The sound of the intake doors shutting behind her was her cue. Reaching for her comlink, Apoc thumbed it on, double-clicking the transmit button. In front of her, Lieutenant Vaile turned, a questioning look on his face.
Adrenaline surged through Apocalypsa’s veins as she released Layne’s arm, her hands dropping to her hips. She drew her blasters and fired in one smooth motion, the pair of sky-blue bolts catching Vaile in his stomach. The confused look he wore intensified as he looked down at the smoking hole in his gut.
Layne moved fast, ducking behind one of the soldiers, slipping his bound hands over the man’s neck. He pressed his fists against the struggling man’s throat, cutting off his oxygen supply. The soldier’s face began to turn purple as the young warrior’s death grip intensified.
Apoc whirled on the last soldier in time to see him thumb on his comlink. “Intruders loose in population! Send backup immediately!” He leveled his blaster at Apoc, squeezed the trigger.
She dove to the side, her own guns coming up to spit fire at the man, his shot grazing the durasteel plating on her leg. He dropped to his knees as the wailing keen of the Incarcerator’s alarms cut through the air.
Apoc rolled as she hit the ground, coming up in a low crouch. Her pistols held before her, she triggered another series of shots, catching the Republic soldier in the thigh and high in the chest. He slumped over, laying still.
The man struggling in Layne’s grasp choked out his last breath. Layne lowered him to the floor, and Apoc ran over to remove the binders from his wrists. Banging and shouting could be heard on the other side of the doors.
“Come on kid,” Apoc returned the binders to her belt. “We gotta get going.” She handed him a spare blaster from her belt.
The sound of a door hissing open caused Apoc’s head to snap up and around. From a door to the right stepped a young woman with braided golden hair and amber eyes. The expression on her heart-shaped face was one of shock and disbelief.
“The things you see when you don’t have a flamethrower.” Apocalypsa laughed quietly as Raia’s hand went to the blaster at her waist.
Raia’s eyes moved from the dead soldiers, to Apocalypsa, and finally to Layne. He stood over the bodies, blaster in hand. She opened her mouth as if to say something, then changed her mind and simply drew her weapon.
“We don’t have time for this.” Apoc lunged toward Raia, wrapping her hand around the other woman’s wrist. She smacked it against the wall, hard, and the blaster clattered to the floor. With a forceful shove, she pushed Raia through the doorway to the medical bay.
Raia struggled against Apocalypsa’s grip. Twisting, she managed to free one hand, aiming a series of blows against Apoc’s shoulders and neck. The ill-fitting helmet she wore was knocked askew, partially obscuring her vision.
The mercenary was relentless, twisting Raia’s arm behind her back even as the woman struggled. Apoc was pushing her forward, gauntleted hand going to the back of Raia’s neck and forcing her face down onto the cool white tile of the countertop.
Honey-colored braids fell down into Raia’s eyes as her amber gaze focused on the instrument tray lying on the counter. She slammed her hand down onto the tray, wrapping her fingers around the sedative-filled syringe she had prepared earlier.
She lifted the needle, tearing the safety cap off with her teeth. As Apocalypsa’s hand moved to remove the energy binders from her belt, Raia twisted around, bringing the syringe up. The slender needle pierced the exposed fibermesh flightsuit covering Apoc’s neck, just below the helmet.
!” Apocalypsa cursed and whirled away, reaching up to tug the helmet off her head. In a blind rage, she threw it at Raia, who ducked, causing the heavy durasteel projectile to ricochet off the wall and skid across the floor.
Layne flew through the doorway, his arms reaching out to grab Apoc as she stumbled, emerald eyes rolling back in her head. He wrapped an arm around her, supporting her so she wouldn’t fall.
Raia stared at him, at Apocalypsa in his arms. Layne’s pale blue eyes hardened as he plucked the offending needle from Apoc’s neck. The plunger had been pushed about a quarter of the way down. He threw the syringe onto the floor, then pulled Apocalypsa back into the hallway.
Layne activated his comlink. “Mako, seal the medbay doors!” Raia was moving, was coming toward him. “Mako, seal the medbay doors now!” There was a burst of static from his comlink.
“Can’t…you…jamming…” Mako’s voice was broken up by more hissing static.
“The medbay doors! Seal them!” He tried one last time. Raia was almost to the doorway. She picked up her blaster from the floor, aimed it at Apocalypsa’s limp form in Layne’s arms.
The doors shut just before Raia reached them. Layne breathed a sigh of relief, leaning Apoc up against the wall. The alarms wailed loudly, and he could hear shouting and blaster fire beyond the intake room doors. He frowned. Torian and Mako.
His attention turned back to Apoc. She was slumped back against the wall, her head falling forward. Her eyes were dull and glassy, staring at him from beneath hooded eyelids. Blast
, he thought. What do I do now
The first soldier out of the door stopped short, staring at the armored Mandalorian warrior in the center of the hall. The second trooper, a thickset man with a bald head and bushy sideburns, bumped into the first, knocking him off-balance.
Torian grinned under his helmet and leapt forward, aided by the rocket thrusters hidden in his boots. With a quiet laugh, he held his left hand out in front of him. A gout of blue and white flame shot forth from his wrist, causing the bigger trooper to go wheeling backwards.
Pulling his arm back, Torian’s right fist shot down toward the smaller soldier, who had fallen to his hands and knees. A thin, keen-edged vibroblade extended from the knuckles of Torian’s gauntlet. The blade just barely grazed the soldier’s cheek, slicing the skin open.
Blood began to drip onto the floor from the wounded troopers face, and his hands slipped in it, causing him to fall face-forward. Torian planted his foot in the center of the man’s back, pressing down with the heavy boot of his beskar’gam
The big soldier recovered from his shock at having his sideburns singed by Torian’s flamethrower. As Torian lifted his staff, preparing to strike the man at his feet, the other lifted his weapon and took aim at the mercenary.
Mako sprinted out from the shadowy alcove, her slender blaster pistol held in her small hand. With an impish grin on her face, she let out a burst of laser fire. The emerald energy bolts flew forward, lancing into the large mans forehead.
He pitched forward with a groan. Torian swung his staff in a downward arc. The knobbed end slammed into the man underneath his feet with a wet thump, and he ceased struggling. Mako crouched low behind Torian as the Incarcerator
’s alarms began to blare.
The sound of shouting and boots thudding across metal decking came from beyond the open door before them. Torian looked down at Mako. “Thought you were turning on null gas.”
“I didn’t have time to activate that program.” The sound of the approaching soldiers grew louder. “We’re about to have a whole lot of company.”
Torian’s sapphire eyes swept up and down the hall. About sixteen meters distant loomed the doors to the intake room. “Mako, can you open those doors?”
Her dark gaze followed his. She nodded, and took off in a sprint. Frowning, Torian placed his staff on his back, bending down to pick up one of the dead soldiers weapons. Quickly checking the power cell, he hurried after Mako.
She was standing at the door, the cable from her datapad running into a small panel to the side. “I just need a minute.”
“Don’t have one.” He lifted the pistol in his hands, aiming it down the hall. From the door spilled five men in heavy, black and white armor. He triggered off a volley of shots, causing them to back up a few steps. They drew their blaster carbines as Torian began to run forward.
From his belt the Mandalorian produced a small, round grenade. Depressing the button on the side, he lobbed it at the men coming from the doorway. As it flew forward, he skidded to a stop. The grenade detonated, throwing shards of twisted metal through the air.
The men howled in pain as the red-hot shrapnel pierced their armor. Giving them no time to recover, Torian lifted the pistol once more, firing and catching one of the soldiers in the shoulder. “Come on, Mako!”
“Got it!” She gave a little laugh of triumph as the door flew open. She stepped inside. “Get in here, quick!”
Torian turned and ran for the door. The thrusters in his boots kicked on as the whine of blaster carbines filled the air. He twisted and spun, diving for the ground and rolling forward over the threshold of the intake room doorway.
With a giggle and a wave at the approaching soldiers, Mako yanked her datacable from the wall. The door slammed shut. Thumps and the sound of shots ricocheting from the door were accompanied by the frustrated yells of the soldiers on the other side.
“It secure?” Torian sighed softly when Mako nodded. “Can you get the gas on from here?”
“Yeah, just need a terminal.” Mako’s dark eyes swept the room, lighting up when she saw the wide desk with the computer by the doors leading to the prisoner rings. “Perfect!” She ran over to the desk, sliding into the seat behind it.
“What the?” She frowned as her feet encountered something solid beneath the desk. Peering under it, she found Ensign Eveli curled into a ball, eyes squeezed tightly shut. “Hey Torian,” Mako called. “Come take a look at this.”
Torian shook his head slightly at the woman on the floor. “Republic’s finest.”
Mako giggled. “Well, what do you want to do with her?”
He shrugged. “I find it’s best to just leave airheads alone.” He gestured at the computer. “Get that gas on before they get the doors open.”
“Right.” She plugged her datapad in, tapping at the keypad. The computer whirred and beeped as her program flooded through its circuits. “This will divert the flow of the null gas from its tanks in the medical bay through the ships air ducts, flooding the crew compartments.”
The sound of a burst of static filled the air as Mako’s comlink came to life. “Mak… the… doors!” Layne’s voice was fading in and out, shrouded by telltale hissing and squealing sounds.
She thumbed on her own transmitter. “Can’t hear you, communications are being jammed!” She pulled the computer’s input board across the desk toward her. The program was almost done working its way through the system. When it finished, the medbay doors would lock and seal, and the gas would begin to flow.
“Mako… medbay doors!” Layne’s voice was insistent. She frowned, tapping away at the keys. Bringing up the ship’s security menu, she looked for the program which controlled the communications block. As she finally located it, a soft chime indicated the activation of her code.
“Program is in.” She smiled up at Torian under the mask that covered her mouth and nose. “And I think I can get our communications restored.” She punched a few keys. From the door leading into the corridor, the sound of voices faded away.
A soft snore came from underneath Mako’s feet, and she grinned when she looked down to see Eveli fast asleep. The null gas was working.
Layne reached out, his fingers feeling for the pulse in Apocalypsa’s neck. It was strong, but very slow. He cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her face. Her green eyes were unfocused as she tried to fix them on his face.
“Apoc!” He shook her slightly, and her head fell back. “Apoc, come on. We gotta get moving.” He moved next to her, slinging her arm over his shoulder as his own arm went around her back. He groaned softly with the effort as he tried to lift her to her feet.
“Layne…” Apoc’s voice was a low groan, the words slurred and barely coherent. “Mission. Luxel.” She pushed feebly at him. “Go.”
He shook his head. “I can’t just leave you here.” A short, high-pitched buzz came from his comlink, followed by Mako’s voice.
“Took care of the jamming. What’s your status?” Layne chuckled grimly as the transmission ended. He reached for his comlink, thumbing it on.
“Not good. Apoc’s down.” He looked down at her limp form in his arms. “Some kind of drug, she’s barely conscious.”
Torian’s voice was distorted by the comlink, but not so much that Layne couldn’t hear the concern in his voice. “Can you still get Luxel?”
Layne closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. This is on me. I have to do this
. His pale blue eyes snapped open. Clenching his jaw, he nodded. I can do this.
“Mako,” he said into the comlink as he hauled Apoc to her feet. She leaned on him heavily, and he tightened his grip around her. “I need you to tell me where to go. Can you bring up a floor plan and direct me to Luxel?”
He took a few experimental steps forward. It was much slower than he would like, but Apocalypsa was able to drag her feet, shuffling them across the metal decking. He grit his teeth as he half-carried, half-dragged her into the circular hallway surrounding the prisoner rings.
“Yeah, I’ve got it.” Mako spoke through the comlink. “You need to get into the inner ring. There’s a door about halfway down either way that will take you into the second of the three.”
“Great, thanks.” Layne replaced the comlink on his belt. Step by agonizing step, he moved forward, supporting Apocalypsa’s body. His eyes were drawn to the sides of the corridor as they began to move through the prison’s stasis chambers.
Rows of silvery columns lined the hall. Cold blue light glowed from within, shining out from transparisteel panels that afforded a view of the prisoner inside. Each one floated in the void within, their faces peaceful, dreamlike.
Digital readouts above the windows flashed the vital signs of their occupants in bright green numbers. Layne shuddered slightly. The corridor was silent save for the sound of his footfalls and Apoc’s feet dragging across the floor. This place is giving me the creeps.
Finally, he reached the door Mako had told him would take him into the second of the trio of hallways. “I’m at the doors, what now?” He readjusted his grip on Apoc, who stared dully at the wall.
“The middle ring is full of laser sensor beams that cross the hallway. Any organic life that crosses the beams will activate the guard droids and start them patrolling for intruders.” There was a pause in the transmission. “I can’t shut them down, it’ll flag as an anomaly and the droids will immediately become active.”
“What about the droids themselves? Can you deactivate the droids?” He looked down at Apoc. In her current condition, he doubted she would have the agility necessary to avoid triggering the sensor beams, never mind fight the droids that would be coming at them.
“No.” Mako’s voice held a hint of frustration. “They’re independent of the main system, probably another security measure. I’d have to be within a few meters of them to have any effect on their programming.”
. Layne frowned. In his arms, Apoc stirred, her head lifting slightly.
“Layne.” She groaned with the effort required to speak. “You have to go. Get Luxel, leave me here.” When he shook his head, she took a deep breath, pushing out as many words as possible before her strength fled.
“Just go. I’ll be fine out here. I can’t fight, Layne. I’m a liability. Go.” Her head fell forward and her eyes slid closed.
“No, Apoc. I’m not leaving you out here, Torian’d kill me.” He shook his head again, vehemently.
“I might kill you.” Apoc’s words were a quiet mumble.
Layne couldn’t help but chuckle, despite himself. He reached out, hand slapping the control panel mounted on the wall next to the door. It slid open, and he stepped through, tugging Apocalypsa with him.
The hall was dim, lit only by the ghostly light from the stasis chambers and the bright red beams that crossed the floor every few meters. Located about half a meter up from the ground, the beams shone with scintillating crimson light.
To Layne the lasers looked almost menacing, as if they were lurking in wait to ruin their mission. Apoc in tow, he stepped toward the first sensor. The laser was projected from two small, round knobs that stuck out slightly from either side of the wall. He knew that he could easily step over each beam, but Apocalypsa’s unwilling muscles would prevent her from doing the same.
For a moment, he contemplated lifting her in his arms and carrying her, but quickly dismissed the idea. Apoc alone weighed around seventy kilograms, and the durasteel armor she wore likely added another ninety. It was taking nearly all of his strength just to hold her up.
Finally, he came to a decision. He lifted his left leg over the beam and brought it down on the other side. Bracing Apocalypsa’s body with his right arm, he leaned down slightly to wrap his hand around her ankle. Lifting her right foot into the air, he attempted to maneuver it over the beam.
He knew she was going to fall before it happened, and tried to straighten before she crashed to the floor. Her left foot slid out from underneath her, and she toppled over with a quiet moan. Her armor clattered loudly against the metal decking.
The harsh blare of an alarm began to fill the hallway with its incessant shrieking. Eyes wide, Layne stared at Apoc’s limp hand, lying just below the bright red laser extending from the wall. The clattering noise of metal on metal reached his ears, and he knew that he had only moments before the Incarcerator’s droids were upon them.
From where she lay on the cold floor, Apocalypsa gave him a weak grin. “You didn’t really think that would work, did you?”