Justine’s progression through the silent and sterile corridors of the lab facility was not going as quick as she would like, but her lack of weapons and intel made her overly cautious. She peeked around corners, she listened at doors, she looked for signs of what could have happened or anyone she could help. But it wasn’t until she neared the more sensitive areas of the inner facility that she saw anything off for the first time.
Or, rather, heard. Zzzzzzrrrrrrrpp! The sound of a long zipper being closed.
Justine inched up to the hallway corner and, keeping low to the ground, she dared a careful look. This floor of the next corridor was decorated with two unconscious – or more likely dead – Citali scientists. A Terran-uniformed officer stood at the far end, her back to Justine’s direction, as she bent over a third body, already encased in a long, dark-colored bag that she was in the process of sealing shut. The officer appeared to attach a rectangular card, of a size similar to Justine’s own facility ID, to the exterior of the body bag, as well as an additional blinking transporter tag. Then as the Terran officer stood straight, she tapped a button on her PADD device and the body bag was unceremoniously beamed away.
Justine jerked her head back as the Terran turned in her direction, in order to approach the next body. The Andorian sat on the floor, with her back against the wall, mulling over what she had seen. ‘Taking’ the scientists, the gatehouse guard had said, and it seemed to not matter much whether they were alive or dead. But for what purpose?
“-- requesting reinforcement, Lieutenant Pelk.”
The order was faint to her ears, but the dead silence of everything around them made the words still possible to make out. Justine resisted the impulse to look, but she could imagine said Terran Lieutenant Pelk hopping to action, to obey whoever was on the other end of the combadge’s command. “Affirmative,” she heard the other woman say.
It was only after Justine was sure that the footstep sounds were receding rather than getting louder that she dared to look again. A request for reinforcements, of course, meant possible resistance, so that was where Justine wanted to be. The Andorian tailed the Terran at a healthy distance, perhaps borderline too far, but just as Justine considered speeding it up, Pelk selected a door and charged into the lab room, Terran phaser partially drawn.
Justine itched to charge in right after, but she forced herself to stillness, hunched over around the corner, trying vainly to make out the voices or other sounds inside. She waited in strained tension as her gaze darted about to take stock of this potential improvised battleground: a couple other prone and unmoving scientist bodies, which lab doors were open and which had keypads, trying to connect room numbers with her institutional recollection of what should be inside.
A short eternity later, the Andorian heard the target lab room door re-open and she ventured a surreptitious look. Two figures stepped out, but this time, one was an evident prisoner of the reinforcing Pelk. The Terran held her phaser squarely focused on the Citali researcher’s back, not quite touching it, as they exited the room and started a steady march down the corridor. Justine wasn’t sure who might be left in the room, nor where these two were headed, but her nerves were screaming now now now now now now –
She inhaled a slow breath as she stood up straight, then exhaled. And then she sprang.
Darting out from around the corner, she sprinted forward, keeping her stride short and controlled so as to make minimal noise. But with the short distance between her and her destination, the precaution was almost unnecessary, as Justine closed in fast on her target. Pelk was just starting to turn her head when Justine slammed her left boot against the back of the Terran’s right knee, forcing the officer to bend and drop, as well as unintentionally shoving her prisoner forward. In the same motion, Justine’s arm shot out towards the firearm, her hand clamping around Pelk’s and jerking it inward to point the phaser at Pelk’s own body.
The Andorian couldn’t be sure who it was, exactly, that successfully made the phaser go off at that point: Pelk herself, out of desperate reactionary panic, or Justine’s own fingers trying to crush Pelk’s to the trigger. The familiar energy sizzle sound that followed was swallowed up by Pelk’s gurgling cry of agony. Justine swore under her breath as she wrested the phaser free from Pelk’s now very loose grip. Furiously she drove the power setting up a few degrees short of max and promptly discharged it again into Pelk’s back. The Terran slumped forward, quietly face planting into the floor.
The scientist had just barely recovered his footing and he turned to gawk at Justine, who was more focused on the far door of the lab they had previously exited. She hauled him forward and pressed the both of them flat against the original lab door’s wall, in case someone came out to check on the noise. He squeaked at the rough treatment, but the brief pause in action gave both of them a moment to assess things.
“Justine!” the Citali identified her with an incredulous whisper.
“Lebo,” she muttered in return. “Sorry I’m late.”
“On today, of all d–” Lebo interrupted himself, straightening. “Marette, she’s in the lab,” he remembered aloud, eyes growing wide and plaintive as he stared at her. This was what Justine was here for anyway, so she didn’t really need further prompting.
“How many hostiles in there?”
“Just the one. He found us hiding and called for backup, though,” Lebo looked back towards the Terran’s prone body, a grimace on his face.
Luck was really on her side today, she thought as she adjusted her phaser’s setting downward some. She darted forward for the lab door, Lebo awkwardly stumbling to follow. The Andorian burst in, her gaze honing in directly on the Terran-uniformed officer looming over a seated prisoner. He didn’t even get to turn fully before Justine fired two quick shots in succession, aiming for his center mass.
They landed cleanly and the Terran crumpled into a heap. Marette, tied to the chair just in front of him, immediately started kicking his body out of pure vindication.
“I don’t think he can’t feel that,” Justine deadpanned as she briefly scanned the rest of the lab, but seeing as Lebo had been correct about the number of enemies, she relaxed a little as she stepped towards the back of Marette’s chair to untie her.
“Don’t fucking care, makes me feel better,” she spat angrily. “First security incident in over a year and I did NOTHING.”
“There were too many,” Lebo protested as he stood staring dumbly at the prone officer on the floor. “What could you have even done?”
“Well, we got a lot left to go, anyway,” Justine observed. “You’re the only two I’ve seen so far. Alive, anyway.”
That sobered her. Justine threw the remaining ropes away to one side and Marette sprung to her feet. “Who are they? What do they want?”
The Andorian shook her head as she stood. “I don’t know much more than you,” she lied easily. Which was true… enough. Though she knew they were Terran Empire and the Azedi might not, she didn’t feel like going into it right this second.
“But first thing’s first,” she took up an authoritative tone. “Are you unhurt? There’s another one out in the hall. Go drag her in here and make sure you get her PADD.”
“Her what?” Marette asked, perplexed. Her head turned towards Lebo, who only shook his head with similar confusion. In the normal power ranking structure, Lebo served as the head scientist in this section block, and thus he would ordinarily call the shots. But circumstances being what they were, Lebo was clearly out of his depth.
“PADD,” Justine repeated. “Little rectangular device with a screen on it. Go.” Her tone brooked no argument. Still, Marette looked once more towards Lebo, but he only nodded his helpless agreement, so the security officer grumpily stalked outside to retrieve the body.
In the meantime, Justine searched the other Terran’s body for objects of interest. She unhesitatingly relieved him of his belt holster and put it firmly on herself. Then she located a PADD in an inside jacket pocket. Finally, she sighed mentally as she powered it on and started tapping around. Maybe we can get some answers.