"But if Borel approves the operation, we will do it right away," argued Argus. "It can't wait twenty-four hours."
Argus was one more day from being recovered enough to the point where Healer Garett was willing to release him for physical action. The rebel leader was getting increasingly restless as the time approached but there was also another reason.
All around the ship, a great battle was being raged. Ellis had finally managed to corner one of Borel's main forces and they had been battling for several days. Despite his brilliance, Borel was being steadily pushed back. The only hope was for reinforcements to arrive.
Argus had proposed a radical and highly dangerous manoeuvre. If they were able to knock out the main command ship, it would buy them some time until the reinforcements arrived. Everything had already been prepared for the mission. They were only waiting for Borel to approve the operation; they knew that he would authorize it. The young general had no choice.
"That's why you're not going in," said Reya obstinately.
"I have to go in," said Argus, who was also as stubborn. "It will be difficult enough gaining access without being detected. Once we're in, you need my expertise. If we fail in this, Borel will not be able to hold out. You know this."
Reya hesitated for a moment. Argus was right about the importance of the operation. It all depended on them. But she also knew that even with twenty-four more hours, Argus was only healed. Physically he was still not strong enough. Healer Garett had warned her. Argus had only been able to do limited strengthening and endurance exercises during his recovery. It was because he had pushed these exercises which had caused the previous setback. She did not really want to tell him that even with the extra day, he would not be allowed on this mission; not unless she had to.
The operation they were attempting was dangerous and needed everyone in top physical condition. The likelihood that the boarding team would meet with opposition was high.
"You are not going. And that's final," Reya said. She nodded to two of the crew who were nearby. They reached for their weapons. Reya had informed them already of what she might do. "I will have you chained here if you insist on coming."
The movement did not escape Argus. Inside him a war of emotions was going on which reflected the battle raging outside. Part of him was angry that she was doing this. The other part was very concerned for her. He would not let her face this danger on her own.
"I thought that you had promised never to do this to me again?" he accused her. She had threatened this once before on a prior mission; but they both knew this was not what he was referring to. He was talking about what she tried to have done to him in the infirmary.
"Argus, be reasonable. You are not ready yet physically. You may be healed but until you get stronger, you will be a liability in this kind of operation. You would only slow us down. Do you want to get me killed?" she asked. She had wanted to avoid saying this but he had given her no choice.
Her assessment had been accurate and unforgiving. She knew he would hate her for saying it. He was never one to admit that he would let anyone down because of his own weakness. Reya could see the anger in his eyes and a pain which did not come from his wounds.
After several months of working together in intense situations, she knew all of the kinds of man he was. Despite her brother's sarcasm, she had known exactly how Argus felt; even though the rebel leader may not have recognized it himself. And it had not been something she was willing to admit to herself until now.
My poor, brave rebel leader. I cannot let you go with us, she thought. I'm sorry.
Jenna, Cally and Vila had conducted a search of the entire mansion. They were completely alone. There were additional signs of pulse and energy rifle burns but not many.
"It appears as if there was a battle here but someone tried to erase all signs of it," said Cally. They were no longer whispering. "The only thing they could not completely remove were some of the marks left by the discharge of weapons."
They were all in a command centre of some kind which held several computer terminals and large wall screens.
"Cally, can you see if you can find out anything from the computers? Maybe a log of some kind?"
Cally perched herself on a desk and began manipulating the computer terminal keys. Without warning, the terminal exploded sending her flying across the room. They started hearing other loud explosions throughout the building.
"We set off a trap!" said Jenna. "We have to get out of here!" She went over to Cally. The Auron girl was unconscious and bleeding from a head wound but did not seem to have any other external signs of injury.
"Where?" said Vila; who was also bent down over Cally. He looked ready to run in whichever direction someone indicated to him was safe.
The explosion of the computer terminal had started a fire in the room they were in. There was smoke everywhere as they heard more explosions.
"Back to the tunnel," said Jenna. "Quickly. Take her other arm," she instructed Vila as she took hold of one of Cally's arms.
Dragging a still unconscious Cally, they both ran back towards the small supply room. Jenna had guessed that since the mansion occupants had not known about the tunnel, it was the safest place to be. They proceeded through the tunnel even as more explosions occurred behind them. Just as they exited the passage and Jenna instructed ORAC to teleport them all back up, the entire mansion exploded.
"Is Cally alright," asked Jenna as Vila returned to the flight deck from the medical bay. Jenna had already instructed Zen to return to Kameron Reve's base.
"She was lucky," said Vila. "She only has a couple of broken bones and a concussion but she should be fine."
"I keep thinking that if she had been sitting in front of the screen…"
"That's too horrible to think about," said Vila. He had lost too many friends; he did not even want to think about how close they had come to losing another one.
"We have a problem now," said Jenna.
"Yes, like who is trying to kill us?" said Vila.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don't think that trap was meant specifically for us," Jenna told him.
"Yes, much better. I prefer being killed by people who know who we are," said Vila.
"The problem is what are we going to tell Kameron Reve," said Jenna.
"Oh, yes. I forgot that. We do have a problem," agreed Vila. Having people try to kill him usually tended to erase all other thoughts from his mind.
Borel paced the flight deck of the flag ship. Even though a fierce battle was being raged outside the ship, in this command area everything was calm and ordered. There was an attitude of quiet determination and confidence among the men on duty and the leaders who were involved in the planning. It was a reflection of, and a great tribute to their leader.
The young general had received Argus's plans for a new operation. He instantly recognized its potential and immediately knew how dangerous it was. If they were able to knock out the main command ship, it would buy them the time they needed until the reinforcements arrived. Unfortunately his brother was not on the command vessel. He was always far away from the action.
Borel realized this was the chance they desperately needed.
Even though his commanders refused to admit it, Borel knew that unless the reinforcements arrived they could not hold out much longer. Half of his ships were either destroyed or no longer capable of defending themselves. More were reaching that state with every passing hour of the battle.
Borel knew that the chances that his sister and Argus would survive this operation unscathed were not high. He also knew that if anyone could do it, they stood the best chance. The survival of his fleet rested on them. He had to approve the operation.
Borel was glad that at least Reya and Argus were together. He hoped that they would stop being silly long enough to resolve things between them. Before it was too late.
He sent the authorization.
"What is the status of that area of weakness in the shield?" Argus asked the science officer.
"There is evidence of repair but it should still be thin enough for us to punch through," the sci officer reported.
"Excellent," Argus told him. "How far is the position of that piece of junk you identified?" he turned to the navigation officer.
"Another twenty two seconds sir," the nav officer reported.
"You are clear what we need to do?" Argus asked the cruiser pilot. "You're going to have to time this exactly and there must be no deviation in our angle."
They could all see the approaching space debris on the viewscreen. It had been part of a heavy battle cruiser and was considerably larger than their ship. Its path would bring them close enough that they would pass beyond the command ship's medium range sensors. As long as they kept their engines off, the command ship's computers should ignore them as just more space debris which would burned off in the shielding. Once past the ship's shield, they would be blind to everything except the visual sensors. They had discovered a blind spot which was suitable for their purposes.
The nav officer began the countdown. "Ten second warning. Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four…"
"Cutting engines, slow on reverse thrust," reported the pilot as he threw several switches. The shadow of the debris passed over them, dangerously close. Their slowing ship was matching the speed of the piece of debris.
The countdown continued, "Three, two."
"Shields off, reverse thrusters off."
Everything went silent.
"Tracking drift path," reported the nav officer.
They all waited. Their ship and it's large shadow seemed to move painfully slowly.
"Damn," said the nav officer.
"What is it?" asked Argus calmly.
"There is another piece of space debris approaching. Fast. I cannot determine accurate enough if it will hit us. But it will be very close," was the reply.
"Put up the projected path," Argus instructed.
On the main viewscreen they could now see a line indicating the offending piece of debris in relation to their own path. It did not look good.
"Stick to the plan," said Argus. "Continue to update the projected path as it gets closer," he instructed.
Lambrin reported to senior psychostrategist Sester over the main viewing screen on Sester's observer craft.
"There has been no communication from the commando unit I sent to Ventro. Not since the mission blackout."
"When was the last communication you had from them?"
"That was two days ago. They reported that they were approaching orbital position above Ventro. I cannot raise their ship. Not even on the emergency frequency. Has there been any movement by Ellis?"
"No," replied Sester. This was troubling. They were starting to lose control and psychostrategists hated things they could not map or control.
He continued, "Either Ellis does not know yet or he knows and has decided not to do anything yet. The troop we sent in, they were carrying nothing which could identify them as Federation?"
"No, they are very careful about that," replied Lambrin. "Do you want me to send another unit in?"
"No. It's too late now. Whatever happened was planned to happen. Someone is playing games with us. I suspect that if we send another unit after them, they will fall into another trap. And this time it will be very apparent."
"You think that it's the mysterious force we can't identify," asked Lambrin.
"It has to be. We have to find out who they are," said Sester. The nagging feeling that he should know what was going on had not left him. It had something to do with Sector Ten. Sester felt he was very close to something which was continuing to elude him.
"I am going to call in Tace and Vorshell. We need to do some thinking," said Sester. "Let's meet tomorrow at nine hundred hours standard time on my ship."
"Very well. Lambrin out."
As Lambrin signed off, it finally dawned on Sester what had been eluding him.
As the offending space debris got closer, the crew of Argus's pursuit ship could see that it must have once been part of a ship's crew quarters. It was getting dangerously close. The nav officer had reported that there was a fifty-fifty chance that they would be hit.
"I could use the comp engines," the pilot told Argus. The officer's hand reached towards the controls which would bring the low energy compensator engines online.
"No," said Argus. The pilot turned and looked at the rebel leader's face briefly. He saw a calm determination. The pilot had never known anything to rattle their commander, except their other commander; and she always deferred to him on anything strictly operational.
The pilot trusted Argus. He removed his hand from the comp engine controls.
They all held their breaths as the space debris came within inches of their aft hull. Without their shields on, even a brush against their hull would be dangerous.
The debris passed them. Everyone let out a collective breath.
"How are we doing with the drift path?" Argus asked the navigator.
"Still holding on line with the weakness in the shield."
The rest of the ship's manoeuvre went without incident. They activated their own shield briefly just to cross the command vessel's shield barrier. The pilot positioned them near a disused maintenance hatch near one of the main waste and recycle plants. It was time for Reya's teams to go into action.
Argus activated the ship's comm. "Teams one and two, you are clear to proceed. Good luck."