She could smell gas. Wherever the leak was, it was close.
Shay Sable did an automatic check of her belt to make sure that she still had all of her accessories, even though she knew that everything was as it should be: Flashlight, GPS, portable oxygen tank, lock picking kit, a Swiss army knife, a butterfly knife, a flick knife, a remote detonation grenade and a small SIG-Sauer P-239 pistol. If she had to use weapons on assignments, Shay much preferred her collection of knives.
She trudged through the bowels of a large container ship that was docked at a rarely used New York harbour. She was in the very bottom level of the ship where the cargo hold was. All the pipes that made the ship function were woven along the walls of the long passage, which explained the gas. The smell intensified as Shay slowly made her way towards the end of the passage that she’d been navigating for the last ten minutes.
“Report, Blackbird,” came a soft voice in her ear.
“Approaching the cargo door, Redbird.”
Shay’s eyes flicked to the lock. Immediately, a picture of a well-worn book entitled Locks around the world: Design and purpose popped in her head and the pages mentally flipped to the type of lock that was in front of her. The book in her mind stopped at a basic padlock bolt. All of that took about two seconds.
Child’s play, really, but she forced herself to remember her training and treated the simple obstacle as though it was rigged with a nuclear bomb. She opened the lock picking kit from her belt and moments later a soft click echoed down the empty passage. She held her breath and strained her ears for any kind of sound or movement on the other side of the door. Nothing.
The deadbolt had some grooves on the top part. Shay looked around her and her eyes rested on a discarded piece of wood. She knelt down and inspected it. It wasn’t very long and one end was mouldy and soft, most likely teeming with microscopic insects. The other end was smooth, almost as though it had been left there for her. Perhaps others had used it the same way she was about to. It made her slightly apprehensive about what she might find on the other side of the door.
She slid the smooth side of the wood in between the small gap under the door and pushed down slowly. The plank creaked a little, but the door lifted enough for her to noiselessly slide the bolt and unlock the door. She discarded the wood and took out her butterfly and flick knives – her two favourites. She pulled the door open with her right hand, the flick knife between her teeth and slipped into the dark space. As the door closed quietly behind her, she pulled down her night vision goggles and looked around her. She could detect no movement and took the precious moments afforded to her to observe the cargo room. It was big, at least three stories high and the length of several rugby fields. There were crates of all sizes stacked high and low, left and right, creating a maze. For a split second, she was reminded of the training facility back at HQ, but shook her head of the thought and regained her focus.
“Redbird, I’m in the cargo room. All’s quiet. Going to investigate.”
“Roger that. Fifteen minutes until departure.”
Shay moved quickly and quietly through the huge room, always ready to spring into attack or defence mode. She reached the other side of the room and frowned to herself. No sign of her target. Which was odd, considering that the extensive recon she and her team had done had suggested that the cargo room was her target’s prison. There were no doors that she could see other than the one she’d come through.
Light suddenly filled the room and she squeezed her eyes, pulling off her goggles and blinking rapidly to diminish the spots dancing in front of her eyes. She spun behind a tower of crates, listening carefully for movement. Unfamiliar stickers on the crates caught her eye.
“Blackbird, three armed men headed your way.”
Shay pursed her lips and hit a button on her communicator to let Redbird know that she couldn’t speak but had received the message. That would complicate things. Three armed men against one fourteen-year-old girl. Granted, she was expertly trained in six forms of martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, but she had to concede that she was small for her age. She was going to have to use her other skills to get her and her target out safely. Of course, she needed to find that target first.
“Get the Senator,” an accented voice said a few feet away from Shay’s hiding place.
She knelt down and peered around the tower of crates as much as she dared. A man dressed all in black had his back to her. Two men dragged another man into her line of view and dropped him in front of the man in black. The man’s phone rang and he glanced at the screen before answering it.
“Yes, I was just about to take care of it,” he said. “I know the plan, moron. Just make sure that your merchandise is ready and waiting.”
He hung up the phone and Shay suspected that the person on the other end would probably be a trifle agitated. The man in black was definitely Russian – his accent was proof of that. But it was westernised so he’d probably been in the States for a few years already. He had dark brown hair that had been slicked back and a well-kept goatee. Shay raised her eyebrows when she saw him wearing sunglasses. The bad guys never seemed to stray too far from the stereotype of wearing sunglasses at night and indoors.
“Senator Harris, my very good friend,” the man in black said, using the toe of his boot to turn the man on the floor over. “It saddens me that we end our partnership at this juncture. These last three weeks have truly been an amazing time for me. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute we spent together.”
His voice was devoid of any tone other than malice. Shay tried to look down at the Senator and assimilate the state of his injuries, but she wasn’t in the best position. She needed to move. Stepping without a sound, she backtracked away from the man in black and her target. She double backed behind the crates that she’d been using as a hiding place and came out the other side for a more side-on view.
The Senator was lying on his side. From what she could see, his arms and legs were in sufficient condition for him to move on his own. His arm flopped onto the floor in exhaustion and she saw crusty bandages covering his forearm. Although he was curled up, she estimated him to be about six feet tall. His face was bloodied and bruised. He coughed and clutched his stomach.
Broken ribs, Shay decided. Well, she’d succeeded in worse conditions. She wasn’t about to start failing assignments now.
“My employer wishes to thank you for your co-operation,” the man in black continued. “We’re always looking for new additions to our ever-growing business.”
“Leave them alone, you monster!” the Senator suddenly roared, launching himself off the ground.
The man in black stepped back calmly and watched as the Senator was immediately restrained by his two guards. One of them sucker punched the Senator in the stomach and he sank to the floor, wheezing.
“I thought that by now you would have realised that any kind of resistance is futile,” the man in black chuckled. “I always get what I want, Senator.”
The sound of heavy stomping invaded the man in black’s triumphant retort. Three men carrying huge semi-automatics stood ready at attention.
“You called, Boss?” one of them said in Russian.
“Take the Senator and grant him last rites. This association has gone on long enough.”
Shay needed a cover. A big one, something that would give her an advantage that her six enemies didn’t have. The three armed men were heaving the Senator to his feet, but he was being difficult, buying Shay precious seconds. Quickly and quietly, she made her way back to the door and located the electric box she remembered from the floor plan. She opened the box and used her flick knife to cut the main line. The cargo hold plunged into darkness and surprised yelling erupted. She pulled her night vision goggles down again and ran to where the Senator was surrounded by the armed men, their guns trained out.
Shay gripped her two knives and stepped, stabbing the first man in his stomach and twisting the knife. He squealed in pain and dropped to the ground, causing his compatriots to call him name in alarm. She stepped silently around her first victim and stuck the butterfly knife into the next man’s side, just above his diaphragm. She felt blood seep through her gloves, but ignored it. As the second man fell, she stabbed him in the neck.
“What’s happening?” one of the guards shouted in Russian. “Who are you?”
“Shut up, fools,” the man in black said in a scathing voice. “Keep quiet and our intruder will make himself known.”
Shay smiled to herself. Not likely, buddy, she thought. She was exceptionally light on her feet and in a silent room where one could hear a grain of rice drop, one would still not hear her footsteps. She disposed of the next armed man in a similar fashion to the second and had to dive to the ground as one of the panicked guards started firing into the darkness.
“Stop that!” the man in black screamed. “Are you trying to get us all killed? Go and fix the lights. Now.”
He stumbled off, almost falling over the bodies of his dead comrades. Shay breathed silently as she stood up and approached the last gunman. One knife in his side, the other in his chest and he dropped. It was just the two of them and they both knew it. He fumbled for a gun and Shay slashed with the knife. Somehow, he must’ve heard her because he stepped back and her knife cut nothing but air. She darted forward, not giving him a chance to react and plunged her flick knife into his leg, twisting the blade. The man in black yelped in pain and she pulled the knife out. She looked up and came face-to-face with his gun. She ducked, hearing a shot go off above her head not a second later.
Close call there, Blackbird.
Shay looked up and slashed the tendons in the man in black’s wrist that held the gun. He immediately dropped the weapon, cradling his injured hand. She picked up his discarded gun and stuck into the back of her pants.
“Find the damn lights!” the man in black screeched, his voice echoing.
The Senator had cowered and tried to make a run for it during all the commotion, but hadn’t gotten very far. Shay knelt down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Senator Harris, I’m here to help. We need to move.”
The Senator blinked and squinted in the darkness at the space where the voice was coming from, but Shay didn’t have time to elaborate. She put an arm around his waist and helped him to his feet. He groaned audibly and she grimaced, knowing that the man in black would probably have heard them. She started walking as quickly as what she could coax from the Senator, but it was still painfully slow.
“Send units three and four to the cargo room now!” the man in black barked in Russian, either on a radio or phone. They didn’t have much time.
Shay tried to pick up the pace and the Senator thankfully responded. They reached the door, but Shay stopped suddenly as they almost collided with the guard that had been sent to turn on the lights. She released the Senator momentarily to nullify the threat and moved forward. She pulled the door open as quietly as she could, but as it opened wider, so came a long, loud, creak.
“The door!” the man in black shouted in Russian. “Stop them!”
Poor man has no idea that he’s all alone in there. Shay smiled to herself.
“Redbird, I have the target. Evac in two. Meet at primary RP.”
“Negative, Blackbird. The ship has already left the dock. Secondary RP is operational.”
Fiddlesticks. “Roger that.”
The man in black must have ordered the ship to leave before he’d entered the cargo room. It would make escape a little more challenging for her, but Shay Sable did always enjoy a good challenge. She pulled down her goggles as lights from the deck filtered down into the passage.
The smell of gas hit her again. As she hurried along with the Senator, she unclipped the grenade from her belt and held the detonator in her mouth as she activated it. She tossed the grenade between the pipes along the wall and made for the stairs to go up onto the deck. She slipped the detonator back into her belt.
“What did you throw there?” the Senator asked.
“Best we leave questions for later when we’re safe, Senator,” Shay replied quickly.
“Wait, you’re just a child. What are you doing here?”
“Saving your life. You can thank me later. Stalling doesn’t help.”
Shay pushed the Senator against the stairs and climbed up before him, her knives in front of her. The coast was clear. She reached down behind her and grabbed the Senator’s arm, pulling him up.
“You okay to walk?” she asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Shay navigated the lower deck easily, knowing exactly which corners to turn and passages to take. She approached the stairs up to the main deck and glanced behind, but the Senator was keeping up remarkably well. She ascended the stairs and had to crouch quickly as a gunman walked in the opposite direction. She turned and put a finger to her lips. Flick knife in hand, she ran behind the man and jumped onto his back, stabbing him in the side and neck quickly. The take down was quiet and Shay pulled him out of the passage. She motioned to the Senator to join her and he gingerly made his way down the passage.
A familiar sound had her on high alert. Boots came thundering from behind the Senator. She ran to intercept him and pulled him into the nearest room, closing the door quietly. Thankfully, it was empty and looked like some kind of storage closet. The boots stormed past them and faded. She waited ten seconds before opening the door, only glancing behind to check that her target was still following. She moved quickly towards the open deck and looked over the edge.
They were about a kilometre from the docks and that distance was rapidly increasing as the ship picked up speed. She spied a lifejacket and handed it to the Senator.
“Put this on.”
“We’re going to swim?” the Senator asked incredulously.
Shay gave him a pointed look.
“That water is close to freezing right now,” he protested.
“You wanna stay here?” Shay asked simply.
The Senator put the lifejacket on quickly.
Shay turned and spun her butterfly knife at the gunman training his semi-automatic on her target. The knife embedded itself in his chest and he fell.
“Go,” she said sharply.
Senator Harris climbed shakily over the railing. Shay was keeping an eye out for any more surprises. One jumped out at her from behind the wall by the opposite railing and she spun her flick knife. It hit its mark, but not before the guard had fired two shots from his gun. One bullet bounced off the railing and when she heard the Senator cry out in pain, she knew where the other bullet had landed.