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Tuks

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Sunday, June 17th 2012, 6:58pm

Flight to Freedom

"Escape"


She tried to decide where things started going wrong. A moment. A place. But right now too many things were distracting her. She was out of sight surveying the landing area. Security personnel came and went infrequently and in odd numbers. It seemed that they were working in small groups. Surely they were not part of Eliminate? The past few days had been rough. Stealth had spent most of the time evading and escaping Outlaw hit squads. She had sneaked, extracted and slipped past, around and beyond most Assassins. Now only Watcher and 3kSeeker remained, and they were closing in on her.

Perched on top of one of the maintenance buildings, Stealth looked at the Liberty Navy Defender she was planning to escape in. It had landed only several minutes ago and, based on the conversation she’d overheard, the owner was in a hurry to leave Planet Manhattan. He was currently having a discussion with a Liberty Security Force pilot. Stealth knew that she had to be quick. She scanned the Launch Pad and surrounding buildings one final time and quietly slipped over the building’s edge onto the metal ladder mounted to the building’s side. Several stories down, she arrived in the alley adjacent to the launch pad, where she momentarily paused to search and listen for signs of any approaching danger. Detecting nothing, Stealth headed for the Defender.

**********

There was only two craft docked on the launch pad. The Defender stood on its own some way off from the other vessel. It was located only several meters away to Stealth’s right. Stealth made her way to the ship as inconspicuously as possible, relaxing her features to appear casual. Even her expressionless eyes belied her predicament. She knew that she had now entered the most hazardous stage of her escape.
At any moment the Watcher-duo could arrive, finding her completely visible and without cover. The pilot could also return before she had made it to the ship, leaving her stranded, but she was less worried about that. A simple diversion would draw him away from his craft.
Stealth would suffer a sudden violent coughing fit for him, collapsing to the ground with seeming breathing problems. If he rushed to her aid, as any decent person would, Stealth would ambush him, stealing the Defender and imprisoning him in his own cargo hold. The prospect of his possible undesired, but preventable, premature departure did not even begin to compare with the decided disadvantage which Stealth would be at at the arrival of the two Outlaws.

Watcher and 3kSeeker were excellent shooters, well armed and extremely dangerous in the most difficult of circumstances. They had to be in close proximity by now. 3kSeeker was an expert tracker. No matter what Stealth did to loose him and Watcher, he always managed to find her again.
Stealth knew that it was probably only her imagination, but she felt as if Watcher and 3kSeeker already had their guns trained on her back. She immediately disliked the feeling. One shot was all they needed to finish her off.
She didn’t want to die. Not that she was afraid of dying. Her culture simply didn’t instil her with too many fears. Fear of being found unworthy, of losing one’s honour – now those were the types of fears she had been brought up with, and she’d rather die with honour than without. But only if dying was really necessary. And at the moment it seemed so needless and undignified.
Being shot in the back, unable even to face the enemy, was not a prospect with which Stealth could reconcile herself. And she especially disliked feeling exposed, vulnerable and helpless as she stepped further into the open.

**********

The pilot was still engaged in conversation; his back turned to the Defender. The woman he was addressing also seemed too preoccupied by whatever pressing matters dominated their rather animated conversation to notice Stealth’s approach to the Defender. No one else was around. At the point where her route to the ship would obscure her most from the pilot and his companion, Stealth put on the air of a pilot returning to take her ship into flight. Better to look like a proprietor than a thief, Stealth thought as she headed directly for the cockpit.
All pilots in human territory used an ID card to access or lock their ships. They could also have other authentication and identification measures built into their craft. Stealth didn’t know what measures the pilot, a man named Trent, had built into the Defender, but she had a program especially designed to take care of almost all conceivable “technology” problems. As a rule, she took the program, contained in an oval shaped blue-hued chip or ikehru, with her wherever she went. That practice had saved her on many occasions when she didn’t have the time or means to work manually around technological safeguards.

Before retrieving the chip, Stealth glanced in Trent’s direction to see what he was doing. He had just finished his conversation with the Security woman and was about to turn towards her. A fierce look crossed Stealth’s face. Not getting caught was critical. But if she were caught, she would have to incapacitate him. Stealth had no qualms about attacking the man. She simply could not afford to fail now. Dark thoughts flashed through her mind as she awaited certain disaster. Fortunately, it never came to that. Something caught Trent’s attention just as he started turning.
“Mr Trent, it is very important that we speak.” It was what Stealth thought to be a devious voice. Her first thought was that it might be an Assassin. Trent turned to face the speaker. “Why?” he said, sounding both reluctant and suspicious. “Because we are the last two,” the devious voice continued. This reply startled Trent and intrigued Stealth, who was not sure how to interpret it. “The last two what?” Trent demanded in a tone which suggested that he did not want to play games. “The last two Freeport Seven survivors,” came the ominous reply. At that point, Stealth knew that the man could not be an Outlaw. Outlaws never merely “survived” destruction; they usually were the engineers.

***********

While the conversation continued, Stealth retrieved the ikehru and inserted it into the ship’s card reader. It slid in only half way and lit up with a bright light-blue glow, which indicated that the sifter program had activated. The glow really was the program contained in the form of a plasma which spread throughout the card reader and reached into all connected circuitry. It reached into ship systems, programs and components and continued spreading until it had distributed across the entire ship. The program could now instantaneously track, control and manipulate all interactions between systems. It deactivated the Defender’s access validation systems and issued the unlock directive.
The sifter then returned to the ikehru. Stealth watched as the ikehru briefly glowed with an indigo light to indicate that the task was completed. The glow subsided completely as the cockpit door slid open. Stealth removed the chip from the card reader and entered the ship. The door automatically closed behind her. To her right was the pilot’s chair with the various control panels and the flight yoke. To her left, was the door leading to the cargo bay. It was round and looked like the airlock on a space station. An almost amused look crossed Stealth’s face as she looked at it.

*********

On the launch pad, Edison Trent had just been told about the unknown artefact. The man with the devious voice was about to speak again when something caught his attention and his eyes widened in recognition and fear. It was then that the shot was fired and he fell to the ground, dead. In the Defender, Stealth had just determined that the round door was an airlock and that it also required an ID card to open, when the gunshot interrupted her. She immediately froze, still facing the airlock. Her hand reached for the Sarkwùm gun holstered at her right side. She knew from the sound that the weapon fired was not one of those that the Assassins carried. But that was not to say that she wouldn’t need to defend herself from an…intruder.
She only hoped that the pilot was still alive. She needed him to fly the Defender. The planetary docking systems would not allow his ship to leave the planet if he was arrested or found dead. Or if he reported the ship as stolen. Which was why Stealth had intended to hide in the cargo bay, allowing him to do the flying. Now, it began looking as if her plan might just fail. She drew her gun as she turned toward the cockpit door. An intensely grave expression spread across her face as she raised the Sarkwùm. Too many things have gone wrong since the Outlaws issued the Eliminate directive against her. She might as well accept her death. But she was not going without a fight.

***********

Watcher and 3kSeeker were only several blocks away from the launch pad and they were heading straight for it. 3kSeeker was solidly on the target’s track. He was using a device which could track an individual by DNA, heat signature and scent. It was a piece of alien technology which would have been illegal on Manhattan and in Liberty, were it known to exist. According to the SlipTrip, as the Outlaws had named the device, their quarry, who misguidedly called herself ‘Stealth’, was located on the east end of the launch pad, presumably in a ship.
The device had locked into the local video surveillance system and had picked up this ‘Stealth’ worm as she clambered down from one of the nearby buildings. From there, it followed her progress to the launch pad for several metres before the camera cut out to another area. When the camera did resume scanning the remainder of the original area, Stealth had disappeared. But only from the camera’s view. The SlipTrip had tracked her by her unique, alien attributes. The only thing which was left to Watcher and himself, was killing the darned alien vermin.
Watcher was the expert marksman. He handled his Ion Beam VX7 Blaster rifle with an air of confidence and with deadly purpose. He felt especially good today. The prospect of killing always pleased him. Particularly if the target had proven to be a challenge, as this one had. It simply made the kill more satisfying...and worthwhile. He rounded the corner of the very maintenance building on top of which Stealth had perched earlier as 3kSeeker guided him toward their prey.

**********

Stealth intended to exit the Defender, shooting everyone in sight – Outlaw Assassins in particular, if there were any - and rescuing the pilot, if he was still alive. But even before she reached the cockpit door, it became clear to her that that was never going to happen. The voices on the launch pad told her so. First, there was the gruff voice of a soldier who ordered, “Put your hands in the air,” and then there was Trent’s voice, responding with an almost apologetic, “I can explain…” And almost immediately after, there was the resolute voice of the security woman whom Trent had spoken to earlier, directed at the soldier, “Freeze soldier!”
Stealth paused, gun still at the ready, the determined, grim expression on her face now replaced by pure bemusement and exasperation. What was going on here? She did not have long to wonder about it. Another shot was fired, followed by a short, but complete silence. And then the woman spoke again, “He was going to shoot me.” She sounded clearly upset. In contrast, the pilot, who was - to Stealth’s relief - still alive, sounded indignant as he exclaimed, “What do you mean “Arrest him!”?”
Stealth lowered her gun. Since the pilot was alive, and the situation seemingly under control, a rescue attempt was unnecessary. And from the conversation which now ensued, she surmised that the pilot would soon return to his ship. It was time for her to hide in the cargo bay. She holstered the Sarkwùm, put the sifter to use again and watched the airlock slide open.

Beyond the airlock, was a short tunnel-shaped passage and another airlock. As Stealth stepped into the passage, the cockpit-side airlock slid shut. Once it was properly sealed, the cargo-bay airlock opened. Stealth entered the cargo bay and quickly surveyed it. Several containers were secured in various holds, but for the most part, the cargo bay was empty. Stealth selected the space she wanted to annex and set to work to secure and conceal herself. Once she was satisfied with her efforts, she settled back and waited for the pilot to take the ship into flight.
She knew that the Outlaw Blaster rifles were powerful enough to damage the Defender to such an extent that taking off was impossible. As long as the ship remained on the ground, that was the risk. She had a strange feeling that the Outlaws were very near. The Assassins was the branch of the Outlaws which specialised in eliminating people, sometimes as a contract kill, but more often to avoid a person from informing on Outlaw operations. They were the ones who executed the Eliminate directive. From what Stealth knew, Watcher and 3kSeeker were two very accomplished Assassins. Even if they failed to prevent her from leaving Manhattan, Stealth knew that they would never rest until she was dead. They would merely be delayed, not stopped.

*********

It was an incredible scene with which Watcher and 3kSeeker were met as they stepped within view of the launch pad. Two people – neither of them the intended target – were running, each to a Defender. And sprawled somewhere between them were the bodies of two men. 3kSeeker briefly studied the SlipTrip. Their quarry still maintained her previous position. She was in one of the Defenders, just as they had suspected. He gestured in the direction of the particular Defender.
Watcher nodded and raised his Blaster. It was clear to him that the pilot was about to take off with the alien menace aboard. “Aim for the propulsion system,” he instructed 3kSeeker. He would force the ship to land again, and then, he would search that alien worm out and kill her. The pilot might have to be collateral damage, but that was his own fault for associating with such vermin.
But before either he or 3kSeeker could act, an approaching security detail caught his eye. “Wait,” he growled at 3kSeeker and they both retreated into the shadows. Watcher then knew that their plan had just been thwarted. And from the look of the security detail, a retreat would also be necessary. A savage look flashed across his face. The impersonal hunt had just become a vendetta. No one escaped Watcher! “Execute d1r4,” he said to 3kSeeker as they slowly withdrew from the area. 3kSeeker complied. And somewhere above Manhattan the nano-chip set to work on their quarry.

**********

Stealth felt exhausted and weakened from sleep deprivation, lack of food and physical exertion. She decided that getting back in top condition would be her first priority. That meant getting enough rest and a few decent meals. And a safe place to stay. She had no idea where the pilot was heading or what would await her there, but she was sure that she would find a way of taking care of her needs. Of course, it was not that simple. She had a few unique needs and she was also out of money. But she was not going to worry about that. It was not the first time that she was in a situation like this. For now, she was simply going to relax.
The take-off went well. That is to say, the ship was not shot up. A gentle vibration ran through it as it lifted off, telling Stealth that they were now in flight. She decided that she would get some sleep already. It had turned out to be a good day after all. And she was sure that she now had a head start on any Outlaw pursuers. But she didn’t know about the nano-chip embedded in her spine nor that it was now broadcasting her position. Nor did she know about the Liberty-wide wanted-bulletin issued for the pilot as she drifted into sleep.

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This post has been edited 1 times, last edit by "Tuks" (Jun 17th 2012, 6:55pm)


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