It felt good to be back in uniform. Jena Foster stood in the cabin of the civilian delivery shuttle with her black military overcoat draped over her shoulders, her knife at her back and her service pistol slung in its holster. As COS Caterer-1 approached the service entrance to the Herne’s space dock she felt the calm before battle wash over her.
Zircon was dressed similar to herself, though with no service firearm or knife she had ordered him to take a ceramisteel rolling pin and kitchen knife from their apartment. He was sat in the co-pilot’s seat, cables running from the back of his neck to the console as he used his clearance codes to enable their passage through and clear them for docking with the flagship.
It was all on their pilot to navigate through the opening and to pull them up alongside one of the Herne’s many service airlocks. Jena had loaned the shorter woman some of her clothes, so the tracksuit and hooded top swamped Natasha. Her brown hair had been tied back and a intense expression was on her face as she flew the ship.
“It may be an idea if Natasha comes with us.” Zircon spoke up as they pulled alongside the centre of the disc that formed the majority of the ship’s chassis. “Our arrival may alert whoever is on board, and I do not rate the airlock on this ship to withstand any intrusion attempts.”
“All right then, Natasha. I’ll be on point, Zircon will mind the rear. If we say drop, you drop and stay small.”
The chef nodded, edging the ship in close before initiating the docking sequence.
Jena’s hands went to her weapons. The knife was held in her left hand, the pistol in her right. Her firing arm was held straight out at shoulder level, with her forearm resting on the wrist of her left arm, the blade held outward ready to strike. The world around her seemed more vibrant and sharper as her reflexes and sense of awareness ramped up ready for a combat situation. She could feel body heat as Natasha stood behind her, and then Zircon heading up the rear.
With a thought, she opened the airlock and edged in, taking in all avenues of approach with a glance. “Proceed.” She whispered back once the coast was clear.
The corridor this close to the hull was for service purposes only, a network of large bulkhead-secured transit paths with smaller walkways. While the inner corridors tended towards a pure white similar to the bridge, here it was all metal and warning stripes. On the trip up, Zircon had said the intrusions started from one of the hangars assigned to the service teams and was proceeding towards the central tower and the facilities on the top of the ship. With a map in a corner of her in-vision display, Jena lead the way.
“I have been able to negotiate our passage with the Herne’s computer, but I must warn you both: We have likely been noted by the interlopers.” Zircon mentioned as they boarded one of the massive elevators to take them up to the top level of the central disc.
“Can we arm ourselves any better?” Jena asked. “I’m competent with these, but a rifle or assault cannon would be appreciated.”
“I am unable to get access to restricted weapons systems. On a more pleasant note, they are unable to access them either. They seem to be doing all their work through the autocrew system.”
Jena turned to the android. “Any chance of you being affected?”
“Wait, you’re an android!?” Natasha blinked.
“There are differences between my operating system and theirs. I suspect that an exploit was injected during their servicing on the ship. I have yet to be serviced so am unaffected.” Zircon explained. He glanced to Natasha. “I am. Is this a problem?”
“I thought you were just a bit formal…”
Jena cleared her throat as the elevator came to a halt. “You can discuss this at another time. Get clear of the doors.” She shooed them to one side, taking the other for herself. As the doors slid apart, she patched into the camera feed on her service gun to check around the corners.
All clear in the corridors.
“Keep behind me.” She ordered, moving ahead with steely resolve. As composed as she was upping her sensory reaction levels was causing her heart rate and blood pressure to climb as every sound, every shadow leapt to prominence in her mind.
“A personnel elevator ahead is descending.” Zircon reported. “Estimated occupancy three to five individuals.”
“Get Natasha safe. I’ll take care of them.” Sprinting towards a wall, Jena leapt up it and continued her run pushing upwards with powerful strides. Gripping the blade of her knife in her teeth, her free hand gripped one of the cable pipes running near the ceiling and she was easily able to tuck herself out of sight of anyone walking towards her from beneath.
With the android and the chef sheltering in a storage cupboard for the automated cleaning units Jena shut her eyes to focus on the footsteps coming nearer.
“-said something about an airlock being triggered down here. Might be one of the Consortium crews.” A woman spoke.
“None of them should be on shift tonight.” A gruff-voiced man responded.
Another woman snarled. “It doesn’t matter who they are, we kill them and get on with the plan. The buyer wants the goods, all we need to do is get it out of here.”
Three walked under her clad in ASC Orange spacesuits with helmets, the uniform of the company doing the work. The machine pistols they were carrying were not work-issued, on the other hand. She let them walk a little further before letting go. The first shot from her pistol struck one in the back of the neck, accelerated particles surging through the bridge to their machine interface. Crouched down in her landing, she snatched the blade from her tooth and dashed in as they swung round to face her.
Zircon darted out of hiding to engage one of them, a woman from the shape of her spacesuit. His hand was reaching for her weapon even as his other swung the rolling pin towards her visor.
The remaining intruder was hers to deal with. Jena let off a shot aimed at the gun moving towards her, buying her enough time to close the distance and drive them back with a shoulder barge. The machine pistol went scattering to one side, and Jena was on her. The pair were soon rolling on the floor. She could hear the woman hissing and spitting thanks to the helmet-mounted local broadcast speakers, her contorted features just visible through the reflective glass visor.
They pounded on each other as they tumbled, getting in strikes where they could. A knee to the stomach sent Jena off and her opponent scrambling for her gun. It was then that the Ensign saw her moment. Jena lunged forwards and grabbed her opponent from behind, snaring her in a double shoulder lock. Planting her feet in a firm stance, Jena leaned back to add leverage. She dropped her body down to pin the opponent further, and didn’t stop pulling until she heard the spine crack. The snarls and hisses fell into whimpers of pain.
“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” The other woman was begging from a prone position on the floor. Zircon stood over her, rolling pin in hand.
“Who are you and why are you here?” Jena demanded, retrieving her weapons.
“The Axar! We’re here for The Axar!” Her visor was cracked and she was nursing her right arm.
“Commander Romanov’s Servitor?” Zircon questioned. “Whatever for?”
“Someone wants it. We get it. They pay us big money. I don’t know what they want it for.” She gasped, cradling her arm as she sat up. “Please don’t kill me.”
Zircon was looking at her now. It was her decision.
“Leave these two where they are.” She thumbed at the other two. “He’s dead and she’s not going anywhere. Get Natasha out of the store room and lock this one in there.”
The android was quick to work. Just before they sealed the door, Jena looked to their prisoner. “How many of you?”
“Eleven. There’s eleven of us.” Her eyes strayed to her companions. “… There were eleven of us.”
“And there’ll be less when I’m through. You picked the wrong ship to rob. Seal her in, Zircon.” Natasha was staring at her when she turned around. “Problem?”
The chef looked to the two on the floor, then back to Jena and shook her head.
“We proceed on then, to the Commander’s Hangar.”
Zircon’s ears heard it first. “Weapons fire ahead.”
They were nearing the bridge. The android had two recovered machine pistols in his hands, Natasha was holding the kitchen knife and rolling pin, and Jena kept to her service knife and pistol.
“Two shooters. Both with machine pistols.” Jena said as her ears picked up the noise. Then her internal computer picked up something on peer to peer communications. An ident tag coming from the bridge.
[“Admiral!”] Jena called over commslink.
[“Ensign Foster! I’m pinned down and can’t get a clear shot.”] Zaha replied.
[“Stay where you are, Admiral. We will be with you momentarily.”] Zircon added, before looking to Jena. “I must do my duty.”
With a nod, she watched as he took off in front of her at speed, his legs carrying him in long strides towards the bridge. “Keep an eye out behind us, Natasha. If you see anything, yell and move behind me.”
Jena could hear more gunfire as she neared the bridge. Sticking close to the wall, she checked around with her pistol’s camera. She couldn’t see the Admiral, but Zircon was bounding over control panels with both guns aimed at different targets. She took a shot when she could and clipped one on the shoulder.
Zaha Roland appeared from behind the Navigation Officer’s station. Clad in her white admiral’s jacket, her hands were on her sword. As the left held the scabbard tightly, the right drew the blade. With a horizontal slice a wave of light cut forth into the distracted invaders. Trapped between the three of them, they were soon slain.
“What’ve you found out?” Zaha asked, re-sheathing the Sword of the Hunter.
“There’s eleven of them. Six now. They’re here to steal Commander Romanov’s Servitor, and are being paid to do so for someone.” Jena explained, ushering Natasha forwards to stand with them. “And Zircon thinks it’s an inside job, someone tampered with the autocrew.”
The android nodded. “Security alerts which should have been sent externally were routed to the autocrew. If Jena had not requested me to accompany her…”
The Admiral nodded. “I came here on my shuttle, and I’ve sent Shay to gather some others. The Axar is a powerful machine that must not be allowed to leave Galactic Federation hands. Who’s this?” She looked to Natasha.
“A friend. She works with Zircon, and she risked herself to fly us up here.” Jena stated.
Zaha offered her a hand. “Your aid has been noted, but I would feel much more comfortable if a civilian was out of danger. Ensigns, head for The Axar. I’ll take your friend to my shuttle, she’ll be safe enough there, then I’ll join you.”
She looked to her companion, then back to her Admiral. “We can’t let you risk yourself more than you have. You could seal the bridge off and try and restore control.”
Admiral Roland looked rankled to be kept out of the fight for her vessel, but soon sighed. “Alright. Go, you two. I’ll try and re-activate one of the weapons lockers near the hangar.”
Natasha watched the pair leave, gnawing on her bottom lip. “Will they be okay?”
“She’s capable in a fight, and he is an advanced machine.” Zaha replied from her chair, trying to rouse the computer with her sword. Nothing was happening as she placed it into the slot, and on removing it she could see why. Someone had emptied metal filings into the hole. The glittering grey dust clung to the tip of her sword.
“She’s not in a good place right now, uh, Admiral. I’ve only just met her but-”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Natasha. Why don’t you come and give me a hand with some of these access panels?” Zaha asked. “We’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way, and you can tell me all about this.”
The man they had encountered on their way to the hangar was not in a ASC spacesuit. He was dressed in a black combat suit with an energy rifle slung at his side. On seeing the pair running towards him he reached for it, only to find Jena’s knife in his throat. She paused only to grab and clean it on the man’s suit before taking off again. Just from one look at the rifle she could tell it was ident-tagged to his suit. It would be useless in her hands.
“I’m going to have a headache tomorrow.” She breathed. “A couple of combat stims would make this easier.”
“Do not push yourself too hard, Jena.” Zircon said, picking up speed to take point. As soon as he saw the two near the hangar entrance in their black suits, he dropped into a slide across the ground. Clusters of particles surged from each of his machine pistols as he fired, joined by the more sedate fire of Jena’s service pistol as she hugged the wall to provide back up.
Warning readings flagged up in his programming as a sliver of energy from one of the rifles punctured clean through his knee to the back of his thigh. Drawing his other leg up to protect his body, he squeezed down on both triggers, depleting the energy reserves on the pair.
Jena’s own pistol was warning her as she made sure they were dead. Tucking it back into her holster to let the charger cycle on it, she moved to check on Zircon.
“Reduced mobility, but I will continue functioning.” He said to ease her worried expression.
Hefting him up and dragging him over to near the weapon’s locker, she placed him by it. “Stay here and call me when the Admiral unlocks this. There’s three left. But they need someone in their ship, so that’s technically two.”
“Be careful in any case. You may not feel it at times, but you are still human.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” Jena replied. With her knife in hand, she headed for the hangar. There was no quiet way to do it. The large doors slid open to reveal the massive form of The Axar crouched in the middle of the bay. One of the access panels on its thighs had been opened and cables ran from it to a mobile computer terminal being operated by a combat-suit clad man with a thick headset concealing his eyes and ears. Taking her knife, Jena threw it at the man with a flick of her wrist.
A hand snatched it out of the air.
“Beryl, please be a dear and deal with that.” The hacker gestured over at Jena.
From the shadows of the Servitor’s leg the owner of the hand stepped out, toying with the knife she had caught. She was naked. Her dark skin stood in contrast to the carefully spiked light green hair. Her eyes were a deep gold, and the way she moved was like flowing liquid. “Of course, Master.” She purred before grinning at Jena. “You should not play with knives, soldier.”
Jena dove to the side as the knife whistled past. Rolling to her feet, Beryl was already running at her. “I’m not playing!” Jena spat as they met, their blows shifting to feints and parries as they sized each other up. Reversals were countered and counters reversed as their fists, elbows, knees and feet met.
Beryl lashed out with a dropkick, catching Jena in the stomach and sending her sprawling. Her leaping descent was stopped by the cyborg quickly rolling clear and back to her feet.
“I was designed by my Master for my Master, soldier.” Beryl stated proudly. “You cannot stop me, and that means you will not stop Him.” A curious look crossed her face when Jena held her hand up, before laughing as she watched the cyborg remove her overcoat and jacket.
“I’m not bold enough for the full frontal look.” Jena stated, digging her fingers into her shirt before tearing that off to leave her in just the support bra she wore under the uniform. “But it is getting a little warm. Round two?”
The muscles in Beryl’s lean physique clenched as she assumed a combat pose straight from the Galactic Armed Forces handbook.
“You’re going to lose, you know.” Jena said with a tight grin. “After all, I know your Master programmed you to suck.”
With a snarl of rage Beryl leapt forwards.
Twisting in her sidestep, Jena lifted her service pistol. It had one shot left in the tank. With a squeeze of the trigger, Beryl’s jaw disappeared in a splatter of bioskin and artificial compounds. Dropping the gun, she grabbed the combat gynoid by the ankle and hauled her up. Setting her feet in motion, she span and span as she neared one of the storage crates before slamming her foe’s head into it. Releasing her hands from the dead weight, she recovered her gun and knife then looked to…
The man had disappeared, as had his equipment.
“Let me make this quiet clear…” A voice came from somewhere in the hangar.
Jena blanched as the Servitor started to rise to its feet.
“You will pay for that.” The claws on the massive machine’s hands spread out before clenching tightly. “And I intend to receive that payment presently, and promptly.”