McDougal looked at the blocked tunnel in shock, as his HUD pinged that Mech Four had sustained critical damage, and it was powering down. Panicking, he called up Mech One, and found that it was still operating. Sobbing with relief, he relaxed the combat padding and bit into one of the globes of hooch, then quickly downed a second one.
He heard movement and whining in front of him, and focused on Mech One; it seemed to be standing on its head, and McDougal realized it was repositioning to start a vertical tunnel to Building Six. He brought the Mech menu up, confirmed it was still programmed to stop at the ferrocrete, and sagged back.
04:58:15 showed in the countdown window, and McDougal suddenly started breathing fast and feeling sick to his stomach. He rotated the cameras around and recoiled from the closeness of the sides of the tunnel, then turned the HUD suit lights off. No other light penetrated the complete darkness, and he started to panic.
Feeling around, he found the two remaining globes of hooch and bit both of them, trying to calm down. Oh shit, I’m stuck down here… I can’t get out, I’m in a fucking tomb of my own making. I’m failing the Patrol. What ever gave me the idea I could get out of here? Shit, shit, shit!
Sweat started pouring down his face and the nausea increased as his fear turned to anger. Fuck it, I’ll just use a charge to end it all. Pulling the bag of charges up, he took one out of the bag and flipped it around, letting the magnet attach to the front of his armor. He threw up and the suit started beeping a health warning, as he called up the charge menu.
Fueled by the alcohol, his blood pressure rose along with his anger. Impaired by the hundred proof hooch, he couldn’t seem to organize this thoughts. As he fumbled through the charge menu, the suit’s onboard medical monitor finally decided he was in trouble, and triggered his pharmacope to release enough meds to knock him out.
A distant beeping, becoming louder and louder finally woke McDougal up. He shook his head and groaned, My god, what hit me? Where? Why is the charge menu up? The beeping continued, and he finally focused on the display blinking in time with the beeping. It was the timer, and it was showing 00:09:12.
McDougal couldn’t connect the dots for a couple of seconds, then realized it was the timer showing the completion time for Mech One’s vertical trench. How long have I been out? What the hell is going on? He cleared the charge menu, shook his head and groaned.
Pulling the drinking tube to his face, he sipped cautiously, and managed to keep the liquid nutrients down without gagging. He sniffed and realized that he was rank as hell, and cranked up the suit’s recirculation to knock the smell down. He took another drink and felt his bladder let go, along with his sphincter. Feeling vaguely embarrassed, even though he knew the suit would recycle everything, he set the suit padding back to combat mode and felt it compress in on him.
Coming more alert by the minute, he started thinking clearly, Okay, I’m still alive. Mech One is about done. How do I get it down and me up there? Sorting through the menu, he found if he pushed Mech Four back a foot or two, there would probably be enough room for Mech One to slide into the side tunnel Mech Four had created.
As he started to push the Mech, he panned the camera down and saw the shaped charge attached to the chest of the armor. Where the fuck? Did I do that? Detaching the magnet, he fitted the charge back into the case, and set it on top of the broken Mech.
Pitting three-quarters of a ton of armor against a ton of disabled Mech was an exercise in leverage, and fifteen minutes later, he’d moved Mech Four about three feet, while digging two trenches in the floor of the tunnel and almost sending himself into another panic attack.
Pulling up the Mech menu, he commanded Mech One to cut its anti-grav and drop back to the tunnel as he put the carat over the side tunnel. He watched the Mech drop softly to the floor of the tunnel, then obediently turn itself into the side tunnel and stop.
McDougal eased forward and rotated the camera up, seeing an eight foot by five foot shaft extending sixty feet, according to the laser range finder, and ending in a smooth grey surface. That meant ferrocrete, and McDougal thought for a minute, Crap, I’m going to have to use anti-grav. I sucked at that in training, and that was, what, two years ago that I requaled? Damn…
Spikes, where is the menu for the spikes?
McDougal finally found the right menu, and extended the carbon nanotube stacers that formed the stabilization spikes from the feet of the armor, two more stacers extended from the arms. Dreading what he was about to try, he activated the anti-grav plates and made a jumping motion inside the suit to activate the system. Nothing happened.
He knew he sucked at maneuvering the armor, especially in the anti-grav mode and this particular maneuver required a precision he didn’t have. He jumped a little harder, the anti-grav kicked in, and he made it about fifteen feet up the tunnel, missing the walls. It was going well, until he looked down-the suit followed his head orientation and jammed him sideways in the shaft.
Throwing his head back, the suit regained vertical orientation, but fell back to the floor of the tunnel with a clang. Cussing and shaking his head, McDougal tried again and this time made it almost thirty feet up before the momentum caused the armor to stop. Kicking out his legs, he forced the stacers into the sides of the tunnel and effectively stopped the fall.
Focusing the camera up, he lased the top of the tunnel at twenty-three feet, and prepared to jump again. Making the jumping motion, he raised the left arm and extended it above the top of the armor, hoping to stick the stacers there into the ferrocrete.
He felt and heard the clang as the stacers hit, and he jammed his legs out to punch the stacers into the side of the tunnel, then cautiously extracted one set of stacers, bent that leg, and pushed the stacers back in three feet higher.
Repeating the movement with the other leg, he retracted the stacers in his arms, and maneuvered the manipulator up past the head of the armor into contact with the ferrocrete floor of Building Six.
A blinking alert in his HUD caught his attention, blinking the carat over it, he saw a report from Mech Three scroll across his HUD! Hot damn! I’ve got some help up top! Blinking over to the Mech menu, he instructed Mech Three to give him the holo feed from its onboard cameras.
As the holo flashed up, he groaned, as he realized Mech Three was sitting directly over him! Crap, crap, crap… He started laughing hysterically, until he realized the Mech was not showing any Goons in any camera view. He quickly programmed the Mech to back up four feet, and cut a seventy-two inch hole in the ferrocrete directly above him.
McDougal cautiously reached out electronically for the net, but didn’t get any response, nor did he get a response from the fusion power unit running in Building Six. Panning Mech Three’s camera, he saw why. The entire control panel was hanging loose and numerous wires were cut and dangling off to the side.
He tried accessing the self-destruct menu, but there was no response, confirming the Goons had apparently disabled everything but the actual unit itself. Cussing, he panned the armor camera down to confirm he still had the four shaped charges clamped to his front.
Bringing up the shaped charge menu, McDougal stepped it through the menu options. He selected Ejecta Penetrator, then brought up the first charge. He focused his suit camera on it, captured the serial number, and loaded the program to into it. He set the Ejecta Penetrator depth to thirty-six inches. He continued through the other three charges, setting them all, and sticking them on the armor’s legs with the built-in magnets.
Fifteen minutes later, his HUD blinked with an alert from Mech Three: 5 MINUTES TO COMPLETE TASKING. McDougal impatiently waited out the time, then moved Mech Three ten feet away to clear a space for him to land the armor on solid ground. He started to jump the armor, but it wouldn’t react. Looking down, he noticed he’d inadvertently relaxed the padding and brought it back to combat mode.
Taking a deep breath, he made a jumping motion and the armor broke through the remaining half inch of ferrocrete with ease. He leaned forward as far as he dared to try to get the suit to land on solid ground, and extended first one foot, and then the other and barely missed falling back down in the shaft. He landed with a loud clang and immediately put his cameras on holoview.
Hearing snarling, he clomped around the side of the power unit, seeing three Goons in skin suits looking around trying to figure out what was causing the noise in a supposedly empty building. Without thinking, McDougal swept out one arm, and crushed two of the three against the side of the power unit with an even louder gonging noise. The third Goon hissed, ducked, and ran for the door, getting away from McDougal.
Rather than try to catch him, McDougal pulled the first charge free from his leg, attached it just above the mid-line of the power unit and lifted his manipulator free.
CHARGE ATTACHED. PENETRATOR. ARM Y/N. He blinked the carat over Y and the HUD came back, CONFIRM? Y/N. Blinking it again, he programmed the other three as quickly as he could move around the unit. Once he placed the last charge, he answered, CONFIRM? Y/N for the fourth time. He blinked again andgot yet another cue FIRE SERIAL OR SIMUL WITH CHARGES 03494 THRU 03497? SER/SIM? Blinking over SIM, his HUD brought up a new cue, SET DELAY Y/N? He selected Y, and another cue popped up, SET DELAY- SECONDS MINUTES HOURS.
He bowed his head, thinking about distances and how fast he could move in the armor. He knew the troops that practiced in the armor could do thirty miles an hour, but he knew that was beyond his training. Sixty, maybe eighty feet to travel. That’s how far he had to go to the TGate. But he had to get out of Building Six first. Fuck it, it’s now or never. The escaped Goon is probably on his way back with help. Holy Mary, Mother of God… setting the delay to sixty seconds, he hurriedly confirmed it and got a red blinking button on the left side of the HUD with the legend CMD/DET.
McDougal took a deep breath and blinked the CMD/DET active. It started counting down: 60, 59, 58 … and he headed for the roll up door. Suddenly a loud explosion sounded outside the building, putting his external mics into attenuation, and distracting him for a couple of seconds. He started moving again, and just as he went to crash through the door, his HUD flooded with information, the net became active, his radios started going nuts and cannon fire was heard close to his position.
An authoritative voice overrode all the other comms, “Hilda, drive straight ahead a thousand yards. Mike, drive a thousand yards right oblique. Tango, drive a thousand yards left oblique, we’ve got six more MK-84s coming right behind us. Hustle troops!”
…43, 42, 41…
Shit, friendlies are coming back through the gate! McDougal switched directions, and moved back to the power unit. Calling up the charge menu he searched frantically, but, he couldn’t find an abort cue! …32, 31, 30, 29… He managed to pull one charge loose from the power unit, then another. …24, 23, 22… slamming them down on the leg of his armor, As soon as I get outside, I’ll throw these fuckers into the next country… He pulled the other two loose, turned and sprinted as quickly as he could for the roll-up door.
…14, 13, 12…
Running away from the TGate and Building Six, he blinked the carat over the emergency locator and screamed, “Friendly, I’m friendly. McDougal, Ian, Senior Sergeant. Four shaped charges… …3, 2, 1… The four charges went of simultaneously, blowing both lower arms and the entire left leg off the armor.
McDougal felt a flash of heat, then nothing. So this is what it’s like to die.
Four months later, fresh out of the Medbox and rehab, Senior Sergeant McDougal stood at attention in dress blacks, in front of the General’s desk wearing his freshly presented Medal of Valor. The general had dismissed everyone else, and McDougal had heard a click as the general fiddled with something under the edge of his desk. “At ease, Sergeant. Feel free to scratch if you need to, I know those regenerated body parts itch to beat hell.”
McDougal scratched his left thigh with an audible sigh of relief as the General continued, “You are to be commended for your initiative on Regulus Four, and the intelligence you collected and managed to get back through the Tannhauser Gate in a rather innovative fashion. You are also credited with killing over thirty enemy in your improvised explosion, including the Dragoon’s equivalent of a full colonel.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“But you’re about dumber than a box of rocks!” Taking a globe of hooch out of his desk drawer, the general rolled it slowly across the desk, “Care for a drink, Senior Sergeant?”
McDougal was so startled he said, “Yes, sir! Uh, I mean no, sir!”
The general leaned back in the form fitted chair, “Son, we know y’all think it’s a big bad secret, and that nobody knows, but if I ever hear of you covering up your locator chip, or not having your datacomp with you at all times again, I will personally drum your dumb ass out of the Patrol. Do you understand?”