Lone Star – Chapter 29

Morgan stepped out of his SAMAS unit, taking a deep breath. The others were already on the way to the lockers.  Morgan was looking forward to a long, hot shower- he’d been tense throughout the flight, and he couldn’t explain why.  As he walked through the locker room door, his PC unit beeped, signaling a new message for him.  He smirked a little, pulling it out of his pocket.  He made the mental observation that he hadn’t received a voice call on the thing since he’d been transferred- everyone liked to send text-line messages at Lone Star.  He, Sergey, and Connor had fallen into the habit fairly quickly.  Text messages were more patient than making a voice call- and if there was an emergency notice for them, their PCs would flash lights and make a lot more noise.

He tapped in a few commands with one hand, opening his locker with the other.  He set the unit down on the shelf inside, reading as he began opening up the flight suit.  He had it half-way open when he stopped, staring at the screen.  His eyes narrowed, then he turned to look at the rest of the squad.  CC was in one of the shower stalls already, humming quietly as she cleaned up.  Gavin and James would be in their own in another few seconds.  Sergey and Connor were half-way undressed.  Morgan waited a moment, then cleared his throat.

“Sergey, Connor, you mind skipping your showers today?  We gotta talk, and real fast.”

Both of the lieutenants froze in place, staring at him.  They recognized the tone of voice he’d used, and it meant Big Trouble.  They also knew enough to keep quiet and get dressed. Less than a minute later, the three of them left the locker room.  Morgan led them toward his own quarters, walking quickly.  He considered taking them to the weight room and just speaking out loud, but it made more sense to find someplace they could plug a PC into a workstation, and type up their messages.

“What’s up, boss?” Connor asked.  The two of them kept pace beside him as they walked.

“I’m about to tell you why we were really transferred down to Lone Star,” Morgan replied.  “I’m not going to tell you aloud- we’ll get someplace where we can type out the conversation.”  The two LTs nodded, continuing to follow him.

“Want to use the Library?” Connor asked.  “They’ve got a few stations there, and it’s quiet enough.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I’ve been… well, I’ve been meeting Corporal Schumann there once in a while.”  He smirked.

“Ah, the girl who came to get us in the weight room?” Morgan asked.

Connor nodded.  “Yep.  She’s a bookworm- a whiz on ancient literature.”

“Sounds like just your type, buddy,” Sergey said.  “You read a lot of stuff like that.”

“Yeah- her favorites are Poe and Lovecraft, mine is Shakespeare- but there’s plenty for us to talk about.”  He chuckled.  “You’d think all those creepy stories would make her a wierdo.”

“It’s all right, man, I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” Sergey said.  “Wendy and I talk movies.”

Morgan sighed.  “Lets get there.”

The library was busier than Morgan would have preferred, but quiet enough for the three to find a workstation near the back.  Morgan connected his PC to it, pulling his message list up on the larger screen.  He could type out messages of his own much easier with a full-size keyboard, and began to write a message to ISS.  “Just a moment, boys,” he said, sending a message off to his handler, then moving so his lieutenants could see the screen.

His own message was simple; Message recieved from co-workers of previous contacts on Level 7.  Both contacts arrested, being held in Containment Habitats pending investigation by Lab Admin.  My previous orders included prep and planning to extract both contacts if need arose.  I advise getting contacts out ASAP.

After sending the message, Morgan pulled up a word-processor application and typed out a short history of what he’d been doing since they arrived- his contact at ISS, his orders to observe events and report back to Chi-Town, and the recent ‘rescue’ of the two scientists.  And now the arrests.

I’m going down there to get those two out, and take them back to Chi-town.  I need your help to do it. Morgan finished typing, made sure the two had read it, then watched for their reaction.  They sat still for a long moment, then Sergey turned the workstation toward himself, and typed out his own message.

I’m with you. Morgan smiled, then looked over at Connor, who slid the workstation across to within his own reach.

How are we going to get downstairs?

Morgan sighed, glad he didn’t have to deal with either of them refusing.  He’d known, in the back of his head, that they’d go with him, but it had been a stressful conversation up to that point- and the day’s stress was long from over.  It was one less thing to worry about, though, and it made him feel better.

The rat tunnels.  When I went looking for Claval that time, I found him outside a bunker in the wild.  I think there’s a rat-tunnel entrance there, and I think we’ll find our way down through there.

You mentioned transport, Sergey wrote next.  How do we accomplish that?

Two ideas, Morgan wrote next.  First, I was offered help from Lt. Col. Murphy, and I believe he’ll help us out now, especially if we tell him its about getting word back about Lab Admin.  He has a serious bone to pick with them.  Second, my ISS handler mentioned a contact in the hangar.  Hopefully that contact will be able to get us into our suits and in the air.

The PC unit beeped again, signaling another message.  Morgan deleted the entire conversation, then switched applications to read the message.  It was from ISS, as he’d guessed.  Contact in hangar is prepping your SAMAS.  Transport to be determined later- if you see an opportunity, take it and report back later.  Give yourself options.  After that was a series of numbers and letters that looked random at first- but after a moment Morgan noticed the pattern.

Connor saw it, too.  “A secure radio-comm passkey,” he said, quietly.

“Must be how we’re going to confirm our escape,” Morgan muttered.  “Good to see they’ve got confidence in us.”  The others chuckled.

“So what will we need to take with us?” Sergey asked.

“Nothing you can’t fit in your SAMAS,” Morgan replied.  “Listen, guys, I’m real sorry about this- you both gotta leave girls behind here, and I hate putting you into this position.  If we can find a way to rig this so you can stay behind, go ahead and stay.”

Sergey looked sidelong at his commanding officer, half-grimacing and half-smirking.  “You really think we’re going to stick to a duty like this one after you go?”

Connor agreed.  “They’d figure it out sooner or later, and we’d be screwed.  Besides, girls can get transferred, too.”

Morgan nodded.  “That might be optimistic, but you never know.  We might even end up back in Iron Heart.”  The three chuckled again.  “Either way, ISS might ask them to move away from here just to keep ’em safe.”  He paused for a moment, then his smirk disappeared as he got back to business.  “Connor, contact Lt. Col. Murphy.  You’ve been wanting to meet him since we came down here.”

“Hell yeah, I have,” Connor agreed wholeheartedly.

“Get him on a secure comm-link or in person.  First thing I want you to tell him is about Garret Olson.  He was a friend of Murphy’s.”

Connor cocked his head to one side.  “I thought we were supposed to keep that under wraps.”

Morgan nodded.  “Per our instructions from Major Claval, yes.  Murphy made it clear to me that it was a personal issue, and if anyone can and will help us out here, it’ll be him.  I think telling him what really happened to Olson will make him more agreeable to helping us.  And having a Lt. Col. covering our tail would sure make this easier.  Tell him we need transport for our two passengers up to Chi-Town.  You might end up being the one to fly us there… we’ll have to see.”

The lieutenant nodded.  “Too bad I won’t get much time to talk to him,” he sighed.

“Yeah, I know.”  Morgan turned to Sergey.  “You and I are going to go down and get suited up, and get into the basement.  So lets get going.  Connor, get back into your flight suit first chance you get.  The situation is going to evolve rapidly once things start happening.”

“What if we run into the rest of the squad?” Connor asked.

Morgan shrugged.  “Chances are, they’re in the officer’s lounge, wondering whats taking us so long.  If they come looking for us, it won’t be in the hangar, and by the time they think to look there, we’ll be either long gone, or under arrest.”  They all chuckled at that.

He stood, and the lieutenants stood with him.  Morgan detached his PC unit, pocketed it, and led the others out of the library.  Connor headed toward the weight room to make his call, hoping he could find a quiet enough place to talk.  Morgan and Sergey headed back for the locker rooms.

*****

His SAMAS was indeed waiting for him, one of the deck crew standing by to help him in.  Morgan breathed a little sigh of relief- One less thing that could have gone wrong, he thought.  The more complicated a plan was, the greater the chance of something going wrong.  His current plan couldn’t work out any other way but extra-complicated, and it didn’t reduce his stress levels to remember that.  Sergey’s unit was around the other side of the ‘tree’, another deck hand waiting as the two pilots crossed the hangar to their power armor units.  Morgan exchanged a glance with his lieutenant, and the relief was evident on Sergey’s face.

“Good to see the show isn’t stopping here,” Sergey muttered, earning a smile from his Captain.

Fortunately, the deck crew was used to the MCR air support being called out at odd times, even this soon after a previous flight.  The two Sergeants buttoned up the SAMAS units, ran diagnostics and checked their ammunition load-outs, then approached with their helmets.

“Hold up there!” a voice called from Morgan’s left.  He couldn’t quite turn his head far enough to see the speaker, but he recognized the voice- the deck chief, Master Sergeant Zweig.  He was leading two automated ordinance carts toward their tree, and they all stopped between Morgan’s SAMAS and Sergey’s.  The two pilots looked at him nervously, wondering if their show was indeed about to stop.

The chief looked at the two deck hands.  “Run another check on the flight engines- they just got back- and change the filters out.” He looked at Morgan.  “It’ll only take them 90 seconds to change the filters, sirs, and it’ll make sure you can keep up with a long flight.”  Sgt. Zweig lifted the gold visor up, showing his weathered face.  He smiled, and winked.  Morgan knew instantly that he was the ISS contact they’d been looking for.

Morgan looked around the hangar, and noticed that most of the combat vehicles were either moving out, warming up, or being armed and resupplied.  The floor crawled with pilots and deck hands, and almost every ordinance cart was in use.  A pair of the huge Abolisher-type combat robots were marching toward the largest door.  Everywhere, people were shouting orders instead of speaking.  Everyone in sight was more tense than usual.  “Chief, what’s going on?” Morgan asked.

“Sirs, there’s a general alert in the laboratory complex.  We’ve got intrusion/weaponfire alarms going off on three floors.”  He smirked a little bit.  “I don’t know the situation, and no one has bothered to tell me anything except that almost every power armor and robot-combat vehicle needs to be mobilized ASAP.  It seems pretty chaotic to me- and I hate times like this,” he slowed his speaking pace at this point, emphasizing his point, “because its hard to keep track of every suit and pilot until they all come back from action.  Even the computers can’t keep up in real-time.”  He winked again.

Morgan nodded, smirking.  Chaos worked in his favor- he just hoped it wasn’t too chaotic in the laboratory basement.

“I’ll make this quick, sirs,” the chief said, watching the deck hands installing fresh filters on the SAMAS air intakes.  “You’ve both got your primary weapons, but we’ve been ordered to hand out a few of the big guns today, so here’s yours.” Morgan looked down to the ordinance carts, his eyes getting wide.  There was one weapon on each cart, and two more deck hands guided one toward each of the SAMAS units.  “This one,” the chief said, pointing to the one near Sergey, “is the CTT-M20.  It’ll fire 20 small rockets, and your on-board computer will be able to sync with the weapon and guide the rockets.  It was meant for the Terror Trooper power-armor, so it’ll be a little bit heavy for your SAMAS.  But since your computer will guide the missiles, you won’t have to have perfect aim, either.”  Sergey nodded, his lips cracking into a smile.

“Yours is the CTT-P45, Captain.  It’s about the biggest pulse laser weapon we can make portable, and you will have to use both hands to get any accuracy out of it,” the chief said.  Then he shrugged.  “I don’t know what you’re going hunting for, but my orders said you were going to need big guns.  I hope these are big enough.”

“Me, too, chief.  Thanks.”

The chief smiled again, then slid his visor closed.  He nodded at the two deck hands, who had finished with the intake filters and were holding the two SAMAS helmets at the ready.  They stepped up onto the short ladders, moving the helmets into position over the heads of the two pilots.  Morgan watched the hangar as it was eclipsed by the dark interior of his helmet.  When it came to life, he knew he was committed to his chosen course- there was no going back.  He lifted the giant-sized pulse rifle off the ordinance cart, then marched out to the flight line.

They were almost through the hangar doors when the on-board computer spoke.  “Captain, Major Claval is approaching on foot.”

“Thank you, Regis,” Morgan replied, breaking into an easy jog.  Sergey followed suit, and the two were on the concrete flight deck four seconds later.  Morgan’s audio receivers picked up the sound of Claval’s voice hailing them, but he ignored his commanding officer and ignited his flight engines.  They did a combat-launch, continuing to run until the boosters pushed them off the ground.  He knew Claval was smart enough to stay back when they lifted off- the exhaust would cook him if he got within 10 meters.  They took a low flight-angle, staying closer to the ground than usual, and skimming the tops of the above-ground buildings as they headed South-SouthEast.

“Sure is a lot of traffic up here,” Sergey said.  Morgan had noticed it, too- there were two aerial radar airplanes flying, each with a pair of fighter planes escorting them as they circled the base.  Three squads of attack helicopters were in the air, but Morgan couldn’t figure out their flight patterns from looking at them.  The two SAMAS flew over the outer perimeter fence less than a minute later.

“Regis, you have the co-ordinates for Claval’s metal bunker?”

“Yes, sir,” the computer replied, overlaying the helmet’s display with a radar image.  A highlighted circle showed them where to go, and they headed straight for it.  Within three minutes, they were overhead.

The building looked abandoned.  Morgan landed first, opening a large overhead door and looking inside.  The interior had a wall dividing the space, and there was an opening whose door had fallen away many years before.  Morgan waved the other SAMAS down, and Sergey landed beside him.  The two entered the building, marching toward the interior wall’s opening.

“Captain Grey, this is Major Claval,” Morgan heard over his comm-link.  “What the hell are you doing?”

Morgan didn’t answer.  He looked through the opening and into the next room.  There was a large metal trap door in the concrete floor, lying open, and a gaping hole easily big enough for a SAMAS to crawl down. Standing over it was an old-model CS skelebot, holding a standard CP-40 rifle and staring back at the two SAMAS units.

Morgan turned on the external speakers, but not overly loud.  “Skelebot, state your orders.”

Oddly, it didn’t respond- merely stared back at them.  It turned to fully face them, but did not speak.

Morgan pointed at the tunnel.  “Does this lead back into the Lone Star complex?  Is that why you are guarding it?”

Still no response.  Morgan was losing his patience.  He stepped forward, looking down into the hole.  It went down for at least 20 meters, and had a human-size ladder.  He looked back to the skelebot.

“Human lives are in danger, skelebot.”  Morgan knew there was a chance this one was driven remotely- the on-board logic systems were programmed to protect humans by any means necessary, but it wouldn’t really ‘care’ about people that weren’t right in front of it.  Morgan took the robot’s strange behavior as a sign it had a human operator in direct control.  “There are two people being held illegally on the lower floors of the laboratory.  Now answer me- does this lead back to the laboratories?”

The skelebot took a step toward Morgan’s SAMAS.  It lifted an arm, spinning the wrist upside-down and then folding it back at an impossible angle to expose a data port connection.  It took another step, then connected the wrist port to one of the diagnostic ports on Morgan’s side.

Regis spoke up at once.  “Sir, the skelebot is trying to transmit an image file.  Shall I accept it?”

“Yes,” Morgan replied, confused.

Finally, the robot began to speak, its digitized voice lilting along syllables the way a human’s would.  “This is a layout of the tunnel system.”  Morgan’s helmet displayed a 3-dimensional map of the underground laboratory compound, then showed a tangle of tunnels surrounding it.  “Here is our current location,” the skelebot added, and on Morgan’s display a pinpoint of green light appeared, then a path through the tangle was highlighted.  “This route will take you to the 7th floor.  If you are truly here to save lives, then I wish you the best of luck.”

“What?” Sergey said over the comm-link.  Morgan was confused as well, but didn’t respond.  The skelebot disconnected from his SAMAS, and stepped back.

“You said you are going after a pair of researchers on the lower floors of the laboratories.  They are indeed being held illegally, and will most likely be tortured and killed if you do not rescue them.”  The skelebot was silent for a moment, then continued.  “The network reports two research staff and a human civilian are being held in Research Block Beta, Containment Habitat 4.  Perhaps you could free the civilian as well.”

What the hell is this? Morgan just stared at the Skelebot.  He’d never seen one act like this, never heard of it.  A human operator sure wouldn’t speak like this.  And being in Special Forces gave him plenty of field experience with them.  Perhaps it was being remote-controlled by someone at the base, someone with orders from ISS.  It wasn’t likely, but it was the only solution that made sense.  Morgan shrugged, then turned to Sergey.

“Let’s leave the big guns here.  The rail guns will be plenty powerful downstairs, but when we come back up we’ve got a better chance of needing these.”  Sergey nodded, setting down the monstrous weapon.  Morgan lowered his own, then looked into the gaping hole.

“It will be a tight fit for you, but you will make it,” the skelebot said.

“Guard our weapons, skelebot.  We’ll be back for them soon.”

“I may or may not be here when you return, but I will guard them as long as I stay.”

This makes less and less sense as we go along, Morgan thought.  Then he jumped down into the hole, ignoring the ladder and letting the power armor’s legs absorb the shock of landing.  He moved down the tunnel a few steps, making way for Sergey to land behind him.  It was dark, but his viewscreen compensated for the low light automatically.

“Regis, plot us a route through that tunnel system to the 7th floor.  That skelebot said Research Block Beta, Containment Habitat 4.”

“Sir, I am not allowed to access the laboratory floor plans through the network.  I must presume the data transmitted from the skelebot to be accurate.”  Morgan smirked- the computer had never had to give him that particular disclaimer before.

“I understand.  Plot the route.”

A moment later, the image of the tunnels was superimposed over his view.  A route through the tunnels glowed green, contrasting with the orange of the overall map.

“According to the transmitted map, this is the most direct route.” A green sphere appeared.  “This is Containment Habitat 4.”

“Why don’t you give me turn-by-turn directions, Regis?”

“Yes, sir.”

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