Captain Gili sighed, her focus lost to the voice in her head; curtesy of a subdermal communicator and not actual psychosis. “Repeat?” she asked the air.
From the comfort of the Gazelle’s cramped bridge kilometers away, First Mate Spivakovsky spoke into her headset. “I said, you’re humming. Someone might hear you.”
“I’m trying to work the lock on this window,” Giselle answered quietly. “Besides, our friends in the To’kath Karaa must have taken over something. They won’t hear me over the sounds of their party.” The Captain spared two quick glances to double check the empty alleyway. A little less than a meter stood between the buildings. The early evening shadows hid her from a casual glance. Gili offered up a quick prayer to Thesis, the Goddess of Liars and Thieves, as proof against a reveler ducking down the path to relieve themselves.
She couldn’t see the dish from here, the main sensor of the complex ship defense system designed to keep vessels like Giselle’s Gazelle from swooping in and flying off with hostages. It hovered over the base like a dark spot on the Captain’s mind. Giselle had no desire to turn her home, her business, her ship into so much pulverized dust.
“Did you plant my packages?”
Captain Gili stopped working on the first story window, her face curling into a frown. “Yeah. Of course. Just like you wanted. Why do you ask?”
“You seem a little distracted.”
“I’m trying to break into a building on the base of a hostile force,” Giselle asserted. The pitch of her voice couldn’t quite keep out a quiver of nervous tension. “I am laser focused.”
“It’s just that…. You’re trying to jimmy the lock on a window where there is enough noise to cover you humming. Doesn’t the window have glass?”
First Mate Spivakovsky covered the microphone of her headset. The tiny sound of tinkling glass drew a giggle. She winced, then giggled again. From the safety of the ship, it felt unkind to laugh at her boss. One more chuckle escaped before she could reign in the laughter.
Captain Gili ignored the stifled chuckles filtering through her implant and lowered herself to the floor of the room, crouching in the semi-darkness. Rows of stocked supply shelves filled the small space. She unslung the compact submachine gun she carried and checked the fit of the noise suppressor. Other trader captains tended to prefer handguns; something about that image of the lone gunfighter, willing to fight the bad guys one bullet at a time. Giselle found the notion silly. Nothing says “get out of my face” like a room full of projectiles flung from a hyperactive slug thrower.
The room’s door swung quietly outward a crack as Giselle shifted into position to scan the hallway. A single line of glow strip cast a greenish pall on the dun colored walls. This would be the tricky part; finding the hostages. The small building didn’t offer many places to stash prisoners and even fewer places for a rescuer to hide. She gripped the handle of her firearm and checked the safety. At any moment, she could run into fanatical members of the To’kath Karaa.
Murder, ritual beheadings, torture, rape… in twenty years of civil war on Hasmyke, the To’kath Karaa had demonstrated a willingness to use any method to further its goal of a totalitarian regime. When the University of Tiaruta first explained the mission, Captain Gili considered halving her fee for a moment. Then the moment passed and she asked for three-quarters up front.
Really. What good is a reward if you’ve been ritually beheaded?
Quickly and stealthily, Giselle searched the structure, prowling though storerooms and empty, makeshift barracks. She found the two prisoners in a basement, no guard, and a broken lock on the door. One of their faces registered shock at the captain’s appearance. One of the prisoners lay unconscious on a moldy wooden pallet. Giselle stood, looking over the room then back up the stairwell behind her. Her brow pulled together in puzzlement. No guards? No lock? This would seem like an opportune moment for hostages to start taking a walk.
Giselle recognized them from the University data files: a graduate assistant and his professor. Months of captivity had stripped weight from them. Both heads sprouted ugly thickets of brutally shorn short hair. Loose and dirty shirts draped their thin frames. The older man lay on a rough wood, arms, legs and feet wrapped in grey bandages. She hurried over to the fallen figure, pulling a med kit from her satchel.
“You’re Keven, right?” she asked, sparing the younger man a glance. She started checking the older man’s vitals. “Your hair is shorter now than on your university ID,” she added, a warm smile spreading across her face. Keven nodded. “What happened to Professor Arleth here?”
“They tortured him,” Keven sputtered. “They wanted the location of the Ruins of Kabreth.”
“They made me watch,” he added. “I never told them anything.”
“That’s very brave of you,” the captain replied. Giselle kept her face passive as she looked over the professor. Her trained eye found electrical and chemical burns over a good percentage of his body. Small cuts lined his forearms and, she imagined, the inside of his thighs. They hadn’t started on his feet or eyes, yet. Getting him to the ship in this condition wouldn’t pose too many difficulties, provided he could regain consciousness. “We’re going to need to make a stretcher or something to carry him. Do you have any blankets or sheets or anything like that?”
The captain looked up at Keven. His eyes blinked once as his mouth moved around words that just wouldn’t form. “My name is Giselle Gili,” she told him. “I’ve been hired by the university. I have a ship nearby. I’m here to rescue you.”
Keven’s lip disappeared beneath his front teeth. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, bashful as if witnessing some faux pas at a cocktail reception.
“Ms Gili,” he stammered, “we’re already being rescued.”