Sunday, 18 March 2012

The bunker

The emplacement was a concrete bunker with a slit window.  It was stood on a shelf of solid rock at the edge of the beach, but the years had drifted the sand around it so that it now appeared to stand on the beach itself.  The slit window was dark, and the concrete was striped and pitted from the action of the weather over the years.  Somewhere round the back would be an iron door, probably rusted in place by now, that allowed access to it, and somewhere inside would be a trap-door that allowed access to the escape tunnel.
James looked down at the map, unfolded in his hands, and then lifted his head.  Next to him was his second-in-command, Darville, and behind them were his squad of six other men, two of whom were women, and one of whom was a cyber.
"That's the bunker," he said, his voice sounding oddly gruff through the atmosphere mask.  They were all wearing them, even the cyber, as the trace poisons in the air were accumulative and would become noticeable after a few hours down on the surface.  There should be a door round the back of it.  Myria, Selene; I want ranging on that slit and see what you can get back from inside it.  Tom, Perput, you're taking the door. Darville, you take Scott and Mangua and get up on the roof.  There's been no-one down here for sixty years, but we're not taking chances.  Cover everything, cover everyone.
There were no replies, no talking, just sudden movement as everyone broke off to take up their positions.  Darville led his two-man team in quick leaps, racing round the side of the bunker and using the mounded sound to quickly gain height and jump onto the roof of the bunker.  They padded lightly across, setting themselves to see the front and rear and unshouldering their phased-pulse rifles.  Darville loosened the straps on little ceramic eggs on his belt: heavy-shock grenades that produced concussion waves.  Tom and Perput disappeared round the bunker in the other direction, and as Darville was leading the jump to the roof a little green light came on on James's wrist gauntlet to tell him that they were both in position.  He looked down; Myria and Selene were nearly finished assembling a laser range-finder and scan, and barely six seconds later Selene looked up and nodded.
"Scan now," he said, making sure that everyone heard it via their atmosphere mask earphones.
A thin green light shone into the bunker's slit window, and James realised that he was holding his breath.  A couple of moments later and the range-finder screen started scrolling up with data returns.  Selene started it tracking, and its beam travelled from one end of the slit to the other, steady and unbroken.  Myria kept watch on the screen, now and then touching a control to ask for better resolution, or marking things as interesting or dull.
"Something's happening," said Perput suddenly, his voice low and emotionless like all cybers.  "The door has just shuddered."
James looked over at Myria, who has heard the communication as well as all the rest.  She shrugged, her eyes scanning the range-finder's screen over and over again.
"Roof is becoming warm," said Darville suddenly.  "Evacuating."  He and his team broke and ran, still carrying their rifles, and leapt quickly and easily from the roof to the sand, mounting the dune higher up until they were nearly forty vertical feet away, but could still cover both front and back of the bunker.
"Door is changing," said Perput.  "Chemical composition suggests it is ablating from the inside."
James pondered that for a moment before remembering that some of the latest cyber upgrades allowed some kind of limited x-ray view of objects.  He hadn't been aware that Perput had upgraded in the last two years though, and felt annoyed.  Before he could look at Myria, she spoke as well.
"No feedback that suggests a presence," she said.  "The range-finder thinks that the bunker is empty."
James considered the data and made a quick decision.
"Leave the range-finder on automatic and spread out," he said.  "Everyone, get back at least thirty feet until we know what's happening."  He saw Myria tapping hastily at the range-finder's screen as he started to back away, but before he could shout to her she stopped and ran, stooping to present a harder target.  "Quickly," he said, knowing it was a little late now.
"The bunker is quite hot," said Perput.  "It is starting to emit in the IR spectrum."
"All from a range-finding?"
"It definitely doesn't feel right, Captain," said Darville, his voice crackly with static.  "There's a storm coming in too."  James turned to look behind him at the end of the beach at the long, blueish sky across the cobalt waters.  Grey clouds were already gathered on the horizon.  He looked at them for a long couple of seconds, then remembered that he wanted not to be a target.
"Was that storm predicted?" he asked.  "Main Force said the weather would be good for this exploration."
"Main Force still does," said Darville.  "But the storm is still visibly out there."
"Crap."  James changed communication channel and rattled off a quick report to be sent up to the spaceship ordering the world about the apparent lack of reliable data.
"Storm's coming in fast," said Tom.  "They usually take a few days to build, probably because of the lack of a proper Coriolis force here.  So something weird's going on."
"Yeah," muttered James.  "Definitely."  He turned to Myria.  "Turn off the scan, we'll have to assume that that is the cause."  She ran to obey, while he stared at the bunker and wondered if they'd be allowed in.

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