforms that you stole.”
Vila kept up his light, meaningless banter. “Borrowed. I don’t plan to keep them. They don’t match my eyes.”
Corinne looked at him with a critical eye. “I think you look good in that uniform.”
In Vila’s eyes, she always looked beautiful. The white brought out her innocence and cheerful youth. “So do you.”
Cally pressed on her teleport bracelet and spoke casually, as if she was talking to Vila and Corinne. “Avon, we’re at the adjacent corridor.” Keeping the comm button down, she peered around the corner and watched as several people entered the meeting room. Sharp flashes of fear, quickly extinguished, caused her to gasp and pull back quickly.
Vila and Corinne looked at her worriedly and expressed their concerns, “What’s wrong?”
Avon’s voice responded, “I see that. Are there any guards?”
Cally said, “There are two…Avon, there’s something wrong…”
Avon’s voice asked sharply, “What is it?”
“I sensed something. It was brief…but strong.”
Avon’s voice asked, “What did you feel?”
There was a short pause. “We will have to rethink the plan. It’s too risky to enter now without knowing what’s inside.”
Vila said, “Not to mention too dangerous.”
Cally said, “We can’t pass up this opportunity. What I sensed may not have been from inside the room. It may have originated nearby. You know my psi senses aren’t accurate enough to pinpoint exact location and everything seems fine now.”
Avon’s voice asked, “You’re determined to go inside?”
Cally said, “I don’t see that we have a choice. We have to find out what’s going on.”
Vila said, “I have a very bad feeling about this.”
Cally said, “You always do.”
Corinne said, “Cally, maybe we should watch a little longer.”
Vila said, “She’s right, we should wait. If…” His mind worked quickly to think of something. “…the next group goes in and you don’t feel anything bad, then we go in.”
Cally said, “The longer we stay here, the greater the risk that one of the groups will be discovered.”
Vila pointed out, “It’s even more dangerous going in blind. Then they’ll know right away.”
Avon’s voice said, “Vila is right. You should wait and observe the next group.”
Vila always found it surprising when Avon agreed with him. It made him feel good.
It didn’t take too long. There seemed to be a lot of traffic going in and out of the room. Unfortunately, from their angle, they couldn’t see very far inside the room.
Vila whispered, “There’s another group.”
They watched anxiously as the bored guards opened the door without giving them a second glance. The group entered.
Cally concentrated as Vila watched her face carefully. Her eyes always had a far away look when she was reaching out with her mind. “Anything?”
Cally shook her head. “Nothing. It appears to be fine.”
Vila looked disappointed. He knew that she would want to go in now.
Cally contacted Avon. “Avon, the next group has gone in without incident.”
There was a long pause before Avon’s voice said, “Very well but contact me every two minutes.”
Vila said, “I don’t suppose you’d consider waiting for another group? Just to make sure?”
Cally said, “You can if you want, but I’m going inside.” She rounded the corner and headed towards the door to the meeting room.
Vila muttered under his breath as he and Corinne followed, “I knew you were going to say that.”
Argus kept watch at the door as Avon talked to Cally and her team. The tension on the other man’s face told him that Avon was worried. It was clear that he didn’t want Cally to go inside the meeting room but he would not go against her wishes.
Argus said, “It’s never easy.”
Avon took his eyes off the computer screen and stared at him.
Argus knew that anything dealing with Cally was considered very private for Avon. “I know, you’d not rather talk about it. You’d rather die first.”
At Avon’s continued stare, Argus said jokingly, “Or you would but then you’d have to kill me afterwards.”
Avon looked down at his computer again without responding.
Argus sighed. “Or you could ignore me.”
Avon suddenly gasped in pain and shouted, “Cally!” His face went pale and his eyes closed tightly as he tried to call out to her with his mind. * Cally! Are you all right? Cally! * His heart was racing.
Argus rushed over. “Avon! What’s wrong? Avon!” He saw that Avon had his eyes closed and must be trying to contact Cally. Something was obviously wrong. He hit the comm button on his wrist, “Cally. Vila. Report.”
There was no response. He tried again. “Cally. Vila. Corinne. This is Argus. Report.”
Avon got up abruptly, nearly knocking the computer from the table. There was fierce determination on his face. “It’s Cally, she’s hurt. I have to go to her.” He headed for the door.
Argus stood in his way. “Avon, let me do it. You stay here.”
“No. I have to…” Avon tried to brush him off but Argus held out his arms to block him. Avon’s voice was chilly. “Get out of my way.”
“Avon, you know you won’t be able to help out there. The best thing you can do for Cally is to control the security system. Without you, we won’t be able to get her out. Avon, think! You need to stay here, for Cally.”
Avon’s logic told him that Argus was right, but his feelings told him he had to go. “I…” His lungs strained, breathing faster with each panicked beat of a heart that he could not keep calm. He swayed on his feet and Argus grabbed him, his arms surrounding his shoulders and guided him back into the chair. “Kerr, I promise, I will bring Cally back to you.”
Avon grabbed his arm. “Jack. I can’t…” There was pain in his eyes.
Argus’s voice was compassionate. “I know. You can’t lose her.” He could clearly see that in the other man’s all too human eyes.
Avon’s jaw tightened as he tried to control the pain that was deeper than any physical wound. “Go. I will help from here.”
“I’ll send someone back for you.” Argus rushed out.
* Cally, hang on. Help is coming. *
Argus tried to contact the other teams as he raced towards the meeting room. There was no response from any of them. Something must be jamming the signals. They know we’re here.
He spied a security camera and went up to it. Argus brought his wrist up, tapped the comm button and made a flat signal with his hand. He knew Avon would be watching and controlling the security system. Argus motioned to have the two teams join him outside the meeting room.
The aliens had Vila and Corinne strapped to adjacent frames and were attaching something to their heads when the door slid open. They heard the clunk of metallic objects hitting the ground. Some turned to see what the sound was when the objects exploded with deafening bangs and blinding flashes. Suddenly there was loud shouting from people shapes that rushed into the room. One man’s voice was particularly booming, which was a good thing since the explosions had made it difficult for the people in the room to hear anything. “Don’t move! Don’t anyone move! Keep your hands where we can see them!”
Shots rang out as some of the armed aliens fired wildly at people they couldn’t see. Argus and the soldiers returned fire and bodies thudded to the ground.
Argus’s voice was low with warning, “Does anyone else want to die?”
Silence was his answer.
Even as he was dealing with the threat, at the corner of his eyes, he saw Cally lying on a table, a nasty wound seeping blood from her abdomen. He barely registered that there were numerous rows of very still people, strapped into frames, just like Vila and Corinne.
He said with calm urgency, “Quickly!” Two soldiers lifted Cally carefully from the table while others released Vila and Corinne.
Vila rubbed his eyes and said with loud panic, “I can’t see!”
Young Baxter put a supporting arm around Vila’s shoulders and said loudly into his ear. “It’s alright, sir. It’s just a stun grenade. It’ll wear off…in a couple of hours.”
Vila shouted, “Where’s Cor…”
Baxter quickly slapped his hand over Vila’s mouth.
“Ow!” Vila complained loudly.
“No names, sir. But she’s fine. Please stop shouting.” Baxter helped him take a few steps.
Argus said, “Time to go. Everyone out.”
As the last soldier cleared the door, Argus threw two more stun grenades before he exited.
Avon appeared on the teleport pad with Lt. Dain at his side. When he saw Argus waiting, he asked harshly, “Where is she?”
Argus's voice was calm and understanding. “She’s in the medical unit. The doctors are working on her.”
Avon grabbed his collar. “Is she…?”
Argus put his hand on Avon’s shoulder. “She’s alive. We’ll go and see her together.”
Sentha crawled towards the clearing. Light rustles told her that the others were slightly behind her. She stopped behind a tree and peered around it.
Five men standing around their flag and talking to each other.
Sentha whispered to the raven-haired woman beside her, “Five of them. Five of us.”
Brisa looked at her dubiously. “Do you think this’ll work?”
“I’m going to try it. The worse thing that could happen is…”
The woman on the other side of Sentha said, “We’ll go back to our old lives.” She had a habit of blinking rapidly when she was nervous.
Sentha said fiercely, “Over my dead body.”
Brisa said, “I don’t know if I can do this. It’s going to be…embarrassing.”
Sentha said, “Do you want to switch?”
Brisa said reluctantly, “I suppose not. You’re better at the sneaking stuff.”
“Give me twenty minutes.”
Brisa said, “Good luck.”
The five men stood around bored, their hands resting lightly on their holsters.
A man with a perpetual squint said, “They should have taken the flag by now.”
The corporal standing next to the flag had his pistol out and was aiming down the barrel. “Then they would have told us.”
The squinty man said, “Do you think they sent a team to take our flag already?”
The corporal said, “Probably.”
A skinny man with a nasal-tone snorted, “Assuming they didn’t run into our group on the way.”
The corporal said, “Don’t be overconfident. Keep your eyes peeled. Even if they are women, you’re still soldiers.”
The skinny man said, “Yeah, yeah.”
Four wild, nearly-naked women came screaming towards them, guns raised but not firing.
The men started forward, their mouths hung open in shock and their eyes bulging. “What the…” Their weapons were pointed hesitantly at this strange sight.
The corporal was the first to recover. Realizing he had left his post, he backed towards the flag and shouted as he squeezed the trigger. “Shoot….” The women started firing at the men. “…them! Shoot them!” Several men were down before the corporal hit one with his shot. A confusion of stun tracers raced in both directions. Men and women fell.
The corporal heard a sound behind him and whirled. Too late. He saw Sentha’s smiling face as he fell from her shot. The last thing he saw when he blacked out was Sentha raising the men’s flag over her head and yelling in victory.