Chapter 47: Treachery
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The starship that Athena and the others ended up boarding was a P-34 class starcruiser. Despite its name, the P-34 was a civilian vessel instead of a military one. It had no built-in weapons and only a civilian-grade shield generator. The so-called cruiser had the ability to carry around 300 passengers and 100 crew members. Given how much Epsilon-9 was charging for each ticket, 300 passengers were more than enough for them to make a hefty profit in addition to covering all their costs, and that was assuming they were kind enough to uphold their end of the bargain.

After picking up all the passengers from the starport, the P-34 began breaking the atmosphere of Sierra Prime. After acquiring this vessel, hidden weapons were installed into the hulls of the ship, and its shield generator was upgraded into a much more expensive variant, but none of that was necessary here. The recent war had led to most patrols of the Royal Navy being pulled away from this section of the planet. Only a skeleton force was responsible for the defense in that area, hence why Epsilon-9 chose the starport they launched the cruiser from. They knew very well that the Decima forces had much more to worry about than a single civilian vessel leaving the planet, and things went down exactly as they had anticipated.

After a few minutes, the cruiser exited the planet's atmosphere unharmed and put a safe distance between itself and the planet. With a final flash, the P-34 activated its Callisto Engine and jumped away from Sierra Prime. For the passengers aboard the cruiser, this meant that from then on, they wouldn’t have to worry about the Imperium in the near future. The galaxy was a big place, and even an empire like the Venya Imperium would struggle to find a single person.

Then again, that didn't mean they were safe. Far from it, in fact. There were many dangers in the galaxy, and in a sense, a ruthless criminal organization like Epsilon-9 might be worse than an oppressive empire like the Venya Imperium.

On the first day aboard the starship, Athena expected Viktor to show his true colors and make a move on the passengers, but that never happened. Something stayed Viktor's hand.

One day went by. And then two. And then three. Athena kept her caution up the entire time, but for a while, it seemed like Epsilon-9 was content with the money they made from the tickets. Of course, for people inside the hulls of the ship, there was no way to tell where they were really heading. As far as they knew, Viktor could be taking the ship to an Epsilon-9 space station in the opposite direction of Aegor VI.

Life aboard the cruiser was far from comfortable, especially compared to the mansion and the luxuries in Storm’s City. Athena couldn’t count the number of times Adrianna complained to her about the lack of alcohol and entertainment. Still, despite these complaints, Athena didn't make an attempt to take over the cruiser just yet. She could only infest a handful of crew members if it came down to it, and taking the ship by force would certainly interfere with this journey. She didn't want to be trapped in a ship in the middle of nowhere. Ideally, she would act after they arrive at their destination, wherever that may be.

The psychic link she shared with the Zerg units on Sierra Prime was still online despite the increasing distance between them, allowing her to be kept up to date on what was going on in the capital of the Kingdom of Decima after she left.

Doctor Vincent had been handed to the Imperials by General Lucius. Interestingly, she didn't go into the custody of the Imperial Research Academy, as Athena had expected. Instead, she was given to and persuaded to join an agency that called itself the Axir Science Corps. Apparently, the ASC was a classified research organization that served House Vitz and its current leader, Imperial Duke Lord Anton Vitz. The doctor didn't really have a choice as to where she would go, and Athena was somewhat satisfied with the ASC. It might not have the resources the Imperial Research Agency had, but it also had relatively less competition.

After the Imperials took Storm’s City, the Lee Family began contacting the Imperial government to show their willingness to work with the planet’s new overlords. They had yet to receive a response, but Hadrian reported being ordered by Epsilon-9 to do everything he could to disrupt the stability of Storm’s City. Other partners of Epsilon-9 in other cities likely received similar orders. Most likely, the Imperials would soon find the need for the Lees, and hopefully, they would keep the Lees around after the dust had settled. Even if they didn't, it was a minor loss for Athena.

Athena gave both Doctor Vincent and the Lees plenty of freedom as long as they were working toward their respective goals. She had no intention of constantly keeping an eye on them, nor would she have the time to. Both the doctor and the Lees would contact her in the event of emergencies or major decisions.

For now, all she had to do was wait.

"Good morning, Amelia."

A teenage woman said as she sat down beside Athena in the small mess hall of the cruiser. She had short brown hair. She carried a black bag with her. It was the entirety of her belongings.

Athena returned a gentle nod at the young woman. She had grown to know the woman over the last few days. Her name was Cassie. In fact, Cassie had been intentionally getting close to her, likely because she wanted Athena’s protection.

The vessel was hardly the safest place, and it soon became clear to everyone that the crew didn't care about anything short of murder, and even then it was unknown if they would do anything. A young woman like Cassie could easily be the victim of a robbery or worse.

Athena, on the other hand, had no such worries. Viktor wasn’t the only one who could see Click and Dash weren’t civilians who could be easily trifled with. This was another purpose they deserved. If it was just Athena and Adrianna, there could be those among the passengers, or even the crew, who would try something on them.

“Good morning, Cassie. How was sleep?” Athena said. She didn't feel insulted by what could be seen as manipulative behavior from Cassie. If anything she played into it, having frequent conversations with Cassie and allowing Cassie to come to her room whenever she felt unsafe.

“It was ok,” Cassie admitted as she began chewing on a piece of ration given to her by the crew. “I’m just worried about my parents. That’s all.”

When they initially met on the first day of the trip, Cassie told Athena about her background. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was a journalist. Both of them have gone on the public record for utterly despising the Imperium. With the Imperium-backed puppet government taking the planet, they would likely be arrested even if they laid low, not that they intended to do so. In fact, they have made the decision to do everything they could to challenge Imperial rule, and to avoid bringing harm to their daughter, they spent their savings buying a ticket for her to leave the planet.

To be honest, Athena had no idea what Cassie’s parents were thinking. Sending a young woman who wasn’t even an adult aboard a starship run by some of the worst criminals in the galaxy? Even if her parents didn't know the true nature of Epsilon-9, this was still beyond irresponsible of them. Even if both Cassie and her parents survived, what were the chances they would see each other again?

Then again, it was hard to say what Athena would’ve done in their situation. Keep Cassie with them and potentially all be rounded up and executed? Or send her away for a chance of survival and freedom?

Athena sighed and broke her ration biscuit in half, handing half of the biscuit to the fifteen-year-old girl.

“So, Cassie.” She asked curiously, “What are you planning on doing after we arrive at Aegor VI? You got a family to stay with?”

“All my families are on Sierra Prime.” Cassie shook her head. “When I get to Aegor, I am joining the military as soon as I can. I will climb up the ranks. One day, I will go back to my homeworld, and I will chase those Imperial dogs out of there. No…no that's too lenient on them. When I return, I will hunt down every single one of those Imperials and put them down like the rabid dogs that they are!”

Even as she said those words, there was a look of utter hatred in her eyes. If her parents didn't convince her of the evils of the Imperium, then being forced to abandon her home and her family certainly did. Give the young woman the chance, and she would genocide the Venya Imperium without mercy.

Athena glanced at Adrianna and the redhead shrugged. Something told them former Imperials were still Imperials in the eyes of the vengeful young lady.

“That’s…interesting,” Athena said quietly. “Have you thought about…”

The door to the mess hall opened again. At first, the passengers within the mess hall didn't think much of it. This was breakfast time and almost every passenger and most of the crew was supposed to be here. However, as a few of them looked up and saw multiple crew members, all armed with machine guns and rifles, entering, they immediately knew something was off. A few of them shivered as they recalled rumors they have heard about the people who ran this trip.

Within seconds, everyone in the mess hall realized something was wrong, and some reacted more harshly than others.

“Hey! Frank!” One of the crew members, a little drunk even though it was technically morning on the ship, snapped. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Judging by his tone, he was an officer of sorts, not that it mattered. The next instant, one of the crew members scoffed and opened fire on that man’s table. After several bursts of gunshots, that officer and three other crew members sitting at the same table collapsed on the ground. Behind them, a pair of passengers in the wrong place at the wrong time screamed in pain as well as stray bullets struck them.

Two of the armed crew approached that table, walking past terrified passengers who avoided them as if they were monsters.

“No…wait!” One of the injured crew cried out in fear. His comrade had little mercy. In fact, the man almost seemed bored as he raised his rifle and finished off the injured crew.

“Ok…” As blood painted the floor red and commotion tore through the chamber, Athena raised her eyebrows in confusion. She had expected betrayals, but this was quite an odd turn of events that even she didn't anticipate.

“Everyone, listen up!” Another figure entered the mess hall, and this was someone Athena recognized. Viktor. The self-proclaimed leader of this operation. “There has been a slight change of plans! I know you’re all surprised right now. Some of you may even be angry! Just know that I don’t give a shit!”

The polite smile on the man’s face was completely gone, replaced by a cold, cruel smirk. “Now, do as I say, or I will gut you like a fish!”

Like a fish, huh? Glad to see that saying survived all these centuries. For some reason that last part really made Athena want to giggle, but she was able to contain it. She really wanted to see what Viktor was trying to do. Breaking their promise to the passengers was only logical, but why execute his own men? She had heard of aggressive cost-cutting before, but something told her this wasn’t it.

She turned and gave a reassuring nod at Adrianna. If things began getting out of control, she would unleash her units in front of the passengers. At that point, figuring out what to do next could wait until after her zealots cut through these crew members. But for now, she wanted to let Viktor show his hands.

One by one, the hundreds of passengers were escorted out of the mess hall at gunpoint. The crew especially paid close attention to Athena and her bodyguards. Athena caught Viktor’s eyes on the way out, but Viktor simply scoffed at her. He was in no rush to interrogate her and find out what values she had. There would be plenty of time for that.

As she was marched down the hallway with the others, Athena noticed a number of other dead crew members on the way. Most looked like they were taken by surprise and murdered by knives. Others were taken out by handguns while being completely unarmed.

A theory began forming in her head. Epsilon-9 might have been betraying past passengers, but this particular case likely wasn’t an operation sanctioned by them. More likely than not, this was the result of a mutiny, led by Viktor himself.

But if that was the case…where the hell was she now?

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