Saturday, 29th August, 2009, 01:27 PM #591
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: PrologueI recall the time they found those fossilized mosquitoes
And before long, they were cloning DNA
Now I'm being chased by some irate velociraptors
Well, believe me... this has been one lousy day
--Jurassic Park by Weird Al
Hammer shrugged. "Something about a medical check-up. Majestic's still cagey about him being in the field after the incident in Central Park."
"Yeah," Jim-Bean shook his head. "The incident. I haven't been to a check-up recently, wonder why they're not worried about me."
Hammer smirked. "That's because you're under my supervision."
Jim-Bean rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, right. So we're in this buttcrack of a town because…"
"This is the place where Arthur Hunt's experiment blew up. If there's a legacy of the snake people we discovered in Elberton, it starts here, with the Hunt Electronics plant in Hellbend," said Hammer. "And two people were recently murdered here."
"In Hellbend? Doesn't that reduce the population by ten percent?"
Hammer nodded. "Nearly. It's all on your cistron: The first murder occurred on March 5, on the outskirts of the town. Clifford Potter, a 53 year-old white male, was found mutilated less than four hundred yards from the remains of the ruins of the old Hunt Electrodynamics plant. The county coroner from Independence, Abner White could not readily identify just how exactly he had died."
"Aliens," muttered Jim-Bean.
"You see aliens behind everything."
"It's hard not to when I'm part…something."
"No one doubts foul play of some sort — Potter's body was torn to pieces — but the sheriff's office couldn't come up with a motive. A nearby Bobcat light construction vehicle was tentatively identified as the murder weapon, but few can understand how such an event occurred. Potter had rented it at his own expense and was digging around on the abandoned lot at the ruins of the Hunt plant for some unknown reason. He was known as a local treasure-hunter and was considered just a little bit crazy. Local investigation petered out after just a week."
"Great. Hick cops."
"The second victim, Lucille Mayer, a 36 year-old white female, was reported missing in Hellbend on the night of April 24, and was discovered by State Police over the border in Nevada fourteen days later. The case was officially placed under Federal jurisdiction with the Mayer murder and reassigned to CIFA. We're going to see the sheriff's office right now." Hammer pulled the car over.
The small “Death Valley Office" of the Inyo County Sheriff was located at Hwy 190, Death Valley, California 9232. It was maintained by a two-man on-and-off crew.
"Looks like a glorified shack to me," said Jim-Bean.
They got out of the car and knocked on the shack door.
A tall, middle-aged man with brown hair and blue eyes answered the door. Hammer flashed his badge. "I'm Agent Grange, this is Agent Baxter, we're with the Counter-Intelligence Field Agency. We've been assigned to the Mayer investigation."
"The Feds, right. Come on in."
The two men worked out of a tiny office perched on the side of Highway 190 with little more than a two-line phone, a ham radio set and a sloth-like internet connection. They sat down at a cramped table.
"I'm Alfred Mann, Sheriff in these parts." He nodded towards a younger man, who leaned against a wall on the far corner of the room. There was only enough room at the table for three chairs so it was just as well. "That's Lucas Androzy, my deputy. Can I offer you boys a coke?" Mann jabbed a finger at the dusty Coke machine jammed next to the desk.
"I'm good, thanks," said Hammer. He didn't even bother to ask Jim-Bean, who had changed his dietary habits to a carefully mixed shake to keep his weight down. He still wasn't excreting normally due to his particularly unique metabolism.
Mann had some files on the table. "Lucas saw a gathering of buzzards, that's how he found the body in the first place. Tell 'em, Lucas."
Androzy frowned and stepped out of the shadows a bit so his features were illuminated by the shafts of sunlight spearing through the partially drawn shades. "There wasn't much left by the time I got there. Had to identify her by her teeth."
Mann nodded, flipping open a folder to a coroner's report. "There was serious blunt trauma and portions of her skeleton were gone."
"Gone?" asked Jim-Bean.
Mann nodded. "Missing. Nevada FBI was called in, and the Las Vegas coroner placed cause of death as violent blunt and cutting trauma—"
"In other words," interjected Hammer. "Murder."
Mann flipped open another folder. "The physical evidence — what of there, there is — matches the marks found on Potter’s body."
"So we've got one killer who tears people up and carts off the pieces?" asked Hammer. "You sure this isn't some kind of animal?"
"Maybe it is, maybe it ain't," said Mann. "I don't know." He wiped his forehead in the heat. "To be honest, Agent uh…Grange, we're a bit of our depth here. We could use your help."
Hammer nodded. "That's why we're here. We'd like to investigate the supposed murder weapon."
Androzy leaned forward. "Supposed? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Relax," said Jim-Bean. "We're just saying that we want to build on your team's forensics work." Jim-Bean managed to say "team" without laughing, but just barely.
That seemed to mollify Androzy somewhat.
"Lucas, why don't you take these boys on over to the Gas 'n Sip? The Bobcat's still there, right?"
"Yeah, sure," said Androzy slowly. "Sure, I can do that. I can drive you…"
"We'll take our own vehicle, thanks," said Hammer, rising.
Androzy was about to say more when Jim-Bean interjected. "We've got special forensics equipment in there. I can show you when we get to the crime scene."
Androzy nodded, taken aback by the offer but clearly excited about it.
"Give me a call if you need anything," Mann said to their backs. "We're here to help."
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Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 1 – Gas n' Sip
The remnants of a formerly vibrant company town were still to be found surrounding the core of what Hellbend had become. Derelict buildings, long abandoned and overrun by weeds and witch grass, dotted the roads leading up to town – Hunt Electrodynamics' legacy.
The town once supported an entire workforce of nearly 4,000 people – and they left their dwellings behind. Most had fallen into near-complete ruin; windows long ago shattered, paint peeled off, decks collapsed, foundations shifted. Some, however, were still lived in and some were even meticulously maintained.
Most of the eighty-two residents of Hellbend lived near the center of town or within a few blocks of Main and State streets. Others however lived a bit off the beaten path – further out in the desert. The only business worth mentioning was the Gas n’ Sip – the local gas station/video store/ supermarket/post office on the corner of Main and State. Nearly every piece of mail came or went through the Gas n’ Sip and nearly everyone who stopped in Hellbend did so for one of two things – gas or directions.
The Gas n’ Sip was a two-story rickety looking building with a gable roof that sat on the corner of Main and State streets, dead-center in Hellbend. It was adorned with aging Coke signs, ancient ads for Brylcreem and other less memorable products long since washed out by the relentless sun. There were two old gas pump placed dead center on a simple concrete block out front.
"Jarvis?" asked Androzy, striding ahead of the agents. "Some men here to see you. This is Agents Grange and Baxter."
Jarvis Greene, the current proprietor, lounged in a weather-beaten rattan chair in the shade of the roof. He was a young, sunburned hippy.
"Hey guys." Greene stood up. "You must be here about the murders."
"That's right," said Hammer. "What do you know about them?"
Greene sat back down. "I knew Clifford Potter—" began Greene.
"He discovered Potter's body at the ruins of the Hunt Electrodynamics plant outside of Hellbend," interjected Androzy.
Greene nodded. "I rented Potter the Bobcat Lifter for the afternoon. When Potter didn't return that evening with the equipment, I took my Jeep out to the site and found him. That's when I called the sheriff."
"Did you see much of Potter prior to his death?" asked Hammer.
Greene nodded again. "Yeah. He took to interviewing my grandfather, Montgomery Greene, about his experience in the Hunt Electrodynamics Plant. A few times, Potter taped his interview with Monty, and asked specific questions about Hunt and the plant, though what they were, I can’t recall."
"You said you rented the Bobcat to Potter. Is it still here?"
"Sure is," said Greene. "It's 'round back. Want to see it?"
"Please," said Hammer.
Hammer grabbed his forensics kit from the car and Greene led them to the shade of a garage port. They smelled the Bobcat before they saw it.
"Only one in town," said Greene. The small, one-man, propane-powered vehicle was designed for light digging, lifting and plowing. "We rent it out for small local jobs."
"And Potter rented it for…?" asked Hammer.
"Once to dig his root cellar and the second time to poke around the old Hunt Plant."
"We returned it two days after Potter’s murder," said Androzy, a little defensively.
Jim-Bean circled the Bobcat. "This is good work, good work."
"Did you clean it?" asked Hammer.
Greene nodded. "I tried, but it's…well, you can smell it."
"Mind if we take a look at it?"
"Be my guest." Greene seemed interested in very little. He wandered back to his seat at the front of the station.
"Lucas," corrected Androzy.
"Yeah, right. You think we could cordon off this area?" asked Jim-Bean.
"Oh sure. You think someone might uh…contaminate the crime scene?"
"We can't be too careful," said Jim-Bean. He rolled his eyes in mock annoyance. "You know how it is, what with snooping locals and all."
Androzy nodded. "Sure, sure. I'll check with Jarvis to see if he has anything we can use." He jogged off after Greene.
Hammer just shook his head. "You're too much."
"Everything he knows about forensics he probably learned from CSI," said Jim-Bean with a smirk. "How bad is it?"
Hammer got up from his crouch. "The sheriff's department royally screwed the pooch on this one. But I can tell you one thing: this isn't the murder weapon."
"What, you don't think Potter stood still while this thing trundled along at…"
"Five miles per hour."
"…Five miles per hour and let it slowly tear him in half?"
"It's possible, if he was tied up or something. But see this?" Hammer pointed at a splash of red liquid on the side of the vehicle. "The blood's not on the digging blade. Potter would have had to be struck by the vehicle on the side. The only truly dangerous portion of the vehicle is the blade." The blade was untouched.
"What's that smell, anyway?"
Hammer used a sampling tool to scrape off some of the effluvia on the side of the vehicle. He plugged the little wand into his cistron. "That's what I thought."
"There are several distinct layers to the stuff on the Bobcat. As if something applied several layers of biological material on the vehicle. There's ammonia in it."
Jim-Bean peered at Hammer. "Are you saying someone—or something—pissed on this Bobcat?"
"I don't know. Why don't you investigate this yourself."
"Hey, I'm not the expert…"
Hammer emphasized his point. "I mean YOUR way of investigating it."
"Oh, right." Jim-Bean sat in the driver's seat and, relaxing and closing his eyes, concentrated. He tried to block out the stink of the Bobcat and the relentless California heat.
The vision hit him hard. It wasn't visual at all. There was screeching, a screeching like an animal he had never heard of before. And there was more than one.
Jim-Bean flinched as the sound was right in his ear. He stumbled out of the driver's seat with a yelp.
Hammer came up from underneath the Bobcat. "What happened?'
"I don't know…I..."
"Did you see something?"
"Heard something," said Jim-Bean. "Heard multiple somethings. Big and pissed off things, but it's hard to explain what they sounded like. If I couldn't see them I don't think Potter did either. They caught him by surprise."
"Not those dogs again…"
Jim-Bean sighed. "Seriously? You're going to question me about how this works? I was right about those dogs, remember?"
Hammer held up a single, odd, feather-like scale. "If you're right, then I'm guessing this belongs to one of them."
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 2 – Clifford Potter's Home
Androzy led them to Potter's home next. Clifford Potter lived on the extremities of Hellbend near to what was commonly referred to as the “bluff” – a small rise in the land to the northwest of town; approximately a mile from Hellbend. He was the only resident of the area for nearly a quarter of a mile in any direction.
"Potter bought the house in Hellbend in late 1993 at a fire sale price and has lived in the town ever since," said Androzy, all business. Jim-Bean's constant stroking had pumped the deputy up considerably. "He had no friends to speak of, but was known to help out others as needed. He drank, but not overly so, and seemed content with maintaining his house and hiking around the ruined areas of Hellbend recovering pieces of valuable scrap metal to sell in nearby Independence or Beatty Junction."
"When did he start poking around the Hunt Electrodynamics plant?"
"Late 2003," said Androzy, walking to Potter's home. "He began digging up large portions of brass, bronze and copper piping from the site to make some extra money. He was often seen driving off to the ruins of the plant in his old Ford truck with an acetylene torch and other gear in the back. Word around town is that Potter thought the ruins of the plant were a proverbial gold mine."
"Mind if we look inside?" asked Jim-Bean.
"Oh sure, sure." Androzy took down the tacked notice declaring the house a crime scene and warned trespassers not to enter. That and a flimsy lock was all that kept the curious out. Androzy fumbled for a key and unlocked the door.
Potter's small dwelling was a one-story, gable-roofed house painted a sickly, lime green. It had a hand-dug root cellar separated from the main building that dropped approximately twelve feet into the ground, and a small four-foot tall attic.
Potter’s kitchen seemed to be the hub of his life. The rest of the house was military clean—sparse almost— while only the kitchen seemed “lived in”. A sign over the stove read “You don’t have to be crazy to live here, but it helps”. On the table lay gloves, two books, a notepad, a map, a boom-box and a series of tapes.
Hammer snapped on his plastic gloves. "Don't touch anything."
"Sure," said Jim-Bean, ignoring him.
The two beaten books on the table were titled Radioactivity and Geology: An Account of the Influence of Radioactive Energy on Terrestrial History and Radioactivity and Its Measurement.
"Interesting." Hammer sifted through the tapes.
The cassette tapes were strewn about the kitchen table of Potter’s house, next to an ancient, nearly inoperable boom-box. Each had a chicken-scratch label marking them as “Monty Int.” followed by a number. There were tapes in total and none of them were dated.
"Did you play these?" asked Jim-Bean.
Androzy nodded. "Each contains the rambling recollections of Montgomery Greene. I listened to a few of them. Why?"
"Nothing," said Jim-Bean, "just wanted to see if you picked up on something we might miss."
Androzy nodded again, missing the bizarre logic of Jim-Bean's statement.
"We're going to play these, if you don't mind," said Hammer.
Hammer picked up the notepad. It was battered and water-logged. In it Clifford potter took hundreds of notes – but few were clearly legible. Besides the poor penmanship, it was obvious Potter had no need to label pages – instead, he seemed to be writing about something he knew very well. Most of the notes appear to be measurements of distance like (6’23”).
"Six foot, twenty three inches…" mused Hammer aloud.
"That's on the map here too," said Jim-Bean.
This hand-drawn map was something obviously fashioned with great care by Clifford Potter. It shows what appeared to be several passages from a bird's eye view along with careful measurements of distance and angles. It was not labeled.
"Look at this." Hammer flipped to the last page of Potter's notebook.
It was a simple, hand-drawing of what looked like an odd pool with sockets in the border surrounding it. Wavy lines were drawn in the center of the pool.
"I think it's time we checked out the root cellar," said Jim-Bean. "Jimbo, you think you could do me a favor?"
"Can you get my forensics kit? It's in the trunk. You did some good work here but I want to take a closer look…"
Jim-Bean threw him his keys.
"Be right back," said Androzy.
"Did you just give that idiot the keys to our car?"
"Who said those were the car keys?" said Jim-Bean with a grin. "Now let's go check out the root cellar."
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 3 – The Thing in the Cellar
The root cellar was a recent construction; something dug in the last two years. It was a small ten foot by twelve foot room about twelve feet down in the ground, accessible through hand-made storm cellar doors and a series of slate steps. It appeared as if a great amount of effort went into constructing it.
Hammer flicked on his head lamp. Jim-Bean switched on a flashlight. They played the beams over the dirt floor.
It was completely empty except for a single long-toothed rake propped against a shored-up wall.
"Only one person has been down in the soft dirt of the cellar." Hammer pointed out footprints in the dirt.
"So?" asked Jim-Bean.
"I don't think Androzy ever stepped foot down here."
"Whoever those footprints belong to, he was really interested in raking the floor." The few footprints disrupted an otherwise perfect sea of carefully raked dirt; like a strange subterranean Zen garden.
Hammer pulled out a small utility tool from his pocket. "Start digging."
"You don't rake a root cellar unless you're covering something up," said Hammer.
In moments, Hammer's efforts with the tool were rewarded as he connected with a solid object in the dirt.
Hammer dug out around the hole with his gloved hands. Catching the edge of something plastic, he tugged on it and pulled a large zip-locked bag from the ground.
"What is it?" asked Jim-Bean.
It was a nearly three-inch cube. Hammer held it up to their flashlights. "I think this is solid gold."
Jim-Bean whistled. "That's got to be worth thousands of dollars."
Hammer rotated the bag in his hand. "It's machined into a precise, odd cube with curved corners, a slight curve on the inner faces and a strange icon carved into each face." The icons on the side of the cube were each different—they were rectilinear, mathematical-like symbols.
Jim-Bean took a step towards Hammer to take a closer look when his boot clinked something.
Jim-Bean looked down. A hint of glass in the dirt sparkled back in the flashlight beam.
Hammer dug down and tugged out a huge glass jar filled with a thick, clear liquid. He held it up to the light.
Inside was a huge insect, a dragonfly that measured approximately twenty nine inches from tip to tail. Its wings were crushed and it had obviously suffered severe trauma. It was curled in its death position in the liquid; rolled up like a spiral.
"Whoa," said Jim-Bean. "That thing is huge. I didn't know they can grow that big."
"I don't think they can," said Hammer. "Let's get it back to the lab for analysis."
"Agent Baxter?" called Androzy from the top of the steps. "I tried all of the keys and none of 'em worked."
"Oh crap!" said Jim-Bean, feigning surprise. "I threw you the wrong keys! I'll be right up. Looks like we'll need some trash bags too."
"For what?" asked Androzy, peering into the darkness.
"Dirt samples," Jim-Bean and Hammer said simultaneously.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 4 – The Ruins of Hunt
Located approximately two miles from the center of Hellbend, California on the ruins of a formerly beautiful asphalt road, a sea of destroyed concrete was all that remained of Hunt Electrodynamics Plant #004. A partially ruined chain link fence surrounded it five hundred yards out from the ruins on all sides.
It was hardly a deterrent. Large gaps existed every fifty feet or so. All that remained were concrete slabs split into no larger than three-foot chunks, an occasional metal strut curled by some huge force, random, destroyed business devices from the 1950s.
Hammer walked the perimeter. "Looks to me like the place was destroyed more by an implosion. See how the buildings lean inwards to a center point?"
Walking the site of the plant revealed little. There were no apparent entrances below; no tunnels, holes or stairs down. The site appeared barren.
The point where Clifford Potter was digging with the Bobcat was easily found. The twenty by thirty-foot bald spot was meticulously cleared of rubble, and covered in Bobcat tracks, various footprints and the random detritus of humanity.
"From the looks of it, the Bobcat blade broke the ground maybe once or twice," said Hammer. The hole it created dipped down only a foot or two, revealing nothing. The site was suspiciously clear of anything else.
"You said Potter was digging up metal pipes?" Jim-Bean asked Androzy.
"Where?" asked Jim-Bean. "There are no metal pipes—no metal at all except steel—on the surface."
"Maybe he stripped the site?"
Hammer and Jim-Bean exchanged a glance. "We're going to need heavy equipment," said Jim-Bean. "Can you rent the Bobcat for us?"
"What?" asked Androzy. "What in the hell do you want that thing for?"
"To dig," said Hammer. "Potter was looking for something."
Androzy just stared at them. "You're serious."
"Very much so," said Hammer.
"Do you know what it's going to take to get that thing out here again? We'll have to drive it over on something…"
"It's only a few miles out," said Jim-Bean helpfully.
Androzy swore and got Mann on his shoulder CB. "Al? Al? Yeah it's Lucas. The Feds want the Bobcat again. No, not for forensics…" he stalked off towards his car, swearing, "…to DIG! Yeah, I know, I told them!"
"That'll keep him busy," said Jim-Bean. "Now, what I really wanted to tell you. Take a look at this." He tapped a few keys on the cistron. Then he blew a kiss skywards.
On the cistrons, a satellite in the sky zoomed in so close that Hammer could make out that Jim-Bean was winking when he blew the kiss.
The view spiraled upwards, indicating the perimeter of the old plant. A map grid appeared over it, with various branches beneath them.
"What's that?" asked Hammer.
"That's Potter's map. From the looks of it, there are underground tunnels that run through here. They've got to come out somewhere…"
"Great," said Hammer, "now we just need to find the entrance."
The cistrons beeped as SINNER zeroed in on a probable entrance.
"You know the only reason you get away with this stuff is because SINNER identifies herself as female."
"I know," said Jim-Bean with a grin.
"She used to portray herself as prepubescent but I've noticed her voice has gotten…huskier."
Jim-Bean smirked. "Agent Hammer, surely you aren't implying that I'm causing a supercomputer to reach puberty prematurely?"
The entrance was located about a mile to the northwest of the ruins, where the land dropped two dozen or more feet. A culvert connected to the subterranean structures of the Hunt Plant.
The culvert was a twelve foot diameter concrete tube that protruded from the hill and disappeared into the depths of the ground that led back to the site. The culvert was awash with a spray of greenery—small plants with a single red flower on them that grew in dribs and drabs on a delta like stream of water which poured out into a fan, disappearing into the parched earth about five yards out. The area smelled rich and damp.
Jim-Bean took a picture of the tiny red flowers, none bigger than a quarter inch. There was a preponderance of bugs flying around the plants. The plants were littered with tiny, spore-covered corpses of hundreds of bugs.
A thousand possible matches flickered through SINNER's database. The response, "No existing matches," blinked urgently on screen.
"SINNER's stumped. Wherever these plants come from, it's not of this earth."
"I'm more concerned about that," said Hammer. He took pictures of a large heel print. It was only the ball of the creature's heel. SINNER analyzed the print: it weighed between 1,200 and 1,300 pounds.
"Jesus. So we've got a big print and a weird flower. Now what?"
"Now," Hammer checked the ammunition on his Glocks, "we go inside the creepy tunnel."
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 5 – Down the Rabbit Hole
The concrete culvert, which led into the earth heading towards the Hunt plant, was quite large, capable of allowing a human to stand upright comfortably.
That's when they heard the odd noise.
It was not easily describable—it sounded somewhat like an echoey clicking. The mechanical clicking rose and fell over time.
A slow rush of water about two inches deep lapped at their heels. The culvert's walls were covered in a deep green moss up to about hip height. The water seemed to go in cycles—rising slightly in speed and depth every few minutes.
"I don't like that sound," said Jim-Bean.
They ventured further into the culvert. Eventually, the source of the ghostly, echoing clicking became clear.
The contraption, connected by a series of thick wires to Sears Die-Hard battery, sat in the cave propped up on an overturned orange crate. The device seems to be the old innards of a radio rewired to some other purpose. Two other discarded Die- Hard batteries were dumped to the side of the tunnel.
The machine spat out tiny clicks through a single, hand-wired speaker. The clicks increased or decreased with time; sputtering away in a sudden onslaught of noise, then just as suddenly fading to a barely audible click.
"Geiger counter," said Hammer. "That explains the books in Potter's home."
The culvert wound its way beneath what was once the Hunt Plant. The main tunnel led off into darkness. The water was knee deep, making movement both slow and noisy. In the distance, a low rush of water could be heard. After a hundred yards, the tunnel began to turn every fifty yards.
"I don't like this," said Hammer, both pistols held up over his head, "you know I don't—"
"Swim, I know, I know," said Jim-Bean. "But hopefully this current gets less as we get closer to the end of this, wherever it is. I don't have any SCUBA equipment in my duffel bag."
Hammer didn't respond. Jim-Bean looked back over his shoulder, playing the head lamp back and forth over the brakish water. "Hammer?"
He caught a glimpse of a red-green saurian-like head just above the surface. The light struck it full in the eye and the pupil shrunk.
"Oh crap," said Jim-Bean as something hungry and fast lurched out of the water towards him.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 6 – On the Menu
Jim-Bean awoke to shooting pain in his foot. He was floating, half-dragged through the current towards…somewhere. He couldn't make out what it was, but he got the distinct impression of feathers…which didn't make any sense, because he had definitely seen a scaly head.
Focus. Jim-Bean was alive. Hammer wasn't with him. This thing was dragging him back to it lair, no doubt to eat him. He had to come up with a plan.
But there was no beating these things in a fair fight. Not in a water-logged tunnel, not when he was barely clinging to life, surviving only because his protomatter-infused body never quit mending his wounds. He would have to come up with something else than mere violence.
It was time to test the limits of his powers. Valiant's crystal had unleashed powers within him he never dreamed of. He had been meditating, practicing some of the techniques he learned at Enolsis. He was about to put them to the test.
Evidence of the culvert was long gone. What little he could make out with his head beam showed a jagged, uneven ceiling. He was instead surrounded by dirt and rocks.
That's all he needed. He tried to focus.
But it was hard. The damn thing bit down on his foot every few seconds as it adjusted its grip on him. Jim-Bean's protomatter body was capable of some amazing things, but he doubted he could reattach a severed foot. He bit his lip to keep from crying out.
The tunnel trembled around him. The teeth momentarily loosened their grip, and that was just what Jim-Bean needed. He concentrated harder, and the muddy rock fell just ahead of where his foot was.
There was an inhuman screech, the same sound Jim-Bean heard in his vision on the Bobcat. Water thrashed as muddy earth sluiced off from the ceiling and slammed into the thing again and again.
There was a barking call. Jim-Bean swore silently. The thing wasn't dead, not by a long shot.
Worse, another call, further down the culvert, barked back. There were two of them. Great.
The water changed direction. He down another tunnel, away from the noises. Splashing down that way told Jim-Bean that they were tracking him.
Jim-Bean knew that running wouldn't work. In the mean time, his protomatter would do what it did best.
He just hoped Hammer made it out alive.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 7 – One Lousy Day
Hammer had no idea that the sudden drop in the culvert saved his life. When Hammer sputtered back to the surface, Jim-Bean was gone.
He spun around, Glocks out, hoping they would still work despite being soaked. "Jim-Bean? Jimmy?"
There was an odd barking screech, almost like that of an angry seagull, only louder and angrier. It echoed to Hammer's right. Then to his left.
When Hammer caught sight of a red-green head he didn't hesitate to fire. There was a screech, and something thrashed in the water. Then he was alone again in the inky blackness.
Hammer made his way over to the side of the culvert. If he could just get his back to the wall…
Teeth snapped down on his leg, hard. Hammer cried out in pain and unleashed his Glocks into the water, heedless of the fact that he might well shoot himself in the thigh.
Whatever it was let go. He must have hit it.
Hammer half-dragged himself up to the edge of the culvert. It was shallower there.
Where the hell was Jim-Bean?
There was a series of splashes further down the tunnel. Something was hurtling towards him, faster than a human, its bird-like legs pumping, teeth and claws extended. Hammer had just enough time to bring his Glocks up as the thing slammed into him.
Its rear claws struggled for purchase, trying to tear his exposed abdomen. It effortlessly ripped Hammer's belt in two.
Jaws snapped at his throat. In a desperate ploy to keep the thing off of him, Hammer gave up trying to shoot it and just offered it his forearm. It would render his arm useless, but Hammer had to keep the thing off of him long enough to get a shot.
It worked. The jaws snapped around his arm and shook side to side, claws tearing at his shoulders and face. Hammer shoved himself forward and they both twisted into the water.
In the inky blackness, the thing didn't have the advantage. More importantly, he knew exactly where its head was. Hammer's head beam flashed on one of the cat-like pupils, wild with bloodlust.
Hammer put his Glock to the thing's eye and pulled the trigger.
There was a burst gore and the jaws clenched reflexively once more, hard enough to make Hammer scream. He nearly choked to death right there, under the water. But with his last ounce of strength, he managed to hurl himself back onto a shallower part of the culvert. And there he floated.
The current eventually floated him back out towards the entrance. Hammer felt a mixture of relief and guilt as the sunlight of the opening came into view. Whatever had attacked Hammer had most certainly eaten Jim-Bean.
Androzy greeted him at the entrance. "Been lookin' for you all day! I got the Bobcat…what the hell happened to you?"
"Hospital," wheezed Hammer, limping towards Androzy. "I need to make a call."
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Part 8 – The Gate
The tunnel finally opened into a larger cement room awash with water and odd plants. At the far end was a twelve-foot diameter stone archway with slots on the left hand side of the large portal; it was tilted forward at a slight angle, pinned in place by debris. The stone was odd—it was a deep black soapstone-like substance with an almost metallic quality. These slots looked like they would fit a cube, like the cube the agents had found in Potter's basement. The top slot was empty.
Jim-Bean slowly got to his feet, the predators behind him momentarily forgotten.
It was fascinating. Though almost the entire archway was clear of debris, as well as the topmost cube slot; much of the gate was obscured by rubble. The gate perfectly matched with the drawing in the last page of Clifford Potter’s notebook.
The archway was filled with a deep gray mist, much like steam, which did not seem to drift far from the door. There was something odd about the way the smoke drifted; it occasionally seemed to twirl, twist and congeal into tiny storm-like collections of clouds; and it never drifted far from the stone doorway before evaporating.
Every few minutes, a stream of clear, warm water poured from inside the gate. The stream continued down the tunnel where it exits out of the concrete culvert. The strong smell of a verdant jungle filled the tunnel.
A stack of equipment was scattered around the small cleared out area surrounding the gate. It was sitting on top of a pile of rubble, well out of the way of the stream of water.
Jim-Bean quickly rifled through it. It consisted of an army bag filled with various pieces of electronic equipment.
Jim-Bean unshouldered his duffel bag. There was enough C-4 to do some damage. But he had bigger problems.
Behind him, the Hellbend killers entered the cave entrance, snapping and snarling at each other as they established dominance for who would eat Jim-Bean first.
At first glance, they looked like an enormous flightless red-green colored birds the size of pick-up trucks. They had small forearms sprinkled with orange-green feather-like extrusions, and the same faux feathers on their backs. They were quite obviously predators—heads filled with two-inch long serrated teeth, and face broken by one blunt horn. Their small forward arms were tipped with five-inch hook-like claws.
They were also most definitely not lizards. These were dinosaurs.
The predators crept into the cavern, hissing, heads darting to track his every move.
"Velociraptors," whispered Jim-Bean. "Great." He set the charges on the C-4 to a few seconds. Then he tossed a brick of them into the air, using his telekinesis to control them just right.
One of the raptors snapped at the blinking brick, just as Jim-Bean hoped. With a telekinetic shove, he slammed it down the beast's throat.
The raptor squealed, clawing at its throat. The second raptor, excited by the motion, reared back with its jaw open wide and its claws raised for a charge…
Jim-Bean staggered backwards. His gun was useless. He was hoping the explosion from the C-4 would have taken care of them both.
It leaped through the air, both pairs of claws extended, maw gleaming with shark's teeth. Jim-Bean pointed at the satchel of equipment.
The heavy equipment smashed into the thing and hurled it towards the gate. It fell within feet of the smoke, but the tendrils curled around it and sucked it through.
A second later the other raptor, still clawing at its throat, exploded in a gout of blood and bone.
Jim-Bean slumped to the ground, exhausted.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Operation Bravo: Conclusion
Jim-Bean met Hammer at the hospital. Hammer. He was laid up in bed, doped up on painkillers.
"Did you get them?" asked Hammer. His forearm was heavily bandaged. The dinosaurs had near snapped his forearm in two.
"Good to see you're alive, Jim-Bean," began Jim-Bean sarcastically. "I thought you were dead. Sorry I had to leave you behind with the scary Jurassic Park rejects…"
"Very funny," croaked Hammer.
"You're seriously messed up yourself," said Jim-Bean.
"Radiation…poisoning," said Hammer.
"Oh yeah, I noticed that. But I got over it."
Hammer continued his question. "So?"
"The dinosaurs are now definitely extinct. As for the gate, I called in a STREETSWEEPER team. Gave Larry the gold cube. They're going in now."
He showed Hammer his cistron.
They had a fish-eye view from a Larry's helmet cam. "This is Bravo Team Leader, we're inside. Corpses have been removed. We are attempting to shut down the gate."
Other agents, all dressed in NBC suits and breathing masks, carefully approached the gate.
Only Larry's hands were visible. He turned the gold cube to the face with icons of a snake, an odd axe-head, and an arrow-head pointing down. Then he placed it in the square-shaped hole on the gate.
The room shuddered.
"...effect…" shouted a garbled voice over the comm. "…attempting…evacuate!"
Men shouted, running as fast as they could in the bulky suits. The tunnel began to shift as the room shuddered in an odd mix of an earthquake and random time-lapse photography. The STREETSWEEPER team was subjected to bizarre relativistic effects—some moved extremely fast, others stuttered, and some were frozen in time, not moving at all.
A second later the line went dead.
"What happened?" Jim-Bean shouted into the cistron. "Is the gate closed?"
"Roger that," came Larry's weary voice. "We lost a few, but it's closed."
"Awfully nice of you boys to go in there and deal with that for us," said Jim-Bean sweetly.
"Don't laugh. Orders just came down. I almost feel bad for you."
"This is evidence that Hunt Electronics has access to temporal gate technology. You two get to take them down."
Hammer, eyes closed, sighed. "Great."
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