Ruben felt the air in the hold of the small cargo freighter weigh down on him. His large oval eyes slowly swept over the co inhabitants and his sense of gloom deepened.
As a salarian mercenary, Ruben had seen his share of misfits hired to do risky jobs. But even he had to admit, the aura of secrecy surrounding this particular mission had him concerned. If it wasn’t for the fact that the advance payment was substantial, the lack of information alone would have alarms going off in his head. But scoring easy credits was not the only reason he was onboard this cramped little freighter. His eyes shifted to his rifle, a Jormangund technologies made “Torrent model 9”, without a doubt the finest piece of hardware he had ever gotten his hands on. Whoever this shadowy Turian that hired them was, he certainly did not spare any expense on gear. Jormangund equipment was hard to get and damn near impossible to afford. The fact that his whole team was out fitted with the same quality of weapons and armor left no doubt in Ruben’s mind that whatever was on the cargo ship they were to board, must be very valuable indeed.
“I know what you’re thinking Salarian” The human sitting to his right spoke, breaking Ruben’s chain of thought. “Not bad for humans right?”
Ruben nodded, preferring to let the human think he was right. “Fine craftsmanship no doubt.” he replied.
“Fine?!” the human said in a surprised tone. “Jorm tech is the BEST. Well, short of Spectre equipment of course but you know how hard that is to come by. I remember this one time; I was working this job on Noveria with a real rough crew.” He walked over to the salarian, ignoring the irritated look on his face. “Our mark was a salarian businessman or something, I forget. We tailed him for days but couldn’t get near him. Dude was paranoid see? Had security on him all the damn time. Anyway, so this guy on the team, a dude by the name of Brovik, he was a crack shot, I mean really, really good. He comes up with a plan. We manage to make the mark come out in the open using some ridiculous story about getting him some top secret research files from his competition. The mark of course, greedy bastard that he was, falls for it. So Brovik camps out on one of peaks dotting the landscape of the frozen hellhole. The mark steps out his vehicle, still surrounded by his body guards mind you and BANG! Brovik pops him in the head. From two miles away! Two miles! Dude was dead even before his guards heard the shot. THAT my friend, is more than just “fine”. That right there is perfection.”
“Of course” responded Ruben, already dismissing the story as fake as he continued to inspect his rifle.
“This Brovik” the blue skinned asari that spoke was to the far left corner of the empty cargo hold. “He was a Batarian wasn’t he?”
“Yeah!” replied the human excitedly. “Yeah he was. You knew him?”
“Worked with him on a contract in Omega about a year ago. I’d say you were making that story up if I hadn’t seen him in action. He’s good.”
“No way!” the human got even more excited “Tell me, did he still have that Jorm Tech sniper rifle? The Helion or Helium or something?”
“Helix” the voice that corrected him was that of a Batarian. “The rifle’s called the Helix. Hell of a weapon. Hits like a meteor but has hardly any recoil at all.”
“Yeah, he still uses it.” Replied the asari, “Atleast he still did when I last saw him. A big red beautiful thing.”
“A buddy of mine had one that was red too.” The batarian said “He toyed with the idea of painting over it to make it easy to hide with but never really needed to do it. At the range he used it, it hardly mattered. If the boss keeps paying us this well, I might actually buy one myself. The human’s right. Those things are perfect.”
“A weapon is only as good as the one using it” Ruben said, unable to hide his irritation. “Only a fool discounts the skill needed to pull off a headshot at that range. Especially in a place like Noveria. The planet is windy as hell all throughout the year. The compensation for drift alone would be staggering.”
“Good see there’s at least one person here that isn’t an idiot” the deep baritone voice instantly had everyone’s attention. The krogan that spoke was an imposing sight, even for a krogan. His reptilian face was a skein of scars, making him look particularly menacing. The crew had no problems accepting him as the leader for this mission. His very presence was enough to command respect.
“If you are done chatting, let’s get on with business.” He walked over to the far bulkhead of the hold, where a blueprint was pasted.
“We all know why we are here but seeing as how none of us has met before, I’m going to go over the basics just to make things crystal clear.” His yellow reptilian eyes scanned everyone in the room and Ruben felt a little uneasy as he met the Krogan’s gaze. “You already know this job is real hush hush. I intend to keep it that way. For starters, no one is going to be using real names during communication. From now on, we will use only our codenames. Speaking of which, you can call me Hammer. Which makes you lot…” His yellow reptilian eyes centered on the human.
“Slim” said the human. “I’ll be doing the hacking and security over rides. I’m also the best pilot you guys have ever seen.”
“Fuse here” said Ruben “Demolitions.”
“You can call me Shrike” said the asari. “I’ll be providing biotic support.”
“I’m Torch” said the batarian. He held up a flame thrower as he continued, “I kill things.” The mercs shared a muted laugh.
Hammer took a step away from the bulkhead, his massive girth dominating the confined space. His footstep resonated in the hold with a mild thud and the merc closest to him, the Batarian, automatically backed away to give him room. The krogan held up a datapad, and using his fingers deftly, he soon had a holographic projection of a small freighter right in the middle of the little band.
“That” he said “Is the “Dovantiz”. A Class 1 cargo freighter registered to a front company in Omega. The real owners are unknown and frankly of no concern. What is of concern to us is the contents of cargo hold 32A located here” he pointed to a particular spot on the hologram, at a distance of about a third of the way to the stern of the ship.
“The boss” he continued “has made it clear that no cargo in this hold is to be touched. Everything else on the freighter is fair game, but the contents of 32A belong to him. That’s our primary objective. Our secondary, and this one is optional, is to interrogate the captain.” The hologram switched to the figure of a volus. A member species of the galactic council, they were easily recognized by their trademark pressure suits and rotund body shape. This particular volus had the rank of captain prominently displayed on his chest.
“His name is Zolad Por and his most likely location would be the bridge. Point of entry will be through an access hatch here” He pointed to a spot right on the stern of the ship.
“That’s an exhaust maintenance hatch.” said Slim. “It can’t be accessed while the ship’s ion drive is engaged.”
“Well, technically” said Fuse, “the hatch is below the exhausts. This is a class 1 freighter remember? It’s huge. There is a fair bit of space between the exhaust port and the hatch itself. You could get to it with the drive engaged but even with hazmat suits the radiation would fry us to a crisp. Not to mention, it would take a hell of a pilot to get a shuttle in the right position while approaching from the wake.”
The krogan smiled, baring his teeth. If anything, it made him look even more menacing. “You.” He said.
“What?” inquired Fuse.
“You. The radiation would fry all of you. Not me. Krogans are a lot more resilient to radiation than you realize. Coupled with this armor’s inbuilt shielding,” Hammer thumped his chest plate before continuing, “the radiation would only remind me of home.”
“Radiation levels on Tuchanka are that high?” gasped Shrike.
The krogan’s smile vanished just as quickly as it appeared. For a moment, it looked like it was replaced by an expression of sorrow, but even that, was instantly gone. Ignoring her question, he said “As for the pilot, Slim can take care of that remotely.”
“I can?” said Slim incredulously.
“If your record isn’t a pile of dung then yes, you can.”
Slim smiled. “It’s not.”
“Didn’t think so” said Hammer. “The shuttle controls will be on the bridge. The plan is simple, you send out a distress message to the Dovantiz. Galactic law compels all civilian ships to aid others in distress. This means that at the very least, it should slow down. Meanwhile, I approach it from the rear, which also happens to be a blind spot for its sensors. We are close to the terminus systems so it’s likely that they will be suspicious. That’s alright so long as they don’t see me. From what I hear, Zolad is no fool, so it’s important that your distress seems genuine. Keep him occupied on the bridge long enough for me to close in.”
“How do you intend to open the hatch once you get to it? You can’t exactly dock with the ship at that hatch.” said Slim.
“The krogan way” replied Hammer. “I blow it open and charge in.”
The mercs laughed. All except for the salarian.
“Charge in?” responded Fuse, ignoring the laughter that Hammer’s response elicited from the others. “And even if you do, these openings have emergency doors that will drop down in the event of a hull breach.” He pointed to a hatch in the interior of the vessel. “You will need to get through this inner hatch before you get into the ship proper. The emergency doors deploy in like what? Five seconds?”
“More like four. Fuse has a point” nodded Slim. “Assuming it takes you a second or two to get into the tunnel after blowing the access hatch, you are looking at a 2 second window to cover a distance of 35 meters in zero G and magnetic boots. Even a jet pack wouldn’t work. And as good as I am, I can’t hack into their controls that quickly either. How could you possibly get in that way?”
“I already told you. The krogan way.”
“What do you mean by… oh” Fuse’s salarian eyes widened as he realized exactly what the krogan was saying.
“Yeah” said Hammer “Look, just leave the gaining entry bit to me. I need you lot to be ready to board on my go. The first thing I’m going to do is damage their FTL drive so they can’t run. After that, it should not take me more than five minutes to get to the docking bay. By then the ship will be locked down. You are going to have to hack into their systems to actually open the bay doors Slim. Once the doors open, you can bring the second shuttle in. The Dovantiz is a civilian class vessel so obviously has no weapon fixtures. It will however, have some sort of security on board. Mercs most probably. Nothing me and Whisper can’t handle.”
“Whisper?” inquired Fuse.
“Yes, Whisper.” Answered Hammer as he patted a massive weapon lying on the table next to him.
Ruben let his eyes linger over the krogan’s weapon of choice. Though technically a shotgun, the krogan M 300 “Claymore” looked more like a missile launcher. For one thing, it was roughly as long as the height of an average salarian. For another, the kickback from the weapon was capable of tearing the arms off most non krogans. Assuming any non krogans could even mange to pick it up. The Claymore was also, not surprisingly, notoriously loud.
“Whisper.” Said Fuse, “Of course. Very subtle.”
“That’s me,” Hammer grinned, “I’m all about the subtlety.”
This time, even the salarian joined in on the laughter.
Hammer handed over the datapad to Shrike “All the details are in here. Fuse, I need you to shape me some explosive charges. Low intensity stuff, enough to damage but not destroy. Eight should do. Slim; take a look at the remote controls on the bridge. Everyone should know the layout of the Dovantiz inside out. We have seventy six hours before we leave. Use them well.” The krogan looked around before continuing “The crew is expendable but I don’t want a bloodbath if I can help it. I hate messy ops.”
The days went by quickly. Personal misgivings aside, everybody on the team was handpicked by their employer. As Hammer looked out into the blackness of space from within the confines of his shuttle, he took solace in that fact. His annoying penchant for talking not withstanding Slim’s reputation as a pilot was well founded. The krogan had to admit he was doing a great job piloting the little craft.
“Judging by the telltale traces of radiation being picked up by the sensors, I’d say you are riding the wake right now.” Slim’s voice spoke into his helmet over a scrambled frequency. “How does it look?”
“Like space always looks. Black. I can’t see a damned thing.”
“Well that’s no surprise; we are very close to the Terminus system. There is nothing here to see. The occasional debris field but that’s it. I meant your readings.”
“Everything looks normal. What’s your status?”
“We are well within their sensor range but way off visual. They are watching us no doubt. The fact that they can’t see you suggests you are right in the middle of their blind spot. Either that or you are just too small to be picked up as anything more than debris. I took the liberty of killing all non-essential systems on that shuttle. Even your electronics can’t be picked up this way.”
“Non-essential?” said hammer with some concern. “Like what?”
“Oh nothing much” said Slim in a jovial tone “Firefighting, life support, that sort of thing.”
Hammer said nothing for a moment before barking out a little laugh. “Ha. Very funny human.”
“Had your krogan ass worried for a second though didn’t I?” Hammer picked up the sound of laughter from the rest of the crew, no doubt huddled around on the bridge. “Alright, we are going to dance our little jig now. Standby.”
Hammer relaxed back into his chair, going over the readings one more as he waited for Slim to talk again. It would take a few minutes for the freighter to finish its erratic maneuvers. The idea was to make it look like it was experiencing some sort of navigational malfunction.
“Aaaand done” Slim’s voice sounded in the krogan’s helmet again. “No way they didn’t see that. We will repeat that a few times over the next hour to simulate a major systems malfunction. Every time we do, I’m going to boost your speed a little. You should have visual on the target in about seventy minutes. We should be in visual shortly after that. Any sooner and they might get jumpy enough to warp.”
Hammer checked his watch and set the timer for fifty minutes. Then he lay back and closed his eyes. He doubted he would get any sleep but there was nothing else to do but rest till it was time to explode into action.
It didn’t take long for the timer to go off. Hammer was now very close to his target. With every passing second, the shuttle came closer to the Dovantiz’s exhaust.
“You’ll have to guide me from this point. There’s too much interference this close to the drive for the range sensors to compensate. You okay in there? The radiation levels I’m seeing are frankly ridiculous.” Slim’s voice seemed to carry a hint of concern.
“I’m fine, but the shuttle is a little too low. Go up about a meter.” Replied Hammer.
“Copy that”, Slim followed his instructions, a tiny bead of perspiration beginning to make its way down the side of his face. What he was trying to do would be considered impossible by most pilots. With no sensors to rely on, he was now remotely piloting a small craft purely by Hammer’s visual estimations. “How’s that?” he enquired.
“That’s good Slim. Maintain vertical and go forward about six meters.”
“Going forward six meters.”
The small craft slowly inched its way closer to the rear of the Dovantiz. The top of the shuttle had already begun to glow red because of the heat emanating from the freighter’s exhaust. Despite his peril, Hammer found himself commending Slim’s skills.
“Alright that’s close enough. Hold it here. Secondary team, get ready.”
“Ready and waiting your go Hammer,” acknowledged Fuse.
“Copy that. Send the distress signal on all hailing frequencies and begin closing with the target.” The krogan checked his equipment and ensured he was strapped in tight. “Slim, keep it steady, I’m opening the hatch in …Three, two, one.”
The hatch began opening with a muted hiss. Hammer was jolted as all the air in the shuttle escaped to the cold vacuum of space, his straps keeping him securely in place. With the absence of air, all sound immediately died and Hammer was suddenly very aware of how eerily loud his own breathing resonated in his helmet. Without wasting time, he disengaged the straps and got up. His face tingled with the radiation that was frying many of the electronic systems in the shuttle even as he scooped up his equipment and secured it to his back. The suit would protect him and coupled with his own resistance, it would keep him safe. Even so, he estimated he had no more than two minutes at the most.
He held the on to the shuttle with one hand as he engaged his magboots. Above him, the freighters exhaust roared soundlessly into nothingness casting an eerie blue glow over him. Pulling at the bottom lip of the hatch, the krogan prepared to crawl on his hands and knees so that he could walk on the bottom of the shuttle, an act that was made that much easier with the magnets in his gloves. It took him thirty two seconds. Hammer blinked a few times as he stood up, trying to get his bearings, his perspective was now completely upside down but he recovered swiftly. With quick but deliberate steps, he made his way forward. By the time he reached the nose of the shuttle, he had less than forty seconds to go. His target was a maintenance hatch at the bottom of the freighter, dangerously close to the exhaust but safe enough if he got to it. With no gravity and no frame of reference to indicate distance, it was impossible to judge how fast he was going, if anything he was glad for his ignorance. Firing a wrist mounted harpoon at a ship while being fried by radiation was hard enough without having to realize that the target was travelling at subsonic speeds.
Hammer took the shot, hitting a spot a foot to the right of the hatch. As he pulled himself toward it, he counted down in his head. Twenty four seconds. With his right hand engaged with the harpoon, he deftly used his left to stick the explosive charges around the periphery of the hatch and positioned himself away from them. Seven seconds. “Let’s hope the salarian is as good as his file says.” He said to himself as he hit the trigger. There was a brief flash as the hatch door blew open. In an instant, the air from the maintenance tunnel shot the door out with dizzying velocity. Two seconds. Hammer used his powerful arms to swing into the tunnel while disengaging and retracting the harpoon back into his wrist launcher.
Had anyone been around to witness it, they would have seen the Krogan’s body lined with the telltale bluish glow of biotic energy. Even with the absence of air, there was a sense of building pressure around him. His body seemed to blur and he then violently teleported ahead. In the blink of an eye, Hammer shot across the tunnel stopping right as the emergency hatch closed behind him. He was in.
“Hammer here. Breach successful, I’m in.”
“Copy that Hammer.” Replied Slim “That breach must have triggered all kinds of alarms on the bridge. You have ninety seconds before they engage their FTL drive.”
“I’m on it. Secondary team, go.” Said the Krogan.
“Roger that. Secondary team enroute, ETA five minutes.” Acknowledged Fuse.
“Copy, five minutes” replied hammer as he began to run. He had already memorized the layout of the ship and knew he had go down another level to get to the warp drive. His window was closing fast. Suddenly, he heard the alarms going off around the ship. He smiled as he began ditching his mag boots and unslung Whisper from his back. The fact that he could hear meant that engine room was repressurized. Even so, he kept his helmet on. Without pausing, he turned to his right and ran. His massive frame moved with astonishing speed and he felt reassured by the louds “thuds” of his feet on the deck. A dozen steps brought him to an access tunnel with a ladder leading down to the lower level. He slid down the ladder, opened the hatch.
And emerged behind three armed guards.
(Continued in Part 2)