Battle Luna – Snippet 21
“Andre, they sent that in the clear.”
“Yeah. Let’s hold on a moment, though.”
The NCO in charge called again. “Lunar faction, are you monitoring this frequency?”
Crawford said, “Let’s give him one more.”
Almost a full minute went by, before the call came again.
“Lunar faction, please respond.”
He activated then keyed the mic and said, “UN element, this is Lock Control. We have your frequency. Please confirm, over.”
“I hear you, Lunar. Over.”
“What do you need?”
“This incident has damaged the oxygen supply for one of my troops. Will you permit him to exit?”
Andre waited several seconds, then said, “I think it would be better if we brought him in here. It’s faster, and we’ve got plenty of oxy in the habitat.”
“Are you proposing to detain him as a prisoner of war?”
Less of a delay on that. Diplomacy. “I’m not aware of any war. But if you are asking do we intend to keep him from re-engaging, then the answer is yes. And will he be treated humanely, of course. We may eventually want to discuss damages and protocol violations, but that’s for Control to decide. I’m just the gate keeper.”
“Fair enough. How do we proceed?”
He waited several more seconds. On the one hand, they might think he was either just a flunky or indecisive. On the other, it was all stall. A minute here, a minute there. Eventually it might add up to hours.
“You will place your weapons in the next airlock for us to secure. You may then admit your troop and he will be allowed to remain, unharmed, until resolution.”
The Uey sounded really suspicious as he asked, “Why do you need the weapons?”
“We don’t intend to allow you to keep them. At this point you constitute a threat. You are asking for additional terms to that detention. You can argue, but your man has what, another minute or so in his suit?”
“We have your word on his safety?” That did sound like a genuine question.
“We have used the minimum force possible so far and intend to continue to do so. You have my word.”
“And may we have your name?”
Why not? “You first.”
“Lieutenant Kasanga of the African Federation, detached to Operation Clarity.”
“I am engineer Andre Crawford.” And now he had the operation name, which sounded like one of the randomly generated ones that didn’t tell anything.
Kasanga said, “We will comply.”
He cut communication. “Morton, Rojas, go get them.” He switched on to Central. “Mr Coffman, I could use a medic.”
“Doctor Nik is inbound your way.”
He worked the controls and opened the Lock 3A. The Ueys piled their weapons, though he assumed they retained a hidden pistol or knife somewhere. The video showed them taking a good look, for whatever intel they could get. The plenum between 3A and 3B was just a connector without much of anything. It just allowed locking through from habitat to an unpressurized bay.
It took long seconds to balance pressure and open the inner hatch-Lock 3B. Morton skipped in, grabbed the rifles, brought them back and started clearing the actions.
Rojas manually slammed 3B, he started the evacuation process and stood ready to cycle again.
Kasanga called, “Engineer Crawford, please hurry. His blood oxygen meter is reaching hypoxia.”
“About five seconds…opening hatch.”
The troop staggered in, and one other came with him for support. Reasonable. And why he’d disarmed them.
He punched for pressure, hit the override and had the hatch motor work against the differential until it cracked seal. There was a whuff and a gust and there was breathing air from Bay 3.
The second Uey twisted the helmet latch of the first, who gasped and started breathing hard.
The door finished its swing, and Morton stepped through to greet them.
“Welcome to the moon. Precede me that way and through the open door to your right.”
Crawford watched on camera, and saw the shadows down the passage as they approached, then them enter the other side of the fence in the equipment cage.
Morton said, “Please sit over there and do not make any sudden moves.”
The escort realized all four rifles were now in the hands of Lunies. He nodded and assisted his buddy over.
“He should lie down for now.”
Crawford agreed, “Yes, do so. Also, you will need to remove your harness. I see tools and equipment we could find troublesome.”
The man didn’t argue. He helped his buddy lie back, then unsnapped his harness including his oxy bottle.
Doctor Nik stepped in, glanced for approval, which Crawford gave with a nod, and let himself into the cage.
He checked the man’s suit monitor and said, “He should be fine. Bring him some water. Take it easy, sir. You’ll need a few minutes to recover.”
The second man said, “May I report in to assure them we are well?”
Andre said, “Yes. I’ve already assumed you’re going to try to pass intel. As soon as you do, I cut the signal.” He handed over a wired mic.
The man scowled, took the offered mic, and said, “Clarity, this is Sergeant Vinson. Aigule and I are both well and unharmed. They have our weapons. I count five of them. The third lock is–“
“I cut you off after ‘weapons.'”
The man shrugged. “Of course I was going to try.”
“And of course you were going to lose. Please consider yourselves our guests, rather than prisoners. Either way, escape means entering hard vacuum without even a helmet. I recommend against it. If you succeed, you suffocate instantly. If you fail, you will probably have been injured. There’s no benefit to either of you.”
There was a message from Coffman. “Paul will be at the Hut shortly. We’ll transfer these two in.”
“Roger.” He checked the corridor monitors. “I see him.”
Security Officer Paul arrived with two others. The Ueys were bound with cable ties, hooded with pillow cases, and looked very wary as that happened. Then they were marched out with one of the rifles.
Andre said, “They’ll each be put in a separate compartment. That should minimize risk.”
Morton asked, “And if we capture enough to run out of compartments?”
He smiled. “We declare victory conditions.”
Having transferred the two troops in, the Ueys in the Middle Bay sat to conserve oxygen. One of them tried to pry the elastic goop out of the track, and the hatch closed more. He stuck a tool in the latch side to prevent it being closed by the Loonies and apparently decided not to keep messing with it without support. The element outside waited.
There were obviously lengthy discussions ongoing with the leadership, possibly all the way back to Earth.
Shortly, the outside element trotted to one of the vehicles and pulled out a roll of material and some struts. Then they started assembling it.
Rojas noted, “Mylar sun shield.”
Malakhar said, “For note, the shadow is nowhere underneath it this time of day. Quite distant. We can knock it down with no risk of injury.”
Andre smirked. “Heck, a properly placed gas bottle will blow it across the landscape.”
Rojas added, “Especially if we can find a way to cut it with debris then blow it to shreds.”
The element outside were almost certainly trying to open Lock 1 intact. It existed for a reason, and even if they succeeded in entry, they’d need it, too. It was probably also sturdier than their gear could easily override. Blowing a hole in it would be easy. Actually opening it to admit entry was a different matter.
It was obvious they were using tools, moving around, probing, trying to determine some way to force an almost featureless aluminum panel on a grooved track.
Crawford asked, “What do your observers have, Ravi?”
Malakhar said, “There are two small detachments patrolling slowly through the crags, and they will probably find the personnel hatches. I told Coffman who says Zeiss is aware.”
“Good. But most of them are right here?”
“I’d question their logic, but really, this is the best place to get a force in. The narrow passages are bottlenecks and could lead to a lot of casualties. Here they can get more force in, and maneuver.”
During all this, the troops in Middle Bay were still sitting there patiently, not using more resources than they had to.
“Does this matter?” Rojas asked. She looked tired.
“How do you mean?” Andre asked.
“Even if we win, do we win? What do we win?”
Andre had to think about that. He stretched back in his chair.
“I don’t know,” he said. “On the one hand, if the Ueys do keep it secret, there’s no benefit but no loss. I can’t imagine it staying secret, though. Too many scientists would want it to be public, and too many people would benefit.”
Morton said, “I rather think there’d be a lot of fighting over it, with serious physical assaults to secure it for one group or another. Probably national, but possibly corporate.”
“Very possible,” Andre agreed.