Lone Star – Chapter 8

Patrolling the corridors was a welcome break from sitting at the security checkpoint.  Most of the time it was a minor reward, a chance to move around and stretch out the legs instead of standing still or sitting behind a counter for hours.  Jonas usually let the others in his squad take the walking patrols, but once in a while he needed one for himself.  It was a good way to end a shift, and most of the labs were quiet by that time.  Only two procedures were underway that evening, and both were close to his checkpoint.

He turned his head sideward as he slowly paced down the corridor.  His partner for the patrol, Pvt Charleston, was two steps behind him, keeping pace in the perfect manner drilled into the young heads at boot camp.  The two passed the Epsilon block, and Jonas saw the younger soldier’s head turn as they went by.

“You’re not still thinking about the incident in there, Private?”

“A little bit, sir,” Charleston replied.  Both he and Samuelsen had requested psychological support from the base medics after that event.  “Not my first close-combat, but the messiest I’ve seen so far.”

Jonas nodded.  “It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure.  One advantage of using energy weapons- there’s a lot less clean up.”

Charleston chuckled.  “Yes, sir.”

Jonas checked his helmet’s internal clock.  He was settling into his new schedule well, but he hadn’t quite gotten a good feel for the timing.  It was 9:00 at night now, 30 minutes until shift-crossover, 45 minutes until he was off-duty for the night.

Perfect time for a drill.

He stopped in his tracks, half way between Epsilon and Theta blocks.  Charleston stopped when he’d come alongside him, looking over at him.

“Get ready to saddle up, private,” he said.  The younger soldier nodded his reply, then flipped a pair of settings on his rifle.  It was at exercise-ready now, and would require him to change the settings back manually before it would fire anything more than a beam of light.  This beam would register an administrative ‘kill’ on the sensory gear installed throughout the complex, but wouldn’t even hurt the naked eye from direct exposure.  Jonas himself had checked out a rifle for this patrol as well, which was unusual.  His sidearm, a C-20 laser pistol, was powerful enough for just about anything he would run into on Level 7.

Jonas looked down the hallway toward Theta block.  No activity scheduled in there.  The doors were shut, and the lights were off.  They’d walked past it twice during their patrol.  He strode toward the doors, then waved the back of his hand past the security sensor.  The doors clicked, then slid open.  Then he opened his communications link to the entire squad.

“Security breach – exercise,” Jonas said, loudly and clearly.  “Theta block has a security breach.  Three hostile subjects, estimate 12 staff still inside the block.  Baker, activate simulation A-6.  Sargeant of the watch is down, presumed dead.  Two soldiers on location.  This is an exercise.”

“Roger, patrol 2.  Simulation A-6 commencing.  Confirm Sargeant of the watch is down, two soldiers on location.  This is an exercise.”  Jonas could almost hear the smirk over the digital com-link, as well as the accompanying thought-  Sarge just loves to die at the beginning of these drills…

Jonas looked over to his partner.  “Ok, Charleston, you’ve seen this happen before, now it’s happening to you.  Sargeant of the Watch is down, you’re ranking officer on scene.  I’m a private, first week out of boot camp.  Lead me in.”

“Yes, sir.”  It took only a moment for the private to step into his new role.  “Follow me in, sweep right.”

“Roger,” Jonas replied, resetting his rifle to exercise mode.  The two entered the outer lab area on the Private’s count, each sweeping their side quickly.  Jonas dutifully reported his field clear.  The two moved left, heading down the first bank of procedure rooms.

It took a moment for the training systems to activate, casting holographic images of resident scientists scattered through the block.  Some looked out their doors curiously, other ran for ‘safety’.  Charleston responded crisply to the presence of each with instructions to leave the block.  The holographs obeyed, immediately and silently.  In reality, that would be a rarity- some of the scientists would react with fright, some with indignation over being instructed to leave their work, some would shout that they couldn’t be bothered and lock themselves in.  The pair moved to the end of the corridor, sweeping the last of the labs.  The room was dark when the doors opened, but the overhead lights clicked on a moment later.  Empty laboratories always made Jonas uncomfortable, like playing in someone else’s sandbox.

The two moved through the room with swift precision, Jonas following the commands given by his subordinate while watching closely.  When their part of the drill was finished, he turned to face him across the room.

“Private, leave the room and close the door.  You’ll drag me to safety when backup gets here.  Baker, you copy that?  We’re in lab A1 Left.”

“Copy, sir.  We’re entering the outer lobby.”

Jonas hit the safety-switch on his rifle and laid it on the floor.  He sprawled himself out as if he’d been hurt, then began counting, listening to com-chatter.  His men worked through the drill quickly.  He’d tell how well they did later on, looking over the recordings from security cameras.

A team of five soldiers entered the room, sweeping it for hostile life.  This particular drill was about movement and securing the lab areas, so there was no need for firing.  Two of them hoisted him, carrying him out to the corridor.  Once outside, he patted them both on the backs of the helmets.  He put his feet back down, then turned to look at the deployment of the other three in the lab.  Over the com-link he heard the other teams all declare the lab block to be secure.

“Allright, exercise concluded.  Back to stations, all, we’ll have a report meeting after the shift ends.  From what I saw, you did good.”

The soldiers all relaxed.  Even through the heavy armor and reflective-black faceplates, he could see it.  They’d been ready to fight if it had been a real engagement, but now they were back to the quiet part of the routine.

“Charleston, we’re still on patrol,” he said, striding out through the outer lobby and into the main corridor.  His partner caught up to him quickly, and the pair re-set their rifles.  “That was well done back there, Private.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’d prefer to have some targets in place before I call out a drill like that, but it seems like word always gets out,” Jonas said.  “Some of these drills need to be a surprise.”  The rest of the squad went the other direction, back to the security checkpoint and their regular posts.  The other roving patrol had responded to the drill as well, and was now crossing back to the other side of the complex to resume their pattern.

As Jonas and his partner were between the Iota and Zeta laboratory blocks, the com-link came alive again, this time with his Lieutenant’s voice.  “Good timing on your drill, Sergeant.  Some of the boys and girls at the checkpoint looked like they were about to fall asleep.”

Another smirk crossed Jonas’ face.  “No better time, sir.  I’d like to set up a pair of drills for next week, sir, but I’d need your help to do it.  I want us to be in the middle of a drill when we get a call from you instructing us to move into a different area.  One of the only times we’re not ready for something to happen is during an exercise.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” the LT replied after a thoughtful moment.  “Send me a memo with an outline.”

“I’ll do that, sir.”  Jonas looked to his side, noticing that Charleston wasn’t keeping pace with him.  He turned, to see his partner standing at an intersection of two corridors, staring toward one of the empty lab blocks.

“Something wrong, Private?”

“Not sure, sir,” Charleston turned his head toward his officer.  “That’s Sigma block down there, right?  There’s no signage.”

Jonas nodded, approaching the intersection.  “That’s one of the specialized labs, and they don’t often use it.  When they do, they’ll usually be working on something they need us to over-watch on.”

“But it’s not in use right now,” Charleston replied.  “At least, it’s not supposed to be.”  He motioned his rifle barrel toward the large, frosted glass doors.  There should only have been a hint of light from the night-lights inside- but there were two roving beams moving around inside.  Someone was in there with flashlights.

“Keep quiet, Private.  Let’s not let them know we know they’re here- not just yet.”  Jonas pushed his rifle ahead of him, pointing toward the wandering lights.  The two stalked down the corridor, keeping their boot-steps as quiet as they could.

“Baker, you back at the checkpoint yet?”

“Yes, sir,” came the crisp reply.  Underneath the voice was an undercurrent of caution; Another drill?!

“We’ve got someone inside Sigma block with what looks like flashlights.  Call the elevator checkpoint, tell them to put a pair of eyeballs on every corridor leading to their lobby.  Listen up, people,” he said, pausing before going on.  “Markins and Trojan, walking patrol around Alpha thru Delta blocks.  Durellin and Peters, take Epsilon thru Zeta.  Vellis and Orwell, I want you two to walk Red Zone patrol.  Franklin, stay at the security checkpoint and co-ordinate.  Everyone else with Baker- you should be on their way here.  Lead them in from the side, from Zeta block, and approach quietly.  I don’t want them to know we’re here until they’re surrounded.  At least two subjects, but I can’t tell who or what or whether they’re armed, so consider this a Code 5 for now.  Boys and girls, if this was another drill, I’d have told you by now.  Have your rifles on low power, weapons tight until I say otherwise.”

“Copy, sir, we’re on the way,” Baker said between breaths.  He was already running.  “90 seconds.”

“Charleston, stay right here.  Anyone or anything comes out that door, arrest them without shooting if you can.  You are authorized to fire in self-defense, but let me make it clear how important it will be to take them alive, whoever they are.  If they’re dead, we’ll never find out how they got in there- and that is the main thing we need to know.  I’m going to circle around to the right, the rest of the unit will be coming from your left.  I’ll signal you to approach the doors once I get close.”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as he was around the corner again, Jonas broke into a sprint.  He was angry and elated at the same time.  Someone had broken into the labs on his watch – and he was for damn sure going to find out how they got in there.  But at the same time, if he was credited for this sort of an arrest, this far into the compound’s classified lab system…

He didn’t have to go too far before reaching the next intersection, turning back to come up beside the door.  He crept up quietly, reaching the door just as he saw the rest of the squad coming toward him from the next lab block.  They’d be in position in another 30 seconds.  The back of his left gauntlet held the security pass, a tiny chip that would instruct the doors to unlock when waved in front of an ID reader beside every door on the floor.  He took a breath, moved his hand toward the ID reader, and then the frosted glass exploded outward.

The blast didn’t knock him off his feet or stun him, thanks to his helmet.  It took a moment for the display to clear itself- it had maladjusted to the burst of light, but after two seconds it was back to normal.  The glass was still falling in tiny cubes around him and down all three corridors.  Smoke poured out through the opening.

“Weapons tight- we want them alive!” Jonas repeated his earlier orders.  “Move in now!”  He stepped toward the doors again, and was bumped aside as two shapes bounded out through the shattered openings.  They were dark, furry under tattered clothes and piecemeal armor, a little shorter than he and very thin.  They moved far faster than a human would- one toward Baker and the rest of the unit, the other toward Charleston’s position.  They both turned corners and dashed out of sight.

“Charleston, where are you?” he nearly shouted.

“I’m right behind one of them, heading toward the Red Zone,” he replied.

“Run it down.  Vellis, Orwell, try to intercept it.  Baker, where’s yours?”

“Got to the intersection before we did, sir, but we’ve got a good position here.  We should be able to corner him over by Epsilon.”

“I’m right behind you.  Checkpoint, get an alert unit down here to secure Sigma block, and have the cleaners standing by.”

“Sarge, backup is already on its way,” Franklin replied.  She’d had her share of alerts in her time, and wasn’t disappointed to be co-ordinating things back at the desk.  Jonas charged down the hallway, linking up with the others as they encircled Epsilon block.

Baker’s voice called out again.  “Sir, it’s entered Epsilon block.  It must have a pass of some kind.  I got a glimpse of it in the light- I think it’s a mutant rat.”

“Fantastic,” Jonas muttered.  “Encircle the block.  Checkpoint, do you have video in there?”

“No, sir,” came the puzzled reply.  “I have no active video feeds from the whole floor- they all went down right before the Sigma-block doors blew.”

“Double-fantastic.”  Jonas stepped up beside Baker in the line.  The doors at the outer lobby of Epsilon block were standing open.  Three soldiers stood in each of the corridors, blocking every path of escape.  Jonas and Baker had four more with them, ready to enter the laboratories.

“Didn’t we just do this the other day?” Baker joked as they passed through the doors.

Jonas nodded.  “Bright side is, the lab is empty- we don’t have to worry about dying scientists this time.”  A door slammed down the corridor to the right.  Jonas looked to the other soldiers.  “Secure this lobby.  Baker, with me.”

The pair moved smoothly down the right corridor, passing closed doors and dark windows.  One of the storage room doors was slightly ajar, as if someone had tried to slam the door too hard, bouncing it back open.  Jonas wasn’t fooled by it – that room was little more than a closet, and would offer no places to hide.

“Franklin, what other doors opened in this corridor?”

After a pause, she replied, “Sir, besides the storage closet, the only other door in there that has been opened on our shift was Procedure E-17.  Third on your right side.”

Jonas nodded, then signaled for Baker to cover him as he stepped up to the door.  This one, too, had not been closed all the way.  He pushed it open slowly with his boot, and swept the room with his rifle.  He was about to take a breath when his weapon was grabbed from the side, and something was trying to wrestle it away.

He stepped aside, pulling his assailant into the light from the corridor.  Baker fired two shots from his rifle, hitting the dark humanoid shape squarely in each thigh.  It cried out, almost squealing, and fell onto its back.

Jonas backed off, covering the shape with his rifle.  It was a mutant rat, all right.  It was scrawny, about a meter-point-five tall, its fur matted, and it looked and smelled as if it had spend the past few months crawling around in a sewer.  It wore the tattered and stained leftovers of a suit of arming clothes.  The only pieces of armor it wore were hardened leather chest-plates and shoulder guards.  It snarled up at them, a combination of pain, rage, and terror in its eyes.

“Charleston, give me an update.”

“Sir, I’m sorry – I let it shut me into one of the lab rooms in Tau block.  The lock is disabled.  I lost it.”

Orwell’s voice answered.  “We’ll get you out – what room are you in?”

Jonas shook his head, smirking, then knelt down by the wounded rat.  He lifted his face-plate, letting the rat see him and hear his voice.  “Baker, get the first aid kit.  Franklin, we’ll need medical support for our prisoner.”  The rat’s eyes betrayed surprise.  “Don’t worry, pal, we’re going to take real good care of you.  I’ll even give you something for the pain, right now, if you’ll tell me how you got in here.”

The thing’s eyes narrowed.  Its voice was a raspy hiss.  “Not a chance.”  It took a slow breath.  “At least other two made it out,” the thing hissed.

The other two? Jonas looked over at Baker, wondering if he’d heard right.  Baker’s face plate was down, but his muttered curse over the com-link told Jonas all he needed.

Jonas snapped his faceplate shut.  “Franklin, who is at Sigma block right now?”

“No one, sir.  Alert unit will be there in 90 seconds, they’re just getting off the elevator now.”

Baker was staring back at him.  “And no video.”  The corporal shook his head, and then the two soldiers heard a faint ‘click’ from their prisoner.  They hadn’t been watching it close enough.  While their attention had been elsewhere, it had pulled out a small explosive, and armed it.  Now it looked up at the Sargeant with a pained but triumphant grin.  A moment later, the charge detonated right in his hand.

The armor the two soldiers wore protected them from the brunt of the explosion, but they were still knocked away.  The shockwave sent Jonas into the corner of the lab and set Baker down roughly out in the corridor.  After a moment of dizziness, Jonas leapt up to check on the prisoner.  There were only sizzling pieces left.  Baker was on his feet, and the rest of the team was charging down the corridor toward them.  Baker signaled them to slow down and hold fire, then looked over at his Sargeant.

“Secure this block, Corporal.  Franklin, we need a cleanup team here.  Orwell, you get Charleston out?”  He turned, and strode down the corridor.

“Yes, sir,” came the reply.  “We’re sweeping Tau block for the other one, but no sign of it so far.”

Jonas sighed.  “Finish your pattern, then report to the checkpoint.  I doubt you’ll find it in there.  Franklin, which doors opened in the Tau block during that thing’s chase?”

A pause while she queried the computer.  “A lot of them, sir… most are still standing ajar.  My guess is it knew we’d try to track it by opened doors, and went around opening as many as it could.”

It’s long gone by now, wherever it went, Jonas grumbled to himself.  He opened a new com-link to his Lieutenant’s office.  While it activated, he took a breath to calm himself.
“You have a report yet, Sargeant?”
“Yes, sir, I do, but I feel it should be delivered in person.  Mind setting a meeting for just after the shift?”
“Lets do that, Sarge.  Early version?”
“Sir, it seems that three mutant rats were able to gain access to Sigma lab block.  They had pass-keys that allowed them access to two other blocks as well.  We had one captured, but it had a suicide bomb.  The others escaped, I don’t yet know how.”  He paused.  “Sir, in my written report I’m going to put a request for skelebots to be assigned to this floor for added security.”
“Well, I can tell you right now that you’ll get the ‘bots, Sarge.”  There was a sigh from the other end of the connection.  “I’ve been instructed to keep this quiet, Jonas, but you need to know this.  Keep it to yourself.”
Uh, oh, Jonas said.  The LT had used his first name precisely two other times before.
“This isn’t the first incident of its kind.  I believe it’s the first on your watch, but there have been others.  With your written report, and your request in it, I feel confident you’ll have skelebots at your command within a few days.”
“Understood, sir.  I’ll be upstairs after the shift change.” Jonas replied, closing the connection.

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