Into the Dark: Two

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


There are certainly worse ways to end your career than working dock security at the Poksu Mineral Group Refinery Station, Ilari Yomoki thought as he locked his office and started along the dock-front towards the transbus that would take him home. Regular working hours, decent restaurants, a bar I can call my 'local' with a great view of Nonni III ...


He turned. Two squads of marines, their combat armour and weapons recognisably Caldari but not the kind familiar to Ilari as issued to Sukuuvestaa's Peace and Order Unit, were spreading out across the hanger behind him, and closer to him, and heading straight for him, a slim woman in a corporation uniform he didn't recognise.

She was the one who'd spoken. In the time it took Ilari to realise that she'd reached him.

"You're Poksu Security?" she asked brusquely.

"Yes, I - " Ilari blinked, tried to regain control of the situation. "What's the problem?"

His question went unanswered. "Wake up your boss. Close the station down. No-one in or out."

"What? We can't do that, the cost - "

The woman turned away briefly, gesturing to the marines. "Work outwards, fifth squad down the row, ninth up it. Look everywhere, every office, can, locker, hanger, shuttle, loader and lifter. Everywhere." She turned back to Ilari. "There's a woman and a little girl missing, abducted. Wake up your boss. Close it down."

Ilari shook his head. "I'll report it in, we have procedures -"

"They don't have time for procedures!" Her voice rose, thin black lines creeping past her collar and up toward her face. "Do it now or- "

Anything further she might have been going to say was lost beneath the blare of a warning klaxon, signalling the activation of a nearby docking bay. It died away to silence as the bay repressurised, and the doors opened to reveal a handful of shuttles, ramps down, more marines pouring out of them at double-time. Their light power-armour was identical to the marines Ilari had seen before, and without seeming to need orders they split into teams of two and joined the search.

Behind them came a group of what seemed to be civilians, although most had the upright bearing that said military despite their lack of uniforms or insignia. As far as Ilari could tell, these last arrivals seemed all to be Intaki. Some were wearing the protective clothing of lab technicians, and those headed straight for the single shuttle sitting in the Roth hanger.

Ilari tore his gaze away from what was now a medium sized assault force. "Look, who are you?"

"Commander Invelen," the woman said. "XO, Utopian Ideal. Chimera class. And I swear on my ancestors, the last person you'll ever see if you don't stop arguing and start co-operating."

Chimera class. Ilari had never even seen one. He wondered why Invelen, so clearly Caldari, hadn't mentioned the corporation she came from, but the look in her eyes made him think twice about asking any questions.

"I'm not arguing," he said quickly. "Just saying - they won't close the station for a missing persons case."

"What would it take for them to close it?" Invelen asked.

"Uh - " Ilari racked his brains. "Um, they'd wave off ships if there was a major fire. Oh! A bomb, if they thought it was on the docking bay accesses, the external accesses. They'd hold ships in dock while the search - "

"Good lad," Invelen said, although Ilari guessed she was at least twenty years younger than he was, and turned away for a moment.

As she turned back the low, penetrating tone of the alert siren began to echo through the docking area. Ilari's earpiece buzzed to life. All personnel, we have an active incident in progress. Security procedures Alpha Nine now in place.

He stared at Invelen. "Did you - ?"

She dismissed his question with a curt gesture. "Now, I want you to pull everyone in your direct line and get them looking. Starting at this hanger, the Roth hanger, and working outward. They're looking for three Intaki: a man, bit taller than me, fair hair, woman, 'bout this big - " She gestured. "And a little girl, seven, reddish hair. We'll have pictures for you in five minutes. The man's dangerous. Very. Suspected anti-Provist terrorist, in fact. The other two are hostages. And I want to see your security footage of this section of the docks, right away."

Ilari nodded. "How far do you want them to search? I mean, they've probably left the station and - "

"We're querying CONCORD records now. If they jumped, we'll follow. If they docked up somewhere, we'll know. And if they're lying low in some asteroid field, well." Invelen smiled predatorially. "I know a pilot who won't find that too much of a challenge. But if they're still here - this station is going to be searched top to bottom. Every apartment, shop, office, hab unit, corridor, storage unit ..."

"Do you know how long that will take?"

"I will take this station apart with my bare hands and leave the pieces to burn up falling into the planet if I have to," Invelen said levelly. Ilari glanced at her hands and realised for the first time the grey colour was not due to gloves but to the dull metallic gleam of undisguised prosthetics. She noticed his look, "And I'll take apart anyone who gets in my way. Now show me that footage. Move!"

Ilari moved.

It felt to him like he didn't stop moving for twelve hours.

He'd barely finished showing Invelen the footage when a half-a-dozen of the Intaki civilians showed up at his office door. This is Tanith Burke, Invelen had said. Give him what he asks for. Burke, I've got to speak to the station's security director. Keep me posted on what you find.

Burke and his people had taken over the office, politely but implacably. Whatever Invelen said in her meeting with the station's security director resulted in new orders for Ilari and all the other Poksu Security staff: full co-operation.

And a rider, only for him: Officer Yomoki to act as liaison with our visitors, dockside.

That meant opening up the security mainframe for Burke to suck footage and records onto the terminal he'd set up at Ilari's own desk. It meant pulling up maps and occupancy records, and pointing out to politely efficient marines the nooks and crannies that every dockworker and security officer knew could hide a crew-member shirking work or a student playing truant. It meant making calls to annoyed business-owners to tell them that if they weren't down to unlock their premises in five minutes the door would be opened with the kind of master key that you could load into a shotgun.

It meant making himself a buffer between the increasingly tired searchers and the increasingly large number of station inhabitants who'd been woken from sleep, roused from their beds, their homes searched by professional soldiers whose priority was speed rather than courtesy. And if the residents here are upset ... Ilari had overheard enough of Burke's orders to know that ships that had undocked from the Poksu station in the past hours were being held and searched all over the system, and the ones who'd left Nonni were being tracked. The resources that implied were staggering.

Being dockside liaison also meant he was out on the dockside, trying to calm an engineer who wasn't being given access to his ship, when the first bodies were carried out of the Roth shuttle.

One, two ... The sight silenced the irate engineer. Three, four ...

"Spirits," the engineer said, shook his head, and turned to leave.

Five, six ...

One of the technicians stumbled at the end of the ramp, and grabbed at the trolley to steady himself, nearly tipping it over.

"Careful!" Invelen snapped, making Ilari jump. Where did she come from? I didn't hear a sound! "Gently!"

She strode forward to right the trolley herself, glaring at the hapless fumblefoot.

"Commander," Burke called, and with a final frown Invelen turned. Wordlessly, Burke shook his head.

Invelen clenched her fists. "Where haven't we looked?"

Ilari wondered if he should go back to the office, but the temptation to eavesdrop was irresistible.

"Everywhere has been searched," Burke said. "Between the marines and our own personnel ... we turned up sixteen unregistered exotic pets, a hundred and forty three caches of prohibited or restricted substances - seven of trafficking quantity - fifty-seven illegal small-arms and the body of a junior executive whose wife reported him missing last week after he filed divorce papers. But ..."

"No Cia. No Camille."

"Security footage picks them up here, heading down toward B-72. A shuttle docked there this morning, name of Pilot Cory Flien. It's not there now. CONCORD records have it outbound via Litiura jumpgate. It's one of fifteen we're still tracing. Top of the list."

"I want any information we pick up on that shuttle sent directly to Captain Night as well as to me," Invelen said.

Burke nodded. "But, you realise, every time he docks up somewhere it adds another ten or twenty ships as possibilities. Running them all down, to rule out the false trails ..."

"Takes time," Invelen said grimly. "We don't have time, Burke. They don't have time."

"We're moving as fast as humanly possible. Faster, even. I'd like to reach out to some of our associates and get them involved to - "

Invelen cut him off. "Do it. Pay what they want. Just get it done."

She turned, surveying the dockside as exhausted-looking marines arrived back in twos and threes, their search fruitless, and again her fists clenched with a faint grinding sound.

Ilari was still staring at her when she glanced around and caught his gaze. "Don't think I said 'please' when we got here," she said with a ghost of a grin. "So it seems like I ought to say 'thank you' now." She gestured around at the open doors on shopfronts and the containers and cans in disarray from the search. "Especially since this is going to take some cleaning up, and I'm afraid we can't stay around to help."

"You're going to try and find that terrorist, right?" Ilari asked. "And his hostages?"

"Not try," Invelen corrected him. "I'll find him. And he'll be sorry ... for all of it."

Ilari nodded. "They're important, these people?" he ventured. "The ones he took?"

Invelen paused. "Yes," she said at last. "Important." She looked at the abandoned shuttle, empty now of its dead. "More than you can begin to imagine."

Someone called her then from inside one of the transports that had brought her troops. Ilari watched as she strode across the dockside and up the ramp. The landing lights stippled her uniform and glinted off her metal hands, orange, yellow, green, and in the shifting light Ilari thought for a moment that Invelen looked as tired as her troops, as tired as he himself was.

Then she lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders. Just a trick of the light, Ilari thought, watching Invelen as she reached the end of the ramp and, stepping over the rim of the hatch, disappeared into the dark.

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