As the engine idled, all three of them -- Rudo, Kain, and Kip -- stared forward out the Land Rover's front window at Biosystems Lab.
Specifically, they were looking at the same doors that, the day before yesterday, had spewed forth the Rebels' own Land Rovers as they temporarily evacuated their base under the heat of a raid led by Rolf.
That time, Kip had used a small wad of carbomite to blow open their secret hatch and dive right down into the bowels of the old building. Apparently, the Rebels' hadn't yet had the time to repair the hatch; there was a huge, gaping hole in the ground still. So it would have been very easy for Rudo, Kip, and Kain to repeat their previous performance.
But that was not what they had in mind.
"Kain, are you ready?" Rudo asked from the right passenger seat.
The Mechanic, sitting between Rudo and the driver, Kip, checked the power on his Pulse Vulcan and answered in the affirmative. "You?"
To answer, Rudo flipped his own Pulse Vulcan's safety switch into the "off" position. The compartment of the Land Rover filled with the whine of power cells charging. Then Rudo turned to Kip and said, "Go."
Kip moved his thumb off of the brake button and shoved the accelerator stick as far forward as it could go. Smashing through a few small bushes, the Land Rover charged forward out of its hiding place in the forest and gunned straight for Biosystems Lab.
Standing in their seats, Rudo and Kain pushed up the Land Rover's hatch. If either one of them would have had longer hair, it would have blown wildly in the wind. Instead, the two men, both armed with Pulse Vulcans and crew cuts, braced themselves as much as they could while standing in a vehicle moving at its top speed and fired their Pulse Vulcans straight ahead.
The huge metal doors on Biosystems Lab began to dent and buckle under Rudo and Kain's assault of laser fire. They both held down the triggers on their Pulse Vulcans until they were within just a few meters of the door. At that time, they both quickly escaped back into the Land Rover, pulling the hatch with them, and ducked.
"Hold on!" Kip warned them.
The doors had been sufficiently weakened enough that the Land Rover had no trouble knocking them off of their hinges and sending them flying into the first floor of Biosystems, which, Rudo saw, the Rebels had remodeled enough to make it their garage. A few Rebels were here and looked on in shock as the invading Land Rover's brakes screeched into action, the rear of the car fishtailing across the room.
Finally, the Land Rover ceased to move when its rear end fishtailed into one of the Rebels' Land Rovers, doing considerable damage to both vehicles. The Rebels still hadn't had much time to react when the invading Land Rover's hatch flew open, and out jumped Rudo, Kain, and Kip.
Seeing the huge Pulse Vulcans carried by Rudo and Kain was enough to snap some of the Rebels into action. They reached for their rifles, but Rudo and Kain quickly cut them down.
"Over here!" Kip yelled, and they saw he pointed to a TransTube that went down.
"How do we know that will take us to Ricktus?" Kain asked.
"We don't," Rudo replied, "but it's as good a place as any to start." Then he jumped in.
He came out in the middle of a hallway, and right in front of two Rebel guards on their way to investigate the commotion from above. Surprise was on Rudo's side. He swung the butt of his Pulse Vulcan around and caught the first guard across the head. As he fell, his partner drew his rifle, but it was too late. Rudo's Pulse Vulcan had already swung back around into his hands, and one pull of the trigger left the hallway unguarded.
Kain and Kip joined him in the hallway, which stretched out both to their left and to their right. "Which way?" Kip asked.
Rudo turned his head both ways. Then, choosing completely at random, he started right. Kip and Kain (in that order) followed, keeping the two members of the group with Pulse Vulcans at the front and rear.
They turned a corner and started down a hallway with doors on either side. "I think," Kain whispered, "we're in the area the scientists' used to use as living quarters. Maybe the Rebels use them for the same thing."
Right then, a door immediately to Kip's right slid open, revealing quarters behind it. The Rebel that owned the quarters casually walked out, looking up in surprise to see a man in a Guardian uniform right before him.
Kip lashed out with three swift kicks -- two to the man's chest and one to his abdomen -- sending the Rebel flying backwards into his room. The doors slid shut once again. Rudo and Kain both looked at Kip with a bit of puzzlement; the Guardian had handled the situation so quickly, it was over almost before it started. Kip merely grinned back at both of them and nodded, "Let's continue."
Ahead of them, the hallway ended at two large metal blast doors. Kain stepped in front of Kip and raised his Pulse Vulcan. "Shall we do the honors, Rudo?" he asked.
"No, not yet," Rudo said, approaching the doors. "Let's see if we can make it easy first." His hand reached towards the doors' control panel.
Before it got there, the blast doors slid apart, revealing a squad of ten Rebels. All of them were armed, and all of them were waiting.
The Rebel in front delivered an uppercut across the stunned Rudo's jaw. Rudo staggered backwards and dropped his Pulse Vulcan, but remained on his feet. The rest of the Rebels charged inwards. Two of them grabbed Rudo's arms from behind and held him in place as the one who threw the uppercut -- apparently, the group's leader -- continued to punish Rudo with punches and kicks.
Another three of the Rebels rushed Kain, attacking him simultaneously. The first grabbed his arm and twisted in an attempt to force Kain to drop his Pulse Vulcan. This wasn't hard, considering it was, coincidentally, the same arm he'd broken the day before. The Pulse Vulcan dropped towards the floor but was scooped up by Kain's second attacker, who swung it at the Mechanic's mid-section, knocking the wind out of him and forcing him to his knees. Almost as soon as he was in this position, his third attacker kicked him sharply in the face, snapping him backwards, sprawled out on the floor. From there, they proceeded to stomp him in the face, chest, and abdomen.
Kip, at the rear of the group, was the only one who had much time to react. Unfortunately for the Rebels, he was also the most skilled at hand-to-hand combat. His staff had practically jumped from his coat to his hands. Kip smashed the staff into the face of the first Rebel that approached him, then used the other end to sweep his attacker's legs out from underneath him.
He looked up and saw a second Rebel running straight for him. Kip raised his staff and held it out in front of him horizontally, and the running Rebel took it right across his throat. Two more Rebels had reached him by then, and one raised his pistol so it was right in Kip's face. With one swing of his staff, Kip knocked the Rebel's arm aside, opening his body up to attack in the process. One kick to the chest and the Rebel went down.
While busy with this, Kip did not have time to react to his opponent's partner, who had circled around him. The Rebel wrapped both of his arms around Kip's head -- one firmly around his neck, the other pressed up against his nose -- and squeezed so hard Kip thought his head was going to explode. He dropped his staff without realizing he'd done it.
Meanwhile, after taking several punches and kicks from the leader of this particular group, Rudo pushed backwards until the two Rebels holding him were pressed against the wall. Then, leaning on the men for balance (and pressing them harder into the wall in the process), Rudo kicked one of his feet into the air. The Rebel who was rather enjoying delivering him punishment walked right into it and fell down.
With the men pressed up against the wall still fairly off-guard, Rudo called on his strength and broke free from their grasp. Before they could re-grab him, he spun around, grabbed a handful of their hair, and slammed their foreheads painfully together. They had both been eliminated from the battle.
He noticed that Kain, not the best hand-to-hand combatant, was being trounced by three Rebels too involved in hurting Kain to notice Rudo. He strode up to Kain's first attacker, grabbed him by the face, and slammed his head into the wall. This grabbed the attention of the other two Rebels, who left Kain to charge Rudo. The Agent braced himself and, when he was close enough, scooped the first attacker into the air. He then used the man as a human missile and threw him into his friend. They both fell and did not get up.
Kip, in the meantime, still could not breathe. Realizing the Rebel who gripped him was too strong and that he could not pull the man's arms from his head, he reached his arms around and grabbed at the man's hair, pulling it, and the man's head, back as far as it would go. The Rebel responded by squeezing Kip's head harder, but while he was distracted by the pain in his scalp, Kip wrapped one of his legs around his attacker's foot and kicked it out from underneath him. The Rebel fell flat on his back, but carried Kip with him. Kip did, however, manage to break free, and used the distraction to roll over and pin the Rebel on the ground, delivering punch after punch to his face.
Once he fell unconscious, Kip stood up and regrouped with Rudo and Kain. "Are you guys okay?" he asked his partners. Rudo had a couple of cuts on his face and Kain held his abdomen with his sore arm, which in turn was held by his good one.
"More or less," Kain said. He shook off the pain in his sore arm and accepted his Pulse Vulcan as Rudo handed it back to him. Then, the three of them walked to the blast doors, which had closed after ejecting the ten Rebels that now lay sprawled out all over the floor behind them. Rudo raised his Pulse Vulcan, slammed his hand on the panel, and stormed into the room beyond with Kip and Kain in tow.
If he'd taken a moment to notice, Rudo would have seen that it was the room they had arrived in when they'd raided Biosystems Lab before; the room that the secret hatch on the surface led to. But Rudo did not see that because his eyes were focused squarely on the one occupant of the room: Ricktus Tenbern.
Ricktus had his back to the invaders as they marched across the room towards him. He was busy poking his head into a crate full of laser weapons, but spoke as he heard the footsteps. "What took you so long?" he barked. "Can't the ten of you take three--" His words stopped in his throat as he turned around to see Rudo, right in his face and drilling holes into his head with his eyes.
Rudo's left hand shot out and gripped Ricktus by the side of the head. The Rebel leader had just enough time to see Kain lock the room's doors, then Rudo pushed the head in question into the nearest wall. Rudo leaned in very close to Ricktus's ear and yelled, "Where is she?"
Ricktus winced at the pain in his ear but said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Rudo pulled his head backwards and slammed it into the wall again. Then he put his lips right up to Ricktus's ear and yelled even louder, "Where is she?"
Ricktus's mouth twisted into a smirk. "Hey, I remember you from the Hunters," Ricktus said. "Rudolf Steiner. Yeah. Wasn't that ugly witch you called your wife butchered by Biomonsters?"
Rudo pushed him away from the wall towards Kip, who spin kicked him across the face, effectively pushing him right back to Rudo, who pinned Ricktus against the wall and punched him three times in the stomach. Before continuing the interrogation, he turned towards Kain. "Do you remember where that storeroom filled with F-5 was?" Kain nodded yes. "Okay. Take your Pulse Vulcan in there and throw a party." Kain jogged across the room towards the side hall that led to the store room.
Ricktus then had Rudo's complete attention once again. "Where is Anna? The Guardian Leader. You took her yesterday when you shot up the Central Tower. I want to know where she is, and I want to know now." He swung his Pulse Vulcan around on its strap until its barrel was pressed into Ricktus's stomach. "Right now."
Ricktus spat a wad of blood onto the floor, glanced at the Pulse Vulcan (which, if fired, would basically destroy everything between his neck and his kneecaps), and met Rudo's eyes. "She's not here anymore."
Rudo pushed the barrel harder into his stomach. "That doesn't answer my question. Where is she?"
He wiped some blood from his mouth. "Probably to Dezo by now."
Kip and Rudo exchanged a glance. "I know he's involved with the Rebels." That's what Rolf had said about this new ruler of Dezo.
"Dezo? With who?" Rudo asked.
"If I tell you I'm a dead man," Ricktus protested.
The Pulse Vulcan in Rudo's hands hummed. "Wrong. You're dead unless you tell me who she's with right now."
Ricktus stared into Rudo's eyes for a long moment. "D'zkot," he finally said. "His name's D'zkot."
The Dezorian telemental Rudo realized. "Why? Why is she there?" he demanded. The pieces were starting to fall into place, and he didn't like the picture that was coming together, not one bit.
"Because," Ricktus answered with a sigh, "he's the Rebels' real leader. I just answer to him."
It all became clear to Rudo, and when he exchanged a glance with Kip, he could see that he had put together the pieces, too.
Rolf was right. There was indeed a connection between the Rebels and D'zkot. D'zkot was the Rebels. He controlled them, and he was using them not just to make F-5 for him in the old Biosystems Lab building, but to keep the Agents and the Guardians busy so that he'd have time to use it.
"Thank God we got here when we did," said Kip. Rudo nodded in agreement.
Then, their nightmare began.
"Rudo," said Kain, who had just reentered the room. "He didn't just say that, did he? He didn't just say that the F-5 is indeed D'zkot's, did he?"
"What's wrong, Kain?" Rudo asked.
Kain swallowed hard, searched for the words. "It's... it's gone," he finally sputtered out. "All of it. That room that we found... it was loaded two days ago. But now it's empty. Completely empty."
Ricktus started laughing. Rudo let go of the Pulse Vulcan, let it swing on its strap down to his side, and grabbed Ricktus's shoulders, slamming him into the wall again and again.
"What's so funny, Ricktus?" he yelled. "Don't you know what that F-5 does? Don't you know what you've been making for him?"
"Of course," Ricktus laughed. "It's poison. He's going to use it to get rid of his enemies on Dezo."
"For God's sake, Ricktus, that room was packed two days ago!" Kip shouted. "How many enemies do you think he has?"
"The only enemies he's going to use the F-5 on are the Palmans living on Motavia," Rudo continued. "He's going to dump that stuff onto Mota from space. Do you understand me, Ricktus? He's going to kill us all!"
Ricktus was stunned. He shook his head, slowly at first, then faster and faster. "No, that's not true," Ricktus said. "I've served him well. He wouldn't kill me."
"He doesn't care about you, Ricktus!" Kip bellowed. "You idiot! Do you think he cares about any of us?"
Rudo decided that, in his new state of denial, Ricktus was no longer a threat. He stopped holding him against the wall and walked to the center of the room. Ricktus just fell to his knees, shaking his head and mumbling to himself.
Kip and Kain gathered around Rudo, who looked down to the floor. "What do we do now, Rudo?" Kain asked with a shaky voice.
Why the hell are you asking me? Rudo thought, but stopped himself before he said it out loud. He was, after all, the leader of this mission. And Kain, as well as Kip, was just scared... just like Rudo was.
"I don't know, Kain," Rudo said at last. "All I know is that Mota is in extreme danger."
As you may know, Black Paper isn't a normal group of traders. It is another facet of the 10-nation-alliance.
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