Armed with the information Stevens gave them, our heroines plan their rescue.
The first half of the trip back to Osnade flew by as Erica and I formulated and rejected and reformulated a dozen different plans to infiltrate the organ harvesting operation. Getting in was always the easiest part of the plan. It wasn’t that we knew everything we would face—the number of unknowns in the operation was staggering—but at least we knew exactly who would face those unknowns.
Ancient Terran history never was a strong point of mine, but I know some pre-spaceflight general supposedly said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” What went unsaid was the reason experienced leaders didn’t end up as quivering mounds of anxiety. No, you can’t plan for everything. Hell, you won’t ever know everything you should be planning for. But if the people carrying out your plan are well-trained and keep their heads when the carefully constructed plan falls apart, you can count on them to remember their goals and make decisions based on achieving it.
In other words, I knew how Erica would respond in an emergency and she knew the same about me. We could count on each other to keep our heads and always, always work toward freeing the kids and shutting down Perkins and her operation. And we would have to depend on each other even more once we added a couple of hundred scared and anxious teenagers to the mix.
Approaching the wormhole exit to Osnade, we went over the bones of our plan for the fifth time.
“The plant’s cover as a fish processing plant will provide our excuse to land at the facility,” Erica said. “We’ll use our forged shipping contract to land at their private cargo ship landing field. According to Stevens, the plant has enough traffic that we won’t stand out too much.”
“What do you do if the landing field’s people don’t let us into their landing pattern until they can confirm the contract?” I asked.
“I’ll find a way to talk them into letting us land while they sort it out. Assuming most of the people who work at the plant are just normal employees, a good sob story ought to get us the necessary permissions,” she said. “The next part is up to you.”
The two of us spent a full day debating this next step of our plan. Like any good undercover officer, Erica pushed for a quiet and careful infiltration of the facility. We’d bypass alarms, sneak around guards, use the secret entrance to the underground organ harvesting plant, and then find the kids. After that, the whole operation would get pretty noisy, since there’s no way we could ‘sneak’ hundreds of people out of the plant. That’s why I pushed for the noisy approach from the beginning.
We argued a lot over that. I won.
“This is where our carefully formulated plan,” my partner snorted when I said that, “goes off the rails. Or, more to the point, it goes off of FBI rails and onto Navy rails. We go in fast and hard, blasting anything that looks remotely like a threat. I smash through the plant’s roof and land where we think we’ll find the way down to the illegal part of the operation.”
Erica shook her head as I finished describing the last part of our plan, such as it was. “I’m still not sure about this idea.”
I waved a finger at her. “Nuh uh. We fought, I won. There’s no backing out now.”
“I know,” she said, “but this isn’t even a plan. It feels more like a smash-and-grab jewelry heist than a rescue.”
“Because that’s exactly what it is.” I gave Erica a hard look. “We’ve been over this a dozen times. We both agree the plant’s security will be built around stopping infiltrators—and there’s a reason for that.”
“Because Perkins and her friends are worried about spies and thieves, who would sneak into the facility.” Erica repeated my arguments almost word-for-word, she’d heard them so many times. “If we hit them fast and hard, we’ll throw off all of their response patterns and bypass their security in a most unexpected manner.”
“Exactly,” I beamed at my partner. “Never underestimate the value of surprise. If we’re really lucky, we can have the kids on the way to the Darkheart before anyone at the plant knows what’s happening.”
“But what if we get to Osnade and find Jake’s help waiting for us? Or, even better, the Navy?”
“If it’s Jake’s people, we bring them up to speed on the plan and enlist their help. It would be really good if we had more than two people herding the kids back to the ship,” I replied. “If it’s the Navy, we let them lead the attack. Then we get to simply give the children a ride to the Terran Embassy. But we both know it would take a miracle for the Navy to be there. The messenger drone only reached the nearest navy base a few hours ago.”
A little later, we exited the wormhole and got our first look at the Osnade system in nearly a week. You can imagine my surprise and excitement when our scanners detected a Federation destroyer in orbit around Osnade!
Are Nancy’s and Erica’s prayers answered? Find out in Chapter 27, coming Monday.