It was a beautiful evening in Athens, the seaside cityscape lit up with color and light. At this hour, curfew had the streets cleared. Not much noise drifted down from the waterfront to the ocean where the cruise ship was in port, leaving a peaceful silence across the dark waters.
Sarah placed a steadying hand on the prow of the cruise ship, leaving only her nose and eyes exposed from the surface of the water. Paddling her legs gently, she watched silently towards the main gangplank leading from the dock up to the ship's main entrance. The guests hadn't arrived yet.
Intel thus far was right on the money. Someone in the Empire was holding a high level, classified meeting late tonight somewhere in Athens, and that meant Delta Team needed eyes and ears on the ground. Finding the exact meeting place had seemed damned near impossible. But Sarah had tracked a local Strike Team leader to his girlfriend's place about a mile from the seaside. She guessed it was his night off, because no one else was around to hear him scream as she pried the information out of him.
Now here she was floating in the black ocean water, trying to remain invisible until her target showed up. Sarah would have loved nothing more than to plant a few explosives around the cruise ship's hull, but she had direct orders from Delta Command not to interfere with proceedings tonight. They were on reconnaissance only; Bravo Team would handle assassinations later.
Sarah mentally counted time in her head. It was a little past two a.m. now. Her legs were starting to grow sore from the constant paddling, but she was willing to wait until dawn if that's what it took. Fortunately for her, a small group of armed guards suddenly appeared on the dock. Somewhere in the crowd of bodies, Sarah could make out several individuals in uniform.
The procession moved silently up the gangplank, disappearing inside the ship. Now it was time for Sarah to move. Paddling around to the opposite side of the ship, she found the anchor line and grabbed hold of the thick chain. Reaching hand over hand, she hoisted herself up about forty feet to the main deck. It was laborious work, and Sarah knew she could never have pulled it off without her training in the Marines nearly six years ago. Since then, working on Delta Team, she had found herself in too many situations where that kind of physical aptitude was essential.
Placing two aching hands on the edge of the deck, Sarah hoisted herself just high enough to peer around for watching guards. Someone was walking away from her along the balcony running the length of the ship, their back to her.
Sarah sucked in a silent breath, pulling herself over the railing and landing as gently and quietly as possible. It was time to lose the wet suit.
There was a door into a darkened dining room just across from her. Sarah took it, relieved to find no security patrolling inside. She found a quiet alcove, probably once used by staff, and quickly set to stripping off the dark, rubbery clothing. Underneath was her tactical suit, just as dark, loaded to the brim with as much equipment as her superiors could pack in, and unfortunately skin tight. Sarah understood the necessity, as it helped her navigate tight spaces, but it left little to the imagination when it came to her particular physique. More than a few times, she spotted other members of Delta Team ogling her.
Stashing her wet suit under a cupboard, Sarah sopped up as much water as she could from her short, brown hair. It wouldn't be a problem.
Now it was time to find the meeting place. Sarah checked her Remote Access Pad, finding that someone back at HQ had responded to her request. After interrogating the Strike Team leader, she had put in an order for blue prints on the cruise ship. Looked like someone had come through, providing her with a rough schematic. Sarah glanced over it quickly, deciding to focus her efforts on two specific conference rooms. They were about two decks above her, and looked lavish enough for high-end guests of the Empire.
Sticking to the interior, Sarah found a hallway beyond the dining room, linked to several other main level deck attractions and commodities. There was one guard wandering the halls here, but as far as she could tell, no one in any of the other rooms. It would be easy to dispatch the lone guard, but Sarah decided against it for the time being. Someone would miss him before long, and if someone found the body then there would be little doubt someone had infiltrated the ship.
Sarah decided to try her luck with a vent shaft in a utility room on the same deck. It was back behind another restaurant and a massage clinic. The door was obviously locked, but Sarah's lock blasting kit was enough to fry the internal tumblers. It caused a small ruckus and a puff of light, but after a beat, Sarah was certain the lone guard hadn't heard it. Now it would be nice if he would stay away, missing the door with a burnt lock that suddenly opened.
Inside, it was a bit of a trick prying open the vent grill, but there was a tool kit for Sarah's convenience. Two minutes later and she was in, pressing her body at odd angles to work her way up three decks. It was a hell of a climb, and she made sure to pause often to listen for signs that someone was onto her. It was a little noisier than she would have liked, banging through the metal shaft, but the schematics had placed her deep within the ship interior, hopefully away from listening ears.
Finally, she arrived at a horizontal junction along the deck she needed to be on. This led her beneath the floor, where her crawling made less of a sound. Sarah thanked her lucky stars she wasn't claustrophobic; she could imagine herself easily becoming a basket case right now.
The vent took her to the second of the two conference rooms she had pegged. No light streamed through the grill in the floor, revealing an empty room beyond. Pushing on, it took her another five minutes to wind through the air system around to the first one. As she rounded the corner, she could already hear voices. Shafts of light poured down from above, illuminating the crawl space immediately in front of her.
Sarah eased herself gingerly, sliding more than crawling. She hesitated just outside the shafts of light, listening to the voices above. She also made sure to activate a recording app on her Remote Access Pad. Right now, it seemed conversation was limited between two voices: one male, bitching about something, the other female, refuting whatever he was going on about.
"—construction project on the north island has always cut into our resources."
"That's irrelevant," the female voice cut in sharply. "This meeting isn't to decide resource allocation; it's to find out why the hell you can't manage your teams with the resources you've got."
A pause. Then the male voice continued.
"We're spread too thin. The resistance forces are making hell of our numbers in Europe. Why the hell are we even meeting in Athens? If they found out about this—!"
"That's why it's the dead of morning and we're at this location. No one knows we're here, and if you're afraid someone's going to try some sort of assassination attempt, our security detail will make short work of it."
Sarah grinned to herself. She may have standing orders not to blow up any of the officers in the room above her, but their so-called security had managed to let her slip through. Not so safe after all.
"Look," male voice continued, "you can do whatever the hell you want with our available resources. But if my Strike Teams don't get the necessary tech or equipment, there's only so much we can do. I'm not a miracle worker."
Sarah blinked at the sound of a silenced gunshot. She recognized the sound of a limp body falling to the ground.
"Was that really necessary?" the female voice groaned. That surprised Sarah; she had thought her the one who had performed the execution.
"It's like he said," a second female suddenly voice spoke up, "he's not a miracle worker. And I know I can find someone to better manage my elite teams."
"Fine. But I'm not cleaning up that mess. Or this mess, for that matter."
"I didn't expect you to. Get back to the island. I'll find someone from local ranks to fill the position. I'm sure the mess in here will be enough motivation for them to get the job done."
Sarah rolled her eyes at the black humor. Though she couldn't help wonder if the Strike Team leader she had interrogated and disposed of earlier was on the candidacy list. Boy, wouldn't these people sure get a surprise.
So the Empire was having trouble managing Strike Time assets in Europe. That was good Intel. Maybe Delta Team could get the resistance heads to push for a more focused campaign. They could certainly move some forces out of Asia. That seemed to be a dead-end currently, anyway.
Also, what was this talk about construction on an island? Which island? Delta Team definitely needed to pursue that. If it was enough to divert resources from battlefield units, it had to be important. And where there was something important, surely Bravo Team could blow it up.
Sarah perked up. That was the first female voice.
"Shit. We've got trouble."
"What now?" the second female voice added, bored.
"We have a breach in security. This ship isn't safe."
Sarah felt her heart leap. Shit, how were they onto her? Had that stupid lone guard spotted the burnt lock after all?
"Whatever. It's time to go anyway."
Footsteps thudded out of the conference room and someone killed the light. Sarah waited a beat, then began slithering back the way she had come. All the while, she felt her adrenaline begin to spike. Shit, they were aware of her now, and that meant all kinds of horrific possibilities. Would they flush her out? Hell, would they pull everyone off and just sink the damn boat?
The thought left Sarah to pause.
Instead of heading back down the same shaft she had ascended through, she worked her way forward. Eventually she found a floor vent large enough that she felt she could fit through. It took some work and a few tools on her person to pry it loose, but eventually it was open. Climbing through proved to be another matter altogether. It involved some awkward positioning, but eventually she rolled out onto the floor.
Listening for trouble, Sarah sprung to her feet, making her way cautiously down a hall. Her heart froze when a guard walked around a corner and nearly face first into her.
Without blinking, Sarah reached out with two firm hands. Grabbing the guards head, she yanked it down sharply into her raised knee. She felt his nose break, but slammed his head once more to knock him out for the count. Then she bolted.
An open doorway led her to a top floor balcony, looking down three decks to the main one below; and beyond that the open sea.
She took a deep breath. Then she placed her hands over her head in a diver's position and jumped.
She exhaled all the air in her lungs in flight, straightening herself as much as possible as the black water raced up to meet her. Sarah plunged through the surface, disappearing into the depths below. Then she started swimming. She had no idea how much attention that little stunt had drawn, but she knew how far of a swim it was to the extraction point. And she knew she could stay under water for at least forty more seconds.
Time to make them count.