Running the Gauntlet

by Hooligan
102.8.25

Part 1

Five days ago … Wild Weasel Salon … Solrain Core … 2300 hours.

The dim lights of the seedy back station bar cast deep shadows over the sparse occupants. The bartender, commanding his long oak bar pitted with wounds and stained red from place to place, looks around dispassionately. Hardened traders down on their luck hunch over their drinks saying not a word. Smoke rises in the air from several cigarettes. The acrid stench of vomit breezes through the bar area as the ceiling fan slowly turns.

At a table in the far corner, situated deep in cast shadows sits a cloaked figure. The face is unrecognizable, the long hood hanging low over the eyes. The deep blue uniform of a mid-level SRI bureaucrat only partially obscured by the dark wool cloak. Furtive movements accompany every patron entering and leaving. Like a caged rat, the figure appears ready to make a run for the exit at any moment.

Silhouetted in the door, a large barrel shaped man surveys the patrons. Standing 2 meters tall with broad shoulders and neatly presses uniform; the man is an imposing sight. Several men look up from their drinks and scowl. The crimson red uniform of an Octavian commander is not a welcome sight in these parts. Several Solrain workers closest to the door mutter something under their breath.

Russian turns. “What did you just say?”

Liquid courage coursing through his veins, the man rises. “As if the stench wasn’t bad enough!”

The crimson clad behemoth grins. “How do you say? ‘Careful you don’t take a larger bite than you can swallow.”

Peels of laugher rise from the workers. “What the hell are you talking about? Do you mean ‘Don’t bite off more than…”, the man’s voice is choked off by Russians iron grip on his throat. The smaller man is slowly lifted into air.

“Mind your manners friend, lest I learn you some. Okie dokie?” With a quick flick, the worker is thrown the length of the bar, crashing in a heap on the far side.

Uncontrollable shaking fits overcome the cloaked SRI figure as Russian approaches the table. Russian looks him over once and determines the man is no threat. He casually sits down to the side, back to the wall, and orders a double vodka.

“Ok buddy, why don’t you tell me who you are and why you’ve dragged me out to this god forsaken Solrain hell hole?”

“Ummm….Don Russian Sir. I’m so glad to meet you sir, I’ve heard a lot about you. Your exploits in combat are extraordinary. Ummmm…. My name. Yes. You can call me Mr. Jimmy My real name isn’t important but … um…. The information I have for you is. It’s very important to you and your organization. For a small fee, I’ll give you this information. Information that may save your organization considerable legal trouble.” Mr Jimmy continues to shake uncontrollably.

Russians face flushes with anger. “What is this you say? Tell me what you know Jimbo and I’ll consider not killing you right here and now.”

The man’s shaking redoubles in intensity. A small pool slowly collects at the SRI official’s feet. “Threaten me all you want, but if you kill me you’ll won’t know what hit you until it’s too late. 100 thousand credits is all I ask.”

“Very well, but this information better be important. If not, you and your family will repay me three fold. So what is this that is so important”? Russian slides a stack of credits across the table.

“I work for SRI intelligence as an analyst. A couple of days ago we were contacted by an anonymous source at GBS station. The former residents of GBS tried their best to wipe away their presence from the in-station computers. I’m here to tell you, some of that information has remained intact. Certain credit transfers from squads stationed at GBS to various TRI and faction officials remain. Enough evidence exists to warrant a formal inquiry in to these matters. I don’t need to tell you what such an investigation would uncover. “, the man’s shaking subsides.

A dangerous glint filled Russian’s eyes. “Give me this information, NOW. Before I reach down your throat and rip your heart out!”

“I don’t have access to the information, it’s still encrypted and stored in the GBS computer systems. Our informant is working as we speak to mine this data for all the damning information she can find. It’s only a matter of time before all of these transactions are restored. A contingent of Sol Navy pilots is scheduled to rendezvous at GBS, collect the information and proceed to Aman for processing. SRI does not have the computing resources necessary to break the encryption. Aman definitely does. If that data reaches Aman, I’d say your goose is cooked”.

“Damn it! Those good for nothing computer techs will pay for this mishap. When is this Sol Navy group scheduled to leave?”

“In a few days. I would suggest you not let that courier through to Aman”

Russian scowls, “No kidding, Sherlock. Why are you telling me all this?”

“For profit my friend, for profit. I will contact you shortly with additional information. Of course, this information will come at a price.”

 

Part 2

“Ok y’all listen up. We have ourselves a little problem. A rat is eating away at our stores and about to spill all our grain on the floor”; Russian’s accented voice came over the squad channel.

“What the hell are you talking about? Your obtuse analogies always go over my head!” Hershey interjects.

Russian lets out a deep sigh. “Someone is about to sell us out to TM. We WILL prevent this form happening. I worked too hard for too long to have some sniveling TM lackey clip our wings over insignificant details.”

“Wait a second, we’ve been careful. Who sold us out?” Hooligan asks.

“I don’t know yet but I will find out. A few minutes in a space exposed airlock should serve a nice lesson once I find out.” Russian replies. “In a couple of hours Sol Navy will be heading to GBS to pick up material evidence against us. I’ve been informed that Jerico21 will carry this information in his Ranger and there will be a sizable contingent of Sol Navy on escort duty. They will pick up the information from GBS and head to Aman for processing.”

Russian barks out orders. “This information will not make it to Aman I want Hooligan, Jarlaxle and Tex in Inner Gyre on lookout patrol. Roid there and await Sol Navy’s arrival. Concentrate your fire on Jerico21 and try to make him burn his flashfires. Most importantly, find out which way they are headed so the rest of us can be prepared. Jarlaxle, you will be in charge of the recon group. This will be a kamikaze mission and I don’t expect any of you to make it”

Jarlaxle laughs, “Well, that’s reassuring boss. Thanks for the vote of confidence”.

Russian ignores Jarlaxle and continues. “Myself, Wilson, Hershey, and Gothic will prepare ourselves in Aman space. Our object here is to destroy the Ranger — ignore everyone else. Now get yourselves into position”.

 

An hour later…

 

“Ok boss, our group is in position. Awaiting further instructions.”, Jarlaxle reports.

Russian replies, “Roger. Remember to tell us which way they’re going.”

“Hey, what’s preventing them from going through Pulsar and avoid us altogether?” Hooligan’s mind is churning.

“They won’t, trust Me.”, Russian says.

“But if they do, we have no idea which way they’re going. They’ll just slip on by us and get to Aman without a single shot fired”, Hooligan continues.

“They’ll expect us to be in Timer Gyre and they have superior numbers so they’re not worried about us. They will come though there, I’m certain of it. Get that Ranger to burn some flashfires We’ll see you back at Lothars.”

Hooligan grumbles, “Well, this is going to be fun. Where are those Sols at anyway?”

A few quick sparks hit the Inner Gyre crew; shield generators fall offline as the shield storm enters the sector.

“Damn it, shield storm!”, Tex exclaims.

“Good. It will put the Sols at a disadvantage. The Nix can be a real pig sometimes, but without shields the Tens is like paper airplanes.” Jarlaxle exclaims, “Speak of the devils!”

From the Sarons Shoulder gate, the Sol Navy escort squad moved their Tens slowly into the Sector, their shields crackling for a millisecond before the storm takes out their generators. Moments later Jerico21 enters in his ranger. Dedsquirrl, SolFighter, Apath, Pyldryvr, Beezelbub and Alphabet take defensive positions around the lone Solrain ranger. They make their way quickly towards Aman Gate.

“We have contact, prepare to de-cloak. Our target is spotted and headed towards Aman Gate. GO NOW!” Jarlaxle commands.

Jarlaxle, Tex, and Hooligan disengage from their asteroids and stream towards the courier. Before they know what’s happening, the three Octavian fighters separate Jerico from his defensive wing and pursue quickly. They enter the Aman Gate sector shortly after Jerico makes the jump In the distance they see the telltales of Flashfires as Jerico streams off in the distance.

“Target has Flashfire towards Aman through Aman Gate. Please advise,” Jarlaxle reports. “Engage the defensive wing and buy us some time”, Russian responds.

The Sol Navy defensive wing streams out of the Inner Gyre jumpgate, quickly regaining their composure. The battle hardened Octs know they will not survive this encounter but are determined to delay as long as possible. The two groups converge like waves crashing on the rocks and battle rages. Within minutes the Oct fighters are down.

“We’re out of it boss, good luck,” Hooligan transmits.

The Sol Navy group, learning from this lesson, maintains a tighter defensive posture heading into Aman space. Scanning tightly the asteroids in the distance, the brave group knows not where the next attack comes. They quickly move from sector to sector, the Gang threat weighting heavy on their minds.

“We have contact, engage at will!” Russian orders.

Russian, Hershey and Gothic rush forward to engage their foe. The Navy group readies for them and ties them up in defensive maneuvers. The dogfight is drawn out, both sides fighting tooth and nail to gain the upper hand. Russian breaks off, determined to lay hitman rounds on the ranger. He closes the gap, laying heavy fire upon Jerico21’s ship.

“I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” Russian exclaims.

Seconds later the comm is filled with static. Then a long string of obscenities fills the air. “Well, I almost had him. It’s up to you Wilson. Fail me and your family will get your remains returned to them in pieces!” a demure Russian announces.

“I’ll try man. I’ve got a little surprise in store for them”, Wilson replies.

Jerico21 and his escort move on to the next sector, where Wilson lies in wait. As they make their way across the darkness of space, Wilson presses a red button on the left side of his console. Nestled under his left wing, the Hyperion device slowly comes to life. He de-cloaks from his roid and moves forward.

“We’re going to make it. Look, a lone Gang member. I’m going to take him out!” Jerico21 informs his group. Not waiting for a response, Jerico21 turns to engage the last remaining Gang pilot. Little does he know his squadmates cannot hear him.

“What is he doing? Jerico, get back on course and let us handle this!” Pyldrvr pleas. He receives nothing but static in response.

Wilson lines up for his first pass. Coming on strong in the opposite direction, Jerico opens fire, lighting up Wilson’s shields with a volley of fire. The two exchange round after round as the Sol Navy escorts frantically tries to bridge the gap. Jerico, sensing the tide of battle has turned, streaks off into space, Flashfires thrusting him forward at extreme speed. Wilson counters with his own Flashfires and continues his laser barrage.

The Sol Navy escort, now in range, opens fire. Wilson takes defensive action, threading the gauntlet of laser and ammo fire, intent on taking out his target.

The Ranger explodes in a blinding flash of light. Jerico’s pod fires off into the distance headed to Wake Station. The datadisk flares briefly in the maelstrom and is quickly consumed.

“WHHHHHHH000000000!!!!!!”, Wilson screams over the radio, “Jerico is down!!!!”

“SWEET!”, Gothic replies.

“BADASS WILSON!”, exclaims Tex.

“Am I a genius or what?”, Russian asks proudly.

“Uh ya boss…. You’re a genius.” Hooligan replies sarcastically.

 

Conclusion

In the computer center on GBS station, a lone computer tech types frantically on her keypad. Sweat beads down her forehead, a look of extreme concentration on her face.

“The data has to be here! It has to,” she reasons with herself. “There is no way someone could have gotten in here and wiped it all out!”

“Unless, of course, someone happened to remove the core. I believe that would result in total data loss”, a slick male voice silks through the air.

Standing up and turning abruptly, the tech has just enough time to recognize Hooligan standing behind her before the med-stim hits. She struggles for a moment, trying desperately to maintain her balance then falls into his waiting arms. The tech mumbles incoherently but is unable to move, eyes open and glassy. She stares straight towards the ground as they move out of the lab.

“It’s a pity you took this little action, I really did like your work”, Hooligan says casually. Moving quietly down the empty halls of GBS station, Hooligan makes his way to the docks. A strange, sardonic smile comes across his face.

“You know, these datadisks are extremely sensitive to Plasma storms. They tend to disintegrate quickly when exposed to them. It has to do more with the radiation than with the extreme heat.” He says in passing, “The same can be said about the human body. Rumor has it, it takes a full 5 minutes for the lights to go out. Ahhh, here we are!”

Airlock 21 opens silently. Hooligan places the tech in a form fitting space suit and lays her softly on the lock floor.

“I’ve always wondering about that but was loath to try it myself”, Hooligan sings. “But now I have the perfect volunteer. Thanks for not complaining. The Gang and I really do appreciate it. Here, let me turn this microphone on. I’d like to capture every nuance in your response to this experience.”

The airlock opens, a soft orange glow enters the chamber Hooligan’s digital recorder runs for almost 6 minutes.

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