We barely made it out the door when we heard a loud crash behind us. Klemperer rushed over.
“What the hell happened in there?” he shouted.
“The computer system didn’t like being hacked,” Nolan said. “Kicked off a lockdown, and tried to notify the Central Authority.”
“Dammit,” Klemperer said. “Did the transmission get out?”
“Stopped by the Zephyrus,” I said, trying to catch my breath. “Luckily our AIs realized what was going on in time.”
“That speed enhancement capability came in handy too,” Nolan said. “We’d still be in there if it wasn’t for that.”
“The strength enhancement might have helped us get out of there,” I said.
“Maybe, but I suspect there are limits,” Nolan said.
“One way to find out.” I walked back to the door, opening it. About five feet in was a metal door, not there before.
“That came down from the ceiling,” Nolan said. “Wonder how strong it is. With that floor being uneven, we can probably get our hands under it and lift.”
“Sure that’s a good idea?” Klemperer asked.
“Everything we captured got onto the PA net, right?” I asked.
<Butch> Yes, we captured it all, not that it’s telling us all that much.
“We need to find out more,” I said. “How’s things going with the Boron, Commander?”
Klemperer smiled. “We’re loading it faster than expected. Another couple hours. Kudos to Deacon for the rigs he gave us. They’re making things easier than they might have been.”
“Okay, get it done as fast as you can,” I said. “Nolan, let’s try to open that door.”
Nolan nodded, and followed me inside. The door was corroded and dusty. I bent down, reaching my hands underneath. Nolan did the same on another spot, a couple meters from where I was.
“I can get a good grip here, Captain. Shall we? Maximum strength?”
“Let’s start at a lower level and see if we can budge it.”
“Your choice.” Nolan and I slipped our hands underneath the thick metal. “On three?”
I nodded. “One. Two. Three.” We lifted, the gate coming up easier than either of us expected.
“Only gravity is holding this down,” Nolan said. “We should get something to block this up so we can go back inside.”
“Look at that bench,” I said, nodding to the right-side wall where it sat. “I’ll hold this up. Drag it over here.”
Nolan let go, the door coming down until I increased the strength enhancement and lifted it higher. Nolan slipped the heavy metal bench underneath and I let the door down slowly, the bench creaking with the weight but holding.
<Butch> Send more Nanos in there first. The first batches got behind several doors. I can’t even get a signal from them now.
I nodded, dictating the command, surveillance Nanos flooding out of my suit, going under the propped door.
“The lights are still on in there,” Nolan said. “See them, coming from the double doors?”
“Wonder how many bulkheads came down?”
“We have no way to tell yet,” Nolan said, pulling the radiation suit back on his arm and looking at his PA. “I’m still on their system. Dojo, search for data on the facility, including where the security doors are.”
<Dojo> On it. Good idea.
<Butch> Ass kisser. Looking for a dog biscuit?
I laughed. “All right, you two.”
“What the hell are you doing in here?” JJ’s voice said from behind us.
“We’re just sending out surveillance Nanos,” I said. “We can open these with the strength enhancement. Wasn’t even at the top setting.”
<Butch> Emerald squealed.
<Emerald> Somebody has to keep these guys from going somewhere they can’t get out of.
<JJ> Here here.
I touched JJ’s shoulder. “I’m not going back in there unless we can insure that it’s safe. We’ll probably be out of here pretty soon either way, at the rate that Klemperer’s men are moving with that Boron ore.”
JJ calmed down. “Yes, we’ve already got the refinery running. The quality of this ore is unbelievable.”
“Good,” Nolan said. “That’s what it looked like when I ran some analysis.”
<Butch> Nanos found another bulkhead like this one, about two hundred meters in.
“That’s a ways past the computer center,” Nolan said.
“It is. They have enough left to go past it?”
<Butch> They have another twelve minutes of life. We should have them go in and record, then come back on this side.
<Me> Have them search during the next seven minutes, then get them back on this side of that door and record their findings.
<Butch> No problem, Trey. They’re finding a way through now. The floor is a little more even back there than it is here.
Nolan got my attention. “I’ve got maps of the facility. Saved to the PA net, but I’m sending the summary map to your AI net through Dojo. You aren’t gonna believe it.”
The map flashed in front of me. The scale of the place was awesome. The mine was a huge oval-shaped cavern, which was two kilometers past the big doors. The corridor we were on went sixteen kilometers back, the area a maze of corridors and rooms of various sizes.
“They could put a couple hundred thousand people down there,” I said. “There are twenty-six bulkhead security doors between us and the end, counting the one up there.”
“This was for safety against attack, as much as anything,” Nolan said. “The facility looks as much like a settlement as a research facility to me.”
<Dojo> Yes, that appears to be the case, from what we know now.
<Butch> Trey, I suggest we don’t waste time searching this facility. Let’s get the fuel on board and leave. Remember what’s happening with the New Jersey.
<Me> Yes, that’s my thinking right now. Record what those Nanos have to say. Nolan, record all that you can from the main computer system so we can review it during the jump to the New Jersey’s position.
<JJ> Good call. I’m going back to the Zephyrus to check on my refinery.
I watched her head out, then nodded to Nolan, and we closed the door, walking over to Klemperer to pitch in. It was a long day, but we got enough Boron loaded onto the Zephyrus by nightfall, between bouts of tornado-force winds and dust. I was in the cleansing unit in my stateroom when JJ arrived, stripping and joining me.
“It’s better if we start out for two, you know,” I quipped.
She rolled her eyes and hugged me tight, getting on her tiptoes to kiss me. We finished, JJ trying to entice me onto the bed. I shook my head no.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I need to get Vermillion on the Holographic Communicator, so get dressed. We need coordinates for where they are, and then we can start the jump tonight. After that, I’m all yours.”
She giggled. “Oh, all right. That’s what I get for falling in love with a Captain, I guess.”
We were dressed in few minutes, and I fired up the Holographic system, calling the Chairman. He replied quicker than I expected.
“Captain Clarke, you’ve got good news, I trust?”
“We’ve got the fuel loaded, and the refinery is running. I think we’re ready to make the jump, but we need the coordinates.”
“I’ll send them through this system, and your AI can pick them up. Nice job. That was faster than I expected.”
“It was easier than I expected,” I said. “The worst part was the weather. This place is nasty.”
“Do any exploring of the facility?”
“Uh oh, something went wrong?” Vermillion asked.
“We got into the computer center and used portable generators to power the main computer system. Downloaded lots of logs and surveillance system data. So far I’ve got more questions than answers, but during the jump we’ll take the time to do a study the data in depth.”
“You aren’t telling him what happened?” JJ asked.
“Out with it,” Vermillion said.
I shrugged. “The computer system didn’t like Nolan hacking into it. A lockdown protocol was run, and it slammed all the bulkhead doors shut. No worries, we used speed enhancement to rush out of there before we were trapped.”
“You almost got trapped there?” Vermillion asked.
“We were able to pull open the first bulkhead door using strength enhancement. We sent Nanos back in there and recorded their findings. We’ll have some data to share when we see you. No sense talking about it more now. We don’t know enough.”
“Uh huh. Was he in danger, JJ?”
I chuckled as JJ thought about what to say.
“No, probably not,” she finally said. “I’m glad we’re ready to go so quickly. I’d rather he didn’t screw around down there until him and Nolan get to review the data they got from the systems.”
“The installation was built by the Central Authority. Did you already know about it?” I sat, watching Vermillion furrow his brow.
“Sorry, I didn’t know that, and it doesn’t make sense to me. How do you know that?”
“Nolan recognized the computer’s operating system for one thing,” I said. “Also the place is huge. There are living quarters for a couple hundred thousand people, if the map we got from the system is correct. That’s not counting the space where the actual mine is.”
“I’ll have to look into this. Sounds illegal.”
I sat silently for a moment, then spoke up. “Nolan mentioned that the facility was being called a research facility, which might have made it legal. He also saw documents with sign-offs from some Central Authority figures of the time.”
“What timeframe?” Vermillion asked.
“Couple hundred years ago.”
“Interesting. I’ll mention it to Drake, but not until we have some things finished here.”
“He probably already knows,” I said. JJ looked at me as if I were nuts.
Vermillion laughed. “Okay, you have a point, and he understands priorities as well as I do. Sorry, I’ve been a manager for too long, I guess.”
“We’ll have plenty to talk about when we get back together. Did you make it to your destination yet?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Vermillion said. “It’s just under two days to get here.”
“Don’t suppose you’ll tell us the name of the planet?” JJ asked.
“Zenthonia,” Vermillion said. “Lovely world.”
JJ looked at her PA. “That’s a level 11 world. Not exactly legal, but not as bad as Amberis, at least.”
“No, it’s not, JJ. Not much choice in the matter. Any world of a legal level would let the Central Authority know right away.”
“Oh, I think we’re fine,” I said. “Yeah, technically it’s illegal, but it’s early enough to have the lightest restrictions. It’s Cenozoic. Not a big risk.”
“We’re on a continent with no humans,” Vermillion said. “We’ve got thousands of years to clean up our mess before the natives make it across the ocean to our location.”
“Oh, it’s like the New World?” JJ asked.
“More like Australia, if you’re using Earth as a comparison. I need to go. I’m needed on another call.”
“Talk to you soon, then, Mr. Chairman. We’ll get underway shortly. Within the hour.”
“Perfect, see you soon.” Vermillion’s face disappeared from the holographic frame, and I switched off the system.
“Zenthonia, huh?” JJ asked. “We should do a little research.”
“Hungry?” I asked.
“I could eat. Let’s go.”
“We need to swing by and give the coordinates to the bridge, first, if you don’t mind.”
“No problem,” JJ said.
<Me> Butch, you got them, correct?
<Butch> Yes sir.
We put our uniforms over our Nano suits and left the stateroom, heading for the bridge. Izzy, Tim, and Andrea were all there.
“Hello, Captain,” Andrea said. “We ready to go?”
I nodded yes. “Butch will send you the coordinates. I just got them from the Chairman.”
“I’m ready,” Tim said, glancing over at Izzy, who nodded at him.
<Me> Go ahead, Butch.
<Butch> Already on the way.
<Me> Thank you.
“This is Zenthonia,” Izzy said. “You know it’s a level 11, right?”
“Yep, we know,” I said. “Don’t worry about it. Not much choice at this point.”
“You want us to leave right away?” Andrea asked.
“Yes, right away, please,” I said. “We’re going to grab some food. We’ll be back in a little while.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Andrea said.
We left the bridge, the dizziness of the jump hitting us before we got to the dining room.
“It’s times like this that I miss the New Jersey,” JJ said.
“Well, the food isn’t as good, but otherwise I like this ship.”
We got a table, getting our food quickly, and wolfing it down.
“Wow, I guess you were hungry,” JJ said.
I chuckled. “You don’t have much left either.”
“This is true. Hope everything goes well. I’m worried. Wonder if the Tristar is there yet?”
“Hope so. Don’t worry. There were some defensive installations at all of the manufacturing plants, and fighters as well.”
We headed back to the bridge after dinner. Nolan was there, smiling at us as we came in the door.
“Captain. Reviewed any of the data yet?”
“Not yet,” I said. “Andrea, how are we looking?”
“Running full speed,” she said. “Glad we have more fuel cooking. This will take a bite.”
“Would we save much by slowing down?” JJ asked.
“Twenty percent,” Andrea said. “Not that I suggest we do that.”
“Keep it pegged,” I said. “Like you said, we’ve got more fuel. Hell, we only took about a third of what was in that earth mover. We’ll be back there to get the rest.”
Nolan nodded. “Yes, priorities. We need to re-join the New Jersey as quickly as possible.”
I sat down, JJ next to me. “What’d you see so far, Nolan?”
“I found the justification documents for the installation,” he said. “The research was about Boron deposits. Apparently there are several on this planet. The extremely high-quality deposits that we’re interested in, and several more modest but still very valuable deposits in other areas. They were trying to develop ways to find the most high-quality deposits.”
“Did they reach a conclusion?” JJ asked.
Nolan nodded. “They did, and when they were done, they sealed up the facility we were at, as well as another in the southern hemisphere and a third near the northern pole.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Get to anything about the attack on the earth mover, or the pirates?”
“Pirates?” Izzy asked. “Guess I should’ve been paying more attention.”
“You were busy,” Andrea said. “They were killed by that flu, weren’t they?”
“That’s a guess at this point,” Nolan said, “although the surveillance data might shed some light on that. They didn’t trip the lockdown.”
“They probably got nailed by the flu before they got the computer system turned on,” JJ said.
“Oh, that’s exactly what happened,” Nolan said. “The first thing I checked was the date of the last power-off. It was about a hundred and ninety years ago. The pirates didn’t show up for at least fifty years past that.”
“How do you know that?” Izzy asked.
“Educated guess,” Nolan said. “Again, the surveillance data will probably shed some light. I plan to take a look later, before I turn in for the night.”
“What about the recordings from that last group of Nanos?” JJ asked.
“I haven’t looked into that at all,” Nolan said, “but they were the Captain’s Nanos.
<Me> Butch, you have that?
<Butch> I was wondering when you were gonna ask me. Yes, we’ve got it, not that it’ll be very helpful. They cruised down past the first closed door. Got to another closed door right as their time was just about up, so they marked the location and turned around. Barely got on the other side of the first door before they ran out of juice. We cut that a little too close. Should have been six minutes of exploration instead of seven.
“Woulda coulda shoulda,” I said. “Doesn’t matter, as long as they were able to get out far enough for us to capture their data.”
<Butch> And they did.
“Why aren’t you putting your AI on speaker?” JJ asked. “We’re on the bridge.”
“That was the New Jersey bridge,” I said. “But anyway, they didn’t miss anything interesting.
<Butch> Says you.
I rolled my eyes.
“Being snarky again?” Tim asked, a smirk on his face. “Mine’s just as bad.”
“No matter,” I said. “I think we’ll go back to our stateroom and review some of this data too. Might help me get to sleep.”
Nolan laughed. “Yeah, it might be good for that.”
JJ and I left the bridge.
“Are you really gonna spend time studying that?” JJ asked.
“Butch is already going through it, summarizing things for us on the fly. We’ll get a quick report when we’re in our stateroom. After that, you’ll have my undivided attention.”
“Why don’t I get your undivided attention first, and then you can look at it?”
I laughed. “Because we probably won’t look at it after. We’ll crash.”
We got close to the stateroom. I stopped. She kept walking, then turned back to me.
“I put you on the door. Go up to it alone and make sure it opens for you.”
She grinned. “Oh, good.” She walked to the door, and it slid open. “Works. You get your brownie points for today.”
We went inside, JJ stopping to turn on the night lock. She had everything but her Nano suit stripped off before I’d turned around to see where she was.
“Wow, guess you are ready.”
She smiled, unzipping the Nano suit. “Get busy.”
I shrugged. “The things I have to do.”
We spent more than an hour making love, but my mind wouldn’t let go of the data. She dozed off, and I lifted my PA to my face.
<Me> Butch. Don’t wake Emerald or JJ. Let’s start reviewing what you’ve compiled.
<Butch> Private on.
<Me> It has to be private?
<Butch> You and JJ are paired. It’s the only way not to bother her.
<Me> Is that something new?
<Butch> Drake set it up that way for the two of you. There are some special features you’ll like.
<Me> Later. Let’s have the highlights.
<Butch> As you wish. The research was originally portrayed as a test of the newest long-term survivability housing. If the Central Authority knew there was Devonia Axxiom quality Boron there, they kept it from the commission that approved the license to build the facilities there.
<Me> Why choose there for survivability testing?
<Butch> The weather is a constant problem, as we learned. That was a much bigger problem for the technology of three-hundred years ago than it is now.
<Me> I thought it was only two-hundred years old.
<Butch> It was abandoned two-hundred years ago. They had people living there for a hundred years.
<Me> How many people?
<Butch> Seventy-three thousand.
<Me> There was room for more than that.
<Butch> Most of that space was used for indoor agriculture.
<Me> Did they discover the Boron during the experiment?
<Butch> Yes, thirty years before their hundred years was up.
<Me> They did more exploration after that, I take it.
<Butch> Yes, and they altered the documentation to include Boron deposit studies. That was their undoing.
<Butch> The Senate and the HPDR refused to extend the license. There was only one problem.
<Me> What’s that?
<Butch> Word got out, and greedy people got involved. The pirates weren’t the first ones. A group of investors snuck out there and began a full-scale mining operation. They knew if they used the computer systems there, the Central Authority would figure it out, so they avoided that. Worked the mine for sixty years.
<Me> The Central Authority found out somehow?
<Butch> Somebody talked. It should’ve been a big scandal. The Central Authority clamped down on it fast. They nailed the big mover, captured all of the people there, and installed the biological weapons before they left. By the way, there’s more dangerous counter-measures in the mine than we ran into in the living quarters.
<Me> Which we would’ve walked right into, I’m sure.
<Butch> Yep, although our technology is more than a match for what they put in there.
<Me> What is it?
<Butch> Attack robots which aren’t capable of beating humans wearing these Nano suits.
<Me> Did the Central Authority get notified when the pirates arrived?
<Butch> They did. It was the exact same scenario we got hit with. The virus was released, knocking everybody out and eventually killing them. The transmission was sent to the Central Authority as well.
<Me> They didn’t come, did they?
<Butch> The used their surveillance systems to verify the pirates were dead, and left it alone afterwards.
<Me> Should we go back there?
<Butch> If we’re in the neighborhood, it might be worthwhile to stop by and get the rest of the Boron in that mover. I wouldn’t do more than that.
<Butch> Way too many people know about it. There have been attempts to gain approval to go mine there, and there have been some planning to get there without permission as well. If you have a high enough clearance, you can find out exactly what the countermeasures are.
<Me> The attack robots might be a problem if you aren’t wearing Nano suits.
<Butch> Commando teams with todays weapons would still win. They might lose a few fighters in the process.
“Honey, are you talking with Butch?” JJ asked, rolling to face me.
“On private? Emerald said she was shut out.”
“Yes. Since we’re paired, the only way I can keep our conversations from bothering you is to go private. Drake made that change when I was allowed to share with you about him.”
“Not sure I like that,” JJ said, sitting up.
“Actually, it makes sense, and we can’t hide things from each other.”
“You just had a private conversation with your AI,” she said.
“And Emerald knew about it. I’ll play back the entire conversation for you. You’ll always know if I do this. I’ll always know if you do it as well.”
She sat silently for a moment, brow furrowed, thinking it through.
<Me> Butch, take us off private, and forward the text of the entire conversation to Emerald and JJ.
<Butch> You know that’s how it was set up. JJ was sleeping.
<Emerald> Sigh. Yes, I know. JJ and I will discuss it.
I looked over at JJ, who smiled at me and shrugged.
To be continued…
Stolen Youth is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited! It’s the next book from the Franklin & Davis Files! Not for the squeamish. Filled with raw action, suspense, and the underside of humanity.
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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018