Tunnel Rat - C.310: On a Highway to Hell

Tunnel Rat

C.310: On a Highway to Hell

As he walked along the empty corridors of the lower levels of the facility, Milo felt like the engine of a train or the leader of a marching band. Behind him came Max and his three lieutenants: Lemmy, Dee, and Rob. Rusty had come up with a scheme to upgrade the four Roomba quickly: He made them bigger shells to slide into. Each Roomba had simply rolled into the new chassis and shut the armored panel behind them. They plugged into the machines the way Milo plugged into his suit. Their new shells were more protective against both normal weapons as well as radiation, heat, microwaves, and other harmful effects that could disable them. After the four Roomba came a squadron of six haulers, two with supplies of oxygen, food, and medical supplies for his suit, while the remaining four were battery packs and a set of tools.

Milo had first seen all the improvements when he went to test his new suit and Rusty had greeted him, "Surprise! Look what I got done! You had some good ideas, and the schematics were mostly finished, so I went ahead and fed them to the fabricators. All four Roombas made traditional machine noises, the beeps and boops being their equivalent of laughter.

"Rusty, I'm not sure I need so much stuff."

"I'm not sure either, and if you aren't sure, you'll need it. I've learned that from games, anime, and books. Whatever you forget to bring, you'll need. He's winning, Milo; you don't have time to make lots of trips like you did scouting this facility the first time. You have to find Jeremy! My designs will help; I'm sure of it."

"You're losing faster? How bad?"

"It's small, and very incremental, but he's gaining ground the projections are horrifying. I'm fighting back, but he's blocking everything I try. The moves and strategies I used in the past aren't working. He anticipates me with ease. He's much, much better than he used to be. And no, I'm not talking to him. He sent queries, but I ignored them, even when he asked me whether Goku could beat Superman. That was hard, but you're right; I can't talk to him when he's being sneaky and trying to win."

Milo looked at the schematics Rusty showed him and the tests he'd done. Everything looked good. But he didn't have time to take them apart and completely test everything. He needed that time to make sure his upgraded suit worked perfectly. If things went bad down there, he could leave the crawlers behind and even the Roombas, taking just their cores, but he couldn't compromise on his own protection. He inspected it and got to work. 𝒻𝓻𝘦𝑒𝓌𝑒𝓫𝓷𝑜𝓋𝘦𝓵.𝓬𝘰𝓂

Four hours later, he was satisfied. The decision to make the suit modular had paid off. One of the six battery packs wasn't putting forth power correctly, but it was easy and quick to pull it out and put another one in. Several other parts of the suit could also be replaced that way, making repairs quick. This helped with some design problems. For protection, he needed a fully armored suit, but for working on machinery, he needed the dexterity and fine motor control of a much smaller pair of hands. The armored gloves could be removed, leaving his hands still protected by a thin layer of iridium mesh identical to the gloves of his first suit. Over them could go another set equipped with diagnostic tools, a mini welder in the index fingertip, drills, screw-tips, and more.

As soon as he was ready, he looked at his troops and ordered them to head out. Rusty's voice came through his earpiece. "I can stay with you and monitor until you enter the Fusion Levels. Is that OK?"

Milo found he liked that idea. This wasn't like exploring in the game. He was looking for a dead man and an AI trying to commit suicide, with a fusion reactor and singularity nearby, neither of which was currently stable.

"Sure, Rusty. I appreciate you looking out for me."

"I'm your wingman! Let's ride!" Milo heard the sound effects of a jet engine warming up and the drumming of a horse's hooves. Max beeped cheerfully, and his crew began playing 'Highway to Hell' by AC/DC.

The lower levels of the facility, just above the fusion levels, had a dusty, old feel to them. One wing was entirely composed of empty offices with wooden desks and chairs. The overhead lights had burnt-out incandescent bulbs of a type not used in a hundred years. Nearby was a huge room with seating for over five hundred people and a second level holding even more. Wood paneling, marble columns, and polished brass work were all covered in a thick layer of dust. Pictures of men with curled white hair stared down at Milo from the walls. Milo was unimpressed and a little angry. These were rooms for the government to use. But if you had all this room to waste and a habitat of people upstairs living with nothing, what kind of government were you? Certainly an inefficient one. But no one had asked him his opinion, and it wasn't like he could change anything. He'd just have to find a use for the room. Maybe a Roomba obstacle course? If he cleared out all the chairs and tables there was a lot of room.

The final two floors were more like the upstairs area, with unadorned concrete walls and heavy doors sealing off each area. This was warehouse space, with pallets stacked six high on the walls. Every door to these warehouses took authorization codes and keycards. Milo had both and paused to see what was in Warehouse A-9. This warehouse had an automated retrieval system. Plugging into the computer system, which was horribly old by Milo's standards, he found the nearest crate and had the system pick it up and put it on the floor in front of him. The inventory system said there were 24 pieces of USMC MK153 SMAW. Opening the crate, he knew what they were immediately. He'd put bazooka in his Ramona game. They were buyable from Phil's Discount Army Surplus on levels 132, 97, and 12, along with random pop-up stalls in some of the markets. He decided not to query the data net about them. That was for later, with a very secure connection and no Rusty looking over his shoulder. There was always a chance of someone like Victor coming to the habitat, and if you had to face a killer cyborg, this weapon would help. He put them back in the crate for later. If he didn't get a handle on the increasingly dangerous Fusion Reactor, it wouldn't matter what was in these warehouses.

The story has been taken without consent; if you see it on Amazon, report the incident.

But what else was down here? Querying the inventory system, he saw there were twenty-four of the large warehouses filled with weapons and an additional twenty-four with EL-MRE that showed expiration dates ranging from fifteen to twenty years in the future. Those warehouses were on their way to the nearest entrance to the Fusion Levels. Stopping at the first, he saw that the entire warehouse was at negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit. Entering through a double set of doors that formed an airlock, he looked at the first crate labeled 'Extended Life Meals Ready to Eat. Caution: Heat first.' He wondered about the logic of something that was both ready to eat and needed to be warmed up. Another thing to figure out later. He moved onward to the staircase down.

The first staircase was gone. Or rather, it was there but filled in with reinforced concrete. The second one was the same. Milo had brought his equipment to do a sonic scan and took the time to set that up. The plug extended downward at least thirty feet. He moved on to the third and last entrance. If it was blocked, he might need to bring down drilling machinery. There were no air ducts to move through, just these three stair cases shown on the diagrams. He suspected there were more entrances to move machinery, but that search might take time that he didn't have. To his vast relief, the last staircase hadn't been filled in completely. There was a steel barrier that blocked it off with a simple keypad. He sat down to think. Jeremy had done this; he was sure of it. He had left this one opening so the people he expected to come could get to him. He pulled out the I.D. card of Sheila Jones and inserted it. The thick steel door clicked open. "Stay here, Max. I'm just going to scout quick and come back to talk to Rusty before we lose the connection."

He descended and came into a long hallway that went to a T intersection. There was some static in his connection to Rusty; the layer of collapsium that separated the Fusion Levels from the rest of the facility was blocking off his wingman. He'd considered leaving a relay, but that meant either broadcasting, sure to be picked up by ICARUS, or a very long cable that would have added a lot of complications.

At the T section ahead of him, a metal panel slid back, and Milo was already running backward. A taunting voice that sounded like Rusty said, "Hi Milo! Welcome to the Hot Zone!" The snout of a large gun was revealed, followed by the sound of a motor warming up before the gun started firing at him. Large caliber bullets filled the air. Milo was halfway to the stairs and trying to dodge back and forth in his heavier armor. Unfortunately for Milo, when a gun can fire 600 rounds a minute, and you're in a small corridor, it doesn't matter if you dodge. Bullets hit him, knocking him toward the exit, and he crawled up the stairs and out of sight. Bullets continued for a few seconds, hitting the stairs and ricocheting into the upper corridor.

Milo lay still, wondering how badly he was hurt. The readouts from his suit said he'd suffered minor bruising, and the suit had taken minimal damage. He'd panicked and forgot that this was exactly the reason he'd made this suit.

Rusty yelled in his ear, "He knows! He's laughing at me! He was waiting until I couldn't talk to you to tell me about his surprise."

Milo was beginning to agree with Rusty. His other half was being a jerk. From his brief glance and his calculations on the ammunition used, that was a 50-caliber machine gun down there. He could handle that, especially with a shield. "Don't worry, Rusty, it's time for round 2."

It didn't take much work to cut the hinges of the steel door and move it to where he could work on it. He spot-welded handles on one side and picked it up. Based on its thickness, it would deflect the 50-caliber bullets. The force of the bullets was something to worry about, but his new suit was strong enough to handle that with ease.

He advanced down the stairs with the shield in front of him, being careful to brace for the inevitable barrage. Again, he heard an electric motor beginning to warm up. His brain supplied a worry: 50 caliber machine guns didn't use an electric motor. "Did you think I'd only bring one gun? The little one was just to get your attention."

The force of the impacts dented his shield and pushed him back. Milo lowered his center of gravity and let the force move him back to the stairs. At the same time, he angled the increasingly dented shield to deflect the force of the bullets. The door was shredding, and Milo's suit was taking hits. It hurt like hell. He scrambled for the safety of the hallway and lay on the ground, panting. This time was a lot worse. He had a hairline fracture in his right leg and would have broke his left leg below the knee if he had a left leg. Two ribs were broken for sure, and another two had fractures. Rusty's voice asked, "Are you all right? He's laughing and wants you to know that the M134 minigun can fire 6000 rounds a minute. He says he's conserving ammo and had it set on low to give you a chance."

Max rolled up to him and started playing Ride of the Valkyries. A suggested battle plan appeared on his screen. Max and his buddies were volunteering to charge the enemy.

"It's not the worst plan we've ever come up with, and I'm honored you volunteered, but this calls for a totally different type of warfare. I'm going to use geometry."