Planetfall: 7

Pang and Whitlock moved silently in front of the technician's quarters. On a ship of a thousand people, it would be easy enough for anyone curious to find out who was behind an act of violence against another crew member. They wore face masks anyway. A delay of an hour or so would be enough to arrange an emergency pod back home, in the worst case.

Garima stood lookout down the hallway, a spare laundry cart within his reach. Manu was on the security cameras, ready to abort the operation at the first sign of trouble. With a quick tap of his earpiece, Pang received the go-ahead. He plugged his override mechanism into the keyslot by the door. In eight seconds, the software had brute-forced the security mechanism, and the door slid open.

The hastily constructed plan called for them to do this in ten seconds. The plan itself had been concocted twenty minutes ago, when Manu's passive monitoring had detected an irregularity in the access port to the heavy equipment bay, well outside of regular working hours. A cross-check had pinged Enriquez and Pang's strange technician, one of five individuals flagged as possible Orthodoxy agents. Kumaran had given the order immediately.

Pang and Whitlock switched on their IR visors and hurried inside. The foyer was clear, and they immediately worked their way into the bedroom. Their quarry, rather than lying in bed, was lodged in the corner of the room, apparently trying to walk into it, muttering something unintelligible under his breath.

There was no time for confusion. Pang leaped across the room, placing the technician in a choke hold while covering his mouth with his free hand. Whitlock had the tranquilizer gun ready, delivering a calculated dose of etorphine directly to the technician's bloodstream via a small space over the carotid artery by Pang's choke hold. A small burst of air from the gun, the sound of brief, muffled cries, and then silence. The technician went completely limp in Pang's grasp. They would have time to check for respiration and a heart beat later.

Pang tapped his earpiece once more. Garima answered back with his own signal. Pang lifted the now-unconscious technician in a fireman's carry across his shoulders, while Whitlock took point on the way back out of the quarters. The operatives rushed back out into the hall, where Garima was waiting. The technician was quickly dumped into the laundry cart, some spare sheets draped over him to prevent any cursory glances from blowing their cover. Pang inserted the override mechanism once more into the key slot. The door slid closed. Garima had already pushed the cart out of sight towards the staging point. Pang and Whitlock quickly made their way in the other direction, removing their face masks for the trip back.

Pang looked at his wristwatch. Twenty-eight seconds.


He counted ten minutes after the operation. Only then did he dare to unscrew the vent cover, conveniently located in the bedroom closet.

In the darkness of an unseen alcove, Inventor Spline gripped the sides of the vent opening in the ceiling, in one fluid motion hauling his skeletal, brass form into the ship's ventilation system.

His calculations had confirmed that, with the spare energy reserves he had made sure were available in the exosuit, he would have enough to get to the Confici. Once he was there, he was certain energy reserves would no longer be an issue.

Spline bid a silent farewell once and for all to his flesh, before beginning a steady, mechanical crawl back to the heavy equipment bay.

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