Chapter Three: The Hangar
After lining up four of the fallen soldiers under the platform, Esk knelt down to get a closer look at one them. Thin lines of light passed through the grated surface above, but overall the area was illuminated enough to not warrant the technological assistance resting within the soldier’s helmet. The adult male he examined had two close scorch marks across his chest. Grek's carbine has no trouble passing through the soldier's chest plate. The armor stopped at the shoulders and arms, where little more than a few layers of cloth offered protection. The gloves and boots were woven cloth with additional plastic inserts. Poor soldier didn't even get a helmet.
"Something wrong?" Cresh asked, lacking the melancholy present before.
"Nothing wrong. Just a little strange," Esk admitted. "Intel stated that ship would be understaffed. But even so, I expected the opposition to possess standard military equipment. Republic troopers usually warrant more protection than this."
"Maybe we caught them off guard. Before they could prepare?"
"No. Their arrangements meant that they were ready for a fight. Just one of a different kind."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean they were protecting the hangar from someone else." Esk put a finger to his temple and opened team communications. "Hey Besh, any update on Aurek?" Esk looked up to see Besh and Dorn working on the wall console almost directly above him through the thatched metal framework that constituted the raised platform. Dorn had connected his datapad directly to the under workings of the console. Besh, meanwhile stood to his side, leaning against the solid wall.
"Not yet," Besh answered after a pause. "Been trying to sync with his helm's comm signal."
"How about getting the hangar secure?"
"Yes," Dorn chimed in. "That was pretty easy. Seems the hangar was already under lockdown. Didn't take much to route control to my datapad."
"Aurek must have escaped his captors before we arrived. It makes sense that if the crew was aware of his escape they would try and prevent him from making contact with us," Besh mused.
"Hmm, makes sense," Esk quietly commented.
"What are you thinking Esk?" Forn asked in his stoic tone.
"I think that until a few moments ago, the ship's security forces were entirely focused on Aurek. Our welcoming party wasn't ours at all."
"Last line of defense against an escaped prisoner… who might be making his way to the hangar for an exit." Forn observed.
"That's what I was thinking," said Esk. "You notice their equipment Forn?" The hunter paused his patrol of the platform to kneel down next to one of Grek's dispatched foes.
"Light armor," Forn surveyed. "Mostly pistols… with the occasional rifle. Now that you say it… poor fortification of the room… aside from the doors in and out. I think so far… we've been dealing with the ship's reserve security. Combat ready crew… but with limited access to the ship's armory. Primary soldiers stationed aboard… they must be busy trying to deal with Aurek."
"So it would seem all of the real troopers have been focused on Aurek, meaning Aurek’s escape was a little early… or we were a little late," Cresh commented. "At least the news of our boarding should alleviate some of that focus."
"Yes, now it is just a matter of figuring out whether Aurek is hiding or actively having to defend himself," said Besh. Each of the squad members knew that the option of Aurek already being dead was absurd and a non-factor. "Dorn, get us each a copy of the ship's schematics."
A progress bar appeared near the bottom of squads' HUDs. Direct copies of the ship's layout popped up before being automatically configured into a usable transparent image.
"Well, it looks like we're pretty close to the cruiser's stern. Only thing behind us are the engines and a few engineering stations," Dorn clarified.
"Since we're sure Aurek hasn't been through here, that puts him ahead of us… that should narrow down his location… somewhat," Besh admitted, staying calmly optimistic.
"He's got a tracker in his suit, right? Activate it and we'll make our way to him," Esk suggested.
"I don't know," Dorn responded. "It's kind of a blind transmitter. Anyone manning a security console will be able to see the blip show up. Last thing we want to give Aurek is more undue attention or put a squad of troopers between him and his armor if he hasn't reached it yet."
"Say's the person with his fist jammed far up the ship's security hole," Esk joked.
"Give me some credit, will you?" Dorn responded. "I don't need lessons in subtlety from the demolition man."
"Hah, so what do you have in mind then?" chuckled Esk.
"Doesn't look like I can access the cameras from here without leaving a trail," Dorn admitted. "But I can check various sets of data from other sources. Room occupation. Locked door status. Aurek was probably smart enough to avoid tripping any unauthorized entry alarms. I can compile a list of the most likely rooms to find him."
"And then?" asked Cresh. There was a moment of silence as the squad thought of their options.
"If video is out of the question… what about audio?" Besh suggested. The idea wasn't met with much enthusiasm from the squad, but Dorn was entertaining the idea in his head.
"Technically, tapping into the speaker system poses the same troubles as tapping into the cameras. But even if I do end up leaving a trail it is a much lower priority system for monitoring," Dorn stated with renewed optimism.
"So, what? We just send a shout out to individual rooms until Aurek shouts back?" Esk responded, not sharing his companions confidence.
"If you must put it that way… yes," Dorn answered.
"But wait, it's not enough to tap into the ship's intercommunication system," Cresh interjected. "Even if the room he's held up in has speakers, it may not possess the comm systems needed for him to respond to us."
"Not likely," Besh replied. "Republic cruisers like this one usually have a small communications panel in any rooms that require some form of security or maintenance."
"You're kidding right? On the home cruiser, I have to walk around for five minutes before I can find a damned integrated comm," Esk begrudgingly admitted before producing a heavy sigh. "Is it any wonder the Empire needs folk like us?"
“He says whilst currently on a mission to rescue his captured squad leader,” Cresh lightheartedly chimed in. Esk chuckled at the prospect that his humor was rubbing off on the kid. “Alright, so we have a plan. Anyone have any idea which room to start with?”
Silence followed as each of the soldiers studied the schematics visible on their visor. Dorn notified the detention room Aurek most likely escaped from with a ping visible on all of the troopers HUDs. Lines then extended from it, leading to the prime candidates for rooms housing their squad leader.
After a brief examination, a ping associated to a different squad member directed everyone’s attention to an small, secondary armory not far from the detention area. The notification was from Grek.
The squad directed their attention back towards the shuttle to see the crates that had once been scattered throughout the entirety of the hanger were now situated in neatly arranged barriers circling the ship. After a brief moment of pondering the squad seemed in full agreement with the mute trooper. Dorn’s check of the armory’s data log provided the evidence needed to warrant an attempt at communication.
A single occupant. Entrance has remained locked since recently after the alarms for escape had sounded. The troopers looked in silence to Dorn, who in turn looked to Besh for confirmation. With a quick nod, the renewed rescue plan could officially begin.