TBT…

Keyboard is giving me fits, so you get pictures…

These were a series of billboards in/around Detroit a few years ago… Sigh… The good old days! When you could tell from 2 blocks away both visually and aurally what kind of car was coming up the street!

Re the last, they lied… True horsepower was 520 with stock manifolds, 560 with headers (which had a Chevy part number)… 😀

Disconnected…

After a week with basically no phone and no internet, I feel strangely refreshed…

It’s funny how quickly folks stopped thinking about/slapping for their phones and simply enjoyed (well, weather dependent, enjoyed) being outside in a beautiful environment. By Tuesday, I was really loathe to turn the phone back on when I got to the car, and I didn’t spend but maybe 20-30 minutes a night on the net, primarily checking personal emails.

One of the many comments I heard during the week was from a local volunteer, envious of those of us from out of town that hadn’t brought computers. Seems he was going back at night and ‘working’, even though he was on vacation, since folks knew he was in town.

It was interesting also to watch the ‘movers and shakers’ constantly reaching for phones as they walked around the course, and the lines for the phones were pretty constant every day… But I guess the most ‘twitchy’ people I saw were the younger millennials, probably for the first time NOT able to be in constant contact. Actually it was pretty funny! 🙂

In other news, Kaya is now walking… Now the race is on!!! Now PP has two to chase down…

And note Vito in the background calmly chewing a toy… Little does he know…

Back in battery…

More or less, apparently I forgot to actually cue this one for this morning…

My office for the last week…

#1 tee at Augusta, EARLY in the morning, as the gates have just opened.

And the ‘view’ across the tee box to the clubhouse (no, we weren’t allowed in there)…

The green jackets greeted each golfer everyday on the tee. This is Kevin Kisner.

During the practice round, it’s only about two bodies deep… On Sunday it was THIRTY bodies deep trying to watch…

And there were shoppers… I could smell the burning credit cards all the way across the tee! 🙂 

All in all, a great week, good folks and an honor to be able to give a little back to the golfing community.

Now if I can just get my body back on some kind of ‘normal’ cycle…

Oops…

Flying today. Go read the folks on the sidebar while I flap my way home…

It’s been a ‘week’…

From this…

Thankfully, no one was killed in this tornado, and I didn’t see it! I was hiding under a bridge in pouring rain that limited visibility to less than 100 feet, when it passed about a mile from us.

To this…

Tranquillity and ‘relatively’ warm weather…

In between were one nice day, another rainy/lightning day, and two COLD and windy days. Trust me, mid-50s/low-60s with 30-40 kt winds ARE cold!!!

One more day of volunteering and I’m back to the home 20 and wrap up Rimworld- Into the Green and get it into print by the end of the month.

All in all, it’s been a good week, time spent with old friends in a beautiful setting, and weather aside, well worth it.

What I’m wondering is what I did to piss off my readers! I’m down to 30% this week from my normal number of reads/day.

Comments, please???

Rimworld- Into the Green…

An update and one last tease…

Currently working through final edits and cover design. Hopefully will be out the end of April (if everything comes together)…

And in answer to the emails/questions some people have asked, yes, McDougal will be back… 🙂

Stolen Time

Nan Randall had shown up unannounced, dropped off by a GalPat shuttle the previous afternoon. She’d used the excuse of wanting some quiet time, and a chance to talk to Fargo.

They’d spent the afternoon and evening rehashing the entire assault, picking it apart and discussing how it could have been done better. That had segued into catching up with each other’s careers, until Nan finally said, “I need some sleep. This has been a long week.”

Fargo showed her to the spare bedroom, reminding her to lock the door to keep Cattus and Canis out. She joked, “And you too?”

He laughed, “Yeah, me too.” I’m involved with Nicole, and I’m not going to screw that up. As much as I’d like… Nope, not going there.

Nan rolled up on her elbow as Fargo knocked on the door, “Coffee?”

She groaned, “I’m barely awake. Let me run through the fresher, but coffee sounds good!”

An hour later, they sat at the table in the kitchen as Fargo fixed them both a real cup of coffee.

Nan was besieged by Canis and Cattus, one on each side demanding attention, and she laughed as she petted them, “I can’t believe these are really wild animals! They seem so cuddly and sweet.”

Fargo chuckled, and looked at Cattus, “Well, she can tear you limb from limb in about forty-five seconds. Smile for Nan, Cattus!” Pushing a thought to Cattus to open her mouth and put her paw, claws extended gently on Nan’s leg. Cattus did so, and Fargo felt Nan’s shock.

Turning to Canis, he told her to go to guard, and Canis rippled her lips, bringing a growl from the bottom of her chest and standing her ruff up. Nan, in an unconscious reaction, drew both hands in and put them on the table. “Dammit Ethan, I get your point. They aren’t pets, well, not so much. Stop it already.”

Fargo smiled as he gave both animals the command to relax, and they both licked Nan’s hands in a peace gesture.

Stirring her coffee she continued, “I’m going to have to continue the current patrol, but I’ve talked back to Sector and they agree that we need a stronger presence here, at least for a little while. Probably six or so months, which is about how long it will take for us to finish up this leg of the show the flag patrol.”

Fargo nodded, “So?”

“I’m going to drop a company here, well Rushing River. They’re going to be autonomous as far as planetary control, in other words, they will be subordinate to the colonel at White Beach, but they will be a quick reaction force for this sector of the Rimworlds. I’m also going to leave one assault shuttle with them, and I’d like to have Hyderabad available as a long range transport if required. I can’t talk the Admiral into leaving a destroyer here, but there will be one at Star Center.”

Taking a sip of coffee she sighed, “Oh, that is so good! Anyway, I’m leaving Major Jacky Culverhouse in command, but she’s an MP, so she’ll be the liaison with White Beach. The real command will be her hubby, Captain Culverhouse and Captain Garibaldi. They’re both mustangs, in their eighties, and have multiple combat tours, they’re a couple of problem children if they get bored. But, they’ll have a full deployment kit, a couple of Darkies…”

Fargo interrupted, “Darkies?”

Nan chuckled, “That’s what they call themselves. They’re a mated pair of scouts from Anadarko, out in Alpha Centauri. Moby and Dineah, they go by MobyDineah.”

Fargo looked at her, “Anadarko? Scouts? I thought that was one of the Wild West colonies.”

“It is, one point five G, sixty percent landmass, limited water, hellacious mountains. Pretty much ignored, until one of our GalPat ships stopped there about thirty years ago. There was some friendly competition with the locals, and our scouts and Special Forces got their asses handed to them. Darkies are short and wide, strong, and sneaky as hell.” Nan took another sip of coffee, “The settlers are all at least half Earth stock Amerind, lots of Comanche, Cherokee, Lakota Sioux and Apache. Apparently the original stock came from Oklahoma, near Fort Sill, so they’ve adopted a Cavalry way of life.”

“What rank are they?” Fargo asked.

“They are direct accessions into GalPat as Chief Sergeants, and they are also completely telepathic with each other. Part of their mating, apparently.”

Fargo filed that away as he whistled, “Oh, that could be convenient!”

Nan grinned, then dropped into a solemn expression, “And I’m leaving one maintenance tech to support the company. Senior Sergeant McDougal.”

Fargo picked up on her change of expression, “And?”

“Well, he’s a different bird.” Nan twirled her cup, “Ah, he’s got a Star of Valor, and they want him a long way from the flagpole.”

“A maintainer with a Star?”

Nan shrugged, “Yep, on his first Det as a lead. He got left behind inadvertently, or so it was claimed. Something about his locator and datacomp being blocked in a maintenance tunnel they were building. He killed thirty some odd Dragoons rather innovatively, while trying to get off the planet. And he apparently had charges on the T-gate’s power when the good guys came back through the gate. He got the charges off the gate and stuck on his armor, and he ran for it. Blew a leg off, but protected the gate.”

Fargo whistled, “Damn, so he’s basically a kid!”

Nan said, “Yep, maybe forty. But he’s damn good, and I need to keep him busy. This should do it.”

Fargo rolled his eyes, “So… Problem child commanders, problem child maintainer, any more good news?”

Nan blushed, “Well, the company I’m leaving are Herms.”

Fargo just shook his head, “Hermaphrodites? Why them?”

“Well, they keep trying to kill the KTs when they spar. They’ve kept the docs and Med-Comps busy on the ship,” Nan admitted.

“Lemme guess, the Templars think the Herms are an abomination, right?” Nan nodded. “And Herms being Herms, just love to tweak the KTs every chance they get, right?” Another nod. “So what brilliant individual put those two companies in the same ship?”

Nan sighed, “After the dust up on Rigel Three, where they fought side by side and kicked Goon ass, HQ thought it would promote harmony if we put them together. But Mack and Bob can handle them. I’m sure of it.”

Fargo rolled his eyes, “I’m glad I’m retired and I can stay back here in the Green, in this little cabin. I don’t want to be anywhere near Rushing River when that crowd gets bored!”

Nan sat up suddenly, “You’re serious aren’t you? I thought…”

“You thought what?”

“I thought… I thought you were in command of the mercs.”

Fargo chuckled, “Command? A bunch of retired CSMs and Warrants? Hell no! If anything, I was an advisor who was mostly ignored. Anyway, they actually are employees of Grey Lady Security.”

“That’s not what I heard or saw, Ethan, they followed you. You went in and fought… Wait a minute, Grey Lady? That damn company has their tentacles all the way out here?”

“It’s my world too. And I was able to use my talents to help out. Adrenalin rush and all that. As for Grey Lady, she does seem to get around for an immobile statue,” Fargo said with a laugh.

Nan smacked him on the arm, “That’s not… Argghhh!  Men!”

An hour later, standing on the porch, Nan turned to Fargo, “Ethan, I can’t thank you enough…”

Fargo put his fingers to her lips, “Nan, there isn’t anything you can say. I’ve truly enjoyed you being here, and I can’t tell you how proud of you I am. You’re a credit to the Corps, and I’d love for you to stay, but I know you have responsibilities.” Scuffing his boot, he looked at Cattus and Canis watching them and continued, “You know you’re always welcome here.”

Turning, she hugged him wordlessly, then stepped back. He led her down the steps to the field in front of the house, where Hyderabad’s shuttle sat waiting. As they walked toward it, the Hunter version of a butterfly about a foot across flew in front of them. Nan jumped back, dodging it, as Fargo laughed. “Shut up dammit,” Nan said, “I don’t like fluttering stuff.” He helped her in, and threw her bag in the back under the netting and waved to Evie as he stepped off the back ramp.

As the shuttle lifted off he trudged back to the liteflyer. Ensuring his bead rifle was secure, he directed his thoughts to the girls, as he thought of them, to guard the house. A short run and he lifted the liteflyer off and drifted out over the canyon, enjoying the view as he headed for the spaceport.

Twenty minutes later he landed at the spaceport in his usual spot by the gate. Securing the liteflyer, he was surprised to see Sergeant Omar pull up in his patrol vehicle. Omar squeaked a greeting that his Galtrans projected to Fargo’s implant as, “Ho, lieutenant of the retired, ride to the ceremony you would like?”

Fargo nodded, “Ride to the ceremony would be appreciated.” He climbed aboard and Sergeant Omar rattled off across the spaceport. Five minutes later he pulled up to the side of the administration building and Fargo hopped off the vehicle with a wave.

Stepping to the corner of the building, he saw a GalPat podium and reviewing stand erected, and a company of troops in blacks at parade rest in front of the podium. As he watched, a group of dignitaries led by Colonel Randall stepped out of the administration building and started walking toward the podium.

He saw the planetary Governor, Klynton, her assistant, Gann, followed by what Fargo thought of as her GalPat lackey Colonel Cameron. Then a couple of other GalPat Colonels and Nan Randall. Mikhail, looking uncomfortable in a suit, brought up the rear. Fargo spun, sensing someone coming up behind him.

He saw a youngish troop, wearing a Star of Valor, who nodded to him as he stuck his head around the corner. “Aw shit. There is no way I’m gonna be able to sneak into formation.” Turning to look at Fargo he added, “Sorry sir. Didn’t mean to cuss. I was working on getting sh.. cra… stuff set up and I forgot to watch my wrist comp for time.”

Fargo realized he was looking at Senior Sergeant Ian McDougal and smiled, “Well, I guess we can watch the ceremony from here. You must be one of the maintainers.”

McDougal nodded, “Yeah, the only one for this bunch. And they only gave me three Mechs. I got them digging now, but I’m already behind. Normally we get six for something like this.”

“Digging?”

“We gotta dig a basement and tunnels connecting the buildings. Also storage and maintenance spaces for security purposes. Maybe you’ll just forget I said anything, okay?”

Fargo nodded, “I know nothing. I heard nothing. By the way, I’m Captain Fargo, the local militia commander, so I’ll be working with y’all from time to time.”

McDougal grimaced, “Ah shit. Sorry, sir.”

Fargo grinned, “Don’t sweat it troop. I’d rather a working troop than a chair borne warrior. You catch any crap for not making muster, you tell the captain to come talk to me. I’ll cover for you.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rimworld- Stranded part 4…

In the Dark

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?”

“Yes, sir!”

 

The End…

 

Rimworld- Stranded part 3…

Scrambling

McDougal pulled a Tic/Toc from the locker, flipped it on the bench, and set a Ferret on the bench next to it. He set the Tic/Toc parameters just like the ones on the oxygen tanks, but put it on a different frequency, he pulled up the Ferret menu and started fiddling with settings until he got the Ferret to ping the frequency of the Tic/Toc and watched the Ferret open the switch.

Satisfied, he put the Tic/Toc at the end of the maintenance tunnel and started checking distances from the Ferret to the Tic/Toc to see what the maximum range of the ping was. It ended up being about forty feet, and McDougal cussed at the lack of range. Because of where the pallets and oxygen tanks were currently placed, he couldn’t get one Ferret to hit all of the Tic/Tocs.

Grabbing the skid of flour sacks, he maneuvered the pallet at the far end of the tunnel back to the front of the hooch tunnel. Killing the hologram, he stalked down to the still, opened the hopper and pulled out another globe of booze and bit it. Looking at the hopper, he realized it was almost full.  He pulled a double handful of the globes out, carried them to the tunnel entrance, and set them on the floor. Doing that twice more, he had about fifty globes of almost pure alcohol sitting at the entry.

Taking one more trip to the hopper, he pulled the last four globes out and stuffed them into his skin suit. It’s alcohol, it’ll burn. And I’ll be damned if I leave any evidence behind. If I restart it, maybe there will be enough manufactured to burn it down and destroy the evidence. Leaving the hopper open, he jury rigged the micro switch to start the still processing again. He walked back to the entry, picked up as many globes as he could and carried them another twenty yards down the tunnel toward the tunnel face. He deposited the next load ten yards closer to the flour-laden skid, and finally, put the last double handful in the center of the pallet.

McDougal made another pass through the supply tunnel, looking for the explosives he figured should be in there but were not on the inventory list he checked earlier.  He finally found one pallet of explosives underneath the rifle bead rounds, and used the portable skid to break it out. Opening the lid, he found a list of the contents on the inside and started strewing the explosives down the supply tunnel, hoping they would also go when the flour blew and add some life to this particular party.

In the very bottom of the explosives pallet were two boxes, holding six shaped charges each. Dragging them over to the skid, he loaded them on it, and maneuvered them back down to the armor. Dumping them next to it, he decided he’d take some time to eat and clean up while he could.

He was debating eating another emergency ration when he smelled smoke and heard a loud crash against the tunnel door. The power in the tunnel died, and the emergency lighting kicked on. Dropping the ration on the worktable, he scrambled out of the maintenance tunnel and started running for his armor.

Cussing, he saw that Herbert hadn’t finished installing the emergency lighting in the last half of the tunnel. He pawed a small flashlight out of his pocket as he frantically brought up the remote BIT on his datacomp, started the process and hoped the armor would be open and ready by the time he got there.

As he ran, he realized he had no way to block the smaller tunnel. You stupid shit, if you blow the flour, the overpressure is going to blow your ass all the way down the tunnel and probably pancake you against the Mechs at the end of the tunnel! How can you be so frikkin’ stupid?

Jumping into the armor as quickly as he could, he waited impatiently for the BIT to complete, then stood and grappled the two bags of shaped charges with the right manipulator arm. As he started into the tunnel, the bags got caught on the side of the tunnel and McDougal yanked them free and got them in front of him.

Pulling up the Ferret menu, he fed the programming into it for the Tic/Tocs attached to the oxygen tanks and turned sideways to launch it back into the main tunnel, positioning it on an overhead duct he’d marked earlier on his datacomp. Bringing up a range ring on his carat, he confirmed the forty foot range of the Ferret would now encompass all the oxygen tanks and Tic/Tocs.  He sent a self-destruct delay command to the Ferret timed at five hundred milliseconds after the Tic/Tocs fired.

Programming a second Ferret, he deployed it at the entrance to the small tunnel for real-time updates on the main tunnel itself. Popping a side window open in his HUD, he zoomed the Ferret’s video to the tunnel door, and left it there.

Setting the bags down, he used the manipulator to extract two shaped charges, and looked for the programming for them. He had a moment of panic when he couldn’t find them, then remembered they were construction charges and wouldn’t be filed under his weapons menu. As he blinked through the menu options to get to construction he had a random thought, Dammit, I should have moved the holo over to this tunnel, then I could watch who comes in, if and when they do…

He finally got the construction shaped charge menu up, and was confronted with multiple options for the shaped charge settings. As he scrolled through he thought, Damn, what do I… Ejecta Penetrator- No, Beehive- No, LSC? What the hell is, oh! Blinking on LSC he got CONFIRM LSC Y/N, he blinked yes, and got another set of options.

How many options are there—it’s construction for cryin’ out loud? Scrolling down he didn’t see a flat plane or bar linear shaped charge, but found wave shape. Yeah, yeah, that’s what I want! Wave shape… Blinking it and confirming it, he got yet another set of options.   Uh… Bar? Yeah, there it is. He blinked and confirmed the bar, and the menu finally quit giving him options. Now it wanted the charge numbers.

Bringing up the first charge, he focused his suit camera on it, captured the serial number, and loaded the program into it, except for angle of deployment. Angle? What the… Unless it’s angle off vertical or horizontal.  If I want to drop twelve feet, then I’d need, uh… twelve feet of spacing, that’s what, sixty-three degrees? Close enough! Selecting sixty-three for the angle, he saw a graphic representation of the charge’s deployment and explosive shape pop up in his HUD. Backing down the tunnel a few feet, he used the manipulator to bring it up to the ceiling, but the angle was pointing away from him so it didn’t attach.

Flipping it around, he pressed it to the ceiling, and commanded attachment. He felt two small taps as the charge fastened to the ceiling.

CHARGE ATTACHED. LSC. 63 DEGREES VERTICAL. ARM Y/N. He blinked the carat over Y and the HUD came back, CONFIRM? Y/N. Blinking the carat to confirm for the first charge, he then programmed the second one, he went twelve feet further in and attached it to the ceiling. His HUD lit again CHARGE ATTACHED. LSC. 63 DEGREES VERTICAL. ARM Y/N. He blinked the carat over Y and the HUD came back, CONFIRM? Y/N. After confirming the second charge, he got yet another cue on his HUD.  FIRE SERIAL OR SIMUL WITH CHARGE 03493? SER/SIM? Blinking the carat to SIM so that the charges would fire at the same time, his HUD said, SET DELAY Y/N? He selected N, and a red blinking button came up on the left side of the display with the legend CMD/DET.  He was now set.

He was getting too many feeds on the HUD, so he used the carat to blink the graphics for the shaped explosives away, and glanced at the timer running in the upper corner, 07:21:12. Grimly, he stared at the video feed and wondered what was going on on the other side of the door. Relaxing the armor’s padding, he squirmed around until he could get his hand in his skin suit pocket, and pulled out the four globes of hooch he’d grabbed from the hopper.

As he contemplated biting one, a nagging thought hit him, Dammit! How the hell am I going to get by the Mechs? Shit! Too late probably to back one or both out, no I can’t back them both out.

Pulling up the Mech menu, he looked at the statuses of both units and just for the hell of it, tried to reach Mech Three. Still no answer.  Commanding Mech Four to start digging a side tunnel ten yards back from Mech One, he commanded the manipulator to pick up the bags with the rest of the shaped charges and started moving slowly down the tight tunnel.

Being careful to not jar the explosives, he left the armor’s padding relaxed and sipped at the nutrition tube in the helmet as he did isometric exercises with his legs and arms. Gah, I thought the crap in the E-rats tasted bad, this shit is even worse! At least if I throw up, it’ll get reabsorbed and I can try to drink it again. I wonder when this stuff was changed last?

His HUD pinged with an alert from the Ferret at the tunnel mouth. He snapped out of his daze, commanded the padding to combat mode, and peered at the video feed. He didn’t see anything, so he blinked it back thirty seconds, then ran it forward again on show motion.  Now he saw the heat color change on the upper corner of the door.

As he watched, a random spark popped through, followed by a bright plasma arc, which slowly traced its way around the side of the door.  Instinctively McDougal drew back, then realized he was almost a hundred and fifty feet up the tunnel. Unless somebody shined a beam up the tunnel, there wasn’t any way to see his armor, as it was reactively anti-reflective.

07:00:03, McDougal cussed under his breath at the slowness of the countdown, and shook his head. This wasn’t good. It wouldn’t take them long to cut through the tunnel door, then what? Blow the tunnel immediately? Try to collect all the data I can? For what? They trap me down here, I’m dead. Shit, maybe I should just fire the flour without dropping the tunnel. That way it’s all over. Hell, it may be all over anyway, if those charges catch a fracture in the rock!   Oh crap, how am I going to fire the charges and still command the Ferret?

He frantically blinked through the menus until he got the Ferret menu back on top. Time delay- immediate, two seconds, ten seconds, variable. Selecting variable, he pondered, How long is long enough? How quickly will the ceiling collapse? Dammit, I’m going to set it to five seconds and I’ll either live or die…

FIVE popped up and he blinked the carat over it, and watched a blinking yellow button with a five in it pop onto the left side of the HUD. Damn, this thing is getting crowded! How the hell the troops fight these things in combat is beyond me! The Ferret video pinged again, and he saw a plasma arc cut through the center of the door in a quick circle, and a cylindrical object shoot through it.

He glanced at the timer seeing 06:18:25, and almost fired the Tic/Tocs then, but waited as the Ferret in the ceiling locked on the movement and a second screen popped up on the HUD. It showed what appeared to be six legs unfold from the cylinder, and some kind of sensor open out of the end of the cylinder. The Goon probe scuttled off almost too fast for the Ferret to follow it, and disappeared into the supply tunnel.

Three minutes later, it scuttled back out, across and into the maintenance tunnel. Three more minutes, and it came darting down the main tunnel. McDougal was of two minds as to what to do, blow the tunnel or wait and see what the probe would do next. He decided to wait a bit longer. He knew the probe couldn’t hurt him in armor.

Mech Four pinged TUNNEL COMPLETED, and McDougal moved quickly up the tunnel to the back of Mech One, then commanded Mech Four back into the tunnel. The video from the Ferret at the entrance to the smaller tunnel picked up the probe as it scampered along the tunnel wall, then flipped to IR to follow the probe as it turned into the smaller tunnel.

McDougal cussed again as the Ferret’s video picked up a bag of shaped charges lying crossways in the tunnel, obviously ripped free earlier. He quickly programmed another Ferret and set it on the back of the Mech, pointing down the tunnel to pick up the probe if it came all the way down the tunnel.

The probe didn’t pass the shaped charges, and he wondered if the probe or whoever was monitoring it thought the tunnel was booby-trapped. Suddenly his external mics picked up a clanging noise and the video from the Ferret in the main tunnel slewed violently back toward the door, which was now lying on the floor of the tunnel. Six armored Goons were stacked in the opening, weapons at the ready.

Reflexively McDougal moved the carat over the blinking five, started to blink it into action, but stopped again, wondering what would happen next. The six Goons cleared the maintenance and supply tunnels but stopped short of entering the small tunnel, and seemed to be arguing with each other. From the size of their armor, it was apparent they couldn’t fit.  One of them fired a plasma bolt up the tunnel, but it missed McDougal by a couple of feet as it slagged a fifteen foot section of the side wall.

His flight or fight reaction had him bringing up the bead rifle, almost without thought, but he stopped short of firing a reply back down the tunnel. One of the Goons stayed at the entrance to the smaller tunnel, while the other five stalked back to the main tunnel entrance.

McDougal glanced at the timer and was surprised to see it click under six hours, then the video from Ferret in the overhead slewed back to the tunnel entry. Two Goons in armor came through, followed by another six also in armor, then two more Goons in their version of skin suits. The Ferret picked up the snarling, whistling language the Goons used and attempted to do real-time translation. Without access to the network, it did not have enough data to produce a useable rendition of the Goon conversation much to McDougal’s frustration.

Looking at the video closely, McDougal could make out what appeared to be rank tabs, but he’d never bothered to learn what they stood for, since it wasn’t his job. Now he wished he’d paid more attention. Another group of four Goons came in, pulling some kind of device on a skid.  He watched they kowtowed to the first group, then headed towards where the smaller tunnel started.

The second Ferret’s video picked up the guard at the entrance to the smaller tunnel coming to what McDougal could only think of as the Goon version of attention.  He blinked the carat over the button with the five, closely followed by blinking over the red button and detonated his flour bombs.

Five seconds later, the overpressure from the flour blast knocked him over the top of Mech One, and pelted his armor with rocks and boulders, as the tunnel collapsed. Shaken, McDougal managed to get the armor back on its feet, and risked the HUD’s lights, only to see a tunnel full of dust, and what appeared to be a rock fall that ended about twenty feet behind Mech Four.

 

Rimworld- Stranded part 2…

Countdown

55:20:10. McDougal snarled at the datacomp and paced the maintenance tunnel trying to think of anything else he could do. He moved the carat over the Ferret menu and pinged the Ferrets for data. He was rewarded with a video burst from the Ferret on the surface that included the outbound pass of the flying Ferret, which apparently made it through the TGate, as the last frame was greyed out.

The downside was that there was at least a company, if not more, of Goons in the camp, with more APCs coming. Now it was going to be a race between him shutting the gate down, and the Goons exploiting the open gate. He just hoped the patrol was locked and loaded on the other side.

Pinging the Ferrets, he got another relayed burst from the one on the surface, via the Ferret in the hole above the tunnel door. The scene had changed, with more Goons arriving. They now seemed to be concentrated around Building Six, trying to make entry. Apparently they knew it was a power generator, as he didn’t see any large breaching weapons out that might blow up the plant.

Cursing under his breath, he remembered another part of the mission brief, to never allow the fusion bottles to fall into enemy hands due to their advanced technology. He looked at the datacomp, but there still wasn’t any network connection, so he couldn’t access the generator’s self-destruct from the tunnel.

Since it was almost dark, McDougal decided to chance sending another flying Ferret through the TGate, in case anyone on the far side was actually monitoring it. He rummaged through the supply tunnel and found a pallet of Ferret reloads for his armor and carried a box into the maintenance tunnel. Hefting the packing case up on the bench, he quickly broke it down and extracted four more Ferrets.

Using his datacomp, he programmed the one currently sitting in the hole in the tunnel to flying mode and sent it on the same trajectory through the TGate as the first one. He picked up one of the four on the bench, found its code, carried it to the hole, then programmed it to act as a new relay and let it crawl off his hand into the hole.

Walking to the end of the tunnel, he stepped cautiously into the new small escape tunnel he’d commanded the Mechs to dig and paced it until he reached the back of Mech One. It looked like they were on track and on time, based on the distance completed, but he knew it wasn’t going to be fast enough.

Punching the datacomp, he looked at the Mech menu and thought, Where the hell is Mech Three? I’ve got One and Four here. Herbert had Five on the sewage plant, and Two was on the HVAC for Building Two? Or was it Three? Pulling up the camp grid, he overlaid last known positions of the Mechs and realized Mech Three was in Building Six!

Now, how the hell do I communicate with it? If I can get to it, I can… Destroy the fusion bottle and the generator, or at least wreck it, maybe. Scanning back through the Ferret data, he looked specifically at the EM portion of the logs and realized the network wasn’t even showing up, that meant the comms antenna was gone, and probably the repeater too. I wonder, can I chance another Ferret to go check the antenna farm? Nah, probably not a good idea. The Goons see a Ferret or see the EM pulses, they’ll know somebody’s alive. Probably not a good move on my part. What the hell else can I do?

McDougal walked down the maintenance tunnel to the ‘hooch tunnel’ as he now thought of it, sliding his hand along the rough texture of the tunnel wall until he felt the slight tingle and his hand slipped seemingly into nothing. Without taking the holo down, he stepped into the side tunnel and walked slowly back to the still.

Opening the hopper, he saw there were already fifteen shot sized globes collected in the hopper, and he pulled one out. Bouncing it in the palm of his hand, he thought about what the booze would be good for, and the only thing he could come up with was to get drunk.

Popping the globe in his mouth, he bit through the covering, not waiting for it to dissolve and felt the sharp taste of the freshly distilled alcohol hit his taste buds. He swallowed it quickly, and felt a warmth spreading through his system, Go easy you dumbass. You’re the sole survivor of the entire camp right now, as far as you know. Getting shitfaced right now isn’t the best idea you’ve ever had. Think!

Picking two more globes out of the hopper, he shoved them in the pocket of his skin suit and went back to the maintenance tunnel. Pulling up an inventory of materials on hand, by building, he got a comprehensive list of what was in Building One’s packing crates, and found spare parts, hoses, and rifle beads in the supply tunnel, but no additional weapons.

Accessing the ‘secret’ maintenance files on his datacomp for the still, he looked to see if there was anything he could use there. Since it was set up to make almost pure ethanol before the cutting and flavoring, McDougal immediately started looking for a way to make it into a bomb. If he could get the stoichiometric concentration to around 14:1, he could get a big bang according to the datacomp, but without the network and databases he couldn’t get a more detailed plan.

McDougal spent an hour or so tinkering in the maintenance tunnel with various hoses, metering valves and plumbing until he threw his hands up in frustration, Dammit! This shit looks easy on the net, when one has the net. Ain’t got the net, and I dunno if I’m going to blow myself up or set a trap if the Goons break in. Simple… I need simple…

Prowling through the supply tunnel again, he found a pallet of flour and four oxygen tanks. Laughing he thought, Now I’m getting somewhere! We used to do this as kids. I just need a way to disperse the flour. He carefully cracked the valves on each tank to ensure they had pressure, then loaded them on a skid and placed them evenly throughout the tunnel.

He went back to the maintenance tunnel and looked at the assortment of hoses, found four that had the correct connections, and pulled out four fan metering valves. Putting one on each hose, he went to the electronics locker and pulled out four Tic/Toc timers that would mate up to the hoses. The Tic/Tocs could be commanded remotely, and all McDougal needed was a way to trigger them.

Assembling the hoses into the configuration he wanted, he went to each oxygen bottle and connected the hoses, opened the valves and wanded each tank to ensure there were no leaks. Sticking the wand in his back pocket, he directed the skid back to the supply tunnel and picked up a pallet of flour.

Doing a quick count, he had fifty bags, so each oxygen cylinder got twelve bags. At twenty-two hundred pounds of pressure, the metering fan should cut through the bags fairly easily, and put up a nice dust cloud. Just to be sure, he stacked the bags so that the metering fan would cut through all of the bags, and for good measure went ahead and cut the top two bags open.

By the time he’d finished with all fifty bags, he was tired and sweating. Directing the skid back to the supply tunnel, he crossed back to the maintenance tunnel and keyed his datacomp. 50:15:34 popped up in the countdown window, and McDougal realized he was tired. Getting another data dump from the Ferret, he quickly scanned it and noted that the Goons seemed to be bedding down for the night. They had patrols out, and there was now some Goon noise on the EM band, but McDougal couldn’t decode the frequencies.

His stomach rumbled, and he pulled an emergency ration down, heated it and gobbled the food without caring what it was, or paying any attention to the taste. Finishing the ration, he stripped off the skin suit and deposited it in the receptacle in the fresher, then dialed the setting to relax/clean.

Ten minutes later, he staggered out, almost asleep, and numbly climbed into a clean skin suit. Flopping down in the conformal chair Herbert had ‘borrowed’ from the officer’s lounge, he was asleep in seconds.

***

The buzzing of the datacomp woke McDougal with a start and he flailed up out of the chair in a panic, before he realized it was his alarm going off. Slapping at the datacomp, he saw 42:02:56 in the countdown window. After he visited the fresher, he keyed the Ferrets and got a burst dump from each of them, and saw that the Goons were up and about also. They were sweeping each building with some kind of sensor and burning the remnants as they went.

There was more EM noise on the Goon frequencies and he wondered if he dared another airborne Ferret, finally deciding it might be worth it.  Worst case, he doubted he was going to get many more chances to launch many more.

He had to scrabble on the bench to find another Ferret; he reminded himself to clean up the bench as soon as he got this one launched. Taking the datacomp, he walked to the tunnel entrance, programmed the one in the hole to fly through the TGate, set the replacement then let it walk into place.

Coming back into the maintenance tunnel, he methodically cleaned up the area, repackaging the tools, unused parts, and stacking the remaining Ferrets on the end of the bench for easy access. He ate another ration thinking, There isn’t enough time. They were burning Buildings Four and Five this morning. That means they could be here burning Building One tomorrow. What can I do? I’m a frikkin rat in a cage down here. I can’t talk to anybody, I can’t get out, all I can do is die… Seeing the two globes of hooch sitting on the bench, he reflexively grabbed one, bit it and drained it. Then picked up the second one and did the same thing. Fuck it, I’ll just get drunk and die that way.

He got up slowly and walked down the supply tunnel to the hooch tunnel, felt his way in, and opened the hopper. It was almost full, over forty globes sat there, and he took out one, savagely bit it, and slurped the contents. Banging the lid closed with all his strength, he sobbed and slid to the floor of the tunnel. He rested his head against the cool steel of the hopper and closed his eyes, Good deal my ass! You’re one of the special ones, they said. We can trust you. As long as you never take longer than 38 minutes with the still, nobody will ever know, they said. You get all the booze you want for free, they said. It’s all automated, all the materials and supplies are built into every camp loadout. It’s simple. We’ll give you a code to run, and the Mechs will build you a secret tunnel, they said. They’ll assemble the still too! Another secret code to run. Easy, peasy, they said. Now I’m gonna fucking die!

McDougal’s data pinged louder and louder before he finally acknowledged it. The alert was on the countdown, it had dropped to 20:34:40 and the scrolling text said, MATERIAL CHANGE. IGNEOUS ROCK TO SEDIMENTARY. CONFIRM? Y/N

He looked muzzily at the display before the words finally connected and he immediately punched Y. Scrambling up, he felt like his head was going to fall off, and his stomach was queasy, but he rushed down the tunnel to the new, smaller tunnel and through it to the back of the Mech One. In the glare of the lasers, he could see the change in the rock they were driving through, and he decided then and there to take them out of quiet mode to speed up the process even more.

A particularly bright flare of the laser reminded him he didn’t have any eye protection, and he retreated back down the tunnel quickly. He walked back to the maintenance tunnel and scrabbled through the first aid kit, found a stim and injected himself in the thigh with it. After the initial rush, he pulled up the Mech menu with a new energy and reprogrammed both units to maximum speed drilling with minimum clean up.

It was now or never, he figured. He keyed the Ferrets, got a burst from them, and jumped as the video started, there was a Goon not three feet from the Ferret, with a sensor of some type in hand, and McDougal could clearly see the golden colored nictitating eyelids as they flickered across the Goon’s eyes, the odd coloration that seemed to differentiate from Goon to Goon, and the ever-present dangling tongue.

He watched the Goon step back, waving some kind of wand, as if looking for something, then turn and say something over his shoulder to the Goon standing behind him. The uniform the Goon wore was some type of skin suit, with a hood maybe, that drooped at the back of the neck. He, or it, wore a belt with an oddly shaped pistol, and what appeared to be spare magazines along with two other pouches that had no purpose that McDougal could see.

Five minutes into the video, the Ferret was suddenly flipped on its side, skewing the video as something moved it. Craning his head McDougal watched as a line of Goons formed and seemed to march straight at the camera as two more APCs pulled up at the side of Building Six.

The Ferret was jostled a couple of more times, but not destroyed, and the last frames showed an empty area.  McDougal looked at the time hack, and saw it was lunch time, so he launched the Ferret airborne for the gate, hoping it would make it through with the latest intelligence and maybe somebody, if he was lucky, could make heads or tails of it.

He killed the video display, and saw the countdown clock was now at 09:45:12.

 

Rimworld- Stranded part 1…

Here goes…

Stranded

McDougal felt the ground shake, like a minor earthquake and glanced down towards where his datacomp should be, then remembered he left it sitting in his office. Shrugging, he entered the last bit of programming into the still to start making the hooch.  The ground shook again, much harder, and he cursed under his breath, hit enter on the unit to start the distillation process and headed out of the tunnel.

Resetting the hologram to mask the entrance of his secret tunnel, he started walking quickly back down the main tunnel, automatically checking the overhead runs to make sure nothing had come loose. A third ground shake, this time with crashing noises from the tunnel head, and he started running.

Reaching the tunnel head, he waved at the door sensor and heard grinding as the door started sliding slowly into the recess. It stopped after about twenty-four inches with a metallic screech, smoke pouring through the opening. McDougal squeezed through the opening, coughing at the odor of burning plastic and ozone. He stumbled over something, felt the wall and made it into his office. Grabbing his EBA[1], he donned it as he ripped the band that blanked his locator chip off his neck.

Scrabbling for his beeping datacomp, he saw it flashing red and touched the screen to display the alert.

WARNING ORDER- IMMEDIATE EVACUATION OF LOCAL HQ

DRAGOONS HAVE LANDED IN FORCE, ESTIMATED ATTACK IN OVERWHELMING FORCE IN 30 MINUTES. SECTOR COMMAND AUTHORIZATION C6B48EQ. EVAC VIA TANNHAUSER GATE AND DESTROY ON EVAC.

 SECTOR COMMAND SENDS

He cleared that alert, only to see another pop up.

ALCON-

MANDATORY EVAC MUSTER TGATE IN 15.

 HINZ

Clearing that, another one.

SSGT MCDOUGAL

 MUSTER IMMEDIATELY

 HINZ

McDougal shook his head, knowing he’d screwed the pooch. Taking the datacomp off was a write up at the least, and a court martial at worst, much less blocking his chip, which was a straight up court martial offence. Dreading what he’d see next, he cleared that message too.

ALCON-

 THREE MINUTES. BUCKLEY, CEASE SEARCH FOR MCDOUGAL. ASSUMED CAPTURED OR DEAD.

 HINZ

 MAJOR-

 I HAVE APC, WILL MAKE ONE MORE PASS, THEN DUMP APC AT THE TGATE, KEY DESTRUCT SEQUENCE AND CROSS OVER.

 SSGT BUCKLEY, SECURITY

 BUCKLEY-

 NEG. EVAC NOW KINETICS INBOUND ETA 20 SEC.

 HINZ

 KKKK

 SSGT BUCKLEY, SECURITY

Looking at the times, he realized that forty minutes had gone by since the initial evacuation order had been sent. He sagged back against his desk thinking, then turned to the armor sitting in the back corner of his office, and powered it up. As it knelt for him to get in, he took a last look around his office, then ripped the EBA off and clambered into the suit.

Running through the BIT[2] checks, he paid particular attention to the weapons status and was thankful to see that Buckley had reloaded his bead rifle magazine for him. Even though he was a maintenance tech, and could work on damn near anything, getting those last links of beads into the magazine correctly was beyond him on a good day, least of all under stress.

The suit came up all greens on the HUD[3], he felt the click in his mind as the suit connected to him and the datacomp via the pads in his palm. Using the HUD optics, McDougal blinked the comms over to the TAC channel, hoping to hear someone. After a few seconds of static, he said, “McDougal on TAC. Anybody copy?”

Static was the only response. Blinking the comms selector over to ALL, he tried again with the same results. Then he saw one red icon in the corner of the display, he wasn’t accessing the network. Cussing softly, he toggled a reset, then stepped ponderously out of his office, careful to duck to clear the doorway. Nothing but smoke was visible on the HUD, so he flipped the visor to InfraRed, and stared as the details of the destruction became apparent. It looked like the entire building had collapsed into what was left of the basement. About twenty feet to his left, a shaft of light penetrated the smoke.

Shifting rubble and pieces of debris, he made his way to the hole and looked up. Peering over and around beams, he could see what appeared to be an ambient difference in light and temperature. Toggling through his menu, McDougal found the Ferrets[4]  and saw that he had thirty on board. Arming his targeting laser, he marked the opening above with the targeting carat, tagged a Ferret to covert investigation and felt an external auxiliary hatch on the armored arm pop open, then close a second later.

The Ferret, about the size of a one inch cube, unfolded from its stored position, flew to the wall, and climbed upwards on its articulated arms. McDougal followed it with IR until it disappeared, then waited until his HUD pinged. Still no network, but at short ranges like this, he could get a direct video and audio feed from the Ferret. Toggling the feed on, he slumped as he saw a hole where Building Two should be.

Commanding the Ferret to scan and search, he watched grimly as the Ferret moved further from the hole then panned from left to right, Buildings Three and Four were gone, but Building Six still stood, and the TGate was still active! It was blocked by an APC sitting on its skirts, and something else.

Putting his carat on the object he toggled the zoom function, and saw a red helmet protruding beyond the back of the APC[5]. Fist clenched in rage, he knew Joe Buckley hadn’t made it. He flashed back to a conversation he and Buckley had a week earlier-

      “Joe, how’d you end up on this ass end of nowhere deal?”

      “Ah, payback for my last fuck up. It was either this or a bust back to sergeant. The colonel took pity on me, since we have a history.”

      “A history?”

      “Yeah, I don’t turn his ass in, he covers for me. But I’ve got a bad feeling about this det. I always said I wanted to die in bed at a hundred and thirty with two thirty year olds, but this place… This is your first det as the senior maintenance guy isn’t it?”

      “Yep, first one where I’m running the show. After I made senior sergeant, I went back for school then I did the Orincon det as number two, the jump to Randall as the number two, and passed the tests and bumped up to number one for this one.”

      “You guys don’t get out much do ya?”

      “Nah, our job is keeping the home fires burning, and fixing all the shit y’all break. Well, me and Herbert and six Mechs are doin’ the fixing.”

      “What do y’all use the Mechs for?”

      “They’re kinda like automated maintenance units, but they can do just about anything we need from digging the tunnels, to transferring weapons, to repairs inside the containment. They’re autonomous units, once we give them a task. They’re just not real fast, and sometimes we have to go in with them to ensure the programming is correct.

      “That means you’ve got access everywhere and to everything, right?”

      “Umm, yeah, why?”

      “If I go down, there’s some shit in my locker that needs to ‘disappear’, if you know what I mean.”

      “Ah, you’re just being paranoid, Joe. Ain’t gonna happen.”

      “Just in case, okay… Just disappear that shit.”

      “Okay.”

Based on the damage to the barracks, McDougal guessed that Joe’s locker wasn’t an issue anymore. Setting the Ferret back in scan mode, he saw Building Six was still up, which was why there was power to the portable one hundred foot diameter Tennhauser stargate. Panning the Ferret back he lased the TGate, 334 feet. Just 334 feet from being able to get off this damn rock alive!

The Ferret detected a grinding noise and pivoted toward it, the video blanked momentarily as it encountered a fallen beam then irised as the video slewed and the Ferret hopped to clear the beam. A clunky looking APC, obviously not one of the Patrol’s, pulled into view between the wreckage of Buildings Two and Four and settled on its skirts.

A squad of Dragoons in armor dismounted, started randomly firing into the wreckage, and toward any noise or electronic sources. McDougal reviewed what he knew about them, as he dumped the Ferret into full covert mode and subconsciously crouched down. ‘Goons’Big, ugly, air breathers six-seven feet tall, two-fifty, three hundred pounds of pissed off dragon. Bipedal, opposable thumbs, three fingered clawed forelegs, three toed clawed feet. Vestigial tails, vestigial wings. Nasty frikken fangs. Carnivorous, eat prisoners and dead. Patriarchal society, ruled by warriors. Expansionist slave culture, kits molt and mature at two years old, males start training as warriors at three years. Can live to a four hundred years of age. Damn! We don’t make it past one twenty most of the time!

McDougal relaxed the armor to a sitting position and took stock. Looks like I’m the only motherhumper left. The TGate is still up, but I can’t get there… Wait, I’ve got the tunnel. Ten feet a day, so eleven days, means a hundred and ten feet.

      So three hundred thirty-four feet to the TGate, or… punching the datacomp, he pulled up the grid of the camp layout. One hundred eighty-one feet from the end of the maintenance tunnel to the center of Building Six, no wait, that’s the plant. Expanding the grid, he focused on Building Six, If I come up there… Hooking the carat on that point in the grid with a stop point of the ferrocrete floor, he punched it to the digger Mech One, currently scraping at the end of the current ten by ten tunnel, reduced the size of the tunnel to eight feet by five feet and commanded the Mech to quiet mode to reduce the chance that the Goons would pick up the disturbance caused by the tunneling. The Mech completed its calculations and a new countdown timer popped into the upper corner of the HUD, starting at 70:30:00 and rolling down.

He called up the Mech menu, three of the six were supposedly still operational, but he only had comms with Mechs One and Four. He commanded Mech Four back to the tunnel entry and while it trundled back down the tunnel, he hit the Ferret’s link for a burst download, and reviewed the data. Dismayed, he saw two more of their APCs were now in the camp, but the Goons were just milling about and shooting into the wreckage.

      Wonder if I can get a message through the TGate… Maybe a Ferret. Screw it, it’s worth a try! Calling the Ferret menu up, he programmed it for an airborne passive search, hooked the first Ferret and the TGate on the camp grid, and extended the distance another twenty feet on the bearing. If I’m right, this might get one through without it losing its tiny ass mind. He tagged it and felt an external auxiliary hatch slam open, then close a second later.

Mech Four pinged his HUD saying it was at the tunnel entry and McDougal eased over to the door.  Using the power of the armor, he managed to move the door another two feet, crouched down, sidled sideways through the opening, and looked at the tunnel wall above the door. Putting his targeting carat over the top of the door, he programmed the Mech to laser bore a two-inch hole through the wall.

Ten minutes later, a smoking hole extended through into the basement. McDougal programmed another Ferret as a relay, and targeted it on the cooling hole, then tagged it. Turning to the door itself, he very gently pushed the emergency close panic button with one armored ‘finger’. He could hear screeching and grinding and used the armored gauntlet to help the door close. Suddenly it came free and slammed home with a gong-like sound that made him cringe.

Commanding the Mech again, he directed it to weld the door in place. As soon as he’d done that, he realized his emergency rations were on the other side of the door and he laughed at himself, Starve or get killed and eaten. What a frikken choice! You are one stupid SOB!  Checking the feed from his Ferrets through the new relay, he was thankful to note that none of the Goons had apparently heard the noise of the door crashing closed.

Running an environmental scan, his armor determined the air was safe to breathe, so McDougal tromped down to the end of the tunnel and commanded the unit to kneel. As the seals broke, he sniffed and was relieved to smell only traces of smoke. Climbing out of the armor with a groan, he pulled the datacomp free and jogged back up the tunnel to the maintenance tunnel.

He walked quickly through the maze of benches and spare and replacement parts to the fresher, and almost collapsed on the seat as his body started shivering. He put his head in his hands, and sighed, What the hell am I doing? I’ll never get off here. And if I do, I’m a dead man. Or I’ll at least be thrown under the damn prison. Shit… God damn hooch… Standing up, he stripped off his boots, skin suit and datacomp, and set the fresher on relax mode.

Fifteen minutes later, he stepped into his boots feeling much better and wearing a clean skin suit. He punched the datacomp and located a cache of emergency rations in the supply tunnel across the main tunnel. That made him remember he had other digger Mechs, and he commanded a second digger to the new tunnel, programming it to a cleanup mode, allowing the first Mech to only perform the dig function. To his delight the counter dropped by almost ten hours, to 60:03:10 and counting.

He pulled an emergency ration out of the pack, cracked the seal and juggled it as he ran back across to the maintenance tunnel with it. Standing at the maintenance bench, he dutifully ate the entire ration, wondering if the dragons would have better rations than this crap. He drank the attached liquid nutritional pouch, grimacing at foul taste, but remembering that it was supposedly filled with ‘healthy’ nanite organisms. Personally, I think we’re just drinking nanite shit, I think they all died before they were ever put in this damn solution!

[1] Emergency Breathing Apparatus

[2] Built In Test

[3] Heads Up Display

[4] Functional External Robotic Retrieval and Exploration Technology

[5] Armored Personnel Carrier