She handed me a weapon. One in the chamber, safety on. The others had weapons that they’d obviously taken from Stobo personnel but I’d seen the small automatic pistol that before. It belonged to Cavendish and I was surprised that she’s managed to smuggle it in to the ball. The line of her dress didn’t allow many hiding places.
We caught up with Acre who was securing our position further down the corridor. She glanced at the gun. “Where did that come from?”
“I have no idea.” I said.
“Bet it chafed when you danced, Cavendish.”
“I didn’t see you dancing.” Said Livingston, who had appeared out of a side passage to deal with my escorting marines. “I’d have paid money, especially as she’s wearing heels.”
“Gods in a row, we’re trying to get off a doomed ship. Get a grip.” ordered Cavendish.
“Sorry, Sergeant.” Muttered Acre, grinning unrepentantly. As she reached the next corner she stopped and stepped back behind the bulkhead. As there was no cover, the rest of the Bad Girls dropped to one knee, looking to Acre for instruction. I glanced round to see Cartier facing the way we had come, weapon up, in case we’d entered a trap.
Acre made hand gestures. I knew that, when working with Echo, they sometimes deliberately got them wrong or made up new ones, just to wind her up. This was bona fide. Eight targets, heavy weapons and armour. Fourteen metres. At that range the handguns we were all carrying would be useless.
“What are they guarding?” I whispered to Livingston.
“Main lift shaft.”
“Is there another way?”
“The ship is fifteen decks down and less than thirty metres from the lifts. It’s this or a series of fire fights with heavily armoured Imperial Guards whilst trying to go down the secondary ladders.”
Cavendish was three metres in front of me. She turned and gestured me forward.
“I need you to distract them.”
“If they report in that they’ve found me, won’t that give our position away.”
“We’ll hopefully deal with them before that happens.” She slipped off her shoes and silently led me up to Acre’s position. Acre, like Echo, had been barefoot all night.
“If they’re going to shoot, duck to your right. Don’t use your weapon unless you have to.”
“Understood.” I pushed the pistol into my sash at the small of my back and walked confidently round the corner. I was only a couple of steps down the corridor before muzzles started to rise in my direction.
“As you were, marines.” We were in luck. All the Imperial Guards would have taken up position around the Empress and the security of the Stobo was in the control of the ship’s marines. They would be competent troops but the Bad Girls had the advantage.
As they started to return to parade rest an officer appeared.
I took two more steps.
“I said, halt! Marines, weapons up!”
They were confused. Clearly the message that they were to capture me had not been passed on to all the marines. The officer knew what he was doing, but most of the others were uncomfortable about pointing weapons at a very senior officer.
“Lieutenant, what do you think you are doing? Don’t you know who I am?”
It didn’t matter what I said, just that their eyes were on me and they weren’t listening for the quiet footsteps behind me. I took as many steps as I dare. Two marines had their weapons trained on me now. I fixed on their eyes and, as they almost closed their eyes in involuntary preparation for firing, I threw myself down to the right. Cavendish and Acre were past me and amongst the marines. The Bad Girls weren’t as fast as Echo but they were much faster and stronger than normal marines. The officer went down first, an elbow smashed into his face. Most of the marines were wearing full body armour and helmets, but some had been dispatched from their barracks with their weapons and varying pieces of equipment. This created opportunities for the Bad Girls. They were in the middle of the marine squad who were afraid to use their weapons for fear of hitting one of their own. In hand to hand combat the armour slowed them down. By the time Livingston joined the melee, three of the opposition marines were down.
In a fight like this I was a liability. Cartier was still rear guard.
She looked in my direction and I jerked a thumb at the fight, then raised my pistol to cover the corridor we had just used. “Go!”
She didn’t need telling twice. I focussed on my target area and ignored the noise from behind me, confident that Cavendish would prevent anybody firing a burst at my unprotected back. It felt like an age but, in reality, was only a few seconds until it was over.
“York! Fall back.” I obeyed Cavendish’s command, keeping my weapon up as I backed towards the lift cluster, leapfrogging Cartier and Acre.
Nobody spoke as the lift compartment dropped towards the deck where my ship was docked. If there were marines waiting for us, we would be an easy target. I raised an eyebrow at Cavendish who just shrugged, then returned her eyes to the deck indicator. It took discipline not to watch the numbers changing. The other three marines were focussed on the door, waiting for it to open, weapons up and index finger touching the triggers. Acre and Cartier were on one knee, Livingston pressed against the wall of the compartment. I took up position on the other side. Cavendish stood in the middle, hands behind her back. In her dress, looking unarmed, she looked like a civilian. With luck it would delay the opposition long enough for us to start firing first.
The silence continued until Acre started humming an off key version of a well-known tune. Cartier sniggered.
“Focus.” Muttered Cavendish. “Three, two, one.”
“Ting.” Added Acre.