It’s now or never for Wil and his team. Things change rapidly when dealing with a psychopath. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Word came after dinner that Aurialonus had changed plans. The youngest daughter was to be executed the next morning if his demands weren’t met. In addition, he’d demanded fifty million Uberbucks, the standard denomination of cash on Starflatz.
“That’s roughly seventeen thousand Galactic,” Krall told them. “Stupid lunatic can’t even ask for a decent amount of cash. Uberbucks aren’t negotiable anywhere but Starflatz. Does he actually think he’s gonna stick around once he’s got it? Moron,” he muttered. “What bullshit!”
“He’s not gonna get to spend it anyway,” Wallace pointed out as he gathered his gear. “We’re gonna kill him first, right?”
“A fool and his money are soon parted,” was Bennett’s contribution. The others stared at him. “What? I ran out of stuff to read in the brig, so I started a book of quotations.”
The team loaded into a shuttle which took them down to the planet. They landed at the one spaceport which was not held by Aurialonus’ troops and set up their base there. If anything went wrong, Ray would call the ship and Penny and Ishanti would go in, guns blazing.
Penny pulled Wil aside, apart from the others. Kissing him hurriedly, she gazed intently into his eyes. “Don’t die on me!” She whispered intently.
Wil allowed himself a moment of pure emotion, the last he would have until the operation was over. He kissed her deeply, all his unexpected desires for her expressed in that one act.
“You be safe,” he told her.
He turned to the rest of the team, switching to professional mode. A last glance at Penny and Wil disappeared into the darkness.
Aurialonus wasn’t too smart setting up his security. The prisoners were easily accessible on the ground floor on the back side of the palace which was flanked by the royal gardens.
Their surveillance showed no more than ten armed guards near the prisoners and about that many more on the second floor where Aurialonus slept—most of whom were outside his door. They weren’t guarding the balcony, positioned on the roof or any of a dozen other places Wil would’ve put people.
However, bivouacked around the palace grounds were several hundred soldiers who worshiped the ground Aurialonus trod upon. Since these soldiers and guards prayed every three hours even during the night, timing was dicey. Wil chose to go in two hours before dawn. Most of the soldiers were asleep and the guards were drowsy after being up all night watching the prisoners, guarding their leader and, in the middle of it all, praying fervently.
First they had to get over the seventeen foot wall circling the palace compound. Eight feet thick and made of native stone, it was nearly as hard as a diamond. Time for the monkey to earn his keep.
Emory produced lengths of fine, strong filament and fastened one to a grapnel hook attached to his weapon. Taking careful aim, he shot. A dull thunk and the hook automatically expanded in the stone, anchoring it safely. Emory scrambled up to lower lines for the team.
Watching the little man scamper up the line, Wil felt a shiver of doubt tickle his spine. It would be just as easy for Emory to alert the guards and have them waiting at the top of the wall.
A line dropped in front of Wil. Lance had another line in front of him and a third a few minutes later fell in front of Ben. Two men to a line, they scrambled up, lying flat on the wall before dropping to the ramparts. Emory was nowhere to be seen.
Wil switched to his cybereye, incorporating a special tracking feature. A sophisticated tracer located Emory a few feet away, moving toward the second story rooms of the palace. He was looking for vantage point from the wall to the balcony outside Aurialonus’ chambers.
Signaling the team, Emory attached another line to his gun mounted hook. He had chosen a spot where the palace was slightly closer to the wall. A quick scan with Wil’s cybereye showed that room was empty. Emory took careful aim, pulled the trigger and watched the hook and line play out across the empty space. It was the merest whisper in the dark, followed by a metallic chink of metal against metal, rather than the dull thunk of hitting stone. Wil and Ben exchanged a glance. That might have been heard.
The team lay flat on their bellies until Wil did a short recon. Using his cybereye, he checked for movement among the guards. Nothing. With a nod, he told Emory to try again.