We ended up tracking Guppy by the beacon on the buggy, which indicated a factory at the edge of town, with a forest and farmlands lying beyond. Estella assumed she’d been kidnapped.
“Let’s not waste any time then, we can follow the road until we’re close, and then circle around through the forest, get a good look at the place and see if we can find a good way in?” Mother-hen Aurora was getting anxious. Whoever did this would have it coming.
I stood up in response, in a “What are we waiting for?” way.
“We should commandeer a vehicle,” Aurora suggested, “An hours a long way to go on foot.”
“Let’s ask the barkeep?” Estella looked over at me, “Do you want to give it a go? You’ve been drinking here longest, he’s probably more inclined to do a well paying customer a favor.”
“Sammy, you heard us, can you help?” I asked friendly-like.
He peered over at the display. “Where did you say you needed to go?”
“The factory at the edge of the town. You know the one?”
He looked at it and got a weird expression. “Um, yeah, I’ve heard of it. They started building it, I don’t know, a couple years ago? And they’ve been building and refitting and working on it ever since. Far as I know, it’s not even in operation.”
“And what else?”
“I’m not ever really sure whose factory it is. I think it was maybe in some kind of dispute at one point but I never heard what happened.”
“And that’s all?”
“That’s all I know.” He shrugged.
“And how do we hitch a ride to there?”
“Since you’re helping out here, you can take my ride if you promise to be nice to it.” He tossed a keyring to me.
I caught it easily. “No worries. We will take good care of it.”
We went back to the Xing to gather our gears and there it occurred to Estella that we could just fly the Xing over the factory and call for surrender else we razed the whole building.
“Risky, if they call our bluff we’ll have tipped our hand, and they’ll probably realize we won’t level the place with Guppy inside.” Aurora said.
Estella nodded. “You’re right, let’s stick to the original plan.”
So we ended up hiding in the woods so that we could do some connoisseur first. The factory was not your standard fare. The main structure was huge with various sections that had been cut out or built onto the outside. If you asked me, I would say it looked like someone was running a freak experiment of architecture on it or it was this fusion architecture style that was all the rage on one of the outer fringer planets that I once visited. I didn’t think it would have carried across. There were no windows.
“That’s some odd architecture work.” I commented.
Estella nodded, “It’s like they changed the design specs a half dozen times during building.” She took the spyglass in hand and looked through it.
“Definitely bizarre, maybe it’s some kind of automated production process they’re trying out that ran wild?” Aurora, our resident theoriser.
“Not a lot of ways in from this angle,” Estella passed the spyglass to me. “I’ll slip around through the forest to get a look at the two sides, see if maybe there’s an air vent or something we can sneak in through.”
Aurora eyed one of the trees, “Might be worth climbing up and getting a better vantage, good shot with a rifle could provide covering fire up there too.”
I did as Aurora suggested. From that vantage point, I found a slatted vent in the side of the building. I could see shadows thrown against the wall, showing the outlines of two large persons and one smaller one. Some vines grew along one wall that looked a little odd and just a tad familiar.
I clambered back down and described what I saw. “That small shadow might be Guppy.”
“The vent sounds like the best way in, but the plants… I wonder what those are doing here?” Estella said.
“They are getting to become familiar faces. I would think they put a tracker on us somehow if I didn’t know better.”
“Stray spores from when we took off the first time?” Aurora shrugged. “They got on our ship somehow in the first place, we can worry about that after.”
“Right, do we all want to head in through the vent or maybe pull a distraction to draw off the people while one of us rescues Guppy?” Estella gestured towards the back door. “We could throw a grenade at that, have a couple of us shoot from the trees at whoever shows up to see what the mess is.”
I put my vote up for the distraction trick. Aurora did but worried over where to put me, given that I seemed to be good at both. Estella decided I should grab Guppy out from through the vent and Aurora agreed that was the priority.
“So I shall leave you two out here with the fireworks then.”
Aurora nodded in approval. “Sounds good.”
“Understood, the grate should be easy enough for you to rip off or whatever, let us know when you’re ready to get in there and we’ll demo the door.” Estella told me.
“I will let you know through the com once I get into position.” I said and hurried off. I got about three quarters of the way across when two guards came rushing out of a door holding guns. “Stop right there!”
I opened fire on the left one and tried to swerve around the other.
The one I shot went down. He was not dead, but he was not fighting. The other one saw that and looked uncertain.
I went up, kicked the weapon away from the one down and looked at the one still standing. “If you put your weapon down now, I might settle for a talk. Otherwise…” She signaled with my gun.
He nodded, threw down his gun and ran off away from the factory and me.
I let him go but told Aurora and Estella over the intercom, “Watch out for him in case he sneaks back.”
I kept on running towards the vent. No one else came out. “In position.” I said before I climbed in. I tried to not touch the vines on the wall, in case they came alive. It wasn’t hard. I pried the vent off and climbed in.
It led to a room inside with a desk. It appeared to be a sparsely furnished office. A large bald man was just walking out the door, with his back turned to me. He closed it behind him after he walked out.
Not hearing any other noise in the room, I climbed out and went to the desk. Some small spots of blood were on the desk. I inspected them and saw that there were some more droplets on the edge of the desk, not seen easily unless you looked closely like I was.
“One large bald man who just exited the room. Blood on the edge of desk .” I summarised over the intercom.
“Stand by one sec, Estella’s questioning the guy you got to surrender.” Aurora told me.
“Only three more inside according to this guy, they’ll probably come out here to see what the gunshots of Sam’s were, when they do we’ll take’em down, See if you can find Guppy and take out anyone who gets in your way, this guy apparently has no idea that her, or our ride is in there.” Estella told me after a few minutes had gone by.
“Roger.” I listened at the door, to see if there was any sound. None. Then the delivery door opened.
“Someone coming out from the delivery door.” I told the gals.
“On it,” Aurora told me.
I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, with doors lined along it. There was a set of steps leading down towards the end.
I decided to check out these other doors, just in case Guppy was trapped inside one. Then a shot rang outside. I assumed it was the girls.
“One down, Guppy’s in the sled near the rear door!” Aurora yelled over the intercom.
“Coming.” I stopped what I was doing and hurried down the steps towards the back door. En route, I saw the bald guy who left the office when I was in the vent running from the sled deeper into the factory. I chased him down.
He put his hands up. “Please, don’t shoot.” He shook.
“Now what’s the kidnapping about?”
“It wasn’t me, I swear.” Sweat dripped off his forehead. His eyes darted back and forth.
“No tricks.” I warned him.
“Just please don’t shoot me.”
“Now walk slowly around to the side facing me. Make sure to move very slowly.” I stretched out the word very, to make sure that he understood me.
He took a step, then tried to run past me towards a door. I shot him in the leg. He fell down, crying out “I’m sorry.”
Exasperated, I went over, locked an arm around his throat while lifting him. He had the sense to not struggle.
“Now I will just walk you out the door so we can talk about what happened.”
I brought him outside. Estella was bending over a guy on the ground, frisking him over. Aurora was doing some motherly thing with Guppy. I brought my captive over to the side of the sled and then let go, letting him bang against it. He slid down to the ground, held his head as he cowered.
“Now, tell the story from the beginning.” I told Guppy who was sobbing into Aurora’s arms.
“It’s okay, you’re safe now, tell us what happened, start from the beginning.”
Estella stood up and came over, “I’m going to back up Sam.”
“Stay sharp, I’ll move the sled outside and cuff our other prisoner.” Aurora said.
“I was just gonna go out and play with the sled a little, honest, Aurora.” Guppy told us amidst crying hiccups. “It was a lot of fun, and then I came out this way to see how fast it could go. You know, in the open. But then I… I’m sorry, but I hit something, and I was so worried that I dented it. Dented the sled. And so I stopped to look at it. But then these guys, they just grabbed me from behind.”
“And they were saying, ‘Tell us what you saw!’ and ‘Why are you out here!’ and I thought they were really going to hurt me. They took me in a room, and one of them, he hit me, and they were asking me things and I couldn’t answer.”
“Sounds like they assumed you were spying on them, guessing this factory is being built by the same types as that black tower you three mentioned when you bought the sled.”
“What about this guy?” Aurora glared at another unconscious guy lying on the ground. I didn’t really notice him at first.
“I didn’t see anyone but those other two.”
“Guess he might of been telling the truth then,” Aurora shrugged and hefted the guy up to load him into the back of the sled. She went out of sight.
I glared at my coward still in the thralls of his patheticness.
“We might want to poke around this place a bit, see if there’s anything interesting going on, and if there’s anything we could salvage, as restitution for taking our crew mate prisoner.” Aurora said over the comlink to us.
“We’ve got a cowering idiot too shaky for anything. What do you want to do with him?” I asked her.
“Bring him out here, he can blubber in the back with his unconscious pal, we’ll turn them over to the local sheriff once we’re done here, let them do some time for kidnapping.”
I grabbed hold of him and lugged him across to the back of the sled. He started nodding. “Yes! Yes! Call the sheriff. I can tell him how you shot me in the leg!” I cuffed him on the back of the head. “Shut up!” He did.
Estella snickered. “Shot you in the leg after you kidnapped a little girl and roughed her up you mean.”
He stayed quiet.
“Aurora? Can I look around with you? I don’t want to sit here in the sled with him. And I’m really sorry I took the sled without asking.” Aurora agreed, of course.
“I think you learned a powerful lesson already why you don’t go running off without letting the rest of us know where you went.” She told Guppy, “This is why we have rules, to keep people safe.”
Guppy bought that like syrup, going by how big eyes looked. She nodded. “Yes, Aurora.”
“Given the troubles the locals have been having with people lately, I don’t expect they’ll take too kindly to a kidnapper of little girls,” Estella started on my captive, “They might just lynch you to make an example to the rest, your only real chance of avoiding that is us putting in a good word for you, and for that..” She gestured to the building. “You’re going to tell us everything about this place, why it looks like three drunk architects with dyslexia built it, what goes on here, what your job is, and who you report to.”
He looked over at me, then back to Estella, and his face went pale. He blubbed a bit, sweaty profusely. He tried to talk but his voice cracked so he cleared his throat. He looked carefully between me and Estella again before finally telling us that it’s some discarded factory that was under a legal dispute and they decided to use it from time to time.
“Use it for what?” I prodded him.
“Well…” He went quiet, I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. He looked up after a bit and admitted to being part of a smuggling operation.
“He’s up to his tricks again.” I warned the others. “Right, now you are talking.”
“I swear, it’s the truth. They come by every few weeks, we help them sneak stuff on or off planet. We thought the kid there, um, was going to blow our meet.”
“When are they due next?” Estella asked him.
“Well… uh, they got scared off this time. Probably be a few more weeks. More, if they’re spooked.” His gaze was firmly fixed to the floor as he said this.
I looked across at the two gals, silenting asking “What do you do about him now?”
“That means you’ve got supplies waiting for the next pick up, show us where they’re stashed.” Aurora told him. That startled him.
“No, this was a drop off meet. They were delivering. We didn’t have anything for them. Are you going to put in a good word about us now? I mean, we aren’t doing anything to hurt anyone. The kid was just, a, uh, misunderstanding.”
Estella shook her head. “Drop off, that means the supplies are going somewhere, where specifically?”
“We, uh, hold the goods, get them stored away here in the factory. Then someone else comes by a few days later, we load up their trucks, and it’s all good. We don’t know anything else about anything. Honest.”
“So you expect us to believe you decided to just hang out at an empty drop point for a few weeks in the middle of nowhere?” Aurora gave him a doubtful expression. “You wouldn’t waste your time babysitting a lot of nothing.”
“They send us a coded message when they’re coming. That’s how we know to be there.”
“So you’re saying they sent you a message which is why you’re here?” Estella repeated what he said.
He nodded eagerly.
Estella sighed, “You’re not a very good liar, you’ve told us they won’t be here for weeks, maybe more, and now you’re saying they sent you a message so you showed up, which is it?”
He started sobbing.
“Pathetic,” Aurora glanced over at us, “Let’s take him on a walk thru of the factory, he can show us the secret places they stash stuff, maybe he forgot about some of the supplies left behind, and it will give him time to realize telling us the truth is his only hope.”
“I don’t want them to kill me.” He said through sniffles.
“You spill what you know and we’ll guarantee your safety.” Estella told him. “Dump you on the far side of the planet where they’ll never find you, otherwise we’ll leave in the locals hands and a helpful note behind saying how useful you were and where they can find you.”
“Please no! I’ll tell you everything I know.” He went silent, furiously thinking in that bald head of his. “You want to see the supplies? I can show you what’s still here.”
I motioned with my gun for him to start moving. He headed inside.