Tradewinds 12: Keep One Eye Open
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Wherein the crew of the Maximum try to take a tropical vacation. Yeah rightâ€¦
Chapter 1, Into: CheckMate
The marina hangar lay in near-total darkness under a clouded sky. Moonless, starless, the darkness interrupted only by a few scant circles of light from arc-lamps spaced around the buildings. The entire scene so quiet, the only sounds to be heard were the faint buzz of the lights and the steady wash of the tide. So quiet, it was little wonder those in charge saw fit to leave only a skeleton crew to watch over the place.
Night at the Centralict Island harbor’s Secure Storage complex.
Two security guards stood watch over the entrance. One watched the inside of the hangar. And one more walked the perimeter with a guard dog.
Four in all watching this section.
Under the light of twin lamps hanging above the entrance, the two guards stationed there passed the time in conversation, the younger of the two saying, “…Ya know, it’s still gonna be strange not having you around the barracks anymore. I mean, no offense, but it just seems like you’ve always been there.”
“Hey, I’m not that old,” he replied, punching his partner’s arm. Chuckling wryly, he told him, “I’m just transferring to the Internal Division so I won’t have to spend the rest of my career freezing my ass off out here during the winter!”
“Are you sure it isn’t boredom?” the other asked, reflecting that this job wasn’t nearly as exciting as he originally expected.
“Andrew, there’s no more going on at headquarters than there is here,” his elder replied. “Maybe you’re the one who’s bored.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Andrew sighed, stretching and trying not to yawn too visibly while on duty as the night stretched out for hours before him. “It’s just that nothing interesting ever happens around here…”
As they conversed, the guard with the dog passed between their assigned hangar and its neighbor, his canine companion veering into the narrow gap between them. No one noticed him slip into the darkness, turning sideways to fit as the dog insistently led the two of them to their grim fate. No one heard a thing as the two of them were quietly dragged to their deaths in the murky water beyond the two hangars.
And the lone surveillance camera at the gate saw nothing.
Thus the two guards out front carried on their discussion unawares, the one called Andrew telling his partner, “And I can’t believe security relaxed so quickly. It’s only been five days since that high-speed chase downtown. I even heard some of the suspects stole a ship, and the others went and hijacked one.”
“According to the report, they were shooting it out with each other in traffic…”
“While we were stuck here the whole time,” Andrew muttered. “Just once, Terry, I wish we’d get to see a little action around here, that’s all.”
The two stood in silence for a moment, then Andrew piped up again, saying, “Say Terry, do you know anything about this ship we’ve been guarding lately?”
“Nope. Just the name CheckMate, that’s all I know,” Terry told him. For all his partner’s talk about boredom, this was quite possibly one of the most unusual assignments he had ever received. “Some bigwigs are passing through, and they entrusted it to us during their stay. Port Security’s been pretty hush-hush about the whole thing, so I’m not sure exactly what it is we’re guarding. Just that our bosses are being paid a hefty sum to watch it.”
“CheckMate, huh? Maybe we should—”
Before he could suggest any bright ideas his partner would probably object to in spite of his own curiosity, they both paused, hearing a loud splash from inside the hangar itself.
“Jack, what’s up?” Andrew asked their inside man, wondering if he might yet get a glimpse of this mystery ship.
“Hey, Jack?” Terry called out, a little louder this time. “You fall in or somethin’?”
“Could you give me a hand?” a voice called back.
“Sure thing, Jack,” Terry replied as he unlocked the hangar door. He turned to Andrew, all trace of humor having taken a back seat to business, saying, “Stay here.”
Then he went in. The darkness inside the hangar cast everything in heavy shadows. Moving toward the light switch, and cursing the complex’s mostly outdated systems every step of the way, when he saw it.
At first it didn’t quite register, even as he looked right at it. Jack’s body lay sprawled on the floor near the edge of the inner dock, soaking wet, one leg and arm still dangling in the water. What held his attention, though, was the fact that his head was turned almost all the way around.
There was no need to examine him; no one survived having their neck that cleanly broken.
His cry of horror froze on the tip of his tongue, though, as he felt an iron- knuckled fist pressed against his back. This sensation barely registered in his brain as it was quickly followed by a piercing, stabbing pain, then total numbness in his back and torso. He gasped as he looked down in frozen terror at the three lavender laser blades protruding starkly from his chest. In the final moments of his life, time seemed to slow down, and all he could do was watch, too numb to utter more than a barely audible squeak, as those shimmering instruments of destruction raked straight down.
“Three down…” a voice behind him whispered darkly.
The last thing he would ever hear.
“Terry?” his partner called from outside. With growing concern, “Terry, you alright in there?”
“Terry, this better not be some kind of joke…” he muttered as he entered, his voice faltering as he set eyes on his two dead partners. Turning on some unconscious impulse, he saw a shadowy figure who now stood between him and the door. All he could think of to say was, “You son of a bitch…”
“Last night, I hear. Bummer…”
For his part, the figure simply stood there, guarding both his escape route, and the alarm.
The guard named Andrew stood there for a long moment, able to think only of the need to take in a good suspect description. This deadly intruder was decked out all in greys and blacks, a paramilitary uniform of unfamiliar design. And, he noted, bearing no markings or insignias of any kind. What vexed him most, though, was that helmet, mostly black with narrow eye slits, and what looked like some kind of underwater breathing apparatus on the lower half.
That, combined with his choice of weapons and the fact that he was all wet from head to foot, could only mean that he had carved his way through the underwater portion of the hangar doors with those laser claws of his.
All he could come up with to do was whip out his hand radio, finally finding his voice, he blurted, “Dispatch! Do you read me? This is Andrew in Hangar Number Five! Intruder alert! Repeat! Intruder alert! Dispatch, do you copy?…”
Trailing off as he realized there was no signal. Just the distorted static of a jamming frequency.
The intruder watched him, and Andrew could picture a wolfish grin on the unknown face behind that mask as he told him, in a decidedly amused tone, “But of course, nobody’s listening anyway.”
Andrew threw down the unit in disgust, and it bounced and clacked across the floor to land at the intruder’s feet. The dark figure stepped on it, grinding it under his boot with a popping and crackling of plastic.
“Jack… Terry… You killed them…” he stammered. At first too terrified of this murderous stranger to move. As the seconds ticked by, though, his initial horror at the scene before him gave way to outrage, and he straightened up, telling him, “You won’t get away with this!”
“One more to go…” was all this dark intruder had to say as he stepped into a casual fighting stance. “Heroes die young.”
The guard rushed him, throwing caution to the wind. Both enraged, and scared out of his mind, this proved to be a big mistake, as the intruder largely shrugged it off. As he flew at the dark stranger with a wild flailing of fists, his adversary blocked and dodged them with ease.
“Shit, I was expecting military guards, not rent-a-cops…” the intruder muttered. “No gun, even. You’re not even worth my time.”
With that, he actually started fighting back, obliterating the guard’s amateur defense. In seconds, he had the poor man reeling on his feet. Making one last attempt at survival, he staggered past this intruder and jabbed his palm into the alarm button.
Much to his dismay, nothing happened.
“I told you, nobody’s listening.”
Even as the intruder told him this, Andrew looked at the wall next to the alarm, to see that the cables— not just to the alarm system, but also the lights and the security cameras, as well— had been cut with metal shards.
“Who… the hell are you?” was all he could think of to say for himself.
“The dead have no need of my name.”
Even as he turned around, leaning on the wall for support, the intruder gave him no time to cry out as he lunged at him. Striking one final blow with his palm, ramming the guard’s nose right through his brain. Eyes bulging in dazed fear, blood oozing from both eyes and nostrils, he fell to his knees, then flat on his face.
Apparently having had enough action for one lifetime.
“I didn’t think it would be this easy…”
With no one left to stop him, he hauled up a bag of gear he had hung under the dock while he fought, then yanked off the tarp draped over the ship to get a better look at his prize. Black, aero- (and hydro-) dynamic, sleek and swift with a trident-shaped hull, all forty feet of her. In grey letters, barely readable in the scant lighting, the word CheckMate was marked in several places.
Opening a waterproof pouch, he fetched out a keycard he had absconded with before he came here. Inserting it in a special slot made the hatch next to it pop open. Taking one last, brief look at the aftermath of his raid, he climbed aboard.
Making his way to the cockpit, he used the keycard again to activate the controls. Once situated, he started both the engines and the weapons systems. Before taking out the guards, he had severed several important points of the hangar’s sea gate with his energy blades, so all he had to was nudge the gate aside to leave, twin hydro-jets spraying seawater all over the fallen guards as he departed.
Security would soon be aware of his presence.
Though this ship’s twin engines were uncannily quiet, he still chose speed over stealth, as any movement in the stillness of the harbor would be seen as suspicious. Sure enough, it only took a moment for one of the search lights to lock on to him, and others swiftly followed, tracking his movements. A moment later, alarms started going off all over the harbor.
Almost immediately, he picked up several Harbor Patrol cruisers fast approaching. While this Secure Storage outfit may have been lax, Port Security was still stinging from local criticism for the escape of the criminals in that chase and shootout only days ago, and would not be so forgiving of any further trouble in the near future. Once in range, they opened fire, but he strongly suspected that they were trying to disable the stolen ship while still taking it intact. Deciding to give his new ride a full field test even as he escaped from the Centralict Island harbor, he forced his pursuers to back off with several rounds of auto-gun fire.
The lead ship immediately dropping back, having sustained serious damage from the focused barrage of energy beams right off. The others started firing even more, but it was too little, too late. They were no longer in good range, and the CheckMate’s polarized armor was engineered to withstand considerable punishment.
Fortunately for him, their attacks had not entirely diverted his attention from what was going on in front of him. He was not overly surprised to see two large cruisers crossing each other in front of his only available opening. Even with all the speed he had built up, they would still bar his path before he could get there.
Or at least they might if this were an ordinary vessel.
He imagined his foes’ consternation as he watched the water level rise up over his view monitors. Laughed at their impotence and frustration as their quarry dove beneath the waves. Easily submerged in time to pass underneath their blockade.
Hindered by their own tactics, the other patrol ships were forced to abort, the two cruisers being unable to move aside in time to do anything useful, and he was met with no further resistance as he made for open waters.
“I love Centralict Island!” he crowed.
Before he encountered the chumps who ran this security outfit, he had never fully appreciated the meaning of the phrase taking candy from a baby, he was that surprised at how lax and poorly prepared a group of so-called professionals actually turned out to be. Had broken into more obscure places than this that had tougher security. Now, after having seen it in action, he was sure this new ship would come in handy no matter what he found to do next. Setting the auto-pilot to warn him if anything came along, he settled in for a little shut-eye. Though he had long-since reached a point where he could go for a couple days without sleep if need be, he still had to catch up eventually.
As he leaned back in the seat, having found a place safe enough to let his guard down and sleep soundly, CheckMate departed Centralict Island untouched.
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