Chapter 4: Focus
“This is utter madness,” Quinn said to himself, spreading out the flimsi map on the table. Jaesa hadn’t been able to find any downloadable copies for their datapads so flimsi would have to do. Vette was sleeping in the corner, and Jaesa was lurking in the other corner, resting, even if not asleep. Some sort of cheap near-instant soup was heating on the stove; they’d eat after he’d made a plan and they could begin preparing to move out.
Pierce had reported the enemy had taken Akuliina to a warehouse on the other side of town, behind the spaceport. It was not defended in obvious ways, but a chain-link fence limited entry, and there were more of those soldiers than the group that had abducted her, perhaps thirty. Moreover, he had overheard the name ‘Kadolan’, which confirmed Quinn’s guess. Kadolan had somehow discovered they were here, and shot them down, then sent soldiers to lie in wait for them to finish them off. Except, why would they capture Akuliina instead of killing her outright?
The thought of her alone and unconscious in the power of others was distressing in the extreme, and he had to force his hands to unclench, force himself to concentrate. Better captured than dead, always.
One hypothesis was that Kadolan had demanded that she be delivered to him. But waiting for the enemies to take her to the spaceport and then counter-ambush them was far too risky, and too late. If they were going to rescue her at all, it would have to be sooner, and not at an obvious time when the soldiers would be especially on their guard. And why would Kadolan want her alive in the first place? He had shown no hesitation in attempting to snuff out her life before, why the change in tactics now? Had something changed in the last month to make her more valuable alive? Did he intend to use her as a hostage to force her parents to cooperate with him, perhaps? Unlikely that they would, knowing them, and he could think of no other convincing arguments, either.
There was only so much planning he could do. He didn’t know the layout of the warehouse, though it was likely to be fairly standard – open-plan, with offices on the upper level. If he were in command of the soldiers, he would keep Akuliina on the upper level. There would probably also be increased layers of security, turrets, force fields, reinforced portals – the enemy had had a month to plan, after all. But if he guessed well, most of the security would be directed inwards, to prevent a fully-powered Akuliina from escaping. They could hardly guess that she would lose her ability to feel and use the Force, could they? But they would be less expecting an assault from outside. He could hope.
Captain Tu’sienni had offered four of her crew to assist: Risha, a farmboy with a shotgun, a Mandalorian, and herself. So he had eight people to work with; the best plan was probably to split into two groups and attack from two sides at once. Tu’sienni had offered to fly in and blast the roof off the warehouse, but Quinn had vetoed that – without exactly knowing Akuliina’s location, they risked injuring or killing her.
He resisted thumping a fist on the table in frustration, not wanting to wake Vette. He didn’t know enough, and he couldn’t make a proper plan without it. The best he was going to get was to attack the place from two entrances, ensure that everyone had good communication, pray that no one jammed the commlinks, and wing it. He hated winging it. Modifying tactics in the face of a rapidly changing situation, that was fine. Making things up as he went with no base plan, not fine. Perhaps he should allow the Twi’lek to lead, except he couldn’t tell if her confidence was due to being excellent at improvising, or due to not thinking overly much in the first place.
One thing was certain, and he felt his face harden into an implacable mask as he articulated it to himself yet again: he would rescue Akuliina – he would rescue his wife or die trying.
They met at dusk at a crossroads not far from the warehouse that was their target. “I really don’t like this, Cap,” said the dreadlocked man with the spacers, undoubtedly the farmboy Tu’sienni had spoken of. “I know we’re going to rescue a lady’s friend-”
“Who is also a lady,” Tu’sienni said.
“But I’m not easy in my mind working with Imps.”
“You may stay behind if you wish,” Quinn said to him coldly.
The farmer glared at him. “As if I’d leave the captain with the likes of you.”
“All settled then?” Tu’sienni said cheerfully. “Good. It’ll be fine, Corso. What’s the plan, Commodore?”
“I was unable to come up with a sound stratagem,” Quinn said to Captain Tu’sienni. “However, I suggest that you and your crewmates ascend to the roof of the next warehouse over, transit to the roof of the target warehouse, and break in that way. My team will enter via the back door.”
Tu’sienni gave him a thumbs up. “Race ya to the damsel in distress?”
“Whatever it takes to get her back,” Quinn said stiffly.
The Twi’lek raised an eyebrow with a smug smile. “Good thing Akaavi brought the rocket launcher, then.” The Mandalorian Zabrak hefted her launcher and nodded stoically.
He checked his chrono. “Let’s go. Inform me when you are in position. We must enter at the same moment, or else one of us shall be too far outnumbered.” Every moment wasted now felt like a year.
The Twi’lek gave him the sketchiest, jauntiest two-finger ‘salute’ he’d ever received, and led her team away into the gloom. The street-lights were sparse, even in this district where one would expect many of them. The enemy probably had night-vision goggles. He would equip them with night-vision goggles if he were their captain.
“Now, Vette,” he whispered, and Vette threw out her distraction: a simple droid with a blinking light and a soft sound emitter, designed to attract attention without being overly threatening. They didn’t want the alarm to be sounded just yet, after all. The two of them had cobbled it together in an hour from parts obtained from the market.
They made their way by a round-about route to the back of the warehouse, where they waited until they heard the droid being noticed. Jaesa sliced an entryway in the chain-link fence with her lightsaber and they hurried through, clustering in the shadows by the rear entrance. He could feel his nerves settling into place. Being able to act finally was so much better.
He heard a double-click from his commlink and double-tapped it in response, then nodded to Vette. A few moments later, the door quietly popped open and she pulled it towards her. It didn’t even slide on its own power, it had hinges. Primitive. Even the door of the house they’d used as a temporary base had slid open.
Pierce entered first, gun raised, and suddenly lowered it and cursed quietly. Quinn followed quickly. “What’s the matter, lieut- oh.” They were in a hallway, not an open area as he had expected. The entire interior of the warehouse must have been transformed, a first wrench in the plan – not that he’d had much of a plan for once they’d entered. There was a security camera at each end of the hall, and he shot both of them, though it was probably too much to ask that they hadn’t been spotted. Now they’d certainly been heard; he could hear a distant alarm going off. He wasn’t happy about the location, the enemy could pincer them easily. “Captain, we’ve entered and made some noise.”
“Yep, I can hear them heading our way too, getting the roof hatch open wasn’t quiet. Yo, Corso, brace yourself, kid.”
“Since they appear to have completely modified this building, I suggest we meet …somehow. I’ll reconnoitre and inform you if I find anything promising.”
“Righty-o. I saw security cameras, maybe there’s a central control centre for ’em.”
“I would agree with that hypothesis and am incorporating it into my search. Quinn out.” Heavy bootsteps were coming from the right side, but not the left. “Cover!” Together his team sprinted towards the left, trying to get around the corner before the shooting started.
The reason why there were no soldiers approaching from the left was because just around the corner was a heavy sealed door. The wall barely gave them any cover. “Pierce, rear-guard. Jaesa, cut this door open.”
“Am I just the can-opener on this trip?” Jaesa complained, slicing through the door slowly from top to bottom; the metal bubbled around the contained plasma of her blade. He would have asked Vette, but her hacking abilities, while substantial, worked best given time and with the objective of breaking in quietly. That wasn’t necessary here. “That’s two holes you’ve told me to make.”
“I opened a door too,” Vette said indignantly, peering under Pierce’s arm and firing the occasional shot at the heavily-armoured soldiers who had appeared once again. “Pierce, your gun is really freakin’ loud.”
“That’s ’cause it’s a real gun, sweetheart,” Pierce said, chuckling. “Why fire one little laser at a time when you can fire all of them in rapid succession?”
“Tell that to Agent Elshinix,” Quinn said; he really oughtn’t to get involved in the usual petty bickering, but he had to respect snipers. He helped Jaesa slide the door open, though his shoulder complained through the painkillers; without the locking mechanism engaged, it was a simple matter of pushing it back into the walls, without touching the melted edges.“Door’s open – wait! Don’t move yet!” He’d glanced up and seen the gleam of automated laser batteries. Fortunately, they couldn’t rotate all the way to the door. A brief, sustained volley to the power housing of each turret destroyed both of them, surprisingly without an explosion.
Was this confirmation of his guess, that the defenses would be set up pointing inwards? Were they heading the right way to reach Akuliina?
They hadn’t killed any of their pursuers, but they were also unhurt for the time being. “Follow me!” He led them down the hall, alert for cross-passages, more turrets, security cameras.
The entire warehouse shook with a boom that vibrated the soles of his boots, and the lights flickered briefly before steadying. Was that the rocket launcher? Captain Tu’sienni was certainly getting the enemy’s attention.
His commlink buzzed with static for a brief moment before the captain’s voice came through. “-uess what, Commodore!”
“You used the rocket launcher,” he guessed.
“Yeah! But we used it opening the door of the security station! We’ve got access to everything – almost everything. Couple of systems got exploded along with the door.” He could hear a shotgun firing in the background. Tu’sienni giggled almost drunkenly. “This is so much fun! Hey, Risha, what’s this console for, d’you think?”
“Why don’t you go find Vette’s friend on the security monitors and lead our allies there?” Risha snapped back. “Better yet, I’ll trade places with you.”
“Fabulous idea! I like shooting things better anyway. Here, take the comm.”
“Hello, Commodore?” Risha asked.
“Quinn here,” he answered, leaning around another corner and quickly withdrawing as laser blasts nearly hit him. But he had seen an industrial-looking elevator, guarded by four soldiers.
“I’m just figuring out the layout here, it’s completely non-standard,” Risha said. “I’ll attempt to guide you to Lord Akuliina from here.”
“Much appreciat- grenade!” Quinn recoiled from the corner completely as a small metal object came rattling into their midst.
Jaesa made a strange high-pitched noise of anger and panic, jumping forward, and kicking the grenade back around the corner with as much vehemence as she could muster. It exploded, and two bodies were sent hurtling into the wall facing them. Pierce put a few shots in each of them, just in case, and peered around the corner. No one shot back at him, so he waved the others onward. “Clear!”
“Risha, do you know where this elevator goes?” Quinn asked as they headed for it.
“Um… I see Lord Akuliina – at least, I assume it’s her – but I’m still tracing out your route to her. As for the elevator, looks like the next floor down there’s a barracks, armoury, storage rooms. I’ve locked it down so that they can’t summon it, but they’ll probably take the stairs. Oh! You can skip that floor. Pick the lowest floor and head straight ahead. If I’m reading this right, you can punch right through a wall and end up in the laboratory with Lord Akuliina.”
“I’m reprogramming or deactivating as many turrets as I can, but be on your guard,” Risha said. “The bottom level, there appears to be a dozen guards and six humanoid droids. If you wait a moment I can send the captain and Akaavi to help.”
He hesitated. He really didn’t want to wait. But that was too many enemies for them to deal with alone. “Very well. Tell them to be quick.” He got on the elevator, followed by Vette and Jaesa; Pierce paused to remove more grenades from the enemy soldier’s belt before joining them.
“What’s Lord Akuliina’s status?”
“I’m not sure. She’s in some sort of… stasis… restraining… device? I’ve never seen anything like it before.” There was a pause, then Risha said, sounding more subdued: “I think it’s torturing her.”
Quinn felt another hot shudder. “Captain Tu’sienni had better get here quickly.”
“I’m here, I’m here, loverboy!” The woman careened around the corner, red tentacles trailing in her wake, and the Mandalorian behind her, huffing and puffing in her heavy armour. “Bottom floor, right?”
“Get ready to scatter, it’s likely they’ll use grenades again,” Quinn said, getting control of his feelings again. He needed to be ice-cold for the rest of the operation, no matter what he saw or heard, or else things were going to go poorly for everyone. “Lieutenant, take point.”
“Heh. With pleasure.”
The elevator chimed incongruously cheerfully, and the doors slid open onto a scene of pre-existing chaos. The turrets appeared to have gone haywire, although no doubt it was only Risha’s appropriation of their systems. The enemy soldiers were bunkered down too deeply to throw grenades at them, hiding from lasers, flame-throwers, and even fire-extinguishers spraying foam in their direction. Pierce charged from the elevator, roaring a war-cry and throwing a grenade; soldiers ducked back hastily from it. The others stormed up in his wake, especially Jaesa, who threw herself into the fray in a fairly suicidal fashion considering she could not deflect laser blasts as she normally did.
In a surprisingly short time the soldiers had retreated and the turrets retracted, what was left of them. “Spar, watch that corridor and I’ll watch this one,” Pierce growled to Akaavi, who grunted in response and took up a defensive position.
“Now if you blow through the flat wall in front of you, you can skip the labyrinth designed to slow her down,” Risha said. “Akaavi has one missile left, perhaps you could use that.”
“No need.” Quinn pointed to the wall. “If you could make ingress here, Jaesa.” She stepped forward and began to slash through the wall.
Even before the entry point had been completely established, he could hear that one horrible noise that he hated above all else: Akuliina’s screaming.
He ought to have let Pierce go first, but he was filled with blind emotion, shoving past the lieutenant and diving through the hole in the wall. He rolled into position behind the closest desk, though his shoulder lanced in agony, and came up firing. Return fire had missed his head by centimetres, but he had no time for panic now. The room had three desks, an operating table, a bizarre half-coffin object which held Akuliina, two men in white coats, a holoprojection, and four soldiers, one of whom was already dead thanks to his shots.
Vette was next, and then Tu’sienni and Jaesa. “Where’s Pierce?” Quinn demanded over the gunfire and the screaming. There was no cessation; she probably wasn’t even aware they were in the room.
“Guys in the elevator!” Vette answered. He glanced back and saw that it was so; he hadn’t even noticed in his focus to get into that room.
“The guys on the next floor up broke the elevator lock-down, so it looks like Pierce and Akaavi are holding them back,” Risha said. “Reinforcements are approaching this office as well, and I can’t lock it down since we exploded the door to get in. I’m going to have to take Corso and retreat pretty soon.”
“Understood,” Quinn said.
“I’ll deactivate all turrets and destroy the consoles. After that, we’ll be pulling out of the warehouse entirely. Good luck!”
“And you,” Quinn said, as the last guard fell to one of Vette’s shots. He rose, pointing his pistol at the men in white coats. “Whatever you’re doing to her, stop it!”
One of them dithered, shaking, but the other went to a console by the contraption and pushed a lever, and the awful, awful sound stopped. Akuliina’s head lolled forward, tears leaking from her closed eyes and drool from her mouth. Blood ran from her lips as if she had bitten through them, and her make-up was streaked across her face.
She was held in what looked almost like a coffin that had the head cut off, a personal prison that completely immobilized her – and did who knew what else. “Get her out of there.” The doctors, or whatever they were, dithered some more. “NOW!”
“So you’re the infamous Commodore Quinn,” said a new voice, and Quinn glared briefly at the holoprojector. Evryn Kadolan had been in the middle of gloating over his prize, it seemed – a man of medium height, slightly shorter than Quinn, with light, probably-blond hair, wearing military armour with the Kuati flag proudly emblazoned on it. “Of all the men in the galaxy, and she chose you?”
The coffin split down the middle, revealing a skeletal structure holding her in place and a number of other ominous tubes and needles; the restraints opened and she fell forward into his arms, completely limp, although he suspected she was still conscious. And had been conscious. The bastards. “Base insinuations aside, if you have anything useful to say, say it now or shut up.” If there was even a chance of gleaning useful information out of their enemy, he would take it.
She was moving, slowly, in a very disoriented fashion. “Evvvvv…” she mumbled, as if her face wouldn’t make sounds the way she wanted it to.
He hushed her, giving her a reassuring squeeze. “Everything is under control, my lady.” It wasn’t, but she didn’t need the stress right now.
Kadolan snorted derisively. “I don’t suppose I have much to say now that you’ve ruined my first plan. I knew she would be weak here, powerless, frightened; defiant but easy prey. I would have liked to show her how Kuat would flourish under my leadership before I killed her. But though your successes against my men are somewhat impressive, now you’ve come to free her, and I can’t have that. Computer, initiate Code 3412-”
Quinn struggled a hand free from holding Akuliina and shot the holoprojector, but he knew it was too late. Whatever this code did – and it was almost certainly not good – it was almost certainly underway. He rounded on the panicking doctors. “Tell me what this code does! Tell me everything about this operation and what you’ve done to her!”
“The command is a failsafe in case Lord Akuliina broke free,” said one of them. “In seconds the entire building will explode.”
An unspecified tiny amount of time? “Vette! Can you stop it!?” He scooped Akuliina safely into his arms, unheeding of his impaired shoulder and the confused, vaguely angry noises she was making.
Vette had already run to the closest console and was frantically typing. “I- I’m trying! The program’s on top and I think I got in, but the best I can do is delay it!”
There was no time. “How long?” Either Kadolan hadn’t bothered to codesafe his failsafe, or Vette was just that good. Perhaps he ought to thank her personally afterwards, if they survived.
“About two minutes, 120 seconds!”
“Well this is tense,” Captain Tu’sienni commented gaily. “I haven’t been on a timer this strict since I was making out with the man who stole my ship on another ship that was falling into a black hole-”
“Reminisce later!” Quinn barked. “Lieutenant, we’re leaving! Captain, bring the doctors!”
Pierce roared, but Jaesa was the one who charged, her lightsaber drawing sparks from the durasteel floor, screaming like a possessed manka cat. The enemy faltered at what must look to them either like insanity or sheer doom; either a woman running to her death, armed with a close combat weapon against ranged weapons at range, or a Sith lord about to destroy them all.
Before they could find out which was correct, Pierce and Akaavi Spar had followed her, scything blaster rifle fire indiscriminately across their enemies. They dashed together past the dying men and piled into the elevator with Tu’sienni leading the doctors.
Vette was on her commlink. “Risha! You’re out of the building, right? Because it’s going to blow up real soon!”
One of the doctors knelt before Quinn. “Thank you, oh thank you-”
Quinn resisted the urge to kick him. “Shut up.” They were going to have to run again, and he wasn’t saving them out of the kindness of his heart. The elevator dinged happily and the doors opened. “Go! To the back door!” It was only around a couple corners, if he recalled correctly, but the corridors hadn’t seemed so long on the way in. Pierce kicked open the door and they were out into the night.
They ran, not knowing how far was far enough, her head bouncing against his uninjured shoulder. The injured one was almost unbearable, but he held on stubbornly, forcing his legs to keep moving. He was quite certain that 75% of his blood had been replaced with adrenaline, and that was a conservative estimate. He heard the sharp roar of the explosion, felt the ground shake violently beneath him, felt a wave of intense heat wash over him-