Pieces In Play

When finally Cynthia is back on her feet, sure that no limb has been crushed, she activates the lamps on her helmet. The twin beams of white illuminate overlapping cones that create a double fan pattern which stretches some three and half metres ahead of her. Alas all the lamps do is reveal what she had already gathered, which is that they are not where they were previously.

“What the fuck was that?” Is the angry query which comes from Echo 2 who she stretches to test and see if any of her bones are broken, they aren’t.

“I don’t know but I think I hit my head.”

Echo 2 cannot help but utter, “No one will notice Ioan, don’t worry.”

“Status check Echo; everyone alive and in one piece?” Is the query from Carmine who ignores the chatter between the members of his unit.

The in triplicate response Echo’s squad leader is given is swift and succinct, “Affirmative.”

“Good. Now does anyone have a clue what happened?” Echo 1 asks this while waiting for his HUD to recalibrate. All he knows is that he fell, which means they all must have fallen.

“I think SMR blasted the floor from underneath us.” Comes the reply from Cynthia.

“Don’t be crazy, they aren’t smart enough for that. And anyway we’d be floating in space about now if they had.”

“Clearly not Ioan or we wouldn’t be standing here, would we?”

“I know Andi, which is why I don’t think that is what happened.”

“Got a better explanation?”

“Well… uh… no… no I don’t.” Echo 4 admits feeling caught out by Amanda.

Bringing the conversation to a swift conclusion Carmine announces that, “Cyn’s right. They collapsed the decking.”

“Oh shit, so they did.” Ioan admits flummoxed at the revelation now that his HUD, all of Echo’s HUD’s truthfully, have recalibrated to show they are directly beneath where they had been previously. No longer are they on the map but in it. Looks like wherever they are is not on the schematic and yet it is undoubtedly man-made as evidenced by the glimpses of metal sheets which are just visible at the very fringes of their head lamps.

“Think they know we survived?” Echo 2 asks.

“Doubt it. We’re not on the map anymore. But… by looks of things we can still get to the generator.”

“Fortune favours us again!”

Amanda rolls her eyes and utters, “Oh brother.” in response to Ioan’s outburst, which is very on brand for Echo’s demo expert.

“We’ve delayed enough Echo. Let’s get to it.” Their squad leader demands with an accompanying stab of his helmet to help illustrate his point that they need to get moving. Without another word Amanda and Ioan trudge off. Carmine and Cynthia fall into step a short distance behind. All of them have their weapons at the ready as they worm their way down the undocumented tunnel sunk into the rock around and within which Ardent Station is built. There are no SMR or signs of their presence here whatsoever. It isn’t surprising, though doesn’t change Echo’s insistence on keeping their wits about them. After all, appearances can be deceiving. They are all very much aware of that. It’s why they are anticipating that around every corner, there are plenty of them, they could come face-to-face with more separatists armed and waiting to ambush.

Echo find no ambush in waiting but they do come across something else, a massive window. It runs horizontally across the middle of a huge section of the left side of the corridor they are making their way down.

“Why do you think this is here?” Amanda asks curious.

“It might be for observation.” Is the response from Cynthia which offers no reasoning as to why she has reached such a conclusion.

“For what reason?” Comes the inevitable query from Echo’s demo expert Ioan.

“Could’ve been for safety checks, inspections; that sort of thing.” The answer is accompanied with a shrug from Cynthia who doesn’t have the details to feel confident in saying for sure what the windows purpose is.

“Cyn, I need you to go ahead and scout it out. Don’t want any surprises. But only engage if necessary, copy?”

Echo 3 is quick to reply and succinct as she is always is. “Copy Car.”

And with that Cynthia rushes off, not at full sprint but at speed.

“Think any SMR will be up ahead?”

“No clue Ioan, but I’d rather know in advance if they are.”

Amanda has fallen into position at the rear of the group once more. Her HPR slung across her back in favour of her Snapside pistol. Again it is due to the limited site lines afforded to her. Sure, theoretically she could use her rifle, especially if anyone comes barrelling down the corridor after them but is inclined not too.

She finds the presence of the horizontal window to be a distraction. It continually draws her eyes toward it due to the constant movement of rocks, of varying sizes, that drift by in what she would term a lackadaisical fashion. Her training having instilled in her that movement is potential danger and death. It doesn’t matter that she knows the movement in her peripheral, outside that window, offers no danger to her however.

A few uneventful minutes pass before Ioan advises, “I see Cyn up ahead, she’s not moving.”

Echo’s 1 and 2 feel sudden concern drive into them like a stake through their chest.

“Echo 3 is everything OK?” Try as he might Carmine cannot, entirely, keep the concern from his voice.

He is afforded no reply from his units scout. That worries him not quite as much as the initial outburst from Ioan as he can see Cynthia is on her feet but more than he would prefer.

He isolates her link and tries again. This time there is a reaction but it comes only once the three of them are almost upon Cynthia. Yet, the response is not what any of them would have anticipated because all Echo 3 does is raise her arm and point through the window. Carmine follows her arm to the hand and then to the end of her index finger. Finally he follows an imaginary line to… He stops. He blinks, slowly several times aware of what he is looking at but confused by its presence.

“Is that a Predator?” Amanda cannot help but blurt. She knows, they all do, full well that it is a Sinetex Industries stealth capable Predator. What she, nor any of the others, can comprehend is why it is sat in a ex-mining platform dock that is now under the control of the separatist group SMR. It makes not a lick of sense. Predators are UNN starships, cutting edge. They might not be large or offensively overpowered but they are capable of remaining entirely invisible to all separatist technologies employed for detection whether that is by the SMR or any other group who oppose the UNN and authority in general.

“This makes no sense, that’s one of our ships. What is it doing here? In SMR hands.” Echo 4 mutters absentmindedly. It takes a while but finally he turns away from staring at the Predator to look at Carmine, their squad leader, for answers. Echo 1 doesn’t have any. He is as much in the dark, perplexed and lost for words as the rest of his unit. His only thought is that SMR maybe could have stolen it. When, or from where though, he hasn’t a clue. A theft on that scale, he would think, would be big news. Yet if it is stolen there has been not a peep said about it.

Is that why we’re here? No, we’re here for weapons caches, this is a starship. There is a big difference between them. You need to link with command. This is big, real big. Linking is a breach of protocol. So? Would you rather let the SMR keep a stealth capable starship? Who knows what damage they could do with that. You’re right.

With the internal debate over Carmine opens a link to command startling the rest of his unit. If they weren’t before they are all looking at him now, silent queries etched onto their hidden faces.

The Warrant Officer doesn’t need to see their expressions to know what they’re asking. He ignores them and their queries to begin his transmission.

“Command, this is Echo 1 we have a Sinetex Predator down here. Repeat; the SMR have a Predator docked in Ardent. Requesting…”

“Command to Echo 1; you are breaching protocol. Orders stand; asset denial, get it done. Command out.” With that the link is terminated from command’s end. Echo 1 tries to re-establish but cannot.

“That isn’t normal.” Cynthia admits bluntly saying what they are all thinking.

Echo 1 says nothing. Rather, all he does is sigh. Cynthia is right, this isn’t normal. This is very abnormal. Carmine expected command would be surprised by the news but if they were they showed no hint of it. Hell, they didn’t even hesitate. They simply reiterated that orders stand. Carmine isn’t sure if that means they knew or didn’t know and are attempting to cover their flawed Intel.

“I don’t like this Car.”

“I agree with Ioan, something is off. Did they know this whole time? Or is that why our orders were amended?”

Echo 1 looks from one blue mirrored face shield to the second and finally to the third. Following that he admits, “I don’t know and I don’t like it either, but we’re on Ardent, we’ve got an op to complete, so that’s what we’re gonna do, copy?”

There is a pause. It lasts a while. Under different circumstances Echo 1 would repeat himself but these aren’t normal circumstances and so he fully understands the hesitation from the rest of his unit. He feels it too but as squad leader has to keep it together, follow their orders, keep his unit on task and get the op done, like it or not. Some orders from command he hasn’t agreed with previously but never like this.

When finally Cynthia, Ioan and Amanda answer they do so in the affirmative, “Copy.”

Without delay Carmine gestures they move out, begrudgingly they do so, each taking a final look at the Predator before departing with Echo 1 at the head of their single file line and Echo 2 at the rear.

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