Day 16 (continued)
While Strelok and Titus begin working on the formidable portal to the CLASS V ORDNANCE VAULT, Gooptaz resumes poking around the ruined factory for discarded artifacts. Bannstone finds a high perch near the top of factory with a view over the west half of the base grounds. Mongo and Stak exit the factory through gaps in the east wall and make a dash for the low concrete structure to the northwest. Mongo boosts Stak up where he can pull himself atop the 3-meter roof, where he crawls forward a few meters to glimpse the top of the defense pylon turret. The deadly gas laser could probably vaporize anyone venturing beyond this side of the roof.
The two power-armored warriors retreat and circle the long way around the factory back to the southeast face of the central pyramid. The vitreous plasteel walls are severely cracked and corroded in many places, making it easy to break through into the interior. Flimsy interior walls for offices, classrooms, storage rooms and mechanical spaces have been completely destroyed by a century of exposure to the hostile jungle climate. The center is occupied by an intact 10-meter block-house of reinforced concrete and durasteel. A red access pad is embedded in the concrete next to a heavy black duralloy door. Above the doorway is a plaque reading: ARES BASE / NEW YORK PROTECTORATE / 2590. Another plaque for the future team trophy room!
Strelok and Titus abandon work on the ordnance-vault door and join Stak and Mongo at the pyramid. Gooptaz follows them. The two technicians begin working to circumvent the door security system, which seems to be receiving power from some nearby source. This door should be significantly easier to break through.
Mongo and Stak skulk around the back of the hangar building to the southwest corner. The rusted power armor is Combine Powered Plate, the blasted hull probably a Class III security bot. There appear to be a few small intact containers among the rusted equipment and yellowed bones. All well beyond reach unless one is willing to brave the defense pylon. While Stak is thinking things through, Mongo peeks around the corner. ZAAAP A blinding beam of white-hot energy flashes 50cm past as he ducks back behind the steel walls of the hangar.
Stak trots back to the pyramid where the techs are making good progress with the door. Wires and fiber optic cables hang from the open access panel and the door is now cracked open 4 centimeters. Strelok takes a break and fabricates a hook and lasso out of random junk and the umbilical from Titus’ spacesuit. Stak rejoins Mongo and the two attempt to lasso some containers. After 15 minutes they are rewarded with a long duraplastic case containing a functional but slightly corroded light-amplifying rifle scope. Nothing else worthwhile can be retrieved with the makeshift grapnel.
As Stak is about to give it up, Bannstone yells over the comm-net. The long west door to the north structure has swung open and the security bot is rolling out. Looks like something has been at work repairing the metal monster, though the gaping crater remains and both tentacles are still out of operation. Judging that his standard rifle ammo probably won’t harm the bot, Bannstone holds his fire and reports the bot’s progress. Mongo readies the rocket launcher and sprints east toward the southeast corner of the hangar. Stak is ahead of him and already halfway to the factory when the incredibly fast security bot rounds the corner and opens fire with dual blasters. Mongo dodges behind the corner and manages to avoid getting hit. He steps out to launch the team’s last missile, only to discover the towering bot is already within 15 meters.
Suddenly Mongo is weightless…the bot has him in the grip of a powerful tractor beam! The helpless clone is dangled upside down ten meters above the hangar. He manages to maintain his grip on the rocket launcher long enough for one desperate shot. The last missile roars down straight and true. The powerful blast throws Mongo against the hangar roof and then down next to the overturned security bot. Daylight is visible through the 20cm hole made by the dual-purpose HEAT warhead. Mongo is well protected by the 2nd-gen Combine power armor and suffers no injury from the blast or fall. This feat is definitely merit-badge-worthy…
Everyone rallies at the pyramid. While the techs finish hacking the door, Gooptaz rummages around the rubble beneath the pyramid walls and finds…a broken 15-meter plastic extension cord. Inside the fortified bunker is a command center with five terminals: DEFENSE, ROBOTICS, POWER, ACCESS CONTROL and COMMUNICATIONS. The mummified skeleton of an NYP officer in a suit of powered Inertia Armor sits at the unsecured COMMS terminal. Inscribed on the gray and white enameled armor are rank insignia and the words ‘COLONEL STEELE’. The armor is scarred by blaster fire but seems mostly intact. The Colonel bears a holstered laser pistol with half-spent power cell and a red access card with 3 silver stars in an armored slot. The Colonel’s century-old warning is broadcasting on all bands in a repeating loop.
Stelok turns off a firewall that is blocking a pending datafeed request from “Delta Star 419”. DS419 is now connected with a low-volume datafeed. The ACCESS CONTROL terminal briefly flashes to life. A door labelled ‘Bldg 2 HANGAR:LIFT’ changes status from purple/lockout or red/opened/flashing, then the terminal goes dark again…locked like all the others.
Strelok and Titus hack the terminals long into the night while the rest of the team sleeps or patrols the pyramid. ‘Delta Star 419’, presumably the Daedalus Starship Control Computer, assists in trying to bypass the defenses put in place by user ‘csteele’. All five terminals are successfully hacked. The DEFENSE terminal allows the last functioning defense pylon to be disabled. However, a remote air-defense missile system has been locked out from all external control by ‘csteele’. It has a 30km range with 7 of 16 original missiles remaining. Long ago the entire base was concealed from air or orbital observation by a powerful concealment-field-generator and protected by a force-field of equal size. This impressive system required 80-megawatts of power and has long since broken down.
At the ROBOTICS terminal, the locations of three functioning bots is displayed: a light repair bot and a modified ag-bot in the ‘robotics garage’. The 3rd bot is listed as:
- DEFENSE BOT, WARTHOG MARK I, 15 TONS
- CONDITION: NOMINAL
- STATUS: ACTIVE/STANDBY
- PROGRAM: LOCAL AUTONOMOUS DEFENSE
- LOCATION: CLASS-V ORDNANCE VAULT
No further info or control is available. User ‘csteele’ permanently disabled/deleted all external controls and IFF, obviously intended this bot to destroy anything entering the ordnance vault, including himself. The last known location of over two dozen various non-functional bots is available, ranging from humanoid service bots to heavy cargo lifters. Investigation of these locations later yields 5 sets of robotics parts (3x in robotics garage to the north, 2x in operations main factory hall). The team quickly takes control of the modified agricultural bot and coveted repair bot. Strelok has a new best friend forever! Strelok and Titus remove the last functioning flamer and then strip the ag-bot for parts.
ACCESS CONTROL displays a long list of 60+ security doors. Though schematics and floorplans have been wiped, it is apparent that 2/3rds of the base is located below ground and undoubtedly flooded by a rising water table. All doors are listed ‘non-functional’ except four located in the surface structures:
- Bldg 1 HEADQUARTERS: COMMAND BUNKER (red/opened)
- Bldg 2 HANGAR: LIFT (red/opened/flashing)
- Bldg 3 ROBOTICS GARAGE: EXTERNAL DOOR (green/closed)
- Bldg 4 OPERATIONS: CLASS-V ORDNANCE VAULT (purple/lockout)
The POWER terminal reveals that 30% of the solar collection capacity in the pyramid walls of the HEADQUARTERS building is still available, enough to power a few bots and limited systems in up to two buildings at a time. NYP-frequency broadcast power is being emitted from antennas beneath the apex of the headquarters pyrmaid. Currently buildings 1 and 3 have main power enabled. The huge 300MW nuclear reactor expended its fuel over a century ago in the year 2649. Truly a gigantic amount of power for such a small installation.
Much of the data about the base and it’s operations was apparently deleted by Colonel Steele in his final days, but there is no doubt that this was the site of top-secret weapons R&D and low-volume specialty manufacturing of same. The remote location was obviously clearly intended to hide the operation from Combine intelligence, but perhaps also to reduce risk to enclave population centers in case of an accident. What could the NYP have been building here? No one likes to be alone in the bunker with Steele’s creepy mummy…something’s going to have to be done about that thing.
The team investigates the hangar after switching main-power on. A 24×12 meter rectangular outline is visible beneath a layer of detritus around the periphery of the concrete floor. At the back is a large console labelled ‘HANGAR LIFT’. A custom 20kg electro-mechanical lock of solid duralloy secures the controls. Bannstone fails to bypass the sophisticated lock. Thinking ‘Colonel Steele’ might have a key, the team returns to pry his mummified corpse from the ancient power armor. No key is found. With careful direction, the repair bot is able to plasma-torch the lock without too much risk to the controls beneath. As soon as the lock is removed, a red access panel and flashing red LED are exposed. With a thunderous groan the center part of the hangar descends six meters into a vast dark space. Gooptaz comes running over from the factory where he successfully scavenged a grenade and a duraplastic collection of ancient Gothic horror fiction (something for Strelok to add to his growing library).
Nucleonic strips flash to life, bathing the huge underground hangar in brilliant light. Along the walls are workbenches and racks lined with neatly arranged tools and parts, all untouched since the Proxy Wars. At one end of the 60-meter floor stands a magnificent sight: the 21-meter fuselage of an aircraft. Elegant curves of gray-enameled duralloy sweep from nose to tail. A short ladder leads up to the interior. The aircraft is pristine inside and out.
There is little in the way of identifying information on the exterior or interior of the Zephyr. Clearly a black-ops craft manufactured by the NYP in the late Shadow Years. The storage racks are empty except for a small store of survival ration bricks, 45 liters of water, and a rare and prized survival artifact: a portent with the required two solar cells installed. The Ganguly-5 mini-fusion reactor has only 90,000 km on the odometer. Enough energy remaining for 210,000 km of flight! But how to fly it out without being shot down by the anti-aircraft missiles? The Zephyr has multiple passive and active defensive systems, but will they be sufficient? The rest of the day is spent pondering these problems and becoming completely familiar with the Zephyr.
Strelok and Titus spend the day extracting the valuable heavy gas laser and turret machinery from the intact defense pylon. The laser was powered only by a failing atomic cell with two shots remaining! In a technical coup, they manage to mount the turret to the underside of the Zephyr passenger area where it can be fired down toward ground targets or aircraft approaching from below. The Zephyr can also fly inverted below 200kph, allowing for the possibility of engaging topside targets as well. There’s no way to wire this power-hungry beam weapon to the sealed reactor, so a new atomic cell must be loaded every 10 shots. Deadly gas emitted by the reaction generating the laser must be carefully vented outside to avoid poisoning the crew (INT:12).
Gooptaz has little success in finding food these past few days so the team subsists on rations carried away from the shuttle crash. Mongo and Gooptaz perform a sweep of the nearby area in an attempt to locate the missile system, but turn up nothing. The launchers and fire control could be well-camouflaged inside the fence, concealed beneath the ground, or even distributed around the area individually. One can almost imagine Colonel Steele peering up from hell with a crooked grin on his mummified face.
Everything portable is loaded into the Zephyr, including the semi-intact and quite repairable security bot. In the early morning hours Titus, Mongo and Bannstone take the Zephyr up and rocket away to the south along the treetops. Stelok mans the heavy gas laser ball-turret. Stak and Gooptaz strap into the passenger area. First stop will be the gear stashed 12km southwest.
After only four kilometers, twin blips appear on the UWB sensor display. The approaching missiles quickly go hyper-sonic. Six seconds before impact Titus slows down and flips the Zephyr inverted. Strelok squeezes off a shot from the laser-turret as the missiles approach within 1km. One missile plunges into the jungle! Bannstone punches up two flare canisters. A cloud of flashing spread-spectrum fireflies appear behind the Zephyr. The remaining missile is engaged by the phalanx point-defense system and destroyed.
All thought of the gear stash is forgotten as two more hyper-sonic birds take flight. At 25km out from Ares Base both missiles approach the Zephyr. Mongo calls out range and aspect from the sensor display. Strelok performs the hat-trick of downing yet another missile! Again Bannstone discharges two flare arrays. The missile is only a few seconds away when the phalanx system misses. Titus throws the Zephyr into a max-G turn, but too late. The missile punches through the cloud of flares, matches the Zephyr’s turn and explodes just below and behind the cockpit. Deadly shrapnel blasts through the thinly armored hull, striking Titus and Bannstone in the legs. Blood sprays across the cockpit. Humongous is spared thanks to power armor. A whirling shard of duralloy pierces Stak’s antiquated 1st-gen armor. The Zephyr spins toward the swamp only a few hundred meters below. Even with Mongo’s help, Titus is unable to avoid a crash-landing. Just before impact the Zephyr levels out. A black wave of water sweeps over the hull.
From some unknowable place slips the insane cackle of Colonel Ulrich Steele, 1st Special Forces Brigade, New York Protectorate.