Friday, January 22, 2010

Rip's Adventures: Rip and the Tunnel, Part XI

“Glad to see you’re with us, le Blanc,” Colonel Copper said as Rip entered the briefing room. It was a Spartan military room of M.D.C. concrete and few decorations. The only true ornamentation was the symbol of N.E.M.A. carved masterfully on the masonry behind the head of the table where Colonel Copper sat. The table was dark, made of stained teak wood. It was about eight meters long and two and a half meters wide. Around the table were a number of cushioned, high-backed, swivel chairs. A few of them were empty, but most of them were filled with Republican personnel. They were all in fatigues, so Rip could see no readily apparent insignias, but he could tell who the officers were by the way they carried themselves and the manner of deference given to them by the others. The officers, including Lavoisier, were gathered around Copper. Thebes sat near the end next to an empty seat.

“I thought I told you to call me Rip, Colonel,” Rip replied.

“So you did. Well then, Rip. Please join us. We were just about to go over our tactical situation.”

“Saved you a spot, Rip,” Thebes said with a smile.

Rip took a deep breath and sat down. There was a giant poster map of the complex sitting on the table. The complex was larger than he thought. It wrapped itself intricately around the Blacksburg drainage sewer system for what had to be at least a kilometer in almost every direction. What was even more interesting was that the complex he was inside was not the only one on the map. At least five other smaller, adjoining complexes were indicated on the map, plus one large one on the west side of the sewers. However the large one on the west side of the sewers wasn’t interconnected with the others or the sewers in any way. In fact, the map gave no indication whatsoever of a means of accessing this location. The map also didn’t show anything but the exterior boundaries of the larger complex. However, when Rip looked at it even closer, he made a startling realization.

“Wait a second, this is the section that tunnel we found led to,” he said aloud to no one in particular.

“I know,” Thebes replied, her face aglow with excitement. “I thought it was pretty interesting to find out that the earthen tunnel we found was actually made by the Republicans. This last section here is the only part of these ruins that they are in the process of excavating.”

“That’s right, Rip,” said Copper, stepping in. “And it took us a long time to find too. We’ve been here for months working on the other parts that were easily accessible by the sewer. But even we were rather astounded when our sonar detected this new section, which appears to have no entrances within the sewer whatsoever. I’m still having my people scour the surface for a hidden passage, but so far, the tunnel we’ve dug has been our only means of access.”

“Whoa, hold on there, missy,” Rip said holding up a finger. “What do you mean you found this place? I thought this was your base of operations and it was just our dumb luck to stumble upon you.”

“And my name’s not ‘missy.’ You will call me Colonel Copper,” the fiery red-headed woman said. “And this place is not, in fact, the headquarters of the Republicans. This is just our latest outpost. You’ll learn more about our other bases when we take you in for detox.”

“So you’re saying you don’t do the detox here?” Rip asked.

“I only wish we could. Unfortunately the process is very delicate and we only have one facility capable of performing the procedure. So in the meantime, you’re going to work with us here.”

“But you said I was gonna die,” Rip looked mad.

“Everyone dies, Rip. And you will too, one day. But don’t worry, you’ve got some time. Our bio-scanners indicated you have at least two weeks, which is more than enough time for us to finish our mission and get you to the detox facility. And we’ll have our doctors here keep a close eye on you in the meantime.”

“Trust her, Chenille,” Lavoisier soothed. “She wouldn’t lie to you. You are no use to us dead. I promise we will get you to the facility with time to spare.”

“Alright, Chef. I’ll play ball. But I’m just giving you people one chance. Now what’s this mission you’re going on about?”

“It’s actually pretty simple,” Copper said. “As I was saying, right before you and Miss Antilles arrived we were in the process of excavating this old N.E.M.A. ruin. It appears there was a hidden research base buried under tons of dirt and rock along with the rest of Blacksburg back during the Great Cataclysm. We estimate it was some kind of avalanche or other seismic activity that caused the city to be covered up, which is why this ruin has been left relatively undisturbed over the years. Another reason is that a local tribe of ratlings seem to consider this holy ground for some reason and regularly make pilgrimages here. Because of this the nearby Kingdom of New Roanoke has always given the area a wide berth. We captured one of the ratlings and interrogation revealed that they have an unspoken agreement with the people of New Roanoke to leave this area alone. Of course that made things a little bit difficult for us. We had no qualm with the ratlings but couldn’t see a way to get a large team inside the sewers without desecrating their holy ground.”

“So you fought your way in,” Rip said.

“Not exactly,” replied the colonel. “Like I said, we didn’t wish to start an unnecessary conflict with the ratlings so we found another way. We’ve developed an airborne pathogen capable of putting just about any humanoid life-form that we’ve come into contact with into a fairly deep coma-like state for a few days. Afterward the anti-bodies naturally produced by the subject’s immune system overcome the virus and the subject returns to consciousness quite hungry and thirsty but with no permanent injury. It’s effective in 99.9% of all cases. We’ve studied the virus extensively and developed a vaccine for our own people, so it was simply a matter of sending one of our own people into the ratling community as a carrier with the pretense of trading and waiting for it to take effect. Once the majority of the ratling tribe was affected, we took a couple of days to move in.”

“I have to give you credit, Copper. I didn’t figure you people were the type to use biological warfare,” Rip said wryly.

“We don’t like to think of it as warfare, Rip,” Copper said. “It’s much more humane than engaging them in a holy war for their sacred ground. We’ve been very careful ever since we arrived to keep up the pretense of the sewers being uninhabited. Although you and your companion have made that a little difficult.”

“What can I say? I like the smell of ratling blood in the morning. Besides, it was self-defense. The sons of bitches attacked us,” said Rip, remembering the grisly incident with a bit of self-satisfaction.

“You don’t have to justify yourselves to us,” Copper responded. “We managed to clean it up relatively quickly. With any luck, the ratling tribe will figure they got eaten by one of the other wilderness monsters out here on their way back to the camp.”

“So that’s why there wasn’t a sign of the whole mess on our way out!” Thebes exclaimed.

“It doesn’t explain where you put my ATV,” Rip said, crossing his arms.

“Shortly after arriving we discovered a hidden vehicle bay here,” said Copper, pointing to a spot on the map. “We’ve used it to store our vehicles, supplies, and power armor, as well as a few other things.”

“Okay, so you’ve managed to keep the rats busy with your little bug, you’ve hidden my ATV in some secret vehicle bay, and you cleaned up the rat puree. That’s all well and good until you started drilling holes in the ground to get to this hidden section. The monsters are sure as hell gonna notice that,” Rip said.

“Yes, well, that might be a problem. But we don’t intend to leave it that way for long. We’re going to seal it up after we’ve found the hidden access passage. Of course that’s proven a bit difficult for us. So we’ve decided to approach the problem from another direction. And that’s where you come in,” said the colonel.

“Oh don’t tell me,” Rip said rolling his eyes.

“That’s right, Rip. I’m sending you along with my team to find that hidden passage, from the inside.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rip's Adventures, Rip and the Tunnel, Part X

Rip lay back down and cogitated the situation in his head. The arrival of Lavoisier into the picture definitely changed things. Although he felt betrayed by his former C.O. for leaving him behind in Quebec, there was no denying that he still respected the man deeply. What Rip had said was true. He would have followed him to Hell if the situation demanded it. There had never been a soldier Rip believed in more, and he was beginning to have second thoughts about the Republicans. If Lavoisier trusted them as he said he did, then maybe there really was hope for this fragmented world. If that was Lavoisier’s true judgment, then Rip had to admit there was nothing else in the world that could persuade him better to join the Republicans’ cause.

But Rip also had doubts. Though the Republicans claimed not to use magic, he had seen how magic could warp a man’s mind. And they had indicated little about being without psychics. Either way, there was the possibility that they had somehow captured Lavoisier and were simply using him and his memories to deceive Rip. But if that was the case, why cure him of his dependency on the juice? Certainly there was no way Lavoisier could have survived without detoxing. And why were they trying so hard to convince him if they could just as easily twist him through magic or psionics? The more Rip thought it through, the more he came to believe that the Republicans might be telling him the truth.

As he lay there letting his mind wander, he felt his drug harness kick in with sedatives to calm him down. His eyelids soon became heavy and his breathing regulated as he relaxed into a restive state.

Rip suddenly sat up. The sounds of rail gun fire and high explosives filled the air. He looked down and saw that he was wearing the camouflaged battle dress body armor of a Quebecois Special Forces operative. The ground was littered with barbed wire and potholes from explosive weapons fire and land mines. The air was filled with smoke and a haze covered the field. He engaged his thermal vision to help him see through the thick cloud of smoke hanging over the land.

“Chenille! Hit the dirt!” came the cry from his commandant as mini-missiles rained down on them from a SAMAS “Smiling Jack” flying power armor up above. He complied with lightning-quick response time and felt the impact upon the ground as the mini-missiles exploded. His armor was slightly damaged from the blast, but he was otherwise okay.

“Chenille? You alright?” his C.O. shouted over the din of the battlefield.

“A bit singed, but I’ll survive.” Major Etienne “Chenille” le Blanc replied.

“We have to continue on to those Glitter Boy Killers. If we don’t take ‘em out our boys are gonna have a helluva fight and won’t be able to expend their ordinance where it’s really needed.”

“Oui, Monsieur!” Chenille responded as he rose to his feet. He glanced around and saw a figure approaching him quickly from behind. It was his commandant, Colonel Roget “Chef” Lavoisier, the bravest and most dedicated man Chenille had ever known. He was prouder than he had ever been of anything in his life to serve at his side. The man was a legend in his own time for his leadership of the all-Juicer Équipe de la Foudre, the Lightning Squad, six of the most battle-hardened commandos in the entire Quebecois Special Forces. This time they had been called upon to save the day again as a group of the Glitter Boy Legion had radioed in that they were pinned down by CS armored fire behind enemy lines. The Lightning Squad had been sent out with high-explosive fusion blocks and other special weapons to clear the area of CS power armor for the Glitter Boy pilots to make it back home alive and well.

After dodging the mini-missiles, the Lightning Squad was up and running, each member easily clocking in at well over 100 kilometers per hour. Their exceptional speed, even for Juicers, was one of the things that gave the Lightning Squad its name. Each member had been hand-picked by Chef for his speed, strength, endurance, and fighting skill. They were the quickest, strongest, toughest warriors the Quebec Army had to offer, and they never failed their missions. Every member of the team would rather die than leave a job uncompleted. All were experienced veterans of combat, had mastery of an unmatched number of weapons and special skills, and possessed the prowess of a juggernaut in combat. There was no better team of soldiers on all of Rifts Earth.

As the troops trod deeper and deeper into enemy territory towards the stranded Glitter Boys, they ducked, dodged, and weaved through enemy missile and gunfire with preternatural agility and grace. Chenille himself possessed a phenomenal ability to predict where enemy weapons fire would be directed before it was fired, giving him a keen edge in battle against any opponent. His fellow squad members were equally or better skilled than he, if it could be believed. They moved through the Coalition lines like a blur. Nothing could touch them. The Lightning Squad lived well up to its name as the commandos streaked through the Coalition battle formations with blinding speed.

Finally they came upon their quarry. A number of heavily armed PA-300 “Glitter Boy Killers” were pressing the attack against the Quebecois Glitter Boy group while Coalition SAMAS and sky-cycles provided cover fire from the skies. The Glitter Boy pilots were definitely in dire straits.

“Everyone turn your amp ears down to minimum gain. Don’t want you goin’ deaf from Boom Gun fire,” Chef called out. “Réticule! Get to work on taking down those fliers. Arme Lourde, cover him. Everyone else with me. We’re gonna make those sons of bitches wish they had never tangled with our Glitter Boys!”

Chenille and the others stuck with the colonel and blitzed into the fray. Chenille pulled out a fusion block pack and leapt onto a PA-300 before the pilot knew what hit him. As the ‘bot clawed at Chenille with its vibro-blades and swayed about to try to knock him off, he kept a death grip and slammed the explosive pack right behind the head. As another PA-300 turned its plasma cannon on Chenille to assist its ally, he quickly dove off into the dirt leaving the assaulting power armor to cover its comrade in searing-hot plasma. As he hit the ground running, he jammed the detonator to the fusion block pack, blowing the head of the PA-300 clean off and knocking it to the ground. “That’s one down,” Chenille said to himself as he set his sights on the next target.

Meanwhile the Glitter Boys were doing their part to stay alive. Deafening Boom Gun bursts railed at the enemy power armor while the pilots made their way to their Juicer allies. “Glad to see you, Lightning Squad,” Chenille heard in his cochlear implant. The leader of the Glitter Boy group was radioing in to thank them for their arrival. “Don’t know how much longer we could have fought them off. We’ve been taking heavy fire for the last ten minutes with little cover or rest. They just swarmed around us in a pincer attack. Took out our reload teams first. Already lost two suits to the hostiles. But we’re making a break for it now.”

Chenille incapacitated a second PA-300 with a fusion pack to the right leg and headed over to assist a Glitter Boy that had been knocked over by a Glitter Boy Killer that was now slashing it to pieces with its wicked vibro-claws. “Hang on, trooper!” Chenille called out as he collided into the enemy power suit from the side, knocking it down and giving the Glitter Boy pilot time to get up and get out of Dodge.

“Merci beaucoup, Major,” the pilot said to Chenille as it headed off from the fray and back towards the Quebecois lines. Chenille then had to contend with an angry CS pilot who was trying to rip him to shreds. He extended his own forearm vibro-blades and began to tear away at the enemy weapon systems. With each attack of his own came two more from the enemy, but he was too quick to be caught by his opponent, deftly dodging and parrying the Glitter Boy Killer’s thrusts and jabs. The PA-300 was fast compared to the Glitter Boy, but slow as a slug compared to a Juicer the likes of Chenille. Soon Chenille had eaten away all but one of his enemy’s own blades. They were fighting on their feet now, Chenille making an agile riposte to each strike of the enemy while placing his own precise blows.

“Alright, boys! The GBs are out of the hole. Let’s get out of here,” came Chef’s words over the radio. “Nice job on the air cover, Réticule. You and Arme Lourde cover our exit.”

Chenille’s battle with the Coalition power ‘bot had reached its climax, but it was time to depart like a graceful opponent. He decided to leave the battle with a bang. He retracted the blades on his left arm and reached into his satchel of fusion blocks while digging into the thick M.D.C. armor plating of the Glitter Boy Killer with his right arm-blades. Then, while nimbly dodging a swipe from the ‘bot’s good arm, he inserted the fusion blocks into the crevasse created by his other arm. He grabbed the armor tightly with both hands and stuck his feet on the chest of the ‘bot, using them to propel him off in a back-flip away from his opponent. As he flew through the air, he flicked the switch on the detonator. The Killer exploded in a glorious burst of flame and fire, keeling to the ground in abject defeat. Chenille and his squad had routed the enemy and saved the day once again.

As Chenille dashed away, he couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of pride in their latest victory. They had once again triumphed over incredible odds against a superior enemy. However, as he relished in the Coalition defeat, he became too sure of himself. He had forgotten to turn up his amplified hearing implant after clearing the way for the Glitter Boys and failed to hear the SAMAS “Smiling Jack” diving towards him from the sky. His response was too late, and the enemy SAMAS had locked onto him with full weapons. As the enemy pilot pulled the trigger, Colonel Lavoisier crashed into Chenille not a split-second too late and knocked him just short of the rail gun fire. But while Chenille avoided major damage to his body armor, a rail-gun round had pierced Chef’s right shoulder and he was down on the ground, bleeding profusely through the hole in his armor. Chef had saved Chenille’s life. Had he not knocked him to the side, the rail gun round would have gone right through Chenille’s head.

The Smiling Jack pulled out of its dive and was turning for another attack run on Chenille when Réticule blasted its wings with his own rocket-launcher. The Smiling Jack careened into the ground as Chenille remembered to turn his amplified hearing back to normal. “Come on, Chenille!” Réticule cried over the radio. “There’s more of them headed this way.”

Chenille leaned over and picked up his fallen leader. “Do not worry, mon commandant,” he said quietly to the brave man who had put his life in danger to save Chenille’s. “I will not let you die.”

Rip suddenly awoke. It had been such a vivid dream. He had recalled the events of that day with such clarity, it was as if he was really back on that battlefield all those years ago. And in that moment, Rip knew there was only one choice to make.

“Do not worry, mon commandant,” he said quietly in the small holding room as he sat up. “I will not let you down.”

Friday, January 1, 2010

Rip's Holiday

Rip is taking a holiday for the New Year. So should you. Go spend time with your family. Enjoy the day off. Count your blessings. Get some rest. See a movie. Have a barbecue. Yada yada yada.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rip's Adventures, Rip and the Tunnel, Part IX

“I’m sorry, Colonel, but I think you have me confused with someone who gives a damn about this continent,” Rip began. “I still don’t believe that crap about a detox cure, if you think that’s supposed to win me over. I’m ready to die. I’ve had one helluva life and to be quite honest, I’m tired of this shitty world. I never was very excited about trying to save it, and to be frank, I think you’re wasting your time. So you have an army of glitter boys. Big deal. Free Quebec has an army of ‘em and they haven’t saved the world yet. I used to be all idealistic like you guys are. That’s why I joined the Quebecois military. And that little decision convinced me that my idealism was worthless. Quebec joined the Coalition States to help be part of a better world. You know what happened? They got attacked by their own so-called ‘countrymen’ when Prosek decided to pursue his little vendetta against Tolkeen and the Quebecois wanted none of it. I wound up fighting the same damn soldiers I was raised to believe were my allies. It’s a cruel, harsh, unforgiving world out there, Copper. I’m ready to be done with it. Even if your ‘cure’ does work, you think I’d waste my life following your hopeless little dream of rebuilding America? Sit and spin, lady.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Rip,” Col. Copper scowled. As Thebes looked on rather heartbrokenly, the colonel looked to the sergeant standing at the door and said, “Bring him in, Colby.”

“Yes, ma’am!” he responded and quickly ducked away.

“So what, you got somebody who uses flowery words to try to convince me? Give it up. I ain’t buyin’ it.”

But Rip wasn’t prepared for what happened next. As he stared at the door expecting some smooth-talking militant to come in and try to convince him of the impossible, his jaw nearly dropped at what he saw instead. A familiar face that he never expected to see again stepped through. He was a blonde-haired, dark-eyed man of tawny complexion and scars that bore the wear of years of heavy combat. Colonel Roget Lavoisier, his former superior in the Quebecois Special Forces, Juicer Division. He was everything Rip had ever aspired to be: a stone-cold killer, quick, methodical, efficient, and utterly without remorse. He had worked in the art of death the way a cyber-doc worked in the art of bionic conversion. He was utterly without fear and focused on his craft unlike any other soldier Rip had ever seen. Back in his days of working for the Quebecois military, Rip had idolized the man.

He was wearing a N.E.M.A. jacket and sporting a most unusual sidearm. On top of his head he wore a green beret and around his collar was the insignia of an Army colonel. “Bon jour, Lt. Col. le Blanc,” he smiled as he spoke. As Rip continued to gap with awe, the man continued. “I understand Isabelle here caught you stumbling across our little operation.”

“That’s right,” Col. Copper turned to Rip, eyebrows raised. She had played a trump card and Rip knew it. “I’ll leave to let you and Col. Lavoisier get reacquainted.” She then stepped outside and shut the door, leaving Rip, Thebes, and Col. Lavoisier alone.

Thebes looked quizzical. She wasn’t sure what to make of this reunion. She suspected that Lavoisier and Rip had been comrades-in-arms at one point, but didn’t quite grasp the extent of it. “So, Rip, you know him I take it?”

“This man was like a father to me. He was my C.O. back in my days serving as Quebec Special Forces. I would have followed him to Hell. But he should be dead. He was already three years in when I got juiced. There is no way he could be alive.” Rip stood up in deference to Lavoisier, although he still half-believed he was staring at a ghost.

“It’s really me, Chenille,” Lavoisier said. “I’m alive and I feel better than ever. A couple years back the Army told me that they had a pilot program for juicers who had proven themselves to be exemplary officers. They had a new detox regimen for me to try which was supposed to increase my chances of kicking the juice and said if I was successful, they’d promote me to brigadier-general. At first I wasn’t interested. I had been a juicer for six and a half years. I thought my fate was sealed and I was ready to accept it. However, they managed to convince me that I was worth more to them alive than dead. So I tried their new detox regimen, but all it led to was the bottle. While I was at the military clinic in Trois-Riviéres, feeling lousier than I’d ever felt before, a nurse came into my room and told me that the Army detox program was not going to help me, that I had grown too dependent on the juice and that unless I trusted her, I would be dead in under a month. I was miserable and ready to try anything, so I did as she said. She gave me a shot of something and attached a device to my chest. I suddenly felt immensely better. She then told me how to get away from the clinic at night when the doctors wouldn’t notice and told me a vehicle would pick me up on the outskirts of the city. She said the people in the vehicle would give me another shot to keep me going and get me to a top-secret facility where I would be back to normal in less than three days. I followed her directions and met the vehicle like she said. After a man from the vehicle gave me a second shot, I passed out. I woke up in southern Pennsylvania two days later a different man. It wasn’t painful. I don’t even remember it. All I know is that these people, the Republicans, gave me a new lease on life. Since then I have seen incredible things and learned the true history about the Great Cataclsym. The Republicans are the good guys, Chenille. They have a plan, an excellent plan, to bring true peace, freedom and solidarity to the people of North America.”

“I’m sorry, Rip, but why does he keep calling you Chenille? Isn’t chenille a kind of fabric?” Thebes asked.

“It means ‘caterpillar’ in Old French,” Rip replied. “It was my call-sign in the Quebecois military.”

“Oh,” Thebes said after scratching her head for a second.

“It’s because of the way I used to crawl along the ground when we went commando. Stupid nickname, really.”

Thebes couldn’t help but grin. “I’m just learning all sorts of stuff about you today, Chenille.”

“My name,” he began angrily, “is RIP. And I’m not a lieutenant colonel anymore,” he said, turning to his former commander. “I haven’t been one since I left the SF in 107, right after you were declared dead as I recall. They said you were going on leave and you never came back. Word from the brass was that you heard Last Call. After that I attempted to resign my commission, but they branded me a traitor and tried to have me executed. That’s when I fled to the New West and made myself a new career as a merc. So tell me, Lavoisier, why should I listen to you after you abandoned me?”

“Because, mon ami, not only do we have a plan, we have the means to make it happen. You’ve already seen some of their amazing technology. They have the most incredible weapons I have ever seen as well; powerful, accurate, utterly stunning weapons. I may not be as strong or as quick as I once was, but with their superior technology, I am just as deadly on the battlefield. I know it sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. You are dying, Etienne. You can’t do anything to prevent it. But the Republicans’ detox process; it is your chance to get your life back. And on top of that, you will have a life worth living. The Coalition States, those back-stabbing sons of bitches, we are going to take them down, all of them. I’m talking Prosek, his son, his generals, all of them. It’s going to happen, and you can be a part of it.”

“Decapitate the heads of CS government eh?” Rip rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you’re that naïve. All you’re gonna do is create a power vacuum. You’ll throw the whole continent into complete chaos and open the door for the bugs or the Splugies to take us over. And you want me to help clean that up? No thanks. I’d rather go to Hell. At least there I’d have a chance.”

“It’s not so simple as all that. You have to trust me.”

“And why should I trust you, huh? You left me once. As far as I’m concerned you’ve got nada credibility left.”

“Damn it, Etienne! Don’t you see? I wanted to make a difference so that men and women like you wouldn’t have to waste their lives killing their fellow mankind. It is the demons of the world that we should be worried about, not the petty bickering amongst ourselves. And for the record, I never abandoned you. I had the Republicans try to hunt you down to recruit you as well as soon as I recovered. But by that time you had already vanished. The official line from Quebec was that you were executed for treason, but I knew better than that. I knew you were too good of a soldier to let yourself be captured. And I have never stopped looking for you. You were my best officer and the best damn shot I have ever seen. Please, mon ami. Give me a chance to prove it to you. At least let them get that damned harness off you. Then you will see I am not lying. I promise you, I will show you our plan, and if you still want to leave. I will let you.”

Thebes sat rapt with attention at Lavoisier’s words. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. If it was truly possible to overturn the oppressive empire of the Proseks, she couldn’t imagine what improvements might be made. Rip meanwhile seemed to remain skeptical, but ponderous. He put his head in his hands for a moment and sighed. “Give me a day to think about it,” he said.

“That, I will give you, mon ami. Mademoiselle Antilles, I take it by the look on your face you would like to know more?” Lavoisier asked.

“Oh yes, please!” she said excitedly.

“Then come with me,” he beamed, offering her his arm.

She stood up but looked back at Rip. “Will you be okay here by yourself?” she queried.

“I’ll be peachy,” he replied.

“Terrific! Let’s go, er, monsieur Lavoisier,” she said, taking his arm.

“Please, call me Roget,” he said politely.

“Alright then, Roget. Show me everything!” And with that, they exited the room, leaving Rip sitting on his bed and thinking hard.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rip's Adventures: Rip and the Tunnel, Part VIII

“The Republi-whats?” Rip asked in confusion. Even during his time in Quebec Special Forces he had never heard of such a group.

“Yea, I’m a little lost too,” Thebes added. “We thought you were Neemans. At least that’s what your insignias say.”

The red-haired woman smirked and looked down on her N.E.M.A. badge. “So goes the legend,” she replied. “The truth is the ‘Neemans,’ as you put it, died out a long time ago. We are merely vestiges of that organization, more properly known as the Northern Eagle Military Alliance, a peace-keeping group that once existed for the sole purpose of defending Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America. I myself am part of the 14th generation descended from a group of people who survived the Great Cataclysm and swore to uphold the values and beliefs of the American republic as it existed before the Coming of the Rifts. Hence, we now refer to ourselves as the Republicans and wear the symbol of N.E.M.A. as homage to those brave heroes who alone defended America against the alien invaders who arrived in the aftermath of the Great Cataclysm.”

“Wait a second. I remember now,” Thebes piped up excitedly. “Erin Tarn wrote about you in ‘Our World.’ But she said you lay claim to Washington, D.C., the old capital of the American Empire. She never mentioned anything about Virginia. And she said you were locked in some kind of war with an unknown enemy. I can’t believe you really exist!”

“It’s true,” Col. Copper responded with a nod. “We’ve existed since the Great Cataclysm itself.”

Rip thought all of this was only mildly interesting. He was more concerned about being let out of the confining cell. He was not about to let two women gab on about the past while he was a prisoner. “Look, if all this history crap is true and you do believe in freedom and that other garbage, why are we being confined like no-good thieves? We didn’t do anything to hurt you.”

“That may be the case, Lt. Col. le Blanc…”

“Don’t call me that. My name is Rip,” he interrupted.

“Fine then, Rip. That may be the case, but I’m afraid the existence of our group has to remain a secret, at least for now, and you were very close to learning too much, not to mention extreme danger.”

“I’m a juicer, lady. Danger is what I do best.”

“Why yes. I’m quite aware of that. I’m also aware that your time on Earth is growing short. Our bio-scans picked that up as you entered our facility?”

“What are you talking about?” Thebes asked with worry on her face.

“Godsdammit, this is why I didn’t say anything. Women get too emotional about the subject. I’m fine. I’ll be around for at least a month longer, maybe a few if I’m lucky. Plenty of time to finish your damn mission.”

“That’s not what I was…” Thebes began but was interrupted by Col. Copper.

“We also know about your telepathic abilities Miss Antilles.”

“What?” Thebes asked. “How? Do you have psi-stalkers around here?”

“No, but I think you’ll find our bio-scanners to be quite comprehensive. We’ve even learned to detect psychic abilities.”

“That’s impossible!” Thebes exclaimed. “That kind of technology doesn’t even exist.”

“I believe you’ll also find we are far more technologically advanced than the Coalition States, even most of the alien races that now inhabit our planet.”

“Wait. Most?” Thebes looked quizzical.

“Well, we aren’t mages, so we don’t quite understand techno-wizardry or Splugorth bio-wizardry, although we’ve learned to detect the presence of devices using such magic. But in all other ways we are technologically superior or equal to every other race we’ve encountered on this planet.”

“If that’s the case, why don’t you own this planet already?” Rip asked tiredly. This conversation had begun to bore him immensely. He wished this Col. Copper would stop with her encyclopedic responses and stick with simpler answers.

Thankfully to Rip, Col. Copper’s next reply was actually quite simple. “To put it bluntly, we’ve been fairly limited in numbers for ages. But that’s all about to change.”

“Oh, do tell,” Rip said sarcastically. He detected another long-winded soliloquy coming on.

“Truth is we have far more weapons, power armor, and tools than we have manpower. We have the supplies to equip an army; laser rifles, particle beam weapons, golden eagles, chromium guardsmen…”

“Huh? Golden eagles? Chromium what?” Even Thebes was starting to get confused now. She hadn’t heard of some of the stuff Col. Copper mentioned.

“Chromium guardsmen. I believe you know them as ‘glitter boys.’ And golden eagles are much like the S.A.M.A.S. power armor suits used by the Coalition, although ours are a little bit more advanced than even their latest models,” Copper replied.

“You mean to tell me you have an army of glitter boy suits and no one to use them?” Rip asked skeptically.

“In a word, yes. That’s pretty much our situation,” responded the red-haired woman.

“That’s unbelievable. How?” Thebes querried.

“I’m afraid that’s going to have to remain our secret for now,” Copper said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that we have them, and we’re recruiting.”

“Now it all makes sense,” Rip was finally coming to understand why he and Thebes had been kidnapped. “You’re trying to bring us into this little war of yours aren’t you? You snatch people up, bring ‘em in here and attempt to brainwash them with this noble story of past heroism and preserving the old empire.”

“America was never an empire,” Col. Copper said sternly. “It was a democratic republic, not a totalitarian fascist state like that the Proseks have built. The Americans of old did not believe in oppression and dictatorship. They believed in justice and truth, as we now do. So do not lecture me about brainwashing because that is not who we are.”

“Prove it. Let us go,” Rip demanded, getting up and staring down Col. Copper.

She glowered at him for a few moments, clearly not intimidated. Then a wry smile formed on her face. She held up her hand and pressed a button on her arm-guard. The door behind her opened and two Republican soldiers peered inside. “Is everything alright Colonel?” one of them asked.

“Yes, everything is fine. This man would like to leave. Please escort him and his charge out and give them back their ATV. That is of course, unless they’d like to stay and learn more about the tunnel they discovered.”

One of the soldiers cocked his eye, but before he could say anything, Thebes blurted out, “No! I mean, are you telling me that Neeman complex we found is yours?”

“Actually no,” Copper replied. “But it is the reason we’re here.”

“Rip, hold on. Let’s stay and listen to what she has to say. I’m still paying you to work for me and I want to know more.”

“I thought you were paying me to defend you. And I think getting out of this place is the best thing for both of us right now.”

“Well if you leave me behind, you’re definitely not getting paid. So look at it that way.”

Rip groaned in frustration. He hated this kind of stuff. But Thebes had a point. He definitely wasn’t getting paid if she was going to be stubborn and stay here to listen to more of Col. Copper’s patronizing sob-story. “Fine. Whatever you want.” Rip stood down and went back over to lie on his pad.

“Okay, sorry about him. He’s a mercenary. I’m sure you know his type,” said Thebes apologetically.

“Quite,” replied the colonel. “We’ve actually dealt with number of his kind over the past few years. Especially juicers approaching Last Call.”

“Why is that?” Thebes asked. She was rather puzzled to hear that they would want people who were near death.

“Well, to be frank, we have something to offer such desperate individuals: a cure for their addiction,” the colonel said smugly.

Rip sat up. He had a disbelieving frown on his face. “Yea, you and every detox clinic from here to Colorado. All hype and no substance. They do a disservice to all juicers by offering them false hope, just like I saw during the Juicer Uprising. You think I’m going to believe that bullshit?”

“You don’t have to believe it. But you wouldn’t be the first. We’ve actually cured a number of juicers five years or older with better than ninety-five percent success.”

“Impossible,” Rip said. “And even if it wasn’t, they’d be nothing but a shadow of their former selves. No juicer wants to live with that. I’d rather die on the battlefield.”

Copper nodded. “While it’s true that you’d no longer have the enhanced reflexes and strength that non-stop adrenaline and synthetamines give you, our medicine is far beyond that of which you currently know. We can prevent almost all of the negative side effects and reduce the average detox time from two and half weeks to less than two days, as well as provide powerful sedatives and an anti-addiction procedure that make the process much easier to endure. It’s nothing short of a medical miracle, and we’re willing to offer it to you for free.”

“I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, colonel,” Rip said with disbelief. Surely there had to be a catch.

“I suppose you’re right. It’s only free in the sense that we wouldn’t demand payment in credits.”

“Surprise, surprise,” Rip said, his superciliousness quite evident.

“I think you’ll find that what we have to offer in exchange for your abilities as a juicer is more than worth it. You’ll be given access to our enormous stockpile of advanced weapons and armor, not to mention a cause worth fighting for.”

“And what cause would that be?”

The colonel smiled. “The only cause worth fighting for, Rip: the freedom of the entire continent.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rip's Adventures: Rip and the Tunnel, Part VII

“Lieutenant Colonel Etienne le Blanc, please place your weapons on the ground,” demanded one of the soldiers in Neeman armor.

Now Rip was freaked out. These men and women were not using standard-issue Quebecois armaments, so how did the fraggers know his real name or his former rank in the army of Free Quebec? For that matter, how did they manage to sneak up on him like that? Still, he didn’t need to calculate his odds on this one. His body armor was resilient, but he wasn’t going to take a chance at getting hit by some type of weapon he had never seen before, even if he could move faster than any normal soldier could shoot. Besides, he had heard legends of the Neemans. Their technology was said to have been greater than that of the Splugorth if the stories were to be believed! Then there was his promise to Thebes. After a half-second pause, Rip carefully laid his NG-57s on the ground, then slowly removed his other weapons and did likewise with them.

“Well, you already know I’m former Quebecois Special Forces,” Rip said. “But seeing how you aren’t very friendly, I’m guessing you’re not with them.”

The soldiers did not respond, except to point them back to the sewers while another one gathered up their weapons. “I think they want us to get back into the sewers,” Thebes said with a little apprehension.

“Yea I gathered that. Want me to give you a boost?”


Before Thebes and Rip climbed back in, several of the soldiers climbed in first, probably to prevent them from making a run for it in the sewers.

“Quebec Special Forces, huh? You never told me that,” Thebes stated as Rip gave her a leg up into the sewers for the second time today.

“You never told me you were a telepath. I guess we all have our secrets.”

“You hide your accent well.”

“I’ve spent most of my life speaking American. It’s my old French that’s probably a little rusty.”

“And your real name is Etienne?” she chuckled. “I can see why you changed it to Rip.”

“Go jump in a rift, Thebes.”

“Oh no, I think it’s cute. At least your parents didn’t name you after a city in ancient Egypt.”

“You will walk in silence!” ordered one of the Neemans as they traipsed through the sewer passages. “Next time I won’t ask.”

Rip suddenly heard a voice in his head, “Don’t worry. I can still read your thoughts and send you messages. I’m sure there is a way out of this.”

Suddenly Rip began to see the advantages of having a psychic on his side. He just hoped whoever these people were, they didn’t employ psi-hounds or psi-stalkers like the Coalition States did.

They marched on for what seemed like an hour. Thebes began to get the distinct impression that they were going around in circles, and she told Rip as much telepathically. When she read Rip’s mind he was thinking that this was probably to confuse them as to their actual location in the sewers. Finally the Neemans told them to halt and one of them pulled a small metal orb with glowing green buttons out of a pocket on his belt. He pressed a combination of buttons on the orb, and then a portion of the sewer wall opened up to reveal an interior hallway that was well-lit and made of some kind of ceramic siding; definitely hi-tech stuff. Rip had seen similar structures on the inside of Coalition fortress-cities, but these were even slicker and more advanced than those. As they traveled down the seemingly-empty corridor the lights increased in intensity wherever they went and faded in the areas they were leaving. Rip also got the distinct impression that they were being monitored by some type of visual interface as there were black discs built into the ceiling every 6 meters or so. It was unlike anything he had ever seen.

Finally they came to what appeared to be a door, although it was unlike any door Rip could remember. It was differentiated from the wall only in the sense that there was a slight depression of a centimeter or less and about 1.5 meters in width. The man in the lead removed his armored gauntlet and helmet and placed his hand on the right side of the wall. As he did, a blue light issued from the wall around his hand and a similar light scanned his facial features. When the blue lights went off, there was a slight “whoosh” as the door slid open allowing egress into the room beyond. The man in charge replaced his helm and gauntlet and ushered Thebes and Rip inside what seemed like a small holding cell. The whole place was very Spartan. There were two cushioned pads which Rip guessed to be beds and a single latrine but nothing else of interest in the room besides four red half-orbs that seemed built into the ceiling.

“You will stay here until Copper wishes to speak with you,” the Neeman in charge demanded.

“And who is this Copper?” Rip asked in the most polite tone he could manage.

“You will be silent unless a reply is asked of you!” the man insisted again with spite in his voice.

“Sheesh. Give a guy a break. I just want to know what’s going on. Did we piss on the wrong stump or something?”

The man said nothing this time, but instead walked right up to Rip and said, “I know exactly what kind of man you are, and don’t think for one minute that intimidates me at all. When I order you to be silent you will be silent.”

Rip found this threat a bit incredulous. Sure, he was outmanned and outgunned, but when he thought about it, he had been in much worse situations before. “Or what?” he rebelliously replied.

Suddenly the half-orbs began to emit a very intense light that focused itself on Rip. He attempted to dodge the beams but amazingly, he was not quick enough to avoid their glare. As the red light struck him he suddenly felt extremely nauseated, dizzy, and unbalanced. His nose began to bleed profusely again and he felt like every part of his body was heating up causing an intense and debilitating sensation of pain that even his bio-comp could not overcome. He stood there motionless, unable to move due to the acute pain he was feeling, a sensation he had not experienced since he underwent the juicer procedure. It was a complete shock to him. He was used to his bio-comp and drug harness being able to compensate for any pain he had felt for the last five years, and now, to have it return so suddenly and with such intensity was too much to bear. Within a few moments, his vision went dark and he blacked out.

When Rip awoke, he was lying on a bed in the cell with Thebes looking over him. She had a wet cloth and she was trying to cool his forehead. “Ugh. I feel like complete shit,” Rip murmured. “What in the hells happened?”

“You passed out. You’ve been unconscious for more than a half hour. The Neemans left. I can’t figure out a way to get us out of here. That door didn’t even seem to have a visible control pad. I wouldn’t know where to start looking for a possible override even if I did have the technical know-how to do it.”

“That’s okay, Thebes,” Rip replied. “Right now I think I just need to rest for a few minutes to gather my strength back.”

“After you fell unconscious, the Neemans put you on the bed and left without saying another word. I’ve been thinking this through again and again and I still have no idea what they want with us. I thought the Neemans were supposed to be heroes. At least that’s what all the old legends say. These people seem like militant guerillas.”

“You noticed that eh?” the juicer responded sarcastically. He hated these Neemans already. And if they were the ones who built those pesky robot spiders, he liked them even less.

“Well, the best I can figure we just wait here to speak with this Copper, whoever he is.”

“I guess you’re right,” Rip said, then after a short pause, “Look I’m gonna pass out for a while, wake me if something important happens.”

“That won’t be necessary Lt. Col. le Blanc,” came a voice from the door, which had suddenly opened. In stepped a woman with dark red hair, sparking green eyes, and a dour countenance. “My name is Colonel Isabelle Copper. I represent the Republicans. We have some questions for you and your partner, Ms. Thebes Antilles.”

Rip's Adventures: Rip and the Tunnel, Part VI

“What are you talking about?” asked Thebes as she took off her helmet and looked around. “You mean that was here? How can you tell?”

“Well, you’re the one mapping the place. How can you not tell?”

“Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to the exact location where we encountered the ratlings. Should I have?”

“Always remember where your enemy fell. But don’t worry about it. That’s why you brought me along. There’s something strange about these sewers. You said the ratlings might have rifted in, yet we aren’t on a ley line. Then we come back a couple hours later and not only are their bodies gone, someone also wiped down the walls. This doesn’t make any sense. Do you know of any sewer monsters that do shit like this?”

“First of all, I’m no practitioner of magic, but from what I know it is theoretically possible for a rift to open without a ley line; extremely unlikely, but possible. As for where the ratlings went, I haven’t a clue. I mean, I can think of a number of ways someone might do this, I just have no idea why, or how they accomplished it in such a short time. Anything large enough to eat all eight of them certainly couldn’t fit inside these sewers, at least not easily. And if eating them was the point, why go to the trouble to clean up after yourself?”

“You’re right, there’s something else going on around here. And I don’t like it one bit.”

“If you have any theories, I’m open to them. Otherwise, there’s no point in standing around here just talking about it. We still need to get to the ATV.”

“You’re right, Thebes. The best thing to do right now is to hustle our way out of here before we vanish like those ratlings.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. You’re on point.”

Rip proceeded back through the sewers. All kinds of things were going through his head right now, none of them good. He had tangled with his fair share of supernatural terrors and didn’t know what type of beast might want to play games with them like this. The Minions of Splugorth were crafty, but not the kind to clean up their messes so well. They were pretty far from the Federation of Magic, so he doubted that they were involved. And it wasn’t like the Shemarrians to travel this far inland, or to interest themselves in underground complexes like this. They preferred a face-to-face battle, just like Rip did. This smacked of mind tricks, and Rip did not like it when someone was trying to screw with his head. It made him very uneasy. However he was caught off guard when Thebes broke the silence again.

“Rip, can I ask you a question?”

“Uh, sure, I guess.”

“Back there in the cavern, when we were running away from the spider ‘bots, why did you consider leaving me behind?”

“Huh? What are you talking about? I wasn’t gonna leave you behind. That would be stupid; you’re my meal ticket.”

“Don’t lie to me, Rip. I didn’t tell you this before because I didn’t think it necessary, but I’m a telepath. When you started running away and picked me up, there wasn’t much I could do to help in that situation. I certainly can’t run anywhere near as fast as you so I was a little bit panicked. I read your thoughts because I wanted to know if you believed we were going to make it. You thought about leaving me behind. The only reason you didn’t is because there were two of them, and you figured I would only distract one; that and the money, which you just mentioned. But it’s not like that makes me feel any better.”

Rip stood in silence for a few moments. He did feel a little bit ashamed of himself, more for his cowardice than anything else. Then again, he hadn’t survived this long because of his sense of charity. He had survived this long because he looked out for number one. Rifts Earth was a dangerous place to live, and sometimes he had to look the other way while others suffered. That was just reality. Of course, knowing Thebes was a psychic meant he had to watch what he was thinking from now on. That was going to be a huge pain in the ass.

“Look, I’m sorry for…”

“Don’t apologize when you don’t mean it,” Thebes interrupted him. “I get it okay. You’re a mercenary. You kill for a living. You don’t get attached to the people you work for. But if I’m paying you to protect me, godsdamnit you are gonna protect me! Is that clear?”

Rip looked down and nodded. He knew she was right. She had never pretended like this was going to be an easy mission. He knew the risks when he got involved. It wasn’t like him to throw innocents to the dogs just to save himself, no matter how much he valued his own hide. What did he have to lose anyway? Blood was pouring out his nose right now and he never got nosebleeds. Last Call was not too far away. He probably had a few months left, maybe less. He had had a good run. There was not any point wasting what little life he had left acting like a yellow-bellied fraidy-cat.

Thebes, apparently wanting a more definitive answer took a determined step forward. Even though Rip was over a foot taller than she was and twice as massive, she looked up to him with severity. “I said ‘Is that clear, soldier?’”

Rip furled his brow and grunted, “Yes, ma’am. Crystal.”

“Good. Now let’s get back to the ATV before it gets dark.”

Rip put out the light and engaged his thermal imager while Thebes put her helmet back on and switched on her nightvision headset. Rip led the rest of the way, taking directions from Thebes when necessary, but he had a pretty good sense of direction and remembered most of the turns. Finally, they came to the sewer exit. Rip hopped down the six foot descent and reached up to help Thebes down. She took his hand and he pulled her gently down so she would not trip on the mossy sludge that had built up over the years of drainage.

“I’m surprised the drainage system hasn’t been completely clogged after all these centuries,” Thebes noted.

“Yea, it does seem a little odd. Didn’t you say Blacksburg has been completely buried?”

“Well, leveled is probably a better way of putting it. During the Great Cataclysm enormous tidal waves miles high are rumored to have spread inland. It’s quite possible they got this far and washed away all signs of the city, leaving nothing but underground structures. Then there were also hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, blizzards, and all other kinds of crazy weather. No one living today seems to know exactly what it was like, but it must have been a nightmare for people living in that time.”

Rip was about to agree with her when he suddenly got the feeling that something was not right. The woods were too quiet. That, plus the amazing disappearing ratlings unsettled him greatly.

“Stay here, Thebes,” he whispered. “I’m going to go check on the ATV. Maybe it’s just my imagination but something seems wrong.”

“Okay, be careful.” Thebes pulled out her Wilk’s 320 laser pistol and squatted behind a nearby bush to take cover.

Rip withdrew his NG-57s carefully from their holsters and crawled carefully and quietly through the brush towards the ATV which they had parked about fifty yards away in a concealed area. When he got within visual range he couldn’t believe his eyes. The ATV was gone! Now Rip was certain something was up. Whatever devilry was causing these freakish incidents was really starting to get to him. He and Thebes were definitely in danger. He turned around and crawled back to Thebes as quickly as he could, making sure to check behind him regularly in case anyone was following him.

“The ATV is gone, Thebes,” he said, crawling out of the brush. Then, turning his head back towards her, he stated, “We’ve got a major problem…”

“Yea, we do.” Thebes didn’t let him finish. She was standing there with her arms on top of her head, surrounded by at least a dozen figures in dark grey full body armor holding rifles the likes of which Rip had never seen before. The unmistakable symbol of the Neemans was etched into the top left breast of each soldier’s armor.