Chapter 46: Leaving Sierra Prime
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Two more days went by before Athena finally received a reply from Hadrian Lee about a possible way off this planet.

“Epsilon-9 has been offering to smuggle anyone who wishes off this planet, my Queen.” The young leader of the crime family reported to Athena after inviting her and Adrianna into his office once again. “At a very hefty price, of course, but my family can take care of that. They promised to provide transportation to a world by the name of Aegor VI. The planet is under the rule of the Coalition. The imperial presence there is limited.”

“The Coalition?” Adrianna asked curiously. The redhead was still a little drunk. She had been letting herself go quite a lot during this short break. Athena didn't blame her. The last few days had been quite stressful, after all.

“It is an alliance between a dozen or so small nations in the Chaos Sectors. The Coalition tries to remain neutral between the Empire, the Imperium, and the Republic. Their influence mainly resides in the Halo Sector.” Hadrian explained before turning back to Athena. “Aegor VI will be well outside the reach of any major power in the galaxy. The Coalition is also known to be generally weak and corrupt. They will not be a threat if you wish to infiltrate the local government or move to another location.”

“I see.” Athena nodded. This world sounded like a good destination to go to. At the very least it would be better than staying here. If she could reach it. “Just a quick question. This service offered by Epsilon-9…when did it start?”

“It began a few months ago, my Queen. As far as I have learned, there had been a number of these trips already.”

“And how far is this Aegor VI?”

“Around 80 cal from here, sir. It is located in one of the more remote parts of the Halo Sector.”

Cal was the most common unit of distance in the galaxy, mainly because it was the most convenient. One cal stood for the distance it would take the standard Callisto Engines one standard day to cover, not counting any time it would take between jumps to repair and possibly refuel. 80 cal was quite a distance even in a galaxy as big as this one. The fact that it would take over three months to get there meant any Imperial invasion into that region would quickly be met with logistical nightmares.

“So how the hell do we know the passengers actually got to the destination?” Athena pointed out an issue that no doubt crossed the mind of every other potential passenger. “How do we know Epsilin-9 didn't just take the passengers to one of their bases, loot them, and then execute them? Wouldn’t that be smarter financially for them than completing the entire trip as promised? It’s not like anyone will call the police on them.”

“It would, and the truth is there is no guarantee that’s not the case,” Hadrian admitted. “For one thing, many people don’t know the true nature of Epsilon-9 and the businesses they are involved in. People who are willing to take the route offered by Epsilon-9 are also the most desperate ones. Some may be famous anti-Imperial politicians or journalists. Others may be government officials or wealthy businessmen that have publicly spoken against the Imperium. They are people who really, really don’t want to be taken by the Imperials but also don’t have the influence to secure a safer way out. With the war going on, all civilian interstellar travels have been halted and only shady characters like Epsilon-9 are offering this service. Without any legitimate way to escape, these people have no choice but to make this desperate gamble and hope for the best, and Epsilon-9 knows it. They are taking advantage of this to make a quick buck.”

“Well, let’s hope they are content with profit from the expensive tickets. For their sake.” Athena nodded. This seemed to be her only way out. Plus, she wasn’t too worried about what Epsilon-9 might do to her. She was confident it wasn’t something the psi blades of half a dozen zealots couldn't handle. “Can you get 4 tickets?”

“Yes, my Queen.”

Two days later, in a move that would shock the entire world of Sierra Prime, General Lucius, one of the main military members of the Decima Royal Court, declared his allegiance to Decimus I and stated that Decimus II was nothing more than a false king and a kinslayer. He called for all loyal Decima forces to lay down their arms and join the Imperium, and to the horror of his former colleagues in the Royal Court, multiple Legion Masters immediately obliged. Within the span of hours, major elements of 12 different Legions that had been fighting at the frontline surrendered to the Imperial Army that had been fighting for so long. It was obvious this betrayal was pre-meditated.

The Kingdom of Decima had reserve forces that were yet uncompromised, but before anyone could mobilize these reserves, well-prepared armored divisions of the Imperial Army immediately penetrated the Decima defensive network through the newly abandoned sections. Numerous loyalist Decima forces were outflanked, surrounded, and subsequently broken. Countless missile bases, airfields, and forts were easily taken by overwhelming force or were simply handed over to the Imperials without a fight.

In orbit, the war took a drastic turn as well. The Decima Royal Navy had already been struggling to hold back the substantially reinforced Imperial fleets that joined the fight not long after the discovery of Project Guardian. When portions of the Decima Royal Navy suddenly switched their allegiance and opened fire on their former comrades at almost point-blank range, the remaining loyalists were completely shattered. Most loyalist ships were destroyed or forced to surrender in a disastrous battle. The surviving vessels had to pull away from the orbit over the Royal Province, giving the Imperials total orbital control over the heart of the Kingdom of Decima.

Before long, the combined might of the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy was closing in on the Royal Province. Bombers and missiles of the Navy began showering Decima positions and fortifications in the province with little opposition. The reinforced Imperial Army significantly outnumbered their enemies. While hundreds of thousands of Imperial group troops headed for the Royal Province for a killing blow, many other divisions were sent to conquer the less important cities and provinces of the planet. The more ground they conquered, the more likely the remaining Decima citizens and soldiers would be willing to surrender.

With most Decima forces routed or destroyed during the betrayal and the disasters that followed, most Decima cities became defenseless and quickly surrendered to the Imperials. Storm’s City was one of them. It barely had enough resources to hold back its city gangs. What hope did it stand against three Imperial armored divisions closing in?

Luckily for all parties involved, Athena had left Storm’s City already.

The location provided by Epsilon-9 was two days of drive away from Storm’s City. After crossing half a dozen provinces, Athena, Adrianna, and their two unarmored marine bodyguards reached an empty warehouse in the middle of nowhere. There, they met several men who, after searching them and their belongings for weapons or trackers, put them aboard a shuttle that already had a number of other individuals who also purchased tickets off this world.

Several minutes later, the shuttle, now packed with around twenty people, finally took off. Many of the passengers were women and children, but Athena also noticed a number of men present. The shuttle's windows were completely blacked out in order to prevent the passengers from seeing where they were going. Despite its mistakes in terms of wider strategies against the Imperium, Epsilon-9 was quite careful with the details of its illegal operations.

By the time the shuttle landed again after a few hours, the passengers were herded out into the terminal of an empty civilian starport. They were given some food and water, but aside from that the treatment was quite poor given how much these passengers spent on the tickets. Not that it surprised any of the passengers. They all knew, by various degrees, that these people were of shady backgrounds. They would be happy as long as they got to their destinations in one piece. Comfort was not remotely at the top of their list of priorities.

Athena and her group chose to lay low the entire time and complied with whatever orders they were given. They weren’t afraid of Epsilon-9, like the others, but it wouldn’t be in their best interest to fight here and now. If Athena had to fight, she would rather do it after leaving this planet.

Unfortunately, sometimes it took more than keeping the head down to be left alone.

“The guards. They are watching us, and I don’t think it’s because they want to ask us out one day,” After taking another bite of a piece of bread she brought with her, Adrianna turned and whispered to Athena.

Before Athena could reply, a man who looked like he was in his mid-thirties walked up to Athena and the others. There was a smile on his face, but the effects of the smile were damaged by the scar on his cheeks. Scars that looked like someone once threw acid onto the man's face. Judging by the sidearm he carried, he was a member of Epsilon-9. Dash and Click looked to the man in warning, but the man ignored them and simply sat down in the seat in front of Athena.

“Good afternoon. Amelia, isn’t it?” The man smiled at Athena, referring to her by the fake name she provided for the ticket. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Viktor. I am the one in charge of this crew. Feel free to let me know if you need anything. I will be happy to oblige as long as I can.”

Athena sighed. She didn't know this man’s story, but that didn't change the fact that she really didn't want to talk to him. Still, with so many guards and passengers around, this wasn’t really a case where she could neural parasite her way through her problems.

“Appreciate it, Viktor.” Athena did her best to be polite, hoping the man would leave her alone. It soon became clear that he had no such intentions. Rather than leaving to attend to more important tasks, he kept up a conversation with Athena.

“So, where are you from, Amelia?” The man questioned. His tone was friendly, but it didn't change the inquisitive nature of his question.

At that moment, Athena’s mind quickly turned. Viktor and his men were paying extra attention to them for a reason. Why? Unless they somehow suddenly gained the power to read minds, it was because they noticed something special about her and her group. What did they notice? The answer came to her almost immediately. More likely than not, it was Dash and Click that caught their attention.

Even without their armor and weapons, it was obvious that Dash and Click stood out among the other passengers. They were much too strong to be the family of some wealthy businessman or government official. They were also quite protective of Athena and Adrianna. It was easy to come to the conclusion that they were here as bodyguards to the two women.

As Hadrian said, the tickets were quite expensive, and Athena assumed most people could only afford the tickets for their family members. The fact that she was able to not only have two bodyguards but also pay for their tickets must be a sign of wealth, and maybe influence, to Viktor and his men.

Truth to be told she had realized the two unarmored marines might stand out, but they were necessary. She needed at least a few seconds to deploy her units in case of danger, and Dash and Click were there to buy her those seconds if necessary.

As for why Viktor asked her instead of Adrianna…maybe she looked younger and more naive?

With that realization in mind, Athena’s solution was simple. She was going to be exactly who Viktor thought she was. A spoiled brat from a wealthy, and maybe powerful, family.

“That is none of your business.” Athena used the most arrogant tone she could while staring fearlessly at Viktor. Not fearlessly as if she had the power to kill Viktor and every single one of his goons, but fearlessly as if she was too naive and too stupid to know what Viktor was capable of. “You’re paid to provide safe passage, not to ask questions.”

For a second Athena could see a spark of anger in Viktor’s eyes, but the man controlled himself. “Forgive me, Amelia, but I am simply trying to make sure there will be no issues for the trip. As you said, we are paid to provide safe passage.”

“Issues? What issues can we cause? Your people, your goons, searched us before we even got here!” Athena sighed inside and kept up the act of someone who had been spoiled for her entire life. “Look, if you really want to know, we are from Storm’s City. My parents are both lawyers. This is my sister and they are some of my father's friends. Happy now?”

Viktor scoffed inside at the terrible excuse. Lawyers? What lawyers could afford to buy four tickets? He glanced at Dash and Click before smiling and standing up.

“Of course, Miss Amelia. Please enjoy your trip. We will be taking off soon.”

Viktor’s smile disappeared the moment he turned around. A cold smirk climbed onto his face. This girl was hiding something. More likely than not, she was the daughter of someone important. Her companions looked like veteran soldiers. Perhaps they were mercenaries. Maybe they were even household guards or legionnaires. They were clearly well-trusted both in terms of skill and loyalty. It didn't matter. His men had made sure they had no trackers on them, and by the time their ship left this planet, this girl would be under his control and it would take more than two soldiers to change that.

Perhaps he could try to seize and interrogate them now, but why would he bother with that when he could ask all his questions when they were safely outside the reach of even the most powerful Decima officials? He doubted the other passengers would react too well to him seizing this Amelia and her peers by force right here right now. It was just extra troubles he didn't want to deal with.

As long as he could get her on the ship and leave this world, everything would be in his control.

On the other side, Athena took a silent breath of relief as well. Viktor no doubt knew something was off with her, but he was unlikely to make a move now, and she was perfectly fine with that. Summoning any unit in front of all these people would be quite problematic. It would be much easier for her to operate within the hulls of a starship or in another, more isolated location.

As long as she could get him on the ship and leave this world, everything would be in her control.

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