The lift chute whirred softly as it descended into the lower levels, and Methos shifted on his feet uncomfortably as his mind went over the discussion he'd had with Duncan before they'd left Amanda's. Distract, then evade, that what Mac had wanted them to do; not the most comprehensive of plans, especially as they had to distract an entire empire - but anything was preferable to himtaking Cam's head, and he suspected Mac sensed that.
Amanda's hand fell onto his arm, and he felt the pressure of her reassuring squeeze. He wished he felt half as confident of their plan as she did.
Inara cleared her throat. "How long before we-"
The lift shuddered to a halt, and Methos staggered to regain his balance as the main lights dimmed, and a pulsating red beam filled the lift. A klaxon screamed through the lift's COM, and Methos groaned. They had been rumbled.
Amanda held out her hand and gave Methos a pointed look. He pulled out the rolled cloth bag he'd stashed in his shirt before he'd latched onto the shuttle's hull and handed it to her. Quickly, she opened it and and pulled a tiny sensor pad from a cloth pocket and applied it to the keypad, before pulling out a flexi-tablet from from another slot. A diagnostic map of the keypad glowed on its screen.
"Standard configuration," Amanda muttered, "Back up node seems to be..." She looked down at the floor and began tapping her feet. A hollow sound echoed back. She fell to her knees, peering at the floor, and pulled out short stiletto knife from the roll, ramming it into the sliver thin gap in the floor. With an audible pop, the panel came free and, inside, there was a lever. She pulled it up and the lift doors slid open, revealing a glass panelled door.
"Gotta love redundancies," Amanda said cheerfully. "Use the laser gun, bullets won't breach it." Methos noticed her drop something into the cavity before slamming the panel back into place but they didn't have time for a discussion, so he pulled out the laser gun she'd given him instead. It melted away the glass, giving Amanda access to magnetised lock. A needle and a directed current shorted the panel and they found themselves in a deserted corridor – and not a moment too soon. Behind them, the elevator shot upwards again, obviously recalled to the surfaced – and probably a dozen guns.
"How far down are we?" Inara asked.
"Far enough," Amanda said grimly, as they hurried down the narrow hallway. "This level isn't supposed to even exist. They're on a different support system to the official part of the building – own ventilation, own stairwells. The data archive is one floor down...but that isn't the problem."
Methos nodded grimly, and Inara frowned as she looked from one to the other. "What is it? What aren't you telling me?"
"We don't have a way back," Methos said, as they reached a stairwell. He nodded at Amanda, who raised her gun as he quietly pushed open the door. She went first, followed by Inara, and he took the rear. They descended the stairs as quickly as they could, but their journey was eerily quiet.
"Where's all the security?" Inara hissed.
"At a guess, about seven levels above us," Amanda said. "We weren't supposed to get this far."
"It won't take them long to revise that assumption," Methos warned.
"Only one way in and one way out – the elevator shaft," Amanda said lightly. "By the time they get down here and realise what we're up to, we should be on the move again.
"We're going to die," Methos pronounced. "And wake up on an autopsy table."
"That's what I always liked about you, Methos," Amanda said lightly. "Your unwavering optimism-"
A figure appeared from one of the doorways and froze on the spot when she saw them. Her deer in headlights expression was obvious, even under the hot red of the alarm lights. Methos and Amanda eyed each other and then aimed their guns.
"Turn around and go back into the room you came from," Methos advised her steadily. "Don't come out until the klaxon stops or we'll be forced to use alternative means to keep you quiet – understood?"
Nodding furiously, she scurried into a room and shut the door, and Methos let out a breath of relief. He hadn't been lying to Mac when he said he'd like to keep the body count to a minimum.
"We're nearly there," Amanda said, darting down the corridor, and he and Inara followed. The archive was Spartan - the memory banks lining the walls almost completely silent. A small access control module graced the small table in the centre of the room, and Amanda busied herself prying at its holographic interface.
"Are you sure this is going to work? Methos asked lowly.
"This is me you're talking to, remember?" Amanda asked, as she pulled a small transceiver from her bag of tricks.. "Don't worry, getting the archive out of this building is the easy part – getting us out afterwards will be the real feat." With a very unladylike grunt, Amanda managed to slot the transceiver into the interface and it booted up. "There," she said, "It'll take a few minutes, but the data should be uploading into storage unit I left on the shuttle.
"Lets move," Methos said flatly.
"Move where?" Inara asked. "You said it yourself. We're cut off down here, and the elevator is a trap."
Amanda smiled mysteriously. "We're not going to use the lift, just the shaft," she said.
Methos looked at her. "And if we get bopped on the head with a passing lift, or sliced into pieces with the laser security system in the shaft?"
"Oh, that won't be a problem," Amanda said light. "It's not activated..."
Methos tilted his head. "Amanda...what did you do?"
Amanda grinned. "I left them a little gift in the elevator," she said. "I'll give you a hint... a three letter acronym, beginning with E, ending with P, with an M in the middle."
Methos's mind flitted back to the small object she'd left in the compartment in the lift. "That little thing was an EMP grenade?" he said, disbelievingly.
"A quasar pulse EMP grenade," Amanda corrected. "The gift that keeps on giving every twelve seconds. They'll be too scared to leave a light bulb on until they find it."
Methos shook his head in disbelief. "You could have warned us'" he said.
She grinned. "And miss that glorious expression on your face?" he asked. "oh, darling, I thought you knew me."
"This is not good, is it?" River said, in a small voice, as the troops spilled out of the hanger. They were dressed in full battle armour and on high alert. No doubt about it, they'd been rumbled. What she wouldn't do for one of Jayne's grenades right now. Zoe took a breath, and pulled her head below the horizon line, dragging River with her. She needed to come up with a plan B - fast.
River was staring at her with wide eyes and Zoe took a breath.
"I need you to get back to the shuttle as fast as you can," she said, straining to keeping her voice calm. "You need to grab the data archive and then send out a message on all bands. Say you've got the data and make it sound like we're about to broadcast every little dirty secret they have - and then you get the hell out of there, do you understand?"
River frowned. "They'll find the shuttle." she said.
"Can't be helped," Zoe said.
"Captain won't like it," River said unhappily.
"I know," Zoe said tersely. "Can you do it?"
She nodded reluctantly.
"Good," Zoe said quietly. "Get going!"
Silently, River slid down the incline and darted into the brush, and Zoe watched her go with a twinge of misgiving. She was praying that the all bands wave would send the troopers out looking for it, and also alert the Captain that they needed help. It was a wing and prayer, if ever she'd seen one, but she couldn't come up with anything better.
She poked her head up. The troopers were beginning to span out, prodding at the brush with their pulse rifles. They were obviously looking for something, although whether that something was her, she wasn't sure yet. She entertained the thought Inara and the others might have been captured, but that didn't sit right. What the hell were the security troops up to?
Getting to her feet, she moved along the ridge, keeping her head low until the sun was at her back. She dropped to her belly and crawled along until she breached the ridge top again and settled down to wait. It didn't take long, River must have run at breakneck speed to the shuttle. It was easy to spot the moment their earpieces came to life. Like a pack of hunter dogs, they all swivelled to look in the direction of the shuttle. She tensed, waiting for her opening,
She saw the squadron leader point and pump the air double time, and smirked as they began to trot in the direction of the shuttle. The ruse had worked even better than she'd hoped for. It was the one bit of luck they'd had all day. She started to run, keeping her head low and her footing steady. The last thing she needed right now was to stumble. Relief flooded through her when she reached the side of the hanger without being shot in the back.
She took a breath, and sidled along the wall, shotgun at the ready. She frowned at the dark gaping maw of the hanger beyond the doors. Why wasn't there any lighting? Ignoring her sense of unease, she slipped inside, backing herself into a corner as her eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings. She noticed a security LED light glowling gently over the the rear door but she couldn't see any ground personnel. She'd be fooling herself, though, if she thought there wasn't any surveillance.
So why hadn't they come looking for her? Was it some sort of trap? She shook the thought away. There was no gorram way she was going to leave Inara behind. They'd already lost too much. Steeling herself, she rounded the small shuttle transport skiff that crouched in the middle of the hanger. It was military and there was no heat coming from the engines. That meant it had been sitting there for quite some time. They'd been waiting for them.
Her mouth went dry as she reassessed the situation. They had known they were coming. How had they figured it out?
Had Methos sold them out?
Her eyes narrowed. That had better not be the case, or she would find a way to end him. Immortal or no.
She reached the door, frowning as she realised it had been manually propped open by what looked like a cinder block. she eyed the scrapes along the edge of the door. Had they actually pried open the door? Why would they...?
Her eyes widened as it all clicked into place. There was no power; no lights, no doors, no surveillance. She grinned, shaking her head as she carefully stepped over the cinder block. No wonder they were so eager to check out the shuttle's COM message. It was the only signal they could pick up. Silently, she moved down the empty corridor, her eyes struggling to see with the few LED lights that graced the doors along the hall. She could hear the dull thudding of fists on reinforced metal as the magnetically locked doors held firm. Unlike the soldiers, the civilians obviously didn't carry door jacks in their packs.
She passed an empty security cubicle and hesitated. Had they all poured outside when the lights went out? she spotted the elevator doors ahead, and headed for them. With the power out, Inara and the others wouldn't be able to use the actual elevator, they'd have to climb the shaft - that was why they were taking so long. She eyed the security keypad on the doors and wished she'd thought to bring some of Kaylee's tech with her.
A thought came to her and her eyes flitted back to the security cubicle. Grunts were grunts, paranoid no matter who paid them, which meant... She darted back to the cubicle and climbed into it, not bothering to be subtle as she pulled open the guard's locker and emptied the contents onto the floor. Extra ammo, back up gun and COMs, food rations, knife - door jack!
Smirking, she plugged the COMs unit into her ear and grabbed the gun and ammo as well as the jack. She rolled through the COMs unit signal bands until she picked up the security troops wave.
"...Alpha Romeo, it's a wash. The signal is automated."
"It's a ruse - back to base!"
Scowling, Zoe jammed the jack into the door and began racking the lever. The door slowly opened, squeaking its protest. She poked her head in when the gap was wide enough to take her shoulders - only to find a gun in her face, Inara's finger on the trigger.
"Zoe!' She said, lowering the weapon. "Thank heavens."
"We don't have much time," Zoe said, as she noted Methos and Amanda below her on the ladder. "I arranged a distraction, but they've just figured out it's a ruse. We need to move."
They didn't need to be told twice, and Zoe nodded in the direction of the hanger, before leading the way.
"Where's River?" Inara asked.
"Hopefully, on her way back here to rendezvous with us," Zoe said tersely. "We need to reassess our escape plan."
"And why is that?" came Methos's dry voice.
"Because I needed to give away our shuttle's location to clear the ground of security troops," she said sharply.
Methos gave her a long examining look, and Zoe felt herself tense. "Something we should know?" he asked eventually.
"They were waiting for us," Zoe said flatly. "There was whole troop of alliance soldiers waiting for us in that hanger, and they weren't just passing by."
Methos's eyes narrowed. "Interesting."
"That's one word for it," Zoe bit out.
"How about we leave this conversation until we're free and clear?" Amanda asked lightly. "We have enough on our plate, don't you think?"
"I don't think this is a conversation so much as an accusation, Amanda," Methos said, his eyes still on Zoe. She bristled, but kept her voice cool. "Do you blame me?"
Amanda sighed. "Tell you what, you can shoot us later but, right now, we need to move."
Zoe jumped as River's head popped into view though the door from the hanger. "River, you need to stop doing that,' she said slowly.
"Sorry," she said, with a wide grin that said she wasn't sorry at all. "I was wondering if we could turn the EMP off now? I'm thinking we need to steal this skiff - and the soldiers are kind of nearly here." she said that last part in a low, conspiratorial tone, as if it were a special secret.
Amanda smirked as pulled out a flexi-screen pad, and tapped a few icons. Zoe heard the low whir of the air-conditioning coming online again and squared her shoulders as they ran into the hanger, taking up point position by the hanger doors as River clambered into the skiff.
"Be quick, River," she yelled, as she spotted a trooper cresting the hill. She noticed Methos had taken up position on the other side of the hanger door, while Amanda kept on eye on the door that led into the corridor. She hoped to hell they didn't end up with a two front fire fight.
The skiff's engines flared to life, and Zoe felt some of the dread lift off her chest.
Well, what do you know.
She may live to regret this after all.