Once Marcus left the control booth, Daren proceeded to the tower to secure the last guard. Upon reaching the tower, he pulled up the facemask portion of his balaclava to cover his nose and mouth, and took the express lift to the top floor. The mask was made from a special fabric designed to filter potentially harmful substances lingering in the air. He thought it best not to take chances, lest he himself should wind up like the poor guy lying inside.
After binding and gagging the already unconscious guard, Daren used his personal data pad to contact an associate with whom he was working a small side job. While the team’s official mission was to steal crates of raw Krillium ore, Daren and his associate were after its refined counterpart. After a few holographic button presses, Daren’s data pad came to life with the face of a battle hardened mercenary, operating under the call sign: Specter One. He was the most gifted sniper in the entire Orion’s Shield organization, and quite the ladies’ man. And when it came to underworld contacts, He had no equal. While preferring to work alone, Specter One desperately needed help with boosting the refined ore for one of his important contacts. So when he heard Raven Squad was set to hit the mining outposts on Titan, he called in a favor with Daren, his longtime business associate.
While stealing the increasingly rare mineral in its raw form, Daren expected little to no resistance, as the ore storage area was usually free of any guard presence. The ISL government figured there weren’t many criminals with the ability to process the ore into the shimmering reddish-black ingots of pure Krillium, coveted by many. But they were wrong, because Raven Squad’s employer: Teric Winters, did have such resources. But the refined Krillium stockpiles posed the biggest problem, because its security was typically much tighter.
Ever the opportunist, Daren was all too eager to accept Specter One’s request, seeing the opportunity as a chance of a lifetime… a chance to finally step out of the long shadow cast by the legendary: Marcus La’Dek. Specter One promised him wealth beyond comprehension, as well as entry into a shadow organization known only as: The Company. But Daren wanted more. He was tired of being ‘number two’. But it was not a decision that was lightly made, as his loyalty to Marcus was strong as well, having been virtually raised together as brothers by Daren’s own Father, the renowned Outer Core pirate: Johnathan “Jax” West.
It was Jax who took Marcus in at the age of thirteen when he ran away from his childhood home on the Stratus One Star Port, located on the edge of ISL space. Jax taught Marcus and Daren everything he knew about piracy and the mercenary life. In fact, it was Jax who personally recommended Marcus, Daren and their crew to Teric Winters. But Marcus was by far his star pupil, exceeding Daren in every area. Jax eventually came to view Marcus as more of a son than he did his own flesh and blood, a reality with which Daren silently struggled over the years. But the damage was done, as the preferential treatment shown to Marcus drove an irreparable wedge between Daren and his Father. So there was an unspoken rivalry there as well, which ultimately spurred Daren into taking the “side job” despite its considerable risk.
“Tell me you have somethin’,” Daren said while peering into the data pad at his silent partner.
“Relax, Man, you’re in luck. The refined Krillium is near your team’s target crates. But it’s guarded by a RAT,” Specter One replied in a calm voice.
Daren couldn’t believe what he was hearing, feeling the mission was already going downhill before it even began. When Specter One mentioned the word RAT, Daren knew he wasn’t referring to the common form of rodentia found on Earth. Weighing in at seven tons, The R.A.T. – or as it was officially called: The Robotic Autonomous Tank – was a heavily armed weapon of extreme death and destruction, featuring multiple nose cannons, and two energy based Gatling guns on the upper left and right sides of its chassis. But the defining feature of the RAT was that it was bipedal, with some designs capable of walking on all fours, making them extremely agile, capable of operating on just about any terrain.
“A RAT? Oh hell no… You do it,” Daren replied sharply. Starting to have second thoughts, Daren knew there was more to fear than the metal behemoth. “Plus if Marcus finds out? That walkin’ tank will be the least of our…”
“Would you man up already?” Specter One interrupted. “This is our only shot to get in with The Company.”
Daren shuddered at the very mention of The Company. The organization’s very name invoked both exhilaration and fear, so he hesitated. Though many question the actual existence of The Company, it is believed to be comprised of the galaxy’s most powerful and wealthiest criminals, both human and alien alike. The Company is believed to have ties to every governmental faction represented within the Inner Core Star Systems; so entrance into such an association was something that one in Daren’s line of work, would not so easily reject.
Part of him wanted to call the whole thing off. How could he jeopardize the mission and the entire team without Marcus’ knowledge or approval? More importantly, how could he betray the only person in his life whom he considered to be family? But Daren’s desire to forge his own path and to finally be a person of great import was too strong. He was, as was so often the case, his own worst enemy. So he silently conceded with a nod of agreement.
“My man… Time to step out of the shadows, brotha’… Specter One, out,” he said. Satisfied that he had convinced his partner in crime to stay the course, Specter One terminated the communication. Daren stared momentarily into the blank screen of his data pad, seeing only his faint reflection. And he didn’t like what stared back.
Hidden several miles outside the front gate behind large boulders, Max, Skye and Tony eagerly sat awaiting the go order. While Max and Skye made small talk amongst themselves, Tony, as he often did, showed no interest in talking.
“I don’t know… I got a bad feelin’ about this,” Max said to Skye, while fidgeting with a small pebble she found nearby.
“C’mon Max, don’t start this again,” Skye replied. She looked over at Tony who seemed to be bored out of his mind. He kept peeking from the corner of the boulder toward the mining facility in the distance. The complex was partially obscured from their vantage point due to the heavy mist. All that could be seen were faint lights emanating from the buildings of the compound. “Hey Tony,” Skye called out, “Isn’t it your turn to deal with Maxlyn’s butterflies?”
“I’m tired of sittin’ here playin’ in the dirt. The shield’s down, what’s taking them so long?” Tony responded without actually addressing Skye’s question.
“Seriously guys,” Max interjected, “We’ve never hit a facility this close to Earth before.”
“Look, there’s nothin’ to worry about,” Skye assured her worrying comrade, “Let’s just say the security here is less than vigilant.”
“And tell me darlin’, just how would you know that?” Max asked in her heavy Texas accent.
“I was stationed here just before the ISG gave me the boot,” Skye admitted while checking her pistol to ensure its readiness. “Most of the soldiers on this backwater moon are a bunch of rejects and losers on their way out of The Guard,” Skye continued. She explained how she was forced to work gate security for none other than their current target: Mining Outpost Alpha while awaiting her dishonorable discharge from ISG service. So she assured her worrying comrade that her extensive knowledge of the facility gave them a distinct advantage.
“Is that right?” Max replied after hearing a bit of Skye’s story. “Still don’t feel right.”
“Just focus on your job, and try not to blow us up in the process,” Skye said as she holstered her sidearm.
All Max could do was smile, as she carried the dubious distinction of going overboard when it came to her elegantly crafted explosives. Yet there was no denying the genius of those designs. But before she could respond, the call they had all been waiting for finally came through.
“Wake up Raven Squad, time to move,” Daren’s voice crackled over the comms.
Tony was the first to spring to his feet after grabbing his equipment pack. “Finally,” he said, not even attempting to hide the excitement in his voice. He looked over at Skye and Max. They didn’t seem to move with the same sense of urgency. “You heard the man, let’s move.”
Skye and Max grabbed their packs and stood to their feet. But Max still looked uneasy as she secured her sandy blonde hair underneath her balaclava. As they converged on Outpost Alpha, Max trailed closely behind, hoping for the best, but fully expecting the worst.