Lone Star – Chapter 32

“Sgt. Dickinson, whats your location?” Jonas heard over the com-link.  It was LT West, and he sounded impatient.

He smirked to himself.  “The whole point of this was to make ourselves hard to find, sir.”

“Not the time, Sargeant,” West replied, his tone deadly serious.  “Sgt. Kestrel needs backup.  There’s a bunch of trouble on your floor, and I want you to back her up.”

“Got it, sir.”  Jonas looked back at his team, spread out behind him in the huge ductwork.  “Alright, boys and girls, lets get back down there.”  The squad turned and began moving back toward the Big Hole.  “Sgt. Kestrel, where do you need us?”

He waited for 8 seconds, but got no reply.  “Sgt. Kestrel, you reading me?”  His team was climbing down the ladder, back into the storage room below.  One of the skelebots stood there, watching patiently as the squad returned.

“Skelebot, can you read my comms?”

“Yes, sir,” the robot replied evenly, turning its head upward to look at him.

“Why can’t Sgt. Kestrel?”

“Sir, the network reports a failure in the regular communication relays.  Your comm-links will require line-of-sight to function on this level of the complex until the problem is repaired.”

Jonas muttered a curse.  Then he looked back at the skelebot.  “Well, how did I get that message from LT West?”

“Private Peters was within my line of sight, and his comm unit relayed the message through the ducts to you.”

“Ok- can the skelebots relay all of our comms, instead of the network?”

“Yes, sir, but the system will need to be switched over by voice command from the shift seargent.”

“And I’m not the shift sergeant right now.”  Jonas finished the thought aloud, grumpily.  He reached the bottom of the ladder, and had to fight the urge to stare down the robot like a rookie soldier that had been talking back.  It was just a robot, and was doing precisely what it was ordered to do.  “Relay this message to Sgt Kestrel please- recommend we switch level 7 comms over to Skelebot relays.”

“Done, sir,” the robot replied.  A moment later, Sgt Kestrel’s voice appeared in Jonas’ ears.

“Jonas, we’re having trouble with the skelebots down here, too.”  She sounded out of breath.  “The only ones following orders right now are the two at the main elevator lobby, and the one you’re standing in front of.  If I hadn’t been within sight of the elevators, I wouldn’t have heard you.”

“So we’re down to line of sight comms?” he asked.  What was the point of a high-tech security and communication system if your opponent could shut it off whenever they want?

“Seems like.  I have reports of five malfunctioning robots- two in Gamma block, one in Epsilon, and two in Sigma.  Mind taking care of them?”

“Sure- what rooms are they in?”

“You’ll hear ’em,” she replied.  “I’m moving away from the elevators, toward Zeta.  And be careful, there’s more down here than malfunctioning skelebots.  Four of my people say they saw a dragon in one of the procedure rooms, and I got punched in the chest by a SAMAS unit a few minutes ago.”

“A dragon? A SAMAS?” Jonas asked.  “What the hell are they doing down here?  And why would they-”

“I don’t know, man, they both vanished right after scaring the hell out of us.  Just be careful.  Out.”

Jonas shook his head, then moved his team out of the storage room.  They moved quickly but cautiously into the main office room of Gamma block.  Sgt. Kestrel had been correct- they could hear smashing sounds and energy-weapons fire from two different directions.  “Durellin, take Longshore and Mirrelis left.  Peters, come with me.”  He went to the right, following the sounds of smashing equipment into one of the larger procedure rooms.  He peeked through the shattered door, then entered the room with his rifle leading the way.

A lone skelebot was inside, pulling with all its might on a monitor screen that was attached to the wall.  The supports gave way a moment later.  The robot tossed the monitor into the far wall, where it shattered and spilled its silicon innards.  Jonas trained his sights on the robot, and Peters came alongside him.  The two were spaced enough to keep from being hit by the same attack.

The robot had been destroying things for a good while, it seemed.  Most of the surgical and diagnostic equipment in the room was smashed.  Much of the machinery built into the walls was riddled with smouldering holes.  A CP-40 was on the floor, apparently forgotten.  Jonas guessed the skelebot had used up the weapon’s ammunition first, then switched to its own hands.  With the monitor smashed, the robot turned its attention to the surgery table in the middle of the room.  This proved to be a harder target- three solid kicks didn’t dislodge it.  The table had been built for large subjects, and bolted to the floor.  After the third kick, which dented the side of the table’s base, the skelebot decided to pull it apart where it stood.  The cushioned top came off easily, and the robot’s hands gripped the underside supports.

“Skelebot, stop what you are doing.” Jonas ordered.  The robot didn’t seem to hear him.  It pulled the top half of the table free from the bottom. tossing it aside.

“Skelebot, stop or we will open fire on you,” he said.  He switched his rifle to full-power mode, and heard Peters do the same.

“Sergeant, I suggest you aim for the left chest area,” the robot replied without looking up. It continued tearing pieces of sheet metal off what was left of the table’s base.  “That way you will not damage the power core.”

Jonas shook his head, slowly, then opened fire.  Peters began firing a moment later.  They each let loose three controlled bursts, precisely as they were trained to do.  The skelebot didn’t move to dodge, and the shots hit it in the chest and head.  The armored shell was tough, but six bursts from the energy rifles was enough to destroy the chest armor and many of the critical systems underneath.  While the shots to the head destroyed the armor there as well, there was nothing located there besides the sensory systems.  The skelebot staggered for a moment.  Then it fell, bent in half over the side of the destroyed surgery table.  The arms and legs continued to twitch.  Jonas moved closer, lining the barrel of his weapon up with the wounded robot’s back.  He was careful to keep a 50mm space between the end of the rifle and the metal skin, enough distance for the energy blasts to develop.  He fired two more bursts, ripping through the armor and hitting the last few functioning circuits.  The skelebot went rigid.

Jonas grimaced, then turned toward the door.  “Lets go check on the others,” he said, moving out into the corridor.

The rest of the team was in one of the chemical lab rooms, arrayed around what was left of another skelebot.  They’d put it down hard, apparently.  Most of the torso armor was melted or scorched, and there were several large holes in the structure.  Jonas looked around the room, shaking his head.  He didn’t need to have the contents of the room memorized to know that it had been completely trashed.  A half dozen machines had been gutted, computer monitors and PCU docks had been shot apart, and a layer of glass fragments covered everything on the floor like coarse, glittering dust.

“It didn’t respond to voice commands, Sergeant,” Durellin reported.

“Ours spoke, but didn’t obey,” Jonas replied.  He clapped his man on the shoulder.  “You did the right thing.  Let’s get to the others.”

The team was jogging towards Sigma block when they ran into Corp. Baker and his team, heading the same way.

“Sarge, we got relayed orders from Sgt. Kestrel to meet you at Sigma,” he reported.  “The skelebots are malfunctioning?”

Jonas nodded.  “Gone nuts, shooting up and smashing machines.  We found two, but there’s two more in Sigma and one in Epsilon.  You take that one, then meet me at Sigma block when you’re done.  Try to talk to it, but don’t hesitate to destroy it if it doesn’t respond.”  The corporal nodded, then stopped in his tracks.  Epsilon was the other direction.

They were just around a corner from where Baker and his team had broken off when Jonas nearly bumped into a pair of SAMAS units.  His team fanned out around him, hesitant and confused.  Jonas just stared for a moment, then remembered Sgt. Kestrel’s earlier warning.

“Open fire- pin them down!”  He raised his own rifle, still set to full power.  Before he could squeeze of a shot, the closer of the power armor units side-kicked him in the chest, sending him sprawling into one of his team-mates.  The other three had their rifles up, and began firing.  They had only time for one burst each.

The SAMAS that had kicked Jonas swung its huge railgun around.  The pilot gave them two seconds to get back around the corner before opening fire.  Jonas had not moved completely out of the way until the weapon began firing.  The stream of high-velocity bullets tore into the floor before flowing up the wall.  Somehow Jonas knew the pilot had intentionally given them time to get out of the line of fire, but the hint was clear.  Jonas leaned around the corner, his rifle leading, and fired off another burst.  This time, the two SAMAS were half-way down the corridor.

What the hell are they doing? Jonas asked himself.  They’re going toward Beta block! Then he had another thought, and his eyes narrowed.

“Durellin, take the squad.  Keep after those two and pin them down if you can.  I’ll send the rest of the team to back you up if I run across them.  Peters, come with me.”  Jonas turned, then dashed down another corridor.

“Where are we going, Sarge?” Peters asked between breaths, fighting hard to keep pace.

“The elevators,” Jonas replied.  “They won’t lead us back to the rat tunnels.  But a SAMAS can climb the elevator shafts easy enough.  So that’s where we’ll wait for them.”

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