Chapter 34: Prison Break
The ship had made a beeline straight towards their capitol building, the Colis Basilicim. The plan was as simple as it was desperate. As they approached, Jules had narrowed down the most likely locations for the prison from the thermal imaging of the colossal building and its grounds.
No one challenged its flight over Yeren. Playing off of what had worked with Daran and his soldiers, the Empress slid darkly and silently into position, hovering right over the main square. Assuredly, the inhabitants of the city had been prepared for this possibility and the communications that Jules had picked up randomly confirmed this. Most people had time to move to underground bunkers. Their presence was assisted by the huge embellishments being told by Daran and his men. As they came to a halt in front of the main square, it was safe to say that tales of their exploits and deeds had preceded them. The massive square that served as the entrance to the Colis Basilicim was totally deserted.
Daran’s squadron of airships hung a couple of miles away and five more ships had formed a circle entirely around the Empress.
Watching from the Becky Thatcher, Liam was again impressed how truly gargantuan the ship really was. “What was Captain Grumm thinking, anyway?” They were miles away and still it made a formidable impact. They knew that the ship holding Kyton had been dispatched as soon as Daran had entered the Empress. Those little Corsairs were fast and they made record time getting to the Capitol with their high profile prisoner. Even though the Empress took the more direct route over the cursed province of Yeren, Daran’s ship arrived many hours earlier. Daran’s men had taken Kyton inside the complex. Without the extraordinary tools at the ship’s disposal, they would have lost the party at the door. It was amazing how much detail Jules could come up with when he tried.
Ethan launched three of his drones to infiltrate the complex and hunt down the errant Executive Officer. When pushed, the drones could operate in a stealth mode that although not completely silent, was the next best thing. Fortunately, the hallways inside the palatial complex were a good thirty feet high and offered another level of stealth for the infiltrating drones. Whispering along the hallways, they were also doing a very good job mapping the complex for future reference. Finding a set of stairs, they descended deeper into a maze of passages, all alike.
Just like out of a movie set, the drones recorded row after row of suits of armor, crossed halberds, swords and other implements of destruction. They were obviously in an armory. They proceeded to the far end of the room only to find the doors at the other end held fast. Fortunately, the bar was on the inside.
“Ok guys, think. How are we going to get past this?” Ethan panned back around the room with the drone’s camera.
Zak jumped in. “How much can you lift with one of those girls?”
“About forty to fifty pounds.”
“I’m thinking that mace over there can’t be more than twenty.”
“Good thinking. The problem is grappling it off the wall. That’s going to make some noise for sure. Especially if we drop it.”
“Then don’t drop it. Simple,” snarked Zak.
Ethan retorted, “Do you want to fly this thing?”
“Naw, it looks like you have it covered.”
“Then please shut up!” Ethan said with the loving nature of an older brother. They were very close to the same age and it showed.
“You are using the magnetic grapplers right?”
“That’s a great idea! I’ve gotten too used to everything being made of carbon. Of course, iron and steel. Thanks bud!” Ethan swung the closest drone over to the mace hanging on the wall. The trick was in the wrist, or so Zak kept telling Ethan. Luckily most of the guards were busy with the spectacle taking place outside. Zak had taken over control of one of the other drones and had it near the ceiling at the first door. When a random grunt dropped by to see what all the ruckus was, the sight of the four-foot armor-plated insect with pincers, shooting lightning bolts at him, was enough to send him over the edge.
By the time he finished running to the edge of the province he had completely forgotten about desertion, changed his name and was now contemplating the benefits of grackle bean farming or hrok dung disposal as a new career choice.
With a little ingenuity and luck, they managed to get the crossbar barring the door detached. With a couple of resounding thunks from the mace, the door swung open. The three drones had to switch on their external lights to counter the dimness the further down into the bowels they went. It was then one of the screens glitched with the telltale sign they were losing signal.
“Uh-oh guys, we are starting to lose some signal here,” said Ethan, resisting the urge to hit the side of the tab serving as a remote. It was an instinct carried over from what seemed like ages ago. It would serve no purpose with today’s modern electronics.
Liam responded. “What do we do?”
“We have to start getting closer, either by boat or by foot, it really doesn’t matter,” replied Zak. “I’m going to set her down right over the complex. We’ve come too close and I don’t think they are paying any attention to us.” The channel to the ship was always open, but now he addressed the members floating about a mile overhead. “Ok, papa bear, we need a distraction.”
They could hear Grumm chuckling on the other end. “Ok, baby bear, one distraction coming up!” They heard him mumble “who thought up these ridiculous code names again?” The ship instantly erupted into the morning routine it had used to wake up sleeping villages for the last year. Playing the recording of Jimmy Hendrix doing the American national anthem on the electric guitar at about a million decibels, combined with a light show that would put any amusement park to shame was a work of genius. It got their attention. The launch swooped in, running low over rooftops and settled in on the wide flat roof of an administration building. There was a lot of cover afforded them as they nestled between two towers.
“Thanks, papa bear. We are down and safe. By the way, I think you suggested the name papa bear.”
“I did, I did. It just didn’t sound so stupid when I was thinking it up.”
“Well, we are good. You can turn off the show now. Proceeding with plan.”
“Roger that. Good hunting, baby bear.”
The crew of the Becky Thatcher resumed their search and rescue. The drones dropped from their station keeping near the ceiling to return to their hunt. At one point, they had to split up when they were abruptly presented with a hallway that split off in three different ways. Fortunately, they had earlier found a cache of spare computer terminals so Zak handed one of the pads to Liam.
“What’s this for?”
“You just became an honorary drone pilot.”
“I’ve haven’t flown anything like this. I had a couple of toys when I was a kid, but nothing like this.”
“Relax, I just started myself.”
“Yes, but you’re already a pilot. I would think this comes naturally.”
“Not as naturally as you think. It’s easy, though. Here, look at this.” Zak pointed out some of the indicators and what the buttons do. The lesson lasted all of two minutes, but Liam had the drone performing loops and pirouettes in the first minute, so Zak declared him ‘graduated’ from flight school and released the controls of the third drone to him.
“Thanks!” said Zak, “It was ok running the two drones as backup for Ethan when we were all going the same direction. Splitting up was making my brain hurt watching both directions at once.”
“I could be of some help there,” came Jules voice over the intercom. “I’m well versed in multi-tasking. In fact, it’s what I like to think I do best!”
Ethan replied, “Of course you are, Jules. When we get back together, I’ll look into directly interfacing the drone control software to yours. That could be very useful down the line.”
The drones took three separate paths and each mapped their course, taking video of everything they encountered. The video was, of course, being fed back to Jules in real time in case he could offer any insights. He had many.
The computer offered, “The artwork, murals and armor contain lifetimes of work for historians. See here where the Iberian influence ends and the local experiences pick up?”
Ethan said, “Yeah, yeah, save it for the art majors, Professor Verne. It’s not that I don’t appreciate good art…”
Zak responded, “When have you ever appreciated good art?”
“Hey, I went to an art museum once.”
“When you were twelve?”
“More like thirteen, but I liked it.”
Ethan said, “Uh guys, there’s that fuzz again.”
Zak looked over his shoulder. “Yeah, looks like we have to go in at this point.”
Liam began pulling a combat suit out of the locker he had been sitting on. “Hold up Liam, it’s too dangerous…”
Liam glanced up with that you have to be kidding look and Ethan realized there was no point. He remembered how Liam had taken care of that group of what they still affectionately called bigfoot. Now that he was sure they were from this side of the inside – outside line, Zak wondered what their real name was.”
Telami said, “They are called Na Kie. At least in the plural.”
Ethan responded, “What?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I did it again. I’m used to the Nilori voices in my head, not yours. You are similar, but it will still take me some time to use discretion. My apologies.”
“It’s ok, I’m just not used to it is all. I have nothing to hide. Yes, sir, a totally open book I am.”
Telami continued to apologize, “Nevertheless, I will try to use a little more tact. However, yes, they are called Na’Kie in their own tongue. We have also made reference to their abnormally large feet, although I don’t think it would be kind to say that to their face. They are actually very docile, but rather sensitive and could rip your arms right out of their sockets if they wanted to.”
They finished zipping up their combat suits that had been found in one of the stowage lockers and finished stowing all their gear. Zak and Ethan were ex-military and still looked the part even after a few years, but as for the others, they wouldn’t be passing any inspections anytime soon. Of course, there was no suit to fit Telami but he improvised with a combat belt cinched up to fit his physique.
Zak handed a stun pistol to Telami. He looked at it like it was a disease.
Telami said, “I can… can’t take that.”
Zak replied, “Why not?”
“I have never killed another person in my life. Grommon are not warriors. We have certainly started a few wars, but generally between others. We avoid fighting whenever we can.”
“Relax, Telami. It doesn’t kill.”
“No, it shoots bolts of electricity, like lightning.” Telami took the gun curiously.
“I have seen a device that makes lightning once, but never this small.”
Zak was getting worried at how closely Telami was inspecting the sidearm. “Please be careful, you don’t want to shoot it in here, I assure you.”
“You are sure this does not kill?”
Liam dropped to one knee as he laced his boot and looked Telami squarely in the eye. He said, “What’s the deal, Telami? I thought you despised these people.”
“Oh, I do. I can’t help myself, gods help me. But taking another’s life is not up to me. Only the gods have the right to give and take life.”
Zak grinned as he responded, “I promise you, it will knock them out, but it will not kill. They will wake up with a hell of a headache, though.”
“Don’t worry, Telami, I completely agree with you.” Doctor Peck spoke up. “I will not willingly take another life either. My God also forbids it. Besides, what example would I set for my daughter?”
“You’ve talked to her a couple of times over the commlink with the ship. Rebekah- Rebekah Peck is my daughter.”
“You are very lucky. I sense she is very smart and industrious.”
Liam responded, “You got that right.”
Jackson interrupted, “And Telami, I am the one that designed these firearms, so you have nothing to worry about. They will fire about twenty shots before they need to be recharged.” He pointed to special outlets in the walls of the launch. “They are also only good for about twenty paces… er… thirty paces in your case. But they are effective.”
“Thank you, Doctor Peck.” He tucked the pistol into his belt.
“Uh, Telami,” said Ethan, “You might want to set the safety if you are going to point that gun that way. It might not kill, but it sure will sting.” Telami looked sheepishly. Ethan pointed out the safety switch and handed the gun back to the dwarf. “Ok, everyone, let’s move out. Kyton, we are coming!”