Chapter 29: N-12
Attack on N-12
We snuck out of the building and borrowed a ground vehicle to take us to the dividing wall. I pressed my ear against the steal, straining to hear anything on the other side. I pressed my hearing ability as far as it could go, but still there was nothing. Considering the amount of tension there was earlier, my only explanation was that someone managed to blow a hole in the outer hull and everyone was blown out into a vacuous death. We donned some spacesuits from a locker and prepared to step into the airless void. Each section was made to be self sustaining in case of an emergency. Every door between sectors was an airlock.
If this one had been damaged, I could condemn every person to death with a turn of a wheel. Mox reported that the airlock was secure on the Wolf side and cautiously I opened the exit door. There was nothing, no whoosh of air leaving the chamber, no sensation of our suits protecting us from space. There were lights on in houses and I could hear sounds being muffled by the helmet. There were some people sleeping against a building. Their positions reminded me of homeless people in Night City. Harris removed her helmet and sniffed the air. Finding it safe, all of us removed our suits and tried to figure out what was happening. I had thought that everyone here would be killing each other, but it was clearly not the case. A pair of security guards spotted us and approached.
By their tattoos, one was Bear and one was Tiger and there seemed to be no competition between them. They asked us who we were and if we were part of Wolf Kin. Equally confused, Larani half-stumbled in telling them what happened. The Bear guard snorted knowingly, "You see, we don't know which one of us will be moving into the new sector so neither group is willing to destroy it. Now the others have their own spots and are fighting for supremacy. You might have gotten the wrong impression earlier. Sure things are tense, we're suffering from overcrowding what do you expect?" he paused to nod in the direction of the street sleepers, "But overall, I'd say we are going to be allies when the station is finished."
I asked about their position about local politics and was returned apathy by both guards. It would seem that they have enough troubles without political fighting. If things turn out as well as they hope, I'd put both Bear and Tiger sectors in charge. Relieved, we were escorted to the airlock (a real one this time) and wished luck. Soon we were in the endless void. Only a basic skeletal structure was evident and we had to use magnetic clamps for movement. In the distance, I could see Rimfire floating there in all it's splendor. We walked until we had a reasonably clear view of our ship before contacting it. The connection was cluttered with static, but there was a voice on the other end, it was one of the new crew members.
Within seconds Dass was on the radio demanding to know why we broke silence. However when he heard our explanation, his anger was dispelled and he ordered a shuttle to take us back. Shortly Loara arrived in a medium sized shuttle dubbed Kalmen. The shuttle's airlock was very small and we had to go through one at a time. Larani went first, followed by Realan. I had elected to go last, just in case. Jabess was onboard and treating Realan by the time I boarded. There wasn't much more he could do without the equipment from the Rimfire apart from giving Realan a mild antistehetic. Dass issued an alert where we would prepare to leave within fifteen minutes.
Once we had docked, Dass entered the shuttle for an immediate conference. With him came Fal and Cedric. The general question Dass posed was whether or not we should stay and defend this 'miserable excuse for a station'. Cedric was for staying. He didn't say it, but I knew his sole motivation was that Maria's requested it. Dass and Fal had their doubts. While the captain felt the need to protect civilians, the attack on one of his crew was in conflict with that need. Fal was unsure about which way to go. He, Dass, and Cedric did not have the time to fully assimilate what had happened. Rarely had I felt the obligation to protect and ungrateful populace which was not my own. But I had the giri to do so. Plus it reminded me of home, the real reason for joining the UAA.
Giri is important to a fixer. It is the name given to street honor. It means that you fulfill your half of a deal and that you treat your customers with the respect they deserve and then some. A fixer without giri is no fixer at all. There were good people on that station. True, they had taken hostages. But I wasn't treated like an enemy. They knew I wanted no part in their private war thus they allowed me to pass mostly unhindered. I told everyone in the shuttle that I would stay and defend if we were kept out of N-12's politics, evening threatening to go AWOL if it was called for.
There was a terrible moment of silence which lasted until the others admitted that I was right and that despite its faults, N-12 should not be destroyed by Axis. As Arisa established a channel to the mayor, I smoothed out the wrinkles in my coat. I still had on my street outfit from the raid and positioned myself to best show the blood stains. Additionally, I wore my best pair of mirror shades and my pistol was in its holster making an obvious bulge. I adjusted my arm to make the weapon's presence known as the grand poomba appeared on the screen. The mayor was extremely apologetic and pleaded with us to stay before we had a chance to get one word in the conversation.
"Mr.Mayor," I said with mock anger, "what happened to four members of this crew is despicable. We have a good mind to leave this instant. But you've made a big impression on us. Rimfire is leaving right now."
"What?! But, but-"
"What are you, a broken CD player? I said Rimfire is leaving, but Fireflight is staying as planned. The time table is just stepped up because of this fiasco. But we're staying as long as you can promise us protection from the Kin war. The UAA, or any nation for that matter, isn't going to like to hear that one of their stations is in a state of bloody revolution. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, of course, Mr.Fox. The administration section in the central pillar is considered neutral territory by every Kin. You and your crew will be safe there until the attack."
"That's real comforting to know. Is this chill with you, Captains?" Larani and Dass gave short approving nods to a very released mayor.
Quickly, the replacement pilots were on the Rimfire and Fireflight were being led to our temporary quarters for rest. Most of that day was spent relaxing. To make up for the actions against us, Harkson had his servants treat us like royalty. He ordered the leader of the Wolf sector to make a formal apology to Larani for the crimes which she and the others were victims. The general gossip was that only the five sectors were at war. The others were satisfied with the status quo. With most revolutions, the current leader is despised and an attempt is made on his or her life. But this was no so here.
The mayor appeared to be more of a construction director than as a liaison between sectors and to the outside world than any sort of leader. In fact, I learned that when the station was completed, Harkson was to be reassigned. Liaison and director was his real job. This war would determine who would lead AFTER Harkson had left and not to see who would replace him than as commander. Killing him would suit no purpose. He was only threatened to not speak of this to his superiors. When I dug deeper, I found that after Harkson left, he was meant to be replaced with a UAA appointed leader. The neutral sectors were ready to accept this stranger. The disbanding of the UAA had only served to make matters worse, now there was a real reason for fighting.
There seemed to be no other solution. Harkson already expressed his desire to leave when his duties were completed and no one really wanted him to stick around anyway. This situation called for no interference on our part than as a peaceful solution appeared to be impossible. Additionally, no one besides myself wanted to get involved, especially after last night. So everyone spent the day enjoying the luxury given to us. Without a specific time for the attack, we had to make a guess when it would be. Staying awake from 12am to 11:59pm would be difficult to anyone and detrimental to their fighting skills. Everyone was prepared to fight when the ninth day of the Algolian fifth month began, but there was nothing. We waited half an hour, but still nothing.
The plan was to have at least three fourths of Rimfire battle ready than as the rest caught some sleep with the inducer with a rotation every two hours. At noon and midnight, everyone was to be in their mektons. The day was spent in nervous anticipation. Slowly the day passed and the night cycle began.
By 11:57pm there were doubts on everyone's mind. Karin complained that we had wasted valuable time than as Dremmond pulled farther away. The fact that Realan was wounded made things worse. In a few moments the Rimfire would turn around and fly back to the station. The trap was baited, but not sprung. But I tried to remain tense. The day was not over yet.
At 11:59pm, the attack started. The proximity alarm was the first indication of the assault. It was followed by the colony shaking. We heard the voice of one of the Turbo pilots call for help, then his transmitter went dead. A small explosion of light in the distance meant that the radio was not the only one. Since I was already in my mekton, I was first out the door. What first looked like a giant Aggendi fighter, but there was something familiar about it. Not familiar the same way that first scout craft on Dion looked, but something else. When the attacker was lined perfectly in my sights, I opened up with every weapon.
The Aggendi executed an extremely agile dodge, something that wasn't very Aggendi. When I approached for a better look, the reason for my doubts than as to the mekton's alliance became clear. This mekton was a fake Aggendi craft. In actually, it was a modified Scarab. But unlike my own, the changes were more cosmetic than functional. This fighter was more sleek and did not appear to have any more weapons. By the time I was able to report this to the others, half of Rimfire was out the door and flying at us in fighter mode. The Scarab turned to examine his enemies and flew straight at Karin's mekton leaving me to deal with the laser drones.
These drones were superior to my own, they were faster and looked to be better armored. The computer controlled remotes sped around me like electrons about an atom. Every time I tried to leave or attack, a laser blast would either stop me or ruin my aim. Frustrated, I had every weapon fire in random directions. In the distance, it must have looked like someone had put a shell around a sun and now that shell was cracking, being pierced by a thousand rays of light before the shell shattered. With that problem out of the way, I catapulted myself at the intruder. By then, he had crippled several of the ExSentinels and one of the Sentinels had been destroyed. Karin tried to circle around back but then the Scarab ensnared her with his tail. I noticed that her mekton wasn't even scratched. Was it skill or something more? I adjusted my Scarab's radio to match the other's to listen in on what was happening.
"Listen, I tried to warn you once. Get of here! There is too much danger here Kar, you gotta split, OK?"
"Only one person ever called me Kar." she said confused. Then with a sudden realization she shouted, "Tarrik? But you're dead! Why would my own brother be working for the enemy?"
Larani ordered that no one fire in fear of hitting Karin. Tarrik continued, "Time is running out, sis-I didn't want to reveal myself, but you gotta split. I don't want to hurt you. Please stay out of this."
Finishing, he returned his attention to the colony. There were few functional mektons available for defense. "Conners," Karin whispered on a private channel, "I know that we don't like each other, but there's only one way to stop this. I'm going to eject and you will pick me up. If I fly your mekton, I can defeat my brother and take him alive. Please, he won't risk me getting hurt."
"Fine, but first..." and I fired a tight beam laser at the base of the tail.
With a small shower of sparks, Karin was free. She gave the order to fall back than as she flew towards me. I turned over and reached up to grab her by the mekton's shoulders. The head hung forward and a human figure floated up into the open hatch. Through my cybernetic link, I could feel the airlock close and pump the chamber full of air. Karin rushed inside and nearly shoved me out of my seat. Taking the controls, she told her brother where she was and that if he wants the colony, then he'd have to destroy her first.
Tarris pleaded once again for her sister to switch sides. Of course he didn't realize that if she did defect, she'd regret it for the rest of her life, both seconds of it. But then he didn't know that there was no chance of her ever betraying the ideals of the UAA and her friends in Fireflight. The answer was a volley of laser death. Tarris tried to avoid the beams, but his surprise cost him the needed seconds. His Scarab was rocked by the attack and spun wildly. But he recovered quickly and returned fire with his scatter cannon. Karin tried to avoid the blast, but I heard and felt the impact on the rear of the left pylon. A quick systems check assured me that there was no penetration.
"Be careful!" I told her, "I just had this chromed!"
She gave me a look that said that she didn't care at all about the fact I spent most of the this and the previous day tediously applying thin strips of shiny metal to my mekton to make it look good then fired once again. More than once I considered reestablishing my usurped control and take out this Axis fool, but deep down I knew that there was more to this. It was a case of sibling rivalry which was best left to its conclusion. Interference now would only escalate tensions not only between Karin and Tarris, but between Karin and myself. I knew from the moment she told me her plan, that she was not happy about working with me. The last thing I wanted before an extended trip was an angry teammate. Karin's skill was impressive, but not than as good than as my own via the cyber controls and not than as good than as Tarris.
But she had the advantage of superior firepower and targeting systems. All it took was one lucky concentrated blast at his power plant to end the fight. Hardly climaxable, but then a good trap rarely is. A remote talon under my control picked up his escape pod in time to be delivered to Rimfire. Harkson and the Kin leaders gave us their extreme thanks in defending the station and wished us well against Axis. Overall, everyone (even those initially against us coming here) agreed that they trip had been worth our time and effort. Not only had we made potentially powerful ally, but we captured an Axis spy in the process. The media finally reached the station.
At first there was some concern about the station's inhabitants on my part when news of the end of the UAA reached them, but they seemed content for me not to mention their private war and for me to keep my end of the deal than as best I could. For once we were treated than as heroes, defending a station against an attack. Of course there was some call for our heads due to our defection but they were few. More numerous was the requests that we return to Algol for reassignment when things have settled down. They even hinted that the charges might be dropped if we returned immediately. But the offers were ignored and our plan to confront Dremmond remained firm.
Interrogation of Tarris was difficult. He was an extremely tough nut to crack. I could sense that he had received some Dremmond style persuasion, but it wasn't much. Not enough to make a decent person evil anyway. When he was in his cell, I decided to drop in for a visit. Dismissing the guards (both from Falcon Kin) was an easy task. They didn't like Tarrik any more than I did and would not be upset if he got injured during interrogation. Once the door was shut and locked did he look at me.
"Well if it isn't the famous Edgerunner. Is this a social call or something else?"
"There's no one here to protect you, Tarrik. Dass wouldn't let me perform some Earth-style tongue loosening techniques on you. But since he's not around...well let's just say that a wise man would talk right now. Oh, and if you're thinking of escape, only I can unlock the door and I have no weapons save this-" finishing with displaying the PUG.
"I can take physical pain." he countered with half-hearted bravery.
I laughed evilly and gave him vivid and graphic details about what corps would do to get a prisoner to talk. Not all of it was true of course, most were second or third hand rumors or something from a horror movie. But with proper gestures and my own mental push, Karin's long-lost brother was ready to talk before I got to the really good stuff.
Dremmond was flying towards Aries in one of two ships. Each ship had a set of five mektons, one of which was Dremmond's personal mekton. Then he babbled on about secret Axis bases and where he got his Scarab and so forth, all of which was unrelated to Dremmond but something I recorded for use back on Algol by the locals. He pathetically claimed that he knew nothing else which a psychic scan confirmed.
All of which was done without me laying a finger on him. Of course crushing his food tray with one hand was of some help. Dass disapproved of my methods, but didn't argue with the results. Than as final preparations were made, Tarrik was transferred to the first shuttle back to Algol.
When the crew rotations were released, I found that I was among the three fourths who would take the first shift in the sleep chambers. The plan was that during any shift there would always be someone in a position to be in command. There would be four groups one of which will be awake. The amount of people in each group varied slightly. When asked, Fal said any lopsidedness was due to the personnel necessary for the job of each group.
For example Mox, Harris, and Tara were placed on the same shift so they may combine their knowledge and skill to insure Rimfire stays in top condition for than as long than as possible, or at least until their next shift. They were grouped with Dass. He probably thought he was the only one experienced enough to make sure everything important was done. Each group would have one commander. The commanders would be Dass, Fal, Larani, and Cedric. I got lucky enough to be part of Larani's shift. From the look in her eyes than as I prepared to enter the chamber gave me the impression that there was still unresolved business between us. I also noticed my shift was also the smallest. On the way down to sick bay, I bumped into Larani. I asked her what our job was.
"Basically we are to keep Rimfire on course and confirm our heading to the asteroid. It's not much, I know, but then there won't be much to do anyway. You will be happy to know that we have Loara in our group so you don't have to do anything."
"Keeping the ship facing in the right direction? You're right, it's not much of a job. But isn't each group suppose to do it?"
"We don't have many qualified starship pilots in case you haven't noticed. Unless someone purposely tries to alter our course, we shouldn't drift at all. She's just there than as a precaution."
By then we had reached the status chambers. Without another word she donned the necessary suit and entered the chamber. I followed soon after. Naturally I was nervous out using these cryogenic chambers, there was a chance that I wouldn't be coming out of this tube alive. I remembered watching some old vids where people die mysteriously while in such a state. But I had no choice. If I didn't get in, someone else would have to stay in their tube longer than the recommended length of time and risk death, which was something Dass would not stand for. Wisely I didn't mention my concerns to others to avoid controversy.
Keeping grave concerns and doubts deep inside me, I watched helplessly than as the temperature dropped like a bird flying over the industrial center of a city. Then I felt the world turn off. It started with touch. I could no longer feel my fingers or toes. The chilling spread to my limbs. I wanted to move, to free myself from an arctic prison but was prevented by either the cold or the suit. Somehow the hibernation process had gone wrong. Somehow I knew that this wasn't how it was suppose to feel. Resistance proved to be futile. When it started on my ears my sense of hearing ended. Then I felt a new sensation. It was the cryo-suit interfacing with the sleep tubes keeping me alive. But I didn't feel alive than as the black cold swept up my torso. For an instant, I could feel my blood turn to ice and my heart freeze in mid-beat. Than as it rose, the connection between shoulder and cyber-arm stopped functioning. Though there wasn't anything to smell or taste, I could tell they were the next to go. Vision in my natural orb clouded over in a hazy of darkness. Which was more slowly followed by the artificial one. Than as my last link to the outside world failed, even my thoughts became slow and stiff. There was no flashbacks of my life, no image of a loved one, or anything. One second I was there, the next the man who was known than as Nathan Conners, biggest weapons dealer of Night City, mekton pilot extraordinaire, vanished into oblivion.