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The professor’s eyes traveled from potential savior to savior. “What is that secret code?”

Lothar caught Captain Gili in his glance. “Oh no. Don’t look at me,” she insisted. “I already gave him the code.”

The swarthy, erstwhile rescuer smoothly and quickly drew his revolver from its holster. “It looks like we will have to go back to doing this the hard…”

It sounded like ripping paper. The flash of the barrel startled Lothar. His eyes opened wide with pain as blood spread across his shirt. He gasped once before collapsing to the floor.

Giselle stepped closer to kick the revolver out of his quivering hand, her submachine gun at the ready. Lothar spat out a lump of crimson blood and died. Watching the carnage, Keven coughed once then turned to vomit all over the floor.”

“Very clever, Professor,” the good captain mused. “How did you know I wasn’t the plant?”

“You asked me what works better than torture? Kindness, safety, respect. This man,” Arleth gestured towards the body on the floor, “seemed less concerned with helping and more interested in getting Keven drunk.”

“I am not drunk,” Keven said as his body shuddered with another heave.

Giselle reached down to pick up the fallen revolver then handed it to the Professor. “We need to move,” she told him. “I can’t reach my ship in here, but I’ve got to think they’ve got the whole place wired up.” She walked over to help the graduate student steady himself. “Come on, Keven. It’s only a matter of time before they come to see what happened. The professor needs our….”

Somewhere in the hunting lodge, a door crashed open.

*****

Sharp edges of a savaged straw threatened to flay Dede’s tongue. She ignored the coppery taste in her mouth. Data scrolled past her on the screen. Her fingers pinched and twisted it, trying to coax out its secrets.

“Oh captain, my captain,” she murmured around the plastic in her mouth. “You look like you’re in trouble now.” Her head tilted as her fingers hovered above a button on the console. “At least I hope you’re in trouble. If not, I really don’t want to screw up your escape.”

*****

“I’m out.” Professor Arleth snapped the empty cylinder of the revolver back into place. Giselle, flipped the stunted frame of her submachine over to check its magazine. She shook her head before leaning over to spray a burst down the hallway.

“Caseless ammo,” she grunted. “Still, it’s not going to keep them off us forever. It’s only a matter of time before they decide they’ve had enough and lob a grenade back here.”

“They want me alive,” the professor remarked. “If they kill me, they will never learn the location of the Ruins of Kabreth.” He looked over to the unconscious body of his research assistant. The alcohol and stress finally caused a collapse. “Maybe it would be better if we turned ourselves in and gave you a chance to escape.”

Giselle sighed. “I have a better idea.” The muzzle of her gun shifted from the hallway to settle on the older man. Her intestines twitched with the impossibility. This would never work. “Stop firing!” she yelled. “I’m bringing them out!”

“Move it, Professor,” Giselle said. “Get sleeping beauty on his feet, too.”

Not speaking, the Arleth slowly turned to rouse the listless body next to him. “Time to get up Keven.”

“I’m not going back,” Keven mumbled, “I’m not going back.” A tear traveled through the dirt on his cheek. Hitching an arm around his neck, the Professor got the younger man to his feet. The two stood, unsteady with pain and stress.

“I want your hands where I can see them!” called a voice from down the hallway.

“We’re doing our best,” Arleth snapped back. “We’ve got a wounded man here.” His eyes settled on Captain Gili. “I understand why you’re doing this.”

The muzzle of her gun gestured down the hallway. “Just keep those hands up,” Gili told them loudly. “Stay in front of me.” The submachinegun flicked one more time. Hobbled by his injuries and the weight of his student, Arleth stumbled into the hallway. The Captain stepped just a meter behind.

Four fatigue clad figures poured into the corridor, their faces obscured by balaclava and goggles. Two of them kneeled to give the two behind them a better field of fire. The barrels of four rifles followed Arleth and Keven into the hallway. “I want to see your hands! Walk towards us, slowly.”

Keven tried to lift one visibly shaking arm. “If I show you my hands, I’ll drop him,” the Professor snapped back. “Do you want to see my hands or walk towards you?”

“You back there! Come out where we can see you!”

“Move it professor,” Gili pressed the muzzle of her gun into his back.”

The hallway filled with loud voices and shouted commands.

“Hands! Show me your hands!”

“Come out from back there! We will shoot!”

“I’m getting there as fast as I can!”

“Look. This hallway isn’t really wide enough for three across!”

“Right now! Move right now!”

“Hands. Give me your hands”

A low rumble filled the hallway as the ground trembled beneath their feet. Four pairs of googles looked at each other then around them. Gili stepped forward and whispered in Arleth’s ear, “Show them your hands, Professor.”

Keven’s body slumped to the floor as the Professor loosened his grip. With their eyes focused elsewhere, Gili filled the hallway with fire. The soldiers’  bodies collapsed in heaps and guttural grunts.

“What was that?” The Professor asked.

“I think our ride is coming.” Gili responded. Slipping Keven’s other arm around her neck, she helped to lift the young man. “Let’s go. We don’t want to keep it waiting.”

****

Dede leaned over the console. Her eye squinted as they tried to get a better view of the ground. Her hands maneuvered the controls to drive the arrowhead shaped Gazelle in the direction of it captain’s last known position. The engineer spared one glance at another monitor. A rising column of smoke where the massive anti-ship system stood just moments before comforted her. The To’kath Karaa couldn’t vector missiles or airbreathers if they couldn’t lock on.

The ship shifted and curved as Gili’s subdermal transponder came back online. “Captain!”

“Please tell me you’re close, Dede.” The sounds of gunfire filtered through the connection. “We’re out of the house but pinned down.”

The monitors reported the captain’s position. “One minute, I’ll draw their attention.” The ship dipped and shuddered as Dede tried to align it over the small open space in front of the hunting lodge. She stretched her arms across the controls, trying to manipulate both the pilot and her regular position. A defensive turret twisted under the ship. The touch of a button ejected a ton of laser baffling sand towards the guerillas keeping Gili stuck in the doorframe of the cottage. As the To’kath Karaa took cover, Dede brought the ship down hard in the yard. The engineer lowered the rear hatch as the Gazelles’ lifters and thrusters kicked up dust and sod.

Dede waited….

“We’re on,” barked the ship’s intercom. “Get us out of here!”

Settling back into the pilot’s seat, Dede did as she was told.

*****

“It’s not the good stuff,” Giselle told them as she poured their glasses, “but it will serve well enough.” She took a seat at the mess table then raised her glass. “To Lothar. It didn’t work the way he planned, but it worked just fine for us.” The others smiled and touched their cups.

“I owe you an apology, professor,” Giselle said as she rested her glass against her lips. “I should have identified Lothar as a plant earlier. You were unconscious when we left the bunker. I thought he was being flip. I realize now he was talking to his handler.”

“Yep.” Dede nodded. “About that same time, they jammed almost everything outside comm bands.”

Professor Arleth lifted his glass again before speaking. “It doesn’t matter. It worked out in the end.”

“Are we clear?” Keven asked. His voice quivered as if it had difficulty finding the words.

“We’re still five days out of a jump point,” Dede explained. “The To’kath Karaa don’t have anything space worthy. Hasmyke been yellow-zoned since the uprising. They rely on smugglers to deliver off-planet supplies.” She took a long quaff, then rested her hand in her chin. “I suppose they could hire a bounty hunter, but I have a feeling they’re more worried about repairs than catching us, at the moment.”

Professor Arleth lifted the bottle from the table and refilled the glasses. “Let’s hope the royal family is giving them a pounding while their defenses are down.” The four raised their drinks again.

“What will you do now, Professor?” Gili asked as she nursed her drink. “We’re you able to recover anything from the site?”

The old man shrugged. “I hope some of the team was able to make it back to the university with some of the data we recovered. We’ll need to catalog and analyze it as we wait for a chance to return to…”

“Wait,” Captain Gili interjected. “We don’t want to know.”

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