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A note from Commander DuctTape

One chapter only today due to time limitations on my end, so apologies for that. I'll catch up with myself by the next release day.

Chapter 24: Below the belt
Patterson


“It should be right… here!” said Agent Zenovich.

He nodded at Rockfield, or Cipher, or maybe Botfield, and gestured at the thick metal door that supposedly led to the tunnel entrance. It was in one of the dusty old side corridors of the city hall, and with all the cobwebs around it, Patterson figured that nobody had used that door for a while now.

The man or droid walked up to the metal door, and without a second thought, he kicked it right in the middle. The two metal doors slammed right open, and Patterson noticed a dent near the handles.

Nichols was wearing her helmet now, but Patterson could tell that her eyes were ready to jump out of their sockets.

“Did… did you just kick a metal door open?”

“Yes,” the droid replied casually.

Nichols and probably the rest of the squad stared at the agent as he casually walked through the door.

“I advised you to hurry,” he said. “I don’t think we have too much time.”

Patterson and the others followed the agent down the dark staircase as quickly as they could. Truthfully, he still had problems wrapping his head around Platoon’s existence, and him destroying metal doors with a simple kick did not help matters at all. The fact that it was extremely useful to have a heavy hitter like that in the squad did help him come to terms with the whole concept, however.

With Zenovich at the front and Langley bringing up the rear, the seven of them made their way down the staircase slowly but steadily, using the lights of their helmets or headsets to navigate. It took them a few minutes to reach the end.

“We must be over a hundred meters below ground now,” Daniel muttered. “…If not deeper.”

“As far as nuclear shelters go,” said Nichols “this seems like a pretty solid one.”

Botfield opened the door at the end of the staircase, revealing a gigantic tunnel on the other side. The half-circle shaped tunnel was around fifteen meters wide and ten meters tall, and similarly to the staircase, it was pitch black down there. It was cold, smelly and damp, and parts of the concrete floor seemed to have puddles on them.

More importantly, however, it was dead silent. Apart from their echoing footsteps, there wasn’t anything that could make a noise, and Patterson found that quite to his liking. If anyone came after them, it would be easy to hear their arrival.

As he took a look around the tunnel, he noticed Langley getting a bit uneasy. “You alright there, Major?”

She shook her head quickly as if trying to chase a thought away. “No. Yes! Probably…”

“She’s not a fan of closed spaces,” Nichols remarked as she went back to Langley’s side. “…nothing to worry about Cole.”

“It’s gonna take a while for us to get there,” North said. “You sure you want to come?”

Langley nodded, though a bit reluctantly. “I got shot out of the sky less than two hours ago. A tunnel’s not going to stop me now!”

“Good answer!” said Daniel with a thumbs up.

With Botfield and Patterson at the front, Rhino-1 started running through the tunnels, doing their best to avoid stepping onto wet surfaces and cracked concrete. As their flashlights bounced up and down on the walls, every now and then they lit up either a sign or a Burrowbeak, with the latter making a screeching noise from the sudden light as it went back into its hole. Patterson was happy that Nick wasn’t here, given his fear of these four-winged critters.

The signs on the other hand were welcome guests, and with their help, Rhino was able to navigate the place quite easily. Eventually, they reached an intersection, which happened to have one of the many generator buildings as well. The “building” was nothing more than a door in the side of the concrete wall with the century-old thunder sign on it, indicating high voltage equipment.

“I wonder if there’s anything useful in there,” mentioned Zenovich as he shined his light on the door.

“Maybe some tools but I doubt we'd find anything better,” replied Daniel. “and besides, I’d rather not mess around near high voltage equipment.”

Patterson noticed that Botfield took a look at his wrist terminal, which seemed to have a wire running inside his body armor’s sleeve. He had no idea how much a droid’s battery lasted, but he figured it didn’t have many chances to recharge without anybody getting suspicious.

“We can check it later,” Botfield said afterwards. “that reactor needs to be offline as soon as possible.”

Zenovich shrugged and then turned his attention towards the tunnel that led to the plant.

Daniel and the rest of the squad were about to follow them when Patterson sounded off. “Dan, you’ve got a sec? There’s something we need to discuss before we get to the plant.”

Daniel and a few others stared at Patterson.

“We can discuss it on the way, but it’s important.”

Daniel shrugged, and then along with Patterson, they stayed a bit further as they followed the rest of the squad. “What’s up?”

Patterson put his rifle away and took off his backpack. After fishing around for a bit, he handed Daniel the document about his father’s activities. “Agent Cipher suspected that your father had something to do with the NAF, and this thing seems to prove his claims.

Daniel furrowed his eyebrows, but without saying a word he opened the folder.

As they continued their journey towards the powerplant, it seemed like that Langley managed to overcome her claustrophobia, at least for the time being. Daniel kept reading in silence for most of the journey until eventually, he groaned up.

“I cannot believe this man!” he groaned as he tossed the document back to Patterson.

North and Nichols turned to them, no doubt hearing Daniel. “What’s going on?” Nichols asked.

“My father is selling Sapphirian tech to terrorists, that’s what! That fucker must have been doing this for years now…”

Nichols looked at Patterson and held her left arm out. He handed the folder over to her, and by the time the squad arrived at the power plant’s tunnel entrance, every one of them had a chance to read through that folder.

“How come he didn’t get imprisoned for treason?” North asked.

“He’s got too many people in his pocket,” explained Daniel. “…hell, I went ahead and made a court case against him over a different issue, and not only did the jury let him go scar-free, but they also tossed me out of Sapphiria!”

Daniel kicked the side of the tunnel as he finished his rant. The conversation was pretty much over afterwards, since Rhino had finally reached the entrance. As Botfield and Zenovich walked up to the door they were looking for, he opened it slowly, revealing yet another dark staircase.

“We’re here. And it seems like they indeed didn’t know about the tunnels,” said Botfield

“Don’t be so sure of that,” Zenovich advised, “…these fuckers love hiding in the dark.”

Patterson walked up next to the droid, and after gazing up the staircase, he turned to the squad. “Right, we can finish the conversation later,” he said, nodding at Daniel. “We don’t know what’s waiting for us on the other side, so keep your eyes and ears open, and take it slow.”

“And watch for mines or IEDs,” added North. “…narrow routes like this are excellent for traps like that.”

Patterson had completely forgotten about that possibility, and he almost slapped himself for it “…shit, that’s a great point actually,” he admitted. “North, you think you can spot them?”

He nodded and went to the front of the group. “Definitely. Just stay a few meters behind me, alright?”

Patterson nodded and patted North on the back, who began making his way up the stairs.

As they slowly ascended, Patterson could hear the sound of machinery, and later on, footsteps and talking. The enemy was definitely inside the plant, though whether or not they had anyone guarding the metal door was a mystery. A minute or so later North managed to arrive at the exit after spotting and picking up a few mines, giving a thumbs up to Patterson at the end. The two of them could very clearly hear talking on the other side of the door.

“So how do you want to play this?” North asked.

“I’d rather not charge in before I know what’s waiting on the other side.”

Patterson noticed Botfield walking up to them. “May I go first? If anything is waiting, there is a chance that they will not shoot me right away due to my armor.”

Patterson and North looked at each other, and after shrugging, they let Botfield go first. After the rest of the squad got into position, and away from the door, Patterson raised his hand and counted down from five silently.

Botfield slowly opened the door, and a moment later Patterson heard the sound of guns getting cocked.

“Who the fuck are you?!” someone shouted on the other side.

Botfield raised his hands and he slowly walked through the door.

“Hey, he’s one of us guys,” said someone else.

“Apologies for startling you,” Botfield started “I was tasked with exploring the tunnels down here and apparently one of the routes led here.”

A rather uncomfortable silence followed.

“Yeah right! How come we weren’t told about these tunnels if command knew about them, huh?”

“Damn straight! We’re not some lowly mercs like you! We’re Federation soldiers, and I doubt command would tell you something without telling us too!”

“Get that fricking helmet off from your face, rookie!”

Patterson sighed and gripped his assault rifle. North switched from his machine gun to his grenade launcher, but before either one of them could act Botfield spoke up. “Very well.”

Platoon reached for his helmet, and just as he was about to take it off, Patterson charged up and opened fire at the people on the other side of the door. No droid reveal was going to happen on his watch!

The storm of bullets knocked down two people straight away in what turned out to be a sort of recreation room for the power plant workers, equipped with benches, tables, wending machines, and a pool table.

The remaining enemies jumped behind various furniture while others flipped a table or a bench in front of them and crouched behind those. Patterson followed the latter group’s example and as soon as he charged in, he threw himself behind a couch that he had flipped over with the help of Botfield. The agent quickly grabbed his revolvers and the two of them proceeded to fire off a few dozen shots to keep the enemy suppressed while the rest of the team followed them into the room.

The soldiers were quick to return fire as well, and in the midst of all that, Patterson heard the unmistakable sound of someone pulling a grenade pin. He was about to shoot but Botfield pushed him down to the ground and fired first. From the ground, Patterson saw the grenade thrower’s head disappear, and in the next moment, he also saw Botfield get shot in the chest and flying back to the wall.

“Agent!” Langley yelled as she saw it too.

Patterson hopped back up to his feet and emptied his entire magazine into a table on the other end of the room, and then jumped back behind his couch. His rifle burst shredded the whole desk apart along with whoever was behind it, and right after that, the enemy’s grenade exploded, taking down a few more.

As he changed his magazine, he saw North aim his grenade launcher. Without saying a word, he launched his grenade, and just as Patterson grabbed his ear another grenade exploded. Hundreds of furniture and grenade fragments flew across the room, and when the ringing stopped, Patterson saw that none of the enemy were shooting at them anymore. “We’re clear!” he announced.

The squad hastily got out from their cover while Patterson checked on Botfield. The droid was looking around on the ground, and despite the fact that he had two different holes in his vest, with one of them leaking some sort of fluid, it seemed relatively fine.

“Fuck… you alright Cipher?”

Botfield nodded. “Seems that way…”

“He’s seen worse,” stated Zenovich as he hurried over to the two of them.

Patterson and Zenovich quickly helped their friend up, and after Daniel handed Cole a first aid kit, he started to tie it around the droid’s chest.

“I’m not sure that’s––” the droid said.

Patterson kicked Botfield in the leg, which he immediately regretted. It felt like kicking a rock barefooted, but luckily the droid got the intended message and stopped talking.

After he finished, he turned to the rest of the squad who were busy checking the dead bodies. “Cipher’s vest blocked most of the hits,” he lied “you found anything useful?”

“Nothing we haven’t had already!” replied Langley. “But we’re lucky these guys didn’t have gauss weaponry. Otherwise, Cipher would be toast.”

Patterson grumbled something under his mouth and quickly hurried to the exit of the rec room. He slowly opened the door that lead outside of it, and after taking a peek, he concluded that the rest of the enemy was probably in other parts of the plant.

“Alright, seems like we caught them during the dinner break.” He concluded. “Cipher, how big is this place?”

Botfield and the others moved up to Patterson and took a look at the droid’s wrist terminal.

“Around the same size as the city hall and the courtyard, not counting the chimneys. And we need to scour the place from top to bottom for hostiles.”

“Chimneys too,” Zenovich added “…Simmons once told me about a time they set up a sniper’s nest in one of those things back in Esmos.”

“That’s gonna take quite a long time on foot…” Daniel remarked. “we might need to call in the rest of Rhino.”

Nichols looked at the three of them, and despite the helmet, Patterson could imagine the smug smile on her face. “Who says we’re searching on foot?” she said as she turned on her jetpack’s power.

Daniel shook his head. “Right, forgot about that.”

“I’ll check the upper floors and the courtyard,” she said, “If I see anything that I can’t handle, I’ll radio.”

“And what counts as something you can’t handle?” North asked as he reloaded his grenade launcher.

Nichols crossed her arms and stared at North.

“…right,” he replied.

“Cipher and I can probably find the reactor control room,” Patterson said. “North, Dan, Langley, and Zenovich, you four go and check the ground floors. Radio if things get out of hand.”

The four of them quickly saluted, and with Langley at the lead, they made their way out through the door along with Nichols.

As they left, Patterson reached for a full magazine in his vest and saw that he only had one left. He sighed and put his rifle over his shoulders, taking out his pistol instead. “Let’s make this quick before we run out of ammo,” he said to Botfield.

Without saying a word Botfield went out through the door as well, and Patterson followed him. The room on the other side turned out to be a large hallway with five different exits, two of them being staircases leading either to the top floors or to a basement section. Since both squads were kind enough to leave the doors behind them open, Botfield didn’t have to think hard to pick a direction to go towards. They quickly made their way through the exit on the other end of the hallway, which led to another one, this one being much longer and narrower.

Patterson didn’t know much about the layouts or the workings of nuclear power plants. What he did know was that the reactors were almost always on the ground floor, and the doors that led to the reactor room were littered with biohazard signs. Since he wasn’t too keen on getting radiation poisoning just yet, Patterson suggested that the two of them check the reactor control center first, hoping that that’s where the NAF had set up their detonator device, or whatever triggered the nuclear explosion.

“Any idea how they turned the reactor into a bomb?” he asked from Botfield.

“Could be any number of things,” answered the droid. “sabotaged cooling systems, overloaded power output, disabled safety locks... Or even an actual nuclear device.”

Patterson stopped in his tracks. “You're saying they could be using a nuke to set off a nuclear reactor? Wouldn’t that be redundant?”

Botfield stopped as well and turned to him. “A reactor “explosion” would not do much structural damage. It would break a few pillars in the powerplant and maybe the roof but that is about it. The real danger is the fallout, and that would be more than lethal enough for any organic beings.”

Patterson felt perplexed. “…then they have to have an actual bomb here. Otherwise, their safeguard wouldn’t do much to prevent us from leaving.”

“Apart from making the city uninhabitable for the foreseeable future,” Botfield said, in a somewhat stern tone. “…no, it wouldn’t.”

Patterson raised his hands. “Of course, but we would be able to evacuate with the drive pretty much no problem if only the reactor went off. That, I think, is what they want to prevent with their explosion.”

Botfield nodded, but before either one of them could continue the conversation, their radios turned on. “Gentlemen, we have a situation!” announced Nichols.

“What’s going on, Staff?”

“I have eyes on some kind of cargo plane flying over the city. Not sure whether it’s ours or not, but unless they are planning to crash into us, I’d say they’re almost definitely heading for Blackfort.”

Patterson felt his hands clench into a fist. “Probably reinforcements…”

“Actually,” Nichols continued “…that thing might be our ticket out of here,” she said. “…if we can take it over, we can get out of this hellhole no problem.”

Patterson shook his head. “Karla, you do realize that the plane is probably filled with NAF troops, right?”

“So what?”

He didn’t say anything to that. A bit of silence later Nichols spoke up again. “Look, Cole, I know very well that you prefer to play things safe, but I’m not letting an opportunity like this slip by.”

Patterson sighed and gripped his radio. “Alright, fine, but let’s clear the plant first.”

“Got it.”

After putting away his radio he turned to Botfield. “Let’s go!”

The two of them continued running through the hallways of the plant, a bit distraught by the sudden arrival of a potentially hostile cargo plane, but eventually, they heard the sound of gunfire coming from above, and as they went up to another floor, below them. Daniel and Nichols both reported that they engaged enemy forces, which meant that hopefully he and Botfield would have a clear route to the reactor control center.

They made it through another two rooms before that idea went through the window in the form of a gauss rifle-wielding soldier waiting at the control center’s door. Patterson and Botfield both jumped back to the corridor they came out from, narrowly avoiding the rounds.

The enemy soldier laughed up as he fired another burst at their cover, blowing numerous holes into the wall. “Come on sissies, that all you’ve got?!”

Patterson was about to shut him up with a bullet but Botfield grabbed his shoulder. “Allow me.”

The droid stepped away from Patterson and ran back the way the two of them came from, into a small office. A few seconds later Patterson heard the sound of some sort of shelf breaking and then saw Botfield walk out with an entire door in his hands. Cole’s eyebrows went up to the roof as the droid walked up to him, and after giving him a nod, he jumped out to the corridor.

In that exact same move, he hurled the door down the hallway, hitting the gunner straight in the chest as he fired his gun. The resulting hit sent the man into the wall of the control center as the door’s top shattered on him, and afterwards he slowly slid down the wall as his body went limp.

Patterson stared in horror at both the body and the agent, who quickly got up from the floor and took his revolvers out.

“Apologies for the scare Lieutenant,” it said.

Patterson quickly shook his head and focused back on the objective. “It was unexpected, that’s all. Now let’s get into that room.”

The two of them hurried into the control center. Inside the room, they could see the nuclear reactor of Blackfortress through a reinforced window. To Patterson’s uneducated eyes the reactor seemed normal enough, but as he looked around the control center, he suddenly realized why that was the case.

On the left side of the rather large control room, surrounded by a mess of wires, buttons, and probably a bunch of safeguards, was a car-sized missile. The dark grey object had numerous lights on it, indicating that it was powered up, but the most concerning thing about it was a small terminal next to it.

A terminal that had a clock on its screen.

A clock that was counting down.

Without a second thought, Patterson gripped his radio while Botfield ran up to investigate the nuclear bomb. “Guys, we found the reactor room, and we’re dealing with an actual nuclear missile!”

“What?!” shouted Langley into the radio

“You shitting me!” Nichols yelled.

“Finish the cleanup and then get your asses here! We need to find a way to turn off this thing…”

 

*

It took the squad around fifteen more minutes to fully clean the place out, and during that time Riley radioed Patterson that Echo team managed to take the tower, though they were having trouble turning off the jammer, due to it being inside a heavily reinforced case. Alpha had to take a detour after the NAF blew up one of the bridges inside the center, along with one of their vehicles, forcing most of them to go on foot and delay the link-up even longer.

As for Rhino-1’s situation, it didn’t look too bright either. After North and Botfield finished their examinations, North came back to Patterson, looking very much frustrated.

“That damn thing’s not getting turned off anytime soon, at least not without the shutdown code. Too many safety locks that would trigger a detonation.”

Patterson shook his head and kicked one of the nearby tables. “Damnit!”

Nichols crossed her arms and turned to North, “Any idea where that code could be?”

“Probably on the guy who put it there in the first place.”

“Or,” Daniel suggested “…maybe whoever’s in charge of the NAF has it? Doubt they’d trust a code like that to anyone else.”

Zenovich walked up them as well. “I don’t think their big boss has it, but rather the person in charge of this operation.”

“Great.” Patterson scoffed. “Any idea who that might be?”

“Not a clue,” Botfield replied. “The only thing I know is that he or she goes by the name “Swordfish”, but that is about it.”

“Any chance that it's our mole?” asked Daniel out of nowhere.

Cole saw Nichols tense up and dart towards Dan. “Mole? What do you mean by that?”

“Agent 'Simmons' suspected that we had a traitor in our ranks since we got there since they knew about our arrival and where our gliders would be coming from,” explained Daniel.

“...and since Jefferson's not too big on sharing information and operation plans,” Patterson continued, deciding that they might as well spill the beans now. “...it had to be someone high-ranked enough to be briefed directly about Operation Black Knight.”

Nichols shook her head, and turned to Botfield and Zenovich. “And just when exactly where you planning on telling the rest of us about this?!”

"When we had a more concrete idea about who it was?” Zenovich retorted “And in case you haven't noticed, we have a timed nuke sitting here, which seems a tad bit more important than a traitor!”

Nichols was about to argue back if she gripping her helmet harder was any indication, but Daniel stepped between the two before things got more heated. "Look this whole debate is pointless. We can't do anything about either the traitor or the missile. Not unless we find the shutdown codes by some miracle."

Nichols loosened up a bit, but she still seemed irritated as always. As she stepped back a bit, Patterson spoke up. “How long do we have until this thing removes Blackfortress from the map?”

“Four hours,” Botfield replied “…but it is a small missile it seems. It would level the city center, but the other areas should be fine.”

“Yeah, apart from the deadly doses of radiation...” North added, “If this thing goes off, everyone on the island is going to die one way or another.”

Patterson sighed. He felt his heart stop as he heard the time, and then it suddenly sped up when he realized what this meant. They had four hours to either disable a nuclear device without any bomb disposal teams at hand or get literally everyone off from Paks. Even if they weren’t in the middle of a war zone, that would have been a logistical nightmare.

In their current situation, it was absolutely impossible.

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About the author

Commander DuctTape

  • Hungary

Bio: I'm just an average dude from Hungary who has way too much time on his hands. I started writing a couple years ago as a hobby, partly because I wanted to practice and improve my English, and partly because there's just something amazing about inventing new worlds and people from scratch and then writing about their deeds and adventures.

At this point I honestly can't imagine myself putting down my writing pen ever again, and I would like to wish lots of luck to every other writer out there with their projects!

Favorite genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Military

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