Okay! Here is chapter five of that novel I haven’t named yet–that’s got to change soon… Anyway, if you haven’t read the prologue, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, and chapter 4, go read those first or you will be very, very confused. I know for a fact that this chapter is going to be much more typo-ridden than the last since none of my beta readers have read this far yet. Still, I hope you guys enjoy it all the same!
Disclaimer: these chapters have not yet been professionally edited so there will most definitely be mistakes that I did not catch. Also this series contains violence, moderately strong language, and a touch of gore. Reader discretion is advised.
Out of the Frying Pan
“The uniforms look superb, Mr. Cain,” Noire said as he examined Kira and Artemis in front of the entrance hatch. “Your contact certainly has an eye for detail.”
“My tailor droids made them,” Cain said, his voice low, and growling as it usually was. Kira had gotten used to his naturally severe tone. “I believe Tora Corps employees will find everything to be in order.”
Kira glanced toward Artemis noting that he looked quite dashing with his face clean-shaven and his usually unruly chestnut-brown hair brushed back out of his face. The white uniform fitted his tall, toned form perfectly, accentuating his muscles. The edges of his long, high collared coat was lined with smooth black trim, and the rank stripes on the left side of his chest pulsed orange and black in time with his heart—a staple of the Tora Corp solider uniforms. Those stripes monitored pulse-rate, body temperature, and a multitude of other physical functions. It was like having a personal diagnostics droid. Traditionally the information the stripes gathered were sent to one’s data chip, but since Kira and Artemis lacked that tech, Kira programmed the stripes to send the data to their holowatches instead.
Kira wore an outfit almost identical to Artemis’s, except hers was tailor-made for her curvier physique. The tight black pants that went with uniform were not nearly as uncomfortable as she thought they’d be, and Artemis didn’t seem to mind them either. Tight was good—tight meant loose material wouldn’t get in the way in case they had to fight. The material had some stretch to it as well which would allow for flexibility. Overall, Kira approved of their uniforms.
Artemis scratched at his neck, his serious solider act falling to pieces in that instant. “This coat’s kinda hot—and not in the good way.”
“You can adjust the coat’s temperature with your watch,” Cain said. “Ms. Chevalier, you added those settings, didn’t you.”
“Of course,” Kira said, gabbing Artemis’s wrists and pointing and speaking to the watch. “Archimedes, make Artemis’s coat 70 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Yes, Ms. Chevalier,” Archimedes replied in his smooth inflectionless voice.
Artemis’s upper lip twitched in disgust. “You gave mine a voice too?”
“Our watches share an operating system. Deal with it,” she replied coolly, letting go of his wrist and letting it fall back down to his side.
Noire’s dark, well-maintained brows furrowed—the only sign he ever showed of discomfort. “Is there nothing I can say to make you reconsider?”
There was plenty Noire could say to make Kira reconsider, but when Artemis set his mind on something… “Nope,” Artemis said, making a popping sound at the ‘p’. He placed his hands on his hips, looking like a super hero out of one of his stupid comic books. “We’re doing this, Addy. Once we steal some MCTA and sell it, we’re gonna be rolling in the dough and you’re gonna be back on top again! We’re gonna have all the new tech we need to steal anything we want. This is our only ticket out of this slump.”
Noire’s lips pressed into a thin, white slash. “We’re not in a slump. We’re fine—we’re surviving.”
“But we could be thriving,” Artemis said pointedly. “We used to and we will again. You don’t have to worry about me and K—we’re gonna be alright. With her brains and my moves, there’s no way those science nerds can stop us.”
“Assuming you work together,” Noire said, loosely crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s the only way you’re going to be successful. You must learn to operate as one unit, not as two individuals with separate plans.”
Kira could tell by Noire’s wary tone that he didn’t think they were ready for a heist like this. In truth, Kira didn’t think they were ready either, but she couldn’t let Artemis do this alone. He was too brash to execute a successful lift. He needed her steady hand, and she was certain he knew that too.
Artemis set his hand on Noire’s shoulder and grinned so confidently, Kira was tempted to believe his next words. “We’re gonna be fine, Pops. Me and K learned from the best, after all.”
Cain’s dark eyes flickered to Noire who still looked as if he was fighting the urge to knock her and Artemis unconscious to prevent them from leaving. “Departures end in less than an hour now. It’s time to go.”
Noire clenched his jaw so tightly that Kira thought he might break his teeth as Cain typed in a code on the touch keypad and opened the entrance hatch. Kira lowered her eyes and turned her back to her mentor, her and Artemis following Cain out of Noire’s base.
Noire made a sound as if he was going to speak and Kira looked back at him. His mouth hung open for a moment as if he couldn’t decide what to say before giving up and waving her forward without another word.
The hatch shut and its three steel bolts locked into place. The metallic thud of the bolts was more severe and final than it had ever been before, and the sound echoed through her. She felt a cold sort of emptiness envelop her as she watched Cain and Artemis climb up the ladder that would lead them to the surface. It was a familiar feeling that settled uncomfortably at the pit of her stomach.
This wasn’t a good idea. Something inside of her was screaming for her to turn back now. After a moment of indulging the panicked thoughts, she took a deep breath and attempted to release all of her worries upon exhale.
That was just her pessimism talking. Everything would be fine. Despite trying to convince herself of this, that terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach did not dissipate.
Cain programmed the coordinates into his hovercraft’s navigation system and they flew off toward Tora Corp’s teleportation center. It was a lush hovercraft complete with real leather cushions and a minibar full of drinks neither Kira nor Artemis had ever tasted or even heard of. Cain didn’t allow them to partake in any of the luxurious drinks as he feared it would impair their judgment.
The Tora Corporation Teleportation Center was a massive domed building that floated in the sky above Imperial city. Like most other building, the teleportation center was made of thick anti-shatter glass that had been tinted white, making it difficult to see what was on the inside unless you were very close—nose-pressed-to-the-glass close.
Cain dropped them off at the building’s entrance not saying so much as ‘good luck’ before speeding away. Kira didn’t mind the abrupt exit—there was nothing he could have said to ease her fretful mind anyway.
Artemis’s eyes darted down to her chest. She was just about to slap him when she too looked down to see that her stripes were blinking quite rapidly in time with her heart. Artemis placed his hand on her shoulder, his features softening into something less excited and more sympathetic. He knew that he was the only reason she had come along. He knew he’d dragged her into this against her better judgment. He knew and maybe deep down he also knew that it was unfair for him to have manipulated her in such a way.
He gently squeezed her shoulder. “Hey.” Kira eyes flickered up to meet his. “It’s gonna be alright.”
She nodded slowly, averting her eyes once more. “I hope so…”
He patted her arm roughly. “It will! Me and you are always gonna be ‘A o’ K’! Get it? Cause my name starts with and A and your name—”
“I get it,” she said quickly, grabbing his wrist and pulling him towards the entrance where other people dressed in uniforms like there’s were strolling into the building. “Let’s just get inside. If we loiter out here for too long, people might get suspicious.”
When they entered the teleportation center, they paused to take in the sight. They stood in a large, open room with white, tile floors, and harsh fluorescent lighting—even with technological advancements lightbulbs where still the best way to light a room. People didn’t bustle about here, they marched and waited in orderly lines once they got to where they were headed. And it was quiet. Not so quiet that one could hear a pin drop, but much too quiet for a public space with so much foot traffic. Scanning droids hovered about overhead, soundlessly scanning each person in sight. Noting this, Kira could not help but shrink where she stood.
Who where they kidding? There was no way they were going fool anyone even with their weeks’ worth of solider training and Tora Corp uniforms. This was a mistake, and they needed to get out of there before they were caught and thrown into prison for their lousy attempts at impersonation.
“Tora Corp doesn’t image-ray their employee’s skulls. I checked,” Artemis said to lowly, more to herself than to Artemis.
Artemis shrugged. “Yeah, I know. We went over this before we left. Come on, let’s get to the scan dock.”
Kira swallowed heavily and straightened up, feeling her hands trembling against her will. “Right. Let’s just try to avoid the droids. If there’s even the tiniest inconsistency with our data files, they’ll pick it up.”
“What about the scanning dock itself?”
She shook her head. “The docks aren’t intelligent bots. They just read the information and cross-reference it with the employee data Tora Corp has on file. As long as there aren’t more than a few discrepancies, we should be able to pass the scan with no problem.”
“And Tora Corp has us on file?”
“Yes. Cain used his connections to put our alias information into Tora’s employee database. We should be fine,” she said, once more trying to convince herself more so than her already confident partner.
“Sure we will,” Artemis said, pushing back his shoulders and putting on a more serious face. “Now let’s go be the best damn soldiers Tora Corp’s ever had.”
Kira sighed. “I’m pretty sure ‘the best damn soldiers Tora Corp ever had’ wouldn’t be planning on stealing from them.”
Artemis smirked. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go steal some shit, K.”
His smirk must have been infectious for she found herself smirking too. “Now you’re speaking my language.”
They strolled through the crowd of men and women in solider uniforms, lab coats, and expensive suits, as they made their way towards the scanning docks—a line of large circular platforms with rectangular archways for people to pass beneath—at the back of the large domed space. Once they passed the scan they would be authorized to teleport to N.E.S. Bengal—Tora Corporation’s Research and Development space station. Kira just hoped they would make it to the docks. At least five scanner droids stood between them and their ultimate goal and there were another two scanning people behind them.
She pushed on Artemis’s back, urging him to go faster, trying her best not to look as anxious as she felt. Her palms were already saturated with perspiration despite the cool air circulating throughout the teleportation center lobby. She knew Noire had done an excellent job on their alias files, but that terrible feeling at the pit of her stomach had yet to go away. Was this intuition telling her to run, or was it merely nerves? She couldn’t tell, but she prayed to whatever omniscient being that was listening that it was the latter of the two.
They were forced to bring their quick strides to a halt when they reached the rather long line of people and AIBs waiting to be scanned. Kira cursed beneath her breath, noting that there was still one more scanner droid up ahead along with one hovering a few people behind them in line. There was no way they could avoid the droids now. She just hoped that Noire had double and triple checked their data files for flaws. Of course he would have checked them multiple times, Kira thought, breathing in deeply through her nose as one of the droids moved on to the third person in front of them. There’s nothing wrong with our data files. There’s nothing wrong with our data files. There’s nothing wrong with our—
“Data files forged. Intruder alert. Data files forged,” said a monotonous droid voice from behind her.
Kira spun around and saw that Artemis had gone pale and his eyes were wide. A scanner droid was hovering behind him, blinking red. The droid’s voice sounded over the loud speakers now. “Data files forged. Intruder alert.”
Soldiers in black uniforms wearing smooth helmets that covered their entire face had surrounded their section of the line before Kira even had a chance to blink. They raised their sleek-looking phaser-guns—if she wasn’t so frightened, she knew she’d be drooling over the weapons. A slow grin built upon Artemis’s face, his eyes alight with mischief—she knew what that look meant. He was about to do something stupid again.
Fine, she thought glumly to herself. I’m sure whatever he’s planning on doing won’t get us in any more trouble than we’re already in. She was just about to step back and let Artemis beat them up, when she noticed something: the soldier’s weren’t looking at Artemis—they were looking at the man directly behind Artemis. The droid hovered above the middle-aged man, still flashing red.
Artemis raised his arms, clenching his hands into fist, but Kira grabbed his wrists and yanked his arms back down to his sides, giving him a discreet shake of her head. Their cover wasn’t blown yet, but it would be if Artemis started kicking and punching the soldiers.
“I know what you do!” shouted the man behind Artemis. “You’re killers and I’m going expose you one way or another! Reid Zarlock murdered my daughter and buried the evidence underneath mountains of red tape!” the man cried, his voice breaking beneath the weight of his words. “His damned organization is killing innocent beings, and us, the common people, are going to be the ones to pay the price for his greed! They’re coming … it won’t be long now. We’re all going to die…”
“Take him down,” one of the soldiers commanded coolly.
The other soldiers rushed the man and rendered him unconscious with a stun shot—she knew because stun shots were blue—to the temple. They dragged the limp man off, not towards the buildings exit, but past the scanning docks to the teleporting chambers beyond. What were they doing? Why didn’t the soldiers just throw him outside?
Once Tora security had gone, Artemis relaxed, his shoulders slumping forward as he exhaled softly. “I think I might need a new pair of pants, K.”
Kira laughed despite herself. Great job, Noire. If only that other guy had one of your pristine file sets, huh? she though as she faced forward once more.
“Do you think all that crap that hippie just spouted was true?” Artemis asked lowly as the line shuffled forward.
“What? About that Zarlock guy being some murderous mastermind? Doubtful,” Kira said. “He looks and acts like a bum Tora picked up off the skyway to be their figure-head. He’s just some idiot that got lucky with a couple good ideas, that’s it.”
Artemis hummed thoughtfully. “If you say so, K. You’re the genius—I’m just here to be eye-candy.”
“And half the time you can’t even do that right.”
“But half the time I do,” he said, playfully nudging her in the small of her back.
She rolled her eyes. “I was being generous.”
“Ouch! Way to hurt a guy’s pride.”
Despite the mild jokes, the air between them was still tense. They stopped talking and Kira was glad for it. All she wanted to do was focus on getting past the scanning docks—if they did, they would have little else to worry about. She breathed in and out as steady and slow as she could manage, trying to keep the stripes on her coat from blinking too quickly.
After what seemed like hours—when in actuality it only took a few minutes—it was Kira’s turn the step up onto one of the scanning platforms. Her eyes darted to the armed guards on either side of the scanning platform. They were looking straight ahead, unmoving, and their faces were shielded by smooth black helmets just like the soldiers who dragged the hysterical man away. She stood there for a moment waiting for something to happen, and startled when an even female voice sounded from above her. “Please face forward and lift your arms so that scanning may begin.”
Kira did as the scanner instructed, lifting her arms up horizontally to shoulder height. There was a soft buzzing sound that droned on for a few seconds before the scanner beeped loudly. “Unauthorized technology detected.”
She breathed in deeply, swallowing hard as the soldiers beside the scanning dock left their posts to hop up onto the platform with her. One guard took a flat, metallic wand from his belt and waved it down her torso, while the other guard inspected her clothes, soon pulling up her sleeve to reveal her holowatch. “Found it,” the second solider said to his friend with the wand. “What’s with the old timekeeping tech, Sergeant? Is your data chip defunct or something?”
Kira shook her head, her gaze flickering to Artemis, who gave her a thumbs up. She could do this. She was smart, she could make up a lie. She cleared her throat. “I like vintage tech. I restore old watches as a hobby.”
“What’s a watch?” the solider with the wand asked with a tilt of his helmeted head.
She pointed to her wrist. “This. I was told we were allowed to bring a few personal effects on board. This doesn’t violate protocol, does it?”
“That depends on what it does,” the first guard said. “Show us.”
Kira was tempted to smirk, but she knew that wouldn’t be in her best interest at the moment. These soldiers didn’t know a thing about old tech. She tapped the screen of her hollow watch and the time was projected above the watch face. She shrugged. “Not so impressive is it? But what can I say—I’m a sucker for antique things like this.”
The guards stared at the watched for a moment before turning their heads to look at each other. “Let her keep it,” the second solider said, slipping his wand back into his belt. “It’s just some crappy old tech.”
Kira scowled but stopped herself from saying or doing anything that might jeopardize the task at hand. She pulled down her sleeve. “Is that all?”
“Not yet,” said the first guard. “Scanning dock three, state Tora employee status.”
“Employee status confirmed,” the dock replied. “Kira Leonid—Chief Master Sergeant. Science and engineer level ten downloaded to data chip. Employee on teleportation roster.”
The second guard nodded. “A scientist, huh? You better get going. They need up there, Sergeant Leonid.” The two soldiers saluted her and she saluted them back just as Cain had taught her.
She strolled off the platform, smiling minutely to herself. That wasn’t so terrible, she thought as she watched Artemis step up onto the platform after her. The dock beeped, just like it had with her, alerting the guards of unauthorized tech once more. They found Artemis’s watch without any trouble.
“You’ve got one too, Sergeant?” the first guards asked incredulously. “Hobby of yours?”
“Nah. I’m too dumb to mess with tech,” Artemis said with an unwavering smile. Kira wished she had half the confidence he exuded. “Sergeant Leonid refurbed an extra and it looked so cool I just had to have it.”
The second guard crossed his arms over his chest. “Alright, he’s clean. Scanning dock three, state Tora employee status.”
“Employee status confirmed. Artemis Hartford—Chief Master Sergeant. Combative Martial Arts chip level ten downloaded to data chip. Employee on teleportation roster.”
“Looks like you’re all set, Sergeant Hartford,” said the first solider. “Have I nice trip.”
They saluted each other and Artemis marched off the platform with his head held high to meet Kira. He nudged her once he was close enough. “Easy peasy,” he said with a wink.
She shook her head and ran a hand through her short, brown hair. “Whatever. Let’s just get to the teleporters.”
They followed the long hall behind the scanner docks and eventually reached a much smaller domed room than they had been in before. Upon arrival, Kira and Artemis were instructed by a woman in a white lab suit, to get in to one of the many glass capsules that lined the concaved wall at far end of the chamber.
Kira and Artemis exchanged slightly wary looks. They both had never teleported before, and Kira could tell that the idea of their shattered particles being shot up into space faster than the speed of light unsettled him as much as it did her. But they had both come this far—they were going to finish what they started. Thus, after the moment of hesitation passed, Kira stepped up into a capsule, and Artemis did the same.
Kira only had the chance to take one deep breath before the sensation of being pinched all over her body set in. The next thing she knew, the scene around her capsule was gone in the blink of an eye and she was on her way to the N.E.S. Bengal.
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