Fifth Interlude

Keith crept on silent feet along the rocky ground, ducking behind large brown boulders and keeping his lean, dark brown-clad form bent to avoid detection. He held the high-powered laser rifle in both hands, keeping it close to his body, his hand on the trigger ready to fire at the first sign of danger. The goggles over his eyes gave him enhanced vision of the mountainous lands engulfing him, and particularly of the enemy base situated at the very bottom of a narrow valley not a quarter of a mile away.

Keith made his way to the lip of a steep cliff that dropped down to the valley below and settled himself behind a small outcropping of dark brown clay-like rock to get a good view. At first glance the encampment below appeared relatively calm. But with the use of the magnifying lens over his eyes, Keith could see several figures walking around below, most of whom were guards patrolling the perimeter of the fenced-in base. The area looked very secure, with lookouts everywhere on top of the patrols. Not to mention other security precautions Keith had no doubt were present.

Keith narrowed his eyes under his camouflage mask. It was no wonder the Space Marshall had asked for a Shadow Operative to undertake this mission. A frontal assault would have been useless because of their defenses, and a team would mean more risk getting caught. However, just one person sneaking in would be less likely to be detected. Especially one who knew exactly what he was doing.

After only a few moments, Keith saw exactly what he was looking for. He left his hiding place and moved furtively along the outskirts of the cliff, being sure not to be seen by the lookouts. As soon as he reached his goal, Keith dug into one of the many pouches on his stealth gear and pulled out a small coil of thin brown rope. All of his equipment had been tinted brown to match the rocky terrain of the planet Celpha.

Keith secured one end of the thin rope to a slab of rock that jutted out of the ground near the cliff edge. He then dropped the rest of the line over the edge. The rope fell down and uncoiled, with the last six feet of it landing on the ground below. Once that was done, Keith secured his weapon to the holster on his back, then reached down to his belt to activate the Veiler. The Veiler was a device developed about eight years ago that, when activated, blended its wearer into the surroundings. This would let Keith make the drop to the bottom of the cliff without any of the guards or lookouts spotting him. However, the Veiler was very unstable, and would give way if the wearer moved faster than an inch per second. Which meant Keith had to move very slowly.

He activated the Veiler, then moved out of his hiding place and clipped himself to the rope with the harness around his waist. Once he was secured, Keith edged over the cliff and began lowering himself down slowly, inch by inch. His arm and shoulder muscles strained against his weight as he struggled to keep his descent slow. He fought the urge to look over his shoulder to make sure the lookouts weren’t watching him, and instead kept his eyes glued to the hard rock just millimeters from his masked face.

It took nearly 35 minutes to descend the cliff, a task that would have taken only moments had he not needed to remain invisible. As soon as he was down on the ground, well in the line of view of at least four lookouts, Keith unhooked himself, left the cord where it hung, and moved slowly to the nearest possible cover. It happened to be a rather large pile of grada’a feces. The grada’a were large native beasts twice the size of a Terran elephant and much less intelligent. They roamed the dry countryside of their home planet, possessing rather remarkable agility in the mountain regions despite their cumbersome forms.

Fortunately, the mask Keith wore filtered and purified all air that seeped in, which was doubly fortunate because the atmosphere on Celpha contained half the amount of oxygen that human beings needed to breathe. Ignoring the fact that he was getting friendly with a pile of manure, Keith peered around the edge at the lookouts, none of whom had seen his approach. Satisfied, Keith then turned his attention on his next target - the transparent blue-tinged vatrix laser fence that encased the enemy’s base.

This would be the toughest challenge of infiltrating the base. The vatrix security fencing was ultra-sensitive and would alert the occupants of the camp to the slightest breach in its perimeter. It was programmed to recognize both friends and foes, as well as mechanical and biological intrusions. The Garrison’s research and development department had been working on ways to beat the high-tech laser vatrix fencing for years, and had given Keith their latest effort. It was named a "Mirage" and was supposed to open a hole big enough in the fencing for a human to fit through, but without setting off the alarms. They had sworn to Keith it would work, and he only hoped they were right.

Keith pulled the small, folded up device from behind his back and held it in one hand. He then lowered himself onto his stomach and began to crawl out from behind his hiding place, once again at a snail’s pace. Lucky for him he was a rather patient man. The trip to the fence took nearly an hour, and Keith was glad for the protection of his insulated and air-conditioned suit. The hot suns of Celpha were particularly scorching this time of day, and Keith was an open target for its burning rays.

He reached the fencing and very carefully began to unfold the Mirage, being careful to keep well away from the beams of laser fencing. Once completely unfolded, the device took the form of a rather flimsy-looking three-dimensional rectangle. Keith activated the device, thankful it did not make too much noise. The whistling winds blowing down through the mountains helped to mask the dull sound of the device.

Once fully activated, all Keith had to do now was insert it into the portion of fence in front of him. A few doubts arose at the back of his mind as he looked from the Mirage to the blue vatrix fence. With a mute sigh, Keith took firm hold of the Mirage and began to nudge it ever-so-slowly into the portion of unsolid barrier directly in front of him. As soon as Mirage met vatrix, Keith held his breath, waiting for the alarms to go off and the energy surge to engulf him. But no sound or surge came, and the Mirage slid into place in the fencing. As soon as it was set, the blue beams that had been broken by the Mirage reappeared inside the frame of the device. This was the mirage.

Letting out his breath slowly, Keith began to edge his way through the opening in the fence the Mirage had made for him. It was impossible to see without the special lenses that had been built into his mask, which meant that the device, and ultimately Keith’s presence, would not be discovered. The doubts now completely vanquished, Keith left the barrier behind him and once again concentrated on his mission.

The base was rather busy, with Jubooul soldiers everywhere walking through the "streets" of dirt and clay. All of them seemed to be armed. Since the buildings the Juboouls had made for their base had been constructed out of the very rock and clay that engulfed the planet, Keith’s apparel blended in well. However, he would need a much better cover very soon. His Veiler was getting low on power, and would not last much longer.

Keith ducked behind one of the buildings and turned off the Veiler. From then on he would use his own skills to complete his mission. Reaching behind his back, Keith once again took his weapon in his hands. He began to move among the buildings, watching the soldiers as he passed them until finally he saw what he was looking for. A Jubooul commander marched by on one of the streets that passed the wide alley Keith was hiding in. As soon as he spotted him, Keith began to follow him.

Eventually, the commander entered one of the buildings. Since it didn’t seem to be the main headquarters, Keith guessed it was their sleeping quarters. The commander was probably on his way to bed. Even though it was the middle of the day, the Jubooul would still sleep since their race rested at only six-hour intervals. Their bodies required that much repose during each cycle.

Keith couldn’t have had better circumstances. He made his way to the side of the building and, when the coast was clear, crept in right through the front door. Fortunately, the inside of the base was not tight with security. Keith made his way toward the Jubooul’s barracks, ducking behind doors whenever others passed by. He did not go to the main barracks, however. Jubooul superiors never slept in the same quarters as common soldiers. This commander would likely have his own room.

Keith reached the wide hallway that contained the sleeping quarters of the Jubooul superior officers and began searching the markings on the door for the particular commander he was looking for. As soon as he found it, he pounded on the door noisily.

"Qoi ja?" came the grunted reply from inside.

"Kuji amo hiaja," Keith replied, deepening his voice to match the Jubooul baritones, "Ykee nanciti jiin, Putcha."

There was a pause, and then Keith heard the door unlocking. A moment later it slid open, revealing the Jubooul commander looking very annoyed. As soon as he saw Keith grinning up at him smugly, the enemy commander’s large silvery eye widened in surprise. Before he had time to react, Keith swiftly brought his weapon up and rammed it into the Jubooul’s ear, the most sensitive part of his body. The alien commander recoiled in pain, and Keith stepped in, closing the door behind him.

* * *

Minutes later, Keith emerged with a whole new apparel. Not even his closest friends would recognize him in the Jubooul clothing. Keith had chosen the commander because his uniform was the only one, save the general’s, that provided concealment for his human face and the mask he still wore to breath properly. Now Keith could walk freely through the Jubooul base, taking on the identity of the commander Kutchar.

Walking among the other Jubooul, Keith headed straight for the enemy’s main headquarters and waltzed right in, past the guards who thought he was their superior. Since Jubooul commanders did not commonly speak with the lower officers except to issue orders, Keith did not have to make any sort of conversation as he strode through the base, keeping sure to mimic the slightly off-balanced gait of the bow-legged Jubooul. Fortunately the long cloak that he wore over his uniform concealed the fact that Keith’s legs were not, in fact, crooked.

He made his way straight to the main control room and entered without pause. The soldiers inside manning the operations room did not even give him a second glance. Keith paid them the same courtesy, and went directly to an empty terminal. He then began typing in commands using the rather base Jubooul language. After only a few moments he found what he needed, and then inserted a transparent disk in the shape of a cube into the console. Without even concerning himself with how suspicious his actions may be to the others in the room, Keith proceeded to download the information onto the data disk. It was common for Jubooul officers to fear their superiors, since disobedience meant death.

Once the download was complete, Keith pocketed the disk inside his heavy uniform and left the control room. He knew that as soon as he left, the officers inside would alert other higher-ups as to what he had done, but Keith had no time to worry about that. Instead, he reached once again inside his uniform and pulled out two round palm-sized devices. He casually attached one to the frame of a door he passed, and the other directly to the rock wall.

Once outside, Keith knew he had very little time before he was uncovered. He hastened in the direction of the Jubooul’s small space port, knowing that trying to reach his own ship would be futile and cost him precious time. He hoped his disguise would last long enough for him to steal one of the enemy’s ships and make his escape.

He reached the space port without cause for alarm, and entered without difficulty. The soldiers inside barely paid him any mind. On his way to the docking bay, Keith strategically placed a few more little devices, with the full intent of using them. He was placing the last one directly on the large doors leading to the docking bay when he heard the march of unison footsteps coming up the hall behind him. He turned to see a troop of fully armed, fully ready Jubooul soldiers heading his way, their single shiny eyes focused on him. Keith then knew that his time was up.

Quickly Keith brought his weapon out from the folds of his cloak and began firing at the squad of soldiers. While the Juboouls were flinching back to seek cover, Keith opened the docking bay doors and slipped inside, closing the doors behind him. Once they were closed, Keith fired at the control panel, destroying it and hoping that would keep them out for at least a few minutes.

Inside the docking bay, the dozen or so soldiers who had been previously minding their own business were now fully aware of Keith’s presence, and also privy to the fact that he was not one of them. As they all hastily snatched up their weapons, Keith ducked behind a pile of munitions crates to seek cover, hoping they wouldn’t fire on the volatile contents.

Unfortunately, Jubooul soldiers were not famous for their intelligence. Without even giving it a thought, they began firing on the stack of crates Keith was hiding behind, blasting large black scars into the brown metal. The marks slowly began to spread over the crates. Keith knew that within moments the acid-coated blasts would eat through the weak metal and reach the weapons inside, causing an eruption. He had to find some new cover, fast.

He looked around him. There were many more crates such as the ones he was using for cover, but they would be no good. There were also dozens of prone Jubooul fighter ships sitting in the docking bay, ready to be taken to the sky, and a few heavier transport ships. Though none of them would provide good cover, they may just help him to escape. As he counted the seconds before the acid would reach the explosive materials inside the crates, Keith came up with a plan that would both help him escape the Jubooul base and also clear the way for the second part of his mission.

Moving quickly, Keith propelled himself out of his cover and toward another stack of crates. He allowed himself to be shot at, letting the laser blasts from the Jubooul weapons reach more crates. As soon as he counted enough blasts, Keith moved on to the next set of crates. He slowly made his way to where the first row of fighters were sitting. The Jubooul followed him as he methodically ducked farther away.

Soon the game of chase was over, and Keith was only a few feet away from the nearest ship. Slinging his weapon over his shoulder, Keith waited a few seconds, took a deep breath, and made a beeline for the ship. The Jubooul shot at him the whole way. Fortunately Keith made it to the cockpit of the ship and ducked inside before any of the shots hit him. The outer shell of the Jubooul ships were designed to withstand their own weaponry, so the blasts from the acid-coated laser weapons did not harm it.

Ignoring the scramble of alien feet below him, Keith hurried to activate the foreign craft and get it moving. The wide doors to the docking bay were closed, but that was a problem soon solved. Keith activated the ship’s weapons systems and fired two missiles at the bay doors. Moments later the way out was before him, and he aimed the pointed nose of the ship toward the gaping hole.

Hitting the thrusters, Keith propelled the ship out into the air and flew it away from the Jubooul base. He made sure to get a safe distance away, knowing he had only seconds before the acid from the laser blasts fully penetrated the crates and the combustible weaponry inside.

Before the Jubooul could even fire one shot at the escaping ship or send more fighters out after him, the entire docking bay suddenly went up in flames. The chaos occurring beneath him gave Keith a clean escape off the planet. Within minutes he was back up in space, the vital data chip resting in his breast pocket.

Keith took a small, rectangular device out of one of his other pockets and attached it to the Jubooul ship’s communications console. Trying to contact his superiors at the command ship using Jubooul technology would be futile, since the Garrison equipment would not recognize the message. Using the Mobile Communications Translator would allow him to get in touch with his commander with ease. Once it was installed, Keith typed in the command code.

"Garrison command ship Kelix, this is Lieutenant Commander Keith reporting."

Keith waited patiently for the reply. His wait was not long, since the command ship was anticipating his call.

"This is Garrison command ship Kelix," a young officer’s voice responded, "What is your situation, sir?"

"Mission was successful, data was recovered," Keith reported, "I am positioned at mark 23.46.01 in a Jubooul fighter. Awaiting instructions."

A new voice spoke up over the communications link, one Keith recognized.

"Did you find the hostages?" Captain Kaneth, commander of the Garrison ship, asked him.

"The hostages were not located on Celpha," Keith replied, "They were moved to the Jubooul spacepost Kra-mi. They are scheduled to be executed in less than thirteen hours."

"Then we must go with plan B," Kaneth decided, "Return to the command ship at once. There will be a short debriefing once you arrive, then you and your team will move in on the spaceport."

"Yes, sir," Keith replied.

He sighed as he cut communications with his superior, knowing his mission was only half done. He was tired from his ordeal on Celpha, but he knew he would have to stay on his toes for the next part of the mission. The lives of eight men and women depended on him.

* * *

On to Rescue

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