A-to-Z Challenge — Letter R
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.
Rourke and Chen poured over the blueprints on the light-board, overlaying the original and modified ones. As far as they could tell, there were two possible entry points. Both were deep in the Caverns, in areas that hadn’t been explored much because of partitions built up by the people who lived down there. They would have to knock down a lot of walls and disrupt a lot of lives, but the alternative was unimaginable.
Rourke got on his link-in and called Davies. “How’s the containment coming?”
“We’ve got the casino contained. Hicks is still watching the hive. It’s not going well, Commander. Did you find an entrance?”
“Two. Chen and I will be down in a few minutes. I will need a team for one location. You and Chen can take another team to the other location. We’ve got to do this quickly. Can you be ready?”
“We’ve got this!” Davies exclaimed. Rourke cut off the call.
Within minutes, he and Chen were at the Cavern’s entrance rallying with Davies and the two teams. Tomas and six other officers led the way for Rourke. Shannehey and five other officers charged ahead with Davies and Chen. Once both teams made it through the main tent city, the two separated. Rourke’s team went west and Davies’ team went southwest to the furthest reaches of the Caverns. They kept in touch with an open channel on their link-ins.
“This is Team Rourke. We’ve just reached the western partitioning. Copy,” Tomas engaged.
“Copy, Team Rourke. Team Davies is nearing the southwestern partitioning. Three minutes in. Copy,” Shannehey relayed.
“Copy, Team Davies.”
Two of Rourke’s officers began escorting a small band of people away from the area. The four men put up a fight, knocking one of the officers to his feet. Tomas pulled his laser on them and forced them to back away, but they screamed and swore at him, making threats. Tomas stood his ground. The fallen officer got to his feet and pulled his laser from his holster. Rourke and the remaining officers joined the fray, their lasers aimed at the four men.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way!” Rourke shouted at them. “It’s up to you.”
The men stood there, looking back and forth between their families and the officers, their fists held tightly at their sides. A tall man, with black hair, a puffed out chest and a face lined with hard work, charged after Rourke, but Tomas flew past the Commander and chopped the man in the throat with the side of his hand. The man staggered back and fell into the arms of the other three men.
“This is our home. You’ve no right!” the man wheezed, gagging from the blow.
Rourke stepped forward and pulled the man by his shirt collar away from the others. He looked him dead in the eyes. “This is my Station and this is an unauthorized dwelling. If you do not all want to end up in the hole,” he began, his eyes shifting around to all of the undocumented people, “you will vacate this area immediately!” Rourke concluded, releasing the large man and shoving him backwards into the arms of his buddies.
The man cowered, but nodded. They all agreed to leave on their own. The women and children followed the four men out through a series of makeshift tunnels. Rourke and Tomas stood firm, watching them go.
“Let’s get this mess cleared!” Rourke yelled, directing the officers to remove the shoddy tents and cooking apparatus.
“Team Davies here. You guys okay? Copy.” Davies inquired over the link-in.
“Copy Team Davies. We had a minor scuffle with some locals. We are ready to proceed. Copy,” Tomas answered.
“Copy that. We’ve reached the far partition, but we have a lot of debris to remove before we can access it. Will keep informed. Copy,” Davies responded.
“Copy. Over and out,” Tomas declared, turning back to the work at hand.
It took them nearly an hour to clear all of the dwellers’ crudely built housing. They had used all manner of materials – aluminum, steel, iron, and even Arzanian metal beams, an illegal substance — some bolted, some nailed, and some roughly layered in place. It never ceased to amaze Rourke the craftiness of desperate people. As soon as it was safe to do so, the men reached the western wall and began knocking on it with their gloved fists. The entire wall sounded solid. They were about to give up when Rourke noticed a small slit in a section just north of where they’d all been searching. It was the only area where no debris had been stacked.
“C’mere, Tomas,” Rourke said, pointing to the opening he’d found. “You think you can get a crowbar in there?”
“It’s small, but I will try,” Tomas stated, as he went over to the tools they’d brought. He returned with a small crowbar and eased it into the slot. He slowly pulled back on the bar and a six foot by six foot section of the wall swung open.
“I’ll be damned!” Rourke exclaimed as he leaned in and peeked into the tunnel. He shown his flashlight inside. The tunnel ran as far back as his light could muster a glow. He stood upright and turned to the officers. “Let’s get in there and see how far it goes. Tomas, lead the way.”
Tomas and Rourke were both over six feet tall and had to duck as they made their way through the tunnel. When they came to an end, it snaked around to the left, then to the right again and back left. Finally, they were in a small clearing with a higher ceiling and Rourke stretched his back as he shown his light around the room – three blank grey walls, the opening they’d just entered from, the grey flooring and ceiling. The room was bare except for a metal ladder bolted against one wall.
Tomas shown his light up the length of the ladder, about twenty feet high. “Sir! There is a latch up there,” he reported. “Should I investigate?”
“Up you go, Tomas,” Rourke commanded. He aimed his flashlight up the ladder’s rung to the latch above, then watched as the officer begin his ascension.
When Tomas reached the top, he pushed his shoulder on the latch. It didn’t give. He pushed again with all of his strength and the latch slowly creaked open. He shoved it with both hands, nearly knocking himself off balance. He clung to the sides of the opening as he steadied his feet, then lifted the full length of his body through the circular hole. After a few moments, he flashed his light down at Rourke.
“Sir, you are going to want to see this!” Tomas yelled down.
Rourke pulled himself up the ladder, hand over rung over rung until he reached the top. He pulled himself through the latch opening and stood upright. The large room was dimly lit, but there was no mistaking what it was. Row upon row of shelving filled with canned goods and boxes of meal preparations lined every wall. They were in the Galley’s storage room. Rourke looked around the room in astonishment. All of those starving people down in the Caverns and twenty feet above them, all of this food. Could this be how Chef O’Malley obtained his illegal cargo? If so, Rourke could only imagine what those wretched souls would have done if they’d known food was being transported through their roughshod dwellings.
Rourke tapped on his link-in. “Team Rourke here. We’ve reached a dead-in. Copy.”
“Copy Team Rourke,” Davies replied. “We are still clearing the debris. Should breach wall in less than fifteen. Copy.”
“Copy Team Davies. We have to seal this entrance. Will join you ASAP. Copy.”
“Copy that. Over and out.”
Rourke and Tomas descended from the storage room and into the small clearing. He filled the other men in on what they’d found as they exited the tunnel. When they were out into the Caverns once more, he informed them, “We need to seal up this entrance. Make it completely invisible. Tomas, get a team of mechanics up here now.”
“Yes, sir,” Tomas said as he clicked a different channel on his link-in and ordered the mechanics.
Rourke waited until the mechanics arrived and then put two of the officers in charge to guard them as they worked. He didn’t need those families returning before the deed was completed. He instructed the men on what he wanted done, and then Rourke, Tomas and the other officers left to make their way to the southwestern section.
By the time Rourke’s team met up with Davies’ team, they had completely cleared away all of the mounds of scaffolding, metal partitions and piping, and row upon row of electrical wiring. Chen, along with several officers, began knocking on the wall.
Rourke pulled Davies aside. “We found a tunnel that led to the Galley.”
“Do you think it was active?” Davies inquired.
“I don’t know. Could explain how O’Malley got his cargo without going through S&R. Won’t matter now. I have mechanics sealing it.”
“Sirs!” Chen yelled, interrupting Rourke and Davies’ conversation. “I found it! This whole wall is a false partition.” He ran his hands along the wall and felt two slits. “Here, sirs!”
“Use the crowbars!” Rourke ordered as he and Davies joined the other men by the wall.
Two officers grabbed crowbars and began prying at the slots in the metal wall. Within seconds, the wall creaked and moaned as it slid open. Another tunnel awaited them inside. This one shorter than the previous tunnel. At the end, it forked left and right, but since they were trying to find an entrance that would meet up with the casino, the entire team turned left. Tomas and Shennehey lead the way, followed by Chen, Rourke and the other officers. Davies covered the rear. They followed the tunnel until they came to another wall. Chen ran his hands over it, knocked in a few places and then assured the Commander that it was a false wall. When he located more slits, two of the officers pried them with crowbars until that wall also opened.
The same eerie glow they’d seen from the casino end greeted them now. Rourke motioned to Chen to get further behind the other men. “Ready your Raython lasers just in case,” he whispered as loud as he dared.
Tomas entered first, creeping down the long hallway. Shennehey and the other officers followed behind him. Davies, Rourke and Chen were about to enter when they heard a buzzing, chattering-like noise behind them. The hair on the back of Rourke’s neck tingled. He’d heard that noise before. He turned and was about to yell out at Davies when a lightening blue blast flew by him. Davies had fired his Raython laser and hit the Makaa in the center of its brain. The Makaa let loose a bloodcurdling scream that echoed throughout the tunnel. The insect-like creature fell to the floor writhing and shaking in agony for a few minutes and then exploded into a bright blue light. It was completely incinerated. The three men stood there in shock, staring into the darkness again. Rourke had dropped many Raython bombs, but he’d never seen how they’d destroyed the Makaa. It was horrific, but a damned necessity. They were shaken out of their stupor by Tomas’ scream.
“Ay Dios mio!”
Davies raced down the hallway where Tomas and Shannehey stood firing their Raython lasers all over the place. The other officers were firing theirs inside the room where the queen hive was located. Rourke caught up and stared down at the floor. Amidst the flashing blue lights laid Officer Hicks covered with hundreds of immature Makaan termites, his body nearly decimated.