Challenging saber, p.10
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       Challenging Saber, p.10

           S. E. Smith
 
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  Razor nodded. “We believe the Waxians have struck a deal with a select group of Disesians to supply the Drethulans with the ore necessary to manufacture weapons. The Drethulans are not happy with the expansion of the Alliance into their territories. The Alliance Council believes that the Drethulans are building up their military,” he explained.

  “All-out war?” Dagger asked.

  Razor glanced at all the men, pausing on Hunter who nodded. “None of this leaves this room,” Razor said. “We’ve been working with a new species on the outer rim of the galaxy that recently joined the Alliance. They were the first to warn us of the Drethulans military expansion. The Drethulans are not aware that we are working with the Kassisans. I suspect that the video we received came from one of their men. I suspect one of them has infiltrated the Drethulans inner circle.”

  “I didn’t think the Drethulans trusted anyone,” Dagger retorted, leaning back in his seat.

  Razor glanced at him before drawing in a deep breath. “They don’t. I didn’t ask how the Kassisan was able to gain their trust, I’m just glad he is on our side,” he responded.

  “Do you have a blueprint of the fortress?” Saber asked.

  He had been silent while the rage that had started smoldering inside of him six days ago exploded, blazing inside him. Watching the Waxian strike Taylor had been the last straw. He would kill the bastard once he knew Taylor was safe.

  “Saber, this is more than just Taylor,” Razor started to say.

  “No, it’s not,” Hunter interjected, watching warily as Saber rose from his seat. “This is Taylor, Razor. My Amate’s sister.”

  “And mine,” Dagger said, rising as well. “This is personal.”

  “Do you have a blueprint of the fortress?” Saber repeated in a cold voice.

  Razor sighed and shook his head. “No, the Waxian was very careful about making sure all the recorders were destroyed. We have a basic diagram, and research from the time period the structure was built has given us additional probabilities on the layout.”

  “There will only be the six of us,” Razor warned.

  “Ten,” Thunder said, pushing his chair back and standing. “Once we release the other four warriors.”

  “Plus the Kassisan,” Sword added.

  “Eleven if we are lucky against a hundred or more,” Razor pointed out. “I’ve refused the Alliance Council’s orders to send in the destroyers. There are too many civilians being held as hostages. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but in this case, it is.”

  “Why?” Hunter asked with a raised eyebrow.

  Razor grimaced. “Because this time it is personal,” he admitted. “Jesse and Jordan both contacted me shortly before you arrived and made me swear to bring Taylor, and you two, home safe. I think Jordan hacked into your system again,” he added dryly, glancing at Hunter.

  “Shewta!” Hunter and Dagger muttered at the same time.

  Chapter 14

  Saber drew in a deep breath of the frigid air, embracing the chill of it in his lungs. It matched his icy resolve. He glanced over his shoulder when he saw Dagger walking toward him. Final preparations were being made for their departure. They would break up into teams and go in from different directions: Hunter and Razor, Thunder and Sword, he, Trig, and Dagger.

  The plan was to find and rescue Taylor and the four warriors. Saber would take Taylor to safety while the other men systematically took out the Waxian forces.

  Razor wanted to capture the bastard that struck Taylor. It was obvious he was the leader of the Waxians and Razor was determined to get all the information he knew about the Drethulans’ current movements. Saber wanted to kill the male – slowly.

  “The skids have arrived,” Dagger said.

  “I know,” Saber replied, staring out across the barren landscape. “With the skids, Razor said it would take about an hour and a half to get there.”

  Dagger nodded. “It is the only way to ensure that we go in silent. Are you ready for this?” He asked.

  Saber turned and glared at Dagger. “Are you asking if I’m capable of finding Taylor and getting her out?” He demanded in a harsh tone.

  Dagger shook his head. “No,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I know you can do that. I’m asking if you will keep it together once you find her. There is no telling what the Waxian has done to her. I know what they are capable of,” he murmured, returning Saber’s gaze with a steady one of his own. “He won’t care that she is a female. If anything, he will be even crueler because he sees little value in her. She wouldn’t last the first round in a fight ring.”

  Saber’s jaw tightened. Dagger wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. Taylor’s move may have shown them the true faction behind the civil war that was raging between the two regions, but she had also sealed her fate. The Waxian would slowly drain the life out of her.

  Both men turned when Hunter and Razor walked up to them. Saber noticed the grim expression on Razor’s face. He waited, steeling himself for what Razor was about to tell them.

  “I just received an update from our informant. He suggests that if we plan on saving the remaining prisoners, we strike now,” Razor bit out in a harsh voice.

  “Remaining?” Saber asked, his throat tightening.

  Razor nodded. “The Waxian decided it was necessary to have a public showing of what happens to traitors,” he explained in a voice laced with anger. “Several Eastern captives and one of the Trivator warriors named Ember fought two Gartaians. Ember was killed.”

  “Taylor?” Saber asked in a husky voice.

  “She was forced to watch,” Razor replied.

  Saber drew in a hissing breath. “The Waxian is mine to kill,” he said, looking at Razor.

  Razor gave Saber a sharp-toothed grin. “After I get the information out of him, you can do what you want,” he promised. “It is time to go. Our informant gave us some additional information about the fortress. There are three ancient drainage tunnels leading into it. I’ve uploaded the maps to your tablet. Taylor is being held in the uppermost turret. The remaining warriors and prisoners are being held in the underground cells.”

  “Saber and I will go after Taylor,” Dagger said with a nod.

  “Are you sure you can trust this Kassisan?” Saber asked, staring at Razor.

  Razor shook his head. “No, but at this point, we don’t have much choice,” he replied, turning back toward the skids. “We’ll split up five kilometers out.”

  *.*.*

  Taylor growled and kicked the door. A muted curse of pain escaped her. The only thing kicking a metal door did was hurt her foot. Hopping, she briefly rubbed it with her left hand before releasing it to stand and gaze around the room.

  “I’m going to roast that guy’s balls in the hottest oven I can find,” she muttered as she stared at the bare room.

  There wasn’t even a bed in the room, or a blanket! Hell, they hadn’t even given her a pot to pee in. Her nose wiggled in distaste. Her gaze rose to the narrow window. The fortress was just that, an ancient fortress that was built back in the stone age of the planet. It looked like some of those buildings she had studied when she was back on Earth.

  She stepped back, gazing up at the narrow slit. Turning, she looked at the other three that were designed to allow fresh air and a small measure of light into the room. She raised her hand, trying to gage how wide they were.

  Biting her lip, she debated if she should try to escape. She turned back to the door and sighed. There was no way she was getting out that way. The door was made of the thick metal that the Disesians mined. The stuff was incredibly strong.

  And hurt like hell when you kicked it, she thought in disgust.

  “Well, I’m not just going to sit around and let that crazy bastard use me as monster food,” she muttered with a shudder.

  This morning’s time in the ‘arena’ had shown her exactly how she didn’t want to die. Her eyes burned as she remembered the poor sou
ls that had died as the small audience cheered. She brushed a hand across her chin to wipe away the tear that escaped and winced in pain. She forgot about the lovely bruise she had. She had lied to the camera. The ass-wipe didn’t hit like a girl.

  “I can do this,” she whispered, eyeing the northern window.

  She backed up and played out how many moves she would have to make to reach it. Fortunately, the inside of the room was not as finished as the rest of the fortress.

  “Thank goodness they got tired of polishing walls by the time they built this stupid part,” she muttered, shaking out her legs and arms. “Just remember what Kali said; use the formation of the building to help you get up to where you want to go.”

  Drawing in a deep breath, she sprinted forward. Jumping, she used the uneven walls to give her hands and feet something to hold onto. She pushed off, using her leg muscles to give her the added boost. Her fingers scraped the ledge of the window before she felt gravity working against her, pulling her back down to the floor.

  She twisted and landed with her knees bent, rolling on her left shoulder and coming back up onto her feet in a crouching position. Shaking out the trembling in her limbs, she rose to her feet and focused again. This was just like when she was in gymnastics and learning a new routine.

  She cleared her mind of everything but the move until she could see was each step of it. Breathing deeply, she rocked back and forth until she could feel the timing was right. Sprinting, she jumped again. She ignored the pain in her fingers as the rough rock cut into them.

  Her fingers gripped the edge. She gritted her teeth as she held herself for a brief second before she pushed up with her toes. She was panting by the time she finally got up far enough to look out the narrow opening. She kicked her feet until she could wiggle enough to sit on the sill.

  She looked out over the landscape. The moon lit the area with just enough light to give her a pretty good view of the terrain below. The lower areas were dark. She’d discovered there wasn’t any electricity installed in the fortress when she was being moved from one part of the building to another. All lighting had to be done using either generators or the good old fashion torch method. All she knew was that it would work in her favor when escaping.

  She glanced down at her hands with a grimace before leaning far enough out the window to see what was below her. Her eyes widened when she saw a flat roof with a hatch a little over ten feet down from the tower window. There were also long pieces of timber sticking out from where the tower was built.

  “Awesome!” She whispered, glancing at the door and giving it a one finger salute. “Hasta la vista, jerk wads.”

  Scooting up until she was standing, she carefully turned in the opening and lowered herself down until she was on her stomach with her legs hanging over the side. Holding on to the lip, she felt around with her right foot until she felt wood.

  She slid her foot back and forth until she felt confident she could put both feet down without losing her balance. Shifting her weight, she slowly lowered her body onto the narrow beam sticking out of the wall. Holding onto the wall as best she could, she glanced over her shoulder and swallowed.

  “Just think of it as a balance beam,” she whispered. “You can do this, Taylor. You kicked ass at the National Championship.”

  She glanced down over her right shoulder. Six feet. She could do this. The roof was only about six feet down. Turning carefully, she drew in a deep breath and focused. Counting to three, she lowered herself down onto the two foot section of wood, balancing herself as she squatted down, placing her hands between her legs until she could sit on the wood.

  Blowing out her breath, she placed her left hand on the outside of her thigh and twisted, centering her weight, and awkwardly lowered herself down. She worked her body around until she was lying across the wood. Scooting backwards again, she felt for the next piece of wood with the toe of her boot.

  “One more, then you can jump,” she told herself, trying to boost her confidence.

  She lowered her weight onto it, and gasped when the edge of the wood gave way. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out and alerting someone. Her hands instinctively reached up to grab the section she had just been on while her feet frantically scrambled to find a section of the wood that wasn’t rotten.

  It took several times before she finally found a small foothold. It wouldn’t be enough to hold her. Glancing over her shoulder, she let go, twisting as she fell. Her arms swung out to try to keep her upright. She bent her legs and rolled when she hit the wooden planksroof of the small lookout. Within seconds of landing, she knew why no one was there when the roof made a cracking noise before it disintegrated underneath her weight.

  Taylor covered her head with her arms as she fell through the opening. She landed on her back amid the dust created by the rotted wood made from centuries of neglect. She moaned and rolled, trying to cover her nose and mouth at the same time as she drew in gasping breaths to replenish the air knocked out of her. Smothering a cough, she finally rolled onto her back again and gaze up at the dark sky.

  She waited to see if the noise had attracted any attention. The only sounds she heard came from the occasional piece of wood that still fell and the wind. Breathing a sigh of relief, she winced as she sat up. Rubbing her left hip, she rose shakily to her feet and stared up at the tower window that she had just escaped from.

  It sure did look a lot higher from down here than it did from up there, she thought as she stiffly straightened.

  Glancing down, she carefully picked her way over the collapsed roof to the stairs. A look of doubt crossed her face as she stared down at them. They didn’t look like they were in much better shape than the roof.

  “Oh well,” she whispered, straightening her shoulders. “It isn’t like you have a lot of choice in the matter.”

  Bracing her hand against the wall, she slowly began her descent, testing each step before she actually put all her weight on it. At the rate she was going, she should reach the bottom by her ninetieth birthday, she thought with disgust as the darkness closed in around her.

  *.*.*

  Saber leaned forward on the skid, pushing it to the limit. The vehicle silently sped across the desert floor, reaching speeds of close to six hundred kilometers per hour. The actual travel time to reach the bottom of the mountain would only be an hour and a half. The additional time would be scaling the sides undetected and breaching the interior walls through the three separate drainage tunnels.

  An hour and twenty minutes later, Thunder and Sword turned to the northeast as the mountain came into view. Ten minutes later, Hunter and Razor turned in the opposite direction. Saber, Dagger, and Trig remained fixed on their heading, slowing to a crawl five minutes afterward as the rocky base of the mountain prevented them from traveling any faster.

  “The entrance to the drainage tunnel should be just ahead,” Dagger informed him.

  “I see it,” Saber replied, pulling back on the throttle and bringing the skid to a stop. “Nine meters up and to your left.”

  Saber climbed off the skid and walked over to a series of rocks that had fallen over the years. Reaching up, he gripped a protruding section and began climbing. Under his uniform he could feel the brace activate. The pulsation caused the muscles to contract and release, stabilizing his leg.

  “You good?” Trig asked, joining him.

  Saber shot Trig a heated glance. “Does it look like I’m having trouble?” He snapped in annoyance.

  Trig grinned and shook his head. “No. I might need to look into that brace,” he said, pulling himself up. “I swear I’m getting too old for this shit. Why can’t the bad guys hide out in easier locations?”

  “Because they wouldn’t make very good bad guys,” Dagger retorted, climbing ahead of his brother.

  All three men moved like silent ghosts up the rock face to the entrance. An old iron-ore gate covered the opening. Saber pulled a laser cutter out of the equipment
pouch at his waist and sliced through it. Dagger and Trig grabbed the piece, holding it steady for a moment before they lowered it to the ground.

  “That’s a heavy piece of shit,” Dagger muttered as he let go and stood up.

  Saber nodded. “That is why the Drethulans want it. The weapons are heavy, but they’ll survive just about anything,” he replied under his breath.

  “Great! Just what we need, those weird worm-shifters with armor,” Trig grumbled with a shudder. “Be thankful you missed that fight, Dagger.”

  Dagger shook his head. “I fought just about everything else,” he reminded Trig before moving to the side so Saber could go ahead of them.

  “Sometimes you need to learn when to shut up,” Saber informed Trig under his breath before he stepped around him.

  Saber adjusted the MMOS, or Multi-mode-optical Scanner, goggles he had worn during the trip to help him see in the increased darkness. Touching the side, he scanned for any alarms. The scan came up negative.

  “They must not have done their homework as well as the Kassisan did,” Dagger murmured, stepping in behind him and letting Trig take the rear.

  “It makes me wonder what else the Kassisan knows and hasn’t told us,” Saber retorted as he stepped over some debris that had washed down from the drainage above.

  Chapter 15

  Taylor remained frozen against the wall. She hoped the guard didn’t turn and come down the small hallway where she had hidden the moment she heard him coming. She shivered, also hoping there were no creepy crawlies hiding in the narrow passage with her.

  She was exhausted, but fear was giving her the strength to continue. It had taken her a good hour or more to get out of the lower tower. So far, none of her captors appeared to be aware that she had escaped. One look at the roof of the shorter tower and they probably assumed that she had fallen to her death!

 
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