Oliver Benson woke with a start.
They had dozed off!
Lydia was still asleep, naked from the waist up, on the bed beside him. He gently rocked her shoulder and she opened her eyes.
“Lydia, you’d better take a look at this,” Benson whispered.
They both quickly dressed and moved silently to the surveillance monitor on Lydia’s work desk.
“Jesus,” she said, leaning closer to the display.
A dozen or so yellow-suited Chinese soldiers could be seen patrolling the labyrinth of corridors and rooms that made up Echelon.
They were inside the building!
For some reason, none of them had bothered to patrol the staff quarters area where Benson and Lydia were now watching from… yet.
Lydia keyed several buttons in a sequence revealing a different area of the base on her computer monitor with each click. The computer was linked to the internal closed circuit camera system.
The Chinese were everywhere.
“Hey, wait… back up. What’s that?” said Benson as he watched Lydia scanning through the cameras one by one.
Lydia pushed the button to reveal the previous room.
“There!” Benson said. “Look… right there. What’s that room?”
Lydia panned the view using a trackball to the side of the keyboard.
“Oh my God…” she said softly. She recognized a group of familiar faces on the screen. “That’s the gymnasium. They’ve got everyone in the gymnasium.”
Benson studied the large group of people, “Yeah, well at least they all seem to be alive,” he added.
Lydia zoomed in and found General Whitmore. The camera showed a very visible large bruise on his cheek. He looked exhausted.
Lydia panned across the group of her colleagues, using the computer software to manipulate the physical camera in the gymnasium itself.
Everyone she knew at Echelon was there, more or less lined up in single file, sitting on the floor across one wall of the gym. It appeared most of the men had sustained injuries from being beaten or roughed up by the Chinese.
“Oliver, I have to do something… get them out of there.”
Benson studied the battered faces on the screen.
Just then, a Chinese soldier walked down the line of hostages and grabbed a young uniformed woman by the arm. He yanked her to her feet and led her away into a room adjoining the gym.
One of the men near her, jumped up out of instinct, and was immediately sent hurtling back to the ground by a sharp backhand from another soldier.
“Bastards! Okay… sure, we have to do something,” Benson agreed. “But what? There’s only two of us. We don’t have any weapons, there’s a whole army in here, and we’re four levels below the surface for Christ’s sake!”
“That’s it!” shouted Lydia, then quickly covered her mouth when she remembered their situation.
“This installation is over a hundred feet below the ground. It has it’s own environmental system. You know… ambient temperature control, humidity, air-conditioning… and, it’s own atmospheric control station.” Lydia said with a smile.
Benson looked puzzled. “I’m not following.”
“Olly, Pine Gap has it’s own oxygen recirculation system on the maintenance level. The level below this one.”
Benson started to catch on. “So, we go down there, turn off the air and force everyone to evacuate, right?”
“Not exactly,” Lydia said. “I have a better idea.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” Benson sighed.
Lydia flicked through the camera screens once more to make certain she and Benson had a clear path to the lower level maintenance area.
She closed the laptop screen and got dressed. Then she grabbed a flashlight from one of the desk drawers.
“Alright, let’s go,” she said.
They exited her room cautiously and looked around the staff social area. It was a room with about six four-seater tables, a snooker table, a large screen plasma television set on the far wall. Several other doors led to sleeping quarters with their owners names on small plaques.
Except for a small guide light above Lydia’s door, the room was dark.
Benson followed Lydia as she weaved through the tables to a set of swinging doors leading into the kitchen. It was even darker in this room.
“This way,” she whispered, taking Benson by the hand.
He followed obediently, like a bemused child being escorted through a sideshow alley haunted house by his mother. Only, the spooks in this thrill ride were playing for keeps.
Without warning, the double doors suddenly flung open with a loud crash.
Lydia and Benson dropped where they stood.
They ducked quickly behind a large metal bain marie.
Two men in yellow suits walked into the kitchen, knocking pots and pans off hooks as they navigated through the darkness.
Lydia realized her flashlight was still on, pointing downwards just a few inches above the floor. It was emanating a faint but visible glow.
Then, she made the biggest mistake she possibly could. She turned off the flashlight.
The Chinese soldiers were instantly alerted to the sudden change in the room’s illumination.
They rushed towards Lydia’s hiding place, their assault rifles raised and ready. All Lydia could do now was wait.
“Damn! Oliver, back up quickly,” she whispered, looking behind her.
But Benson wasn’t there.
The two uniformed men appeared at the end of the long metal cabinet where Lydia was crouching. One of them yelled something at her in Chinese. She guessed it meant stand up, and she did.
The soldiers rounded the corner and walked slowly towards her.
Then she noticed something else.
Another figure appearing out of the darkness behind the soldiers. It was Benson!
He was carrying a big steel cooking pot in his right hand. Silently he raised it, then…
He brought it crashing down on the head of one of the soldiers.
There was a repulsive, dull thud as the man’s skull cracked and he fell to the floor.
The other soldier took a second to realize what had happened and started to turn. Benson was already bringing his heavy makeshift weapon up on the backswing, and struck the soldier with the full force of the open end of the pot.
The rim slammed up under the unfortunate man’s chin, cutting into his jaw. He bent over and screamed in agony, dropping his rifle.
Benson repeated the motion and brought the pot up again, just as forcefully. This time, it cracked across the bridge of the soldier’s nose. The soldier reeled backwards, and a great arc of blood flailed out from his face like a streamer.
He fell and lay on the ground, silent.
Benson just stood there shaking in fear. Fear of his own ferocity more than anything else. It was the first time he’d ever had to do something like that.
“Jesus… did I just do that?” he mumbled to nobody in particular.
“My God, Oliver… that was amazing,” Lydia said, wide-eyed.
Benson reached down and swapped the pot for the assault rifle. He stood up and puffed out his chest. “Okay, now we’ve got a gun. Let’s find that maintenance room,” he smiled.
The kitchen’s rear entrance led to a storeroom lined with shelves containing a variety of supplies.
Beyond the storeroom, another door, then a small alcove with an elevator marked Maintenance Only.
“This is it,” Lydia said.
Lydia pushed the single white button on the wall and the doors opened.
They stepped in, pushed another button, and the elevator descended with a loud clunk.
Thirty seconds later, the doors opened into a large square room that reeked of chemicals, gas and other machinery lubricants and fuels—the plant room.
Lydia started walking through the filthy plant, following a safety path marked by a yellow-striped line.
“Come on, follow me,” she said.
Benson faithfully followed the beautiful young officer for twenty or so yards until they came to what they were looking for.
The oxygen ventilation system.
It was a series of massive blue, cylindrical tanks, connected by a tangled lattice of pipes and hoses and gauges and levers.
Lydia was scanning the pipes, looking at the words and numbers printed along their lengths.
Benson scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Do you actually know what you’re looking for?” he said drily.
“Recirc pipe, sub-level three, section eighty-eight—the line to the gymnasium,” she said, continuing her search.
“And, you just happen to remember all that off the top of your head,” Benson said in disbelief.
“It’s company policy for all senior officers to know the basics of the atmospheric system. You know, in case of emergencies,” Lydia said. “And, the gymnasium is on the same level as my living quarters—sub-level three.”
She ran her hand along a thin pipe and traced it up to a hose connection. “Ah… here we go!”
Benson quizzed her further. “And the section eighty-eight? Don’t try to convince me you‘ve remembered the pipe section number for every room in this facility,” he said.
Lydia disconnected the pipe fitting. “Olly, did you ever play bingo?”
Benson curled his lip in thought. “Sure, but what’s that got— ”
“Eighty-eight. Two fat ladies—the gym” Lydia said with a smile.