Space Opera Part 50 – Auto-Protect

We were staring at the huge earth mover as the air cleared from the dust storm.

<JJ> Emerald, search for any records of this activity.

<Me> Wait. We don’t want anybody to know we’re here. Searches might tip off the wrong people.

<Emerald> I can search without putting us at risk, Captain Clarke.

<Butch> That’s worth a try, Trey. I’d let her do it, but I’ll supervise.

<Emerald> In your dreams, junior.

I chuckled, sending a glance to JJ, who shook her helmeted head.

<Me> Work that out between you, but err on the side of stealth. What happened here two hundred years ago isn’t the most important issue.

<JJ> Agreed.

Nolan walked over to us. “I’ve been all the way around the vehicle. This is the only spot that was damaged, and note that they didn’t hurt the payload at all. I’m thinking whoever made the attack was planning to come down and take possession.”

“Well, they weren’t successful in getting the ore out of the back of the truck,” Klemperer said. “Might have been something else they wanted.”

<Butch> The surveillance Nanos have found the mine entrance. Just under two-hundred meters from here.

<Dojo> Confirmed. Directions sent to heads-up displays.

“All right, you all see it. Let’s have a few people stay here and continue to look around. The rest, follow me to the mine entrance.”

“At least we can see now,” JJ said, turning around to look. The beige dust was mostly gone, blue skies above us, lush greenery to our right, silent rock walls to our left. There was a river nearby with rapids. “It’s actually quite lovely here when it’s not blowing so hard.”

“Well don’t relax too much,” Andrea said as we walked. “That last storm came up in less than five minutes.”

We could see structure now. Massive concrete retaining walls, and a large road going down at a 6% grade, stopping at massive metallic doors.

<Butch> Main reactor is down. We’ll have a hard time getting those doors open.

<Me> Is it damaged?

<Butch> Accessing the logs now. It was shut down correctly, from what I see here, when the site was abandoned.

<JJ> Does it say why it was abandoned?

<Butch> Nope, it just uses abandonment as the reason for shutting down the reactor. It uses standard Boron fuel.

<Dojo> There is still fuel in the chamber. We should be able to re-start it.

<Me> Wait on that until we can inspect it. Might be booby-trapped, for all we know.

<Emerald> I agree. Finished my research. Nothing that I can find while staying stealthy during the searches. Somebody wants whatever happened here to remain a secret.

Klemperer laughed. “This is a level 15 world. It’s illegal to mine here. That’s why it’s been ignored all these years.”

“This was a big money operation,” Nolan said as we walked down towards the metallic doors. “Look at this structure.”

We made our way forward slowly, the incline difficult while on foot.

“Maybe the strength enhancement can help us get in,” JJ said as we got to the doors.

Nolan shook his head. “Not the big doors. There’s a small door to the far right, though. See it? Maybe we could break that one down.”

“Worth a try,” I said. Nolan, JJ, and I walked in that direction, the rest fanning out along the big doors, looking at them closely.

Nolan was ready to grab the doorknob on the small door when I stopped him.

“Hold it a sec.”

“What’s wrong, Captain?” Nolan asked.

“Turn off strength enhancement and try the doorknob. It might not even be locked. Pulling off the knob with strength enhancement might make it harder to get in.”

Nolan grinned at me. “Good thinking, Captain.” He turned the knob. It was tight and gritty, but it turned, the door opening. “Well I’ll be damned.”

<Dojo> Release Nanos, don’t enter.

“Yes, that’s an order,” I said.

“No problem, Captain,” Nolan said as he released a salvo of surveillance Nanos. He shared their output, the stream’s output showing on our heads-up displays.

“Dark down there,” JJ said.

“We can fix that,” Nolan said, switching to night vision. The corridor from the door showed up in eerie green.

“They finished the walls,” I said, looking at the smoothness, with doors every so often on both sides.

<Butch> The computer systems are still intact, from what I can tell. We could power them with an aux generator. Maybe that will get us an idea of what happened without having to risk turning on the big reactor.

“Hey, Cappy, Deacon here,” said his voice over the PA network. “Been watching. Have the Nanos take a left at the first large door on that side of the corridor.”

“Why?” I asked.

“This is a standard mine layout from the time. You’ll get into the main corridor behind those big doors, probably.”

<Dojo> I heard, we’ll do that. I see some coming up.

“Thanks, Dojo,” Nolan said aloud.

“What did you think of the vehicle, Deacon?” I asked.

“An antique like that would be worth a pretty penny on Devonia Axxiom or other planets where mining was a big deal. She’s a beauty.”

“You don’t remember anything about this place?” JJ asked.

Deacon chuckled. “I may be old, but I’m not that old.”

I laughed. JJ shrugged. “Sorry, I didn’t think that question through very well.”

“No problem,” Deacon said.

“Is Barney listening to audio?” I asked.

“Yeah, Cappy. Nothing so far. We tested the system. It will pass that sound if it’s there.”

“Good to know,” I said.

<Dojo> Door found, going through. It’s a roll-up door that is far from air-tight.

We watched as the Nano’s slipped through crevices, looking into the massive space with their night-vision. There were several more of the giant earth movers there, plus a number of other large vehicles.

“They parked everything they had down here before taking off,” Nolan said. “What happened here?”

I was thinking for a few minutes. “Maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. This might have been pirates, coming onto this world to grab a big profit. The events might have been much more recent than the equipment would suggest. The pirates might have gotten this stuff on the cheap. Maybe the Central Authority caught them. Everybody who was here might have died in prison.”

“Are you talking recently?” JJ asked.

“Can’t be too recent,” Nolan said. “Too much dust around that vehicle out there.”

“I’m thinking instead of two-hundred years ago, it might have been a hundred fifty or even less than a hundred years ago.”

<Butch> Permission to request a tool sled be sent here from the Zephyrus, with generators on board. Let’s get the computer systems up again, and get the lights on so we can explore.

“We aren’t getting these doors open easily,” Klemperer said. “The big door is welded shut. Surprised you got in through that small door.”

<Dojo> Somebody else release Nanos in here to look at the door our little friends just went through. It might be blocked. Didn’t check – we just looked for crevices.

<Me> I’m sending some.

I dictated the command, the Nanos leaving my suit, heading for the roll-up door. They got there in less than a minute, stopping and turning on the night vision mode.

“Whoa, look, they sealed that too,” Deacon said. “Got a good clear picture on the Zephyrus. Weld spots all over the place.”

I looked at it on my heads-up display. “We can cut through that without much trouble. Butch, include a torch on the tool-sled.”

<Butch> Done, Trey. Should be here in less than half an hour.

“So what now?” JJ asked. “Do we go in?”

“Let’s wait for that tool sled. Anything we can get from the vehicle outside?”

<Butch> Tried, couldn’t get the computer running, even though the power is usable. That vehicle is too old. I can’t get a schematic. The blast on the right rear might have taken out a wire harness or something.

<Emerald> Another wind-storm coming through. Maybe you should go through the door and ride it out.

<JJ> Is it safe enough?

<Emerald> Just get inside the door. Don’t explore yet. I agree with Butch, let’s get the tool sled here and re-start the computers before we go poking around too much.

“Everybody get that?” I asked.

“Yeah, Captain, we got it,” Klemperer said. The whole group huddled inside the door as the wind came up, the air already filling with dust.

“Talk about a garden spot,” quipped one of the fighter pilots.

“Tool sled just released, Cappy,” Deacon said over the PA. “It’s covered, should get there without any problem. It’s programmed to arrive at the door.”

We waited as the wind’s howling grew louder.

“I’ll bet the living quarters are down here too,” JJ said. “It would be hell living outside.”

The tool sled arrived after a few minutes, rolling up on it’s metal wheels. We held the door open as two of Klemperer’s men rushed over to guide it through the door.

<Butch> Good, that should have everything we need. The computers are in a room about fifty meters in, on the right-hand side, through double doors.

<Emerald> Moving the Nanos from the roll-up door to the computer center?

<Butch> Done, thank you.

<JJ> That was more polite than normal.

<Butch> Processing. I’ve got several flags from the Nanos that the Captain just released.

“Danger flags?” I asked.

<Butch> More like caution flags, Captain.

“Wonderful,” Klemperer said. “Nothing alive in here, according to my surveillance Nanos. Lots of life nearby, though, by that river.”

<Butch> Nanos at the double doors, going in.

“Good, won’t be long now,” Nolan said.

<Butch> Biohazard. Notifying sick bay on the Zephyrus right now. We need to get back there before you start passing out.

<Me> We didn’t go down there.

<Butch> It’s airborne, already making the way here. We won’t get away fast enough. Don’t worry, there’s an antidote.

“Everybody out now,” I said. “Shut the door behind us.”

<Butch> That won’t matter.

We rushed out the door. “Dictate speed enhancement, everybody,” I said into the PA net. That got all of us back to the Zephyrus in a flash, the ramp coming down as we got there, several crew-members in bio-suits there to greet us.

“The bay is sealed off,” one of the men in the bio-suits said over his loudspeaker. “We’ve got the antidotes out here now. Everybody sit on the floor, just in case you pass out.”

I turned to the others, pulling JJ next to myself, and we sat, my mind going dark shortly after my butt hit the floor. I woke up next to JJ in sick bay, the place full, the entire team in beds on either side of the room.

“What the hell was that?” I asked the Doctor, who was making rounds.

“Weaponized influenza, basically,” he said. “It’s quick on the knock-down power, and if you don’t get the antidote within about five hours, you’re done.”

“Geez. Who developed it?”

“It’s military, but it’s old,” he said, looking at his charts. “Don’t remember which planet came up with it. The Central Authority developed the antidote and the vaccine, and spread it far and wide.”

“How old is this weapon?” I asked.

“At least two hundred years. Nobody uses it anymore, because most special forces outfits carry the antidote around with them.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“I’ve got to get back to work. You and your team have immunity for about a year with the antidote. I suggest anybody else going to that location has the vaccine version.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

He moved on to the next set of beds. JJ’s eyes were open now. She smiled at me.

“That was fun.”

I shook my head. “That was probably a booby trap.”

<Me> Butch, you there?

<Butch> Of course. The surveillance Nanos sent us a lot more info before they died off.

<Me> How long have we been in sick bay?

<Butch> Nearly twelve hours.

I sat up in bed. “What?”

The doctor turned towards me, thinking I was addressing him.

“No, sorry, doc, I wasn’t talking to you.”

He eyed me for a moment, then nodded and turned back to the fighter pilot he was checking on.

<JJ> Smooth, honey.

<Me> Yeah, real smooth. Feel okay?

<JJ> Tired, and my digestive track is doing backflips.

<Me> Same here. Butch, what else did you learn from those Nanos? You were anxious to tell me.

<Butch> There were six bodies in the computer center. They had the same idea we did. They were trying to get the computer system back up when they were overcome.

<Me> Can we clean the area up enough to use it?

<Butch> There’s a generator in there that is activated when biologicals are sensed in the facility. It releases the virus into the air. We could use the Variant 4 Nanos to destroy that. Then we could use normal sanitation procedures to clean the facility. I think it would take a group of 10 robots about a week to completely clean things up.

<JJ> Dammit, that’s a lot of time lost to the refining process.

<Emerald> You’ve forgotten a few things, dearie.

<JJ> Dearie? Okay, what?

<Emerald> There’s enough raw Boron in the back of that earth-mover to run your refinement system for several months, so you won’t need to do any mining at this point.

<JJ> There’s one of the few. What else?

<Emerald> You and this team are all immune to the virus now. You can walk the place at will as soon as your strength has returned.

<JJ> Okay. What’s the last thing.

<Emerald> You take the word ‘few’ very seriously.

<Me> Hahahaha.

<JJ> Stop. Go ahead, Emerald. We all know how precise you are.

<Emerald> We’re going to vaccinate anybody else who enters the facility. In essence, we’ve won here already.

<Me> We need to get on that computer system. Should we send somebody else in there to let loose the Variant 4 Nanos?

<JJ> Maybe we ought to leave that capability in place.

<Emerald> Clever girl.

<Me> Oh, I get it. We’re all immune to the virus now, and we can vaccinate the rest of our crew. Others who might want to show up and take over probably aren’t protected, and they might not be able to recover if they get hit. I like it.

<Butch> That ignores the point the doctor made, but that might not matter here.

<JJ> Okay, you just lost me.

<Emerald> I take that back.

<JJ> Shut up. What is he talking about?

<Me> Oh, brother. The Doctor said most special forces teams have the antidote on them all the time. I suspect they’re vaccinated too, in a lot of cases. The virus isn’t as much of a threat to folks like that.

<JJ> Might be a big problem for pirates, or the Clan.

<Butch> Yes, that’s true, and from what we can tell after the Nanos checked out the bodies, it was pirates who bought it in the computer center.

<Me> Can we use robotics to fix the computer systems?

<Butch> Negative. They’re too old. We’ll have to get them running again the old-fashioned way, I’m afraid.

<JJ> Any other surprises they might have for us down there? Radiation leaks? Poison gas?

<Butch> The suits and helmets provide some protection for both.

My PA buzzed. It was Vermillion. I texted him that I wasn’t in a private place, but that all of us were fine. He replied, asking that I get on a call with the holographic communicator when I could return to my Zephyrus stateroom.

“Hey, Doc, how long do I need to stick around?” I asked.

He turned to me, staring for a moment. “If you weren’t the stubborn Captain type, I’d say another twelve hours.”

I chuckled. “Try again.”

He sighed. “You can leave now, but don’t skip any meals, and get more sleep that you probably do normally.”

“Great,” I said, sitting up, dizziness hitting me but going away quickly.

The doctor shot me a glance. “By the way, what the hell are you all wearing? We couldn’t figure out how to get it off.”

“Sorry, that’s classified,” I said, eyeing him so he was sure I meant what I said.

“Yes, sir. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Doctor. Nice job in here. Thank you.”

I turned to see JJ getting off her bed. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Going with you, of course. We’re a unit, remember?”

I shook my head, taking her hand as we walked out of sick bay.

<Me> Butch, send a text to the Chairman telling him we’re out of sick bay, and headed for the stateroom. Ask if JJ can be on the call.

<Butch> Sent.

We walked down the corridor to the small stateroom, the door opening when we got there.

“Add me onto this door yet?” JJ quipped.

“No, but I will, just not right this minute,” I said.

“You’re worried.”

“Of course I’m worried. Vermillion wants to use the holographic communicator.”

JJ looked at me blankly.

<Butch> No answer from the Chairman, Trey.

<Me> I figured. The New Jersey has jumped away.


To be continued…

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