Mechwarrior PBeM Report 4a: Hand that Feeds (con’t)

This post continues the dramatized actual play report from the Mechwarrior ‘A Time of War’ RPG campaign ‘Hair of the Dog’ where PBeM Report 3 left off in its description of events as experienced by Lucas ‘Cool Hand’ Rom. For details of the campaign and previous entries detailing the events therein, please start here.

Hair of the Dog

Scene III: Hand that Feeds (con’t)

The Dean leaves the three of you at the entrance and takes the small door which will lead him to the small set of stairs to the stage. From the entrance you can see that the students have already stopped talking amongst themselves and are awaiting the arrival of Dean Synnor ‘Saint’ Liscombe with a great deal of anticipation. Ranging in age from 20-22, the students represent the upper echelons of wealth or ability on Oliver… and rarely, they represent both. Today, they are sitting with disciplined pride, many in their full dress uniforms, many wishing they had thought to don theirs. Expressions range from worried to determined and back again.

As each of you enters the room, the students take note, some tracking Blowtorch, and the very obvious signs of the work she has been doing smeared all over her face, hair, and hands. Most follow Mad Dog… not from fondness, but more than a few from a sort of awed loyalty and grudging respect. Some… the cleverer ones, and the ones who have benefitted most from the assignments in your classes, track you with their eyes as you make your way to the back of the room.

The Dean moves from the shadows at the edge of the stage, taking the podium and the attention of all with practiced ease. His first line says it all.

“Childhood is over. War is here to make men of you, or break you in the attempt.”

He pauses, to let his words sink in.

“As of now, all of you are graduates of Hanachi Military Academy. Your final grades have been logged, and your credentials will be updated at the proper time.”

He pauses again.

“The leaders among you will be asking yourselves, ‘When is the proper time?’ and answering yourself thusly, ‘When the cowardly invader is thrown off our world, and sent with his tail curled between his legs to his masters to coil and whine, licking the fear-spawned piss from his greedy paws!’

We are warriors, and war is calling us to defend our homeworld, our State, and our House. Are there any among you who will not heed the call?”

He scans the faces of the students. He scans the faces of the professors. He nods.

“Already we have found one thief in our midst, stealing secrets, and striking in cowardice, with the poison of an assassin. The targets survived, and turned the tables on the assassin. So shall we, whose home has been invaded by thieves in the night, turn the tables on our oppressors, and foil their plans to plunder and pillage the riches of this world to gild their own.”

He stands straighter.

“We will be operating as three divisions: Operations, Supply, and Intelligence. Each branch is of equal importance; each is necessary if we are to achieve our goal. Your assignments are as follows…”

As he begins calling students to each division, those at the front of the room near the stage for Intelligence, those to the side near Blowtorch for Supply, and those at the back near you and Mad Dog for Operations, you notice that not all the students are present… the students of questionable moral fiber, weak discipline, or outright incompetence, are simply not there.

As your eyes are scanning the assembled students, Mad Dog, who is standing about 10m to your right, toward the side of the room with the faculty lounge and the infamous coffee station, suddenly starts to run to his right, shouting over his shoulder at you, “Smoke!”

You cannot clearly see what has drawn his attention but there is a hint of smoke coming from under the coffee station table.

The windows do not open. There is a fire exit in each corner; one is quite close to the coffee station. There is a small faculty lounge area next to the coffee station with a heavy door, but no exit. People are seated in the middle of the Hall, in front of the stage. The coffee station is about 5 metres from the seats. If it is a bomb, the person who planted it either wants it to only scare, or it is big enough to fill the room with death.

Mad Dog is rushing toward the table.

Blowtorch is near the midpoint of the room on the same side as the entrance, the coffee station, and the faculty lounge. It is unlikely she would be able to see the smoke at her distance, and has students beginning to form a crescent shaped mass around her.

The students who are being sent to form up around you are coming down both sides of the seats, some from the far wall, and some from the same side as the coffee station.

There are exits in each corner: stage, left, // main entrance (stage, right), // rear right, coffee station // rear left

Moving after Mad Dog to be able to more effectively direct students away from the coffee station and out the other exits, you shout “Everyone clear out NOW. Fire exits – Double Time! Orderly fashion!”

Out of the corner of your eye, as the students react with confusion, many stopping in their tracks and looking around them as the Dean echoes your cry through the PA, you yell at your lance mate, “Mad Dog, leave IT!”

The Dean keeps directing the students, “Out now – left exits! Go, Go, Go!”

Momentarily worried that you might be slipping, losing your edge, you silently berate yourself for not checking the room for something like this. Is it really a bomb? A diversion? It could be far too many things, with far too many results to even guess just yet.

Mad Dog will or will not reach it in time.  You have no demolition skills, and cannot help him. Deciding that clearing everyone out is the best option for the moment, you settle on doing what you do best: Direct and Observe.

Coolly and calmly continuing to direct students outside, you shout, “Blow Torch – Organize the students outside,” but you never stop scanning the hall for any other unusual activity in case this is a diversion.

Taking a deep breath and drawing as eyes to her by waving of her hand over her head, Blowtorch bellows with incredible force, “Supply Crew! On Me!” and begins to lead her new recruits toward the main exit, and hopefully safety.

The crescent of students and staff around her forms up and follows direction, passing her at the door as they head out into the lobby. She passes door duty off to Pickle, and steps back inside the gym to survey the departures.

At the same time, Mad Dog, about a meter from the table, drops to the ground with his hand over his mouth and nose to look up under the edge of the table cloth without touching anything. As he got down to look, he shouted back at you, “Understood!”

People are exiting with a good pace and the gym should be evacuated in about 2 or 3 minutes’ time.

Everyone is making their way out of the building smoothly, there are some Lookie-Lous, but no one is broadcasting ill intent or sneaking off under cover of the confusion. Unless you hold people back, your crew is in line waiting to file out the rear, left door. Through it, you can see the effect of the cold on those evacuating, but no sign of enemy attacks. Still not convinced it is a bomb, though, you turn your thoughts to Goetz – Where did Mad Dog isolate her? There was no snow or wetness on his boots… she must still be in the building somewhere.

As you complete your visual scan of the room, Mad Dog gets up off the floor and begins to hustle toward Blowtorch, causing you to have to run to catch up to enquire about Goetz.

It looks like all the students and staff will be able to get out of the building without trampling one another, so perhaps it is time to see to your own safety. Mad Dog seems to be moving with some real speed.

As the three of you merge with the back of the line exiting into the main lobby, you all hear a sharp crack and a sound like the quick ignition of flammable liquid or powder.

From under the table comes a bilious greenish-yellow cloud which seems capable of expanding to fill the entire Hall. Somewhat surprised that the device was real, you move on out into the lobby with the others and close the door.

Turning to face Winters and Kadlec you verify, “Everyone is out?  Nice work, but I suspect this may have been a diversion.  Two possible targets would be the ‘mech bay and Goetz. Mad Dog, Where is she being held?”

Mad Dog concisely relays the location of the small disused office in the basement in which he tells you that Westerlie Plantagenet and three security guards have Goetz under lock and key. As you nod and prepare to move to check on her, he stops you and states, “With Blowtorch, I want to go to the mech bay, ASAP…”

Seeing the need for haste you nod and reply, “Go out the back way. I’ll meet you back at the ‘mech bay in 10.  Assume something is wrong if I’m late.”

Mad Dog and Blowtorch salute and head out to the mech bay through the back, as requested.

You nod after them both and head down to the basement to check on the situation. Members of the Security Team, wearing protective bomb disposal suits pass you from deeper in the building as you reach the top of the basement stairs, and head over to the entrance to the Main Hall.  After a quick look inside, they begin sealing the door. Other members of their squad head outside through the main doors.

You have not had the time or freedom to gain access to your gear, or requisition a school-appropriate side arm, but the ‘Mech Bay is one of the few places in which a weapons locker is situated.  Blowtorch will be able to release the key and arm you should you deem it necessary.

When you reach the basement, you find Westerlie pacing back and forth in front of a sealed door. One of her guards is standing at attention by the door. She looks up with her hand on her side arm as you reach the bottom of the stairs.

“All clear, Sir!” she says and taps her ear piece. “The Dean had his speech looped through to all of us… Security Teams report that there are very few casualties from the gas.”

“Excellent.  I suspected the scene above may have been a diversion.  Any trouble down here?”  you ask.

“She is a wily one, Sir – but she hasn’t given us any trouble. Lt. Winters was very effective in removing her immediate desire to fight. We have applied first aid, placed her in restraints, and are keeping her bound and hooded,” she responds crisply.

She steps away from the guard and lowers her voice sufficiently that the details of what she says are passed only to you. “I searched her body and effects. I found traces of powder consistent with the poison from the coffee cups in her bag, but also found traces of another compound mixed in with it. I will have it analyzed when the current situation is in hand.”

Moving so that her body shields sight of her hand from the guard, she slips you a small plastic case. “In her underclothes, I found this code-wheel. It was sealed and not adjusted for any date, so I am hoping that she has not been making regular communications with her controllers. As she was not carrying anything else, it is my belief that it was thoughts of protecting this which prompted her attempt on Lt. Winters’ life.”

She steps back. “That is all, Sir.”

With such good help, you might have a chance afterall…

You head out for the stable, and as you arrive, you meet MadDog at the bay door, clearly on his way back to the school. He has a look of concern on his face.

Inside the stable, Velika is cursing a blue streak~

Grinning with satisfaction, you usher him back inside the door and relate, “Goetz is still secure.  We have more evidence of communications and possibly bomb-making as well.  What’s wrong in the ‘Mech bay?”

He looks at you as if wondering how you got here so fast, but answers without missing a beat, “We got here just a moment ago, but everything appears to be in order,” As he finishes, he glances back at the battlemechs. “What orders do our, er, troops currently have, Captain? Anything you want me to relay or organize?”

Caught a little by surprise by his use of your new rank, you light-heartedly reply, “Sometimes a bomb is just a bomb then. Let’s get the troops organized for the day so we can explore our possibilities below.  I think we should choose a few cadet leaders among the students, have the entire school under live ammo/wartime/sidearm protocols, Vel has keys to the rifles in the ‘mech bay; have everyone with the slightest training in ‘mech tech to sign up for shifts in the ‘mech bay – us included – even if it’s only to hold a wrench, and assign a guard/watch schedule with regular rounds. Day one will be organizing followed by one night of graduation celebration and beer.  There won’t be many more for a while….   Anything I’m forgetting?  I’m counting on you to keep me honest when (not if) I forget things…  After that the three of us arm, equip and hit the old stash.”

Mad Dog nods, looks at you a moment, then replies, “I’d best go and carry that out immediately,” I say to my friend, saluting as I do so. He turns away, but then pauses a moment to ask, “CH, any clues about who set the bomb…?”

Discomfited by the salute, you don’t let yourself shift into the dry tone you used to use for reporting intel. “Westerlie found a second powder on Goetz that could shed some light on the subject.  The cleanup crew may find more evidence.  Depending on the timer, we may have a second viper in our midst.  She also found a code wheel on Goetz -undated – so we may have gotten off lightly with no messages sent out.  They still likely know about the school though, as she was sent here in the first place.

Oh, and a favor?  Let’s save the salutes for public occasions, ok?  In private, I need my friends to question my orders.” To take the sting out, you smile and you think it came out right.   “Have you armed yet? If we are sending the message of combat readiness to the troops, best to lead by example.  Let’s chat with ‘Torch first, get equipped, and then make our announcements.”

Stepping closer, Blowtorch comments, “If there is another mole in the school, then it is a bad idea to give them a gun. Only us three with weapons until we are sure.”

Perhaps she is right to be cautious….? You turn to her and think out loud, “Hmm, the upside of that is on base security, the downside is showing lack of trust in our troops and increased ready-time in the event of an attack…..I’m leaning toward arming here.  Most, whether student or troops, will have their own firearm anyway.  We will play the odds and hope that 100+ competent and loyal armed troops are a match for a few, if any, armed moles.  Maybe we should put everyone through weapon safety re-certification before issuing live ammo?  Good practice and it will give us a delay to get things settled without insulting our troops too badly”

Winters nods, glancing at the door, “I share Blowtorch’s concern: patrols and squads should be large groups with orders to stay close—too many people to shoot in the back that way. We should make confirming and finding or denying the presence of a second agent top priority ASAP. I got a look at the bomb. It was one part real timer and explosive device combined with makeshift materials, namely a plastic container that looked like it could have been grabbed from any kitchen or janitor’s closet. Someone knew what they were doing but either obviously not well enough or they seriously fucked up. A crack had developed in the plastic container, leaking as the contraption’s chemicals ‘cooked’. That’s what gave us our warning.” Looking back at you he presses on, “I’ll ask the Dean for a recommendation for someone to head the investigation. I’ll create squads; assign temporary leaders, brief the Dean and all that. That should be done right away if you haven’t done it already, CH. “Oh, and CH,” he says with a grin, “I know you’re telling me to relax with regards to protocol, but allow me to pass along the same advice. I didn’t Captain or Sir you and it was hardly a ‘parade’ or ‘snap to’ salute. You didn’t delegate this task which would normally belong to you—I just took it upon myself. I could have substituted it with a ‘by your leave’ or ‘if that’s your order’ or a much longer polite disclaimer but… Anyhow, if it’s made you feel weird the next first round is on me, alright? One of us should go if you haven’t done this already. I think leaving some high level planning to you at this moment is the best use of our time—I can handle shouting at that lot back there.”

Moving over to the weapons locker and looking back at Blowtorch, whose responsibility this locker is, you nod and answer, “Heh.  Fair enough.  Protocol doesn’t bother me as much as risking losing your blunt advice.  Westerlie is currently with Goetz, but she may be the best investigator.  Set up the squads then give them a chance to organize and get to know the groups.  We’ve got work to do here.  And I think it may be time for you and BT to get to know your commander a little better while we explore the tunnels”

Nodding to her, you have her open it. You take out a rifle, check and safety it, and then pass out side arms and rifles to the other two.

“I’m going to grab some personal equipment as well, and meet you back here in 15”

They salute, and move off to carry out the first stage of the plan. Mad Dog was right… even though the Dean has formally severed ties with any military insurrection you might lead; he deserved a heads up after the evacuation. Clearing such thoughts away, you head off to your rooms to obtain the gear you think you will need….

Mountain camouflage combats, Video camera, backpack, knife(left hip), stun stick(inside jacket), holdout laser (right hip), power packs (1 pocket, 3 backpack),  and a flashlight. On your way back to the ‘mech bay, you keep your eyes peeled for an officer’s sword. You never know…

Scene III Resumes, Mech Target Range, Control Bunker 7pm

Security and Maintenance have dealt with the bomb in the gym, and cleaners are taking care of removing any lingering traces of toxin. Staff and students have been checked out and returned to quarters, or assigned to duty stations. Sadly, two students are in hospital, and 2 more are deceased, along with 1 member of Security from inhalation of fumes associated with the device.

While investigation of the device was carried out by the Faculty and top students of the science department, the Dean had Communications surreptitiously restored in order to trap any other persons with confused loyalties, then later reinstated openly, with the same intent. No suspicious communications were detected. Monitoring continues.

In questioning conducted by Westerlie Plantagenet under the guidance of Lucas Rom, Goetz revealed nothing indicating an active connection to the Lyran forces on planet, or off. Post-interview analysis of the interrogation recording suggested that she may have been an agent at one time, and was upset about no longer being one. Hypotheses were levied, wholly unsupported, that she may have seen the arrival of Lyran forces as an opportunity to ingratiate herself with the commandant, and restore her status.

Analysis of the device revealed ample physical evidence that it was built and placed by Goetz. In addition, her locker in the faculty lounge next to the coffee station contained a gas mask and hazard suit.

A search of her quarters revealed the makings of the device as well as rough notes laying out its current form – a repurposing from an initial design whose purpose is unclear.

In addition to this damning find, mementos of several illicit and ongoing liaisons with students with highly-placed parents, and files on each of their families were uncovered. More interesting, were files pertaining to one Melvin ‘Mad Dog’ Winters, Lieutenant, Marik Militia. The files were standard military documents, but the folder of print-outs she had made of key parts of the material included a blood-spattered napkin from a bar, a calendar with a handful of seemingly random dates marked in red, and the recipes for some chemical compounds.

Scanning the files, and follow-up interviews with Mad Dog revealed the dates on the calendar coincide with run-ins and specific incidents with a Count Sturgeon, Major, Marik Militia, but neither the file nor Goetz will confirm that the count had anything to do with this file and calendar being in her possession. As the count is not a resident of Oliver, and as the Lyran occupiers have frozen all bank assets to ensure compliance with the annexation, this line of investigation stalls at this point. Sturgeon is known to hold grudges, and Mad Dog would not be here if he were not being kept out of someone’s way. Speculation aligns to include the possibility that Goetz, perhaps a former operative, is now working as a professional….problem remover.

The most pressing matter, once all the staff and students have been reassigned, is to supply Blowtorch with the materiel she needs to restore the mechs to wartime condition.  It is clear that more full-technicians will be needed if the stable grows much larger, but at present, the classes from the Academy will be enough to rearm and rearmour the mechs presently running. Due to their limited hands-on experience, however, they will need a lot of supervision and review.

While the students are prepping mechs for weapon installation, and preparing to inspect myomer condition and fluid levels, it seems best for the three of you to delegate overseeing completion of these tasks on schedule to senior students, freeing you to retrieve the Dean’s much-needed  cache of ammunition, and survey the underground ruins of the Scorpion assembly line.

Using instructions obtained from the Dean, now to be officially referred to as Saint in all non-Academic matters, you have gained access to the secured and empty ammo storage facility in the Control Bunker at the head of the target range. A little probing with flashlights and eyes newly awakened to the possibility, reveals that much of the floor is actually a disguised cargo lift, enabling ammo to be lowered and stored elsewhere, underground.

Scanning the room with your flash-lights turns up a variety of fuse boxes and banks of industrial light switches along the rear wall. Dangling from the ceiling at various points are chain winches and pulleys for assisting with heavy lifting.

There does not seem to be a way down to the lower levels Saint mentioned, other than the elevator whose outline you can see in the floor. There does not seem to be any method to operate the elevator.

“Might as well be systematic,” you mutter under your breath as you move to the rear and start turning on all of the lights and electronics, and then go to each of the fuse boxes and switch them off or on one by one.  If there are any switches which seem to have no effect they should be checked to see if they are the switch for the floor… Vel may be able to follow the wiring back. It does not take you long before you find a hidden switch, disguised as a piece of junk tossed in the bottom of an otherwise empty control box. With a ring of overhead lights on, the section of floor begins to lower itself quietly down roughly three meters, at the same time, a small section of the floor slips down and to the side, revealing a metal staircase along one wall of the elevator shaft. It appears as though a person can descend via the staircase, or the elevator. On the rear wall of the elevator shaft is a control panel with 4 options on it – obviously corresponding to the level to which one wishes it to go.

Lights are visibly coming on down below, slowly increasing in brightness as though on a timed dimmer circuit. The smell of dry, recycled, quality-controlled air – with a hint of oil and petroleum jelly wafts up as the elevator ceases its movement 1 level down.

As the light level improves, a dark blueprint-style map, etched in black and grey becomes more visible next to the control panel in the elevator shaft. It seems to indicate that the floors below are all the same size, roughly square, and that the bottom two are open, while the top one is divided into smaller rooms, also square, with a hall all the way around the outside, and dividing the floor into four sections.

The elevator is roughly 10 meters by 10 meters square. Judging by its size on the diagram for each floor, they must be at least 4 times larger.

Old habits die hard, they say. Planning to explore the rooms one by one, your eyes are already scanning for anything out of the ordinary… cameras, sensors, or terminals which might be used to gain access to whatever security might be operating in this place.

Blowtorch looks down over the lip of the elevator and muses out loud, “I wonder what’s below…” while shining the flashlight around.

Mad Dog moves to the edge, “Let’s find out.”

“Maybe we should take the stairs before activating the power here. Make sure the place is safe… wouldn’t want the three of us to get stuck on a broken lift, right?” the mechanic offers.

Mad Dog, usually the hot-headed impulsive one, steps back from the edge and quips, “Sounds reasonable… “ falling in line to move along with the you.

You head over to the stairway, “Sounds good; BT, let’s save the lift till you have your tools and a few of your techs here.  Some things I’d like us to look out for.  Parts and mechs, of course, but BT, especially anything that you *don’t* recognize.  I’d also like to watch out for tunnels that may connect to mines.  If they don’t exist, we should build them.”

With a gesture you have them fall into a standard marching order with you up front with the torch, MD guarding the rear and your technical wizard in the middle.

Once you start down the stairs and out of earshot, you take a deep breath and start the next phase of your plan. “So, can I tell the two of you a story?  Off any record, of course!  A little bit of my past dealings with the Lyrans that could become quite relevant in the months ahead…” You pause as you reach the blueprint on the wall and give it a quick scan. “Ah, here it is.  So: 3 subfloors to search, but I suggest we stay together anyway.  Let’s continue on the stairs and avoid the platform elevator till we get a chance to check the mechanics.  The first floor looks like offices, so we’ll start here.”

As you near it, you think out loud, “Hmm, the first floor is what?  3 meters tall?  Hopefully the lower ones are tall enough for a mech if this is the entry to the old plant.  Vel, do you think this elevator could handle a mech’s weight if it had to?”

Her answer, if any, is lost in the clatter of combat boots on steel steps.

Stepping out on to the landing reveals that the first basement level is being used for storage of munitions. Each section is clearly marked and the display panels for the environmental control units for each storage space are not far from the landing. All monitors report that status for each bin is within specified parameters. The tally of ammunition detailed on the monitors agrees with the list given to you by Saint.

The floor looks dust-free, and the lights increased as you descended to the level.

“So, I promised you a story.  I won’t bore you with too many details, but suffice it to say that I took a bit of an eclectic path to my life as a mechwarrior.  I’ll try to be a little less cryptic than usual, but old habits die hard.”

Looking around, you continue, not really making eye contact, “Military academy wasn’t open to me for reasons of Andurian politics which I’m sure Mel is familiar with.  I grew up thinking I would graduate military academy as a ‘mech jock, but my parents got involved on the wrong side of one of Anduria’s many rebellions, and I ended up an orphan.  After a bit of a twisted path through childhood I realized I could make some military career as an enlisted man.  Did my basic training before catching the eye of a few people in the FWL secret service.  Finished my training and was sent on various ops into Lyran space.  The details of the mission aren’t important, but a number of things came from this.  One:  I escaped with my life, the knowledge that I had a knack for ‘mech warfare, a very dangerous enemy and a Lyran Shadowhawk. That enemy is currently on planet and riding my old antique Hammerhands.  The Shadowhawk I ‘liberated’ during my escape is, of course, TLC, and has a few unique features that could make it recognizable by some in the Lyran forces.  I don’t think they are aware of my presence on planet, but once they are, it could get personal.  I’m trying to think of how we can use that to our advantage.”

Mad Dog, seeming to enjoy the tale of intrigue and mech-borne daring suggests, “Dare him to trade it back…?” grinning slightly. “Tanks or mechs aren’t standard fare for a covert ops mission—must have been a lot more to the story as you just said. A Hammerhands…? One mech I know little about…”

Mad Dog, thoughts churning under the surface tries to refocus himself and stay close to the group. “Major Sturgeon’s involvement with Goetz has got me concerned. If he had contact with her, it’s hard to say who else he might have recruited. The enemy presence might have put a big blocker for that—assuming that he’d never stoop to security risks or treason. He’d do anything he thought was proper and justified so long as he thought he could get away with it. Still, if he were to ever send some spy or hired thug into enemy territory, there’s a chance the operative could fall into Lyran hands.”

He shrugs and changes the subject. “Back to the topic of your old acquaintance, can you think of any habits or weaknesses of command to exploit? Would he take unnecessary risks if goaded. Would he chase after TLC? For example maybe he could be lured to send some of forces out after you and a small lance—something that looks plausible. Stage it somewhere where the enemy thinks circling around and striking at their rear is impossible. Say, maybe extremely dangerous mountainous terrain, with do-or-die jump holes in cliff sides.”

As he warms to his subject a look of confidence begins to glint in his eye that would kill a lesser man if allowed to grow unchecked. “I could power up from a hidden position and have some fun; or get myself killed trying. Get out with much the same margin of error. You two could have another trap laid on your end at the same time.” He catches you looking at him and trails off, “Just a thought,” he says.

Hearing no immediate response, he finishes up with, “Is he the type with an ego that will cause him to make mistakes if he suffers a few embarrassments? If so, maybe we can use that. ”

Nodding as you near the second sub-basement, “A trade is indeed in the works, we’ll just have to spend some time working on the terms.  The Hammerhands is one of the precursors to today’s Warhammer.  Similar design, but with AC10’s on the arms and jump-capable.  I got my handle ‘Cool-Hands’ while piloting that thing on the deserts of Devil’s Rock.  Other mechs were overheating when you boiled tea too close!”

Reaching the second floor, the sense of regular use fades and the amount of dust increases. No lights greet you on the second basement level, and a visual inspection reveals it to be cold and empty of everything except office furniture, and terminals sealed up in waterproof bags.

You continue, “I’ve thought of using myself as bait in this matchup, and we’ll keep it as an option.  Axthelm is not stupid though, and may not be easy to provoke.  We may want to keep TLC as invisible as possible while we can though.  I’ve had some thoughts about training a few lances in mech Base Jumping for exactly the type of ambush you’re describing.  We should talk.”

As the others join you at landing of the second sub-basement, you change topics, “So Major Sturgeon was the reason you ended up here?  Hiring a foreign agent and being a foreign agent are two different things.  Let’s assume for the time being that he hasn’t passed any information along to the Lyrans.  Best evidence to date is that Goetz was unable to get a message out, but we should definitely keep an eye out for evidence to the contrary….” Looking over at the tech, you ask slyly, “So Vel, does that make you the only person here who got this post on her own talent as opposed to being hidden here by pissing someone off?”

“When I piss people off it’s usually over something everyone is too hung over to remember the next morning,” Vel remarks dryly, “I think I threw a glass at some pale-face deskwarrior once. Maybe twice, I wasn’t really counting. Not like you two. You piss off the most interesting people, in the most spectacular ways. A gift, really.”

Laughing, you nod and reply, “Get them drunk first.  I’ll have to remember that.”

Stepping away, you return to business, “All right, on these office levels, I think all we may find is computer or file records.  Useful, but they’ll take a while to pour over.  Let’s just make a note of what we find and maybe try to log into a terminal if we find one.  It would also be useful if we find a way to work the lift from down here. Then we’ll move down the levels to where I assume the hardware and plant access is”

Finding no active computer equipment or access ports to a communications network, you return to the stairs and head down.

The third basement level is warmer, and a small supply of old ammunition loaders, and other robotic aids for mech maintenance, support, and repair have been stored here in clean bays, wrapped in plastic.

While inspecting the equipment, Mad Dog discovers a slightly incongruous mat in the corner, seemingly discarded. It reads ‘welcome.’  Underneath it is a sheet of wood over a roughly hewn, man-sized hole through the ferro-crete which comprises the floor. It goes all the way through to a dark pit underneath, wherein the faint sounds of dripping water and the unmistakable smell of leaked coolant can both be noted.

There is a tool locker in the corner, and among the expected items stored away for the machines on this level are a great deal of rope, assorted spelunking equipment including body armor and helmets with lights, 4 rifles with IR scopes, and one heavy bore shotgun with grenade launcher and spotlight. 5 clips of ammo for each are thoughtfully arranged in belt pouches, with the shotgun ammo on a bandolier.

Rations and a water purifier are also stored away neatly. A small chip reader suitable for testing the integrity of IC chips and memory cores is tucked away in the lockers.

Coils of wire are next to the lockers, stored in a climate and temperature controlled case. It looks to be the sort used for heavy-duty computing or data transmissions at high-speed. In your occupations, what you use it for most often are as the linkage between a neurohelmet and a mech or simpod. Stashed away in that case are a set of tools for cutting, stripping, and fashioning proper connectors for this type of cable.

Checking out the lockers, but somewhat at a loss, you voice your thoughts, “I was hoping there would be a way to get mechs from the school down to the plant and back, but that welcome mat you found doesn’t look too promising.  Perhaps there is another exit once we get down there.

It looks like these levels are pretty tame, and we can get your tech teams to start moving the ammo fairly quickly.  Let’s go through the rabbit hole and see where we end up.  I suggest we try covering the welcome mat behind us, and taking the grenade launcher with us to blow the trap door open in case any more agents get an idea to trap us down there….so without further ado, shall we descend?”

Mad Dog replies thoughtfully, “”I suppose.”

Remembering something, you add, “Oh, and we should take that IC memory tester/reader with us as well”

Mad Dog shines one of the lights down into the blackness of the pit, then grabs a set of the protective gear, complete with helmet and one of the guns, then drags it all over to the hole. He casts frequent glances at both you and Blowtorch as if wondering if he should take the time to put it on. As he does so, you finish your examination of the lockers, ultimately grabbing the heavy shotgun with grenade launcher, ammunition, and the chip/circuit tester.

The lockers and the equipment they contain all smell new. There is a set of body amour that will handle a man of your size, and the guns and ammunition are familiar brands from your training days.

Before you all, a rough-edged gateway into mystery and the past beckons.

Pondering what to do with your rifle, you ask Mad Dog, “Do you see any stairs, or will we have to climb?”

BT interjects, “I was just thinking that” as she grabs body armor and begins to don it. “Who knows what we’ll find down there. Be ready for anything, right?” When she is finished, she looks over the rifles as if to compare them with her own, and gathers up her share of the climbing gear.

You put on the protective gear as well.  Good training even if you don’t expect much down here.  “Do the miners complain of any indigenous life?”

No one has an answer for that, but the pit seems a little darker once that thought has been broached.

“I’ll go last, cover our tracks and close up this trap door.  I recommend that we attach lights to our guns, not our helmets.  Enemies will fire at our lights in an ambush.

I will inspect the way down to see if there are other offshoots from the tunnel before we hit the bottom, but my plan is to start at the bottom of the shaft and explore there first.  I will record anything valuable, interesting, out of the ordinary or suspicious. Keep your noses peeled for signs of fresh air!  Assuming there is anything of value down here, we will need to have a route in and out.”

Not for the first or last time you find yourself wishing you had those 3D underground maps from the mining consortium.

Speak your piece~

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