So there is this gang of Travellers. Rough sort. Gun toting heavies in the galactic backwater where corporations are the law and colonists try and pursue a better life.
Life is cheap and air, water and artificial sweetener are costly. Out of this Major Schmidt has managed to carve out a better deal than most on Skalvil. He's done this by providing a no questions asked security force for Omni Sun overseeing the peace and prosperity of Colonial Dome One.
“Omni Horron Research Facility has been incommunicado. Missed a twenty four hour relay to Kazawan City. That and its pump facility appears to be off. Don't know for how long. The colonists are pissed of course. They pay a lot of credits for clean water. I want you out there ASAP. Find out why the facility isn't communicating and get the damn water turned back on.”
Schmidt knew it didn't help that OHRF (O-Rif) was three years behind on delivering the modified crops which can grow in Skalvil's thin, tainted air. The colonists complained it was all a scam to keep soaking them for clean water and indoor grows.
Chief heaved like a beached whale in the screen as he scanned reports Schmidt couldn't see. “Vanders Labor Group is already out there pounding at the gates looking for their water.”
Chief seemed pretty concerned about the situation. Before Schmidt had signed off the Chief had thrown in a 50 pound bag of Zucor on top of his regular pay to get it done. Schmidt never knew the Chief of being magnanimous.
That meant Hernandez was going to have to fly one of those retro-fitted aircraft used to get around Skalvil quickly. The air is really thin so fixed wing just doesn't get it done. With the tech Omni has at its disposal a standard grav shuttle is the way to go, but oh no, not when a few credits can be saved. Omni, in their infinite wisdom, instead elected to re-purpose regular VTOL craft used on the mining platforms on Xxcarvis with decommissioned grav engines. Dam tricky to fly and each Skalvil mechanic has their own ideas on how to keep them running. Schmidt would rather take an ATV, but that would take eight hours minimum to drive around the Skalvil Sea when the plane can have him on site in a half hour. Better take Pavlov too. Hernandez can't find the wet spot without Pavlov checking the charts. Jones and Saar would round out the squad. If the colonists started getting lippy the two ex-army hands tended to shoot real straight.
Schmidt, Pavlov, and Saar clambered aboard with their gear and filter masks while Jones put the last of the fusion tape on his repair work. Hernandez went through the final check and with a course laid in lifted off and out of the dome. It was a typical Skalvil morning. Driving acid rain obscuring the blood purple sky and the brown rugged landscape of the defile spread out into nothing. The black Skalvil “sea” below let Schmidt know they were on course and shortly they were over the prominent outcropping on the far eastern shore where OHRF sat. OHRF's control tower was broadcasting its regular warnings; “Entering restricted air space. Property of Omni Sun. Trespassing prohibited. Unauthorized landings will result in arrest, etc.” Circling the facility all the lights were on. The tower's beam sweeping the premise regularly. Why wasn't anyone home? Just as the chief said a contingent of colonists in their homemade enviro suits were demonstrating at the front gate. Schmidt quickly calculated they couldn't stay out their all day. Oxygen was expensive. The colonists would have to get satisfaction soon or they would need to head back to the dome or a nearby underground farm.
“Bring us down inside, right in front of the gate”, ordered Schmidt. “I want to let the dirt farmers know someone is in charge around here”. Hernandez brought the VTOL smartly down on the concrete pad inside the electrified fence and everyone piled out.
“Bargas is with them Major.” said Pavlov. Pavlov grew up in the dome and he recognized the union boss among the colonists. A tall man, his patchwork “skins” were well known to security personal. Bargas was tough, smart and the Skalvil dirt farmers loved him. The labor leader was calling out loudly to the squad.
“Ask him what he thinks he is going to accomplish out here.” Schmidt replied. “Don't forget to tell him the electrical fence is still live.” Pavlov didn't like to handle heavy firepower like Saar and Jones. With a body pistol tucked away he was the least intimidating looking of the bunch. His mesh security jacket swallowed up his narrow frame making him look like an overgrown child as he walked through the rain to the gate.
“What do you want Bargas?” Pavlov asked, looking through the ten foot high chain link fence.
“What do you think? I want my damn water! We're all paid up. Omni try to break our back, well, we won't let that happen.” Pavlov, unsurprised, could now see some rifles and other side arms being carried by some of the men. The twenty something colonists came packing.
“Well don't worry, that's why we're here. We'll get this all sorted.”
“You got four hours.”
“Four hours? You're kidding me, right? Something must be wrong with the pumps. If it was an easy fix it would've been done by now.”
“Bullshit. Omni's jerking our chain. You got four hours or we go in and fix it ourselves.” It was next to impossible to read Bargas' expression through the thick lenses and rubbery, articulating respirator, but his harsh voice was sounding desperate.
“Look, if you want it fixed that fast you are going to have to show me some love. You come up with some of your boys monthly dues and I'll see what I can make happen.”
“You do that Pavlov you got a deal. Don't forget I know where you live.”
Pavlov double timed it back to Schmidt and the rest of the squad standing under the shelter of the VTOL. “He says get the water flowing again in four hours and there won't be any trouble. I got him to agree to a piece of the labor coffers for the heavy lift.”
Schmidt gave a derisive snort and ordered the squad to the front door. Jones started whistling, “Love me some chedder, when Omni don't know even better.” He couldn't sing, but he knew Saar hated him singing so it was always worth it.
“Major, the access code doesn't work. What gives?” Saar looked over his shoulder at Schmidt. He had taken off his gloves and was punching in the code another time.
“Is it broken?” Schmidt asked.
“No, everything's powered up. It just keeps telling me invalid access code.”
“We don't have time for this Saar, take it apart and get the door open.”
Saar broke out his electronic tool kit, punched out the thick stainless screws and went to work on the wiring being the screen. With the hand-held running diagnostics Saar noticed it wasn't just an unauthorized code change. It seemed the code function was blanked out entirely. Regardless the magnetic locks released under his direction and one of the sturdy metal doors slid back. The soft, yellow glow of the recessed interior lighting was on. The reception area was only unusual by the lack of staff at the front desk. Jones swept the nearby rest rooms while Saar started punching the comm at the front desk calling out for personal.
“The plumbing works!” Jones smiled, hitching up his pants as he exited the Men's Room.
“That should mean there is only a problem with the pump,” concluded Schmidt. “Let's find access to the lower level. The filter and pump equipment should be there.”
“Which way,” asked Hernandez?
“That would be restricted information Hernandez,” replied Schmidt. “But there should be a lift near the center. We'll take the corridor straight ahead. Any luck raising the Director or any staff Saar?”
Saar just shook his head, “Everything is working fine Major. There's just no one answering.”
“This is strange.” said Jones.
The squad stalked the hall to the door at the end. Saar had to hack the electronic door lock just like the entry. On the other side the passage split three ways. Left, right and straight ahead. To the left down the corridor could be seen a sign for the computer room, to the right at the end of the hall a door to the communications center. Saar, with his electronic hand-held still out begged to check out the computer room.
“Let's go, we'll check it out.” said the Major. Saar once again had to hack the door, but by now he had figured out the programming and it took less then ten seconds with the hand-held. Banks of computer tapes hummed in the servers, uploading data which constantly streamed from the facilities different equipment.
“I won't be able to decode anything right now Major, but I can download the recent logs. Should be a lot of information what's been going on the last few days.”
“Do it” Schmidt knew Saar was more keen on downloading anything he could sell on the black market, but it still was a sensible move. It took ten minutes before Saar called it quits. His data storage drive stuffed with who knows what.
“I want to check out the comm room before we head to the pumps. I want to find some staff real soon.” Ordered Schmidt. Saar knew what to do so the squad gave him room and kept their weapons unslung. This time though instead of green lights and releasing mag locks Saar watched the hand-held pop and a violent surge of electricity coursed his arms. He yelled in pain and dropped the slagged electronic tool.
“Effing thing was rigged to do that!” Saar complained. He held his scorched hands between his legs rocking back in forth in pain.
“That door isn't opening now,” Jones stated the obvious, “but hey Saars, your in luck here is Medical.” Jones was grinning. The dangerous electrical short, while frying the mag locks on the communications door, released the door to the sick bay right near by.
“Fracking great!” hissed Saar.
“Check it out Jones, weapons ready.” ordered the Major. A quick sweep of the room found it empty besides being a functioning medical unit. Pavlov located a first aid kit and started treating Saar's burnt hands. That's how Pavlov noticed some of the cabinets had been rifled through. Chemical and drug testing equipment was scattered over the counter. Closer inspection showed someone had been testing Zucor, the hard to get and much desired sweetener the wealthy corporates had to have.
“Major, why would anyone be needing to test Zucor?” Pavlov pointed to the counter.
“I am sure I have no idea.” Schmidt replied. “Are you two done playing paddy-cake? Let's move.”
Pavlov took the lead and the squad exited out Medical into another long hall running left and right. The squad headed right towards the center of the complex and the elevator they could see. The Major brought up the rear while Hernandez hung back in Medical. The pilot wasn't the type to take the lead when the Major and his boys unslung their guns.
Schmidt felt like a flat-footed fool when at either end of the long corridor the electronic doors slid open revealing a pair of armed men leaning in with aimed carbines. It didn't stop him from charging the nearest attacker shotgun blazing. Jones and Saar followed their commander's lead like they've done hundreds of times before; shoot first, then again and again. Armed only with a pistol Pavlov hurled himself at the nearby elevator door hoping it was still active. The shotgun blast was deafening in the metal corridor. Saar's submachine gun barked and sprayed lead like rain drops on a tin roof and the crack of rifle and carbine fire lashed out. The trained army soldiers took down their opponents. Either sloppy in their execution or overly confident in getting the drop on the squad the work clad strangers wearing opaque filter masks lay groaning or unmoving on the floor. They had managed to tag Saar. He was bleeding badly. Schmidt quickly kicked the attacker's carbines away while Jones covered the other two shot at the other end of the hall. He noticed Pavlov had made the elevator in the mayhem and was descending to the second floor. Hernandez stuck his head out from Medical.