At that moment, a cowled Dar burst out of the Vault door, trailing a surprised Javierra in his wake. Ignoring the armoured figure, Dar strode over to Algol and Sparks and began to berate them in guttural Luxan, casting frequent apologetic glances back towards the Church-Militant warrior. For its part, the warrior held its fire, curious as to what was happening. Casting sidelong glances at each other, Algol and Sparks played along with Dar’s ruse, trying to look suitably crestfallen and cowed. Finishing his tirade with a final burst of Luxan expletives, Dar turned back to the huge armoured form. In a combination of harshly-accented Standard Galac from Dar, and fluent academic flummery from Javierra, the two of them apologised for not displaying the relevant permits for removing the artefact immediately on leaving the Vault due to the stupidity of their underlings. After a brief moment, the harsh targeting lasers blinked off and the suit resumed its overwatch protocols, its external vox emitting a brief, metallic ‘Be on your way’ as its weapons switched to standby.
As the crew released breaths they hadn’t realised the’d been holding, they moved rapidly back to their loaned grav-loader and headed back to the SysCop checkpoint that they had passed through earlier. As they approached, Javierra pulled out a sheaf of permits etched into thin ceramic sheets; paper or plas would have been rapidly rendered unreadable in Shimaya’s harsh desert environment. Fortunately, as part of their planning for the job, Sparks had sent his stealthed drone to locate Javierra and bring her up to speed with their plans; powering the drone’s stealth field had drained its power cells, but it had done its job. Javierra had been able to prepare a set of the necessary documents to exit the dig site; they weren’t valid, and wouldn’t pass more than a cursory inspection, but they were sufficient to fool the sort of low-grade SysCops who ran security details. Combined with the good impression they’d made earlier, the forged passes were sufficient to get them waved through with minimal delay.
Once out of sight of the SysCop checkpoint, Sparks opened up the throttle on the grav-loader, heading for the ‘Susan’s berth at Gar Kulon. Routes on Shimaya were not marked by roads as these would quickly be swallowed up by the ever-shifting sands. Instead, routes were marked out by a trail of transponders that interfaced with the primitive urbot minds of vehicles. Losing the transponder signal could be tantamount to a death sentence, so travellers were careful to stay on designated routes. Still, the crew tried to stay off the simplest route to avoid any unnecessary entanglements; at one point, a heavily-armed and armoured SysCop transport floated past, heading in the direction of the dig site. Nervously the crew watched it pass, noting the large and not doubt potent weapons pods studding its flanks. If the alarm had been raised at the Vault, those weapons would make short work of their basic grav-loader. As the AFV disappeared into the heat haze, the crew let go a collective sigh of relief and signalled Sparks to gun the engine and get them to the ship ASAP.
Within a short time the Lazy Susan blasted off from Gar Kulon, the crew glad to throw off their desert survival gear. There was little time to savour their successful extraction however, as their agreement with the Sah’iir stipulated they needed to take Javierra Gallia to the industrial facilities orbiting Indri, requiring a trip through the Brekk Jump Gate. In common with all Gates, the Legion maintained a heavy military presence both for purposes of defence and control; in the Brekk system, this presence took the form of a heavily-armed installation, holding station ahead of the Gate where it could monitor all incoming and outgoing system traffic. As the Susan took its place in the queue to enter the Gate, the crew noted that traffic was slowing up as more vessels than usual were being boarded and checked. This could only mean one thing; the alarm had been raised at the Shimayan dig site and the word was out to find the missing xenoarchaeologist and artefact.
The crew had anticipated this and made what they hoped were sufficient preparations. One set of their false ident-codes and transponders showed them as licensed extraction specialists, or ‘bounty hunters’, so they made sure that everything about the Susan fitted that role. As long as the Susan wasn’t boarded, the fiction should be enough to get them through the checkpoint. As an extra safeguard, Sparks had engaged a digital intrusion specialist to hack into the Legion database and alter the records appended to Javierra’s identity as well as reduce the likelihood of the Susan tripping any Legion alerts. Unfortunately, as Dar responded to Legion hails, it became clear that the hacker hadn’t been sufficiently competent: if the ship was boarded and searched, the fugitive would be recognised the moment she was seen. In fact, a Legion shuttle was on an intercept course at that moment! Furthermore, their scans showed that another vessel was shadowing their movements in the ship queue; not close enough to be an immediate threat, but clearly someone who had more than a passing interest in them or their cargo. Who they were, however, remained a mystery for now.
Cursing in a number of languages, the crew leaped into action. Bundling Javierra into a vac-suit, they shoved her unceremoniously into the unpressurised smuggling compartment along with the artefact. However, if the Legion took too long there was a strong chance that her oxygen might run out. Bolting the scan-proof panels in place, the last sight they had of Javierra was of her panicked eyes, staring out of the suit’s vis-panel.
The Legion officer supervising the two-man scan team proved to be an older man, clearly passed over for promotion many times as he remained a lowly sur-levenbrech even after many years. As his subordinates moved through the ship, Sparks sounded the officer out for his openness to a mutually beneficial ‘business arrangement’, or (as it could be more vulgarly termed), a bribe. Luckily for them (and for Javierra), the officer was saving for his retirement. After a brief exchange of ‘goodwill’ (which would reduce their take at the end of the job), the sur-levenbrech summoned his team and left the Susan to go about its business. Again with a sense of relief, the Susan moved to the Gate and activated their drives, throwing the ship forward and into the impossibility of hyperspace.
As they did so, the mystics on the crew sensed a fluctuation in the usual Way-flows around a Gate; the presence of the three Ur artefacts on board seeming to act as a beacon to the Way creatures that often congregated around the Ur portals. One of the creatures separated from the mass and seemed to meld with the Susan’s hull. But for now, the crew were glad to have completed their first job; now for the next one...