Returning to the shuttle with a new slave in tow caused a bit of a stir with the girls, but I simply shrugged, and told them that she was the ‘Hidden’ reward from the original notice on the job board, so there wasn’t anything for it. Plus, it would be good to have a backup pilot and mechanic in case either Shearah or I get hurt. Or we have to do things in two places at the same time.
I left the Stepford protocols on, to keep Nyna compliant until we could get back to the Raven and I figured out what to do with her on a more permanent basis. I didn’t want her coming up with a two-bit escape attempt while we were chasing the missing harvester and whatever else we might find out here. Sure, I’d respawn from a backstabbing slave killing me, but if whatever she pulled took out some of the others, they were done.
Now we were flying over the desert, heading for the last known coordinates of the missing harvester. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from this. The best reasonable outcome was that we’d find a derelict, probably destroyed harvester, and have to repair the radio to communicate to the owners. The crew was probably long dead by now, or ran off (especially if they were slaves). It had been almost two days since the harvester went silent, and we were the first ones who could get out to see what had happened.
We were flying low over a rocky area about 10 kilometers from the last known location of the Harvester, when Raven called out. “Captain, I think we have them.” She pulled up an image from the rear cameras in our HUDs, and we saw the Harvester, tucked under an outcropping that almost completely shielded it from prying eyes. There were also a couple points of light in what looked like a natural cavern behind it. “I think we may have found a raider base.”
I didn’t slow down to take a look. “Mark it on our maps, Raven. If there’s anyone alive down there, they’ll have definitely heard us passing so close overhead, even if their sensors can’t see us. We’ll set down out of sight, and then walk back.”
“And what about the shuttle?”
“Fortunately, we have a new, very loyal pilot who can stay behind.” Eyes turned to Nyna, before I continued, “We’ll wait until we’re out of sight, and then come around slow. Nyna will stay in the shuttle, ready to come when we issue the order. Carissa, you’ll be with her, as an extra set of eyes, and to help on the weapons if they’re needed. I know you haven’t done that before, but I need Jaynie and Cali with me, where most of the fighting will be.”
Carissa nodded. She was the weakest of the girls in terms of actual combat, and she knew it. And it was good to have a second person on the shuttle, just in case Nyna somehow managed to overcome the Stepford protocols and do something stupid. It was a big, hot desert, and I didn’t feel like getting left in the sun.
We set down at the edge of the rocky area, on the far side from the cavern where we had caught a glimpse of the harvester. Honestly, if we hadn’t been flying low on this exact trajectory, it is doubtful that we would have spotted the thing. Even still, the only reason we caught it was because Raven was here, and reviewing the sensor data with AI speed.
It was only a little after our landing when we came across the first sentry. As the one with the best stealth skills in the party, I was leading the way. I doubted I could have hid from a trained Freemen scout, but I wasn’t dealing with a Freemen scout. I wasn’t dealing with a Freeman at all, as his stilsuit was clearly of ‘city’ make, rather than ‘desert’ make. It was an inferior model, but invested more in things offworlders liked, such as armor.
All the body armor in the world doesn’t do you any good if it doesn’t keep you from getting your throat slit in the night. And between Widowmaker’s Bladeshimmer effect and the ability it got when I hit level 20, the poor bastard never even got a chance to call for help.
Unique – Scaling
20 – 40
This dagger is made of a rare Gycep Blood Crystal. When bonded with a wielder by tasting their blood with an infusion of their Psy, the dagger allows the wielder to channel their Psy through the dagger, causing it to grow in power as they do. Blood Daggers are each unique, and can carry unusual powers. The wielder does not choose what powers the dagger develops, but the way they use the dagger may influence the dagger’s development.
+20 STR, +20 DEX, +20 CHA
Bladeshimmer – 100 PP. This Weapon ignores all armor and defense for 5 seconds.
Silent Death – Sneak Attacks cause the victim to be Silenced for 5 seconds.
Scaling – This is a scaling item. Item improves with character level. Gains abilities every 10 character levels.
Soulbound – This item is soulbound to you. It cannot be stolen, traded, or lost while you live. If you die, there is a 10% chance the item will lose its binding may be looted from you.
“Sentry neutralized. We’re in the right place. Everyone keep low, and keep quiet. There might be an entrance near here.” I hadn’t really had any use for the telepathic benefits of the Torc of Dominion, but I’d marked all my older slaves anyway so that I could communicate with them telepathically, if I needed to. But for the moment, I was sticking with subvocalizing into our comms, so I could talk to everyone. I hadn’t marked the Princess or Jaynie, since they were free people, and despite getting Raven’s consent for the experiment, it seemed that it was impossible to mark an AI with the Torc’s power. So if I wanted team comms, I needed to use the comms.
We were wraiths against the rocks as we moved out, quietly looking for more sentries, or an entrance to the caverns beneath the rock. Three more sentries were found, and neutralized, and we still hadn’t found the concealed entrance that must be somewhere in the middle of the four. Whoever had designed this place had clearly not wanted to have unexpected visitors, and had done a good job hiding the front door.
I was about to give up on finding the entrance, and just move directly to the Harvester, when a piece of rock moved in front of me! Ok, so it turned out to not be simple rock, but a camouflage curtain that blended in well enough that in the darkness I could not tell the difference. The simple ways are the best, after all. No one has the patience to go searching for things under the desert sun, when the curtain could be seen for what it was from the ground, and at night the curtain was the same temperature and color as the surrounding rock, making it hard to spot.
Very tricky. I was again reminded that, if we hadn’t managed to spot the Harvester in the dying light, we would have already failed this quest, or at least been far behind where we were now. It was good to have luck and a sentient AI on your side.
Titles: Thug, Scout
As for why the curtain was now moving? Well, that would be one of the raiders coming out to check on his buddies. He’d already seen me, since I was literally standing right in front of him as he came out of the hidden entrance, so a stealth kill was out of the question. As the startled man moved to bring up his rifle, I hit him with a Charm Person power. The way the man suddenly stilled made me breathe easier. Yes, I was specialized in mental Psy powers, but the risks when they failed were pretty high.
After confirming that there were no others coming out the passage behind him, the girls gathered around me and my new best friend (temporary), and I did a bare bones interrogation.
I started off with the basics. “How many of you are there?”
“Four outside, plus me. Twenty more inside. Some guarding the prisoners.”
“Prisoners? Where did you get the prisoners from?” That was a problem. Prisoners turned into hostages very quickly, and I wasn’t too keen on just letting a whole bunch of innocents get killed because some idiot used them as shields.
“Some from the Harvester. Others are Freemen we caught while coming back from the Harvester raid. We’re going to sell them as slaves when we head back to port. Freemen make for good exotic goods, even if they’re human.”
“How many prisoners do you have?”
“Six from the Harvester. Eight Freemen, all women and children. The men didn’t let themselves get captured.”
“What is the status of the Harvester? Is the communication gear operable?”
“Still works, despite a few blaster holes in the hull that need to be patched to keep sand out. Just turned off the transponder so they couldn’t find us. We’re waiting until the heat dies down, and then we’ll have our own spice production ready to go. Easy money after that.”
“And the flier?” A harvester was all but useless without a flier to get it to processing stations or get it out of harm’s way if things turned ugly.
“Boss captured one a few months back, but didn’t have a Harvester to go with it until now. This is the ticket to the big time. We’ll get to move from raiders to actual smugglers.”
This was the first mention of the Boss. Whoever they were, they were clearly planning on being more than simple raiders. That meant ambition, and the charisma to convince others to play the long game instead of going for quick scores. “Who is your boss?”
“Sana Olana is her name. She’s a Knelfi bitch, and a real cutie, but she knows her stuff. Used to be Confed Marines, they say, before she and her captain had a ‘disagreement’ over her duties on ship that ended up with him dead and her on the run. Now she’s good and dirty like the rest of us. Would love to have a piece of that ass.”
Ah, and I guess I was right in assuming that the raider who had appeared on the mission boards as a target for hitting both smuggler and legit spice harvesting operations was related to the most recent attacks on harvesters. I really hadn’t wanted to go searching the whole planet for her, so it was lucky we’d found the trail.
Turning my attention to the lackey again, I asked, “How long until someone misses you inside?”
“I came to get reports from the sentries. Communications gear doesn’t work well between the rocks and the camouflage systems blocking EM transmissions. Outside it is fine, and inside it is fine, but going outside to inside is no good. So the Boss has one of us step outside every half hour to check with the sentries and make sure everything’s good. Then we step back in, and report. Another hour, and we’ll be doing shift changes.”
“Good, good. Now, I want you to close your eyes and relax.” When the man did so, I quickly drew Widowmaker across his throat, killing him. Looking to the others, I said, “Twenty enemies, fourteen potential friendlies. Looks like we’re in store for close-quarters fighting.”
Be sure to read my published works!
Frozen Soul series (Sci-Fi Supervillain story):
Frozen Soul https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071R125QT
Tales of the Void Traveler https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZZ52G37
Rules-Free VRMMO Life (Dark Fantasy LitRPG):
Volume 1 - Tutorial https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071VPRNDB
Volume 2 - Beginning the Journey https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071VR7M41/
Volume 3 - Wyrmwood https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072QKVBYV
Volume 4 - To the Deeps https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073QSD9S4
Into the Black (Sci-Fi LitRPG):
Book I - Game Start https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071LT5WGL
Book II - Choson Ring https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071X3LL9D
Book III - Alpha Centauri https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073X8J9GF
The Kalipshae Affair (A First Contact Short Story): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0739V6R6T
LitRPG facebook group: