"How the hell did the medical staff manage to lose him?" Admiral Miller barked at her assistants.
"They didn't, he was sleeping in recovery and was checked out about five minutes ago. A group of individuals came in, flashed some paperwork and left with him without saying a word." One of the assistants timidly answered.
"Unbelievable. Lock down the docking bay, no one gets off this station until Mr. Roberts and the individuals that took him are found, do I make myself clear?" The Admiral walked up to the nurse's station near the recovery wing and demanded to see the person responsible for releasing Jack. To her shock, the nurse left with the group and had been using a very cleverly forged ID. He had been assigned to the recovery wing after arriving on station from elsewhere in the HSF network though there was no information on where he came from. Admiral Miller motioned for Fara to follow her as she and her entourage boarded a shuttle car outside the medical wing. Fara sat nervously in the shuttle as it sped through the station, she noticed the Admiral's assistants glancing at her then quickly looking back at their datapads, Admiral Miller finally broke the awkward silence.
"You'll have to forgive my assistants Fara, they don't get to interact with other species very often." She looked at the one seated directly across from her. "They're supposed to be gathering information on where that nurse, and his forged ID, came from and how he managed to avoid detection."
"Working on it ma'am." One assistant responded. "We just had a ship undock from bay 24. Unnamed vessel, no reporting marks, no ID on the hull type either."
"I said no one gets off the station. Why did traffic control allow that ship to undock?"
"They were in space at the time the lockdown was ordered. Traffic control ordered them to return to the station, they entered a docking pattern then turned away at the last minute and made a blind FTL jump out into space. We tracked the ship until it left the system." The Admiral put her head in her hand and mumbled under her breath. She paused a moment then looked up and at Fara.
"I've got a job for you and your associates Fara." The Admiral pulled out a datapad. "I need you to see if the Cornerians know anything about that ship. This is still a military operation out here and to have an unidentified ship type docked is out of the ordinary to say the least, so it must be a local hull type."
"Admiral." One of the assistants interrupted and handed the Admiral his datapad. "We've got an image of the ship from one of the sentry guns that was tracking it as it turned to run."
"Fara, does this ship look familiar to you?" Fara looked at the grainy image on the datapad, it was partially obscured by the sentry gun's targeting reticle but she recognized the ship type.
"It's a Wolfen mkII with some kind of container mounted to the underside." Fara said. "Star Wolf uses those ships. They're short range fighters, they're not equipped to come out this far."
"Well one made it out here." The Admiral said. "How many of those ships are there in Lylat?"
"Three that I know of, four if Krystal is working with Wolf again." Fara told the Admiral, who began typing on her datapad.
"Jack sent a report shortly before the Prospect was hit with that bomb. In it he detailed the makeup of the Star Wolf squadron as three fighter ships and a carrier or mothership. He doesn't mention a fourth fighter ship." The shuttle had reached its destination in the meantime and the Admiral's assistants led Fara out of the shuttle. Fara looked around, they were standing outside the docking bay where the ship had departed. It was locked down and the control panel for the door had been removed.
"Get it open." She barked at one of her assistants. "NOW!"
The Admiral's assistants managed to open the door and rushed inside the docking bay. After a few moments, they emerged and gave the all clear. As Fara stepped through the door she could hear the Admiral swearing just around the corner. The Interstellar Iridium docking bay was, like the other docking bays Fara had seen on the station, just large enough for a ship like the Prospect with areas on the floor marked off for sorting cargo and various equipment parked along the wall for loading and unloading. The Admiral was looking at the still open access door in the floor that led to the station's tram system.
"This is how they got him to off the station so quickly." The Admiral said to Fara.
"It shouldn't have been that easy." One of her assistants said.
"It wouldn't have been if someone had done their job and found the unauthorized employee in the medical wing." The Admiral barked in response. "Fara, you were part of the Cornerian Defense Force before you started working with Jack and Fox, is that correct?" Fara replied with a nod.
"What kind of clearance did you have? Do you know where they would take a high value prisoner like Jack?" Admiral Miller paused a moment. "I know I'm asking you to reveal details about the CDF you may be unwilling to disclose but understand if you can't locate and retrieve him covertly, we will be forced to use a more direct approach."
"A more direct approach?" Fara said.
"Once we locate Jack we would send a small fleet in to blockade the planet while a team of operatives recovers him. Any attempt to disrupt our operation would be met with extreme force."
"I was just a pilot." Fara began. "I don't really know what the CDF does beyond patrolling Lylat. I do know there's a research base on Titania where they develop new weapon systems. That's common knowledge though."
"I see. What about the others?"
"Fox might, his father worked closely with one of the Cornerian generals and that general worked with Fox after James disappeared. I don't know the other well enough to say what they might know."
"See what you can find and relay as much information as you can to us." Admiral Miller put her hand on Fara's shoulder. "I have a timetable I must follow if we find him, there's a limited amount of time I can give you to retrieve Jack before I'm required to act. Make sure your people are ready to move before you relay that information to me, if I find out first I will tell you before I file my report. It will only buy you about two days though."
"Thank you Admiral." Fara said. "I'll get back to Fox and see what I can find out."
"One more thing before you go." Admiral Miller handed Fara a small datapad. "This is my contact for information on Lylat. He works with the freighters that carry cargo into and out of the system. You'll find him down on the lower decks of the station where the Cornerian freighters dock, he's probably overseeing a cargo transfer. Ask around for Boomer and give him this. I'll be in touch."
Fara went to thank the Admiral who quickly turned and walked away, she looked at the palm-sized datapad, it was powered on and locked with a password. She decided to attempt to find this informant before returning to Fox and made her way to the lower decks of the station. The lower decks of the station were reserved for Cornerians working with the CDF and Fara felt comfortable being with her own people, many of the freighters employed mercenary pilots to guard them on their return trip to Lylat, these pilots were clean and professional, far removed from the rough and rowdy crewmen that occupied the bars and lounges on the station's lowest levels. Fara began asking around, posing as a passenger looking to board the next ship to depart. After asking a few passers by she finally got directions to one of the nearby docking bays and rushed down the narrow corridor toward the open docking bay door.
Inside, the humans had removed the walls between several of the standard size docking bays so cargo could be quickly transferred between ships without tying up the station's tram system. There were two human freighters docked at either end of the bay with three Cornerian freighters docked in between. Small cargo vehicles darted between the ships towing containers of various sizes, Fara's attention turned to a loud crash just off to her right.
"Oh what the hell!" A young Cornerian yelled as she kicked a walker drone very similar to the ones Fara and Jack encountered on Dust. She was wearing silver colored coveralls with a reflective yellow band down each arm and leg and another around the waist. The drone had tripped on a seam in the floor and dropped its package as it fell, spilling the contents on the floor. Other drones continued to walk past the scene and grab cartons from a nearby conveyor before marching out to the docked ships. The drone struggled to right itself as the Cornerian continued yelling and kicking.
"Walker drones, more like stumble drones, or fall flat on its face drones." She turned and looked at Fara. "You'd think a species that's perfected interstellar travel could at least make a machine that walk over an uneven floor."
"I'm sorry." Fara said to the girl. "I was looking for someone."
"Passengers need to check in with receptions on deck 40, just follow the green line on the floor and try not to walk into anyone." The Cornerian replied before turning back to the drone. "Dammit! You piece of junk! Stripped out another leg servo!"
"I was hoping I could find someone named Boomer here." Fara said as the Cornerian continued to ignore her.
"HEY NORMAN!" The girl bellowed across the docking bay. "UNIT SIX THREE SEVEN THREE NEEDS ANOTHER LEG SERVO! IT FELL ON ITS ASS AGAIN!"
"Miyu." A voice responded from behind them both. "Is it really necessary to yell?" Fara turned and saw a human standing behind her. He was burly and just a bit shorter than Fara, with crew cut gray and blonde hair and wearing the same coveralls as the Cornerian girl He carried a datapad attached to another device on his hip with a wire which was connected to some kind of partially exposed implant that wrapped around his ear on the right side of his head.
"Sorry Norm." Miyu said. "Things are alittle tense down here right now. We've got alot of stuff moving around today."
"Only if you make it that way." Norman responded. "Is anything broken in the package?"
"Then pick it up and put it back on the conveyor so another drone can take it to the ship. Then power down the drone and we'll repair it later." Miyu began gathering up the spilled contents of the container. They looked to be personal belongings, mostly clothing with a few small keepsakes wrapped in packing material. Norman then turned his attention to Fara. "Passengers need to check in..."
"...with the receptions on deck 40. I know." Fara said. "I'm looking for someone named Boomer, do you know where I can find him?"
"Yeah I do." Norman replied. "But you're going to have to answer some questions first."
"My name is Fara Phoenix, Admiral Miller sent me to find Boomer. She says he might have information for me." Fara began.
"Boomer?" Miyu interrupted. "What kind of name is that?"
"I'm Boomer." Norman replied. "You've got a datapad for me right?" Fara handed the datapad to Norman who quickly entered the password and read the contents, then handed the datapad back to Fara with a sigh.
"Is something wrong?" Fara asked.
"No." Norman replied. "Sometimes I just wonder what high command is thinking. You're a member of the CDF, and I'm supposed to share any intelligence I have on the CDF with you. No offense to you, but that just doesn't make sense. Anyway, the brass says you're clear so I guess they know what they're doing. What is it you need to know?"
"I'm not really part of the Cornerian Defense Force anymore, I've been working with a small group of Cornerian mercenaries being paid by the HSF." Fara told Norman. "We use a human carrier and human ships made to look like Cornerian Airwings."
"Interesting." Norman said as he sat down on a nearby cargo container. "You're part of the Silver Fox team I've heard about. That explains why the Admiral has such an interest in you."
"Yes." Fara replied. "The human who set up our operation, Jack Roberts, was injured in a recent attack and the ship badly damaged. I brought Jack here to for treatment while others are trying to repair the ship. He was taken from the medical wing of the station and we believe he's somewhere in Lylat."
"And you want me to find out where."
"Yes." Fara said with a nod.
"There's alot of chatter coming from Lylat right now, it might take a couple of days to sort through it all. I've got people on nearly every planet, if he's there, I will find him."
"If you can, I'd like you to locate two other individuals as well. One is a blue fox named Krystal, the other a gray wolf with a scar over her left eye named Miri, they were working with a local mercenary group called Star Wolf. They were both members of our group at one time and were involved in the attack on our ship."
"I know Star Wolf." Norman said as he typed on his datapad. "Interstellar Iridium is paying them under the table, I have no idea what they're doing though. Wolf recently docked on Macbeth and collected a bounty on outlaw named Kursed. What throws up a red flag is Macbeth is an industrial planet that was heavily damaged during the wars, all the prison facilities we know of are inside the military base on Titania or on Corneria itself. I'm going to start my search there and see what I can turn up. I'll relay any information I find to you. I haven't heard of the other two though, Star Wolf only lists 3 members. But I'll see what I can dig up."
"They were working with Star Wolf." Fara looked at the floor. "Krystal went by the name Kursed for a time, she might know where Jack or Miri is. I'd like to see what you find though, if whoever took Jack knows we're looking for him, they may move him or disappear completely."
"I was thinking the same thing." Norman replied. "I'll get the word out right away."
"Ok. Norman, I've know you for how long and you never told me you were some kind of spymaster." Miyu said.
"I'm not, I just relay information to people who ask for it." Norman said with a smile. "One of the advantages to having a computer where half my brain should be. I send and receive information all the time and no one ever knows. No one is going to know, right Miyu?"
"Yes sir, I'll keep my mouth shut. I like my job too much."
"If they find out you've been talking, they'll blow you out an airlock. I'd hate to see that happen." Norman said. "This is the best cover I've ever had, no one comes down here and it's easy to hide if I need to."
"Right, so you going to let me in on the spy thing too?" Miyu asked.
"Not unless you want to have a life threatening combat injury that requires half your brain to be cut out and replaced with a computer." Norman said as he patted Miyu on the back. "But first, there's Core Strike training, everyone graduates, but few survive their first mission."
"Nevermind." Miyu said and went back to repairing the drone.
"Thank you." Fara said to Norman. "I think I'll get back to the ship now and see how the repairs are going." Fara left Norman and Miyu in the docking bay to continue their conversation and boarded one of the station's elevators to the station's upper levels ,as she made her way back to the docking bay where she had left the shuttle, station security stopped her outside.
"This docking bay is closed." The security officer said, stepping infront of the door and holding his weapon across his chest.
"My ship is in there, how am I supposed to get home?" Fara asked the officer who simply nodded. She could barely see his eyes from behind the amber colored visor on his helmet, he was looking at something behind her. Just then, she heard footsteps and turned around as she was grabbed by another station security officer who cuffed her hands and tossed her into the back of a nearby shuttle. The two officers climbed in behind her and shut the door, one took a seat near the door, the other at the front of the shuttle's cargo area and tapped on the bulkhead.
"We're in, go, go!" The officer at the front of the cargo area yelled into the intercom. Fara felt the shuttle lift off quickly and start to turn, she looked at one of the officers who promptly pushed her head down on the floor, all she could see now was the light shining through the porthole windows of the shuttle's cargo area. It moved slowly across the floor as the shuttle passed through the station's large main corridors
"Where are you taking me?" Fara yelled. "What's going on?"
"Stay quiet." One of the officers said. "We're going to get some questions answered. If you cooperate, we'll take you back to that shuttle you stole from us."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Fara snapped back. "What questions?"
"You'll find out." The officer paused a moment. "Why are we still in the station? Get us out of here, now!"
"I'm trying to avoid station security, they've got this whole deck locked down. They went red as soon as we took off." A voice replied over the intercom. "I've got a lock, they're going to bring us down." As the pilot yelled the shuttle was rocked by an explosion. Fara felt the floor ripple from the impact and the shuttle began to tilt left to right violently. She grabbed one of the struts supporting the seat and braced herself against the wall with her legs as the shuttle tumbled to the ground and crashed, sliding on its side for a few meters before coming to rest. The cargo compartment was full of smoke and beams of light peaked in from the now shattered porthole windows. The two officers grabbed their weapons and struggled to get the damaged rear door open, when they did they were met with weapons fire and fell back into the compartment one landing on Fara. With her hands still cuffed, Fara couldn't climb out of the wreck and was partially pinned by the lifeless body of one of her captors. A shadow blocked the light from the open rear doors and a familiar voice echoed inside the compartment.
"You in there Fara?" It was Norman. "Are you alright?"
"I'm here." Fara said. "I can't get out, they have my hands cuffed and I'm trapped under one of the bodies."
"Hold on." Norman climbed in and pulled Fara from the wreck. As soon as she was on her feet a station security officer unlocked her handcuffs and went to check on the shuttle's pilot.
"Thank you." Fara said to Norman.
"I wasn't sure you were for real." Norman replied as he put his hand on Fara's shoulder. "So I followed you, good thing too. I know every station security officer, their name, work hours, everything, and those two were not part of station security. We knew those guys outside the docking bay on the upper level weren't legit, but we needed to see what they were up to before we made a move. Thankfully those shuttles are slow and easy to follow. Sorry you got caught up in that. Did they say anything to you?"
"They wanted to ask me some questions, they didn't say what kind. They also mentioned the shuttle I used to bring Jack here. They said it belonged to them."
"They were working for Interstellar Iridium." Norman said. "There must be more of them on the station than we thought. Admiral Miller's going to be pissed. I think the best thing you can do right now is get away from this station as quickly as you can."
"I agree." Fara said.
"Miyu will give you a ride back to your ship, I'm going to stay here and clean up." Miyu was waiting nearby with a small hovering cart used to transport groups of people around the station. Fara climbed on and Miyu took off down the corridor toward the docking bay.
"Wow, did you see that?" Miyu said enthusiastically. "Those guys came out of that shuttle and Norm just popped em' before they had a chance to blink. I never though the old guy could do something like that. You get to see that sort of thing often?"
"I didn't see much." Fara replied. "I'm seeing more close combat than I would like to. I'm a pilot." Miyu stopped the cart near the docking bay where Fara's shuttle was kept. Fara stepped off and began walking toward the door.
"Thank you again." She said as she stepped into the docking bay and boarded the shuttle. The trip back to the Prospect was thankfully uneventful and Fara was grateful for the time to reflect, she was eager to get back to Fox and the others and tell them what happened. As she approached the Prospect, drifting silently through space she could see Fox had the repairs well underway with structural braces covering the holes in the hull and most of the ship's exterior doors repaired, one of the doors opened as she approached and a tractor beam slowly pulled her ship inside.