"3...2...1...Hup," Sarnt barked from their crouch behind a pallet of cargo. The armored helmet of his spacesuit caught the order and relayed it silently.
"Bounding!" Corprull replied as he slipped sideways around the stacked containers. Sarnt peered around the edge after him, his Custodian sub-machine gun sighted and ready to engage any threat to Corprull's advance. A twinge of pride crossed his face as his protege ran hard for the next cover.
"Set," the young corpsman radioed as he pressed his back against a bulkhead doorway fifteen meters ahead.
Sarnt snapped his weapon up and back and slid 'round the edge. Slightly crouched, he moved with practiced fluidity into the spacious atrium of the space station. As he passed the bulkhead, he began to pivot left into the room, allowing his Custodian to sweep the open space.
A row of 20-meter-tall windows made up the right-hand wall and a quarter of the angled ceiling. Through these great apertures he could see several empty landing pads and the great stabilising ring that rotated around the space-station. The intense, naked light of the star Stanton flooded the atrium at an angle, creating stripes of bright against the dark interior. Display screens and cargo boxes festooned every available surface.
As Corprull fell into step behind Sarnt, his visor strobed compensation for the windowed sunlight. He clicked his mic as a familiar shape caught his eye.
"Sarnt, we got casualties. Two more dead PriSecs at the base of the windows."
"A-firm. Eyes left." Sarnt was all business. He was moving toward the first of two hallways branching left from the atrium.
Sarnt held his hand extended vertically above his weapon. A slight flick of this 'knife-hand' gesture told Corprull that the old man was going to leave him here and take the other hallway.
Corprull nodded curtly.
Remembering their briefing, he knew these were the main access points for the abandoned operations center at Security Post Kareah. A dozen meters through these halls, there would be a raised center platform running the length of the room. It would be walled with ballistic panels, and arrayed with monitors and server racks that would make visibility difficult.
There's gonna be lots of hidin' spots for traps up there, Sarnt's voice echoed in his head.
Ringing three-quarters of the large room, ten meters up, would be an open-windowed mezzanine. He knew the mercenary team was supposed to have it cleared, but he and Sarnt would have to cover it anyway to be safe.
It'll be the perfect place for an attacker t'stay hidden with the advantage of elevation, and with a clear shot on us.
They'd have to move into the room under watch of the mezzanine, mount the dias at the same time from twin sets of three stairs on opposite sides, and then turn to address the terminal at which their objective was likely to be sitting.
Three quick tones sounded in his helmet comms.
This was it. Corprull tightened his grip and began moving inwards.
Like greased shadows, Corprull and Sarnt approached either side of the dias. They led with their SMGs, snapping and sweeping as they pied off the mezzanine and the wall of technology down the middle of the large room.
Corprull played his actions in his head as he performed them.
First step up. No visible traps. No plate, line or hook. Look up.
Second step. No visible trap.
Pause at landing, pie left end of dias as Sarnt pies the opposite side. Turn around when this side is clear. Rejoin Sarnt…
Sarnt’s turn led him directly to the terminal where they expected to find their quarry.
"I'LL THANK YOU NOT TO TOUCH THAT." The station's public-address intercom broke weeks of silence.
Corprull turned to see Sarnt in a relaxed position, weapon pointed idly downwards on its sling. Beyond, the terminal churned, a progress bar inching across the screen.
"Ho, Pee-eff. Ah knew this wasn't gonna be easy." Sarnt's thick drawl boomed through his external helmet speaker.
"You're like bad Benny's, Sarnt. Always churning up. And you know I hate it so when you call me PF." The voice on the intercom echoed around the room off myriad hard, angled surfaces. It belonged to a woman, and had a tinge of sarcasm that seasoned every word.
Sarnt spoke slowly while scanning the mezzanine for movement. "Why don' y'all come out an' talk this over, Pee-eff?"
"I know you know I'm smarter than that, Sarnt. I'm perfectly comfy right here in my hideyhole. And don't bother stopping that hack; if you do, you won't leave this station alive. I've got control of all the doors and life support. How much Oxygen do your combat suits have, anyway?"
"What'd y'all do with mah other team, Pee-efF?" he asked calmly, ignoring the question.
"You mean yesterday? You passed a few on your way in, didn't you? I didn't know they were yours, I swear. The others... well, they didn't even make it past the airlocks. You can pick them up on your way out... if you're a good boy."
Sarnt clicked over to his radio. "Corp, head up to the 'lock on pad three. Let them mercs out."
"PF, Ah'm sending the Corp up tah let them boys out. Ah'm also stoppin' this hack, an' y'all and me are gonna chat."
"You're signing your own death certificate, Sarnt!" There was a smidgeon of mirth peeking around the bravado.
Corprull jumped down the steps of the dias and began running for the main stairs.
"WHERE'S HE GOING? NO! STAY THERE!" PF's normal sarcasm was replaced by something that sounded like it was auditioning for fear. As Corprull left, Sarnt thumbed the ABORT button on the terminal, stopping PF's identity-erasing hack. He reached out a hand and broke free the remote interface device through which PF had been accessing files.
"NOOOooooOO! You've ruined my plan! Oh, how could I have let myself be so careless!?" The last sentence came dripping with mock self-pity.
Sarnt froze at the change in her tone. He knew she was playing with him.
"...Where are you, PF?"
The question hung in the air.
"Yela." The ensuing cackle reverberated from the intercom so loudly it made his faceplate rattle. "I've got a proposal for you, Sarnt. Get to these coordinates on Yela, and you'll find a bigger bounty than I ever was." The mobiGlas attached to his wrist vibrated a notification. "Once you see what I've given you you'll want to marry me all over again!"
Sarnt clicked his radio. "She ain't here, Corprull. Git you to th' airlock and meet me outside."
"Did she say marry you... again!?" Corprull clicked over his radio as he ran up the last flight of stairs to the third floor.
"A-firm. That there is a story for another time," came Sarnt's curt reply.
"Ah said, Another. Time." Sarnt didn't like repeating himself.
"I'll hold you to that. I'm at the airlock. It's stuck on Cycling, though I think if I reset the access panel it'll open up." He popped the face off the hand-sized display in the airlock door and flipped it over. On the back, a small red button was recessed into the casing. One long-press later, the airlock buzzed into emergency-mode and cycled one last time. The door slid open.
"FOR FUCK'S SAKES! took you..."
A large man in PriSec combat gear stood in the doorway, gasping for oxygen between expletives. The stencilled nametag on his armor showed ABRAMS under the Hurston Dynamics Private Security logo.
Three others in similar suits, helmets off, lay propped against the walls in various states of conciousness. Corprull waited for Abrams to catch his breath.
He continued after what seemed ages. "We entered the airlock, but she wouldn't open up. We tried to blast the inside doors open but the damned controller must have been damaged, and the EMP took out our radios. It's been..." he stopped for a massive breath. "cycling ever since. We ran out of suit Ox a few hours ago and the fucking 'lock has been alternating between vacuum and air. What took you so long!?"
"We got stood up. What took you guys so long?" Corprull said as he moved to the controller midway into the airlock. "See, under here's the emergency release - you just flip it towards the door you want to open. Put your helmets back on, please."
He flipped the discreet lever spacewards. Abrams stared incredulously and a look of puzzled rage washed across his face. The airlock cycled and Corprull ran out onto the artificial-gravity plating that made up the decks. "When you all wake up from your naps, head back to Lorville; we'll call you if we need you!" he shouted as the door closed behind him.
Corprull launched from the end of the landing pad into zero-G and immediately fired his suit thrusters to put him flying 'down' the station's long axis. This was his favorite sport; EVA. He manipulated his suit thrusters to strafe and accelerate between the struts of the massive station's solar panels. He deftly swung from a girder, grabbing it as he passed, changing trajectory to slip behind a photovoltaic panel and directly into the open side door of their well-hidden Cutlass Blue.
His momentum carried him almost 8 meters into the bay before the ship's Artificial Gravity brought him to the floor into a perfect kneeling action pose.
"Nailed it," he thought.
Back in the operations center, Sarnt was deep in negotiations.
"Look, Pee-eff, Ah know things di'n't end up right 'tween us, and your chosen profession lately ain't real conducive tah mine, but this time's diff'r'nt. Ah've done told you a hunnert times why Ah gotta bring you in to see Mz. Hurston." His voice shook with exasperation. "Yer not in trouble, Ah just got t'have y'all in there with me." He was pleading now, begging her a moment of lucidity to understand.
"You just can't handle that I might be happier without you, Sarnt! I know that's the real reason you chase me so!"
Sarcasm. Always with the sarcasm, thought Sarnt. She was so much easier to reason with before the accident that ended her career.
"Look. Ah'll make it simple fer'ya. Some'n's wrong at Hurston, and the mucky-muck family that owns the planet don' trust each other. You know where they buried them bodies and Mz. Hurston just needs to get to the bottom of her sons' squabble. All we need is for you to come talk. Ah'll be there to hold your hand, an' Ah'll walk you right back out again. If Ah'm not the one to bring you in they might send someone who don' know... how you is lately... and shit's gon' be real bad fer'you."
"I told you, Sarnt — go to Yela and you'll find a better bounty. I'm not coming in. Just let me go, sweetie! You can't chase a stray dog — Gods know how hard you try." The intercom screeched with feedback as she punched the terminal disconnect.
Corprull had already performed a lengthy inspection of the Cutlass, cleaned his removable armor plating, and placed his weapon in storage by the time Sarnt glided through the side door into the cargo bay.
"Ship's ready for underway, Sarnt."
"A-firm. Tell y'all what, Corp, why'n't y'all drive for a while. Take us to Yela, Ah'll lay in them coords." Sarnt made a motion with his mobiGlas and the ship's holographic map spun to life. As Sarnt tapped away in the air above his wrist the shimmering display was filled with an icy, mountainous landscape seen from above. "We ain't got recent data for that area, looks like. An' ah don' see any habs on the registry."
"Maybe we're looking for a ship?" Corprull suggested helpfully.
Sarnt grunted. "Mebbe. We'll see when we get closer I 'spect."
"Are we really going to let her get away from us that easily, Sarnt?" Corprull thumbed the Quantum-drive toggle and the ship shuddered as it powered for the jump towards the distant planet.
"We ain't really got a choice, now have we, Corp."
Corprull nodded pensively, his lips pursed in a sly rictus. "So. Married, huh?"
Sarnt cuffed him on the shoulder roughly and stalked away from the helm. "Ah'll be in mah bunk."