It didn't take Athena long before she got her answer.

By the time she and the others were escorted to one of the main gates on the side of the cruiser, the gate was already open and connected to a fully sealed bridge. Athena stole a glance out of the transparent glass on the side of the bridge and saw a barren, likely uninhabitable planet. It seemed like they have landed already, something impossible to tell within the mess hall or the living quarters in the cruiser. Judging by the situation, they were being herded into some type of outpost or base on the planet.

“Keep moving!” One of the crew members shoved a passenger in front of Athena. The passenger stumbled but did his best to hide his anger, knowing any sort of resistance would only lead to more issues.

One by one, the passengers moved through the bridge that took them away from the cruiser they had been on for the last three days. On the other end of the corridor was a large open floor. There on the floor stood dozens of men and a handful of women. Like the crew of the cruiser, they were all armed, but they looked a lot more disorderly than the crew of Epsilon-9. Many of them wore rag-tagged clothes that looked like they haven’t been washed in weeks. A handful of them casually swung their weapons around with no regard for gun safety and snickered at the look of fear coming from both the passengers and the annoyed crew members.

A few passengers frowned at the odor coming from these armed men. They were all individuals with decent social status back on Sierra Prime, but now they were at the mercy of a bunch of savages.

Many of the men on the floor whistled at the women among the passengers. One of these men stared at Athena. Athena scoffed inside. If it came down to it, should she summon the zealots or the marines first? Maybe the roaches could act as better human…Zerg shields?

As all the passengers have gotten off the bridge, one of the men in the room began barking orders at the others. He was either an officer or an overeager foot soldier. Either way, the armed grunts began following through on what Athena was a pre-determined plan. They divided the passengers into different groups of roughly half a dozen each and began escorting them down different corridors the floor led to. Some of the passengers struggled in fear, only to be struck with batons or firearms.

Athena, Adrianna, Dash, Click, and Cassie were put into a group with two other passengers, a man and a woman who looked like they were a couple. A trio of men from the base, all armed with rifles whose variants Athena didn't recognize, flanked them and began guiding them down a network of hallways. Athena silently memorized this path, keenly noticing the same pattern of chaos and disarray in almost every piece of ground she came across. This was completely different from the orderly halls of Prison 09 or Airfield Sigma.

Finally, the seven of them reached their destination: A dark storage room with a door that could only be locked from the outside.

After the trio of men left and locked the door behind them, the woman in the couple broke down and began crying. Her husband did his best to comfort her, but there was little confidence in his voice. Athena glanced at Cassie and saw that the teenager, despite being quite scared, was much more stoic than the couple. Perhaps this was because she had little to look forward to in the first place.

Adrianna looked around the room and scoffed. “Is this supposed to be a prison cell? I mean…I knew those guys aren’t the most professional in this field, but come on! Is that…what even is that?” She took a few steps toward something laying on the ground. “Some type of mechanical spare part? Do they really don’t have real cells for their hostages? I can’t even find any cameras here.”

“By the look of things outside, they aren’t the most organized people out there.” Athena shrugged. “And also I’m assuming something like this that involves so many prisoners is a special occurrence for them.”

“Who were those people?” Cassie looked to Athena, taking some comfort in how calm and in control she and Adrianna were.

“Pirates, most likely,” Dash commented with a scoff. “And incompetent ones at that. I only saw another small ship, maybe a light cruiser if we’re being generous, and a few fighters in their hangar before we entered the base. I doubt they’re a real threat to any armed faction.”

Athena nodded in silent agreement. Back in Starcraft, there were powerful pirates and mercenaries who had entire fleets and armies at their disposal. Take Mira’s Marauders, for example…it was obvious there was something wrong with the sector when a group of mercenaries was deploying space platforms and fleets of battlecruisers, supplemented by ordinance towers, mag-mines, and griffon fighters.

There were likely also powerful outlaw factions in the Chaos Sectors capable of supplying and deploying armadas, but this group of pirates? They really weren’t remotely on the same level.

“Maybe these pirates are partners of Epsilon-9?” Adrianna frowned. “But that doesn’t explain why some of the crew executed the others. Maybe a betrayal within their ranks?”

“Why don’t we ask them ourselves.” Athena simply shrugged before stepping toward the door and loudly banging against it.

“What are you doing?” The couple looked utterly horrified. The man cried out even before the guards did anything. “They…they will kill us! You saw how they killed those people back there!”

“I’m pretty sure they are two different factions, but you may be right. I’m sure they will try.” Athena reassured the unfortunate man. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine soon.”

“So what are we thinking?” Adrianna asked. “The same treatment we gave Hadrian and his pals?”

By that, she meant getting into the same room as the target and then suddenly pulling out an infestor. Adrianna didn't understand how Athena was able to summon the infestors out of nowhere, and she didn't really care. It allowed a number of interesting tactics, something that had been proven with the Lees already.

“Not quite.” Athena shook her head. There were risks with that strategy. She had to be in the same room as the target, and if bullets started flying, she could very well end up dead. “This time they may have a lot more security around and I question if they will agree to a meeting in the first place. There is also no need to risk it. This is not Sierra Prime. If we can take the hangar in time, no one outside this planet will find out what happened. Even if someone made it out…what could they do? Call the authorities on us? They may have help, but I doubt it's something we can't handle.”

Of course, there was no need to get the Protoss or the Zerg involved against these pirates. Unless something out of the ordinary occurred, her Terrans should be more than enough.

Adrianna nodded. On the side, Cassie and the couple still had no idea what Athena was talking about. Before they could ask, the door was finally unlocked, and a pair of annoyed guards stepped into the room.

Before they could say anything, Athena went into action. She was in no mood to beat around the bush. “Seize them.” She commanded.

The next second, two fully armored Terran marines emerged behind the pair of pirates. With lightning speed, they grabbed onto the bodies of the pirates and disarmed them forcefully. The unarmored pirates were completely caught off guard, not that they would’ve been able to resist the strength of the CMC armors if they were prepared.

“What in the name of…” One of the pirates, a bald man with way too much ink on his face, cried out in shock. How the hell did two men in power armor get there? How did they even get inside their base, much less so close to them? Were they that intoxicated? Maybe the new type of narcotics was as strong as advertised? It would be a good thing if it was discovered in a less violent scenario.

Adrianna knew about her ability to bring in units when Athena told her about the Zerg, but Athena wasn’t willing to share that with Cassie and the others. She also didn't want the pirates to know that. This was why she did a few things differently. This way, most people would only wonder how incompetent the pirates had to be to let a sizeable human force infiltrate their base like this.

Another marine emerged from the hallway and proceeded to close the door behind him after entering the exceedingly crowded storage room. It was Rum, one of Athena’s oldest marines and the current leader of the Terrans. Dash quickly began explaining the situation to Rum as Click started interrogating the pirates on the basics of the outpost.

To the surprise of Athena and most of her Terran units, the pair of pirates began spilling everything even before Click could threaten them. To say they had questionable loyalty was an understatement. They barely even tried to resist. Hell, one of the pirates was going above and beyond and explaining things Click didn't even ask.

“We are pirates. More specifically, we are part of this group called White Tigress. The name originates from an image that we send to merchant ships that we target…although it’s possible the image came from the name. We honestly don’t know. My friend and I joined this crew way after it was first created. Our leader is…well here’s the thing, he calls himself the White Tiger, and he makes all of us call him that. His real name is Orlan, I think. One of the older guys called him that once and he got really mad.”

“How many of us are there? Maybe around 300 of us in total the last time I checked. We all fight if needed, but we rarely had to. There is also the crew from that ship you came here on. I really don’t know how many of them there are. What? No, we’re pirates. Why would we have armored vehicles? We barely have any power armor. How many? Maybe two dozen old ones? Power armor is expensive to buy and more expensive to maintain. We don’t have that kind of cash. We usually just split every mark we make.”

“Our ship is converted from a V3 merchant ship someone captured a long time ago. It’s maybe...I'd say 20 years old? Its weapons? A few missile tubes and maybe some railguns? It's mostly anti-air weapons. We also have maybe half a dozen starfighters. What kind? Hmmm…two Republic S-12s. Maybe some Imperial ones? I really have no idea. As I said, I am just a foot soldier. Their job was mostly to intimidate the merchant ships into surrendering. Their railgun rounds are very expensive. I doubt they even have any missiles left.”

"How cooperative of you." Click commented at the end. He really pitied the leader of these pirates. With a crew like this, what did he need enemies for?

“This is just how things go in this line of work. There is no money to be made in dying honorably.” That pirate protested upon sensing the disdain in Click’s voice. “We’re not soldiers, sir. We’re not warriors. We are pirates, and our loyalty goes to whoever is the strongest and pays us the most. If you don’t mind me asking, sir, how many of you are here? Are you here to take over this operation?”

“Why would I tell you?” Click scoffed.

“If we think you can win this fight, and if you are willing to cut us a slice of the pie by the time this is all over, my friend and I will be happy to serve as guides to your men.” The pirate, for better or for worse, was a brilliant businessman. After the initial shock passed, he saw an opportunity in this life-threatening scenario. “I can take them to the hangar. Or the armory. Or the grand hall where Orlan usually is. You may be able to find your way there on your own, but I can help get you there so much quicker.”

“Sir?” Click turned to Athena and awaited her decision. The pirate did a similar thing, his heart beating loudly as he waited to learn what his fate would be.

“If what you told us is true, then we have more than enough to take this base.” Athena nodded at Click before reassuring the pirate. “Even if you lied to us, that may still be the case. It’s just that you won’t be alive when we win.”

“I understand, sir…ma’am.”

“I will leave the situation to you, Rum. Try to take as many alive as possible.” Athena turned to Rum, who had learned the basics from Dash. The veteran Terran marine nodded and marched out of the door.

The two armored Terran marines stayed with Athena as bodyguards. They weren’t needed at the front, because in a corner of the hallway with no surveillance and outside the line of sight of any non-Terran, more and more Terran infantry units began taking form. There were the 50 marines and marauders who survived the battle of Prison 09, and they were joined by 20 reapers, most of whom were freshly produced just then.

The so-called White Tiger would have a hard time figuring out how dozens of armored troops snuck into his base. If he survived this battle, of course.

A note from The Athena Institute

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About the author

The Athena Institute


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