Thursday, September 15, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 37

The AGV had been hit multiple times by tank shells.  Thin wisps of white smoke still wafted off the jagged edges of the metal holes that they left in the hull.  On the last hit, moments ago, Captain Samwise had been hurled to the aisle floor by the impact.  Due to his injuries he had been knocked unconscious.  The rest were recovering from the shockwave.  Fortunately the AGV's defenses prevented a lethal barrage of white hot shrapnel from penetrating the inside cabin.  That defense, however, was now used up, and what was left was a series of smoldering black husks on the sides of the AGV. Penelope hovered over Samwise nervously, checking to see if he was still breathing.  The green chitin layer that he'd bio-augmented onto the skin of his torso and arms and neck for added protection earlier had now turned a yellowish color, and around the edges it turned blue. She assumed that was not a good sign.  In fact this was a sign that the chitin had absorbed damage from the shock wave and probably saved his life. She checked his breathing again.  Yes, he was still alive.  She heaved him up onto the coach, grabbed the medi-kit from its cubby station and began dabbing his forehead with a medi-cloth.

"He's alive, but barely," she called out to the others.

Fred, still coming around, tried shaking off the stiffness and pain from his back and shoulders. His head, covered in black soot, was in a fog, but in a few moments his vision cleared and he began scanning the interior to assess the damage.  There were now three holes in the AGV, one still smoking, the engine was grinding, and sparks were flying everywhere from damaged equipment. He suffered a momentary lapse of confidence, looking around and thinking "What the hell can I even do at this point?"  

He glanced out the window to the south.  Through the clouds of smoke pouring down from the ridge into the desert plain below them he spotted three tanks roaring their way north towards their position. They were roughly a quarter mile and closing fast.  He couldn't tell if their guns were trained on them from that distance, and the Vizi-Screens were full of static.  Would they attack, or assume the AGV was dead in the water, and continue north into Pangutich?  He glanced around and saw the smoke rising from the downed Rhino below them in the gully.  He considered whether or not they should try to convince the tank commanders they were dead by blowing up the AGV and scramble away on foot through the underbrush.

Unbeknownst to him or anyone else (except the unconscious Captain Samwise), in the rear of the AGV, something long hidden in the shadows suddenly stirred to life.

"Guns, are you ok up there?" Fred barked hoarsely.

There was a grunt to the affirmative from the turret.  Guns, still shell shocked but coming out of it, rubbed the soot out of his eyes with the backs of his hands. There was blood from a scratch on his forehead, but other than that, he was ok.  Coming back to his senses, he pulled himself up to scan the horizon southward. Through the smoke he spotted the three tanks emerging from around the spur at the base of the flaming ridge-line. He remembered there were several tanks that had been taken out already on Route 143, but whether the enemy forces had moved remained a mystery. He glanced at the Vizi-Screen.  Although the drones were still in their last operational position at 500 feet with cameras running, the image on the screen was full of static. It was impossible to make out anything more than broad terrain features.  The hits to the AGV had taken out two of the three drone receivers, and the remaining one was damaged.  He quickly returned his gaze to the horizon.  Through the smoke and haze he watched the tanks kicking up dust clouds as they roared due north towards their position.  

Fred was searching for an escape route.  He figured if they drove down into the gully they'd get out of the tank's direct line of fire as the gully bottom was about fifteen feet down a rocky slope.  From there they could get to a long ditch line that followed the road to the northeast.  That would bring them to the Panguitch Municipal Cemetery, and from there they could make their way back into town without having to engage the tanks.  Unless, of course, the tanks pursued them.  

Fred glanced in the direction of Panguitch.  Thick gray and black smoke could be seen billowing upward from numerous locations.  Shells were exploding all around the southern front, causing massive cascades of dirt and rock to fly into the air and fall in enormous dark sheets.  Fred looked down into the gully.  There was the Rhino, that stocky metallic beast of a Mech, on its side with a massive impact crater from the missile.  Smoke was pouring out through the broken windshield.  He saw no sign of Major Sekston. Fred calculated the running time it would take for him to get to the Rhino.  About 140 feet; he figured it would take him less than five seconds.  He could do it.

Guns thought there was really very little chance Major Sekston could have survived that missile strike. He cussed under his breath. He liked her.  She was a good woman; tough as nails, efficient, and effective. Damn good woman, he thought. He felt a deep pang of regret their own actions had been the cause of her having to come save their skins.  He stared down towards the Rhino's cockpit, but from that angle it was impossible to see inside.  He bit his lip and clenched his fists.

"This is AGV-1.  This is AGV-1. Major Sekston, come in!  Major Sekston, come in!" snapped Fred through the radio. "Can you read me?"  There was no answer.  Just empty static.

"Damnit!"  he yelled up towards Guns.  "I'm going to get her!"

This was by far the bravest and most selfless thing that Fred had ever done in his life.  He didn't even notice.  He had simply made up his mind that he was going to pull Sekston out of that Mech no matter what.

"Penelope," ordered Fred, "get in the driver's seat."

"But Captain Samwise..." she began to object.

"Stop! Look, you either get up here, and maybe the Captain takes one for the team, or you stay back there and pat his forehead, and we all get blown to Kingdom Come in thirty seconds.  Get the hell up here, and get ready to haul ass!"

She put Sam's head on the couch pillow, swabbed his forehead one more time, and rushed to the front of the AGV.  There she strapped in while Fred barked instructions at her on the AGV's peculiarities and hot spots.  His plan was simple.  While he made a run for the Rhino, she was to back down carefully into the gully without getting the AGV stuck on any of the boulders.  She took the controls and began assessing vectors and distances, flipping switches and calibrating for the descent.  Fred made his way to the airlock and got ready to launch himself outside.  Due to the shelling the AGV had several holes, and so it was no longer hermetically sealed, making the airlock useless, and as far as Fred was concerned, in the way.  

"You know, Guns," he called up into the Perch while Penelope got herself ready, "Maybe we should just ditch the AGV.  We could set the self-destruct and when the tanks get here, Kaboom!  While they deal with that, we escape on foot down the gully and along the ditch line."

"Well, I dunno, Fred, that seems... well..." replied Guns slowly.  They were thinking it over.  Either way, Fred was determined to sprint to the Rhino and rescue Major Sekston.  He also planned to assess the damage, and whatever weaponry it had remaining, see if could be put to any use at all.  He stood at the airlock for a moment getting ready to vault himself outside.  Suddenly --

KA-TANG!  KA-TANG!

Everyone froze at the sound.  Fred grabbed the fire axe next to the door, and stalked toward the source.  It was coming from the metal cubby that had stored the Chain of Thanatos and the Faraday Cage that had housed the AI-Crystal... but all that was left in it now were the two Iron Talon Hands from the crazy monk.  The one Captain Samwise had shot through the forehead way back when in Williams, Arizona.  Afterwards he removed the iron talons and after tinkering around with them to see how they worked, he put them in the cubby.  They'd all but completely forgotten about them.  Until now.

KA-TANG!  KA-TANG!

"Oh crap.  We don't have time for this!" grumbled Fred.  He darted back to the front, looked out the window down into the gully, and pointed to a rocky slope about twenty feet to the north.  "Go, go," he barked at Penelope as she stepped on the gas and guided the AGV downward.  As soon as she had gotten going, he ran back to the airlock and began operating the controls.  

KA-TANG!

Suddenly, Samwise awoke out of a feverish dream which he instantly forgot.  The banging had woken him up.  He desperately wanted to remember the dream, because somehow it felt it was extremely relevant.  But it was gone.  

"What's going on?  What's that banging?" called Sam from the coach as he sat up groggily, his leg and head both aching with equal ferocity.  

As the airlock opened up, Fred darted through without a word.  He darted across the desert sands towards the Rhino. 

KA-TANG!

Sam slid his eyes down to the source of the banging.  The cubby.  He remembered the cubby.

KA-TANG!

"Oh not you again, you bastard," muttered Sam as he watched the metal door of the cubby shudder under the force of the bang.  He knew it must be the three-fingered metallic hands of the Iron Talon Hermit.

KA-TANG! KA-TANG! KA-TANG!

"Guns," barked Sam up the ladder into the Perch, "Bring me up to speed.  What's the condition of the AGV?!"

"We're totally fucked, sir!" barked Guns back down the ladder.

"Okay. Where did Fred just go?" called Sam as he tried to sit up... slowly.  And painfully.  

"He went to the Rhino," said Guns.

"What about Major Sekston?  Where's she?"

"She's down, Sir.  Hit by missiles.  Fred's going to see if he can get her out before the damn thing explodes, sir," answered Guns.

After a few more questions and answers as to their exact location in relation to the incoming tanks, Samwise checked the cubby door.  Fortunately, it had been repaired and was solid.  Although shuddered slightly, he did not have the impression there was enough force to actually break through the door.

"Penelope, keep your eye on that damn cubby," ordered Sam as he switched places with her in the pilot's seat.  She returned to the rear and kept a careful eye on the metal door.  Sure enough, with each bang it shuddered, but did not break.

KA-TANG! KA-TANG! 

As they were not currently in direct line of sight of the tanks Sam settled into the pilot seat and began gathering diagnostics.  He looked over the control panel, and noted that the Vizi-Screens were peppered with static.  He could barely make five tanks from the overhead view.  He calculated their trajectories and figured that no matter where they were heading, the tanks were going to come within firing range soon, and they were very likely to gain line-of-sight once they did.  The onboard telemetry system was offline.  He was guessing.  But it was a pretty good guess.

Meanwhile, Fred sprinted across the gully towards the Rhino.  

"Major Sekston!" he called.  No answer.  "Major Sekston!"

The Rhino was on its side, thick black smoke billowing out from the torso where the missile hit.  He ran alongside the huge metal legs, past the torso and up to the cockpit.  He looked into the diamond-steel windshield and through the smoke he could see Sektston's body, lying limp on her side, unconscious, still strapped into the pilot's seat.  The windshield was cracked.  There was a fire inside. He heaved his fire-axe and shattered it the rest of the way.  He clambered through into cockpit and slapped her across the face several times.

"Wake up, Major!  Wake up!" he shouted.

She came around, her eyes opening slowly, with blurred vision, and she stared at Fred uncomprehendingly for a few moments.  

"Can you move?" he asked.  She was unable to answer. He shook her shoulders to rouse her more.  They needed to get the hell out of there.  The Rhino could explode at any second.  "Can you move!?" he shouted.

She nodded her head yes.

He held up his Thermobaric Grenade.  "You know how to set this up to make a scene?"

Seeing this she went wide-eyed for a moment, shook her head, and began unstrapping her safety belts.  "That'll make a scene alright," she mumbled as she hoisted herself slowly out of the chair.  "What do you have in mind?"

"We're going to blow up the Rhino to create a distraction while we escape.  Unless you have another plan to handle the five tanks heading to this location - without getting us all killed," he snapped, darting a glance in the direction of the tanks.

She scrambled to the shattered windshield, unholstered her Lewiston Beam Pistol, and took a squinting peek outside.  "What's out there right now?" she queried.

Fred was surprised at her firm determination and resolve.  She seemed as tough and unyielding as ever, despite the fact she'd just come within a hair's breath of getting herself killed.

"There are at least three tanks heading straight for us, and two more right behind them, I think.  There's another two on the main road going into Panguitch," answered Fred. The sounds of artillery explosions could be heard booming loudly in the distance.

She nodded, flipped two switches on the Rhino's dashboard, and hopped through the window to the ground, landing on both feet and one hand, albeit with a slight wobble.  From there she made her way along the torso keeping a crouched position with her pistol pointed ahead of her.  Fred noted that she quickly darted glances at the Rhino to assess its condition, and along the way she checked a couple of hose couplings and then stopped to check an exposed circuit board.  Only a few vital components had been destroyed, which was a great relief to her.

Fred followed her as she made her way along the legs to the feet. She darted her head around the side to take a fast glance.  No enemies in sight.  Just the AGV idling at the base of the rocky slope. She motioned for Fred to move up.  Instead, he scrambled up onto the frame of the Rhino, and was contemplating tossing the thermobaric grenade inside.  They needed a distraction, and that would certainly get the Lizardmen's attention, he thought.  

"The Rhino is salvageable," she barked.  "I don't want it destroyed."  With this she scrambled up the leg, climbed onto the torso, and peered over the top.  From there she could get a partial view of the battlefield.  She took out her field glasses and surveyed the horizon to the south, then west, then east.  Lastly, she scanned north towards Panguitch. She climbed back down.

"We're going to leave the Rhino here and come back for it later," she said in the most matter-of-fact tone he had ever heard.

"Leave it here?!" shouted Fred, completely thunderstruck that his plan had been dismissed without so much as a word.  She may be a Major, but as a Federation Command officer he was definitely not in her chain of command.  He had no legal obligation to follow her orders whatsoever.

"Yes, the Daisy Cutter is in there," she answered with the same matter-of-fact tone.  

"The what?" asked Fred with incredulously.

"The Daisy Cutter.  You know, the bomb we were going to use to utterly destroy Black Wind V.  You remember?"

"Oh, that," said Fred, remembering finally.  The Daisy Cutter was named after an old-world conventional bomb by the same name that was reputed to be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever invented.  But the Ultra-War Daisy Cutters were lighter, only weighing 400 pounds, and were rocket propelled, and they had the explosive capacity of a 25,000 pound bomb that could flatten a forest for a quarter mile, or burrow into the ground a good 160 feet and take out a nuclear-hardened bunker, if deployed from the air.  

"We don't want to lose that, we're gonna need it," she said.  "C'mon, let's get back to the AGV.  It's still running, yes?  It can move?"

"Yeah, it's beat up, but she goes," Fred answered by rote.  He stared at her.  She didn't express the slighted hint of gratitude for his saving her life, and now she was ordering him around like he was a common grunt-idiot.  He had almost had enough of it.

"Good enough," she replied. "Let's go."  

Captain Samwise had been watching the Rhino carefully, waiting to find out if Major Sekston was alive or dead.  He was relieved to see her pop her head up momentarily, and then scramble around the side and come dashing through the underbrush towards the AGV, pistol in hand.  She cut a dashing figure. Meanwhile, Fred lingered behind at the Rhino.  He was thinking.  He still wanted to toss the Thermobaric Grenade through the windshield and make a dash for it.  After all, they really could use a distraction while they rumbled northward in the AGV along the bottom of the ditch line.  It was certainly not in the best of shape, the engine was grinding, and she was leaving a trail of smoke behind her.  At best she could make 15 mph on that terrain, assuming no major obstacles.  A distraction would be helpful.  He stood on the far side of the Rhino with the Thermobaric Grenade held aloft in his right hand. Samwise raised an eyebrow.

"How do you know they won't take the Rhino," Fred asked the Major over their Comm channel.

"It's not moving anywhere," she answered as she rounded a boulder. "They'd have to carry it."

"Ok, so what good is it to us?" asked Fred, still bewildered.

"We can repair it - later," replied Sekston.

"What's later?!" snapped Fred.  "There is no later!"

"There's gonna be a later, son," answered the Major. "Don't you worry."

Fred found this condescension beyond toleration.  He couldn't bear it.  So he decided then to pull the pin, toss the Thermobaric Grenade through the Rhino's windshield, and run as fast as he could towards the AGV yelling "Drive!  Drive!".

However, the brighter side of his brain alerted him to a recollection of what exactly the Ultra-War Daisy Cutter that was housed in the Rhino would actually do when it exploded.  A vision of it lit up his mind.

The first trigger of the Daisy Cutter would result in an explosion that would rip the Rhino's metal frame to shreds, spewing white hot metallic fragments in every in every direction for three to five hundred feet.  A sphere of radioactive super heated mist would then engulf a 1500' sphere around them all. After a few hundred milliseconds the mist would change phase and this would cause it to collapse into the vacuum which would create a massive implosion to fill the void, which would then ignite the second Daisy Cutter trigger, leading to a blinding iridescent white-hot concussive ball of radioactive G-Force-Flame engulfing the entire area up to a quarter mile, flattening everything, and causing most solid objects incinerate instantly, or melt into molten slag.  

On the positive side, the radius of the blast could potentially take out the three tanks that would be passing through the ridge gap on their way north, so there was that.  After all the Ultra-War Daisy Cutter was a dual-purpose late-war munition that had the potential to take out a nuclear-hardened deep-ground bunker.  He thought twice.  Hmmm... should he?  Or shouldn't he?

His vision of the blasted AGV, with crew members incinerated down to their shrieking skeletons in a sudden implosive flash of concussive white hot flame caught his attention.  Hmmm... maybe tossing the Thermobaric Grenade into the AGV might not be such a great idea after all, he reasoned to himself.  Maybe it was a tough call.

Swallowing his pride, which had been seriously injured by "being told what to do by ... by ... a chick!" didn't exactly come easily to Fred.  He was your standard old-world chauvinist-pig kinda guy, after all, and had no problem whatsoever seeing himself as the "smartest guy in the room" at all times in any case, to the point of allowing people around him to suffer the consequences... but, incinerating the entire team down to the bone seemed, even to him, a tad bit excessive.  And so, after a moment's hesitation he muttered something unintelligible, and shoved the Thermobaric Grenade back into his satchel and hauled off towards the AGV, following in Major Sekston's footsteps.  

"I don't like being called 'son'," he grumbled as he scrambled through the undergrowth towards the AGV.  He darted into the airlock and ran to the front.  In his haste and frustration he pulled Captain Samwise out of the Pilot's seat. For his part, good Captain Samwise rolled with it and wound up falling into the Navigator's chair with a thud. Seeing how this was all about to go down he strapped himself in.  

Fred floored the gas, lurching the AGV across the gully towards the lower ditch.  

"Stay ready!" he barked up at Guns, driving with his right hand as he searched through his satchel with his left.  When he felt the contours of his pillbox, he adroitly executed a one-hand lid-twist, and immediately stuffed a random selection of pills into his mouth, chewed frantically, and swallowed hard.  

"Penelope!  Sekston! Damage control!" he barked as he swerved past two large boulders, the smoke from the Rhino obscuring his vision until the last second.  The first wave of euphoric-weirdness began to calm his senses as they came to the ditch.  He drove down the side of the ditch not hearing the loud klangs against the hull as they bashed over boulders and fallen trees, his mind reeling with a pleasant wavy-rolling sensation as they dropped the fifteen feet down the next gravel slope.  He smiled airily as the AGV crashed with a tremendous thud to the bottom.  It was sheer luck that they hadn't broken an axle.  

Meanwhile, everyone else in the AGV got banged up pretty good, and the final drop put Penelope on the floor with scrapes and bruises.  Sketston had braced herself.  Poor Samwise was once again thrown around wth such force that he barely retained consciousness, the pain in his leg becoming unbearable.  

KA-TANG!  KA-TANG!

The sound snapped Samwise out of his swoon. He just knew that those sounds were somehow meant for him. That dream!  What was that dream!?

The AGV careened along the narrow path of the ditch towards the northeast, swerving out of the way of boulders and fallen trees as he went.  "And take care of that damn banging back there!" shouted Fred, feeling quite a bit happier with each passing minute.  They were, after all, escaping!

KA-TANG!  KA-TANG!

Penelope was staring wide-eyed at the cubby.  "Sir, I don't know about this.  What's in there"?

Samwise reflected on the history of the three-fingered talon hands.  They'd been an artifact that he had taken from the corpse of the Iron Talon Monk after shooting him through the forehead with his Lewiston Beam Pistol - under desperate circumstances one might add.  That was back in Williams, Arizona, what felt like ages ago.  The mysterious Monk had almost tricked the Captain with beguiling false-friendship and taken control of the AGV.  He remembered the torrential rain, the hideous worm-swarm, and the terrifying black chain that the monk had been wielding. With it, he could have have ripped the AGV to shreds.  He remembered the scene where he slid across the wet field full-tilt on his back, skidding away from the monk as that black chain came flashing down from on high.  He pointed his Lewiston at the Monk's head just as a flash of lightning silhouetted the mad monk against the stormy night sky. The great black chain reeling above him, like a black whip, coming in fast for the death blow.  He pulled the trigger. Pure luck. The crimson-orange beam bored a clean sizzling hole straight through the Monk's head, right between his long white eyebrows.  Face down into the muddy water he fell.  And so Samwise took the chain, and then detached the three-talon hands, and took them.  Into the cubby they had gone.  Later, when Pita had a chance, he'd performed a psychic reading of the chain's history to find out where it had come from.  That artifact was very ancient indeed.  His vision-sight reached all the way back to the fourth Crusade where the Chain of Thanatos had been responsible for the destruction of fourteen of the Crusader's ships off the Golden Horn below the walls of Constantinople one dark and stormy night.  That event had changed the course of history.  And Pita knew that the chain was far older, but that was as far back as his vision-sight could reach, and so that was all he was able to find out.

While the chain had been taken by the Golden Crusaders in Arizona, and placed in a secure vault below the Christ Church of Crystal Light, the two iron talon hands, which turned out to be highly sophisticated crystal-bionic claws, remained in the cubby the whole time, and were only now activated for some reason.  Why now?

"There's a pair of mechanical gloves in there, being controlled by a technology I don't understand.  We picked them up along the way.  Long story," he explained to Penelope and Sekston briefly.  "We have reinforced the cubby, so as long as the welding holds, we should not need to worry about it," he concluded.

"That's the thing, Sir," said Penelope.  "Every time there's a bang, the cubby door shakes, and the last time, well, it shook quite a bit.  I'm not so sure it's going to hold."

"Alright.  I'm very weak right now," said Samwise.

"What do you need?" asked Sekston.

"See if you can find wire, or something, to reinforce the door," replied Samwise, "that might work."

"If I can get outside and on top, we could use the Fake Chain," called Gun's from the Perch.  "It's still hung out on the grill out there."

"Oh, that's right.  The Fake Chain!  I almost forgot about that," said Sam.  "When we get a chance to stop, we might be able to secure the welding with it.  Good idea.  In the meantime, see what you can do, Major.  I need to rest."  And with that Samwise closed his eyes and tried to remember that damn dream.

Major Sekston went to the back, and after a brief search found the arc-welding kit, and got to work.  While she worked on the cubby door, Penelope began effecting repairs on the interior consoles.  She was a real expert.  She was the scientist-inventor who Brain V (aka Brian) had put in charge of the Black Wind V Drone and Mech Development program, and she was the one who designed and built many of the models that were in use there.  And when she got busy, things got done. Her priorities were to stabilize the antenna network, get the sensors operational, and then get the navigation and targeting systems fully online. Although the ride was bumpy, she braced herself, had a steady hand and worked diligently.  By the time the AGV arrived at Panguitch City Cemetery the Vizi-Screens were back in working order and she had regained control of the AGV's Mini-Drone Swarm.  Wiping the sweat from her brow she smiled with satisfaction at the field of green blinking lights on the dashboard.  "Lovely," she said.  She had also patched the Targeting System into the Drone Array, so now the AGV could target its Plasma Cannon off the feed from the Drones as well as using the internal sensor array.  This increased its accuracy by 87%, and gave them an effective firing range of 36,000 feet, or roughly six miles.

Fred scanned the terrain using the drone camera system.  Much better. Now he could clearly see the tanks, and took note that they had gathered on DD Hollow Road.  Five of them turned west and drove in a single file towards route 143, where they were on route to rendezvous with two other tanks that had remained on the main road.  Where the additional tanks had come from was unknown, but Fred presumed they had been coming up the road from Saint George all along, but they had simply not looked far enough down 143 to find that out. It looked like the tank groups were converging to support the Lizardman infantry as they gathered in the trenches along the south and west sides of the town.  At any rate, Fred was relieved as the focal point of the convergence was 1.5 miles to the west, and as they were fifteen feet down in the long ditch, they did not appear to be in anyone's direct line of sight.  In fact, it seemed that the Lizardmen had lost all interest in the AGV and from what he could see, none of the forces were pointing in their direction.  Good.  That meant that for the present they could safely hole-up where they were.  Given the state of the AGV, Fred felt a slight twinge of optimism.  Unfortunately, the drugs were starting to wear off, so he popped another handful of green and purple pills.  That would do.

On the Vizi-Screen, he could also see that the opposing US Army Forces were entrenched around Saint Gertrude Catholic Mission Church, and it seemed that was the focal point of the battle.  The US forces were heavily entrenched, and given the Mini-Drone's new-found accuracy, he spotted quite a few X-Type Mini-Tanks dug in alongside the infantry forces.  Zooming in close on the Vizi-Screen he could see that the soldiers were all wearing Power-Suits, and it looked like they were preparing for Chem-War Tactics.  He shuddered and zoomed back out, popped another three purple pills into his mouth and swallowed hard. Chem-War?  Bad news. Very bad.

As they approached the cemetery perimeter Fred stopped the AGV.  The land around the ditch was flat.  There was an old stone wall around the cemetery, and inside among the moss-tinged grave stones was an old stone chapel.  A wisp of smoke came from its chimney, but otherwise he could detect no sign of life.  On the north side was a grove of tall pine trees, within which the shadows played against rays of sunlight against dark green moss-covered rocks.  There was something idyllic about it, and in his drug-infused delight he became fascinated by how the light played against the pine trees and the boulders beneath.  How enchanting it all seemed down there.  Enchanting indeed. 

Captain Samwise opened the discussion up for debate.  What to do next?  The team figured on taking a breather to conduct repairs.  Everyone agreed this was a good idea. Major Sekston hopped outside with a mechanics kit followed by Fred whose retro-tech skills might help him to lend support, if he could focus long enough to turn a screwdriver.  He swayed pleasantly as he strode in her footsteps, an amiable smile drifting across his face. 

Penelope scanned the Vizi-Screens as she continued fine-tuning the instruments.  Captain Samwise was half-reclined in the Navigator's seat trying to rest.  What was that dream? It had been a long day and he was still in considerable pain.  He asked Guns to grab the Fake Chain from the top of the AGV and use it to secure the cubby even further.  With that, Guns slid down the Perch ladder, rolled through the airlock and climbed on top of the hulking armored vehicle.  "Boy," he thought, "she sure is banged up but good.  Look at them craters!"  The gaping hole on the port side was still smoking slightly along the edges.  So much for the AGV being hermetically sealed.  Nope.  Not any more.  He took a glance in the direction of Panguitch, and thought about the Chem-War.  He shook his head and got to work unfastening the iron chain from the grille-work.

After about ten minutes Sekston reported that she could make some field-repairs on the AGV but until they could get to a garage any improvements would be temporary at best.  If they could make their way to the airport she had everything they'd need to practically rebuild it from scratch.  

"One thing," said Sam to the group over the Comm, "that we never took advantage of is range of the Plasma Cannon.  Why now that I think it over, we could have stayed out of range of the tanks and blasted them from a hill top somewhere, couldn't we?"

"Well, now that you mention it," replied Guns dryly, "that would likely have kept us from getting our asses handed to us, yes, Sir.  No disrespect intended, Sir.  But it sure was a shame to lose that shiny new Mech of yours." (ooo... that stung - lesson learned!)

"Ok, well, Ahem. Penelope, why don't you take a look around the area and see if there's high ground we can get to from here?  I want line of sight on the tanks, but well outside the range of those RH-120's.  What's the range again?  About 2.5 miles max, right?"

"Yep, that sounds about right," confirmed Guns as he finished untethering the Fake Chain from the grille and began coiling it over his shoulder.  He made his way back inside and began welding the chain to the cubby door, adding to Major Sekston's already prolific wields.  He didn't spare the juice, and soon the chain and the cubby door became one.  They weren't going to open that cubby any time soon, that's for sure.  And he smiled to himself as he listened.  Inside he could her the sound of the talon hands banging on the wall of the cubby, but to no avail.

Katang.  Katang.

"Good. And how many shots on the Plasma Cannon do we have?  And what's its range again?"

"We have 4 shots remaining, I think, and the maximum targetable range about 6.8 miles, sir," answered Guns.

"Good.  Let's see if we can find a nice hill to climb up on, then," replied Sam with satisfaction.

Penelope scanned the terrain maps on the Nav-Com looking for a good position.  There was a mountain range to the east.  She found a ridge roughly six miles from the target zone.  Sam took a look at the coordinates, and watched as the Nav-Com calibrated the elevation map.  Yup.  That could do the trick right there.

Penelope's Analysis

As they were planning, Fred climbed out from under the AGV where he had been helping Major Sekston with the welding.  He stared at Sam through the windshield.  

"Yes?" asked Sam, catching him out of the corner of his eye.

"What are we doing?"

"We're going to take potshots at the tanks at a distance using the Plasma Cannon," repeated the good Captain.

"Why are we doing that?" demanded Fred impatiently.  Suddenly his pills no longer seemed to be having the desired effect.

"There's people down there who still need saving," answered Captain Samwise.

"What people?"

"Well, there's still scientists and doctors at the hospital who need cover while they escape, and there's the soldiers who could probably also use a hand.  Not the greatest folk in the world as far as we're concerned, maybe, but hands down, they beat the Lizardmen. That's for sure.  So, we're gonna help 'em out.  From a safe distance this time."

"Those are not people," said Fred his annoyance rising again to its default fever pitch.  After all, even at a distance, who knew what the Lizardmen might have hidden away in terms of munitions.  His brain rang out the phrase "Chem-War" loud and clear. It wasn't necessarily safe to start poking the bear, even with a long stick.  

"The answer is Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.  We're going to help those folks," retorted Samwise firmly.

"How many Plasma Cannon shots do we have?" asked Fred.

"Four," called down Guns from the Perch.

"So we're going to drive six miles away, to take four shots?"

"Yes," answered Captain Samwise.

"So what are we going to have for ourselves once we've used up our last four shots to help people who don't make any difference?" inquired Fred, trying to remain calm and logical.  He was thinking ahead for their long journey back to Tuscon, Arizona.

"Well, we still have the machine gun, and the flamethrower," offered Sam.

"Is that gonna be enough?  I mean can we get back to Arizona with that?" asked Fred incredulously.  His point was: No they would not have enough, and he believed the Plasma Cannon would give them a much better chance of making it home.

"With the Plasma Cannon we can take out four of the tanks down there.  That will leave them with two.  At that point the Army brigade can probably overcome the Lizardmen with what they've got, and we can save the lives of the doctors and scientists in Garfield Hospital," interjected Sam, himself growing a bit impatient.

"-- But --", Fred began, but was cut off before he could continue.

"Look, Fred, this isn't a debate.  My mind is made up.  It's a command," Captain Samwise stated with a firmness that the team had not seen before.

And so it was settled. Six miles due east there was a mountain that had a flat ridgeline.  They could take Castor Road, No 6, to the point where it turned southeast, and from there follow an old dirt track that wound its way through the foothills to the east.  She conjectured at 5.2 miles they would be at an altitude of 7,020 feet, which would provide a clear line of sight between the ridge and Saint Gertrude Catholic Mission Church.  Now the only problem would be could the AGV make it that far in its current condition, and how quickly?

Katang.  Katang.  Katang.

* * *

Meanwhile, somewhere underneath the surface of the moon, Vallnam stood in the doorway of Power Station C3-B2 looking across the cavern at the suddenly illuminated rectangular doorway of Hanger B. Behind him the spindly tower that was the C3-8 Science Center had gone pitch black.  The shiny metallic spheres that emerged out of an iris-like aperture from the bottom of the Science Center were now rendered invisible to the heroes.  The darkness within the cavern behind them was complete. The only light came from the illuminated doorway of Hanger B; the shadow of the Power Station prohibited any view of the grounds toward the Science Center.  

Hanger B was behind an enormous metal door, some fifteen feet wide and twenty feet high.  Doubtless this was to allow the egress of the giant machinery required to maintain the UFO fleet.  On the right side, Vallnam could see the glinting keypad that would gain them entrance to the hanger.  It required, he was informed earlier by the technicians, both a keypass card, and a secret code punched into the keypad for the door to unlock.  The Moon-Nazis trusted no one, and especially each other.  Every door, cabinet and cubby in Eisenhelm required authorization to access.  Having a huge assortment of metallic keycards was a sign of status in that grim dark world.  Remembering the pass-codes, on the other hand, was a chore that many found disheartening to say the least.  Many a time was a Captain or a Lieutenant stuck on one side of a keypunch, frustrated beyond words at being unable to gain entrance.  How many times had the technicians had to come and provide them with assistance in those cases?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands.  No one counted.

Vallnam had sent all but three of the technicians over to Hanger B before they cut over the power converters from the Science Center to the Hanger.  He glanced back over his shoulder at the Science Center and watched as the sixth floor windows suddenly flickered to life with dim green lights.  The backup generators had just kicked in.  He looked at the three technicians, all of whom were in spacesuits because there was no air in the lunar tunnels of Eisenhelm Level C-3, and motioned for them to follow him across the rocky floor to the Hanger B door.  They ran with long bounding moon-jumps the two hundred feet and landed with the other techs at the security panel.  Now it was up to the technicians to get them inside.

Vallnam darted a glance behind them as the technicians worked their magic.  He had a bad feeling about the metal spheres that were out there in the darkness somewhere.  He tapped his foot impatiently.  

One of the technicians took out the stack of keycards they had stolen from the guards who Vallnam had rendered unconscious with a Narcoleptic Beam.  Another one was rapidly flicking thin metal plates on his tabulator looking for a keypass code that would  open Hanger B at that particular time-slot.  Since he was a high level technician, almost as high as Hans, he knew what to look for, and quickly found it.  B2Z4-N8KZ.  Good.  The other technician located the correct keycard and pulled it from the deck.  It had a 2" square of 256 x 256 tiny indentations and protrusions, seemingly at random.  

The two high caliber technicians stood side by side, one slotted the card, and the other tapped the keypad.  The door shuddered slightly, and the technicians began to roll the door open.  It was weighted perfectly such that a single person could move the 10 ton door.  Pita had everyone scramble inside, and followed behind.  As soon as they were in, he closed the door and had a technician make sure it was locked.   

Hanger B was at this point still only partially lit as the systems flickered back to life with the influx of power. Banks of computers began to activate, vacuum tubes igniting across hundreds of boards, as thousands of indicator lights began to flash status codes.   There were seven UFOs parked on the main platform.  In the distance were a few buildings that he guessed were control towers. There was scaffolding, cranes, fuel pumps, and work stations.  He whistled between his teeth as the lights finished coming on.  Along the far wall was another enormous door, just like in Hanger A. That, Vallnum knew, led outside to the surface of the moon. 

"Oh, too bad Hans isn't with us," said one of the technicians.  "He knows these ships inside and out.  We're just rookies compared to him."

"Well, Hans couldn't make it.  So we're going to have to make do as best we can," replied Vallnam.  

"When the Hanger was still operational, I'm pretty sure that Hans told me that two of these are unrepairable," said the technician, pointing to the UFOs.  "Maybe another one, as well. Their Red Mercury Cores were shot, I think. Two can be repaired, maybe.  One of them he said was close to being complete, but I don't know which one.  Ah, it's a pity he couldn't be here."

"Well," said Vallnam, "take your men and find the ones that look like they're having parts added to them rather than stripped out.  Those are likely the ones he was working on to repair.  Then try to figure out of those which one is the closest to being finished, and we'll take it from there."

"Ja!  Good plan! Okay, boss!" said the technician (whose name, by the way, was Rudolf Schmitt, but Vallnam had never asked or introduced himself to the men).  And so the technicians broke up into teams of two and got to work. 

* * *

Meanwhile, Jacob and Hans stood at the top of the secret stairway looking down into darkness.  Behind them was the office of Lieutenant Wagner, recently deceased.  His office housed a computer bank that contained all the information privy to Staff Operations C3-4.  Outside, through the supply room and down the corridor in which the dead body of Lieutenant Wagner lay in a pool of blood, was Commander Von Schuler and his machinegun toting soldiers. They were just about to storm in through from the stairwell into the corridor to discover the dead Lieutenant. Behind them, at the base of the stairwell, was Carl and his  nervous young guard, Private Heinrich, who was looking anxiously out the window at the sheets of debris falling from the tunnel ceiling as the entire complex again shook with tremors.  He went pale.

Just as Jacob and Hans were just about to slide through the secret door, there was a beep on Jacob's micro-mini-phone.  He looked down at his wrist, and on the display rolled the words "SmartNet 3179 - Mission Accomplished!  Thank you for choosing Proximatics Industrial for your SmartNet Needs!"

Jacob was momentarily perplexed, but then remembered that in the bustle he'd set his SmartNet to entrap the first person who came through the hall doorway.  He smiled to himself, as he thought about the conditions in the hall.  That would at least slow the Commander and his men down a bit.  Not far away there was indeed a good deal of shouting as the Commander thrashed around on the corridor floor unable to move.  Soldiers, befuddled and panic stricken hovered around him trying to figure out how to extricate him from the metal mesh.

"We're going to have to leave Carl, I'm afraid," said Hans as he shouldered the four neatly tethered spacesuits on his back.  He had been listening in on Carl's Comm frequency and knew that he'd been captured and interrogated by Commander Schuler before the Commander blundered ahead into Jacob's trap. 

"Yes, I get that," replied Jacob without remorse. "Time to go."

Jacob entered the dark corridor and led the way down the stairs with his machete in his left hand, and his Lewiston Beam Pistol in his right. Hans closed the secret door and made sure it locked behind them. He took out his trusty flashlight and down the stairs they went.  It was two flights in an enclosed shaft.  At the bottom they came to a rectangular room at the far end of which was a door.  Next to the door was a keypad.  This tunnel was new to Hans, however.  He never even knew it existed.  And its construction was odd.  The walls were smooth and made of a white plastic with chrome trim.  He'd never imagined such a tunnel existed in Eisenhelm.  But then, he wasn't that surprised just the same. Eisenhelm was a world of secrets unto itself.  He was sure that he didn't know the half of it. 

The lock at the door required both a keycard and a keypunch combination, as per usual.  He pulled out his tabulator and began analyzing the keypad symbols in an attempt to cross-correlate it with known facts and probable derivations.  Tabulators were tremendously useful for this kind of thing, and in the right hands could calculate almost anything, given enough time.  There were twelve keys, and by his calculation there were 25,772 combinations that had above 33.33% probability of success and 2,148 with a better than 82% chance.  Hm.  Not that great. But not terrible.

"Well, the code for this is going to be tricky to figure out. Perhaps Lt. Wagner knew the combination in his head, but I have no idea what it might be," pondered Hans out loud.

"Well yeah, obviously this is a tunnel used by rogue factions, so who knows?" replied Jacob.

"Well, I can take chance," said Hans soberly. "The keycard I feel confident about.  I'm certain I found the correct one.  But, the keypad combination?   Who knows?  Wagner was a sneaky man who kept to himself. As far as I know he had no hobbies other than tabulating formulas and spying on his subordinates.  There was a rumor he liked to study astrology, and he was also rumored to have a paramour from the upper echelon, but I never found out who. But that's just too little information to go on.  Rumors and guesswork.  I need facts, or I can't tabulate it.  I'd be guessing among the options randomly."

"Well, Hans, men fall out of ten story buildings and live, and men get out of bed and break their necks on a banana peel.  Men take their lives in their hands every day.  We have to risk it."

"Ja.  But I would just be guessing,"  protested Hans.

"What's the alternative?"

"Well," replied Hans doubtfully, "we could go back up the stairs... and face the music?"

"What chance do you want to take?"

"It's up to you, boss," replied Hans. He was trained to take orders, not make decisions.

"Okay.  Well, I want to see what's on the other side," said Jacob decisively.

"Okay. As you wish.  But I should also warn you, there's a good chance that this door, in a secret corridor that no one knows about, is likely boobytrapped.  If we get this wrong... well, it was nice knowing you."

Jacob thought it over.  He felt he had almost no reserves of mystical energy remaining after all the psychic warfare they'd already waged against Eisenhelm to get this far.  He thought for a moment how far they'd come since the moment they arrived in the UFO back at the moon.  Between him and Vallnam they did manage to ignite a civil war between the major factions of the moon Nazis, which then caused one of the Commanders to initiate Plan Delta-Z, which was intended to cause the complete destruction of the entire moon fortress Eisenhelm that had been hidden on the border of Mare Frigoris since 1943.  That was quite an accomplishment.  Of course, on the other hand, Plan Delta-Z also launched a fleet of Giant Nuclear Missile Robots towards Earth, which was on its way to terminating the last remaining cities on the planet with fifty massive 500 Megaton Cobalt-Encased Fusion-Bombs, each one 50 times more powerful than the Tsar Bomba of 1961 (the largest bomb ever exploded on Earth until the outbreak of the Ultra-War).  Those remorseless Giant Nuclear Missile Robots were programmed to eliminate all life on the surface of the planet and cover it beneath a radioactive nuclear winter that would last well over a hundred years.  Things on Earth were bad as it was.  This would put the last nail in the coffin, and that would be the end of it once and for all.  As it happened, their only chance of stopping the fleet was in the hands of Ling, aka the Moon Princess, and her quest to find Room C3-DZ-A1, wherever around there that was, and enter the secret code to it's computer.  This should, she believed, cause the Nuclear Robot Fleet to self-destruct.  And after that?  Well get off the moon before the Squadron of remaining Giant Robots finished the job of turning Eisenhelm into a molten slag heap with their nuclear powered Plasma-Beam-Cannons.  He snapped out of his revere.

"I'm going to do it," said Hans. They held their breath.

As the technician hunched forward and concentrated with all his technical cunning on inserting the metallic card and pressing the conjectured keypunch combination, Jacob put his reassuring hand on his shoulder -- and in so doing transmitted The Knack, which boosted Hans confidence and gave him a slightly better chance of success. However, the Knack wasn't quite enough, and at the last second Hans stopped, and gingerly backed out of the process.  He was sweating and his heart was racing.  He strongly suspected that in another moment they'd both have been killed.

"Well that didn't work.  But we didn't get killed.  So that's a good sign," said Hans, still shaking.

"I guess," said Jacob.

"Try again?" asked Hans.

Jacob looked around the walls to see if there were any dents or scratch marks that would have suggested a projectile trap had been set off at any point, but the walls were smooth and polished white with chrome trimmings.  Not even a scratch.

"Well, ok, try again," said Jacob.

Click-Click-Click-Ka-Shoooooosssshhhhhh. The door slid open.  Jacob had tabulated correctly based on some very flimsy evidence that the code would have something to do with Wagner's astrological sign, and the name of his computer.  There were six possible combinations for this given his birthdate and the computer's name (XL1000).  Among those he guessed.  A 12.5% chance.  

Jacob immediately stepped to the side of the doorway and peered in.  There was a long corridor that went straight ahead.  It was lit by a series of tiny floor lights that extended into the distance.  The corridor was smooth and glassy with beveled edges and no corners.  He stared down the dim corridor.  

They stepped inside, Jacob with his Lewiston drawn, and Hans close behind him.  The door swooshed shut once they had stepped through, and a line of blue tinted lights turned on for ten feet ahead of them surrounding them with a dark bluish glow.  They walked forward and the blue glow kept pace with them, illuminating ahead of them as they went.  Hans speculated that the light was not there to provide any visual assistance, but rather was more likely a tracking system of some kind.  He'd never seen anything like it, and without a technical analysis, it was impossible for him to say.  So he said nothing and walked silently behind Jacob.

They had walked for about a minute when up ahead they noticed that there was another person in the distance. Jacob stopped and stared carefully.  The person appeared to be walking away from them. Jacob held up his hand to indicate that Hans should stay there and keep a watch behind them.  He then began a stealthy jog up the corridor.  This took considerable adroitness as the gravity on the moon is far less than earth, and so each step became a bound and he almost grazed the ceiling, which would have sent him tumbling.  The person ahead was wearing a white spacesuit, walking at a brisk pace, and carrying a briefcase. There was no air in the corridor, and so no sound was made.  Consequently, his approach went  completely undetected. As he came within ten feet he saw the person's right hand sway to the side, and in it was a Luger pointing ahead down the corridor.  Jacob considered his options.

Jacob considered parley.  But that thought quickly vanished.  He then considered using the Lewiston, but it's effective range was a thousand feet, and he was a bit concerned about what might happen if he punctured the tunnel walls with it.  That might not be a great idea.  He wasn't sure.  So he decided to make a dash, and leaping through the air, he landed on the person's right side, using his machete to slash through the spacesuit at the neckline.  The metallic suit was armored, however, and the knife's edge did not penetrate. The person began to wheel around, but was not fast enough. Jacob, out of options, took a single shot with his Lewiston.  A thin beam of orange-red plasma shot straight through the suit and there was a sudden implosion by which the suit crumpled, the helmet glass shattered, and there was a spray of blood due to the explosive decompression. 

Jacob glanced behind him to see if Hans was ok.  The technician was bounding up the corridor.  He then reached down and picked up the briefcase which had fallen to the floor.  It was light, and made of a strong durable leather-like material, and had a keypad and punch-card lock, just like the doors, but smaller and thinner, and of a bronze color.  He began searching the body for the keycards that might open the lock, and as he did so he, despite making a nominal effort to avoid it, he glanced through the helmet to see the face of the person he just killed.  Through the shattered glass he saw what had been a beautiful woman's face a few moments earlier, but was now a blood tattered mask of shock and horror.  For a moment he worried that it was Ling, somehow, but a second glance reassured him that it was not.  Who it was, however, he had no idea.  But she had been a real beauty, whoever she was.

He continued searching for the keycards.  Actually, it made no difference to him that he'd just killed a the woman without any warning whatsoever.  To Jacob, the only thing that mattered was his objective.  And that was to get the hell off the moon before Eisenhelm imploded.  Oh, and to stop the fleet of Giant Nuclear Missile Robots from reaching earth.  Oh, and saving the technicians by going off on a side quest to retrieve spacesuits for the four technicians in the C3 Workshop who didn't have any handy.  It was very, very hard to tell if Jacob was a good guy with a bad temper, or a bad guy who sometimes had a soft heart.  And at this moment no one was more puzzled about this than Hans.  He stared down at the dead woman with horror.

"Hans, take a look.  Can you recognize who this is?" asked Jacob.

"Ahhh, that's Mellita Reitsch," he said. "I suspect she was Lieutenant Wagner's sweetheart, under the circumstances."

"That's the Lieutenant who we found with a bullet through his heart upstairs, isn't it?" 

"Yes," replied Hans.  

At this Jacob picked up the dead woman's Lugar and checked the magazine.  One bullet was missing.  "Ahhhh... she was honey-potting him, eh?"

"Shocking," said Hans.  

"Really? Are you that shocked by this?"

"No, not in the least," answered Hans flatly.  "Love affairs gone wrong among the officer class?  No, not shocking in the least," he concluded.  "In fact, she was a famous test UFO pilot."

"So who was Wagner, then?"

"He was the Staff Officer for Level C-3. The UFO Fleet was under his jurisdiction, so he handled staffing, scheduling, and maintenance for the fleet."

"Why would she kill him, then?" asked Jacob, perplexed.

"I have no idea. You'd have to ask her," replied Hans looking down.

"Ah well, sucks to suck, eh?" snapped Jacob. "What about the briefcase? Can you open it?"

"It's too bad. She was a real beauty," said Hans with a sigh.  "And highly capable."

"Well, okay," said Jacob impatiently.  "Though... I wonder. I took Wagner's Lugar, didn't I?"  He pulled out Wagner's Luger and checked the magazine.  There were no bullets missing.  He stood thinking for a few moments.  When they found Wagner he was face up, and had been shot from the front.  Strange.  He imagined that she caught him by surprise and shot her poor lover through the heart... for some reason.  Maybe having to do with the contents of the briefcase?  It could be. 

He handed the briefcase to Hans and continued to loot her body.  He found a satchel, also locked, and handed it to Hans as well.  Hans shook it lightly and judging by the weight, he guessed there were a goodly number of gold coins inside.  Meanwhile, Jacob continued to riffle through the suit, and in a small pocket on her right leg he found a tumbler of metallic key plates in a small bronze box.  Sweet.  

"Hans, I wonder... can you find out what frequency her spacesuit's Comm was set to?  Is there any way to do that?"

Hans was a Level 6 Technician, one of the very few in Eisenhelm history to reach that grade.  "Sure," he said.  And went about tapping the suit's circuitry. 

Now, to be clear, the Moon Nazis do not have electronics the way we on Earth do.  Theirs is a strange blend of low level Retro-Tech, with bits of incredibly sophisticated and advanced technologies gluing things together in peculiar ways.  And Eisenhelm, though they knew nothing at all of it, had the Modroni to thank for that.  Those Mind-Warping aliens who have been living secretly in a complex beneath the Aristarchus Crater for over a million years had seen to it that the Nazis would not, and could not, innovate along some very specific lines, but allowed them free reign along many others.  Their rule was to limit them along any line that could result in the development of super weapons beyond what the Earthlings had developed on their own.  

As it happens the Modroni only did this because the Moon Nazis were a rotten bunch.  They had initially arrived on the moon, secretly, in 1943 and set up shop.  And were therefore something of a minor inconvenience to the Modroni, not anything close to an actual threat. And yet observing the Moon Nazis, the cold alien super intelligence of the Modroni found that they disliked them intensely.  They were, even by cold and ruthless Modroni standards, pretty bad eggs, and required mitigation least they cause serious problems.  And so the Leader of the Modroni saw fit to ensure that the Moon Nazis stayed stupid, and lived in fear of the mysterious "shadow creatures" that they felt living on the moon, but never once saw... other than in their feverish nightmares.  Quite a few of the upper strata among the Moon Nazis were driven completely insane by this, and had to be put away, or even executed in a few extreme cases.  It was a good thing, actually, that the Moon Princess was a nice person, and they genuinely adored her.  Otherwise Jacob and his friend might not have fared so well after all.

At any rate, Hans fiddled around with the mechanical apparatus of the suit, sliding metal plates, tinkering with insulated micro-components, adjusting the polarity of tiny vacuum tubes, and after a few minutes found the frequency he was looking for. It was on an encrypted channel. 

"Can you crack it?" inquired Jacob hopefully.

"With enough time and the right equipment of course," Hans said with a certain amount annoyance.  It would have been good to be able to listen in on whatever might be transmitting over that channel.

"Ok, well no problem, let's make a move," said Jacob pointing up the corridor.

"One second," said Jacob pulling out some tools from his pant-leg satchel.  "I'm going to unhook the radio unit from her suit, and add it to mine.  If there's time I can continue to tinker with it.  Who knows?  I might crack the code," he said.

"Good idea," replied Jacob.  And when that was done, and the radio hooked into Hans' power supply, they made their way up the corridor to the far end.  There they found another door, and it also had a keypad, and metal card-slot.  This unit was also made of a burnished bronze, and this again gave Hans pause.

Mellita was famous, and though quite a bit more secretive than most, she did have a few well known foibles, pets, and favorite things. Any of those might be fodder for her secret pass-code.  He began tabulating.

"Sucks killing people, eh?" said Jacob uselessly as he waited.

"It won't be easy to guess her code.  She's very high rank, and had a lot of secrets," said Hans.

"And obviously, she's a master spy," added Jacob.

"It's possible someone will come by and open the door for us," offered Hans without looking up.

"It's also possible that the moon will explode," answered Jacob.  And at that moment the corridor shook with a tremendous low frequency tremor.  "See?"

They stood staring at the bronze keypad.  Taking another risk the like the last one wasn't exactly what Hans thought of as comforting.

* * * 

Meanwhile, back on the other side of Level C3 in Hanger B, Vallnam was working with the technicians. 

"In order to kick the Red-Plasma Mercury Vortex Engine into hyper-state we need to power up this capacitor bank," one of the technicians was explaining as he pointed to a wall of three hundred blue dinner plate sized disks connected in a clustered series of capacitor arrays. "But there's been no power in Hanger B for a long time.  So after all this time they actually ran dry. They need to power up.  That's going to take a while.  It's a big load," he added as he pointed to the power coupling that another technician was attaching to a round connector port at the base of the wall. 

"I see," said Vallnam, not understanding much about it all.  

"Well, that's this ship, at any rate," finished the technician as he watched Vallnam's eyes glaze over.  "However, we have two more ships over here," he continued, pointing in another direction, "that also have potential. These could be repaired in an hour or two, we think, by stripping parts from those ships over there and ... well, if we're lucky, we might be able to get three ships activated within three hours.  But it depends on variables we simply don't know enough about, unfortunately.  If Hans were here, well, he would have a much better idea than we do."

At that moment there was another moonquake, and the cranes holding two of the UFO's aloft began to sway, and some rocks and a large amount of dust dislodged from the ceiling.  Fortunately, it only lasted twenty seconds and no one was killed or injured.  Once it ended everyone scrambled back to work.  They didn't have much time left.

"Well, we're going to have to go with the best option we've got," said Vallnam.  "Hey, by the way, could we move some of the derelict ships up against the hanger door to prevent, well, whomever, from coming through?  I'm guessing we're likely to have company once the Science Center alerts the authorities."

"Ja, we can use the tow trucks, and that crane over there," said Rudolf, looking at the hanger door with a furrowed brow.  Yes, that was a likely scenario he thought.  Storm Troopers would be showing up soon.  

And so the technicians moved several ships and piled them up against the hanger door.  Meanwhile the other technicians were hustling to and fro with parts and equipment, tools and shouting, and making do as best they could.  There might be at least one ship ready in an hour.  What they forgot to consider was how Ling and Jacob would get into the hanger once they had completed their missions.  But of course, where there's a will, there's a way as the famous poet Ovid once said.  

"What can I do to help?" asked Vallnam of Rudolf.

"With all due respect, sir, you can help by staying out of the way," he answered with factual certainty.  He was in fact quite busy directing technicians and getting the ships ready for upgrades.  Vallnam would be useless for this.  Everyone knew that.

So Vallnam took a walk around the perimeter to patrol and investigate.  He walked to the large hanger bay door that led outside to the moon's surface.  It looked massive and sturdy, and immovable.  There was a regular keypad, and a radio box.  He glanced up at the control tower.   The radio control for the door was likely there, as it had been in Hanger A, before the Giant Robot melted a hole in the hanger door with its plasma ray and commenced annihilating the facility.  Too bad, too. There had been plenty of serviceable ships in Hanger A.

He continued walking and came to a fifty foot cube-shaped building in the far corner of the cavern. He found the door, and the keypad, but this one looked different than the others he'd seen.  It had a burnished bronze color, and was shaped somewhat differently.  The door was sealed, and no amount of rattling was going to open it. It looked quite secure.

He then strolled over to the control tower, climbed the ladder, and found a locked door at the top.  At this point he was glad that he had a few Mentarian Powers to call upon, one of which was a Telekinetic unlock.  However, he was distracted by a mote of dust in his eye as he was trying to use it, and so the door didn't open.  He shrugged, unwilling to spend more of his mystic power.  The ground rumbled again, and the tower began to shake.  He climbed down, and after a thirty seconds it stopped.  He continued his walk around the perimeter.  

"Vallnam," came the pretty sounding voice of Ling on his Comm, "Vallnam, do you read me?" 

"Oh, hello, my dear.  How are you doing?" he asked cheerfully.

"I've taken care of business up here.  Captain Helmund will no longer be a problem," she said.  "He's sleeping like a baby."

"Oh, good. Have you shut down the Giant Robot Fleet?" 

"Not yet.  I'm looking around the compartment.  There's a door in the back that's embedded in the wall.  There's a bronze pad-lock next to it.  I'm not sure what to do with it.  Helmund has a key, but there's a keypad and I don't have any idea what the combination might be."

"Check around the computers.  See if there's a note anywhere.  Sometimes people put passwords in a spot in case they can't remember it."

"Good idea.  I'm looking now," she said as she began riffling around, looking under things and inside dark corners.  "I do think I found the correct key for it, though.  It was on Helmund in a hidden pocket.  It's the same bronze color, and looks like it would fit the reader.  But without the code, I'm afraid to try it."

"Ok, well look around, and if you can't find it, then get out of there and continue on with what you've got to do," he suggested.

"What I've got to do is find the control room C3-DZ-A1 and shut down the Giant Robot Fleet! Otherwise we're doomed, and Earth is doomed," she replied grimly.

"Well, yes, of course.  That's right," answered Vallnam.

"Jacob suggested that the PillBox A1 might link to this pillbox as it's name is C3-DZ-A1.  That's why I came up here," she said.  "Since the A1's match, maybe there's a connection!"

"Is there any way for you to query that in the computer?" he asked.

"Well, I would be able to, but these computers are so different from ours.  And I don't really have very good computer skills to begin with, I'm afraid.  I can train animals, though. And I can make an nice chicken curry."

"Now you're cooking!  Badum'ching," he joked.

"Vallnam," she answered with her coy tone.  

"Well, gotta keep the humor up in these desperate times, you know.  Anyway, did you find any notes on the computers?  Did you check everywhere?  The elastic band on Helmund's underwear?  People hide stuff in strange places, right?"

"I was thinking, if I wake him up, I could try reading his mind.  I'm just worried, because once he wakes up, I think he'll be quite uncontrollable."

"You can't read his mind while he's sleeping?"

"No, the Mind Reading only picks up on thoughts close to the surface.  I'd have to be asking him questions, and as he thinks of the answers I could read them."

"Well, what if you whisper seductively in his ear while he's sleeping and ask questions that way?  What's the code to the door to C3-DZ-A1?"

"Hmm... that might work," she said.  And she gave it a try.  It took a minute or so, and in the end, it didn't work.  He was too far into a dreamless sleep.  There were no surface thoughts available.  Narcoleptic Beam works like that.  Dreamless sleep.

"Do your best to find the code, but if you can't then head over here to Hanger B."

"I just feel like we're so close.  The door.  The keycard.  We just need the code."

As they discussed what they could possibly do a massive rumble could be felt throughout the whole of Eisenhelm.  In many places rocks began to fall from the ceilings, dust clouds billowed, and here and there screams were suddenly cut short.  On Level C3 the damage was not as extensive, and to our heroes it was noticeable, but seemed only vaguely worse than the previous tremors.  There was a pause in the conversation as the quake slowly faded.

"Do you think you could you Mind Control him while he is asleep?"

"I could give him a simple command, but not literally control his mind," she said.  "Maybe I could give him a post-hypnotic suggestion and then boost it with Mind Control?"

"That sounds like a hot idea," said Vallnam enthusiastically.  

"Ok, I'll try it!" 

Unfortunately, try as she might it just wouldn't take hold.  And every time she tried her mystic energies were depleted further.  In her last try she almost accidentally woke Helmund up.  At that point she quit. 

"Dangit, I'm running out of juice here," she confided.  "How about you Vallnam?  Don't you have anything up your sleeve?"

"Well, let me think...," he said considering all of his many talents and skills.  He started mentally going down the list of classes he had taken at Federation Academy ... Animal Training, Gardening, Hypnotic Augmentation, Hypnotic Compulsion, Hypnotic Suggestion... Wait.  Hypnosis... Compulsion... well, that might work.

"Maybe I could try sending him into a hypnotic trance, and then give him a compulsion... I could tell him when he wakes up, go to door to C3-DZ-A1 and open it," he offered.

"Isn't hypnosis a form of mesmerism?  Don't you need to be next to the person for the animal magnetism to work?" she asked.

"Ah, you're right.  Well, I also have studied Psychic Persuasion, which now that I remember, works reasonably well at a distance," he replied.  "Psychic Persuasion can be used once per day per person. This is what I used to attack the Radio Operator in the control room when we first got here.  After that I used it on the Commandant in the Control Tower in Hanger A. As you can see, that worked out amazingly well.  I mean really, just look at this place.  We really messed the Nazis up but good!" he said with relish.

"As soon as you wake up, you will go to the door on the back wall and open it with your key and your code," intoned Vallnum deeply, using his Mentarian Power in order to create a sense of compulsion within the mind of Helmund.  Unfortunately, perhaps, he had forgotten his first idea, which was to tell him to go to the door by the name they needed, and instead assumed that the door at the back was the correct one.  What if it wasn't?  Ah well, in the rough and tumble it's always hard to keep everything straight, isn't it?

If all went well, however, the door would open for Ling... when?  It was hard to say how long he might be sleeping for.  Narcoleptic Beam could last anywhere from one to six hours!  Did they have the time to wait?  And for that matter, what would she do once the door was opened?  Who knows what Helmund might do, and worse, what might be lurking inside!?

And this is where we left the game that night.



Monday, August 08, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 36

Captain Bruin Hilda IV thrummed her fingers impatiently on her jeep's dashboard.  It was tilted at an odd angle since she had crashed it into an ant-ditch and busted an axle.  She took another long look into the desert trying to tell where the mirrors on the tops of the ant-pillars were focusing their searing solar beams.  None of them were focused on her and Kerrington at the moment, but instead they appeared to all be concentrating their fiery attention on the area of Route 89 where the other jeeps and the convoy were busy scurrying around... "like ants", she finished the thought.  She watched the refugees scattering in every direction and fanning out across the desert while the jeeps and wagons circled randomly trying to avoid the beams. It wasn't hard to do so long as everyone kept moving.  But the desert was hot.  And the light from the solar beams was blinding.  And the refugees were getting further and further away from the road, and she lost sight of many of them out in the desert.  Not good.  

There was loud clanging coming from under the jeep where Lieutenant Kerrington was busy trying to repair the axle with a maintenance robot.  He guessed it might take 15 to 20 minutes, if it could be done at all.  The robot had already removed the wheel and was examining the axle rod. It had snapped under the weight of the impact at the hub and would need to be re-welded.  Kerrington grumbled under his breath as he guided the squat bulky robot, instructing it when to cut unnecessary corners. They needed to get the job done as quickly as possible.  The robot beeped its disapprovals, but worked according to Kerrington's directives just the same.

Surrounding them was the enormous writhing carpet of ants, a sea of black, brown and maroon compound eyes, legs, antenna and stingers. The only thing keeping that voracious army at bay were the three Acoustic Insect Shells (AIS) they had turned on moments earlier, and without which they'd have been covered over and picked clean to the bones in minutes.  

It was brutally hot. Bruin Hilda stood up, wiped the sweat off her forehead, and checked her belt-mounted personal AIS. The radius was set to 5 feet. She adjusted the Power Level to 7/10.  For ants, that ought to suffice, she thought. The Jeep's larger and more powerful model (JM6) had a radius of 30 feet and was set at PL-10.  Nothing was getting through that barrier, as millions of shattered ant bodies testified all around them.

She stepped down from the jeep and walked slowly northwest.  Her estimate was that the sea of ants was about a foot deep within a two or three foot circle around the jeep.  They'd piled themselves up presumably because that's where their prey  (the only fresh meat in the area) was, and, it seemed likely to her that they might even want revenge for her having blown the top off their closest reflector tower.  Further beyond that they thinned out to cover the ground with a massive half inch high swarm that appeared to cover everything within three to four hundred feet around the tower.  It was positively frightening to behold.

She was unsure whether or not the AIS shells would interfere with each other if they came in contact.  Her knowledge of physics was not extensive, and she felt a need to be cautious.  So she inched forward watching the dust-spattering vibrations on the ground that signified the edge of her own shell.  While not significantly harmful in small doses, coming in direct contact with the vibration field was enough to rattle the nerves.  But it was quite sufficient to shatter chitin covered insects to smithereens. This was because the AIS units were specifically tuned to the resonant frequency of the molecular structure of insect chitin.  

She walked forward slowly until her shell almost touched the Jeep's shell and stopped for a moment.  Very gingerly, she inched forward until her shell intersected with the jeep's.  Outside the Jeep's shell thousands of ants per second had been busily trying to breach the destructive barrier and were being pulverized into bits and pieces.  When the two shells intersected, however, the vibrations combined force, and the ants were not merely shattered, but instantly vaporized into small brown clouds of dust.  Bruin Hilda smiled. She could walk through the Jeep's shell without letting a flood of ants through the perimeter and Kerrington had nothing to worry about.  Perfect.  

"Lieutenant, I'm going to investigate the tower. You keep working on the jeep.  I'll be back in ten minutes," she said, as she set her Wrist-Comm to the jeep's radio frequency. Kerrington grunted his acknowledgement and kept working.  The repairs were going poorly.  The damage might be too bad, and the robot only gave it a 33% chance of success within the time limit.  He picked up the pace and cut another corner. 

She marched out into the desert heading towards the closest tower, which she now thought resembled an obelisk due to its straight sides, and flat surfaces. As she walked the ants were being shattered in a ten foot diameter around her, and so she was stepping on a thick carpet of shattered chitin, probably about four inches thick. She was concerned that under the carpet of ants there might be any number of ditches, or worse.  And so she spent some of her mystic energy to activate a special power known as Sense of Perception, which allowed her to "see" through and into objects as if they were translucent.  She peered through the morass of ants to detect anything underneath that might be ahead of her.  

After about twenty steps she noticed that the ants were now clearing a way before her as she strode forward.  "Smart," she thought. She soon came across another ditch.  With her Sense of Perception she could see through the thick covering of bracken that hid the ditch, and what she saw surprised her.  It was perfectly cut with exact ninety degree angles, and near zero deviation in either width or height.  They were so precise they looked machine tooled.  The ruts were one foot wide and six inches deep, and made of hard compacted dirt, nearly as hard as stone.  She passed ruts every twenty feet, and determined they ran in seemingly random directions.

When she arrived at the obelisk she found it covered with long straight lines of ants moving along the grooves in the surface of the obelisk's walls.  When she came closer the ants cleared away and so she got an unobstructed view.  The walls were smooth, and also made of compact dirt.  As far as she could tell the ant lines went all the way to the top.  She used her Sense of Perception to detect if there was life inside of the structure, and so she saw internal tubes within the obelisk, as well as numerous chambers that contained ants, and food and eggs and small pools of water.

"Giant towering ant colonies that have movable mirrors on top that can focus sunlight?  Wow," she thought.  She took a slow walk around the obelisk, the ants clearing a path for her as she went.  Using her sword she scratched a groove into the smooth surface, but it wasn't as easy as she expected.  The tower was composed of what amounted to sun-dried brick.  Fascinating, indeed.

Having found out as much as she wanted to know, she walked back to the jeep to check on Kerrington.  He had determined the jeep was actually repairable, but it would take another twenty minutes.  

"Do we have any explosives on the jeep?" she asked him.

"Sorry, ma'am.  We do have two more rockets, though, if that is any use."

She asked the lieutenant how many rockets in total they had in the convoy.

"Well, at last count we had five rocket launchers, and if I recall correctly, somewhere around 15 rockets remaining, ma'am.  We took three of the rockets with us", replied Kerrington glancing to the back seat to make sure the crates were still fastened in.

"I see.  Hmm... ok," continued Bruin Hilda, "How many plasma rifles in total do we have?"

"Ah, we have eight plasma rifles, ma'am," he said as he fine tuned the robot's actuators. The welding was half finished and after that would be a matter of reassembling the axle and fitting it into place.  Bruin Hilda pitched in to help with the repairs.  She was unusually strong, and so with her help it cut the repair time in half.  Meanwhile the wall of ants around them had massed up and was now approximately fifteen inches high.  Despite the Anti-Insect Shells, it was still unnerving to the nth degree.

After five minutes or so, Bruin Hilda noticed the bright glare of one of the towers out of the corner of her eye.  She looked up and took note that several of the towers were slowly wheeling towards her jeep and the beams were now starting to converge on their location.  She watched for about thirty seconds and noted that ten of the towers were aligning on their position.  Even with two beams on them they were starting to feel uncomfortably hot.  Then when the third hit, they started to feel the burn.  Four beams would likely start catching loose materials on fire. With ten? Bruin Hilda had the impression the jeep itself might catch on fire.  

There was a chance they could finish the repairs and hustle away, but there was also the chance they'd get cooked in the process. She started collecting equipment, including their Crystalline Batteries, canteens, ammo, and rockets and piling them into their carry bags.  She then carefully detached the AIS JM6 from the dashboard and held on to it with a firm grip in both hands. Kerrington scrambled out from under the jeep.  He shielded his eyes from the solar beams and began picking up bags for the trek back to the main group.

"We're not going that way," said Bruin Hilda.  "We're going to the next obelisk."

"Ah.  Yeah... to the next obelisk," stammered Kerrington as he followed her northwest.  

There was a call in on her wrist-com.  "Captain where are you going?  We see you walking out into the desert.  What's going on?"

"Yes, Lieutenant, we're heading to the next obelisk.  I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think these obelisks are being built by super intelligent ants.  We're heading over to the next closest tower to take it out with our plasma rifle.  I recommend you do likewise," she concluded and signed off.  She and Kerrington marched towards the next closest tower.  Ahead of them the wall of ants gave way and they walked over the lines of ditches that crisscrossed the area.  

One of the three Lieutenants back on Route 89 was a reasonably bright young fellow.  His name was Lt. Lewis.  He got on the horn with Captain Bruin Hilda.

"Hello, ma'am.  Lieutenant Lewis here.  I figure we could take the jeeps north on Route 89 and get as close to the towers as we can from the road, and take shots from there.  As the towers form a semi-circle around the road at a rough distance of 1200 feet or so, our Lewiston's (having an effective range of 1500') ought to be able to hit at that distance if we aim well.  If after each shot we quickly move along the road, and only stop to take a shot, we can probably stay out of the line of the converging solar beams long enough to get the job done, ma'am," he said.

"Very good, Lieutenant.  Carry on," ordered Bruin Hilda, relieved to find that at least one of her Lieutenants had some brains in his head.  In the meantime she and Kerrington hoofed it over to the next tower.  They got within 300 feet.  Since they didn't have a Lewiston with them, Kerrington took the shot with a rocket.  But the rocket missed the tower and its smoke trail extended off into the hazy distance.  Far out in the desert the rocket exploded uselessly, wasting a valuable asset.  

"Gimme that," ordered Bruin Hilda, annoyed.  She carefully handed the Lieutenant the AIS MJ6, took the rocket launcher, got into position and took the shot. The rocket hit the tower with a glancing blow, yet exploded on contact, collapsing the top of the tower with a thunderous roar.  They walked through the cloud of dust to the base of the broken tower.  It was surrounded by a sea of ants, all of whom got out of their way.  She searched around for whatever chunk of mirror might have survived, and found a fist sized section.  Hefting it in her hand, she studied it carefully.  It was composed of hardened compressed sand where the facets of the surface were very carefully positioned so that the glassy sides all aligned to form a slightly concave surface.  It was perfectly crafted.

"Wow," she said.  "These ants really are smarter than usual."

Behind her ten towers had been focusing their beams on her jeep.  When the seventh one aligned it caught fire.  When the ninth one aligned the windshield melted.  When the tenth aligned that was it for the jeep.  It exploded sending up a long plume of dark black smoke.  Bruin Hilda sighed.  At least they'd gotten away with their equipment.  Kerrington had even smartly ordered the maintenance bot to take a position fifty feet away from the jeep, and so it sat nearby recording its demise, beeped its disapproval a few times, and waited for further instructions.

Meanwhile, on the road, one of the three jeeps stopped and Lt. Lewis stood up in the cab, aimed his Beam Rifle the twelve hundred and eighty seven feet, and took the shot.  A  thin blazing orange beam cut through the rough surface of the tower about 30 feet down from the top, and carved a glowing diagonal line.  The tower stood motionless for a few moments, and then the entire top section slid to the side and came crashing to the ground with a thunderous "phhhoooooom".  

The other jeeps did likewise and between the three of them, within twenty minutes all of the towers had been cut down to the ground.

Bruin Hilda stood looking out across the desert vastness with some satisfaction.  Now it was a matter of collecting up the scattered refugees and getting back on the road north to safety.  She took a look back at Panguitch.  It was clear that heavy fighting was taking place back that way.  

They were down a jeep, and a half dozen members of their group had been blinded, or burned by the solar beams, and there were a dozen or so who got lost in the desert.  But it hadn't been a complete disaster.  They were now in the clear to make it north, and she figured in more few miles they'd be out from under the baleful shadow of The Great Insect Mound.

* * *

Meanwhile, on the Moon, in the super-secret Nazi fortress of Eisenhelm, all hell was breaking loose.  A cataclysmic civil war was raging beneath the stark and silent craters of Mare Frigoris.  But the ratta-tat-tat of the civil war was nothing compared with the real source of destruction. The entire region shook and trembled beneath the massive foundations-melting beam rays of the Giant Nuclear Missile Robots that had suddenly activated with the dread code, Delta-Z: the Final Increment of the Nazi Doom-Clock.  As Fortress Eisenhelm was being systematically destroyed by "Squadron X", the larger squadron of fifty, named "Phalanx", was on its way at maximum velocity towards Earth.  Once in the atmosphere, according to the original Nazi Delta-Z plan, they would position themselves over fifty of the most important and populous cities of Earth and explode with Cobalt encased thermonuclear warheads yielding 500 megatons each; enough destructive firepower to wipe all life larger than microbes off the entire surface of the planet. The fallout would blanket the Earth in a cloud of lethal radiation for at least a thousand years.  As the planners of the Third Reich would have it, if Hitler could not rule the world, then they would utterly destroy it.  And so, after 90 years Plan Delta-Z had finally been activated, and this was their ultimate "Dick Move".  Doubtlessly, the Planners, from their graves, held up their middle fingers at the world and smirked with a lurid hatred.

Jacob reflected with some puzzlement and relief on the fact that despite the outbreak of the Nazi civil war, and blazing assault of Squadron X, the tunnel they had escaped into, Level C3, seemed relatively quiet. In fact it was. This was because the civil war was taking place on three other levels of the base, and the Robots had been programmed to attack wherever the highest concentration of personnel was located.  Hans had known this was the case as he'd done maintenance on the Nuclear Missile Robots on a number of occasions and had taken the opportunity to sneak a peek into their Delta-Z Protocols.  He had known what was coming for a long time. This is why he and the technicians had been holed up on in the workroom C3-W1 to begin with, and why when they'd fled from the attack on Hanger A, he'd chosen the route to C3 rather than any of the others.  

Level C3 had been quiet for a long time; ever since the Battle of the Wolf-Brigade had taken out C3 Military Command with the elimination of General Viktor von Krasnik.  It seemed that Admiral Ludendorff, who had been at the helm of the fleet previously, had been supplanted by General Max Von Hertling in the Command Hierarchy.  Hertling did not favor the UFO program, preferring the Giant Nuclear Missile Robot Army which had always been under his command. "These Machines of mine are solid, nuclear powered behemoths!  Not like your rickety Red Mercury Plasma Vortex machines! They are constantly breaking, Ludendorff!" the General had been fond of barking whenever the opportunity arose.  Of course, originally, both the UFO Fleet and the Giant Nuclear Missile Robot Army had been integral parts of Plan Delta-A, which was supposed to have been executed sometime between 1947 and 1949 but never had the chance for reasons no one in Eisenhelm had ever actually understood.  They'd been waiting for Order Delta-A 1-0-1-0 forever, but had been abandoned in absolute secrecy on the moon ever since.  One Faction still believed that Hitler was merely in hiding and could order plan Delta-A at any time.  The other Factions were under no such illusions.

On Level C3, only two Science Centers remained in operation along with three Staff Administrative Offices.  The Military Command Centers had been obliterated in the Wolf-Brigade rebellion.  Franz and Hans had often debated as to why there  still needed to be three offices to support two Science Centers, but their deliberations had always led to a dead end. They chalked it up to one of many of Eisenhelm's mysteries.  At any rate, it was after the rebellion that the UFO program began to go astray, and their ability to repair the fleet had begun to seriously diminish.  Within a few years they only had five fully functioning UFOs in Hanger A. The remaining 13 UFOs there were being used for spare parts.  In Hanger B was the UFO Workshop and all of the ships that were potentially serviceable but had elements which required repairs. There were 7 ships there.  Three of them were hopeless cases.  One of them required extensive work.  Two were nearly service ready, but required power couplings which, due to mismanagement at high levels, had been unavailable for some time.  And there was one ship that was nearly ready to bring back to Hanger A for service, but required a full Multi-Bank Capacitor Charge in order to Kick-Up the Red Mercury Plasma Vortex.  Since Hanger B had long since had its power commandeered by Science Center C3-S1, the technicians hadn't been able to anything further, and so Hanger B had been largely abandoned... until now. 

Vallnam, who knew nothing of these things, craned his neck around the corner of the Supply Depot to take a look at the guards standing in front of the the Control Gate to Hanger B.  He watched for a few minutes as his gang of technicians hid behind him.  The two guards appeared to be arguing with each other.  As such, they had not noticed the stealthy raiding team making their way through the shadows of the great cavernous chamber as they crossed to their current hiding spot.  

"Is there a code we can use to get the guards to let us into the Power Station?" whispered Vallnam into his radio.  There was really no need for him to whisper, though, as their Comms were set on Tight-Beam Two-Way on a side band that the technicians had calibrated their own radios to reach, but no others in the complex.  It was about as private a channel as you could get in Eisenhelm.

"Nein," answered one of the technicians. "That's not how Eisenhelm works, my friend. If we're not on the maintenance schedule, then there is no code to be used."

"So the only way to get in there is to subdue or kill the two guards, eh?" asked Vallnam.

"Ja. That would do," the technician answered to the approving nods of all the other technicians.

Vallnam formulated a plan.  He would leave the technicians where they were and use his stealthy skills to head due south in order to get as far away from the guards as possible while still being hidden by the Supply Depot which he would keep between them and himself.  Then he would traverse the open gap in the far shadows, which would be the moment of risk.  Then he could make his way along the hanger wall until he was behind the Control Gate.  This would put him within sixty feet of the guards, and from there he could catch them from behind. If all went well, he could take out the two guards without anyone in the Science Center knowing what happened.  After that he would signal the technicians to follow his path, and from there they could proceed to the Power Station. Gaining entrance there would allow them to de-couple the power chain from the Science Center and re-link it to Hanger B.  Of course, the technicians could have split the coupling to provide power to both, but as it happened they were quite eager to cut the power to the Science Center despite the inherent risk in doing so, thus they neglected to mention that fact to Vallnam.  After all, among the various factions of Eisenhelm, the Scientists were by far the most feared, and the most hated of all.

Vallnam had pretty good stealth skills, and so he knew how and where to step, when to pause for a few moments without moving a muscle, how to slide from shadow to shadow, and move noiselessly through the night.  He got to his intended position behind the Control Gate without being seen, and was now within the sixty foot limit of the Mentarian Power he intended to use.  His focus was on the Nazi guard closest to him, around the corner, at a range of approximately 50 feet.  While Vallnam could not hear the guards, he could tell by their gesturing that they were in a heated argument.

"Klaus, you idiot!  We should escape while we have a chance!  Just look at this place!  It's falling apart!"

"No, you fool! There is no place to go!  Delta-Z, you imbecile!  Don't you know we will be killed no matter what? Stay at your post for the Fatherland!"

Vallnam took a breath, focused his mind, and cast a Narcoleptic Beam towards the brainstem of his target.  Whoosh, down went the first guard to the ground without a word.  Instant sleepy time.

"Wilhelm!  Wilhelm!  What are you doing?!  Get up, you stupid idiot!"

Vallnam aimed another beam at Klaus and as luck would have it, his brainstem was just as weak as Wilhelm's, and he too immediately crumpled to the ground without a word.  And so both guards had been put to sleep, and they would remain that way for several hours. Vallnam, quite pleased with himself, signaled for the technicians to move up, and so they did.

Before they could commandeer the equipment they needed from the Supply Depot, they required a key-pass.  One of the technicians slunk over to Wilhelm and pulled the key-pass from his satchel and returned to their hiding spot behind the Control Gate.  Now several of the technicians followed the path laid out by Vallnam back to the Supply Depot to get the equipment.  They soon returned to the Control Gate carrying several toolboxes, cable-rolls and heavy-duty connectors.  From there the entire group, one at a time, slunk over to the Power Station.  Their big fear was that someone in the Science Center might be paying attention to the monitors and notice them.  Good fortune was with them at that point, and they made it to the Power Station without triggering any alarms, secured access with Wilhem's key-pass, and four of them entered.  Vallnam stayed at the door to keep an eye on the Science Center.  Its tall frame was on enormous stilts, and so it gave the appearance of being a chrome and glass tower floating above the floor, and nearly touching the ceiling of the cavern some hundred feet up.  There were lights on the inside, but it was not possible from their angle to peer inside to see what was going on.  And the windows had a reflective tint to them which made it all the more difficult.  Vallnam gave up on that, and watched the underbelly of the tower with extreme vigilance.  There was a singular shaft that extended from the lowest floor to the ground, and Vallnam correctly assumed that was an elevator and air lock.  

At this point there was a tremendous vibration, and they felt the ground rumble beneath their feet.  Suddenly a huge mass of rock from the cavern roof fell in and collapsed onto the floor in a cloud dust.  Everyone held their breath.  The dust slowly lofted into the chamber, but nothing else happened.  They waited a full minute with baited breath.  Nothing. Meanwhile, inside the Power Station the technicians were keeping very busy preparing for the power transfer.  It was difficult work, and dangerous.  The moonquake they just experienced could have easily killed any of them. 

It took about ten minutes for the technicians to set up.  At that point they were ready to throw the switch, which would turn off all power going to the Science Center.  They would then throw the second switch and route the power through the Control Gate into Hanger B.  

"Sir, we are ready to switch off the power in the Science Center," reported the lead technician to Vallnam.

"What is the usual protocol for switching off the power in the Science Center?" asked Vallnam, curious as to how much of an impact this was about to have.

"Ja, the standard protocol is for us to give the Commanding Administrator 72 hour notification that we need to do so, and this initiates the 72 hour 'Cool Down Period' where the scientists must take their experiments and such off-line.  Then we notify them that we are ready to decouple.  When the Administrator signals that the Science Center is ready with all proper security precautions, they notify us.  With that we turn the switch and power down the Science Center, and route power to Hanger B.  In this case we are skipping the intermediate steps."

"Gotchya," said Vallnam.  The technicians all looked at each other with nervous grins.

"Well, just do it as fast as you can so we can get the heck out of here," said Vallnam.

One of the technicians stepped a little close to Vallam, and with a slight grin he said, "You see, the problem is that we don't know what will happen if we don't give them their 72 hour cool down period.  We've never done that before.  They have experiments going on in the Science Center.  Beneath the Science Center.  Above it, maybe.  We don't know.  We're never allowed to see more than only what is absolutely necessary to do repairs in there.  And that, really, is quite enough for us."

"Don't they have a secondary power supply in case the main power gets shut down?"

"They do, but that is for temporary outages, and those generators only provide power to a few mission critical systems.  In theory that should do.  But that's just theory.  We technicians know that theory and reality don't always match, you know.  So we are not sure what will happen when we throw the switch.  Haha.  It will be a great surprise to those damn scientists!"

"Well, if the secondary power comes on, then when we switch off the main power coupling, they will see the secondary systems online, and hopefully assume that the main power will come back on soon. So long as they delay action long enough and we can get into Hanger B and do what we need to do before they sound the alarm, then we should be good. Ja?"

"The one thing you must always remember is that the Scientists are insane," answered the technician without the slightest hint of humor or exaggeration.

"What do you mean by insane, exactly?" asked Vallnam.

"They are unpredictable.  They cannot be relied on.  They are a dangerous force.  We all fear and dread them.  They do terrible things, those scientists!" replied the technician with conviction.  The others all nodded in agreement.  "And yet, Eisenhelm could not survive without them."

"Right," said Vallnam, starting to get the big picture. 

"Chances are they are inside preparing for military assault.  They are probably preparing for it, and have been for some time.  You see, once the Military Factions settle who is currently in control of Eisenhelm, a Faction Commander will be sent to the various Science Centers to assume control, and imprison any Counter-Faction Scientists who are in the Center at that time.  It will be Code Red until then. Of course, in this case, Plan Delta-Z in in effect, so there can be no resolution, and Code Ultra-Violet will go into effect -- and that will be that.  The end of us all."

"I see," said Vallnam.  "Ok, then.  Well, actually, we have no choice.  Let's get this done, and get the hell out of here."

At that moment red lights began flashing around the base of the Science Center.  It seemed the gig was up.

"We should hurry," said one of the technicians nervously.

"Yes, hurry," encouraged Vallnam as the technicians finished hooking the convertor to the power hubs, flicked the last five switches before throwing the main switch.  He was keeping watch at the door.  It would be a long ten seconds.

Then something odd happened.  On the bottom of the Science Center a circular aperture opened.  It was dimly lit from within by a dark red light. Vallnam could barely make out the quintet of five-foot-diameter polished black and chrome spheres emerging from it.  They fell straight down twenty feet and just before hitting the ground, they seemed to hover as if on an invisible cushion, and then with a final sudden descent of two or three feet, they hit the ground with a dull thud.  They began rolling towards the Power Station.

"Do you happen to know what those are?" asked Vallnam of no one in particular, trying to sound nonchalant.  

One of the technicians poked his head out, and then quickly pulled it back inside the doorway. 

"I have no idea," he said with a look in his eyes that spoke volumes.  "But whatever they are, they're very bad. Those are very bad.  Trust me."

"You fellows can throw the switch any time," said Vallnam trying to remain nonchalant.

"They've unleashed death-balls or something!  Hurry you idiots!" yelled the technician to the others.  And with that they threw the switch.  

All the lights in the Science Center suddenly went out in an instant, including the red flashing lights.  It was absolutely pitch black in the cavern for a few moments until the secondary power generators in sub-stations on the third floor of the Science Center kicked in.  A series of emergency lights on the upper floors flickered on, emitting a greenish yellow light.  Several silhouettes appeared at a window high up on the sixth floor.  Team Vallnam did not wait to find out what the scientists might decide to do next.  

"Flip the switch!" he yelled.

They flipped the main switch to reroute power to Hanger B.  The metal door that separated the Science Center cavern from Hanger B illuminated with a rim of blue lights.  Hanger B's power was on. 


* * * 

Nearby, at the far end of tunnel C3-T2, Jacob looked down at the officer's dead body.  His face was clean shaven.  His hair was tinged with silver.  His skin was pale.  His face was gaunt, and his eyes at the moment of death were filled raw visceral hatred.  He watched as a dark crimson pool was spreading out slowly over the officer's chest.  

He looked up to check that the Smart Net had positioned itself correctly over the door to the stairway.  He glanced into the stairwell beyond, at the bottom of which Carl was keeping an eye on the airlock.  Next to him in the corridor was Hans, the most capable technician in Eisenhelm.  

The ground shook violently for a few moments and out the window he watched as chunks of tunnel ceiling fell to the ground creating large clouds of billowing grey dust.

Jacob studied the wound.  A single bullet to the heart.  Expert shot.

"You recognize this man?" asked Jacob over his Comm.

"Yes. That is Lieutenant Wagner.  A real secretive hard-ass, he was," replied Hans with some distaste.

"Important?"

"He was a lead officer of Section 2. Not high ranking, but he had political clout across two Factions," replied Hans without any particular admiration. 

Jacob nodded as he looted the body.  A Luger and six gold pieces.  He flipped one to Hans.  "Nice, thanks" said Hans hefting it in one hand.  Jacob looked at the coin.  It had a Nazi symbols on it.  

"Meh, this'll suck when we get back to Earth. Well, I can melt it down, anyway," thought Jacob to himself.

He checked his weapons.  With a machete in his left hand, and his Lewiston Beam Pistol in his right, he decided to give the Lugar to Hans.  He extended the gun to Hans, but Hans wouldn't touch it.  Technicians of Eisenhelm were trained from youth to be completely incapable of handling weapons, and even fearing to touch them.  Thus the rigid class structure of Eisenhelm Society was maintained.  Technicians squarely at the bottom, or close to it.  Only the Cleaners had lower status. No matter that his entire world was crashing down around them, he could not override his training.  He refused to take the gun, despite Jacob's repeated insistence.  So Jacob removed the dead officer's gun holster, strapped it on and holstered the Luger.  Who knows?  Might come in handy.

They went to the door at the end of the corridor.  It was locked and required a metal key-pass card.  Jacob looked at Hans.  The technician pulled out a box of metallic cards and began flipping through them.  He pulled one out with satisfaction.  He handed it to Jacob.  

"I know my way around," he said with a smile.

"We have company," reported Carl from downstairs over their private Comm.

"Where?" asked Jacob.

"A troop is coming in along T2, where we came in from."

"Did you break the airlock?" asked Jacob.

"Ja, you said to break it, so I broke it."

"So there's no air in there, right?"

"No. I just broke the mechanism that opens the door.  You want the air out?"

"I want you to expel the air," said Jacob with slight exasperation.

"Ah.  Jawohl!," said Carl.

They double checked their helmets.  After a moment there was a massive woosh as the air went flooding out of the Staff Center's corridors linked to the main entrance. All of the doors in the complex sealed themselves shut due to the sudden decompression, except for the door being held open by the Smart Net.  It was waiting for anyone to come through so that it could spring on them, wrap them up, and immediately send a notification to Jacob that it had completed its mission, as it had been instructed.  

"How many?" asked Jacob.

"Seven infantry with machine guns," replied Carl nervously.

"Ok.  Let's keep going, Hans. What can we expect on the other side of this door?" he asked pointing to the door in front of them.

"A storage room," replied Hans.

"What's in there besides spacesuits?"

"Tools, equipment, spare parts," replied Hans.

"Okay, open the door," ordered Jacob.

The two of them braced themselves for the rush of air.  

"Carl, find a place to hide," called Jacob, and they waited for a few seconds before opening the door.  Hans slid the card, and the door flew open with a great "whoooooshhh" of air.  Some light items like tin foil sheets and plastic utensils, came flying out of the room.  They stepped inside.  It was a fifteen foot square room with shelves filled with tools, equipment and spare parts.  In the corner was a rack of spacesuits.  There were four.  It looked like the room had been ransacked by someone before they came in.  There were two doors leading out of the room.  Jacob pointed and asked Hans where those doors led.

"That one is a pantry," said Hans. "That one is the Lieutenant's office."  

"Is there any other way out of this building?"  

"I don't know of any.  I'm not an architect, though, I'm only a technician, don't you know? If there's another way, I've never been told about it."

"Well the murderer is either still here somewhere or he's gotten out through another way," said Jacob.

Carl from downstairs reported that the soldiers were almost at the front door.

"Is there any way we could dislodge the stairs and get them to collapse down to the first floor?" asked Jacob.

"Nein.  Solid German engineering," answered Hans with pride.  "They'll be here longer than all of us."

"Carl, get to the top of the stairs, and hide there.  Don't go through the open door.  Brace yourself," he said.

Jacob looked around the room.  He couldn't figure out what might have been in the room that anyone would have wanted.  It was just office supplies, equipment, tools, spare spacesuits, and the like.  But things were scattered everywhere, shelves and cabinets were open, and several toolboxes were lying on their sides with the tools spilled out on the floor.

"It could be Lt. Wagner hid something in here.  There's a lot of intrigue among the officers.  Quite a lot," offered Hans.

"Yeah, so I would imagine.  Okay, open that door," said Jacob gesturing towards the pantry.  He braced himself against a cabinet and pointed his Lewiston at the door.  Hans stood to the side and opened it.  A whoosh of air.  Inside was the pantry.  Shelves of food.  Nothing else.  Despite pangs of hunger, Jacob decided they didn't have time for food.  He ignored it and kept focused on the task at hand.

"The other room," said Jacob and braced himself and pointed his beam pistol at the office door.

It was locked. Hans inserted the Lieutenant's key-pass to open the door and at that moment the entire building shook again.  Hans looked around nervously.  He tried opening the door.  It wouldn't open.  

"Can you bypass it?"

"This key is the bypass," replied Hans with some annoyance.

Jacob went to the door and gave it a whack with his fist.  In fact he was attempting to use a Mentarian Power known as "The Glitch", which had the property of inexplicably breaking equipment and electronics.  Unfortunately, that too did not work. The door declined to open.

Downstairs the soldiers had come to the main entrance, and were investigating the Jacob's previous handy work - the two dead soldiers at the foot of the doorway.  The Comms-Network within the Staff Office flared up with shouting and tersely barked orders.

Jacob pointed his Lewiston at the lock and burned a golf ball-sized hole straight through it.  Hans, having never seen this surprising weapon until Jacob showed up with it, was again amazed. The only appreciable weapon of this kind that he had ever heard of were the Eye-Beams of the Giant Nuclear Missile Robots.  That a tiny handheld device could emit a plasma ray was fascinating to him, and cemented his conviction that Jacob was indeed a member of an utterly secret service within Nazi Command.  But he was fooling himself.  And he knew it.  Jacob was no Nazi.  But it comforted Hans to tell himself so, and so he did. 

There was an enormous rush of air through the hole.  While they waited for the wooooooooosh to finish flooding out of the tiny hole they grabbed the four spacesuits off the rack.  They were neatly designed to be compact so each of them could carry two suits under one arm, the bulky part being the helmets.  When the air had finished rushing through, the door swung open.  He aimed his pistol inside but there was no movement, and no one was in the office.  

"They are coming up the stairs," whispered Carl.

"If you get caught, just say you don't know what's going on, and don't give us away, Carl," ordered Jacob.

"Jawolt!" answered Carl, although he knew there was little chance of his evading the inevitable question of what he was doing there outside of scheduled maintenance, and the dreadful consequences that would follow.  He quivered in his boots at the thought.

They pushed into the room: a long, narrow office maintained with impeccable efficiency.  At the far end was a Nazi-Computer.  It was fifteen feet wide, and looked something like a small mainframe computer, but with vacuum tubes, silvery metallic ribbons running along brass rimmed reels, and at least a hundred  multicolored blinking lights.  Hans admired it tremendously.  The XMP-Zenon-1100 series, with over 2MB of memory storage!  So vunderbar!  Along the walls were long metal cabinets.  There was a small desk, piled high with metallic folders. They put the spacesuits down on a chair and began searching.

"Could the door have been locked from the outside?" asked Jacob as he searched.  He felt pretty sure that the murderer must have come in this room and escaped through a secret door.  What else could have happened? Perhaps it was his Mentarian Powers speaking to him from beyond his conscious mind, or perhaps it was the influence of a pair of distant eyes that silently watched the proceedings within Level C3 with a cold and morally unclouded interest.  Who knows?  

The office was not ransacked, but then the cabinets were solid steel and locked. Inside were thousands of metallic sheets imprinted with Staff Section 2 records in the indecipherable form of nine-square-dots.  Jacob scanned the room for anything that seemed out of place, but for him, the entirety of Eisenhelm was out of place.  What a setup the Nazi's had!  And for 90 years, alone, on the moon, maintaining a secret fortress from which Hitler had planned to rule the world!  Wow!

"Ya, it could have been locked from the outside," answered Hans as the technician gingerly moved around the room pressing small square sections on the walls, cabinet doors, and floor tiles one at a time and very precisely.  "We must be careful," said Hans quietly.  "This room could be boobytrapped. But if it is, we will die quickly, so don't worry," he said.  "I think I found one," he added.  "You leave the room, and I will investigate. If it is a boobytrap, well, then good-bye."

The soldiers had gotten to the landing on the stairs where they found Carl cowering in his space suit.  The commander of the group began interrogating him, and Carl did his best to be as confusing as possible.  But as a technician he was not a masterful liar, and the commander's technique was indisputably effective. The commander quickly comprehended that something was happening up stairs, and that Carl was involved. Fortunately, he decided that Carl was of no further use at the moment, and so ascended to the next landing with his men, leaving one man to take custody of Carl.  This was Sargent Heinrich von Schlick, a young and nervous soldier in Nazi Squadron 113.  The world was falling apart, and young Heinrich wasn't really at all ready to die.  He looked around with large brown eyes full of despair.

Jacob went to hide in the Pantry and blasted a hole through the door with his Lewiston so that he could see through it into the storage room.  In fact, this action caused Hans a slight twinge of doubt.  Had he misjudged Jacob after all?  He hadn't expected Jacob to run and hide in order to save his own life.  After all, if there was a boobytrap, most likely a spray of poison darts, there would be no escape for Jacob anyway.  He would most certainly fall into the hands of Viktor Von Schuler, the officer coming up the stairs whom he knew quite well from his voice on the Comms. It would undoubtedly be a fate far worse than death, he thought.  And yet, Jacob seemed to have no concern about Hans' life at that point.  It gave him pause.  Well, he thought, there was nothing else to do but give the trigger section a twist and see what happens.  Left?  or Right?  He chose right, recalling that Wagner was right handed.  Best chance, he thought.  Tazzzzzitz.  

"I found something," whispered Hans after a few moments into his Comm.

"What?" whispered Jacob peering through the still glowing hole in the wall.

"There is a secret passageway. Quickly, come take a look," answered Jacob.  The sense of relief in his voice was notable.

At this Jacob made a dash across the storage room to the office, and ran to the far end by the computer where Hans was standing.  Indeed, a narrow panel in the wall had opened up.  He pointed his Lewiston toward the opening.  They slid the door open further and peered into a dimly lit corridor that turned immediately to the right.  There was a flight of stairs going down into darkness.  

"Carl, we're putting the spacesuits on the desk in Wagner's office. I know it's a lot but you gotta get these suits to your friends somehow.  We don't know where we're going to wind up.  Get the suits to your friends and meet us in Hanger B as soon as you can," ordered Jacob.  

"I will try!" replied Carl into his mic, though in fact he and Hans both knew that this would be quite impossible.  Carl was doomed already.

And that is where we left things that night.

As they stepped into the dim corridor Commander von Schuler was entering the corridor outside Wagner's office.  There was a tripwire, and whirring of tiny machinery as the Smart Net wound itself up and enmeshed the commander within its steel grip.  It sent a message to Jacob's Comm.  "Mission Accomplished". 

...Carl looked at Henrich, and out of the blue, a new idea came tnto his head. 

"Hienrich, we have a plan to escape Eisenhelm," he whispered earnestly on the private channel to the nervous and despairing young soldier. Henrich looked this way, and then that way, and then with a gust of enthusiasm nodded "Ja! Ja!" The two young Nazi traitors slunk through the airlock and out into the dark smoky tunnel. Clinging to the shadows Carl led them towards Hanger B. Hans, whose Comm was listening in on everything in the vicinity, nodded his approval. Good Carl. Get away. Hans picked up two of the space suits and with a clever trick of folding and latch-work hitched all four suits together and slung the unwieldy mass over his back and prepared to follow Jacob into the secret stairwell, to what fate neither of them had any idea.