With the immediate fight over, it was time to take stock. As fighters had been recovered, mech crews raced to rearm and refuel for a further launch. TF Gold's first priority, once local security had been established, was to replenish. The task force included two FURVs, or Fleet Underway Replenishment Vessels. Two at a time, Stasny's missile destroyers pulled along side and allowed the FURVs auto-reloaded to replenish their missile magazines. A dozen replacement fighters were taken aboard the carriers. Emergency repairs were completed, and a massive search and rescue (SAR) operation undertaken. As soon as he heard news from HARBINGER II, Bellamy would call in the fleet trains for further replenishment and casualty evacuation.
He was pleased by the outcome of PRIZEFIGHT. The Kra'Vak had started with 22 ships. Only one SD and four cruisers had escaped. Seven dreadnought-sized ships and 9 cruisers had been destroyed. Add to that one of their cruisers taken as a prize, with prisoners. But TF Gold had suffered too. The Markgraf was gone, and with it, Admiral von Bulow. So was the super-dreadnought Bismarck. The battle cruisers, Lutzow and Seydeltz had also been lost, as well as one strike cruiser and three destroyers. Damaged to the remaining ships were light except the cruiser Slovenia and the SD Freidrich. So while the losses had been heavy. All his remaining ships were operational and most were unharmed. They had destroyed 36 Kra'Vak fighters but the Kra'Vak scattergun fire had been devastating to his carrier strike. Only 28 fighters were fit for operation. The rest were destroyed or severely damaged. They had turned the tide of battle but at a terrible price. It would take six hours to bring the replacements from the FURV to operational status. Fleet trains carried another 30 in cold storage. Bellamy would have to rethink his strike tactics. Hopefully SAR would recover as many pilots as possible. Experienced crews were an even more valuable commodity than the spaceframes. Still, his fighter strength would not rise above 50% until he could get reinforcements from the fleet base. The fleet was moving at best speed for Röt Hafen, which was a full light minute distant. Now to await news on HARBINGER II.
They arrived at the Gymnasium and went to the back entrance. it appeared deserted. The door leading to the basement was locked but Eric had it open in less than fifteen seconds. Soon they were down the stairs and out of sight.
"Gentz, is this the place?" Charlie asked.
"Ja. From here we are good."
Gentz passed to the front of the group and led them down a corridor to a stairwell. The stairs led up but here was also a locked door. Eric picked this and they descended to a lower level. There was a narrow corridor with many pipes, wires and conduits in the ceiling. They had to stoop to walk through it.
"This is the tunnel to the physical plant. It connects many of the major government buildings with their heat and power."
"Do you know where we are going?" Asked Miner. Gentz looked both ways and thought a moment. "This way." He led them off along the dark corridor, lit only by flashlights. The heat was oppressive. They walked for thirty minutes and passed several ladders leading up to other buildings. Eventually they came to a door. The tunnel ended a further thirty meters away and opened into a large room full of machinery.
"This is the physical plant. It was here that the tunnel down to the bomb was constructed. They chose this because it is almost the exact center of the city."
"How do we get access to the bomb?" Asked Gibbons.
"There is a room in there that is secured. Inside is a hatch, which leads to an accessway that goes down 100 meters. There is not much room in there. The control cables lead down to the bomb, which is in a small room at the bottom of the accessway. Be careful though. There are workers and guards in this building."
"And how far is the relay station from here?" Asked Miner.
"The one you were asking about is one block from here."
"OK," said Charlie. "Let's do it."
Eric picked the lock on the door and they ascended a half stairwell to a second door, which he also picked. Inside was a large room with machinery, storage shelving and heat pipes cris-crossing the ceiling. The room appeared unoccupied, but they crept along quietly nonetheless. Gentz pointed to another door. Luckily, Eric saw the camera above it and gave it a low-level blast from his EMP emitter. It was enough to give him time to pick he lock and get the team into the small room. The room was bare except for a hatch in the floor. It took Eric almost two minutes to get it open. Charlie and Frament remained in the room with the two guards and Gentz. Gibbons, Handily and Miner descended into the accessway.
They accessway was only a meter in width. Conduits ran down the length of one side. There was no ladder. They climbed down one at a time trusting in the conduit brackets to hod their way. They could rest with their feet against one wall and their back against the opposite, while holding onto the conduits. It was a long climb down, especially for Gibbons and Handley.
"Well, here she is. Over to you two." Said Eric. The two officers pulled out their small tool kits and analyzers and began inspecting the cylindrical object. There were no visible access panels. It was one smooth cylinder with a single pipe connection running into it. They scanned the weapon for a while and ran their hands around the outside.
"Hmm. There doesn't seem to be any way into he device", said Handley. He ran both hands carefully over the weapon.
"This is definitely it, though," said Gibbons, studying one of his sensors. "I'm picking up the radiation within, though they've shielded it well enough."
"That's good to know."
"I think trying to get into this will be a bust. Better off concentrating on the conduit running there. If we can disarm the signal then we can prevent it from exploding. What if it has a transmit back up?" Asked Handley.
"I can put one of the dampers down here" said Eric. I thought you only had the two you are using on the guards. That's correct, but I can arrange it so one won't need his." Eric sported an evil grin.
Handley carefully cut a section of conduit free with a palm-welder and exposed the cables inside. The studied the bundle carefully, examining it with several devices. Both men were experienced at ordnance disposal with specialization in nuclear weapons. The bundle included standard wiring, power cables, and fiber optics. It took Handley and Gibbons about ten minutes to analyze the bundle.
"Ok, here's what we're going to do", said Gibbons. "What we have here are a power lead and ground. I'm not sure what all six of these wires do since most have no current running through them. The red and green are sending a constant signal back and forth. Might be a circuit diagnostics. At least two will be reserved for sending the arm and fire signal. Now these two fiber-optic cables are interesting. Both are active and sending intermittent signals back and forth. I believe they're passing computer communications back and forth between the bomb and the control mechanism."
"There are three separate steps to the disarming process. First, we'll need to plug an UPS powered resistor into the power cable. What that will do is monitor the power throughput to the bomb. Most bombs have an anti-tampering device that will detonate when power is cut. This will provide a constant power source to the weapon after we make the cut in the main line. As soon as it sees main line amperage drop below the minimum, it kicks the UPS in with a constant supply at the required level to keep any tampering device from going off."
"Second, Handley is setting up a switch relay that will feed the required amperage to the red and green line. They are the only two active, and I think they are some sort of diagnostic signals being passed between the bomb and its control. Finally there's the two fiber optic lines. I've got a signal replicator that Handley is programming to emulate the discussion back and forth between the two lines. We'll jack that into the line to keep that communications going."
"Once that is done, we'll need you to do something for us. It is reasonable to assume that there is a back up wireless system to command detonate the device should the landline be interrupted. The conduit contains heavy shielding to the cable bundle going into the bomb. Can you set a field strong enough to block out and transmission but still a weak enough to allow the shielded signals to pass through to the bomb?"
"Do you have the numbers on what you need?"
"Right here on this datapad."
"Let me see." Miner studied the information for a second. "Yeah, I can dial it down. It'll be a swag though. No guarantees."
"Good enough. We'll need that bug shortly."
Gibbons continued. He was clearly in his element now. "Very well. Once we've made all these preparations, then you'll need to set your charges. Set it up near the top of the tunnel so as not to damage any components of the bomb or the bypasses we're putting in place."
"Very well, let's get to work." Eric climbed up the access tube to the top compartment. Frament, Lawrence, Gentz and the two guards were waiting.
"How's it going down there?" Asked Lawrence.
"Looks like they got a handle on it. They're gonna need that thing that we talked about." Miner glanced at the guards. Charlie picked himself up. "Are you going to need help?"
"Yes. At least two of you."
"OK. I'll go down and...you come with us." Charlie was pointing at one of the guards. "We need a hand lifting something down there. You follow him down the tube and I'll be right behind you."
The guard stood and went down the hole following Miner. He suspected
nothing. It took several minutes to get to the room at the bottom. Handley
and Gibbons had their tools laid out and were hunched over the cable bundle.
The guard moved to a corner and waited for further instruction. Eric pointed at one end of the bomb. He bent down at the other end. "Give me a hand lifting this." Gibbons and Handley stopped and watched what was happening at the bomb. Their looks of puzzlement turned to revulsion as Charlie slipped behind the bent-over guard and garroted him. It seemed like forever before he sopped his silent struggle.
"Good Lord, IÉI can't believe what I've just seen!" Said Handley. Neither officer had ever seen a man killed in cold blood before. Miner was extracting the bug from the side of his helmet. "You said you needed this bug, what did you think I was going to do. You know I only have two."
"Couldn't you have knocked him out or something?"
"We have no idea how this implant functions." Said Charlie. " We can't afford the risk that he could tip off the Kra'Vak as soon as we removed the bug. You wanted one, well here it is. Now get back to work, I've got to get back up top." He climbed back up the tube. Miner took less than a minute to adjust the device. "Ok this should do it for you. To activate it, just depress this detent here. It'll affix on any surface. Got it?" Gibbons studied the device. "Clear."
"OK I'm going to go plant the charges then we're moving out to the power plant. I'll see you two at the rendezvous. Good luck."
"You too, Sergeant."
Before leaving Eric turned to the dead guard and stripped off his clothing and equipment.
"What are you doing?" Asked Handley.
"When you guys come up, I want you to bring his clothes and gear with you. We're going to need it."
Miner climbed into the access tube and ascended the conduit until he was halfway up, about fifty meters. There he affixed one of his detonators and set the timer. He climbed to the top. Charlie and Frament were waiting for him with Gentz and the second Guard.
"I was getting worried with you", said Charlie. "We're falling behind the power curve. We only have 98 minutes left."
"I know, I'm getting ready to go now. I'll leave the emitter with you. You have the spare charges and know what to do with them, right?"
"I'm all over it," said Charlie.
"Right. So we'll meet you guys back in heating tunnel under the Gym. One hour."
"Don't be late." Charlie grinned. Both knew they were in extreme danger as long as they remained in the enclave.
"Where is Gunther?" Asked the Guard.
"Where is Gunther?"
"Don't worry about him." Answered Miner. "He's down stairs busting his ass helping our other guys. You'll meet up with him later. I promise."
"You guys better get going."
"Listen you." Miner was waving his pistol menacingly at the guard. "We're leaving here and going to the power relay facility. Anything funny happens and you are the first one to die. You understand?"
The guard had his helmet off. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, his mouth hung open limply. Whatever they'd done to put the implant in his head had taken a lot out of him. Now with the connection blocked by Eric's bug, he seemed lost, and out of fight. He nodded his head.
"All right. On your feet. Put on your helmet and lead us out. Remember, I'm right behind you."
Eric, Colin, Gentz and the guard stood. Charlie zapped the camera, and they slipped out quietly. Colin left the room with a "good luck." and a smile.
He sat back and relaxed his eyes for a moment, letting his ears reach out to the other side of the door. He had faith that Miner would be able to disable the power relay. That was really a diversion. The power relay and the physical plant explosions would be timed together. That should add some additional confusion as to what had actually happened. If the two engineers did their work right, then the bomb would not detonate, despite the severed link. The explosions and fire in both buildings were coordinated to confuse any troubleshooting engineers. Hopefully the fire at he relay station would be seen as related to troubles at the physical plant. If so, that would buy them time. Of course everything depended on the orbital bombardment. If that was not timed to coincide with the explosions, then the Kra'Vak would know the origin of their troubles was within the enclave. His team would never get away. Their time on target had been assigned to them in the last message traffic, so he assumed that Fleet would be in position to uphold their end of the plan. If not, they were dead.
After thirty minutes, Handley and Gibbons emerged from the access tunnel. Both were out of breath from the climb.
"All set?" asked Charlie.
"Everything is ready."
"Good." Charlie pointed at the dead guard's clothing. "Lieutenant put that stuff on."
"Me? Put on a dead man's clothing?"
"Yeah you. You're about the same size as he was. You think the three of us walking around without an escort won't draw attention? Now hurry, we gotta get out of here while we still can."
Handley, resigning himself to his fate, stripped off his own rags and tossed them down the access tunnel. He pulled on the guard's clothing, wrinkling his nose at the smell. "My God. Don't these buggers wash?"
"Ok here's the deal. I zap the camera and out we go. We head back to the hatch, which leads to the heating tunnel. Once you to are in there, I'm going to go plant these two charges. When I'm done, we'll make are way back to the gym and wait in the tunnel under there for Sergeant Miner and the rest. Then we're going to move to the reclamation center where there's supposedly a place to hide."
"And then we wait to see if you guys actually know what you're doing."
The walk to the power relay station was nerve wracking. The entire enclave was in an agitated state. Many vehicles sped along the streets and Miner saw more Kra'Vak moving about then he'd ever seen before. Several times he caught extremely bright flare ups in the night sky which he new was not the aurora. He guessed that the fleet attack was underway. However, in the chaos no one paid much attention to their small group, as there were so many workers, guards and Kra'Vak running around already.
The power relay station was a single-story building, fifty meters across, which handled all power routing for this section of the city. Only one Kra'Vak was outside building and he was at the far corner talking with several compatriots in a GEV. Two human guards were at the front entrance, booth armed with shotguns. Eric was sure to nudge their own escort to remind him he was watching for trouble. He said something to the two guards, which Eric could not understand, and they quickly waved the party through.
They entered the building, which had a single corridor with several doors. Gentz motioned them to go to the far end where the control room access was. Eric passed a hand held sensor over the door to see if it was locked. It wasn't. He motioned for the others to stay where they were and watch the front door. He opened the door and entered the control room. The room was full of control panels. One guard sat at a central console sat, though he was probably more of a technical monitor. A second leaned against the wall. As Eric walked up to the first he could feel the eyes of the second boring into the back of his neck. In the far corner stood a single prisoner, diligently monitoring some readouts. Eric stepped up to the central console and set his tool-satchel on the table. The guard at the console looked up with a scowl. Eric opened his satchel, looked down at the man and smiled.
He withdrew his silencer and shot the man twice in the face. He spun and shot the second guard. The man slumped against the wall with a groan and slid to a sitting position, dead. The lone prisoner spun in his seat and stared in horror at the gun pointing at him. He was a thin middle-aged black man with white hair.
"Step away from the console and put your hands up. I'm assuming that the Kra'Vak are employing you against your free will, yes?" The attempted to stammer an answer. "YÉYes."
"Wait one." Eric back-stepped to the door, and opened it. He called in the others. "Colin, watch our friend. Gentz you keep an eye on...I'm sorry what did you say your name was?"
"Daun. Josef Daun."
"When is the next shift change in here, Mister Daun?"
"Less than an hour. At six."
"Shit. Where's the main transformer."
"Are you going to sabotage this facility?"
"Many people will die."
"Don't worry Josef, your salvation is at hand. Now if you don't mind, we are in a bit of a hurry. Where is the transformer?"
"I'll show you on the schematic." He stepped over to one of the consoles and nervously called up a screen, which showed the station schematic. "This is the step-down transformer here. It is directly in the middle of the yard outside. "
"Is there an alternate in the event it goes down?"
"Yes, this is it here?"
"Can I get to this area from inside?"
"Yes. First door on the right in the hallway leads to the back. You can enter the fenced in area from there."
"Are there any others in here?"
"No, it's an automated facility."
"Are you familiar with the power grid in this part of the city?
"Yes I worked here before the invaders came."
"Good. Tell me. If the station goes down, will it cut power to this area, in particular the physical plant and everything on that block?"
"Yes and no. It will cut power but the physical plant has it's own backup power."
"What about those defense towers in the four corners of this enclave?"
"Each has it's own fusion plant. They will not be effected by anything you do here."
"Dammit. OK, fair enough." Miner was laying out his tools and charges on the central console. "Colin. Watch this crowd and the front door. I'll go plant the charges."
"Go ahead, man. I got 'em."
Miner slipped out of the control room and went through the door Daun had pointed out. It led down a flight of stairs to a second door. He eased it open. Outside was a fenced in courtyard with a number of gray boxes that controlled the power supply in this section of town. Eric found the step-down transformer and knelt beside it. He affixed a thermal charge to it. It would burn at 4000 degrees, melting anything it came into contact with. He set the timer for 40 minutes, then repeated the process at the alternate step-down. In the early dawn sky he could see occasional flashes from nuclear explosions up in near space. A large space battle in progress somewhere up there.
Back in the control room, they gathered up their materials. Daun was told to follow them. Now they had to get by the outside guards. Would they become suspicious of the extra man in their party?
"OK you listen." Said Miner to the guard. "If those guys outside ask why Daun is with us, just tell him we have another maintenance call down the block. He's been ordered to come along and check a power junction. Understand?"
They stepped outside and were immediately stopped by the two guards. "Wait a minute. Where are you taking him? He's not supposed to leave until his relief showed."
"Down the block to fix a power relay."
Their guard stammered. "IÉI don't know, he does."
Both leveled their shotguns at the group. "No one is leaving here until we talk to Mago, inside. Back in. All of you." Damn, thought Miner. They'd have to take them inside. But there was a Kra'Vak soldier roaming the perimeter also. He'd come in as soon as he noticed the two we missing from the front. Still, they stood a better chance of keeping things quiet inside. With a quick eyeball and nod to Frament, they turned and marched back inside. Frament was in the lead, followed by Gentz, Daun, Miner, and the three guards. This is gonna be fun. Miner slowly rotated his satchel until it was in front of him. He reached in and pulled out his pistol. He slipped the muzzle under his arm and pointed it at the first guard behind him and pulled the trigger twice. The first guard gagged and fell backwards, dropping his shotgun. Colin spun around, but Daun and Gentz, scrambling to get out of the line of fire, blocked his shot.
Miner shouldered the unarmed guard out of the way and grabbed the muzzle of the second shotgun. He twisted it away from his face as it went off. Though he didn't feel it at the time pellets ricocheted around the room and several cut into the side of his head. He jammed the silencer into the second guards face, cracking against his teeth, and pulled the trigger three times. The opposite wall was sprayed with blood and gristle.
"Eric!" called Frament. He turned his head and was struck over the right eye with a heavy blow. Their prisoner, who had grabbed the first guard's shotgun, had delivered it. Eric stumbled backwards and fell over. His head swam in confusion and he struggled to remain conscious. The prisoner loomed over him with the shotgun. Two unsilenced shots exploded in the narrow hall and the man dropped the shotgun, fell to his knees, and keeled over backwards, dead.
Miner reached up and felt the throbbing knot on his forehead. He drew back his fingers, which were covered with blood. The front door burst open and the hulking frame of a Kra'Vak filled the threshold. Miner raised his pistol and fired in the creature's torso.
"Aim for the head!" Shouted Colin, firing himself.
The Kra'Vak let out a high-pitched bark and fired his railgun into the packed hall. Eric concentrated through the pain and fired at its head. The firing stopped and the creature fell forwards into a crumpled heap. There was shouting in the hallway. "Oh my God!" Eric raised unsteadily to his feet and peeked through the door. No one coming. He looked back to the gory scene in the hallway. The three dead guards lay atop each other in one large pool of blood. Gentz and Frament were also down and Daun grasped his left and with his right. It ended in a bloody pulp. He was screaming in pain.
The sight of his friend sickened Miner. A round from the Kra'Vak's railgun had torn off his left shoulder. His arm dangled beside him attached by a few threads of flesh. "Colin!" Frament's eyes were open and glazed over with shock. "NO!" An obscene amount of blood had already spilled from the open chest cavity where his shoulder had been. Pink, frothy blood was bubbling from his mouth and nose. Eric grabbed his hand which Colin squeezed feebly. "Jesus!" Before he could do anything, a final rattle of air escaped from Frament's lips and his relaxed. Eric checked his pulse. Dead. With tears in his eyes, he laid his friend out flat on the floor and closed his eyes. See ya, buddy. Daun was still screaming about his hand. Miner reached under Colin's shirt and removed his small med-pack. There would be time to mourn his friend later. If there was a later.
"Come on. We gotta get the fuck out of here."
"I can't move, my hand!"
Miner checked Gentz. He lay dead with a number of punctures in his chest and abdomen. Eric cut a piece of the dead man's shirt with his knife and grabbed Daun's hand. He wrapped the shirt tightly around the wound and tied it off. Daun howled in agony. Miner opened Colin's med-pack, located the morphine injector, and gave him a shot. While he waited for it to take effect, he rapidly set out two of his last three charges into the hall and set them for thee minutes. He ran to the door and slowly dragged the heavy Kra'Vak out of the way so it could be shut. He was going to have to cover up this mess before the next shift stumbled across it. Daun was now moaning instead of screaming. "Come on. This place is going to blow in a few minutes. We have to run across the street and get into that alley."
"I can't. I can't."
Miner fetched him by the collar and jerked him to his feet. "Shut the fuck up! We're going." Eric stooped down and activated both charges, then pushed/pulled Daun out the door and ran across the street with him in tow. Through some miracle there was no one in the vicinity at the moment. The man stumbled and fell once, but Miner jerked him up and they made it into the alley. Eric looked around, getting his bearings. They had walked down the main road to get here. He pictured the enclave lay out in his head. This alleyway was perpendicular to the main road. They would have to get back on the right course and get to the Gym. Behind him, a huge explosion tore open the front of the relay station. Debris landed in the alley behind them. They still had twenty minutes before his incendiary charges were set to blow.
They ran off down the narrow alley as several vehicles pulled up to the building behind them. Eric heard others shouting and running towards the relay station. He hoped they wouldn't find his charges before they went off. Daun's knees collapsed and he crumpled to the ground. "God damnit!" He knelt down, grabbed the man's arm, hoisted him over his shoulder and ran on. They had to get under cover fast. Return to Los' Science Fiction Combat Page Continue on to HARBINGER II
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