Pieces In Play

Echo’s run to the generator went better than each of them imagined it would, largely because the SMR believed that in the explosion they blasted the UNN special ops units out into space. For some reason the separatists are under the impression Echo cannot survive in space. They all found that perplexing to hear from a conversation they stumbled upon and yet it had no bearing on their successful arrival at the mining platforms generator.

Still, to get here they did have to silently dispatch a few SMR stragglers who otherwise might have revealed their presence and called for reinforcements.

“How’re we doing this?” Echo 4 asks impatiently while Cynthia goes about the job of dealing with the generator. She remains capable of answering while working away however.

“First I disengage the safeties, then I drain the coolant and crank this generator to max.”

“How long will that take?” Echo’s sniper asks while down on one knee, HPR raised and aimed at the single entrance/exit to the colossal room which is permanently filled with a loud low hum. The sound originating from the elevated pedestal within which the fusion generator is held drowning out the sound of liquid coolant being cycled and flushed through the enormous pipes that link floor to shadow obscured ceiling high above their heads.

“Nearly done.” Echo 3 advises feeling pleased. She had worried that her attempts to crack through a backdoor in the system security of Ardent might go askew resulting in her becoming locked out, but her concerns were all for nothing.

“Timescale on reactor overload once you’re done?” Is the demand for information Carmine makes without delay.

“Seven minutes?” Cynthia does not sound sure but Echo 1 will take what he can get and opens a link to the Petrel.

“Petrel; Echo is requesting pickup.” There is no reply and so Carmine tries again, “Petrel, come in. Do you read? Echo requesting pick up.” Still there is no reply. “Petrel?” Cycling links Echo 1 tries command again, “Command this is Echo 1; we can’t reach our bird, please advise?” No response is forthcoming. Carmine knows he could try again, maybe a thousand times but…

Out of nowhere and without warning Echo come under fire. Amanda has already started issuing her response but there are far too many SMR pouring into the room for her to be able to take all of them before they reach and duck behind the cover of pipes, not all of which contain coolant.

“2, 4 provide cover with me, 3 get it done.”

“Copy.” The confirmation in triplicate follows without it being demanded. Sign of a good unit, Carmine thinks as he drops to one knee and begins picking off targets. Unfortunately, rounds pepper Cynthia’s position. She is in no danger but the console she is working away on is, as is soon proved when it erupts into a shower of sparks resulting in cursing from Echo’s scout.

“Status, Cyn?”

“Console is fried. I can’t finish the overload.” Exactly what Echo 1 did not want to hear. Fortunately, Ioan has a plan.

“Stand back, I got this.” The unit’s demolitions expert declares confidently.

“Is that a grenade?” Cynthia blurts having turned to see the explosive in Ioan’s tight grip.

“Yep.”

“What’s your plan Ioan?”

“And why the fuck do you have a ‘nade?”

“I always carry one Andi.”

“As for my plan Car, toss the ‘nade and watch the generator go boom. That’ll overload it, don’t you think?”

“Cyn, timeframe for generator meltdown if…”

It’s too late; Ioan has already released the grenade at the apex of his throw. He wasn’t under the impression he was to wait and watches as the explosive sphere flies through the air only to clank against the fusion generators side and then drop to sit right alongside it on the pedestal.

“Three minutes, maybe, I don’t know.”

“Aw really, I was hoping it would be quicker.”

“Stow it. We need to get…” The grenade detonates cutting Echo 1 off.

The room rocks, violently, one way and then the other. The generator belches fire and pipes explode. To make matters worse the damage backs up and fills the coolant drained pipes. They’ll soon burst as a result of the pressure. SMR are screaming. They are confused, lost, scared. It’s the chance Echo needs and they take it. Carmine issues orders but they are lost in the booms as successive detonations continue to rock the room around them. Thankfully, the members of Echo hear his commands and execute to perfection by taking down the closest separatists while advancing, then dropping behind potentially unsafe and ready to blow at any time cover to reload. Right after they return to their push. Not wishing to remain behind cover that might blow at any time longer than is absolutely necessary.

Amanda, with sniper in hand, is the slowest of the quartet but not by so much that she is at any greater risk than the rest of them.

Having slapped a fresh mag into his burst rifle; Carmine pivots left and right dispatching stragglers who mistime their breaks from cover leaving them more open than others examples of the separatists.

The pipes, unable to take the pressure any more, explode. Everyone is thrown off their feet and to the deck. Echo are quicker to recover, as you might expect, and eliminate separatists unable to skitter back to relative safety in time.

There is a deafening series of groans and creaks. Cynthia looks up. Pipes, huge sections, are falling toward her. She leaps, narrowly avoiding being crushed and then turns her attention to the remainder of her unit. They are all safe, for now, but Echo need to get out of this room. Thankfully there is little resistance as the SMR are either dead or in full-scale retreat.

“Where’re we heading Car?”

“Anywhere that isn’t here.” Echo 1 admits honestly before switching back to his link in hopes of raising the Petrel pilot.

“Petrel this is Echo, do you read? Petrel, this is Echo, we need pick up on the North side of the station immediately. Petrel?” There remains no reply.

“Dammit you fucking crazy pilot we need a lift!” Ioan roars across all local channels of UNN frequencies. He too gets no reply. It’s as if the Petrel has disappeared. Carmine could try command again but doubts they’d answer. Though, as fortune would have it they have advanced down corridors to the next room which just so happens to be the bay with the Predator in.

“Echo; we’re taking that ship.” Is the blunt order he gives. None of them are about to refuse or argue. They want off Ardent as much as Carmine wants them off and out of the blast radius. Still, it’s difficult to not feel as though the lack of response from the Petrel is a little convenient in light of the discovery of the stealth starship.

The separatists are not about to make taking the Predator easy and seem to throw the remainder of their forces at Echo, and the numbers are considerable it seems. Regardless, the special ops squad do what they’re trained to and turn the fight up to eleven, using all the capabilities of their Dominion III armour to cull the SMR as swiftly as they are able and all while continuing to advance toward the Predator. It looms large over them casting a menacing black shadow not quite as dark as the coating which covers the angular hull of the starship.

Suddenly, as if in anticipation of their approach the rear ramp extends and the doors begin to open. Carmine doubts it’s going to be a welcome wagon and he’s right. More SMR are ready and waiting. Their hope is that they’ll catch Echo off-guard, slaughtering them. It doesn’t go as planned but not because of Echo. Instead it is the self-destructing Ardent Station which, just at the moment the separatists would need to fire, bucks wildly, tossing a good number of them clear of the ramp. Some crash awkwardly to the buckling, flaming deck as debris rains down from above. There isn’t much time before this station goes boom in a big big way but some of the SMR who fell offer no resistance for their lives were ended when they clattered to the warped deck of the bay.

The rest on the ramp of the Predator are carefully picked off by Amanda and her HPR while Cynthia and Ioan keep her covered. Rounds ping off their armour as though they are pellets made of plastic and not lethal metal projectiles capable of tearing flesh.

Echo 1 is a little further behind the remainder of his unit having spotted a significant danger in the form of SMR wielding UNN weaponry. It took them long enough, was his first thought, but apparently those weapons are why they were here. He has his doubts about that being true but forced them aside as he engaged the separatists. Thankfully, the SMR are fresh to the weapons and struggle to bring them to bear in time to mount anything that could be considered a threatening resistance to Echo 1 who goes into a punching, shooting, kicking frenzy that quickly sees him remove the danger posed to his unit.

With the threat disposed of he breaks into a sprint and orders, “Everyone aboard. Cyn you’ve got the sticks, right?”

“Affirmative.” Echo 3 assures with conviction as she disappears up the fully extended ramp and into the guts of the Predator leaving Ioan and Amanda on the ramp to provide covering fire for Carmine.

“Andi, check the rest of the ship. I don’t want any surprises.”

“Copy.” Comes the confirmation a half second prior to her disappearing from view.

“Car, you might want to pick up the pace. You’ve got more SMR on your ass and they’ve got our gear.”

“About right.” Echo 1 grumbles to himself as he forces his legs to pump harder. For his efforts he is rewarded with a significant increase in his speed. It comes just as rockets and large calibre rounds pepper where he had and would have been had he continued his previous pace.

Ioan keeps firing. Yet cannot help but note that for reasons beyond his understanding the separatists are largely ignoring his presence entirely. A few take pot-shots his way but it’s nothing he can’t handle.

The Predator’s engines burst and roar into life emitting a high pitched screech that sits alongside the deep rumble which gives some indication of just how much thrust is available to the vessel. All around the starship debris continues to fall, now in the form of giant slabs of rock. Some of the larger specimens cleave gaping wounds in the deck, sending shockwaves outward from their point of impact, bucking not only Carmine and the SMR but also the Predator which is not yet airbourne.

“Car, are you aboard?”

“No he’s not, stall.”

“We can’t, the ceiling is caving in.”

“Ah shit.” Echo 1 mutters under his breath only to sling his burst rifle over his shoulder and across his back where it becomes magnetised and affixed in place due to his suit.

More separatists have turned their attention Ioan’s way because of his sustained projectile based assault upon them but it remains under control for the moment, he thinks. Though, he is forced to watch as Carmine sidesteps and spins out of the path of chunks of the station threatening to crush him. One he is sure achieves its goal but miraculously Carmine reappears unharmed.

A few additional metres of clear unobstructed decking covered ends when Echo’s CO kicks off against the failing deck so that he might rockets through the air toward the now hovering Predator.

Echo 1 is well aware that he isn’t going to make it and engages his jets usually meant for braking purposes. It works, increases his velocity and prolonging his jump. The deck below him was never an option. It’s largely fallen away having claimed the SMR who had been upon it. Yet, that is not the end of the devastation yet to be wrought as the bay continues to collapse around the Sinetex stealth starship.

Carmine sure he is at the apex of his jump, reaches to grab a hold of the ramp. He misses; he hasn’t made the distance and begins to fall back the way he came. But he stops mid-plummet having been saved from certain death of being crushed beneath millions of tons by Ioan who grabbed a hold of his wrist. Carmine could not be more relieved. He thought he was done for but as he is hauled up and onto the ramp he commands, “Hit it Cyn!”

Echo 3 needs no further encouragement and slams the starship full ahead. The engines flare, burn and bellow sending the Predator rocketing out of the collapsing structure narrowly avoiding falling debris until they are clear of the immediate danger. But Cynthia does not reduce their velocity; she maintains it even as Carmine and Ioan join her and Amanda.

They need to get clear of the generators blast before it erupts for what will be the final time.

Echo are not forced to wait for long for that to occur. It happens while the Predator is dodging and weaving between massive hulks of rock spinning and drifting about the asteroid field. And when Ardent Station erupts it does so in spectacular fashion, eviscerating and atomising everything in its wake. The Predator, barely ahead of the shockwave, shudders and vibrates throwing everyone onboard all over the place until finally it is over.

Echo erupt into cheers knowing they have not only completed their op and survived but done so against the odds and with all of them still intact, which is the greatest success of all they each think.

“Cyn, take us home.” Carmine orders.

“Copy Car.” Comes the reply accompanied by a curt nod of her helmeted head.

Echo 1 breathes a sigh of relief. He wasn’t convinced they were going to make it, but they have and in one piece.

“Car, you need to see this.” Echo’s sniper, Amanda, informs from a position a couple metres from where he and Ioan have been stood around Cynthia.

Without delay Echo’s CO sidles over and up to Amanda who is stood at a console. He is about to ask what she’s found only she beats him to the punch.

“Read this, you’re not going to believe it.” She points, as the words pass her lips, to where he needs to look. Quickly he scans the text displayed but feels Ioan join them before he’s halfway done, no doubt to see what’s going on.

“You have to be kidding me.” Is all Echo’s squad leader manages.

“Sinetex sold this thing to the SMR?” Ioan blurts shocked not long after.

“What?” Cynthia cannot contain her disbelief from the pilots seat of the Predator. Unlike the others she isn’t gathered around the console and so this is the first she’s hearing of the discovery as she pilots the stealth starship toward the Imidachi and the rest of the Fifteenth Fleet.

“Yeah, it’s written right here in black and white.”

“This has to be a joke.”

“I wish it were but it’s not. Look at the metadata. It’s not been tampered with. I might not be a dab hand at this like Cyn but I know enough to check something like this and be sure of what I’m looking at. This is legit. Sinetex is…” Amanda stumbles, the words stuck in her throat.

“They’re profiteering; playing both sides.” Carmine says finishing the sentence Amanda couldn’t manage to.

“Yeah.” Is the defeated response uttered with considerable deflation.

“Bastards!” Ioan rumbles just prior to, “Attention unauthorised vessel serial number 7364821, stand down or you will be fired upon. Repeat stand down or you will be fired upon.”

“Car, I don’t know who they think we are but they don’t like us being here.”

“Command this is Echo 1, we are aboard the Predator. Repeat, Echo is aboard the Sinetex Predator, do not fire.

“Confirmed Echo 1.” Comes the reply following a short hesitant delay.

“Predator-7364821 head for hangar 3 of the Imidachi for immediate debrief.” Is the next order they’re given.

Cynthia looks to the other three members of her unit but acknowledges with a, “Copy.”

Following that the link between the Predator and the Imidachi is cut, as is the link between Echo and Command. Both are done from the UNN’s end and not the special ops units.

“Something here is very off Car. I don’t like.”

“Nor do I Andi, nor do I.”

“So what we gonna do?”

“Nothing we can do Ioan.”

“Are we going to report the…” Cynthia begins only for Carmine to interrupt and advise, “No, we’re not. That we’re keeping to ourselves. Andi take over the sticks; Cyn pull the data, I want it all, no trace.”

“You think Command is in on this?”

“I don’t know. Other than to say the only people I trust are stood here in this Predator with me.”

“Confirm.” Is the in triplicate agreement Carmine is met with as the Predator drifts toward the Imidachi. Once aboard Echo will enter a mission debrief for their latest successfully completed op but unlike previous ops this one feels different, for all of them, and they don’t like it.

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