Friday, January 20, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 42

Hans Schmidt
Hans Schmidt
Lead Technician
Meanwhile, far away on the moon, a woman pulverized by explosive decompression, lay on the shining white floor behind Jacob and Hans.  They had already looted her body and were now in front of the next door, staring at the lock.  Hans was hunched over on one knee examining the lock mechanism carefully with an experienced, but frustrated eye.  It was, as were the others along this mysterious shining white corridor, not the typical Eisenhelm door lock.  It was of a peculiar trapezoid shape and made of a burnished bronze-colored metal.  Hans feared that any of these kinds of locks would be more likely than others to be boobytrapped.  He was not a courageous fellow. Sweat dripped off his forehead. 

Technicians reared in the Nazi Moon Fortress of Eisenhelm were born and bred to be cowards.  Their only purpose was to maintain the equipment and obey orders.  And so, as efficient and capable as he may have been, Hans was a coward through and through.  The sight of blood made him nauseous, and he found the thought of holding a weapon in his own hands unfathomable.  Were he to try, he was sure he'd wind up on the floor convulsing with fear.  Such was the mental conditioning of Nazi Over-Command in Eisenhelm.  The technicians were the Helots, and the other classes were the Overlords. It just was how things were.  Hans had never noticed or minded.  He was devoted to the quality of his work, and had never spent a moment caring about his station in life.  "Leave the soldiering to soldiers, and the soldering to me!" he always said. 

Jacob was at the point of near exhaustion.  Since they encountered Eisenhelm some 20 hours earlier, he'd been running non-stop on all eight cylinders.  So had everyone else on his team.  The pace was finally starting to get to him.  He felt famished, flushed, and slightly dizzy.  Fortunately, the purple-bubbled Modroni Body Suit he was wearing had already taken note of his rising blood pressure and heavy breathing, and had begun adjusting his internal chemistry accordingly. The dizziness did not last long.  Even some of his minor cuts and scrapes were being healed without his awareness.  The suit was taking as good care of its host as it could. 

Through it all Jacob was literally too tired to even contemplate that he might fail to complete his mission.  He glanced at the briefcase in his left hand, the one he had picked up from the dead woman, while in his right he pointed his Lewiston Beam Pistol towards the door ahead.  He wished the team was still on Telepathic communications, but Ling had used up the last of her psychic energy putting Captain Helmund to sleep, and she wasn't in any condition to re-establish the link.  They were flying blind, and Jacob had no idea if anyone else had achieved their mission goals or not, or even if they were alive or dead.  He could, of course, have opened a wide area Comm channel to ask Vallnam or Ling how they were faring, but his mental state was such that it didn't occur to him.  Or if it did, he veered from the thought on the premise that running silent was probably the safest course, and opening a wide range Comm inside the Nazi base might tip off their enemies as to where he and Hans had disappeared to.  This despite the fact that they were presently lost in the secret white tunnel system beneath the Moon Base, an area that not even Hans had ever seen or heard of.  Eisenhelm had many secrets.   

At that moment the door silently whooshed opened.  Through the opening a tall lean man in an armored spacesuit came rushing forward, then suddenly skidded to a short stop in surprise and lifted his Luger.  Jacob was already pointing his Lewiston in the man's direction, aimed, and without a moment's hesitation pulled the trigger.  An orange-red beam lanced out briefly and seared a pencil thin hole directly through the man's heart, and out the other side.  His suit instantly collapsed with explosive decompression and that was the end of that.  The man, punctured, shattered and destroyed, fell silently backwards in a heap on the floor inside the chamber beyond the doorway.    

Jacob leapt through the door before it could close. It was a small room, about fifteen feet in diameter, perfectly circular, and had three other doors, all sealed.  The walls were also gleaming white with chrome trimming, and lit by the same ionic-blue floor lamps as the corridor.  No one else was inside. He spun around and motioned for Hans to follow him in.  Hans was looking pale, and staggered through the entrance.  The sight of the fallen figure with the smoldering hole where his heart used to be was enough to send him into a state near panic.  Jacob glared at him.

"You ok?" asked Jacob.

"Ja, I'm okay," answered Hans slowly, "I am trained not to vomit inside my spacesuit. It's okay."

"Uh, yeah, that's good," replied Jacob as he took another look around.  Not much to see, actually. Smooth white walls, chrome trim, three other sealed doors with trapezoid burnished bronze locks.  

"Hmmmm..." said Jacob.  The door they just walked through was to the northwest.  There was one due north, one due west, and one due south.  The wall along the east side of the chamber had nothing on it.

Jacob kept his eye on the doors while he looted the corpse.  As he removed the helmet and pealed the suit away he found inside the man was wearing a Admiral's uniform. 

"Zur Hölle damit! That's Admiral Ludendorff!!" cried Hans.  He was shocked, and then crestfallen at the sight of him.  

"You knew him?" asked Jacob.  

"Ja, of course. Everyone knows him. He was one of the two Great Commanders of Eisenhelm. Not that I ever interacted with him directly," replied Hans reverently.  "But he was one of the great heroes of the Reich.  The Lord Admiral of the UFO fleet," he added wistfully.  "It was a feat of such tremendous engineering, his own incredible designs, by which we were to explore the galaxy!" How could Hans not feel a sense of tremendous loss?  Truly all their dreams were suddenly crumbling and falling to ruin.

"You guys call them UFOs, too?" asked Jacob, a bit surprised at the use of that term by the Nazis.

"No, we don't.  They're called Red Mercury Plasma-Vortex Star Ships," he answered.  "But people on earth call them UFOs, and so we nicknamed them UFOs as a kind of joke."

"Ah, I see," said Jacob. "I can appreciate that."  Hans nodded, and continued to stare at the corpse.

"Well, he's dead now," said Jacob flatly.  "Um, do you want to say a few words for him?"

"If anything, I think we should bury him with honors," answered Hans.  "We can't just leave a man of his stature laying in a corridor."

Jacob stared at him.  After a moment he said, "You know, the way I look at it, eventually he's going to go into the Sun.  And that will be glorious enough for any man."

"Well, I guess we are all destined for the Sun some day, when it expands into a red giant, so I suppose there is something to that," answered Hans, realizing the impracticality of them trying to haul the General's body away with them and then finding a way to bury it.

The corridor began to shake.  The two of them were bounced off their feet.  The shaking lasted about twenty seconds and was the most serious quake thus far.  The moon base was being systematically destroyed by the ten Giant Nuclear Missile Robots that remained behind to bring the Eisenhelm Project to its final conclusion.  The other fifty GNMRs had already flown off to Earth, where they were to detonate their 500 megaton cobalt encased nuclear bombs over every major city on the planet, thus ending the Human Civilization Project in one final genocidal climax of total and absolute annihilation.  Such were the designs of the Nazi Overlords.

Jacob bent down again and continued looting.  He found a satchel. He thought at first that it was made of leather, but more careful examination revealed that it was really an ultra-fine leather-metallic alloy mesh that had been crafted such that it looked and felt as pliable as leather.  He tried to pry it open, but with no success at all.

"That satchel is made of a hyper-material discovered by the Scientists.  It's called 'Duridium Cloth'.  It has a number of amazing properties, among which is that it is practically indestructible.  I don't think you will be able to tear it open by any means. Even with my best tools I cannot make a scratch in it. Even plasma beams cannot penetrate it," explained Hans, who knew a thing or two about it.

Jacob hefted the satchel in his hand. It felt as though there were coins within, or perhaps metal key-cards.  Maybe both?  He couldn't tell without opening it, but unfortunately it too had a burnished metal lock on it.  One that Hans was entirely sure would be boobytrapped.

"What would the Admiral have been doing down here?" asked Jacob.

"I have no idea," answered Hans.  

"You mentioned there were two 'great commanders'.  Who is the other one?" asked Jacob.

"General Max Von Hertling," replied Hans, growing increasingly surprised that his newly found leader from some unkown SS faction did not know these things.  Perhaps, thought Hans, he was being tested? 

"Hertling is the head of the Robot Force," he said. "The Giant Nuclear Missile Robots are his design," he added, looking around the chamber bleakly.

"Ah, now that makes all kinds of sense.  That's the National Socialism I know and love," he added with a sarcasm that again made Hans wonder.  Who is this man, really?  Why does he speak this way?  Hans concluded it must be a test of his loyalty, or... something.

"The two of them spent most of their time mocking each other.  It was really very funny.  Of course we technicians always knew that they were both exaggerators.  But the rank and file believed every word.  Quite funny, really," commented Hans with a rueful smile.

"He would have known the girl in the hallway, then?" asked Jacob.

"Ja, of course. That was Mellita Reitsch, Ludendorff's number one test pilot. She knew everything about piloting, and could fly the UFO backwards spiraling sideways while using the weapons system and navigating -- single handed!  She was really great!  The only one who has come close to her is Hanna Schiller. Well, she's number one now, I suppose. I wonder if she's survived the cataclysm thus far."

"Where did Reitsch come from?"

"What do you mean?"

"Seems a little odd, doesn't it?  I mean this girl who rises through the ranks as top pilot while having relations with at least one high ranking officer who she then killed, and maybe the Admiral as well? I dunno.  Doesn't that seem a bit odd to you?"

"She was probably just clawing her way to the top like everyone else in Eisenhelm," replied Hans matter of factly.

"Jah, probably, you're right.  Do you think the Admiral was on his way down here to see her?" asked Jacob, fishing for any scraps of information as he could get.  Maybe the pieces would fit into place and give him an idea of what else they might expect.  Or a clue as to what their options at this point might be.

"It does seem a pretty significant coincidence that they both wind up in the same secret corridor below the abandoned C3 Sector at the same time.  Perhaps they were intending to meet here," conjectured Jacob idly.

"Ja, but from how it appeared to me," added Hans, "the Admiral was in a panic.  He was trying to run through the doorway when he stopped suddenly in surprise.  He had his gun out.  Hard to say, but I doubt he was just standing around in that room waiting for her to come in."

"Well, maybe so.  Makes sense.  Anyway, do you think you can open the satchel?"

"Given enough time, possibly.  But the satchel of the Admiral of Eisenhelm is a special case, and likely to be fatal if approached with the slightest mistake.  But that gives me an idea," said Hans as he knelt down next to the Admiral's corpse.  He gingerly investigated and after a few seconds removed one of the gloves.  There he found a ring with a skull that had two rubies set in the eyes, and tiny diamonds for the teeth.

"Ah, as I suspected. An SS-Ehrenring! This ring is very probably one of the keys to the satchel.  It will take a passcode, of course.  Without both, the satchel is likely to be no better than a hand grenade that kills us for our troubles, I'm afraid.  Ja."

"So where is the Admiral's Office? Is it close by?" asked Jacob.

"Nein.  His office is on Sub-Level 7.  I've never even seen Sub-Level 7!  I hear it is luxurious beyond imagining.  And it's certainly nowhere near Level C3.  In fact, I can't imagine why he, or Reitsch, would have come to this forsaken spot. No one important has come down here for years."

Jacob looked around the room again.  The walls formed a shiny blue-white cage around them.  It appeared to be nothing more than a corridor intersection, but one never knew.  He looked around again.  It was then that he noticed that in the center of the domed ceiling was a small mirror-like bubble, almost indiscernible against the whiteness of the chamber.

"What's that?" asked Jacob.

"That's a camera," replied Hans, moving closer for a better look.  "Ah, interesting.  You can see inside if you watch carefully.  The camera's function light is blinking irregularly.  With all the quakes, I wouldn't be surprised if it's on the fritz. Maybe we got lucky and no one has seen us."

Jacob thought about how to knock out the camera.  However, other than shooting it with his Lewiston, nothing came to mind.  He looked at the three doors.  It was a bit odd.  Instead of one on each cardinal point, it was lopsided.  One northwest, one north, one west, and one south.  Nothing on east wall.

While Jacob kept his eyes on the other doors, Hans went to the south wall and began trying to work on the door lock there.  At first it wouldn't open, but that didn't bother him much. After another try he had it open. Jacob had his Lewiston at the ready and from the side he took a quick peek inside.  It was very small, and dark.  A five foot tube with a metal ladder going straight up was all he could see.  It was definitely old school.  It seemed that this was where the secret corridor system came to an end.  At least in this direction.  But what lay at the top of the ladder, they had no idea.  It was dark, and little could be seen, except for a red glow coming from some place above.  Jacob edged closer to the door and tried to peer up, but the tube was too narrow.  He took a chance and darted his head inside, glanced up and immediately withdrew.  The ladder went up a good ten feet, at the top was a dark substation, with blinking monitor lights, and a dim red glow. He described this to Hans.  

"It's a PillBox.  Like the one we came to when we first entered the tunnel system earlier.  The one where we left Ling with Captain Helmund.  I'm guessing this must be PillBox C3-A4."

"Alright, we're going to go up... very carefully. Okay?"

They climbed the ladder as stealthily as possible, and when Jacob got to the top he peeked over the top.  It was a small antechamber overloaded with computer equipment, blinking lights, and monitors.  On the other side it opened into a narrow tunnel that ended in a heavy steel door. 

"Ja, that's the PillBox," said Hans.  "We passed it when we came to the Staff Office Building, but so much has happened... I think at the time this PillBox was empty, but I'm not sure."

"Jah," said Jacob, thinking back. A lot had happened in the hour or so since they had left Ling with Helmund.  "I think we met a guard and at that point I convinced him we were sent by a Lieutenant General..."

"Ah, ja, now I remember... Lieutenant General Rudolf, ja!  I think it was you're telling him that we have a plan of escape that made him see things our way, ja?"

"That's right. The guard at first was hard as nails, but after I said we have an escape plan from Rudolf he let us through.  And, yeah, this PillBox was empty at the time, that's right," added Jacob. 

"Still though, we have no way of knowing if it's occupied now, or not," put in Hans.

* * *

Meanwhile, Vallnam was in Hanger B's Control Room.  He was looking over the panels trying to assess how they worked, but was not familiar enough with their design to make much sense of it.  As his eyes strayed past several of the monitors he noticed some movement on one of the screens.  He walked over and watched.  The scene was a bit grainy due to static interference but he saw a figure in a spacesuit rush in front the camera.  The room was hard to make out. The walls were white, and he could see that there was a sealed door ahead of the figure, and that he was getting ready to open it with a metal key card. 

Vallnam suddenly realized that this was the very same tall thin General in the spacesuit that had fled from the gun battle in the hanger a few minutes earlier.  The General had a luger in his right hand and as the door swooshed open he started to rush through when suddenly he skidded to a stop.  On the other side of the door he could make out two silhouettes. Suddenly there was a bright flash on the screen, and the figure in the spacesuit fell backwards.  Then the two figures dashed into the room.  Vallnam immediately recognized Jacob's purple-bubble protective suite, and figured that the other person must be Hans.  At this point Vallnam wanted to link through to Jacob over the Eisenhelm Comm system, but he had no idea how to execute that. 

"Rudolf!" he yelled.

"Ja!?" came the snappy reply from his lead technician.

"Could you come up here please?  I'd like to ask you how to operate this control panel, if you aren't too busy."

"Ja!" shouted Rudolf enthusiastically, as he came bounding up the stairs to the control room.

"I'd like to know, is there a way I can use the Comm system through this panel to open a channel to that fellow on the camera over there?"

"Ja!" said Rudolf as he looked over the equipment for a few moments, traced a small metal diagram attached to the front panel with his finger.  Then he flipped a switch.  "This is the general channel used in the C3 Zone, but it's wired to PillBox C3-A4.  Very easy. Speak into the microphone there," he said pointing to a small circular mesh on the panel board.

"Jacob!" shouted Vallnam into the mic.  He was pleasantly amused as Jacob, startled out of his wits for a moment, crouched down and looked around frantically.  After a few seconds he realized what happened and relaxed.  


"This is your conscience," whispered Vallnam into the mic.

"That's impossible," replied Jacob with a slightly sardonic smile.

"Oh, darn, you're right," cackled Vallnam jovially.  "Well, at any rate, I'm glad to see you're alive.  We lost contact there for a bit.  A lot has happened since we parted!"

"Where are you?" asked Jacob.

"Well, I'm in Hanger B.  We're working on fixing as many ships as we can to get the heck out of here."

"Well, that sounds like a plan. Glad to hear it.  By the way, I think we found what may be a master key, though it's locked away in an impenetrable pouch at the moment."

"Oh a master key?  That would be great. And on my end, we found a completely different kind of ship in a secret hanger. And I could use you back over here to help me figure out how to get into it and fly this puppy around.  Maybe we could use it to escape.  I have to say, it looks pretty amazing!"

"I definitely want to get over there.  Anyway, how's Ling doing with Helmund?"

"The last I checked she's still in the C3-A1 PillBox waiting for Helmund to wake up.  She had to Narc him as he was beginning to get frisky with her, I guess.  Anyway, he's knocked out hard.  Not having a key to the door back there we fed him a post-hypnotic suggestion, though.  As soon as he wakes up the first thing he's going to do is open that back door.  Hopefully that will lead into the area she's looking for to punch in the Giant Nuclear Missile Robot self-destruct sequence.  I spoke with her a few minutes ago, and she was sitting there staring at him snoring away."

"Ok, I'm directly north of her right now."

"Right. Maybe you should head over to her and see if you can help get that door open," offered Vallnam.

"That sounds like a great idea.  By the way, do you have access to this PillBox she's in right now?"

"I dunno," replied Vallnam, "I'll ask my technician. Hey Rudolf, can these panels access the inside of the other PillBoxes?"

"Hmm... well, gee, I wouldn't be surprised.  Let me take a look!" 

And so Rudolf investigated the panels one by one.  After a few minutes he managed to find the correct node. He flipped a switch.

"Ling, can you read me? How are you doing?  Everything okay?  Over," said Vallnam into the mic.

"I'm waiting," she replied with some frustration in her voice. The entire Earth hung in the balance, and she felt deeply annoyed at having to sit there and babysit the snoring Helmund.

"Ah, yeah, I hear ya.  Anyway, I have Jacob on the line as well.  And by the way, I found a pretty snazzy control room over here in Hanger B.  I'm wondering if it might actually be the one you're looking for?" chatted Vallnuam amiably.

"Maybe," she said thinking it over.

"Is there anything I need to look for that would tell us if I'm in the C3-DZ-A1 Control Room, or not?"

"Yes," she replied. "Look around for a series of black and white studs in a checkerboard formation.  It should be a 4 by 3, about three inches wide, and in between each stud you'll see a red button.  Do you see anything like that?

After few minutes of intensive investigation of every panel, sub panel, and hidden panel, Rudolf reported "Nein!  It's not here."

"Ah well, it was worth a try," said Vallnam into the mic.

"Yes, for sure," she agreed, "but I'm still banking on Jacob's guess.  The C3-DZ-A1 Control Room is probably linked somehow to the C3-PB-A1 PillBox.  I think that was the best hunch so far.  Those A1's are probably connected."

"Hey, I have an idea," said Vallnam. "Rudolf, is there any way you can bring up a schematic of every door and room down here?"

"Ja! Give me a minute," said Rudolf.  After a bit of fumbling with controls he brought up a map on the monitor screen.  It showed all kinds of detail of the entire C3 Sector.  Vallnam poured over it carefully.  There was a lot more detail than he expected.

As he was doing this, Jacob asked if there was any way that Vallnam could tell if there were any guards in the PillBox he and Hans were hiding out next to.  Vallnam turned to Rudolf.  Within a minute the C3-PB-A4 PillBox was on the screen. There were two soldiers inside, staring out the PillBox window, and chatting quietly with each other.

Jacob and Vallnam discussed various plans on how to deal with the two guards.  In the end Jacob settled on opening the air lock before the soldiers could respond.

"Hans," said Jacob, "you're going to need to open the door to the PillBox.  We need to flush them out."

Hans looked pretty pale.  He wasn't so sure he could do something that would be likely to kill anyone.  It was very much against a long life of specialist training.  Yet, somehow, he managed to pull himself together and flipped the switches in the right order, and pull the lever.  The door swooshed open.  Inside was an empty airlock.

"Oh, damn.  There's an airlock!?" cried Jacob in surprise.

"Ja!" said Hans ruefully.  He knew there was an airlock but his trepidation was regarding what would inevitably come next.

"Hans!" said Jacob with great exasperation. "I meant can you open the airlock!?"

"Ja! Ja!", said Jacob, "They're airlocks.  They're not designed for this kind of mistake.  They're designed against it, you know."

"Yes, I know.  That's what airlocks are supposed to do.  But I want you to, well, break it.  Can you do that?"

"Ja, of course.  I'm not Lead Technician of Sector C3 for nothing.  I can do it. Ja. Hold on.  It takes a few tricks but I can do it."

As this was happening Vallnam had found a tin of Jiffy-Pop-n-Dorf, and was watching the screen with some amusement.  At this moment, though, he noticed that one of the two soldiers who had previously been quietly chatting suddenly pointed to a blinking red light on the PillBox's main panel.  The two of them lurched out of their chairs and began to grab at their helmets and guns.

"I'd hurry if I were you, fellas," said Vallnam between handfuls of popcorn.

"I need a few seconds," said Hans.

One of the men got his helmet half-on, while the other had grabbed his gun and was turning towards the rear door.

Jacob, realizing time had run out, hit the deck and pulled the trigger on his Lewiston Beam Pistol.  A thin orange-scarlet beam hit the steel door and began rapidly boring a hole through it. As the beam scorched its way through, sending a voracious vortex of superheated air into the antechamber, Hans completed the circuit bypass and flipped the switch.  The door then swooshed open.  The two men inside were instantly crushed in the vacuum of space. There was a muzzle flash as the soldier convulsively pulled the trigger of his Luger, but the bullet went wide and ricocheted harmlessly off the walls. A huge gust of wind blew out of the PillBox into the antechamber, nearly dislodging Hans from his hiding place.  Jacob sighed with relief and took a deep breath.  

They decided to head back into the white corridor system. At the base of the ladder tube Jacob discovered an iron hatch with a wheel lock.  When they blew the airlock it had caused the hatch panel door to dislodge.  He pushed the panel door to the side and turned the hatch-wheel.  It opened smoothly enough. Swinging the hatch open they found it lead into the outer tunnel.  Perfect.  

Jacob climbed out and took a quick look around.  An entire section of the east tunnel had collapsed, completely blocking the way with huge stones, but fortunately it looked like the tunnel south was still at least partially intact.  At the moment another quake was in progress, but in all the excitement Jacob had hardly noticed.  Rocks were falling from the ceiling in the dozens. It lasted for thirty seconds or so, and then subsided.  He looked at the ceiling with some trepidation, but there was nothing to do except to make a run for it.  Checking he still had the satchel stuffed in his belt, and making sure the briefcase was still strapped over his back, he made a run for it.  Hans followed behind toting the four spacesuits in an unwieldy bundle over his shoulder, and down the tunnel they scrambled.

Now it is to be remembered that the moon has six times less gravitational pull than the Earth, and so as they ran they bounded into the air in long leaps.  While Hans was quite used to this, Jacob was not.  It took him all of his skill and concentration to follow Hans and keep pace with him once the technician had gained the lead.  And through watching carefully how Hans lofted and then landed, rolled and relaunched himself, Jacob was able to quickly get the hang of it.  And from that point forward he made rapid strides, despite the many rocks and boulders in their way.

It wasn't long before they made it to PillBox C3-A1.  Hans clambered up the ladder and made it to the PillBox's outer door.  He opened it with the appropriate metal key and passcode, and then slipped inside.  Jacob followed closely behind.  They went through the airlock and entered the PillBox.  There they found Ling, who had watched them climb up and was sitting with her Lewiston on her lap looking at Helmund.

"Hello Ling," said Jacob as he entered.  "How's things?"

"I've been sitting here watching Helmund the sleeping giant snore while you guys have been having all the fun out there."

"Ah. So that's what you young people call that, eh?" he replied with a wry smile.

She smiled back.  They caught up briefly on what had transpired.  Next up on Jacob's agenda was to open the satchel.  His thinking was simple.  Inside was likely to be the Grand Admiral's master key that would open any door in the entire complex.  However, the problem was that he didn't know anything about Duridium Cloth, nor the lock, and he was not even sure that the bag contained the master key at all.  He looked it over.  

"What if I carve the top off with my Lewiston?" he asked the room.

"I think you may destroy the contents of the bag that way," offered Ling.

"And besides, you should consider that the Admiral's bag is more likely than almost anything in Eisenhelm to be boobytrapped.  Can you imagine the fate he planned for anyone who would dare to steal his bag?" offered Hans.

Jacob thought hard about these two points.

"Well you gotta appreciate the care that the Admiral had for his things," said Jacob. "Could you open this?" he asked Hans.

Hans stared at the bag.  "I'd be afraid to try," he said.

"Ok, but I don't have the skills necessary to open it," said Jacob.

"I can try it," said Hans, "but if it goes badly, I'm pretty sure we're all going to die."

"Well," said Jacob, "I can go outside and wait."

Hans stared at him incredulously.  He was still trying to make an assessment of this man's actual character. He gave off such incredibly mixed signals, it was simply impossible to tell if he was joking, testing him, or a complete sociopath, or in other words, a true Nazi.

"Ok, I'll tell you what, while you work on the bag, I can take the spacesuits over to the C3 workshop and get the other techs ready to head out.  How's that?"

"You mean while I risk my life with the bag, eh?" asked Hans dryly.

"What have I been doing this whole time?" asked Jacob with a suddenly aggravated inflection.

".. risking your life?" answered Hans.

"Jah. That's right, Hans."

"Ok, fair enough," replied Hans giving up the point.

"But what I don't understand is why the master key would be locked inside the bag?  I mean how did the Admiral expect to ever get it out?"

"Simple enough," answered Hans confidently.  "The master key opens all the doors.  You don't want to leave that laying around where anyone can get it.  So you have one key that opens the bag, and inside is the master key to open all the doors.  My guess is that the ring is the key to the bag."

"Ah, ok, yeah, kind of like a password keeper that has one code protecting many codes.  Ok, that makes sense now.  But, Hans, can you open the bag with the ring?" asked Jacob.

"So you want me to try to break into the bag, eh?"

"Yeah.  Let's assume that the thing in the bag is what we need to open the door that leads to the panel that she can use enter the self-destruct code that will stop the giant robots from, well, um, melting Eisenhelm into a pool of slag, for one thing.  Let's just assume that."

"Ja, that could be," replied Hans.

"And also lets assume that the ring is the key to the bag, okay?  Though come to think of it, the ring could also be the key to the door, right?"

"Possibly, though I tend to doubt it.  Remember Admiral Ludendorff was the head of the UFO Fleet program.  It is General Hertling who is the head of the Robotics Program.  This door you are looking for leads into the Robotics Control Center.  The UFO Control Center is probably where your man Vallnam is located."

"Ah, yes. So the Admiral's ring is probably not going to work on the General's door.  Yeah, that does make sense," concluded Jacob.

He examined the satchel again, rubbing his hand over the metallic leather exterior.  Inside he felt things moving when he shook it but there was no way to tell what was within.  It could be the Admiral's stash of Nazi Gold.  Or the master key.  Or both. Or neither.  He scratched his head.

"Ok, well, we still need to try something.  Time is definitely running out."

"You want me to open the bag?" asked Hans again.

"Sure.  Give it a try.  What have we got to lose?"

"What about her?" asked Hans, tilting his head towards Ling.

"She needs to stay here to keep her eye on Helmund," answered Jacob.

"Okay, well if I open this in here and it goes bad, like I said, we're all going to die.  How about I take this down into the tunnel and try there?  If it opens, great, I'll come back up.  If not, well, auf wiedersehen.  After all, why put her life at risk?" asked Hans, looking at Ling with sober manly consideration.  Ling smiled faintly at his gaze.

"Actually, that's... a good idea," said Jacob.

Meanwhile in the UFO Control Room, Vallnam watched the monitor carefully as he listened to the conversation.  "Hey, is he making eyes at my girl?" he thought to himself.  He looked around for some sort of laser targeting Kill button on any of the panels.  It wouldn't be unlikely for there to be one in a master control room, but alas, he couldn't tell a button from a toggle on these panels.  He thought about asking Rudolf, but decided against it.  Instead he scribbled a note in his head... "take care of Hans later".

Hans put the spacesuits on the floor next to the airlock door.  He prepared himself to take the satchel outside and try, against all reasonable odds, to open the damn thing.  As he climbed out, Jacob followed him with his eyes.  He didn't want to leave Hans to take this risk alone, but frankly, it was the only logical choice. So instead of going with him, he mounted the gimbled machine gun and got ready to at least stand guard.  Who knew what might come down the tunnel corridor while Hans was working the lock?  Soldiers?  Robots?  Who knew what lurked down in the tunnels?  He could at least protect him from ancillary dangers.

Hans walked out into the tunnel and went far enough away so that if the bag exploded the fragments wouldn't be likely to do any damage to the PillBox.  He took out the ring.  Its little skull face with the ruby eyes and diamond teeth sparkled in the dim light.  He sighed.  There was a very small chance that he could guess the pass code, even with the help of his enormously intelligent tabulator.  Nevertheless he punched in the Admiral's card, turned the dial to one of his own specialty applications, and pushed the metallic card through the slot.  The machine whirred for a few moments, and then provided ten plausible passcodes based on everything Hans had about the Admiral on file.  Nothing to do but bring the ring to the lock, and try the passcode.  He tried the first one.  It had an 83.27% chance of being correct.  If not, it had an 92.37% chance of triggering any detonation device in the bag.  He punched in the code.  Nothing.

He looked up at the PillBox.  Jacob waved.  Hans nodded his head, No.  He then bent back over the satchel to try again.  The next passcode had a lower percent chance of success and a higher percent chance of detonation.  He closed his eyes, and with sweat pouring down, he steeled himself to try again.  The second passcode.  Nothing.

He tried it again.  The odds were atrocious, but three is a charm they say. Nothing.  Hans came close to fainting.

Jacob motioned for him to stop, and bring the satchel back up.  Hans, relieved to the core of his being, agreed and came back up into the PillBox.

Meanwhile, Jacob looked back at the door on the rear wall.  It didn't look like a door at all.  It looked like a flat wall.  In fact he wasn't sure why Ling thought there was a door there in the first place.  He got up and walked over to the wall. When Hans came back in he took the satchel and brought it over to the door-wall.  He waved the satchel around.  Nothing happened.  Jacob shrugged.  Worth a try.

"Well if the key is in here, how would it be used.  Where's the key slot?"

Hans did a thorough and extensive search of the door and the panels around it.  Finally he located the key slot.  It was cleverly hidden along the thin edge of the corner of a side panel.    

"I'm familiar with this kind of thing," said Hans. "I know what to look for."

"You tried the ring?"

"Of course.  It didn't work the first three passcodes.  I could try again, but the odds of detonation increase with each attempt," said Hans grimly.

"Alright. Do you think one of the other guys might have a better chance of opening this?" asked Jacob.

"Well, ja, one of the guys in the workshop is better than I am at this kind of thing," said Hans.

"Ok then.  Why don't we go down and deliver these here spacesuits to the technicians and get that guy?  Ling, you don't mind hanging out here and waiting for Helmud to wake up?  If we don't make it back, at least you have his post-hypnotic suggestion as another way to get the door open.  Okay?"

"I'm okay with it," she said.  "Good luck, Jacob.  And you too, Hans," she added with a smile.

Hans floated his way down the ladder with Jacob.  Her smile was radiant.  It buoyed his spirits like nothing he'd ever experienced before.  Meanwhile, back in UFO Central, Vallnam sputtered his popcorn and fumed. 

They headed west down the tunnel back to Area 7 where they'd started. 

"Finally, we make our triumphant return!" said Jacob cheerfully.

In the workshop waited the four technicians who did not have spacesuits, and so could not entered the moon base's tunnel system.  Jacob and Hans had ventured to the Staff Operations Center in order to steal four suits so that they could be rescued with the others in the repaired UFOs.  If all went well, they'd all escape the moon together.    

"You remember the older technician we left in the workshop?" asked Hans.

"Yeah sure. He was the one I was worried might not be able to handle the rigors of our escape, so sure, I remember him."

"Well, his nickname is Nick 'The locksmith'," said Hans. "He's particularly good at getting into places people aren't supposed to go.  He taught me a lot, but it's a tricky craft, and, well, my plate is full enough, and so I never had time to pick up all the tricks.  He's much better at this than I am.  Has his own tabulator locksmith applications he created over the years  And he knows more about Admiral Ludendorff than I ever did, too."

"Ah, okay, that's good," said Jacob, now appreciating that it was a good idea to rescue the technicians after all.

They made it about halfway to Section 7. They could see the opening at the far end of the tunnel, and through it into the cavern beyond.  It was smoky and the air was filled with haze.  Suddenly an orange-red glow filled the distant chamber.  They heard nothing because the tunnels are airless, but they could feel the ground tremble slightly and saw plumes of smoke rising to the ceiling of the cavern.  The red glow dimmed after a few seconds.

Jacob and Hans dashed to the side of the corridor and slid into the shadows of the undulating stone walls.  They crept forward from shadow to shadow.  Another flare of orange-red light emanated from the cavernous chamber.  After another five hundred feet or so they got to a spot where they could see into the cavern.  

"What do you think that might have been?" asked Jacob.

"It was a plasma beam reflecting off the walls, I think," answered Jacob.

"From inside the hanger??" asked Jacob incredulously.  Hans shrugged.

As they crept forward they got a better view.  This time they could see the beam as it lanced across the chamber, casting its hellish glow throughout. It was bright, thick and enormously powerful.  They felt the heat of it on their skin through their helmets.  They also caught sight of what it was shooting at.  There was a three story building, that looked like a squat metal fortress on the far western end of the chamber. obscured to some degree by the thick clouds of smoke.  The beam hit the side of the building, and partially reflected off the far corner with massive showers of coruscating sparks for the first few moments, but then the metallic surface of the building began to turn red, then orange, then yellow and finally white-hot before it folded in on itself and collapsed.  There was a huge explosion, however, the rest of the building seemed to sustain the blow somehow.  Then a Giant Nuclear Missile Robot entered the chamber from the north tunnel, lumbering forward on its gigantic legs, its two arms extended forward towards the fortress.  From the fortress there suddenly burst forth a incredible torrent of weapon fire of every conceivable kind.  Bullets in the tens of thousands, yard-long white-hot energy bolts, and scores of missiles of various sizes... all of which bounced, reflected or exploded harmlessly against the monster's dark gray hull.

While this was happening, Jacob told Hans to give him the spacesuits, and to get back to Ling with the satchel and briefcase.  If he and the others couldn't make it then Hans was to try to open the satchel again and see if he could extract the master key.  He took the spacesuits.

There was an awkward pause. They shook hands.  

"Good luck," said Jacob.

"You, too," said Hans, finally seeing that Jacob really wasn't a psychopath after all.  

"No," thought Hans, "this man is a real hero.  And my friend."  

He took a last glance behind him to watch Jacob creep through the shadows towards the incredible battle.  Turning away, he made a dash for the PillBox, satchel and briefcase in each hand.

"Okay! I better make a run for it before anyone notices me!" said Jacob to himself, and ran for the stairwell that led up the two flights to the Hanger A workshop.  The four technicians, if they survived the conflict so far, were to be found there.  He reached the door to the stairwell, and as silent explosions blazed behind him, he dashed inside.

And that's where we left things that night.

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