Covert Maneuvers

Covert Maneuvers

Episode One: In Harm’s Way – Part Five

Lien Etana found the ventilation shaft exactly where the probe’s scans said it would be. Unfortunately, finding it and entering it where two different things.

One obstacle was the darkness. Of course, attempting an operation like this in broad daylight would have been suicidal. Well, more suicidal.

Another obstacle was the rain. The probe had obviously been deployed during much better weather when there had been no indication the site was subject to intense and persistent rain that fell through the thin atmosphere and struck like needles. She understood now why a high magnification analysis of the scans had revealed that the parsteel exterior of the facility was pitted and scarred. It wasn’t from meteorite bombardment or particle weapons. It was from the rain.

A third obstacle, the show stopper, was the lock on the grating covering the shaft. It was far stronger than they had anticipated and her manual hacksaw was simply not up to the task. While a single phaser blast could have melted the lock, scans had indicated the presence of active sensors blanketing the entire complex. While her clothing was designed to dampen her bioreadings, effectively cloaking her from standard sensors, a phaser discharge was bound to raise alarms.

Unless …

Etana pocketed her hacksaw and unholstered her phaser. While the rain was an inconvenience, it was accompanied by high-intensity atmospheric plasma discharges — lightning. If she turned her phaser to its lowest setting, shielded her actions with her body and the biodampening fabrics, and timed the hit to coincide with a burst of lightning, perhaps the energy discharge would go unnoticed. She waited, shivering in the freezing rain for several minutes until a particularly bright burst of lightning split the sky. At the same instant her thumb pressed the trigger on the phaser, the microsecond pulse causing the lock to glow white-hot. Before it had a chance to cool she pulled on the grating as hard as she could. The rusted hinges resisted for a moment and then squealed as the lock popped open.

Etana quickly climbed down into the ventilation shaft and pulled the grating closed behind her.

The shaft descended out of sight, but from the scans she knew she had a climb of more than a thousand meters before her. Only a few meters down the darkness was so complete even her night vision goggles did little to a reveal her surroundings, the damp steel walls and the slippery steel ladder.

At twenty meters the sound of the rain above began to fade and by thirty meters Etana could hear nothing save her own steady breathing and her rhythmic footfalls on the ladder. She was engulfed in silence until she was near the bottom when, almost imperceptible at first, she picked out the drip, drip, drip of water.

At the bottom of the shaft Etana found another locked grating, but this one yielded easily. Careful to avoid more noise than necessary — although intel indicated this section of the complex was abandoned — she pushed it open and dropped to the floor. Almost before her feet touched ground her phaser was out and ready.

The layout of the corridors had, of course, been committed to memory, but she still had to contend with darkness. And here, a kilometer below ground, the darkness was absolute. Fortunately she could now afford some illumination. She switched on the infrared penlight built into her goggles — the frequency had been tuned to be outside the perceptual range of ninety percent of known humanoid species — and set off at a run.

About two kilometers along Etana came upon a section of wall where the steel had been corroded away by acid, exposing the rock behind. The acid had come from the secretions of a nest of insects. Each creature had about twenty or more legs, no discernible head or tail, and was about thirty centimeters long and as thick as her wrist. With her goggles and the infrared light she couldn’t tell what color they were, but she would have guessed a pale green. It somehow went with the noxious odor they gave off, like puss and vomit. Etana pressed against the opposite wall and crept past the creatures, thankful they seemed unaware of her presence and thankful she wouldn’t be coming back this way.

Despite her above average physical conditioning and stamina, Etana was winded when she finally reached the end of the maze of corridors an hour later and entered the active area of the complex. Unfortunately there was no time to rest.

A quick scan with a mini-tricorder revealed no life forms nearby and no sensor arrays. Odd. She had expected and prepared for better security than this.

The corridor into which Etana now emerged was well lit and dry, and she switched off her goggles.

Down another corridor, up another ladder, and then down another corridor, she finally arrived at her destination, the launch silos for a series of metreon warhead assault probes. Each probe was capable of delivering thirty warheads. And each warhead was capable of decimating all life in a hundred kilometer radius, more than enough to wipe out a large city. There were a hundred such probes stacked neatly on launch platforms in the cavernous chamber in which Etana now found herself.

And still no security.

Something was wrong. Etana stayed back against the wall, hiding in the shadows, listening and watching. She checked her tricorder again and confirmed there were no lifeforms nearby. Except for the hum of machinery and consoles, everything was quiet and still.

There should have been technicians monitoring the equipment, maintaining the facility. But there was no one here.

Eventually Etana made her decision. She had come here with a job to do, and if the job turned out to be easier than she had anticipated, she wasn’t about to complain. Still watchful, she crept out from her hiding place and approached the first rack of probes.

Each probe was little larger than a standard photon torpedo, but equipped with a high-warp capable drive mechanism. In all, their appearance was similar to the inter-continental ballistic missiles she had read humans once used to almost destroy themselves. Only these probes had a much longer range than a mere ocean. From this base they were within striking distance of dozens of worlds, thousands of cities, billions of people.

From her backpack Etana withdrew an ion pulse grenade, a small but potent explosive. She attached it to the base of the nearest probe, and armed it, set to detonate on a signal from a remote she also carried. She then withdrew another grenade, ready to move on.

That was when she was struck from behind.

Etana absorbed the blow, moving with it rather than resisting it, and went down, rolling, only to spring back to her feet, spin, and kick out at her attacker. Her foot hit the Jem’Hadar soldier in the side of the head, sending him crashing into the rack of assault probes.

Etana didn’t stop to question what a Jem’Hadar was doing here. That was a subject for the post mission analysis. Now, she had only one choice: stay and fight, or try to escape? There was really no option.

When the Jem’Hadar had gone down he had not lost his grip on his disruptor rifle. So Etana, letting her momentum carry her, spun again, this time kicking at the weapon. The disruptor flew out of her attacker’s hands, and somersaulted across the floor. Etana lunged for it but at that moment four more Jem’Hadar appeared out of thin air, around her, all armed, all with their weapons trained on her.

Etana pulled up, her arms raised in surrender. She sensed movement behind her and was about to turn when the Jem’Hadar she had fought before struck her across the back of her head. She was on the floor, the room around her going dark, when she saw another figure step out from behind one of the racks.

“Bajoran,” a voice said, and through the haze she saw a Ferengi face leering down at her. “And female.” The face pulled away, out of her field of view, but she heard it’s last words before she lost consciousness. “Put her in confinement. And get rid of her clothes.”

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Jonathan Mycroft is a freelance writer and author. His latest novel, Trial by Fear, is now available as a pocket book and as a downloadable e-book from Lulu.com. Visit his website at www.jonathanmycroft.com