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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 69 - By the Horns[]

Stormwater Drainage Tunnels
Samantha City, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
November 27th, 3025

“You are positive of this, Danforth?” Phil asked in a sour voice as he walked through the ankle-high runoff seeping down into the deeply buried pipes and conduits that ran beneath Samantha City. The pale blue illumination of a cold-light glowstick gave little relief from the oppressive darkness—or the squealing of the rats and chittering of insects. “I’ve examined the building plans—these pipes don’t connect to the research facility.”

“Officially?” Max answered without pausing as he slogged onward. “You’re right—there is no connection and it isn’t on the building plans. Unofficially?” The SAFE agent shrugged. “You think people as paranoid as the Taurians wouldn’t have an emergency means of evacuating their main computer research lab? A route that doesn’t appear on any blue-print or schematic available to the public?”

Phil cursed as he stepped on another rat—the offended creature squeaked and scurried away. “Please tell me that you have more than a hunch.”

Max stopped and he turned around; his grin was wide as he tapped a ladder leading up towards the surface. “Check your map, Mister Sheridan.”

The MI-4 agent pulled a small electronic tablet from inside the water-proof lining of his coveralls and he shook his head. “That isn’t on the plans—how did you know?”

“SAFE isn’t always incompetent; indeed, we have very good analysts and information gatherers working for us—it just doesn’t always get translated into effective action, mind you. Thirty years ago, a contractor was brought in to perform maintenance work on these drains—and he bored a new tunnel at the direct request of the Taurian government. Went out of business ten years ago—gambling debts are such anchors dragging at a man’s life, after all—and sold off the schematics that he kept,” Max smiled again, “schematics that he shouldn’t have kept in the first place, to one of our folks for a tidy little sum that managed to keep his knees from being broken by a local loanshark.”

He paused and looked up at the ladder. “This should lead up to a floor hatch in a supply room just outside of the main research lab,” he tested the ladder for weakness and then satisfied that it would support his weight, he pressed a button on the radio clipped to his belt. “Control, we are in position.”

“Roger that,” a woman answered. “Be advised that Team Two is preparing to enter the building—and the honey-bees have just exited bearing gifts and are awaiting transport.”

“Damn it Nicky,” Phil swore.

Max just chuckled. “Transport has been arranged, Ninety-Nine?”

There was a pause and then a frosty voice answered. “Maintain communications protocol. And yes—their transport is waiting . . . just not the one they are expecting. Team three has managed to bypass the remote alarms on the lab sub-lev- . . . wait one,” the voice paused. “The honey-bees are away and none too soon. Our opposition has taken the field and local security at the front doors are down. Game time. Team Two is . . . in.”

“Acknowledged, Control,” Max answered as he turned to face Phil. “Ready with the cutting torch?”

“Ready. How the hell did I get stuck down in these tunnels with you?”

“Would you rather be upstairs with the swordsmen slowing down the visiting team?” Max asked as Phil began to climb the ten meter ladder to the metal hatch above.

“I’d rather be in the van—my job is to observe and report, not crawl through rodent-infested tunnels, get into a fire-fight with Death Commandoes, and incidentally to defuse a nuclear weapon.”

“Maybe you could submit a voucher for a bonus based on performance above and beyond the call of duty?” Max suggested.

“Yeah, right. You don’t know what a freaking tight-wad Quintus Allard is. Commendations? Sure. Medals? Plenty of ‘em. Money? Not on your life.”

“Well, maybe he will give you a vacation at least,” the SAFE agent replied as he began to ascend the ladder behind Phil.

At the top, Phil pulled on a pair of goggles and lit the tip of the cutting torch. “Last time Quintus suggested I take a vacation I landed up here, on Taurus. 'You'll love it, Phil', he said. 'Nice, quiet duty station where you can enjoy the beach and the girls because nothing ever happens on that front'. Not again; never again,” and the Davion agent gritted his teeth as the flame began to cut through the metal sending drops of molten slag to hiss in the dirty water below. Max continued to climb and from his bag he extracted two hand-holds that he applied to the hatch, their adhesives bonding almost instantly.

“Got it,” he said as Phil continued to cut.

And then he grunted as the hatch fell towards him, but he pushed it up and to one side. Phil dropped the torch and rapidly climbed up the ladder, drawing his needler pistol in one smooth motion. Then he reached down and help Max up and out.

“Ready?” Max asked as he laid one hand lightly on the control of the door. Phil nodded and Max pressed the control; the door hissed open and he bounced into the lab, swiveling left and right to confirm that there were no hostiles here waiting to open fire. Max was right on his heels.

“Clear.” Phil snapped.

“Clear.” answered Max.

And then the two of them saw the paralyzed Doctor Mosley and the bomb attached to the casing of the Memory Core . . . a bomb whose timer passed 1:00 and continued on to :59, :58, :57.

“Nicky, I swear when we get out of here, I’m going to give you the spanking of your life,” Phil muttered. "And you are not going to enjoy it."

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