Kick the Bucket

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Chapter Eight

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Deactivates >

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Why don’t you grab a chair and move back a few steps? You’re way too close to this console for my comfort. I ran past Patterson on my way here. He didn’t look happy.

Yugoslav Belinky: Sorry. I was just trying to get a better look through the window.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Let me brighten it up a bit.

Yugoslav Belinky: How’d you do that?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Didn’t Franco tell you it’s a monitor?

Yugoslav Belinky: No, I thought it was a window.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: That’s a mistake vault designers won’t make again. The only sizable gap in a vault’s integrity is the entry hatch. Those are made from a two-inch-thick slab of depleted uranium sandwiched between four inches of stainless steel on either side.

Each weighs several tons and hydraulic rams can shut one in under a second if needed. In other words, you’re going to have far worse than a pinched finger if you ignore the five second alarm warning.

Yugoslav Belinky: And the shutters Franco opened when she sat down?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: A video-clip background image. It provides visual and audible confirmation to anyone watching the monitor inside the vault that this console is active. The vaults are essentially frostbite-cold metal cubes with the inside space of a small crypt ... and just about as much fun to be inside.

The new emergency escape switches are a highly welcomed recent innovation; along with the improved lighting and noise cancelling systems. But even if it’s only a thermally protected monitor inside a fake window frame, having someone outside watching your back while you’re fumbling around in a cold-suit really cuts down on freak-outs.

If Colonel Forrest approves, how about I take you on a tour inside an empty vault later?

Yugoslav Belinky: No! I mean ... no thank you, Lieutenant Lopez.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: No sweat. Even battle-hardened soldiers can lose it inside a vault ... even an empty one ... when the hatch slams shut behind them for the first time. I sure did. There’s more than one reason why cold-suits are lined with easily-cleaned silicone rubber. Anything else?

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: YES!! WHEN WILL YOU STOP WASTING TIME!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Sir?

Yugoslav Belinky: Lieutenant Lopez, this is Counter Admiral Vasiliev. He’s the one who requested, what you call it ... a shake n’ bake?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It can’t be more than a few more minutes, Admiral. Please return to your seat. We’re just waiting for Colonel Forrest to return and issue the go-ahead.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: NO MORE THAN A FEW MINUTES!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Problem?

Yugoslav Belinky: Have you ever lost anyone under your command, lieutenant?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Yeah, two. I was in a hurry. I misread a map and ordered my Humvee into a mine field outside Fallujah.

Yugoslav Belinky: Do you still think about them?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Every day! The stupidest mistake I’ve ever made in my entire damned life!

Yugoslav Belinky: Multiply that by a little over two thousand.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: He’s being blamed for ...!?

Yugoslav Belinky: Yes? No? Maybe? I certainly don’t. That’s not important ... he does.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Damn!

Yugoslav Belinky: I’m curious about your American custom of giving things odd names. What does this ... shake n’ bake - - signify?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s something Building Three’s been doing on and off for about seven years. Shortly after the lab-coats finally admitted they had no idea how to eradicate a DE without blowing us to kingdom come, a very junior research team member pulled a freezer-burnt steak from her frig and had an epiphany: How about we make them destroy themselves?

As the theory goes, all DE’s are inherently unstable; the occasional Chaotic’s short existence and self-destruction being the only real evidence available to back this assumption up. We’ve been trying to discover how many freeze-thaw cycles they can survive ever since.

Yugoslav Belinky: Any results yet?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: None. We’ll keep trying, of course. At least until they stop paying us.

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Activates >

Corporal Terry Johnson: Team one reporting arrival and deployment of bait, Control.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Acknowledged. Control out.

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Deactivates >

Yugoslav Belinky: Bait?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: The lab-coats eventually figured out mice were better than soldiers when it came to luring loose DE’s around Building Three; and far safer. Pissed or stressed out mice don’t carry weapons and tanks of liquid nitrogen. See that little gray hatch in the ceiling?

Yugoslav Belinky: Right next to the recessed light fixture?.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: That’s the one. Now watch the screen. Someone from team one is going to enter the vault and shove a cardboard box containing an anesthetized mouse inside that. After the DE thaws and roams around a while, I’ll press this button and down it will go into the bucket.

The DE flows back inside, enjoys its Happy Meal box and all, and gets its butt flash-frozen. And shake n’ bake number four hundred and eight-five, on DE number four, comes to an end with nothing to show but another dead mouse.

Yugoslav Belinky: You sound bored.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: You think?! I’ve been doing this to a DE every other day for the last eight months. I even volunteered to join the last ditch defense squad last week to do something different.

Yugoslav Belinky: What happened?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I was rejected.

Yugoslav Belinky: Why? You’ve seen combat. What more do they want?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Personnel won’t say. If you ask me, they don’t think I’m crazy enough to be issued a BFG...

*Transcriber’s Note: At 1905 hours, Colonel James P. Forrest returns

Colonel James P. Forrest: Okay, people! Let’s get this ball rolling! Someone call the break room. Anyone not back here in three minutes will be locked out. Starting ... NOW!!

*Transcriber’s Note: Between 905 through 1908 hours the only sounds recorded are rapid footsteps, and wooden chairs being re-positioned around V4′s ops conference table.

Colonel James P. Forrest: I didn’t say bring coffee and donuts back with you, Dr. Kelly!

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: <mumbles> But they’ll be gone <*> by the time we’re <*>done!

*Transcriber’s Note: sound of theatrically-loud lip smacking, followed by even louder hot drink slurping

Colonel James P. Forrest: Civilians!

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Yes indeed. And one that should’ve been home having dinner with her family two hours ago!

Colonel James P. Forrest: BAH!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Should I start, sir?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Standby. Admiral, would you like to come to this end of the table? You’ll have a much better view.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: I can see very well from here. Proceed!

Colonel James P. Forrest: You heard the Admiral. Let’s get this over with, Lopez.

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Activates >

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Vault four shake n’ bake to reach critical temp in sixty seconds! Control channels active and green. Security teams one and two please acknowledge. Backup console acknowledge.

Corporal Terry Johnson: Team one acknowledge. Hatch secure. Sir!

Corporal Patrick Unis: Team two acknowledge. Confirmation on secured hatch, Sir!

Sergeant Jane Goodall: Backup console acknowledges hatch status. I see a red light coming from your console, Lieutenant. Haven’t they fixed that comm. wiring yet?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Negative on that. Maintenance on vaults two and three takes priority. It’s not like number four is going to complain about anything it might overhear coming from my console mic.

Sergeant Jane Goodall: Understood. Red light disregarded. All cameras confirmed recording. Proceed when ready.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Here we go! Primary heater switched on. Room temperature rising … ten, nine, eight ... secondary heater on, bucket warming towards activation temperature ... seven, six, five ... bait dispenser armed ... four, three, two ... safety interlocks engaged ... one, zero ... we have movement!

Oleg Mikhailov: That was quick!

Colonel James P. Forrest: It doesn’t take much. Anything over thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and off they go like a windup toy ... a very hungry windup toy.

Oleg Mikhailov: What can you tell us about this one, Colonel?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Like what? It’s exactly like all the others.

Oleg Mikhailov: Its history. Like when and where it was captured.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Oh, that. There’s not much to say, Mr. Mikhailov. It showed up in nineteen seventy-three, right near us in Pennsylvania. In fact, the only thing of note was how close it appeared to our old base, and where Building Three was eventually constructed.

If I remember correctly, it wiped out around twenty-nine people, scores of farm animals of every possible description, and burrowed its way through several grain storage silos looking for rodents and the cats hunting them.

It was eventually captured on a farm belonging to some guy named ... Decker? Heckler? Lecher? ... Wait, I remember now! The guy’s name was John Becker, and it killed him and every member of his family...

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Wow! That’s new!

Colonel James P. Forrest: What’s up?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It stopped! I’ve never seen one do that before!

Colonel James P. Forrest: It’s next to the door. Maybe it detected the containment teams?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: That’s possible, I guess. But they normally move around trying to pinpoint what they’re sensing. This one went straight to the emergency escape panel and just ... stopped.

Colonel James P. Forrest: I have an idea. I need to speak to one and two.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: The microphone is open, sir.

Colonel James P. Forrest: This is Colonel Forrest. Team one! Move ten feet to the right. Team two! Move ten feet to the left.

Corporal Terry Johnson / Corporal Patrick Unis: Sir?

Colonel James P. Forrest: JUST DO IT!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: No change, sir. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was reading the instruction sign...

*Transcriber’s Note: At approximately 1912 hours the sound of Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev pushing back his chair and rising to his feet is recorded; followed shortly thereafter, at 1913, by the sound of his body collapsing onto the floor and Natasha Semenov calling out to him in alarm.

Natasha Semenov: SERGEY!! WHAT’S WRONG!!

Colonel James P. Forrest: DR. KELLY!!

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Already on it. Someone call in a Code Blue! We’ve got a possible heart attack. I need Doctor Lenore and her team, a defibrillator, and a gurney up here right ... now!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: They’re on their way ... elevator three; ETA four minutes.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Semenov! What happened?

Natasha Semenov: I ... I ... I don’t know! He started mumbling to himself the second that thing in the vault started to move. I couldn’t understand most of it, but some parts sounded like he was asking for forgiveness. And, just before he collapsed, he took a pill out of his pocket, bit into it, and started foaming at the mouth!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Did you catch all that, Doctor?!

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: I heard! Admiral! What was in that pill?!

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: My ... my ... honor!

*Transcriber’s Note: At approximately 1914 hours, the death of Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev by self-inflicted poisoning was logged into the archive.

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: It’s too late, Colonel. He’s gone.

Colonel James P. Forrest: DAMN!! LOPEZ!! LOCK IT DOWN!! LOCK IT ALL DOWN!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Yes, Sir! Bait interlocks armed ... Deployed ... Bait released!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Listen up everyone! I’m going to need signed depositions from everyone here. No one is leaving Building Three until they’re on my desk! NO ONE!! My secure phone is now open for anyone who needs to contact...

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: COLONEL!!

Colonel James P. Forrest: What is it now, Lieutenant? I’m busy!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: You’re going to want to see this!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Why isn’t number four secure? Didn’t you drop the mouse?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Yes, sir. It got out of the box and is trying to climb out of the bucket. Number four is ignoring it. It’s just sitting there next to the escape panel.

Colonel James P. Forrest: That’s not possible! They always go after...

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: What do you want me to do, Colonel?!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Initiate an ECD!! Kelly! Get everyone out of here!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Initiating emergency chill down! Warning alarms sounding! All vault teams retreating to secondary positions on level two. Control Center acknowledges ECD. All other buildings are being advised. Fifteen seconds until critical temperature!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Hit the microphone! Sound general alert!

THIS IS COLONEL FORREST TO ALL FLOORS!! THIS IS NOT A DRILL ... I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL!! POSSIBLE CHAOTIC EMERGENCE IN VAULT FOUR!! ALL CONTAINMENT PERSONNEL REPORT TO THEIR ASSIGNED EMERGENCY DUTY STATIONS!! NON-CRITICAL PERSONNEL ARE TO ASSIST CIVILIAN EVACUATION!! BUILDING THREE WILL GO INTO FULL LOCKDOWN IN TEN MINUTES!! MOVE IT PEOPLE!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: 44 ... 39 ... 32! Nominal safe temperature achieved. Still dropping!

Colonel James P. Forrest: PUSH IT!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Full-stream nitrogen feeds active. Minus 75 ... 92 ... 129 ... 180 ... 194! Temperate control systems holding vault steady at minus 254! Vault monitoring will be lost if it goes any lower, sir!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Hold it there! CRAP!! I never thought that stupid idea ... that was too damned close!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: What now, Colonel? The DE is outside its container.

Colonel James P. Forrest: By the book, lieutenant. Any DE suspected of transitioning to Chaotic status is to be held in a frozen state for a minimum of seventy-two hours. If it hasn’t vanished by then, it must be shipped in the portable vault to somewhere far from any populated area and allowed to thaw. If it still exists after another seventy-two hours, the DE is to be recaptured, at any cost, and returned by transport personnel to Building Three.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I wouldn’t want that job!

Colonel James P. Forrest: I agree. But I suggest you take a good look at this month’s duty rooster. You ... are ... the lucky officer who gets to command the transport team. Have a nice trip to wherever the Top Brass tells you to dump number four.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Oh ... Geeze! Wait ... what?! Backup console! Can you confirm warning light number B5?

Sergeant Jane Goodall: Confirmed. We’re checking on it. Out.

Colonel James P. Forrest: B5? Show me. There was a temperature spike? Did a temperature probe fail?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: No, sir. I’m getting the same readings from two others near the hatch.

Colonel James P. Forrest: It can’t be the bait roaming around; it’s a Mousesicle. Did something short out?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s possible. ECD’s are hell on the equipment. I’ve got red lights all across the board. Maintenance is going to need a couple days to bring V4 back up, and that doesn’t include what might be going on downstairs that my console isn’t ... WHAT THE FUCK!! A HATCH SWITCH WAS TRIGGERED!!

Colonel James P. Forrest: Alpha and Beta teams ... check in!

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson / Alpha Team: / Sergeant George Samuel / Beta Team: Sir?

Colonel James P. Forrest: What’s your location?

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: Behind the north blast door, Sir!

Sergeant George Samuel: Behind the south blast door, Sir!

Colonel James P. Forrest: We’re getting an activation signal on V4′s hatch, Patterson. Is anyone out there messing with the emergency release?

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: No, sir. The corridor between us and Beta is empty, and even Yancy isn’t dumb enough to touch the manual controls. What are your orders Colonel?

Colonel James P. Forrest: All of you stay put. Keep alert. We’re having technical issues. Out.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Confirmed, sir. There’s nothing on CTV going back three minutes. It must be a glitch. Vault camera one survived the ECD, but it only shows the area around the bucket. The other two are down hard. Number three went dark right after the DE stopped besides the hatch. Maybe it froze and tipped over into it?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Something about this stinks. How’s the evacuation going?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: The civilians are all accounted for in Building Two. Lieutenant Carter just pulled the backup memory blades from the main server. If he’s not on the helipad in the next ninety seconds, our data is going nowhere. Essential personnel confirmed on station. All other buildings in the compound are evacuating non-essential personnel. They should achieve total lock down within twenty minutes.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Any word on Damocles?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: An F117 just launched from Fort Indiantown Gap; ETA twenty-three minutes. It’ll be on station and circling at fifty-five thousand feet for the duration. The backup Nighthawk is being prepped for flight. It will be ready to roll out of its hanger in fifteen minutes if needed.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Let’s hope we don’t need either of them. If a Chaotic breaches Building Three and threatens the other buildings in the compound, AFGSC* will turn this part of Pennsylvania into glass!

*Transcriber’s note: Air Force Global Strike Command

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: SIR!! WE’VE GOT MOVEMENT!! AND HE’S LOOKING AT ME!!

Colonel James P. Forrest: What are you talking ... WHO’S PULLING THIS CRAP??!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s real-time, Colonel. I checked. It’s coming straight from vault four. This isn’t some gag video patched into the surveillance system like this time!

Colonel James P. Forrest: How’s that ... it’s impossible! The ECD purged all oxygen! It’s pure nitrogen in there and colder than the dark side of the Moon! And who the heck is ... that ... suppose to be?!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Looks like a farmer, sir.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Looks like a farmer, he says ... TURN ON THAT DAMNED MIC!!

CODE BLACK!! TOTAL EVACUATION OF VAULT LEVEL!! I REPEAT, CODE BLACK. ALL MEMBERS OF LIMA DOUBLE DELTA SIERRA* REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO THE VAULT!! THE ARMORY IS OPEN!! AUTHORIZATION DOMINO SEVEN!! BRING EVERY DAMNED THING YOU CAN CARRY!! OUT!!

*Transcriber’s note: Last Ditch Defense Squad

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: He’s moving back towards the hatch. What’s going on, sir?!

Colonel James P. Forrest: The worst. The absolute freakin’ worst. It’s ... them!

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