... "What was that?" Allenguan asked. Both boys cowered next to the air-filter, behind which fan blades whirled with a soft buzzing noise. Here, some Ethsarn light trickled from the long veins of rigis implanted into the air-duct plates, which conducted power to the fans, and it was not as scary, considering that somewhere close by was an Prog monster loose. The boys have not seen him, yet, in the last four hours that they had been hiding in the ventilation ducts of the Imperial research ship. They didn't know what was happening, only wait for the inevitable capture once the ship got to port, as the ship's owner promised.
The boys began to get sleepy, despite everything, until a moment ago, they felt the entire ship lurch. Then, the high whine of the alarm pierced the silence, reaching to them across the metal walls, and the boys heard the muffled sound of multiple boots stumping the floor and brief yells of commands as Imperial soldiers ran along the hall-ways. Then, came the distant crackling of weapon discharges, repeating again and again in short bursts. And, then, an Ethsarn call expanded silently across the ship, and Allenguan's face changed. He exchanged disbelieving look with Iromeas.
"Did you feel that?" Allenguan said, excitement and hope bubbling up in his voice. "I told you they'd find us!" He said, his voice trembling with emotion, because despite his encouraging promises to his comrade in last few hours, he didn't really believe his own words.
Without another word, the boy started crawling to the nearest exit vent, with Iromeas following him, though the second boy's heart gripped with tense anxiety rather than relief. Getting rescued by this other boy's comrades was not a promise to him that everything would be all right. He was not aligned with the Free Coalition, after all.
Until recently, before the unfortunate events that made him useless to Imperia, Iromeas loyally served Imperia – which meant that Allenguan's friends might decide that he was an enemy and treat him accordingly. Iromeas had met with enough bad treatment by his former masters to believe this younger boy's idealistic promises that Coalition would treat him, an Imperial servant who was bred to fight enemies of Imperia and even anticipated in hostile actions against Coalition, any better...
..."Creators. They killed them all." Said Oleg, Captain Tolmun's crew member. With a grim expression, he towered next to Captain Tolmun and other members of his crew, while Commander Vars' assault team searched through the carnage the Imperial soldiers did in the lab room right before the rebels finally got to them. There were no survivors. Rather than allow their enemies to take prisoner those they were charged to protect, the last of the Imperial soldiers shot everyone who remained. The bodies of the Imperial doctor from Ethsarn vision, his assistant, and three others in med uniforms sprawled on the ground, blood seeping through their shredded uniforms and slowly spreading beneath them across dark, plated floor. Thin threads of rigis shone through it, taking on gloomy, crimson cast.
"It's standard practice for Impers. They were involved in high security level research. Impers killed them to keep us from figuring out what they were working on." Said Commander Vars' officer in charge of the operation, not appearing surprised. "Check if there is anything you can still salvage." He ordered his men, and they immediately moved to the damaged lab equipment.
In an adjacent room, rebels found dead bodies of prisoners, four men and a woman. Ranith, Tolmun's medic, took a look at the darkened, but still faintly glowing patterns on the backs of their neck.
"... Eths. Mind-stripped and also shot." He reported to his own team and to the Commander Vars' assault team leader, Captain Riss. Captain Riss studied the bodies with a dark look of a man who had seen such scenes too often before.
"We found more bodies." Another soldier ran in and reported to the Commander.
"Sixteen Eths. Eight men, two women, and three children – two boys and a girl. The children died recently. Adults, up to a week before them. They were all experimented on."
Captain Tolmun gritted his jaw and strode in the direction the soldier led, hoping against all odds that he was not too late, and that he would not find among those victims the one he was trying to save. Commander Vars' officer followed close behind along with Captain Tolmun's crew. They crowded into the cold storage room.
"Probably died of experiments that Imperial bastard conducted." Commander's officer growled, while Captain Tolmun and his men searched among the bodies in the already opened body-bags.
"...He's not here." Mannel, one of Captain Tolmun's crew, finally declared with relief, along with puzzlement after they checked the last of the bodies.
"Captain!" Called an excited, deep male voice. Turning around, the crew saw their comrade, Gavin, cheerfully smiling.
"Look who I found." The short, muscular man said and pulled forward a light haired, bare-footed boy, who still wore the same dark black shirt and trousers he had worn when he left on a mission four days ago, now dirty and a bit torn.
Standing a bit behind him was another boy, also bare-footed and clutching a torn, gray suit, too large for him, which drones in Serva'al Ethsarn disposal facility wore. He was dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a tense, mistrustful expression on his thin face.
Captain Tolmun merely cast him a glance, quickly noticing the faint Imperial designation mark on his forehead, before returning a long, relieved, searching look to the first boy. Allenguan stood with a big grin on his face, his warm green eyes shining with triumph. That smile fell, when he glanced past Captain Tolmun and his crew and noticed the opened body bags.
Captain Tolmun quickly noted the bruises on the boy's face, but decided that on first glance, Allenguan didn't look seriously harmed. For the first time in the last two hectic days, Captain Tolmun allowed himself a deep breath of relief...
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