Battle Luna – Snippet 25

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, sir. The entire base is compartmentalized. We know where you are after all.”

Arris almost sighed.  “Andre, the rule during the Middle Ages was that once the bastion walls of a castle were breached, the defenders surrendered.  Any additional resistance only prolonged the inevitable and needlessly increased casualties.”

He was actually aware of that.  “Well, since this isn’t the Middle Ages, and as far as I know, no one has taken casualties yet, I think we can change the tradition.”

“Possibly. Your resistance shows ill intent for the device.”

“How do you figure?  By not turning whatever it might be over to a hostile force, we’re the bad guys?”

Arris replied, “You are, in effect, hiding stolen property from the police.”

“Sorry, what stolen property?  I’m assuming this thing you’re talking about is alien in nature.  Or are you claiming this is something you created, transported here and carelessly get hold of, and now you want it back? And how do you figure you’re the cops? You’re an invading army.” He didn’t want to risk further discussion of the artifact, so he switched to, “By the way, I see you finally figured out which mix we used for the glue.”

And that meant no one in his section had leaked any intel to them. It wasn’t that proprietary. The manufacturers listed solvents in the documentation. The mix was slightly esoteric, but a quick doc search would have found it.  Presumably they had to ask Earth, with circumlocutions to avoid blurting out info for anyone with a radio receiver in the scatter path of the tight beam.

Arris said, “It wasn’t that hard.”

“No, but it took you a while.  We’re monitoring how much oxy you’re using, and comparing that to the capacity of your…transport.”  He actually wasn’t sure how many ships they’d brought.  But he could estimate the mass of equipment so far.  They really were serious.

He also needed to avoid trying to be clever. That’s how slips happened.

Arris said, almost casually, “There are always more ships.”

That was a really, really good opening. He pinged a warning, entered a code, and another fougasse detonated. This one was obliquely aimed toward the Lock 1entrance, and blew a hurricane of dust and gravel against the troops working there. Several were buried in the settling pile. On the monitors, a huge stream arced, bounced, rattled and settled quickly in the Outer Bay, with some reaching as far as Lock 2. At that angle it didn’t enter, but the floor and the hole were a mess.

“True,” he said. “And as we’ve learned here the hard way, there’s always more dust.”

Every troop there had to have a static-charged sheen of dust, obscuring their vision, and refreshing itself with each footstep. It all added up. Eventually they’d quit.

He hoped.

The exposed cement was neutralized now, crusted over with debris. All the Ueys had dust adhering to their mask lenses, and certainly some was clogging joints and connectors. Those would have to be cleaned before further oxy transfer.

The oxy lines run from outside were still intact, but the manifold end they’d been using to supply their crew inside was now buried. An element was frantically digging dirt away around that, using a couple of shovels, some available pieces of board, and gloved hands.

That also showed a lack of forethought. Loony vehicles, like vehicles for Earth wilderness, all carried shovels, picks and winches.  They didn’t bother with axes here. They had long prybars instead.

Godin and Rojas arrived back, panting.

Rod said, “We put two rollys right in front of it, wheels touching. They’ll have to crawl under. So we ran a pipe section under there. It’s going to mean they have to weave through one at a time. If need be, we can crack them or sack them or shoot them as they do, with good odds.”

“Excellent. But I really hope we don’t have to, because I assume these guys do know how to fight, and that means people die.”

“We also set a sensor pack. It’s on your feed.”

He gave thumbs up, held up a hand, turned back and keyed the mic to outside.

“So I’ll offer a deal,” he said.  “You stop drilling through the current lock, I’ll pressurize the outer one so your troops can breathe. There are patches to seal the hole you made.  I’ll leave a vac gap between us.”

Arris replied, “Do you really think I’m going to surrender?”

“Surrender? Not at all. You can leave any time you wish.  Then if you want to call off the truce and resume, you can.  But the only condition under which I can offer a temporary cease fire, and breathing air, is if I can be assured the hostilities stop in the interim.”

There was a short delay, that felt as if it contained a frantic consult.

Arris sounded as if he’d been given orders.  “When you relinquish the artifact, all this ends and there’s no harm to anyone.”

“If the artifact exists, I have no information or control or ability to negotiate for it. You need to talk to Control.  But if it is real, and you’re going to this much effort over it, I can’t see you leaving people around to talk about it.”

Arris replied, “Why not?  Once it’s secure, it doesn’t matter.”

“Am I supposed to assume our scientists here haven’t already analyzed this thing and how it works?  If you apparently know what the process is, so do they, and if they’ve had hands on, they may even know how to duplicate it. In any case, this is about you, me, our personnel, and breathing air. Would you like some?”

“We’ll be fine.”

The channel went dead.

“Blast,” he muttered.

“Sir?” Rojas asked.

“I was hoping they were actually low enough to take that deal. It would slow them a bit.”

She said, “They seem pretty sure of themselves.”

“They may be.  And that may be because they have more than we think they do, or miscalculate their resources, or are just putting up a false front.  Which is also relevant for us.”

“Act cool?”

“The important thing,” he advised, “Is to not admit that we’re running out of options.  If they realize we’re out of tricks, they’ll come straight in.”

Malakhar said, “They wouldn’t if they thought they’d die in the process. We do have a bit more explosive.”

“I understand the logic. Control doesn’t want to do it.”  Nor, truthfully, did he.  A peaceful solution was much to be preferred.

It was near an hour later that the Colonel called back.

“Mr Crawford, I would consider a temporary truce if the offer is still open.”

Sure. “Maybe.”

“I have six troops whose respiration gear was damaged by the dust. I would like to transfer them inside.”

He left a usual pause, then replied, “Certainly. Should I deduce you don’t have that many spare parts handy?”

Arris almost sounded condescending. “You may deduce as you wish. Do we have a deal?”

“Send them to Lock Three.  Send your crew there out. I’ll let them in.”

“You understand I may have to use additional force to re-enter that space,” Arris advised.

“You do what you gotta do. We’ll do the same.”

He realized he’d admitted they still had video. Well, almost.

“Colonel, since you saw fit to take out our cameras, I’m going to trust that six and only six troops will enter.”

“That is what I said.”

He opened Lock 3A, and six troops stepped through. He closed it fast.  If it wasn’t for the extra lock beyond it, he’d have declined. You could fit a hundred troops inside the Inner Bay. Once he had it closed, he opened 3B.

In they came, visible on the next camera.  Six of them.  No weapons, no gear at all.  Just suits with two-minute emergency bottles protruding from the necks. They unmasked. Five men, one woman, looking very sweaty, disheveled and exhausted.

At Lock Four, there was a lot of shuffling while they figured out to crawl between the wheels of the rollys, up over the pipe between them, back down and between the other side’s wheels, and out. Then they realized there was yet another lock.  Their expressions suggested they were not sanguine about their side’s chances. Good.

He nodded and signaled.

Morton and Godin met them and directed them into pressure.

And now he knew where their penetrations were.

While the transfer took place, Godin had bounced an IR illuminator through. The image was very fuzzy, being reconstructed from shadows and reflections, but the computer was able to clarify most of it. Godin pointed at two spots, and Andre asked, “Yes?”

“That is probably a rock-melting drill, that other is an abrasive bit through the metal bulkhead.”

A tiny rolling drone added a minute amount of enhancement.  Its aperture was small and its range short, and when 3A closed again, it died. The Ueys must have scramble protocols in place.