Battle Luna – Snippet 24
Just to split Arris’ attention, Crawford called him.
“It’s like this, Colonel: you can get in there and we can’t really stop you. You can eventually find a way to cut your men free. In the meantime, you’ll be running oxygen to them and your rescue element, exposed to anything we would choose to do, and hindering your own advance. My suggestion is to let us release them, since we have the solvent right here. Then of course, we keep them until we resolve this.”
Arris sounded frustrated but very formal as he said, “That is not within my operational limits at this time.”
“Fair enough. Well, good luck.” He closed the channel.
It was fascinating to watch. The outer sentries never wavered, even though nothing was coming from either direction. The troops in the hole realized struggles only made it worse, and remained still, though suit motion suggested they were still breathing at an accelerated rate.
Shortly, a repair bot of some kind trundled in on silicone tracks. Its operator followed along, and brought it right to the perfect edge of the hole.
He fastened it down with anchors, and it deployed arms that extended out holding tools for the men below to use. The machine then put out a boom that ran across the gap, so they could use it for leverage.
Another small device ran out along that beam and lowered itself down.
The robot wasn’t sufficient. It lacked both traction and reach. Shortly, four more troops came in, with a toolbox and portable power pack.
To no one in particular Andre said, “This should be interesting. Patience.”
The Uey techs brought in some spare oxy bottles. They spent long minutes trying to figure out how to change bottles in the hole, then gave up. Crawford watched in fascination as one built a manifold from spare fittings, then ran hoses to each suit via the On Board Supply Valve.
Well, good. They’d be able to breathe as long as someone kept bringing them bottles. The workers above had a terminal from the conduit they could use for recharging themselves and the bottles for the victims.
They worked furiously, taking a sample, pulling, twisting, spraying solvent, using a radiant heater, waiting for an analysis of the sample, yanking with sheer brute force. It was all to no avail.
The one with his hand stuck came up suddenly, his right forearm and hand bare. They must have cut the fabric to free him. As his skin got puffy and blotchy, one of the rescuers rolled a taut mesh glove up his arm, then taped it in place with a contact tape. That should let him evacuate, at least.
Godin almost giggled as he swiped a switch and a pack hidden in the roof bracing popped open.
SPLASH. A loogie dropped from a hidden tube. More cement spattered across the freed guy and three others. It didn’t accomplish much immediately, but then two made the mistake of touching each other. They became instant conjoined twins. One other skipped back and tumbled. He remained supine on the deck.
The original casualty tried instinctively to wipe himself off and immobilized his arms.
“When did you do that?” Andre asked.
Godin said, “After I was done with the hole. I climbed up with some excess balloons.”
“Well done. It’s highly entertaining. I just hope we don’t come to regret it.”
Godin shrugged. “Yeah, they have to be getting pissed about now. Still, ten immobilized.”
But at this point, the Ueys had an entire element moving in and out of the Outer Bay, power conduits, O2 lines, etc. They were also getting lots of imagery of the second hatch.
The ground rocked, the walls boomed, dust erupted from every surface, and gear tumbled.
“Blasting charge,” he said.
“Cutting charge,” Malakhar corrected. “They were able to get a cutting charge in place. Vacuum made it safe. It’s not as if an airlock is a vault.”
The video playback showed very little effect on the Ueys, and that was good discipline, he had to admit. Or else they hadn’t been told to expect it. No, they had twitched, but not much. They just kept working, and only tensed momentarily. In the high vacuum, all they’d suffered was a little debris and dust. Inside, though…
Yes, Lock 2 was dismounted enough it wasn’t going to close or seal. There was a huge distortion along the frame. It had already been open, too. This was just sabotage to ensure access.
Two locks down, four to go, because Lock 3 was a double. The Ueys thought there were only three, so any surprises would have to wait. After that, the inner defense would take over, and that could get ugly. It involved the weapons acquired so far, more goo, overpressure, and melee weapons. That meant there’d be actual casualties.
For now, though, they were in the Outer and Middle Bays of the port.
The inner locks were smaller and easier to crack, though. Especially the emergency lock.
“We knew they couldn’t be kept out forever,” Rojas said. “They’ve been minimal so far. A larger charge could have done additional damage to the structure, or they could have just bombed us.”
Godin nodded. “Yeah, but they’re trying to minimize collateral casualties. Once they reach us, don’t expect them to show any kind of restraint of we resist.”
“We’re not speculating because we don’t know,” Crawford said with some force.
“Sorry.” Godin looked embarrassed.
In reminder, he said, “Speculate on known factors. They’ve been very restrained, so have we. We hope that continues.”
Morton said, “They are pissed, though.”
He had to smile again. “Yeah, but they’ve freed two, plus the three who got stuck up top. Another element of eight came in. They’re in the Middle Bay, trying to drill Lock Three A, and the rockwall next to it.” He pointed at the imagery they had, as the Middle Bay’s cameras went dead.
Godin agreed, “I see.”
“I’m glad for that double personnel lock, though. I guess they were right that the personnel section should have double sealing from the work section. Has it ever been used?”
Godin said, “I remember testing it, but we always leave B open, don’t we?”
“Yup,” Andre said. “Until now.”
He switched to the backup, a tiny little self-contained device that had a fisheye lens and low resolution. It sent an image every 60 seconds, scrambled. It was low enough power the Ueys might not notice it.
Godin continued, “I’m guessing once they punch through, they’ll either try to equalize the pressure, or shove a charge through from the inside.”
Studying the image, Andre said, “I think you’re correct. They have what could be a charge sealed into one, and are pumping pressure into the other. Specifically, they’re pumping oxygen in. Want to bet that’ll be followed with something reactive?”
Malakhar said, “It’ll stratify.”
Crawford said, “Twin charge. The first agitates, the second ignites. Thermobaric charge and massive overpressure.”
Malakhar squinted and nodded. “Plausible. I can’t say how effective it will be without seeing more of their equipment.”
“We’ll just have to monitor.”
Rojas asked, “How are they doing on unsticking those guys?”
Godin pointed at his screen and said, “They hauled out the one they had, managed to slice between the other two by UV cutting the bond. They’re slowly getting another loose.”
And damn did the man look uncomfortable as they peeled the adhesive. He was bent forward in a very awkward position, almost but not quite leaning against a support someone else had reached into place for him. As Crawford watched he reached it, and his relaxation was visibly obvious.
He said, “The longer they’re tied up here, though, the shorter they are on oxy, and the longer they’re not actually inside.”
He was repeating that, but it was to reassure himself they might pull this off. It was all a waiting game.
Rojas asked, “Do you think there’s going to be some sort of deal?”
He shrugged. “Dunno. We’ll delay them until we’re told otherwise.”
Godin asked, “Can we get another emergency lock in place?”
He shook his head. “Not in time, and not in a relevant location.”
“Can we barricade?”
He’d already thought about that. “We can drive some equipment in, but it won’t stop them wiggling through.”
“No, but it does stop them bringing heavier stuff through, and means they have to acquire oxygen from us, or run yet another supply route.”
“True. Well, I guess I can spare the two of you for five minutes.”
“Stack a couple of the rolly loaders about a meter from Lock Four. They’ll be able to crack the seal, but not open it.”
“Okay. Laura, let’s move.”
The two jogged away.
While that happened, he was going to try to distract Arris some more.
He keyed the radio mic. “Colonel, I see you making progress.”
“Indeed we are, Mr Crawford. Once we disable the fourth lock it’s all over.”