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Two Times The Killin’

by O. J. Anderson

part 1 of 2

As the three black vans roll up to the Duracet Research and Development facility, the guards hurriedly push open the gates and wave them through. Up ahead, two hundred meters past the gates, is a gray-haired man standing in the road pointing to a long, two-level building off to his left. Black smoke drifts up from somewhere near the rear of the building and several windows are broken. The vans stop in the parking lot across from the main entrance as the gray-haired man comes running along from behind.

Jack Creed exits the vehicle. Stands by the bumper with his hands on his hips. “You Doctor Risler?” he asks the man jogging towards him.

“Yes. Yes,” Dr. Risler says. “Thank you for coming.” He stops running about twenty feet away and walks the rest. Catches his breath. With a sense of relief in his voice he says, “This is some pickle, I’m afraid.”

Another man comes walking around the building, sees the vans, and hurries over.

“Ah, good,” Dr. Risler says. “There’s Timothy now.”

“So what’s the story, Doc?”

“Well, Mr. Creed, it seems that there’s a bit of military technology gone amok inside the test center. We were working on some code, sorting out some of the bugs, then... I’m not sure, but...”

“One of the bugs got loose,” Timothy says.

“Bugs?” Jack asks.

“Code bugs,” Timothy says. “Programming. Weapons of the future are all driven by code. The more complex the system, the more complex the code. So it can take a while to work out all the bugs.”

“Mm.” Jack nods. “Sort of like a virus.”

“Sort of,” Dr. Risler says, “but this one’s more like a cold, or maybe a flu.”

“Actually,” Timothy says, holding a finger in the air, “I’d say this is more like getting the wires crossed in an automobile. When turning on the headlights locks the doors. Or when turning on the stereo-”

“Anyway,” Jack says. “The point here is what?”

“It isn’t working properly,” Dr. Risler says.

“What is it that isn’t working properly then?”

High-caliber automatic gunfire erupts from within the test center. Bullets poke a long staggered row of large holes through the front side of the building. Everyone hits the pavement. Then more gunfire through the roof. The gunshots are followed by a long dull roar.

Noticing Jack’s puzzled look trying to place the sound, Timothy says, “That would be the flame thrower.”

Some crashing sounds. Single shots, sporadically.

They stand, taking cover behind the van. Dr. Risler says, “It’s the ZT-7 battle frame. Seventh generation prototype.”

“Exoskeleton,” Timothy says.

“That’s right. It’s designed to be worn by combat troops. It will enable them to carry two times as much equipment for twice as long. The average soldier will be able to carry up to two hundred pounds of gear for forty miles or more. They will be able to carry more advanced weapons with targeting systems, night vision, heat sensors, anything. They will be able to move twice as fast with several days’ worth of food, water, ammo, you name it. It will change the nature of warfare.”

“Once you squash all the bugs,” Jack says.

Dr. Risler and Timothy look at each other, slightly embarrassed that their heavily-hyped war machine is at the moment shooting up the inside of their test center. Their team has been working on the battle frame for almost ten years now. Started out as a simple bio-assist unit to prevent soldiers’ knee and ankle injuries. The potential was immediately evident though, and development funding tripled, then quadrupled. Soon enough they were fitting shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, flame throwers, and connecting brainwave sensors interfacing with targeting and communication systems.

Jack, not a huge fan of technology for a variety of reasons, asks them both, “So why not just build a bunch of robots and save the troops all the trouble?”

“Ah,” the doctor says, “that, of course, is the goal. But until we can build a unit capable of the thought processes and with the decision-making abilities of the human brain, we need people.”

“Okay,” Jack says. He knows enough to take on the job. “So we’ve got humans in there running these things. How many... ten, fifteen?”

“Just one,” says Timothy.

“One? That’s it?”

“You sound disappointed,” Dr. Risler says.

“No, not really.” Jack waves for his crew to get ready. “So what’s this guy’s problem anyway? Not paying him enough. Double agent working for the commies? What’s his status?”

“Um...” Timothy scratches his head. “It’s a she. Her name’s Lisa. And to the best of my knowledge she is neither disgruntled nor a communist. She’s a terrific programmer as well as a good friend.”

“A woman!” Jack laughs, so does most of his squad. “You guys called us in because of one woman?”

“A woman locked inside one of the most advanced and deadly battle frames ever created,” Timothy says. “She’s armed with a 7.62 minigun, a .50 caliber automatic rifle, a flame thrower, an automatic shotgun, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.”

Dr. Risler says, “We think she is somehow being passively held captive by the ZT-7, as there are no real restraints built into the unit. She was hooked into the neurocontrol interface, so it’s possible that the bug could have jumped across. She may or may not be consciously controlling the ZT-7. We just don’t know enough at this point.”

“The one positive here is that she was on the indoor firing range earlier today dialing in the aiming systems. So, the weapons might not be zeroed in completely.”

“Okay,” Jack sighs. Almost bored. Humans and machines are easy jobs. “We’ll go in there and cut the power to this thing and get your girl back.”

Timothy: “Well...”

Jack’s shoulders drop. He would really like to get on with it already. “What now? What is it?”

“Yeah, there aren’t really any batteries per se. The driver is the battery.”

“Right. Just tell me how to turn it off then.”

Timothy defers to Dr. Risler, who breaks it down like this: there isn’t an on or off switch. It’s rather like a fork, in that you’re either using it or not; it only makes eating easier. It is not, however, like a TV or an oven that can be turned on and left alone, still running. Lisa must be removed from the frame in order to disarm it. And, he adds, “We would really appreciate it if she were unharmed.”

“Of course,” Jack says, throwing open the rear doors of the lead van. “But if it comes down to a choice between her and any of my men... I’m gonna have to take her down.”

“Right... right. Well, you’re professionals. I trust that you won’t allow that dilemma to arise.” The doctor begins to walk away, but remembers something and says, “Ah, yes, there is just one more teensie weensie thing.”

“Now what?” Jack makes a show of his exasperation, dropping the lock and keys to the weapons rack loudly onto the van’s floor.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Risler says. “It’s just that this whole situation really needs to be kept under wraps. And I mean strictly confidential. The ZT-7, the bugs, and whatever else is about to happen. Most especially the bugs part. If the Defense Department gets wind of this...”

“Don’t worry,” Jack tells him. “Taking down one woman isn’t something we need to go around bragging about. Now, is there anything else, or can we get to work?”

“No, I think that about covers things.”

“Are you sure?”

He backs away, almost in a bow. “Quite.”

* * *

Creed’s squad is geared up and fully briefed. Everyone is going in this time; support position will be established once inside. Dr. Risler has offered the squad full use of any technologies they find inside that may be of some use. Jack, thinking that the doctor himself might be of some use, has given him a radio. The squad, crouched behind the vans, is ready to move. Jack points to the near corner of the building and asks the doctor:

“What’s inside there?”

“Uh, that would be some office space, storage closets, maintenance area, hallway...”

“Right. That’s our entry point for foothold.”

“Oh, you can use the front door,” Dr. Risler says. “It isn’t locked.”

“Never use the front door. Could be booby trapped.” Jack Creed wags a finger at the corner.

At the signal, Jones jogs across the parking lot carrying a small satchel charge packed with P-10. Thirty feet from the building he drops to a knee, pulls the fuse igniter, and tosses the charge at the base of the wall. He then runs back behind the van for cover.

“Get your head down, Doc.”

The explosion tears the entire corner off the building, fifty feet in either direction and all the way up to the roof. Like it was chewed off by a giant rat. Before the cloud of earth, glass, and office supply debris clears, Jack and his squad are headed for the new entry point. Four lead squad members toss concussion grenades into the building. They blow in rapid succession and the squad moves inside.

The primary plan is to disable the “Lisa-7” with a devastating amount of concussion grenades, tackle her, then separate her from the frame before she knows what happened. They scramble through a crumbling hallway down into a conference room. Drop the heavy gear. Jack declares this room the base of operations. Alpha team’s designated first on the job, clipping extra concussion grenades to their vests. Bravo’s in reserve, securing the hallway.

“All right, Alpha team, let’s drop this chick and go get something to eat.” Jack leads the way, a grenade in each hand and rifle slung over his back. They move quickly and quietly, checking rooms and peeking around corners. The last man marking walls and doors with spray paint: a black X.

Almost at the south end of the facility, they hear footsteps: slow plodding metallic clunks. When they get a visual, the Lisa-7 is walking away from them. It’s an interesting looking unit, bigger than Jack expected. Organic in form, like a predatory insect. The weapons are stored along its backside, as though folded wings. One of the weapons, the auto-rifle, deploys up and over Lisa-7’s shoulder as they watch. Fires off a few rounds.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2006 by O. J. Anderson

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