Halfway to Free
Helena finished cutting the last bolt that held the filter screen at the end of the duct. She stowed her plasma torch and kicked the screen once with a booted heel. The freshly cut plate metal broke free from the heat exhaust shaft above the server farm and clattered to the ground below. A still moment followed as Helena, Soki and Rand all trained their sub-machine guns on the open passage to the room underneath them. After a few painful heartbeats it was clear to the three SHADO operatives that the noise had not alerted any of the site’s InterGov security teams to their presence.
“Pickup, come in?” Soki said into the microphone of his headset.
“Pickup, go ahead,” came the radio response through each of the three operatives’ ear pieces.
“We have breached the farm and are ready for delivery. Eight minutes to rendezvous. Is your location secured for extraction?” Soki asked as he slung his small automatic weapon and threaded a knotted length of rope through the hole in the heat exhaust shaft.
“Affirmative, extraction point is secured. We are good to go once you get here. You are clear to make delivery. Pickup out,” came the voice over the radio.
“You heard them. Let’s get this done,” Soki said as he signaled Rand to descend down the rope first.
Rand and Helena quickly dropped into the server farm and immediately set up a defensive formation, scanning the rows and rows of super computers for any signs of InterGov’s security personnel. Soki joined his compatriots amid the eerie red glow of thousands of indicator lights and cold drone of the servers processing data. He held his ground cautiously and let his eyes join in the hunt for movement.
“We’re all clear sir,” Rand said. He finished toggling through several of the various optical filters in his suits visor. “Just the three of us for as far as I can see.”
“Perfect,” said Soki. He pulled his data tablet and network cord from the zip bag on his back. He located the nearest access port on the server tower that was closest to him and proceeded to link the tablet into the massive computer network.
“We are really going to be able to wipe out all IG’s files on us?” Helena murmured as if she was waking from a dream.
“Looks like it. This will take a lot of heat off of us. Much less running and hiding for SHADO in the years to come,” Rand said with a deep relief filled exhale.
“Shh, cut it and stay quiet. We are no done yet,” Soki said as he vigorously tapped away on the data pad’s touch screen. “No, something is not right,” he continued with a fearful air seeping into his voice.
“What’s wrong? Asked Helena. Her voice had adopted the foreboding inflection of her team leader.
“I’m into the network but I can’t find any of the intel that were are supposed to wipe,” said Soki.
“It’s encrypted?” asked Rand with an unconfident pitch.
“No, not encrypted, not there. These servers are empty. There is nothing in them at all. This can’t be right,” Soki said with his voice starting to transition from concern to panic. “Pickup, come in. Pickup, we have a situation at the delivery site. Pickup?” he hurriedly transmitted over the team’s radio network.
The three SHADO members held fast in the sweltering server farm for several terrifying seconds of radio silence. Finally the telltale click of a radio transmitter being keyed sounded in their ears. Their unified comfort at a response was short lived as the voice that came over the radio waves was unknown to them.
“Your friends aren’t going to be able to answer you. See, I just finished using their insides to paint the walls of our motorpool with a fresh coat of red,” said a rich but sinister voice over the radio.
“Who are you identify yourself,” Soki said. His volume was that of someone trying to command the situation but his speech waivered with fear.
“The name is Mauler and I’ll be happy to chat with you for a few. I heard you were all upset that the servers were empty. Thing it, that’s not true,” said Mauler with a malevolent glee echoing in his words.
“What?” Soki said. He nearly gagged on the single word as it passed his lips.
“The intel you were looking to wipe isn’t in those units but they are filled with is enough napalm and plastic explosives to turn that room into an active volcano,” said Mauler, laughing thought the statement as he spoke it. He reigned in his excitement and took in a deep steadying breath before continuing. “See that blast door at the far end of the walkway, it’s going to seal shut in ninety seconds and then anything still in the room is about to get a fire bath. Run quick, I just started the timer,” Mauler said with deadly killer calm before cutting the radio transmission.
All was madness as the server farm was filled with a loud whoosh, pulse and crack as hundreds of explosive devices armed themselves in unison. In that moment it was plainly evident to the three SHADO members that their mission was over and now all that remained was the fight to escape and survive. The three shared once last tenuous glace at one another before succumbing to their baser fight or flight instincts.
Rand was the first to run. He bolted like a wild horse, moving with impressive speed of foot down the lengthy path towards the blast door. He led his two compatriots by a commanding distance. He had cleared nearly a third of the distance to the blast door in less than twenty seconds. At this rate he would safely evacuate the area with plenty of time to spare. He moved so quickly that he had triggered three tripwires before the round from the first one hit him. In a terrible moment three small pellets struck him in the gut. He stopped his sprint and had less than the blink of an eye to contemplate his predicament before he began yelling in pain as the three pellets detonated and sent dozens of smaller ball bearings scattering in all directions and tearing him apart from the inside out.
Helena was only a few steps behind of Rand. She caught a few pellets in her shoulder as she ran through the cloud of pulp that had once been a man. Even being wounded by hot shrapnel did not slow her pace. She was fueled by the fear of death. Helena was well over halfway to the blast door with a minute left before the bombs in the server shells were set to detonate. Her feet went out from under her and she slammed into the hard decking of the walkway, knocking the wind out of her. By the time she had breath back in her lungs the snare trap had cinched itself around her ankle and pulled her back up into the duct work above the server farm. She screamed in a hysterical fit as she vanished from sight. Her screaming was put to an abrupt and gruesome end immediately before a rain of scarlet proceeded to fall from the duct.
Soki moved as fast as his legs would carry him. As he passed beneath the vent where Helena had been snatched up, he risked a skyward glance. He regretted the decision instantly as he saw the end of the snare trap dangling amid a collection of newly bloodied spinning blades and saws affixed to the inside of the ventilation shaft. His focus came back to him just in time to evade a tripwire at neck level. He ducked and rolled. As soon as he felt himself land on some kind of pressure sensitive plate he dove, feeling a flurry of small projectiles slice thought the air inches from his skin. He continued his sprint, weaving and moving throughout the nightmare course of booby-traps that littered the walk way. Evading the hazards that had been left, seriously slowed his pace. He was still at least twenty feet from the blast door when it started to shut. Soki could hear the unmistakable high pitched scream of blast primers initiating. He abandon all care for any remaining traps and charged forward with reckless abandon as the world around him turned into nothing but fire and smoke.
It was all white for a moment and there was a terrible ringing in Soki’s ears. After a few seconds of disorientation, he regained his senses. Soki looked across the floor from where he lay, to see the blast door to the server farm sealed tight behind him. He went to smile at his triumphant escape from the death trap but the attempt caused him nothing but pain. He realized that he could not will himself to get up from the floor. Soki moved his gaze from the door to take stock of himself and was horrified to see that he was barely recognizable. His body was little more than a pile of burned flesh and bone.
“That was spectacular. I never would have thought that one of you could have made it past my little obstacle course, let alone get out before the door shut, well done my friend,” came Mauler’s voice from the other side of the room.
Soki rolled his head towards the sound of Mauler’s voice. His eyes were failing him but he could see the mercenary’s red and black body armor and adorning collection of weaponry well enough. Though everything else in the world was hazy and blurry, Soki could decipher the most sickening of sadistic grin’s peeking out from behind the half face mask that obscured Mauler’s features.
“You SHADO guys, really need to learn how to get better intel. Paying people is so ineffective. You pay someone and they do one thing for you then they expect to get paid again. My way works so much better. I just hurt someone until I get what I want, and then they will do whatever I need them to do for the rest of their life. You guys get that down and maybe next time you don’t walk into an ambush,” Mauler said as he circled around the immobilized form of Soki like a shark sizing up its next meal.
“You can’t stop us all,” Soki said through charred lips and waves of stabbing agony.
“Ha, I don’t want to stop you. I want to kill you. Today has been a good day for me. You’re dead friends in here make four hundred ninety-eight and four hundred ninety-nine,” Mauler said as he lightly pounded on the server farm blast door with his fist. “Those numbers are nothing special but you, you get to put me to a nice round five hundred,” He said ominously. He moved to stand over Soki’s ruined body and drew a small machine pistol form the holster on his thigh. “And that number gets me exactly halfway to free,” Mauler said right before he squeezed the trigger.