Lone Star – Chapter 16

Lieutenant West was in a good enough mood when he arrived for the meeting, but Captain Jurgens seemed a bit grumpier than usual.  The lieutenant’s duty was focused upon the security of one particular floor, whereas the Captain was responsible for the security guard troops for the entire lower third of the lab complex.  The weight on her shoulders was quite a bit heavier.

Jonas sat between the other two shift-lead sergeants that worked on Level 7, all of them guessing at what the meeting was about.  This particular shift was being taken by a fill-in squad from the special forces units, who Jonas guessed either loved or hated sitting still for 5 hours.  All the regular soldiers were off-duty right now, which suited Jonas’ people just fine- they were the ones who were given an extra break.  But they’d all be called in to a special meeting within two hours, and hopefully given enough information to let them all know why there was a crowd of skelebots arriving on Level 7 today.

“Allright, everyone, you probably guessed what this is about, but I’ll spell it out in bold letters for you.  We’ve been experiencing a series of security breaches throughout the complex, and we’ve got orders from topside to make it stop- preferably finding out how they’re getting in.”  The LT’s good mood didn’t extend to her official tone, Jonas knew.  She was cheerful enough with the troops, even while on duty, but as soon as orders came down or action started up, she turned ice-cold.  Not a bad thing for an officer, Jonas thought- he thought about adopting that mannerism.

“You’ll notice the contingent of skelebots at your checkpoints on this evening’s watch.  Jonas, you’ll be starting your duty when they arrive.  The bureaucracy ran a little slower on this, because we didn’t want it to be widely known that we’re beefing up security.  Whoever is getting these things downstairs, they’re not stupid.  Once the bots are on station, your helmet displays will keep you posted of their locations, and they’ll take orders from the highest-rank on-duty officer in whatever area they are in. They can be contacted individually by radio and line-of-sight laser, and they communicate with their own wireless network.  Of course, chances are you won’t need more than one in any given place.  More than anything else, they’ll act as a secondary surveillance system.  Our hard-wired surveillance has been penetrated, but we haven’t found the source of that yet, so don’t rely on the ceiling cameras.”

Jonas snickered.  “Got that right, sir- they powered down all the cameras on the floor before their last stunt with my watch.”

The LT nodded at him.  “We’ll be leaving it to your discretion to locate the ‘bots, but try to make good use of them.  You may need to experiment with their placement to get a good feel for how best to use them.”

Jonas cleared his throat.  “Not to sound like the drill-instructor of the group, but it’s a good chance to build a few exercises out of.  Assign a couple corporals to try to sneak around and keep out of sight of the ‘bots, then instruct the robots to find them.  The soldiers know the floor pretty well, and they’ll find all the good hiding spots.  Also,” he leaned forward, liking the idea as it took shape in his mind, “it’ll start to train the men to get inside the heads of the intruders.  They’ll start looking for escape routes, blind spots and confusion tactics.”

Captain Jurgens smiled for the first time.  “I like it, Sarge.  It’ll keep the kids from getting bored down there, too.”  She looked at the LT.  “May not be a bad idea, at least for a place like Level 7, to have a separate unit, an opposing-force squad that is continually testing our defenses.”  She looked back at Jonas.  “Be careful Sarge, you might end up laying the groundwork for a new unit.”

“It’d be my pleasure, ma’am.  Whatever keeps these rats out of our plumbing.”

“Spend some time thinking about it, all three of you. It’s a brainstorm project at this point, but if any ideas jump out at you, let us know.  Now, as far as the troops go…” the LT paused.  “Most of them know about the rat intrusions, so brief them in completely.  So far the rats haven’t come in here with any weapons besides suicide devices, but that could change if they know we’re on to them.  Capturing one alive is still a priority, but not worth risking your soldiers’ lives, either. Learning where they are entering the system is what we need to figure out.  Questions?”

All three Sergeants shook their heads.

“Ok, that’s all.  Meet with your own squads before this shift is over, get them briefed in.”

*****

Jonas met the Lieutenant from Robotics Corps at the elevator. She was older than he, still attractive but beginning to show grey in her red-brown hair.  She stepped out into the lobby, and was followed by a dozen skeletal black robots.  They were the new model, with a head-unit and chassis design that mimicked the minor changes his own uniform had taken about two months earlier.  These robots were slightly scarier than their old cousins, and supposedly more intelligent- Jonas hadn’t worked directly with them before, in either case.  They certainly made him feel better, knowing they were on his side.  They were also carrying their rifles, and even at rest it struck Jonas as intimidating.

“Allright, sarge, here’s your ‘bots.  Your helmet communications will link you right into them, and the emergency over-ride codes for this group are stored in your on-board computers. They’re all hard-coded not to shoot at a CS soldier- they’ll recognize the uniforms, and they’ll recognize face- and voice-ID of anyone in the database.  You can give them general commands, like ‘shoot-to-kill’ or ‘non-lethal-shooting only’, and they’ll confirm it if they understand you.  If they don’t, they’ll tell you.  Placing them in a stationary post will be simple- they’ve got the floor layout programmed in.  For patrol routes, you’ll most likely need to be pretty specific, but they won’t bump into anything, either.  I’m your point of contact if you have any trouble.”

“Roger.  Thanks, LT.”  He snapped a quick salute, which she returned a little sloppily.  He guessed that the computer geeks upstairs were more relaxed with their drill than his own squad was.  If the ‘bots performed well, he’d be happy to forgive her.  She returned to the elevators, and disappeared behind the closing doors.

“Robots, follow me to our post,” he said, turning to head to his station.  The robots didn’t speak, but he heard their metal feet on the floor as they marched, not quite in step, behind him.  The sound was a bit unsettling, but again made him feel good to know they were on his side.  Some of the scientists paused in their work as the cadre marched past their labs and offices, then drew back when they saw what was coming.  Jonas found that amusing- some of these people were probably on the team that had designed these things.

He reached the security station, smiling to himself as the three soldiers looked to see where the noise was coming from.  They stopped when he stopped, standing at attention and waiting patiently for his next command.

“Robots, when under my authority, your default combat orders are- No lethal action.  You will not shoot to kill unless you have specific orders from me, or unless you must kill to save a human life.  Confirm my command.”

The robots spoke without moving their faces at all, and the chorus of identical, electronic voices was un-nerving.  “Command confirmed.  No lethal action unless specific orders from Sgt Dickinson or unless it will save a human life.”  Jonas knew he’d have to practice giving them orders- being too vague with them, especially in a group, could lead to amusing, yet catastrophic, results.

He turned to see Corp. Baker standing just behind him, not quite at attention, as if the two of them were addressing a new squad of cadets.  “Where do you think we should place them, Baker?”  Jonas already had a decent plan on where to assign the robots, but he wanted to hear his corporal’s ideas before polluting them with his own.  Besides, it was a good chance for Baker to play at being Sergeant.

“Well, sarge, we’ve got enough of them to either place one outside the door of every lab block, or assign two each to our walking patrols.  Our people would lose focus if they had to stand still for 5 hours straight, but these guys would be as alert as ever the whole time.  Having them on patrols isn’t a bad idea either, but the rats would be able to watch their patterns, and learn how to avoid them eventually.  Having a hard-posted guard at each lab block door will mean they can’t wait until one of them walks away.  And a living guard on patrol will be better able to randomly alter his patrol pattern.”

Jonas nodded.  “I agree.  The lab blocks are close enough that we could post one robot half-way between them, keeping watch on the two of them.  And that would allow us to have 6 of them on roaming patrol.”  Jonas sighed.  “The trouble is, whatever we decide to do with them, the rats will see it and compensate for it.  So the only thing we can really do is come up with a way to randomize it.  We’ll have them all stand outside the lab blocks for this shift, but your job for this shift will be to come up with 3 other posting patterns for the robots.  If we don’t know from one shift to the next precisely where the ‘bots will be, then for damn sure the rats won’t know.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” Baker confirmed, smiling.  Another good chance to play at being sergeant.  Baker was currently weighing his options; being promoted would most likely mean being moved to a different floor.  The regular Sergeant pay would be just a little more than he was making on Level 7- the security clearance and extra hazard bonus pay almost made up the difference, but not quite.  But Baker was used to being down there, and not everyone could handle being around the creepiest of CS creations.  He turned, sat behind the computer workstation at the desk, and began to organize his thoughts.

Jonas turned to the other two soldiers at the checkpoint.  “Charleston, Orwell, I have a job for you.  Check in your rifles, you won’t need them.”  The two soldiers nodded, turning toward the weapons locker.  They removed the energy clips, then set the CP-40 pulse rifles into their places on the rack.  The display just inside the door confirmed the weapons’ return. The system didn’t require any ID from them- it remembered who had checked out which weapon.  The soldiers were back out in the hallway in 45 seconds, facing Jonas and his squad of robotic skeletons.

“Your job for the rest of this shift will be simple- stay out of sight as much as you can.  Your helmets have the layout of the entire floor programmed in, including the location of all the permanent security cameras.  If you can remember where the patrol paths are, so much the better for you.”  This was a bit unfair in Orwell’s favor- she had been working on Level 7 much longer than Charleston.  “You will not, however, know where I’m putting the skelebots- at least not yet.  I want you two to work independently.  You may not enter the occupied laboratory blocks at all during this exercise.  If we’re going to figure out how these rats are getting around in here, we need to start thinking like them.  If you see a creative opportunity, try it out.  Get moving.”

The two turned and jogged down the corridor, then split up at the next junction.  Jonas turned to the skelebots.  He pointed to each one- he was too lazy to call out their serial numbers- and assigned it a laboratory block or a major intersection.  One by one, the robots marched off to their destinations.

“Security team level 7, check in with position,” Jonas said after the last skelebot had left his sight.  Singly and in pairs, his team reported their locations.  He decided to walk a roaming patrol, and give his mind some time to really work on an opposing-force exercise of some kind.

Just as he had told his troops, he needed to get inside the heads of his opponents.  The rats that were breaking in weren’t well-equipped, certainly not armed well enough to present a realistic threat to his troops unless they had their helmets off.  Their advantages were what he had to guess at- they were obviously sneaky and clever enough to get inside the lowest level of the Lone Star complex, but there had to be more.  They had the ability to at least interrupt video surveillance- did they also have voice communications cracked?  Were they able to listen to him co-ordinate his troops?  He’d have to look into the particulars of the system.  He realized that he had no idea how the comm system worked- he’d taken it for granted ever since basic training.  That would have to change.  But for now, he’d presume they could listen in.  They could most likely interrupt voice communication as well, but would it be more valuable to just listen in?  The rats could potentially have a much greater advantage than he’d previously thought.  He shook his head.  Frustration wouldn’t do him much good now.

He was passing by a laboratory block’s front entrance, but he didn’t look at the signage.  The large plexiglass doors were opened wide, the technicians and researchers inside hard at work behind their computer workstations and polymer models.  Were they solving greater problems than his own?  He continued walking, letting his mind wander and not quite paying attention to precisely where he was walking.  In a moment, he decided, he’d see how well his two soldiers were hiding.

Just as he was about to give the command, he found himself standing before the closed doors outside of Sigma block.  He looked through the recently-repaired doors, not able to see anything inside but confirming that it was dark.  His thoughts and instincts continued to lead him back here.  A separate security team had gone over the entire lab block- with much complaining by the resident scientists- and found nothing that would indicate any entry or escape routes.  But something was tugging at his mind, and it started in there.  The skelebot he had dispatched to this station stood just to the side of the doors, standing at near-attention with its weapon at the ready.  Its head swiveled slowly, scanning the corridors. It had already recognized Jonas, and was now ignoring him.

“Security team, locate and report in with Charleston’s position.  Don’t leave your assigned station or patrol, just look close and find him.”  He ordered.  “First soldier that gets eyes-on Charleston gets an extra half-hour added to their break this shift.  Charleston, I hope you’re hidden well.”

“Roger that, sarge, I am.  Good luck, folks.”

The communications band was silent.  Jonas looked into the doors again, then waved his left arm past the sensor beside the door, and the doors slid open.  The night-lights had been on, but as the doors finished opening, the regular work-lights began to come to life.  He walked in among the desks and workstations, glancing at stacks of papers and modeling materials that had been left out.  The scientists had been instructed to lock up all their sensitive data and equipment every time they left work, but like academics everywhere, they didn’t take security seriously enough.  Jonas grumbled to himself.  They were working every day to create new technology that would help the CS rise above its enemies and invaders, and leaving their work out in the open to be stolen- even after this very lab had been broken into!

“This is Peters- eyes on Charleston!”

“Damn!” came the instant response.

Jonas smiled.  “No need to confirm it, I see.”

“No, sarge, he’s got me,” Charleston replied.

“Not a problem.  Return to checkpoint Alpha, Charleston.  Good work, Peters.  Allright everyone, it’s Orwell’s turn.  Same drill- half hour extra break this shift for the first one to spot her.”

He heard Orwell snicker.  “Good luck, boys and girls.”

Jonas wandered through the deserted lab block, down the secondary corridor that led to the two primary procedure rooms.  He looked inside of one of them, opening the door slowly out of respect for the room itself.  It was impeccably clean inside, and he could contaminate it just by setting a foot over the door threshold.  The primary door was only used for wheeling equipment in or out- during a procedure, the room would be entered and exited only by a secondary ‘scrub’ room that would thoroughly surface clean everyone and everything going into the room- and keep any dangerous ‘stuff’ from getting out.

Jonas looked around inside, then heard a series of clicking sounds from near the ceiling.  There were six grills at the top of the walls, evenly spaced around the room to control the air temperature and keep the room ventilated.  His opening of the door had changed the room air enough to activate the vent fans.  The vents were large enough to move a lot of air- if some dangerous bug got into the air, it would get pulled out of the room within a couple of seconds.

Which meant that the vents were most likely big enough for Jonas to crawl around inside of them.  He closed the door, and began walking briskly back toward checkpoint alpha.  He was about to call Baker and have him request the heating/cooling system layout from the central database, but another call came across the com-link first.

“Sarge, this is Orwell, and I’ve found something.”  As soon as she’d finished speaking, she cried out in pain, then went silent.

Jonas swore, then lit up his own com-link.  “Baker, give me Orwell’s location right now!”  Each of their helmet units continually gave its location to the security sensors scattered throughout the complex.  The exercise of finding her had been an eyes-only drill, but now she was in trouble, and it would only take a moment to get her position.  Unless-

“Sarge, this is Baker.  The system is not reporting Orwell’s position.”  Jonas swore again, and headed back out into the hallway.  The surveillance video had been interrupted before, and he had guessed that their voice comms were penetrated.  Now this- their security system was completely compromised.

But the Skelebots were independent of the hard-wired system.  That was part of the reason they’d been assigned there.

“Skelebots on Level 7, report position of Private Orwell immediately.”

The instant the command was received, the twelve skelebots began to work as a team.  Their sensor systems all queried the locations of the entire security team, and Skelebot R7-21D was the closest- right next to Jonas, outside Sigma labs.  The network of skelebots selected that unit to report in.  The voice was just as cold over the com-link as it was in person.

“Private Orwell’s helmet beacon is located in Gamma Lab Block, storage room 43a.  Her vertical location is 3.2 meters above floor level.”

“Closest 3 skelebots to that location, close on Private Orwell and rescue her.  Lethal force authorized if she is in danger.  Capture any unauthorized persons if practical, but Orwell’s life is priority.  Confirm commands.”

“Command confirmed,” the robot network replied with a single voice.  “Skelebot units R7-19D, R7-35A, R6-65C en route.”

“Baker, co-ordinate from Alpha.  Vellis, Shields, Cray, get to Gamma block now.”  No one would respond to Orwell’s rescue faster than her own unit.

“Roger that Sarge,” Vellis replied.  “We were on our way already.”  Vellis was her Corporal, and a good one.  He wasn’t about to let her go down without a good fight.

Jonas arrived at Gamma block just after Vellis spoke.  The outer doors were wide open, all the lights on, but the room was deserted.  Jonas stepped across the threshold, and heard the distinctive sound of a CP-40 rifle firing.  It still made a sizzling sound, but it was different from the old rifles the CS had recently finished replacing.  He sprinted down the hall toward the sound, coming through a smashed door and into Storage 43A.  The front doors to Gamma block had been opened automatically for the Skelebots, but apparently they hadn’t waited for this particular door to unlock on its own.  So much the better, he thought.  He’d have instructed his own living soldiers to do the exact same thing.

The three skelebots stood in a triangle in the middle of the room, having pushed aside storage containers and unused desks.  One of them was shooting his CP-40 at the ceiling, and even set to low-power mode, the energy bolts were rapidly punching through the thin ceiling panels.  His weapon ran out of charge, and he lowered his weapon, but the ‘bot just to his left had known precisely when it would run out of power and had begun firing at that exact moment.  They were cutting a perfect circle in the ceiling, four meters across.  They were cutting in passes, weakening the entire circle so it would fall all at once instead of tearing out one side.  They had nearly cut a solid line when the third skelebot turned its head toward Jonas.

“Sergeant, your sidearm please,” it said in unshaken monotone.  Jonas didn’t hesitate, but unsnapped his weapon, checked its energy clip, and handed it to the robot.  It had dropped its own rifle- apparently out of energy as well.  When the rifle in the hands of the ‘bot beside him ran out of charge, the ‘bot with the sidearm raised the pistol with one hand and continued firing- albeit more slowly- and weakened the ceiling enough for the cut section to fall to the floor.  The skelebot silently handed Jonas’s sidearm back to him, then turned to retrieve his own rifle.

The ceiling panels hit the ground first, shattering into thumbnail-sized wafers upon impact.  A moment later, a long section of the ventilation duct landed, severed in two places and broken open from the force of the landing.  Pvt Orwell lay in the middle of what was left of the duct section, with a smouldering vibro-knife wound in the back of her armor.  Jonas’s helmet unit registered her vital signs as strong, but her breathing irregular.  He pulled her clear of the ductwork and knelt beside her, and a moment later Vellis and his sub-unit entered the room, training their rifles on the large hole in the ceiling.

Vellis swore once when he saw what the skelebots had done, then again when he saw his trooper.

“Sarge, this is Baker.  I suddenly have video back, and Orwell’s beacon is showing up loud and clear.  Whatever was doing this is gone, I’d guess.”

“Roger, and I agree.”  Jonas looked closer at the wound, but guessed it was superficial.  It was a slash, just beside the spine, but not damaging her body any more than some shallow cuts across the muscle tissue.  It had severed several of the armor’s systems. Whatever had hit her hadn’t wanted to hurt her much- it had just wanted to quiet her down.

“Get her up,” he said.  Shields and Cray slung their rifles over their shoulders and got their arms under Orwell’s shoulders.  They lifted her easily, and began moving her towards the door.  He turned to the closest of the robots.  “Skelebots, analyze the wound on Orwell’s back.”

R7-19D functioned as the speaker for the robots.  “Minor soft-tissue damage to the skeletal muscle on the upper back.  No damage to connective tissues or bones.  The strike cut directly across the memory module for helmet telemetry.”

Vellis looked over at his sergeant.  “They didn’t want to hurt her- they just wanted to take out whatever her helmet recorded.”

Jonas nodded.  “How much would you bet there’s a big electro-shock bruise just under her sternum?”

“I wouldn’t bet against it, sarge,” Vellis replied.  The standard CS armor would stop regular knives, ballistic bullets, and some low-power energy bolts without even getting a scratch, but weapons had been devised that would deliver a concussive shock through this sort of armor, to disable the wearer.  Electro-shock stunners, a cross between an impact hammer and a cattle prod, were used by crowd control police throughout the Coalition States.

“Get her to the elevators.  Baker, have a medical team come down to take Orwell upstairs.  You said you have video back?  You see us?”

“Yes, sergeant, I do,” Baker replied.  Jonas could also hear the unspoken follow-up; A lot of good it does now…

“Markins, are you armed?” Jonas asked.

“Affirmitive, sarge,” came the reply.  “My team is carrying rifles and sidearms.”

“I want you four here,” the sergeant said.  “Have one of your team stop by the weapons locker and pick up 6 extra energy clips for the CP-40s; the skelebots used up their ammunition.  Vellis, hand me your rifle, then get your girl in the hands of the medics.  Once she’s in their hands, you three get back here.”  Vellis checked his rifle, and handed it across.  He then turned to follow his team out the door.  A moment later, Jonas was alone in the room with the skelebots.

He looked up at the hole in the ceiling.  It was cut with mechanical precision.  The ductwork was supported by hangers less than a half-meter apart.  What was left looked solid enough, even with all the shooting earlier.  The concrete structure above was scratched up from the remaining energy that came through, but not even cracked.

“Skelebots, could that ductwork support your weight if you crawled up there?”

The three units turned, as one, to look up through the hole.  “Yes.  The hanger strength and duct materials will support one skelebot every 5 meters.”

“So if we were all up there, we’d just have to spread out,” Jonas thought aloud.

“Affirmitive,” R7-19D replied, thinking it a question.

Jonas looked back toward the labs, confirming what he first thought- one direction led right back into the complex, while the other direction pointed out toward the edge.  He checked the safety on his rifle, then slung it onto his shoulder.  “Hoist me up there, robots, then hoist up one of you.”

The two robots farthest from him moved toward the hole, folding their hands into stirrups and waiting for him to step up.  Once his feet were in place, the two robots smoothly and effortlessly pushed him up toward the torn edge of the duct.  He got a hand-hold easily, his gauntlets and armored knees protecting him from the sharp, tattered steel.  He moved down the duct, trying his best to be silent but foiled by the boing of the metal duct as it deflected under his weight.  His helmet’s visual system compensated for the low light immediately, and he could see perhaps 20 meters down the duct before it ended in a ‘T’ intersection.  He had just enough room to crawl forward comfortably.  He put his rifle back in his hands, checked its settings again, then moved forward to give the skelebot behind him enough room.  The head and red-glowing eyes of R6-65C appeared behind him, and he heard the robot claw its way up into the duct behind him.

“Sarge, this is Markins.  We’re in Storage 43A.  Are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

“Roger that, Corporal,” Jonas replied with a smirk.  “The duct is clear here.  I’m going down to the next intersection to see if I can spot anything from here.”

“Sergeant, Baker here.  LT West just called down.  I gave him the short version.  He wanted to speak to you if you aren’t in a fire-fight.”

“Awfully considerate of him to ask,” Jonas replied, half-sarcastically.  “Put him on our channel if you haven’t already.”

“He did,” the LT’s voice replied.  “You figure out what happened yet?”

“No, sir, not yet.  Chances are Baker has told you everything we know at this point.”

“Very well.  Don’t go too far into those ducts, sergeant.  I’m on my way down.  We’ll talk in person.”

“Roger that, LT,” Jonas said with a sigh.  He reached the ‘T’ intersection, and looked down each branch carefully.  To his left, the duct ran straight for 50 meters, with intermittent branches feeding back into the lab complex.  To his right, his helmet display estimated 70 meters and just as many branches.  The duct to his right seemed to get larger as it travelled, which made some sense.  That was the direction of the air-handling units that fed Level 7.

R6-65C kept his distance, hunched over with his knees almost folded up in front of him, in a stance a human could never attain, let alone hold. It had its weapon up and ready for action.  Jonas looked up and down the ducts a few more times.  He couldn’t see anything that would indicate a trail, or an aggressor.  Searching the ductwork would be necessary, and soon, but he needed to think before committing the soldiers.  The ductwork would be just too easy to booby trap, and too convenient for crossfires.  Anyone clever enough to do what this opponent had already accomplished could make a graveyard out of the system.

“Back down, robot,” he said.  The skelebot instantly complied, sliding itself backward and dropping back through the shredded ceiling.  Jonas crawled back to the edge, lowered himself carefully and dropped back into the storage room.
“R6-65C, you stay right here.  You other robots, back to your assigned stations.  Markins, go back to your patrols.  I’ll see what the LT will let us do about this.”

*****

The conference room in Beta lab block wasn’t in use, and it was close to security checkpoint Alpha.  The researchers in Beta were still doing their work, and minded their own business when the two soldiers walked through the outer lab area and into ‘their’ conference room.  Jonas didn’t mean to slam the door as hard as he did, but the LT knew his soldier’s rage wasn’t directed up the chain of command.  At least, not yet.

“Sir, we need to do a co-ordinated search of the duct system.  That’s gotta be how they’re getting around down here.”

“I agree, but we’ll be instructed to let a special forces team handle it.”  LT West sighed.  “I expect the Captain to hand down the instructions before the end of your shift.  They’re pretty upset about this upstairs.  Not at you or your team,” he said, quickly, “but they’ll authorize an SF team to come down and clean house for us.”

Jonas shook his head.  “I think we can handle it ourselves, sir.  Moreso, I think we should.  We know the area much better than any SF team they’ll send.  Give me some time to review the heating and cooling system plans, and by the end of this shift I can-“

“I’ve already sent a request for that information along, and it’s been denied, sarge.”  The LT sighed.  “The reason being control of information- the lab complex plans and schematics are classified beyond our reach.”

“So they’re concerned that the ductwork plans might fall into the wrong hands, and someone might be able to use them to infiltrate our lower lab complex?” Jonas asked, sarcastically.  He was pushing his boundaries with his Lieutenant, but knew he’d be forgiven.  “They’re a little late, sir.”

The LT nodded.  “That’s what I told them.  I’ve asked the Captain to authorize you to view those schematics, and come up with a plan to counter these infiltrations.”  West smirked.  “I told him you wouldn’t give this up without a fight.  And he said almost the same thing you just did- that you have until the end of this shift.  If you can come up with a good strategy, lay it out for me and I’ll pass it along.  We’ll double-up on a shift in the next day or two, and turn you and your team loose on this.  Any longer, and he’ll have to call in a team from SF to do a sweep.  Think you can do it?”

“You’ll have it, sir.  One more thing- they interrupted our video surveillance again, and were able to block Orwell’s locator from telling us where she was when they hit her.  But the skelebots picked her up right away.  I’m going to use the ‘bots for communications relays from now on.  Whoever is doing this, they’re listening to us and watching us.  We need to take that away from them if we’re going to beat them.”

LT West nodded.  “I’ll pass that along to the other shift sergeants.  Get going, sarge.”

“Yes, sir.”

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