Fortunately it doesn’t take long for Ulfbert to work his magic, and I’m soon taking point with the marine scouts as we plan to take out the house farthest from the village and work our way inwards towards the town. the storm is not only helping block enemy communications, but it’s also providing us some good cover. At least that’s what I keep telling myself as my fur gets soaked to the bone.
I can hear the tell-tale cracking of twigs and muttering of our good doctor as he tries to keep up with the rear of the squad. Unfortunately he wasn’t learning stealth techniques in medical school… but if he can help keep these people from needlessly dying, I’m willing to be patient with him.
“Ow…damn twig poked me in the ear again!” the doctor mutters as the marines behind me do their best not to chuckle and groan.
I raise my hand to silence the group as we come up to a small hill overlooking the target house. I can just make out through the heavy rains a young girl being pulled roughly into the house as the door slams behind them. I run a thermal scan of the house as the doctor situates himself nearby and does the same.
“I’ve got 8 males and 7 females in the house… do you confirm?”
“Copy that… looks like one of the females is currently “occupied” as well,” the doctor answers distastefully.
The door opens once again before I can reply, however, as the same man I saw earlier drags one of the women outside by her hair and throws her to the ground before rearing back with his hand to strike her.
“Waiting for permission, ma’am,” says one of the marine snipers over the comm.
“Take your shot,” I growl as my claws dig into the dirt.
“So much for stealth,” says Ulfbert as the man’s head explodes into a burst of red.
“They brought this on themselves,” I mutter before the doctor and I launch over the hill. “Doc, take care of the girl. Somebody drop smoke, will ya? Ulfbert…”
“Ya, I’ve got this…” replies the engineer as he leans up against a tree to brace himself with a gun the likes that I’ve never seen.
“DOWN!” I yell over the comm as I duck for cover and the Doc pulls the girl to shelter, seconds before a spray of bullets peppers the area. The rest of the marines quickly move in and take care of what remains of the drunken pirates as the wounded are tended to.
I grab a radio off of one of the dead pirates to see if we can use it to listen in on them, but when I go to kick the next one it surprises me with an answering groan. “We’ve got a live one, here! Doc, see if you can keep him alive for interrogation. Ulfbert, check out this radio and-“
“(crackle) hey… that sounded like (crackle) are you guys (crackle)… coming over to (crackle)…”
I look around at the others quickly, but they all shrug when it comes to the garbled words coming over the radio. Damn it… am I the only one who bothered to get the language chips for this mission? Here goes nothing, I guess…
“Had to shoot an uppity bitch,” I growl in Solamnari in as low a voice as I can manage. Hopefully between the voice and the static, they won’t notice…
“You know we’re not supposed to (crackle) waste ammo (crackle) that! Use your brain instead of your (crackle)!” The radio goes quiet once again and I let out a relieved sigh.
“Okay then… how’s our prisoner?” I ask the doc as he finishes bandaging his leg. “I love it when prisoners are useful, you know.” I sidle up next to the nervous pirate and place a hand over the wound as I smile, fangs bared. “So what do you say…” I squeeze his leg, causing the man to yelp in pain. “Can you be… useful?”
“How useful do you want me to be?” he gulps. “They only forced me to join their numbers if I wanted to survive… I was just like them a few months ago. I’ll tell you whatever I can.”
“Glad to hear it. You tell your story to Markowitz here, and he’ll escort you sans weapons back to the shuttle.” I turn and pick out two other able bodied marines. “You two… I need you to protect this position and make sure the women are all armed and ready to defend themselves."
One of the marines grins before saluting. “It’s a mighty undertaking, but we’re willing to take on the challenge…ma’am.”
We spend the next hour going over our strategy and getting the story from our young defector. Apparently these pirates don’t have much more than small pistols and old rifles… but the leader has something rather large that he likes to keep close at hand.
“Radiation from the mine is playing havok with our sensors the closer we get into town,” replies Ulfbert. “That can work both ways, however. “ he scans the map and points a furry finger. “If I plant some military grade explosives here at the entrance to the mine, however, I could time it to coincide with the storm and perhaps they won’t notice until it’s too late.”
“Maybe they should notice it,” I ponder aloud. “The mine could be a great distraction to keep the main body of the forces away from that house while a smaller party sneaks in the back.” My smile grows as a plan starts to form. “Instead of being quiet… I want you to be as loud and obnoxious as possible with that explosion. Make it seem like all hell is breaking loose… think you can do that?”
Canine fangs gleam in the dim light as the engineer smiles. “Ja… I can do that.”
“Recon has returned, ma’am,” says the squad leader who appears by my side from the shadows.
“Good, let’s hear it, soldier.”
“Five men are on the NE side of town, two are situated outside the mine. There are 10 people inside the main house armed with guns, and one with a gauss rifle that could be trouble.”
“That’s probably the leader then,” I mutter to myself. “Anything else to report?”
“All seems clear on the NW side if we wish to move in from that direction. There are six men unaccounted for out of the 30 the prisoner informed us of, however, and they were unable to get eyes on the second floor of the main building.”
“Ten women with five children.”
“Damn… the other kids must’ve been taken off planet already. Tell your men to make sure we keep one alive for questioning so we can find out where they took them. In the meantime, you and your men are going to take out the fringe groups during the chaos of the mine explosion while the doctor and I infiltrate the house.”
“Aye-aye, ma’am. Good hunting.” He salutes before disappearing once again.
“You heard the man… “ I announce as I turn to the others. “We’ve got our target and this goddamn storm is finally giving us a break with some fog cover. Let’s get moving!”
Thankfully the doctor has left his twigs behind this time as our now smaller group makes its way through the fog. I can make out voices as patrols pass through the mist, and do my best to lead our group away from them. The marines are here to handle anyone looking for a fight… our priority is getting to those women and children.
I must’ve been distracted by my thoughts of those kids… because when I made my away around a corner I didn’t hear the man who’s suddenly snaking an arm around my throat. “Where do you think you’re going, kitty cat?”
Oh THAT does it. I extend the claws of my right hand fully and reach over my shoulder to snag whatever I can get a hold of. The arm suddenly goes slack, and if the gurgling noises and the remnants of an eyeball now sticking to my dewclaw are any indication, I don’t think that pirate is going to cause any more problems.
“Um… I don’t think I can fix that one,” the doctor replies as the body collapses to the ground in a pool of blood.
“We only need one alive… so let’s find another one,” I growl as I wipe the gore off my claws into the grass.
“Hey Bill… what’s going-Halt! Intruders!” says another pirate as he zips up his fly and walks around the corner, quickly brandishing his pistol.
Dayn draws and hits him in the shoulder, causing him to drop his pistol. The doctor wraps a hand around his mouth as his other hand holds a scalpel to his throat. “Sssssh…”
“Let’s keep this one alive just in case,” I tell the others and we quickly strip him of his weapons and uniform before I hog-tie and gag him and leave him in a nearby house.
Thankfully there are no other interruptions, and we’re able to make it through the fog to the shadows of a small building near the main one. I silently send one of the recon marines forward as I gesture for the others to wait here. I keep low to the fog and sneak up next to the recon scout who turns to me and holds up his hand twice. Ten men… we killed two in the fog… but that still leaves at least four unaccounted for.
I nod and pull one of the small bugging devices from my pouch. Using the edge of my claw to crack the window slightly, I slip it inside and set the transmitter to our frequency. The scout puts a hand to his ear for a moment and then nods in affirmation of the transmission. I signal with my hands that I’m heading up the second floor while he keeps watch over my exit route, and he nods again before cupping his hands together and offering me a foot up.
The siding is slippery in the fog, but thankfully this cat always comes prepared. My climbing harness activates, stiffening my support as my claws sink into whatever handholds it can find. It doesn’t take long before I manage to pull myself up into a perch by a second story window. As I peer through it, I can just make out the forms of two men sleeping (which leaves two more) in cots while a small girl is bound and gagged in a chair in the corner. A dose of WD40 does the trick on the old window as I silently crack it open and crawl into the bedroom. Conscious of the little one in the room, I snag a pillow off the floor and use it to cover their faces before I finish them off with a laser blast between the eyes.
“Sssh… my friends and I are here to help you get back to your family. I need you to be quiet like a mouse for me though… can you do that, little one?” I say to the little girl as I kneel down and free her from her bonds. She stares at me wide-eyed and nods silently.
“Good girl,” I smile as I make my way over to the window and remove my smartrope from my pack. “We’ve got a child coming down, prepare to receive,” I tell the marine below.
I motion the girl over and tie the rope securely into a make-shift harness. “I’m going to lower you down to my friends, and they are going to take you somewhere safe.” I smile and ruffle her hair. “Be a good mouse.”
The girl is very light, and after a few moments the rope goes slack as the marine escorts her into the shadows of the building. “She’s clear… I’ll leave the rope so the rest of you can join the party,” I tell Dayn and the others over the comm.
“We’ve got five targets moving towards the house,” I hear one of the marines announce over the comm.
“Blow it!” I growl.
The walls shake from the shockwave as the planned explosion goes off at the mine. Damn… that Vargar certainly knows how to make an entrance!
“Holy shit, it’s a mortar attack! The colonists must’ve got the cops! Take out the hostages! Take out the hostages!”
Pirates run out into the chaos of the streets as rubble and ash starts raining down over the town like dirty snow. According to my calculations, that leaves four left in the house… other than those two that I still can’t account for. Dammit… just going to have to take a chance as we’re out of time.
“If you grunts carry smoke grenades, I think it’s a good time to use them,” I whisper as I crack open the door and peer out into the hallway.
I hear the tell-tale tink-tink-hiss and can’t help but grin as smoke starts to rise from downstairs and we make our way into the hallway with the doctor watching our backs.
“Let’s make this a little more interesting,” says Ulfbert as he pulls a stun grenade from his belt and throws it down the stairs.
“I love playing Whack-A-Pirate,” I chuckle as I ready my laser pistol to shoot anyone who pops up out of the smoke. We manage to take out at least three before our fun is cut short by a rapid volley of bullets hosing the wall of the stairway.
“That’s definitely a gauss rifle,” Dayn confirms grimly.
“It’s coming from around the corner, so we can’t get a good visual. Anybody got eyes on him?” I ask over the comm.
“Negative. He’s got prisoners pressed up against the windows, ma’am.”
“Shit!” Think-think-think… if we can’t see him, how can we still shoot him? And then it hits me; I may not be able to tell which one he is out of the heat signatures… but I’ll bet he’s the only one holding a big piece of metal.
A scan with my metal detector in my cyberhand reveals what I hoped… one of the figures inside the room above us is holding a rather large metal object and pacing in the middle of the room. I flick a switch on my goggles so that I can read the display as I crawl up the stairs to try and get a better position to aim from. I ready a charge from my laser pistol and hold my breath as I point the little red dot at the wall and wait…
“Son of a bitch!” someone inside yells as a weapon clatters to the ground and women start crying. The doctor takes it as his cue and runs past me with his monoblade drawn as he charges through the door at the momentarily disarmed pirate.
“What do you all think is going to happen here?” scoffs the man as he pulls a blade from his belt and holds it to the throat of a woman crying on her knees between him and the doctor. We rush in to join him as the other hostages run out in a panic to our waiting marines. “You all are going to let me and what’s left of my crew leave on my ship, or the woman gets it!” he declares as he pulls her tight to him.
“Momiiiie!” screams a little girl as she runs past one of the marines into the room. Damn it… it would be that girl from before, wouldn’t it? I snag her around the waist and pull her to me. “Shush, little mouse… we’ll save your mommy.”
“We’ll let you and your crew go… if you agree to provide us with information,” says the doctor calmly as he lowers his weapon to the ground. “Just don’t hurt the woman.” Or look behind you.
“I ain’t going to help you with shit,” spits the leader before the top of his head explodes from the force of a bullet. I quickly move the girl behind me to keep her from seeing the gory end… but her mother is going to have to deal with getting brain matter out of her hair and this experience out of her dreams for weeks, I’m sure.
The woman scrambles to her feet with a sob as she holds her arms out to her child and I let her go with relief. That’s one family reunited anyway… who knows how many more kids are off planet right now, though. This mission isn’t over yet by a long shot.
“Doc, see to the women and children… and somebody bring that gun back to the shuttle, will you?” A quick search of the room finds a few crude notes that tell us the next supply ship from the pirate forces is late, and should’ve arrived yesterday. The big find, however, is a jump chart. Between this and the few prisoners we’ve managed to keep alive, maybe we can figure out how to put an end to this pirate ring once and for all.