Valentin and I retreated a few meters in the precious seconds before the charge exploded. The shape of the explosion was designed to send all potential shrapnel in the direction of the blast, but the extra distance would help our armor protect us just in case something went wrong.
My helmet automatically muffled the sound of the explosion, but I still felt the vibration. The heavy door wasn’t completely gone, but it had a large gap in the middle, big enough for us to fit through even in armor.
If there was any sort of hull breech in the zones we’d crossed, then Implacable would be fucked without these doors, but that was the risk Adams had taken when he’d used them to slow us down.
The other group is a couple of minutes behind us at the other door, I told Valentin. We need to move quickly.
The local links have gone completely silent. Be careful.
I will be.
I hugged the wall as I approached the door. The heat and smoke from the explosion made it difficult to see what—or who—waited on the other side. At the door, I crouched down and peeked around the edge of the gap.
And very nearly got a plasma pulse to the face for my effort.
I jerked back with a curse.
My quick glance had revealed at least four soldiers in Kos armor, but it could easily be more thanks to the overlapping red thermals barely visible behind some kind of cover.
“Samara Rani, surrender or we will destroy the station,” a female voice called. “You have five seconds to decide.”
They are threatening the station, I sent across the main group link.
I will handle it, Sawya said. But hurry.
“Why don’t you surrender and then I won’t have to kill you?” I shouted back.
I didn’t expect a response, and I didn’t get one. They had the superior position and they knew it. I had two explosive grenades left. I’d hoped to save them for closer to the bridge, but we wouldn’t get to the bridge if I didn’t make a path through the soldiers. Blowing up something I couldn’t see wasn’t my favorite option, but I would have to take the risk.
I activated a grenade and sent it sailing through the door in a high arc. The armor covering my forearm deflected a glancing plasma pulse, proving that these soldiers were of a higher caliber than those we’d been fighting so far. Maybe we were closing in on Adams’s personal troops.
The soldiers shouted as they caught sight of the grenade, but it was too late. As soon as the flash from the explosion faded, I ducked through the door, Valentin behind me.
The grenade had flown true. Five soldiers were on the ground behind a barrier of composite shields. The blast had punched through their armor, disabling the active camouflage and taking them out of the fight. One red blob remained, but it wasn’t moving. I couldn’t risk them sneaking up behind us, so I aimed for center mass and put three rounds in a small grouping.
The soldier flickered into view, slumped on the floor.
I was no stranger to death, but it never got any easier, especially not when these soldiers were dying for an asshole like Adams who thought nothing of throwing their lives away.
Over the link, Imogen warned me that they were blowing their door. I swapped in a fresh magazine and edged down the hallway toward the bridge. Once Imogen and the rest made it through the door, we’d be in the same zone, but we were both closer to Implacable’s bridge than each other.
I heard the explosion in the distance, and over the link, Imogen cursed. It feels like half the ship is waiting for us.
Do you need help?
No, stay back. We’re going to have to blast our way through.
We’ll head to the bridge. Meet us there when you’re free.
She either agreed or was too busy to respond. Ari’s group was also taking heavy fire near the evacuation ships, which meant Adams was attempting to secure a way out. If he’d already abandoned the bridge then all of this was going to be for nothing, but at least he wouldn’t get past Ari.
Our path to the bridge was eerily empty. We could hear distant explosions and rifle fire from where Imogen’s team still fought, but there were no soldiers on this side of the ship. Adams was practically rolling out a red carpet for us. It had to be a trap, but one I would be happy to turn back on him.
The door to the bridge could be approached from three directions. A corridor ran parallel to the doorway, stretching across the ship from port to starboard. If Imogen and the rest of the team took the most direct route, they would be coming down that hallway from the starboard side. The port side led to parts of the ship that hadn’t been locked down yet, so enemy soldiers would likely approach from that direction.
A second corridor led straight out from the bridge door, allowing a head-on approach. That was the closest option for us. It was also potentially the riskiest, but wasting time going around brought its own risk.
I stopped at the last intersection before I had to commit to a direction. Do you hear anything? I asked Valentin.
No. Adams has to know we’re close, and he’s inviting us to come closer. Any idea what he has planned?
No. I still wished I could see Valentin’s face. This would be so much easier if I could read his expression. I don’t suppose you’ll wait here?
Not unless you do. His tone told me that he wouldn’t budge.
Fine. We’re taking the main hallway. If we get to the bridge door, I’ll set up one of the active camouflage pucks before we blow it open. If we run into trouble, we’ll fall back and wait for Imogen and Luka to catch up to us. Sound good?
Yes. Be careful. I’ve got your back.
You, too. Let me know if you sense anyone.
I will try, he promised.
I crept forward, and turned down the main hall leading to Implacable’s bridge. This corridor wasn’t divided into sections with doors, so I could see the bridge door in the distance.
The hallway looked clear all the way to the door, but the side doors lining the corridor were closed. Based on the blueprint, these were likely quarters and amenities for the ship’s officers. That didn’t mean that they couldn’t be full of soldiers right now, though.
But despite my worries, no one jumped us as we moved through the hall. I would actually feel better if someone tried it, because the closer we got to the bridge door, the worse my sense of foreboding became. Adams wouldn’t let us get this close without some sort of last-ditch plan.
I don’t like this, I told Valentin.
I agree. He should be throwing the entire ship at us.
Valentin was right. Destroyers usually carried enough crew for three full shifts, which meant that two-thirds of the soldiers should be available to fight our invasion—and that was before pulling any soldiers from their duty assignment, which Adams would absolutely do to save his own sorry ass.
So where was everyone?
The bridge was the likely answer, at least for some of them. Adams’s personal troops would certainly be nearby, and he would want as many bodies as possible between him and danger.
I kept moving forward, my senses on high alert. I slid up beside the next side door. It refused to open, but I wasn’t sure if that was because it was locked or because the sensor couldn’t detect me while I was in Kos armor. These doors weren’t reinforced, so I could probably kick one down if we needed emergency cover, but it would take a few seconds and then we’d be trapped.
We’re finally clear of the last door, Imogen said. But we’re down four people.
He’s okay, Imogen said. He’s too stubborn to get shot. We’re approximately five minutes out.
When I relayed the information to Valentin, he asked, Are we going to wait for them?
That was the question. Waiting would be the safer option, but if Adams wasn’t on the bridge, then it gave him another five minutes to escape.
Let’s get into position and then we’ll wait before we blow the door, I said at last. After we could see down the cross corridor, we could at least warn Imogen and the rest if they were walking into an ambush.
I kept my rifle up as I swept down the corridor, but we made it to the corner without any resistance. I took the right side while Valentin moved to the left. A quick peek revealed the hallway was empty in both directions, but I could only see for a few meters. Unlike the main corridor, this hall was divided with section doors. They weren’t as heavy as the lockdown doors, so even if they were locked, they wouldn’t stop Imogen’s group.
I can’t sense anything past the bridge door, Valentin said. They may be blocking links.
If they were blocking links, then as soon as we stepped inside, we’d be cut off from the rest of our teams. That solidified my decision to wait for Imogen to arrive before blowing the door.
I pulled out an active camouflage puck and activated it, setting it on the floor facing back the way we’d come. If anyone came down the main hallway, they would see themselves reflected rather than us. It wouldn’t stop plasma pulses, but it would make us harder to hit.
If Adams didn’t know we were here, he would as soon as I moved away. Because while our armor might not show up on the ship’s cameras, the puck certainly would once it was outside of my armor’s camouflage radius. And it wouldn’t exactly take a genius to figure out that the puck hadn’t placed itself.
I was still standing over the puck when a distant explosion rocked the ship hard enough that I felt the vibration through my boots. It seemed to come from our right, on the starboard side of the ship. Imogen, was that you?
She did not respond. The link seemed to be connected, but only silence came from her end. Was she unconscious?
Alpha Team, what is going on? I asked over the team group link.
Ambush! I didn’t recognize the voice over the staticky link. The connection cut out for a few seconds, then came back. —need help!
On our private link, Valentin said, Luka’s link is down. His tone was perfectly flat, and I knew exactly what it had cost him because worry for Imogen twisted my stomach into knots. It was all I could do to prevent myself from dashing down the hall to them.
But getting myself killed in an ambush wouldn’t stop Adams. And if I didn’t stop him, he would continue to attack CP57 before moving on to Koan. Thousands more would die.
I closed my eyes against the tears of rage and worry. I could either save the people I cared about or I could save the universe. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, but I knew what I had to do.
Staying put was the hardest decision I’d ever made.
I buried my rage and pain under a mountain of icy determination. Adams would die today, no matter what I had to do to see it done.
Alpha Team needs backup, I told the main group. They were ambushed somewhere after the final door. I’m pushing into the bridge.
I’m on it, Ari said. She didn’t even try to argue, which meant my tone must’ve been worse than I thought.
If you want to go find Luka, you should, I told Valentin. I have to deal with Adams.
I’m staying with you, he said quietly.
Valentin moved to the left side of the bridge door while I attached the breaching charge. I activated it and then pressed myself to the right wall. A few seconds later, the charge did its job and blew a hole through the door.
I peeked through the gap while the smoke and heat would disguise my thermal signature. There were nearly twenty soldiers, half in camouflaged Kos armor. Adams, surprisingly, was not.
He was farthest away from the door, with two lines of soldiers acting as a shield.
I pulled out a grenade. Blowing up the bridge wasn’t the smartest idea, but if we needed to, we could control the ship from the backup console in maintenance.
I paused as Commander Adams’s voice boomed through the gap in the door. “Samara Rani, I presume. I believe I have something of yours. Drop your weapons and come in before I decide to break it.”
A familiar groan echoed from the bridge and I froze. There was no way they’d snuck Imogen past me, but I had to check. I peeked again. Two of the screens behind Adams were streaming video from what looked like a combat armor camera, and Imogen’s bruised and bloody face stared back at me.
She was missing her helmet, but the rest of her combat armor appeared to be on, if not entirely intact. Her eyes were fuzzy and distant—a concussion, at best. I couldn’t see anything else, but the sounds of rifle fire came through the speakers.
Someone was still alive and fighting.
I pulled back before one of the soldiers in the bridge could take a shot at me.
Adams is on the bridge with fifteen to twenty soldiers. Imogen has been captured, I said on the main group link.
“I’m tired of waiting,” Adams said. “Kill—”
“Don’t be so hasty,” I called. “Kill her and you won’t live long enough to draw another breath.”
Adams laughed. “You really didn’t think I’d let you get all the way to the bridge without some sort of insurance, did you? It’s in your best interest to keep me alive.” His voice hardened. “Step inside, now, or your little guard dies.”
Stay here, I told Valentin. Then, before he could argue, I unstrapped my rifle, turned off my armor’s camouflage, and activated the grenade I still held. I kept the grenade’s safety lever held down—the countdown timer wouldn’t start until I released it.
If Adams shot me when I stepped through the door, at least I’d take his smug ass with me to hell.
I eased through the door, grenade first. “Watch your soldiers, Adams, or we’ll all go down in a blaze of glory.”
Once I was fully in the room, my connection to the net wavered. It didn’t die completely, but that could be because I was close to the door. If they really were blocking links, then Adams was communicating with his people by some other method.
My connection isn’t stable, I told Valentin. I might lose it if I move deeper into the room. There are eight soldiers in Kos armor and eight more without armor.
I will keep our connection active as long as possible, Valentin said, and I’ll relay your updates to the others.
I added my camera’s view to the link I shared with him. It was quite a bit of data to transfer over an unstable connection, but it would let Valentin see what was happening in the room, if not in full video, then at least in still frames.
Adams wore a standard Quint officer’s uniform, but I couldn’t get a shot at him. “Welcome to Implacable, Scoundrel Queen,” he said. “As you can see, I’ve shut down your net connection, so any help you were hoping for isn’t coming, but I have to admit, the grenade is a nice touch.”
He didn’t know that I could still connect out, at least as long as I stayed close to the door. I might be able to use that to my advantage.
“Unfortunately for you, it looks like we both had the same idea.” Adams smirked, then lifted his right hand, revealing a cylindrical detonator. “Except my bomb won’t just blow up a room—it’ll take out the station.”