Nanotroopers episode 18.., p.1
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       Nanotroopers Episode 18: Geoplanes, p.1

           Philip Bosshardt
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Nanotroopers Episode 18: Geoplanes
Nanotroopers

  Episode 18: Geoplanes

  Copyright 2017 Philip Bosshardt

  A few words about this series….

  *** Nanotroopers is a series of 15,000- 20,000 word episodes detailing the adventures of Johnny Winger and his experiences as a nanotrooper with the United Nations Quantum Corps.

  *** Each episode will be about 40-50 pages, approximately 20,000 words in length.

  *** A new episode will be available and uploaded every 3 weeks.

  *** There will be 22 episodes. The story will be completely serialized in about 14 months.

  *** Each episode is a stand-alone story but will advance the greater theme and plot of the story arc.

  *** The main plotline: U.N. Quantum Corps must defeat the criminal cartel Red Hammer’s efforts to steal or disable their new nanorobotic ANAD systems.

  Episode # Title Approximate Upload Date

  1 ‘Atomgrabbers’ 1-14-16

  2 ‘Nog School’ 2-8-16

  3 ‘Deeno and Mighty Mite’ 2-29-16

  4 ‘ANAD’ 3-21-16

  5 ‘Table Top Mountain’ 4-11-16

  6 ‘I, Lieutenant John Winger…’ 5-2-16

  7 ‘Hong Chui’ 5-23-16

  8 ‘Doc Barnes’ 6-13-16

  9 ‘Demonios of Via Verde’ 7-5-16

  10 ‘The Big Bang’ 7-25-16

  11 ‘Engebbe’ 8-15-16

  12 ‘The Symbiosis Project’ 9-5-16

  13 ‘Small is All!’ 9-26-16

  14 ‘’The HNRIV Factor’ 10-17-16

  15 ‘A Black Hole’ 11-7-16

  16 ‘ANAD on Ice’ 11-29-16

  17 ‘Lions Rock’ 12-19-16

  18 ‘Geoplanes’ 1-9-17

  19 ‘Mount Kipwezi’ 1-30-17

  20 ‘Doc II’ 2-20-17

  21 ‘Paryang Monastery’ 3-13-17

  22 ‘Epilogue’ 4-3-17

  Chapter 1

  “Fault Zone”

  Palawan Beach, Sentosa Island

  Singapore

  August 20, 2049

  1045 hours (U.T.)

  It was a beautiful summer morning on Palawan Beach as hundreds of children, families, sunbathers and beachgoers gathered for another day in the tropical sun. Miles of white sand, laced with gently swaying palm trees and the occasional beach bar invited the indulgent to relax and enjoy the turquoise waters of Palawan Strait and follow the masts of the container ships on the horizon, maneuvering to enter the navigation channel and the harbor.

  Shortly before eleven in the morning, amidst the jetskiers and the windsurfers, a child came splashing out of the waves, shrieking and screaming at the top of her lugs, gesturing at something in the water. Sentosa hadn’t had a shark or dolphin sighting in years, but that wasn’t what had so frightened the child. As a few adults gathered around to sweep up the little girl and try to calm her, one of them pointed to a rising hump in the waves, a hundred meters off shore.

  “Tsunami!” someone cried. Indeed the building wave did at first glance resemble the surging wall of seawater that presaged an oncoming tsunami. But it wasn’t a tsunami. The growing bulge in the water was only a few dozen meters broad.

  “A whale!” someone else cried. There did seem to be a pronounced hump to the swell of the waves as the thing that had frightened more than one child continued to grow.

  “It’s a giant sea turtle…that’s what it is!” another adult decided.

  By now, the broad glistening back of something big was unmistakable. It breached the surface of the ocean in an explosive spray of water and steam, then rocked on its side and made steadily for the beach.

  Sunbathers and families scattered in terror. A Beach Patrol officer opened fire with his sidearm, to no affect. Jet skiers fled the area, arcing rooster-tails of spray behind them. Windsurfers kicked off their boards and paddled frantically for shore.

  The beast plunged through the surf line and rode over the tops of hissing breakers, then drove itself up onto the beach. It looked like a giant armored beetle, maybe twenty meters in length, rounded on top, clad in some kind of metallic shielding. The beetle sported a hardened carapace on top, which now gleamed in the humid morning air, as it shed curtains of water off its sides and back.

  It wasn’t a tsunami. It wasn’t a whale. It wasn’t a sea turtle.

  It was geoplane Mole.

  Suddenly, a hatch clanked open toward the rear of the beast. A head popped out, blinking hard in the strong sunshine.

  “Good morning,” smiled Johnny Winger.

  Singapore Base was a miniature replica of Table Top itself, complete down to the Containment Facility, the Sim and Wargaming center, the Ops quadrangle and the lift pads. Only the snowy peaks of Buffalo Ridge were missing, replaced with palm trees and mangrove stumps and the strong smell of salt air. The languid tropical waters of the Selatar River slapped wooden piers near the lift pads as the weary, bedraggled detachment dismounted from the crewtrac. The vehicle had picked up the Tectonic Sword crew from Mole and driven them across the city to Quantum Corps Eastern Command’s base.

  In the eastern sky, orange fingers of midday sunlight probed puffy cumulus clouds. Thunderstorm clouds were building to the south, boiling out of the tropics over the southern end of the Malay Peninsula. Torrential rains were only a few hours away.

  Colonel Sanjay Singh was the base commander at Singapore. A doughty sunburned Indian Sikh, Singh sported a luxurious, probably non-reg moustache with tight curls at the ends, which he absent-mindedly twirled as he talked. His face was like weather-beaten leather and his grip in a handshake was bone-crushing.

  “Welcome to the East, Lieutenant,” Singh greeted Winger and the bedraggled assault team from Mole. “Your arrival here was somewhat, shall we say, unusual.”

  Winger apologized for that. “We were stalked by a Chinese submarine all the way from Hong Kong.” He described the game of hide and seek that Mole had played with the Ming-class attack boat. The geoplane had trundled across the seafloor of the South China Sea for hundreds of kilometers, hiding in ravines, between hills and seamounts, playing dead, always alert for the sub to pounce like a stalking cat at any moment. “Once we reached Malaysian territorial waters, a UNISEA sub showed up and chased them away. We rode in along the seabed all the way to that beach.”

  Singh smiled ruefully, offering strong coffee and a few trays of sweets to the team. “I’m afraid you’ll be the top story on our news vids today. And your Major Kraft is conferencing in to my office in ten minutes. Perhaps, you’d like to freshen up?”

  Winger, Galland and the rest of the Tectonic Sword detachment took Singh up on his offer. A short while later, he and Galland were ensconced in Singh’s office when Jurgen Kraft’s head-avatar materialized like a djinn on the pedestal atop Singh’s rattan desk.

  Kraft scowled at the appearance of his two commanders. “You two look like you’ve been in the wash and rinse cycle for a week.”

  Winger described what had happened to the detachment. “We made a rubble pile out of Lions Rock, sir…that phase of the assault went just like the plan. Got the pulser emitters and the control system and made broccoli out of their scope works. It’ll be months, maybe years, before the Rock can be restored, if Red Hammer even tries.”

  Kraft nodded severely. “You also set off a week of tremors all across Hong Kong and the Pearl River delta. A few dozen fatalities in the city, some buildings damaged and the Chinese are plenty suspicious. But satvid confirms your story: Lions Rock is gone. Q2’s getting chatter from plenty of intel sources that the cartel is pissed and looking to strike back.”

  “We were damned
lucky, sir, to get out of that area alive. Our first escort sub was torpedoed by the PLA Navy. And we were trailed and stalked by a Ming-class attack boat most of the way south. What about the killsats, Major?”

  “Under UNIFORCE control, Lieutenant. When the pulsers went down, our own onboard ANAD systems were able to regain control of all satellites. The cartel couldn’t deploy swarms or bollix up our swarm configs without the pulsers. Based on that, I’m reporting to UNSAC that the mission was a success, though not without some complications.”

  Winger started to relax but Kraft went on. His face grew darker.

  “Your ‘complications’ have become a bit more critical, Winger, since you left Lions Rock. It appears now, according to Q2, that Red Hammer has somehow acquired plans and has built at least two geoplanes of their own.”

  Winger was incredulous. Galland swore under her breath. “Major…that can’t be…can it., sir?”

  Kraft nodded glumly. “They must have had an agent inside Table Top. Q2 is investigating and tracking several suspects…one of them is Clint Murchison.”

  “Murchison? The project engineer…the guy from Texas?”

  “The one. And that’s not all. Just last night, strong magnitude 6 and 7 tremors and quakes have struck three cities: Paris, Moscow and Tokyo. Only Tokyo has any history of seismic activity over the last six centuries.”

  “Red Hammer, sir?” Galland asked. She sipped at her coffee. Suddenly, the brew tasted cool and rancid.

  “We weren’t sure,” Kraft admitted, “until the communiqué came this morning, at UNIFORCE Paris and at the UN in New York. The cartel’s threatening even more destruction with their new geoplanes and seismic swarms…in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is closed, but still standing. Hundreds of commuters are trapped belowground in Metro stations. Same in Tokyo. In Moscow, one whole wall of the Kremlin fell into the Moscow River—“ Kraft sent them vid image after vid image of the scenes. “It’s the same in all three cities. Somehow, Red Hammer can now loosen enough rock strata with their swarms and geoplanes to create earthquakes on demand.”

  Winger rubbed his tired eyes. He needed about a week’s rest, but that didn’t look likely. “What about this communiqué, sir?”

  “Ah, yes…their demands and conditions—“ Kraft scanned the report, rattled off the details. “—UNIFORCE to be disbanded and that includes Quantum Corps and Boundary Patrol. The cartel wants a seat on the Security Council. Oh and a couple of trillion yuan…about ten trillion dollars at current rates. In other words, they’re holding most of the planet’s major cities hostage for a ransom.”

  Galland stabbed the air with her finger. “New York’s the big prize. I’m willing to bet on it. It’s UN headquarters.”

  Kraft shrugged. “Maybe. Q2 thinks even Table Top could be threatened. We’ve only got so many geoplanes…six in all. They can’t be everywhere. Winger, Galland, get back here as fast as you can. I’ve already re-routed a hyperjet to Singapore. It should be there in four hours. I’ve already got UNIFORCE tasking for a mission. You’ll be working with Boundary Patrol.”

  Galland rolled her eyes, though she made sure Kraft couldn’t see that. “Fabulous, sir. Even more time under tons of rock.”

  “Can you give us any mission details, Major?” Winger asked.

  “They’re still being worked out, Winger. I’ll squirt them to you on the trip back. Kraft, out.”

  Colonel Singh was idly twisting the ends of his moustache. “I’ve already got my crews working on Mole now…we’ll have her shipshape and ready to dive in another day. You two really put her through the wringer at Lions Rock.”

  Winger sniffed. “That’s what subterranean ops are like. You get pretty beat up burrowing through millions of tons of rock. Now, if Red Hammer can do the same—“

  Galland just shook her head. “Wings, I’m not sure we’re ready for combat half a kilometer belowground…it’s too dangerous.”

  “We don’t have a choice, Gabby…not if the cartel can set off tremors on demand. If we don’t engage them and deny them the ability to operate there, no city or town on Earth will be safe. They could lay waste to half the planet.”

  Singh clapped his hands. “Well, this won’t be solved in my office. You two go get some rest…that’s an order. I’ll see you’re awakened before that hyperjet touches down.”

  The Officers Club at Singapore Base was done up like a traditional Malaysian kampong, complete with thatch roof and palm tree beams. It was open at the back, where the bar curved away, giving onto a deck surrounded by a thicket of mangrove and pandanus vines, and the steady rush of the river behind that. A wooden pier had been built right from the back door out to the river's edge. Strollers had a good view of all the junks and sampans and assorted riverine craft and stilt houses that populated this stretch of the waterway.

  Winger and Galland found a corner of the bar by the door to the pier and ordered up a couple of local beers. They both spied another patron at the other end of the bar, alone, nursing a potent brew of something vaguely Indonesian in a long-stemmed goblet. He scowled down into his drink, seeking wisdom in the reflections of the amber liquid.

  “My God,” Galland muttered. “He looks like Oscar Mendez…but that can’t be.”

  Mendez and the crew of Prairie Dog had been lost on a Boundary Patrol mission somewhere below the Zagros Mountains of northern Iran.

  Winger agreed. “Superficial resemblance. I’ve been thinking about Oscar too. The investigation turned up nothing.”

  “Yeah, not surprising when all the evidence is a few thousand meters underground. We may never know what happened to those poor guys.”

  "I liked Mendez," Winger said, sipping at his beer, “but he could be an ass sometimes. The very picture of military bearing…Quantum Corps' answer to Custer. A giant among men. A dashing leader, always looking out for his troops' welfare. Steadfast commander--let's see, have I missed anything?"

  Galland sniffed at her beer. "I’m detecting some…how should I say it?…some residual animosity between you two. No respect for a fallen comrade, huh?”

  "I respected him but I never trusted him. He was in the Corps for all the wrong reasons."

  Galland seemed to consider that. “I see. And what, in your opinion, Lieutenant Winger, would be the proper reasons…to be in the Corps?”

  Winger chugged on his brew. “The usual recruiting poster stuff, I suppose. Duty, honor, adventure.”

  “And you?”

  Winger shrugged. “I don’t know…I guess I was stuck, going nowhere. I needed a change.”

  “And from what, exactly, did you need a change?”

  Winger hadn’t really given it a lot of thought lately. “It was right after Mom died…car accident. That was last year. It hit us all hard, Dad especially. He just kind of withdrew from us. Shrank into himself. Me and my brothers and sisters started running the place, the North Bar Pass Ranch, that is. Pueblo, Colorado.”

  “Your father…he was—“

  “—clinical depression…bipolar…whatever you want to call it. Just moped around in his lab, back in the barn. Tinkering. He always liked to tinker.” Winger half smiled. “Me too, I guess. I got it from him. Anyway, I was stuck at the ranch and we’d already had to sell part of the property to make ends meet. Developer came along, took a third of the range and re-named it Highhorn. Made it a fake ranch, for the city folks. After that, you didn’t see anything but billboards, and para-sailers and little clone ponies…makes me sick to talk about it.” Winger stared down into his beer, swirled it with a finger and licked the frosting off. “I saw this story on the Net about a new force, a kind of combination military and police force, set up by the UN, trying to deal with small things, I mean, really small things. Viruses and plagues and nanoscale threats and such. That was right after Dad got the patch treatment and he was getting better, see. But I was just tired of ranch work, tired of seeing city jerks para-sai
ling over the Front Range, tired of everything. I wanted to get out, I suppose, see the world, get some kind of education. Besides—“he looked over at Galland a bit sheepishly, “—I kinda liked to tinker. So I joined up.”

  “So here you are, in Singapore, fighting rogue nanobots and, having a beer with an overweight Scotswoman who loves her own brew too much.” Galland winked at him.

  “Yeah,” Winger nodded. “Here we are.” He looked up, caught Galland’s eye. “When we were in Colonel Singh’s office, you said something about us not being ready for combat ops a thousand meters belowground.”

  Galland sighed. “Think about it. We’re burrowing around like…moles, prairie dogs, badgers, with tons and tons of rock on top of us. There are faults and seams all over the place. We use ANAD bots in our borers and just drill through without a care in the world. It’s damned risky, Wings. It’s not a good medium for combat ops. One mistake, one little tectonic plate shift and you’re toast.”

  Winger gave that some thought. “So what’s so different about subterranean ops? We fight in submarines. The ocean can kill you in a heartbeat. We fight in the air…you can die in an instant up there. Same with space. Even on land.”

  “I know…but I just think we need to be careful, even a little sparing, in how often we go burrowing around underground. It’s a dangerous medium and combat doesn’t make it any less dangerous.”

  “No argument from me…we may never find out what happened to Mendez and Prairie Dog. The investigation’s still going on. But there’s one thing you’re forgetting, Gabby.”

  “Yeah? What’s that?”

  “Red Hammer’s already down there. In any conflict, the enemy gets a vote. They’ve got ANAD-style bots. They’ve got pulsers…to create swarm configs at a distance. Now, they’ve got geoplanes. They’re shaking up cities around the world. We’ve got to engage, any way we can. We don’t have a choice.”

  Galland glumly finished off her beer. “I guess you’re right. But it still doesn’t sit right with me. We’re tempting disaster. It’s already happened with Prairie Dog. It almost happened with Badger on the way to Lions Rock. I don’t mind telling you, when Badger went sliding down, just like with Mole on the test ride, my heart did backflips. I thought we were done for…both times. Maybe that’s the right tactics…send geoplanes out in pairs, buddy-style. One can back up the other, help out in an emergency.”

  Winger was already gathering up his gear. “You may be right. We’re writing the tactical manual as we go…that could be lesson number one. Come on…we’ve got a hyperjet to catch.”

  The two 0-2s left the Officers Club and trotted off to the departure lounge.

  Hyperjet Charioteer had just landed and was already headed for the hangar.

  Scooter’s treads started up with a screeching clank and a blue-white glow soon enveloped the nose of the ship as the borer lens came fully online. The cylindrical geoplane huffed and shuddered as she motored forward on her treads, clambering over piles of rotted logs and trash piles from a nearby landfill and across the three-meter ledge that marked the berm surrounding the parking lot. Down a steep hill and through a screen of trees, the Paramus Mall below them shone hard and bright even early in the morning mist. Scooter started her descent, angling nose-first toward the ground.

  Fifty meters deeper into the woods, her sister geoplane Armadillo did the same.

  Operation Tectonic Shield was underway and Johnny Winger was onboard Scooter, assigned as DPS1, a bit of a comedown for Quantum Corps’ top code and stick man. But this wasn’t Quantum Corps. Boundary Patrol needed good atomgrabbers, troopers with ANAD smarts and Major Kraft had ‘volunteered’ Winger on that basis. Even worse, Lieutenant Galland had been given the CC’s role and was in command of Scooter.

  Winger swallowed his pride and concentrated on checking the status of Scooter’s weapons suite for the hundredth time.

  Inside the command deck, Galland gave directions to Corporal Strakes, the Detachment’s DSO1 (Driver/Systems Operator). Pressing a few buttons, Strakes manipulated the borer that formed a huge dish-shaped nose on the geoplane’s bow. Inside the borer, actuators fired to release the ANAD swarm contained there. In seconds, the outer surface of the dish was thick with nanoscale disassemblers, forming a shimmering half-globe around Scooter’s nose. Like a single huge blue-white headlamp, the dish and its halo of mechs formed the geoplane’s working surface for subterranean operations.

  “Let’s go digging,” Galland said. “Head for that fissure and contact Ops… tell ‘em we’re going under.”

  Strakes complied. “Turning left, heading now… one three five degrees. Depth is forty five meters, five degrees down angle.”

  “Borer coming on line,” Sergeant Vic D’Amato reported. D’Amato was the Borer Operator, BOP1 for the Detachment. He scanned his instrument panel, reading swarm density, alignment and other parameters. “Bots are ready to bite—“

  Scooter and Armadillo were a team, now both burning their way down into the hard gneiss and quartz zone that lay below New York City’s boroughs. The mission was simple: patrol and defend, engage as needed. Nobody knew if Red Hammer had geoplanes or enemy swarms in the area but Q2 thought it likely. The UN was in New York. New York was the prize.

  Two Boundary Patrol geoplanes were assigned to patrol belowground, crisscrossing the New York region, sniffing, listening, probing and hunting. If the cartel showed its runny little nose anywhere the geoplanes could reach, it was Tectonic Shield’s mission to make sure that nose got bloodied but good.

  Scooter slowed down as a fissure of igneous rock approached, then a high keening wail could be heard through the hull, as the borer bit into the rock. The geoplane shuddered as she decelerated. Outside the command deck, unseen by the six-person crew, Scooter’s nose buried itself in a shimmering blue-white fog as the borer revved up and uncountable trillions of mechs tore at the rock.

  D’Amato licked his lips nervously, reading his instruments. “Coming back mostly quartz and pyroxenes, with some sandstone mixed in. Lots of sedimentary stuff. Bots should eat this stuff up.”

  The geoplane plunged into the tunnel created by the borer, angling nose down as she bit deeper into the side of the fissure.

  Scooter’s instrument panel showed the results of acoustic sounding, displaying rock layers on a graph, with temperature and pressure readings all around the graph. Borer status was displayed as well.

  “Looking good,” Strakes muttered. “Borer configured for quartz and pyroxenes…ANAD’s chewing through at a rate of two point five kilometers per hour. Treads are functioning fine.”

  “She’s a real hot rod…let’s try some basic maneuvers,” Galland suggested. “Scooter’s never had a proper shakedown cruise.”

  “Aye, ma’am--“ Strakes turned the stick to port and Scooter initiated a shallow left-hand bank. The command deck listed slightly, then stabilized. For the next few minutes, first Strakes, then Galland took turns putting the geoplane through a series of turns, dives and climbs. Galland held her breath the whole time.

  Finally, she began to relax her grip on the stick slightly, trying to forget they were now hundreds of meters below ground.

  “There’s a layer of basaltic rock a few klicks south of here,” she remembered. “It’s nearly a kilometer down. We should see how Scooter handles there. Sergeant Stivik, anything yet?”

  Sergeant Stivik was the SS1, Sensors and Surveillance Technician. “Nothing yet, Lieutenant. I’m scanning all bands…EM, thermal, acoustic, quantum….some plate shifting, crustal grinding…that’s about it.”

  “Very well.” Galland programmed a new heading into the tread control system and Strakes steered them southeast on a heading of one two five degrees, roughly paralleling the folded belt of ancient sedimentary rock that extended from the Catskills alongside the crystalline core of the Appalachians. Acoustic sounding soon showed the geoplane was entering harder, denser rock
layers.

  “Shales,” Sergeant Liu Zhi muttered. Zhi was GET1 for the Detachment, the Geo Engineering Technician. From earlier briefings with Boundary Patrol geologists, she knew the layer was sheeted with hard slate and mica, compacted over millions of years by glaciers and the overriding Appalachian mountain range. “Nothing to worry about…just sit back and enjoy the view.”

  Galland snorted. The only view they had was of the inner pressure hull of the geoplane. Even as she watched, she imagined that she could see the compression of Scooter’s interior frame under the millions of tons pressing down on them.

  “Sounding ahead…” Stivik reported. “Your depth is now four eight eight meters. Signal distortion coming back…it’s probably the shale zone.”

  Strakes shoved the control stick forward. “I’m going a little deeper…see if we can plow through some of that quartzite.”

  Galland was dubious. She studied the sounding profile. “Just don’t push Scooter too hard, okay? Let’s don’t press our luck on the first run. I’m showing discontinuities dead ahead…some kind of boundary layer, maybe.”

  “Inclusion zone? Maybe it’s the quartzite.”

  Zhi shook her head. “It looks more like a fault, maybe a transform fault. The geos said there were fracture zones north of the Bight.”

  Scooter angled slightly downward and slowed, as the borer swarm bit into denser rock.

  “Cabin temps going up,” Strakes reported.

  “Acknowledged. Those mechs are working overtime up front, making us a tunnel. I—“

  Galland’s last words were cut off as Scooter shuddered violently. For a brief moment, there was an unmistakable sensation of sliding, sliding sideways and downward. Almost at the same moment, something hit Scooter’s nose with a sickening crunch and the geoplane shuddered again and ground violently to a halt. The cabin tilted to port and stayed tilted.

  Scooter’s cabin was deathly still for a few moments, then the creaking and groaning of the hull under tremendous pressure started.

  “What happened?” Galland asked, wincing as the tortured sounds of the hull being compressed grew louder. “Get Armadillo on the line…see if they’re okay.”

  Strake scanned his instruments nervously. “Borer is offline. I’m getting no responses from the forward module…pressure drop in containment…we may have a breach.”

  “Great,” Galland muttered. “Just friggin’ great. And it looks like we’ve got a breach in the pressure hull too.”

  “I see it…cabin air pressure fluctuating…we’d better activate emergency flasks, just in case.” Strakes toggled a few switches and immediately, high pressure air began flooding all compartments.

  Zhi was studying the acoustic sounder, replaying the last few moments before the—what exactly had happened? An accident? “Lieutenant, I’m not sure but I think we may have created our own earthquake.”

  “What? That can’t be…can it?”

  Zhi went over the soundings again. “We were approaching some kind of discontinuity—see right here?” She pointed to the display. “Like a layer or inclusion zone. Remember when the geos told us there were some transform faults and fracture zones around this big volcanic ridge?”

  Galland said, “Vaguely.”

  Zhi was figuring out the scenario as she replayed in her mind what must have happened. “It was the bots in the borer module. The swarm disassembled just enough shale and quartzite and other rock to loosen up the fault. It slipped, shifted around and we were caught in the slide.”

  So we did create our own earthquake.”

  Zhi took a deep breath. “So it would seem, ma’am…”

  Just then, a distant voice crackled over the coupler circuit. It was Armadillo…Lieutenant Gerhart in command. Gerhart’s voice was strained.

  “…reporting no damage…definitely a tremor in the area…our SS1 reported swarm contacts too, very faint, but signatures of swarm activity. Could be bogies.”

  Galland reported Scooter’s status and requested Armadillo to stand by, in case assistance was needed. She drummed fingers on the instrument panel. Why does this always happen to me? “Now we’ve got to figure out a way of getting out of here. What do we have to work with?”

  Strakes went over his instruments again. “Borer’s offline, like I said, and it looks like containment was breached in the accident. I’ve got no response from the borer swarm, no configs, no data of any kind. That swarm’s gone and it’s not responding to commands.”

  Galland tried a few tricks of her own but with no success. “Well, I do have a master atomgrabber in my crew. Lieutenant Winger, could we could jerry-rig a swarm for the borer if we had to?”

  Winger was at the DPS station, aft end of the command deck. “If the module’s not too damaged. On top of that, the tread system’s not responding…so we have no mobility. And the pressure hull….”

  Winger had seen the oxygen level drop significantly in the last few minutes. “We’ve got to stop that leak…here, let me launch our secondary ANAD.” He started to link in.

  “ANAD, this is Winger…do you read me?”

  ***ANAD copies…reading you loud and clear…what has happened?...ANAD’s coupler indicates some kind of swarm break…is the borer functioning?***

  “ANAD, Scooter’s had an accident. The pressure hull has been breached. Configure for launch and max replication. I need a local swarm to find and plug the leaks.”

  ***ANAD configuring now…systems initializing…ANAD reporting ready in all respects…***

  Winger unstrapped himself and went aft through the tunnel to the power plant. “Launch, ANAD. Launch now….” As the DPS1 went off to check on their power systems, a shimmering light blue fog emerged from the containment canister on the bulkhead.
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