Mechwarrior PBeM Report 4c: 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 Mel ‘Mad Dog’ Winters. 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 in their full dress uniforms. Expressions range from worried to determined and back again, but all assembled are putting on a brave face… looking over the audience, you feel like there should be more people here, somehow. All the professors… minus Fitz and Goetz, of course, are here. Are students missing?

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 you with their eyes, as if they know that whatever happens, you are going to be in the thick of it. A few… pay attention to Rom, but he quickly moves to the back, and out of their line of sight. It might be best to join him there…  you can see all the exits from a point about 10m from where he chose to stand.

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 Cool Hand for Operations, you notice a thin trail of smoke coming from under the coffee station…  did Goetz plant a bomb there? Was the poisoning just a distraction?

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 meters 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.

If it has begun to smoke, is there time to evacuate?

No one else seems to notice, but you.

“Smoke!” you say to CH.

Hoping that if organization is required, he’ll see to it, for now, you want to find out as quickly as possible what this is. If it’s one last prank you know you’ll skin whoever did it later. It’s impossible to imagine anyone being that stupid at a time like this.

Quickly formulating a plan of action of what to do if it is a real threat, and if it is a threat with which you can deal you start dashing towards the source.

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

Behind you, you can hear Cool Hand direct students away from the coffee station and out the other exits, shouting “Everyone clear out NOW. Fire exits – Double Time! Orderly fashion!”

Out of the corner of your eye, you see the students reacting with confusion, many stopping in their tracks and looking around them as the Dean echoes Rom’s cry through the PA.

As you reach the table, you hear Cool Hand shout, “Mad Dog, leave IT!” while the Dean keeps directing the staff and students, “Out now – left exits! Go, Go, Go!”

The smoke smells sharp and bitter, like the smell of metal being welded. You see nothing obvious in the trash or on the table. The table has a thin paper table cloth covering it, and hanging about 10 or 15 cm around the edges. The thin trail of smoke is curling up in grey coils up from under the table on the right side… suggesting that the device – if device there be – is under the rear right of the table. The trash can is on that same side.

On the table is a large urn for the following drinks: hot coffee, cold coffee, hot tea, hot water, ice water. The urns are insulated, not powered. Arranged messily across the table are small baskets for creamers, sugar packets, and stir sticks. Napkins are everywhere as are stains and spills.

“Understood!”, I shout back to CH with a respectful and urgent military tone just before covering my mouth and nose with my hand.

Still wanting to catch a quick look at it, but given the smell deciding to not touch the table cloth or get any closer as it might be gas rather than incendiary, and thinking that lifting the table cloth might also be unwise, you avoid getting any closer, but quickly drop to floor level to try to catch a glimpse of what you’re dealing with. Once that is done you vow to quickly pop back up and get the Hell out of here.

That is, except for stragglers… no one, especially no kid, will get left behind!

You are about 1m away from the table, flat on the floor.  From that vantage point you can see that the device is composed of two sections and that one of those sections, a clear plastic container, seems to be cracked. From that crack, which does not look to be an intended feature of the container, a fine powder has spilled out across the timer and electronics of the second section. The powder on the power supply is creating the smoke and scent.

Far to your left, you can hear Blowtorch yelling at her crew to exit via the main doors at the right of the stage.

No longer even having any hope of identifying a mark or piece of equipment that someone like Blowtorch might be able to trace, you decide the time has come to gather up any lost sheep and get the Hell out of here… From your vantage point as you start to rise from the floor, you notice the timer has less than 60 seconds to run.

Looking around, you note that Blowtorch is now standing at the main entrance. The students are filing out and will likely need more than that minute to get out. Hustling toward BT and looking for people in trouble, you notice Cool Hand coming up behind you.

It looks like all the students and staff will be able to get out of the building without trampling one another, so it is time to see to your own safety.  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.

Turning to face you and Blowtorch after closing the doors to the Hall, Luke asks, “Everyone is out?”

At your nod he continues, “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?”

You concisely relay the location of the small disused office in the basement in which Westerlie Plantagenet and three of her security guards have Goetz under lock and key. As he nods and prepares to move to check on her, you stop him and request, “With Blowtorch, I want to go to the mech bay, ASAP…”

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

You and Blowtorch salute and CH:L nods to you both, heading down to the basement to check on Goetz. Members of the Security Team, wearing protective suits come in as you go out.  Other members of their squad are securing things outside.

You and Blowtorch head out to the mech bay as requested. Your thoughts are racing a mile a minute as you cut across the frost covered lawn. To get to the Stables meant going out the front door of the building, and walking around the building through the evacuees from the Hall, or walking through the building and out the rear entrance. To meet Luke in 10 minutes or less at the stable, it seems likely that avoiding whatever responsibilities would have become obvious to you, or be thrust upon you in terms of assisting with the students and staff outside makes the back exit necessary. Would you have done it this way a year ago? Have you been out of the formal military too long? Should you have delegated this task, or should you have put someone in charge of your crews, or should you have reported to the Dean, or…?

You will have to get used to being real leaders again… no one can do everything themselves.

Getting through the building and across the bitter cold of the yard takes a few minutes. You can see a medical team treating a few students who are retching and convulsing from contact with the gas, and more members of Security sealing the doorways.

The mech bay is secured and undisturbed, just like it was left before the meeting. Catching your breath, it occurs to you that one of the few locations where a side arms locker is kept is the mech bay. In light of the current situation, should you two, as officers of the rebellion, be armed?

Clearly thinking the same things as you, the Sergeant jerks her head at the weapons locker for which she is responsible, and says, “Someone needs to secure that shit.”

“Blowtorch,” you say as you look about the clean and secure mech bay, “CH should be here in 10 minutes as he said. I want you to stay here, get the weapons from the weapons locker, and secure this area.”

Rubbing your temples you continue as she opens her mouth to add some spice to the conversation, “I think I need to run back and make sure that things were organized properly before we left. I have a sneaking suspicion that maybe they weren’t. I trust you know what I’m saying.”

Your experience with Slovak curse words is not up to the task of translating her retort, but some of the words may be worth remembering for later.

As you reach to open the door, it opens on its own, revealing a satisfied-looking Lucas Rom out in the cold.

How did he get here so fast?

Stepping inside and looking at you with a slightly amused, slightly questioning look, he starts to report on the status of things as he knows them, “Goetz is still secure.  We have more evidence of communications and possibly bomb making as well.” No doubt having heard the cursing, and now able to see Blowtorch’s face, he stops to ask, “What’s wrong in the Mech bay?”

“We got here just a moment ago, but everything appears to be in order,” you say glancing back at the battlemechs. Not wanting things to get out of hand before the rebellion has even begun, and having been a very good officer when not being confronted by abject stupidity, you get to the heart of the real problem in the mech bay,

“What orders do our, er, troops currently have, Captain? Anything you want me to relay or organize?”

He seems to have been caught a little by surprise by the use of his rank, and he light-heartedly replies, “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.”

You nod, look at him for a moment, then reply, “I’d best go and carry that out immediately,” you say to your friend, saluting as you do so. You turn away, but then pause a moment to ask, “CH, any clues about who set the bomb…?” as your momentum stalls a moment. So much to do, and no way to know if the others are up to it.

Startled by the salute, you see him think a moment before he replies, “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. “

He pauses. “Oh, and a favor?  Let’s save the salutes for public occasions, ok?  In private, I need my friends to question my orders,” he smiles a little hesitantly. “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.”

You see Rom pause for just a second, then seem to choose to voice his thoughts 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”

Nodding, you glance 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 Rom, you press 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, Rom nods and answers, “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, he has her open it. He takes out a rifle, checks and safeties it, and then passes out side arms and rifles to you both.

“I’m going to grab some personal equipment as well, and meet you back here in 15,” he says in a tone that sounds almost like a dismissal.

Armed, and somewhat assured, you set off at a run to do the yelling and shouting, before meeting back here.

Scene III continues (Target Range Control Room) 7pm

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.

Cool Hand moves over to the rear wall and begins to methodically check switches and controls. It does not take him long before he finds something in one of the control boxes. 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.

Cool Hand seems to be in fine cheer, and he seems to have a tale to tell you both. Perhaps he will share it once you are downstairs…

Lights are visibly coming on down below, slowing 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.

Standing near the rear of the room, looking down into the shaft, Luke’s eyes are already scanning everywhere. He never stops looking, checking, probing.

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

You move 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 Slavic mechanic offers.

You, usually the hot-headed impulsive one, step dramatically back from the edge and quip, “Sounds reasonable… “ falling in line to move along with them.

Rom heads 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 he indicates that he would like you to fall into a standard marching order with himself up front with the torch, you guarding the rear, and your technical wizard in the middle.

Once you start down the stairs and out of earshot, he takes a deep breath and starts a little awkwardly into whatever it is he has been wanting to tell you.

“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…”

He pauses as the three of 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, he continues to 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?”

She doesn’t answer, she seems lost in her thoughts as she looks around. Quiet as a tomb, the sound of your boots on the metal stairs almost seem to shatter the air.

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,” he begins again, “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 this floor, he speaks, 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.”

You jokingly suggest, “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…”

His words though bring thoughts of your own dangerous enemy and his very recent actions against you to the forefront of your mind. “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.”

You shrug and change 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 not possible. Say, maybe extremely dangerous mountainous terrain, with do-or-die jump holes in cliff sides.”

As you warm to your subject you try to exude a look of confidence to back up your bold words. You know few men in the Inner Sphere can do what you are suggesting. You also know that you can… although you’ve never had the opportunity to prove it to anyone… including yourself.  “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.” You catch him looking at you and trail off wondering if your bravado sounded confident, “Just a thought,” you say.

Getting no immediate response, you return to the main thrust of your query and ask, “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 your group nears the second sub-basement, Rom replies, “A trade is indeed in the works, we’ll just have to spend some time working on the terms.”

A slightly wistful look crosses his face, and he looks at you directly for a second, “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.

Rom continues, “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, he changes topics, “So Major Sturgeon was the reason you ended up here?” He shakes his head as if considering something, “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, he changes tack and asks her 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, he nods and replies, “Get them drunk first.  I’ll have to remember that.”

Stepping away, he returns 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, you discover 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. As you look down into the pit, it is far too dark to see much of anything. Probing with your small flashlight leaves you no better informed, so you look about for something better.

There is a tool locker on this level, 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. The lockers and the equipment they contain all smell new. As soon as you moved over to the lockers, you couldn’t help but notice that the heavy shotgun/grenade launcher is outfitted with the style of rubberized combat grip which was popular in your unit. The angle and width of the grip is both more comfortable and makes sustained combat action less tiring, but requires training to acclimatize a person to its feel.

Did someone leave this down here for you?

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

Glancing at the body armor, it seems to have been arranged in terms of size, with ranges suitable for all three of you, and perhaps Fitz as well. Grabbing the gear, your rifle, and taking one of the lights to shine it down into the blackness of the pit, you glance back to see the others just sort of milling around the storage space.

Cool Hand pokes around looking at various things in the lockers; taking some. Blowtorch is looking over the stored vehicles. You aren’t sure, but you think that Cool Hand seems ready to head down below without the armor. That is not a good idea.

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

When you shine the flashlight down into the depths, you estimate the cavern below to be at least 20 to 30 meters deep, and no sign of the walls catch your eye, suggesting the cavern is very wide. The floor is rough, but passable, and you can make out the bits of rubble which used to be a part of the floor you are standing on looking starkly white against the dark stone below.

You will need the ropes and gear to make the descent.

Sounding a little uncertain of what good this all will do, Cool Hand says suddenly, “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 rabbit hole and see where we end up.  I suggest we try cover the welcome mat behind us, and take the grenade launcher with us to blow the trap door open in case any more agents get an idea to trap us down there.”

You reply thoughtfully, “”I suppose.”

Setting one of the lamps to shine down into the blackness of the pit, as you finish moving your set of the protective gear, complete with helmet and your gun, next to the hole, you glance at him a few times as he continuous to talk.

As if deciding something, Rom adds, “Oh, and we should take that IC memory tester/reader with us as well!”

Casting frequent glances at both Rom and Blowtorch, wondering if you should take the time to put it on, and why they seem reluctant to do so, you snap out of the strange lassitude that seized you and just start hauling it on.  As you do so, Rom finishes his circuitous examination of the lockers, ultimately grabbing the heavy shotgun with grenade launcher, ammunition, and the chip/circuit tester.

Holding both his rifle and the shotgun, Lucas asks you, “Do you see any stairs, or will we have to climb?”

BT interjects, looking at you and the armor, “I was just thinking that.” 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.

Nodding, Rom puts on the protective gear as well.  “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.

Getting back into motion, Rom states firmly, “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.”

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