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Max_Writer

Paranoia 2nd Edition: Into the Great Outdoors with Gun and Camera Part 1

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
Monday, January 20, 2014

(After playing the Paranoia Second Edition introductory scenario “Into the Outdoors with Gun and Camera” on Sunday with Jacob Barlow, Bo Lewis, James Brown, James Williams, and Logan Scott)

Security Clearance ULTRAVIOLET.

WARNING: Knowledge or possession of contents by any citizen of Security Clearance VIOLET or lower constitutes treason, and is punishable by summary execution. The Computer is your friend. You have been warned.

Humanity had advanced greatly since the bad old days of the 20th Century. There was now no war, no famine, no disease. Alpha Complex was a utopia run by the benevolent and omniscient Computer. The Computer was every clone’s friend. The Computer provided for their needs. The Computer ensured that each and every citizen of Alpha Complex was happy.

Or else.

Each citizen of Alpha Complex was a clone raised with five identical individuals: their clone family in a crèche with dozens of other clone families. Until recently, five clones had been at the lowest security clearance: INFRARED. But those five had recently been promoted to RED level and given jobs as Troubleshooters, an elite service unit comprised of citizens from all service groups. They went where The Computer ordered, solving problems The Computer wanted solved. It was the most dangerous job available to any citizen, but one of the few ways a citizen could rise rapidly to higher status.

They each got personal possessions, a rarity in Alpha Complex, and were assigned red reflec armor, a laser pistol with red-striped laser barrel, a red jump suit, utility belt and pouches, and a wrist com unit 1.

Jake-R-SWD-1 was a large clone though he was rather average in every other aspect. He was assigned to the Research and Design service group. However, that was just a cover for his real service group: Internal Security. He was also a member of the secret society Corpore Metal, which advocated that humanity was obsolete and computers and bots were the wave of the future. He was unsure if he had infiltrated the secret society at the orders of The Computer, or if he was there of his own free will. He’d forgotten. A registered mutant, he had adrenaline control and could, at a whim, make himself more powerful or faster than any other clone. When it worked. His uniform bore yellow stripes to let other know he was a registered (if filthy) mutant.

Bob-R-OSS-1 was a small clone who had a great deal of chutzpah and was more laid back than any clone had the right to be. He was very mechanically apt and a member of Power Services. He was a member of the First Church of Christ Programmer secret society and worshipped The Computer. He also had a secret mutant power that allowed him to teleport at will. He was very, very good at it, meaning he stayed cool in even the direr of situation.

Falion-R-TIT-1 was another large clone, who happened to be very intelligent as well. Also a member of Power Services, he and Bob-R-OSS-1 got along fairly well, mostly. However, secretly he was a member of the Illuminati and strove for absolute power. He also had the secret mutant power of x-ray vision. Sometimes it worked.

Jack-R-JRW-1 was another bruiser who was quick and good with his hands. He was a great liar as well. Being a member of Housing Preservation and Development and Mind Control meant he was one of Alpha Complex’s glorified clerks, and knew how to make the system work. Secretly, he was a member of the Romantics, the secret society that wanted the return of “football” and “TV” instead of the simple life in Alpha Complex. He was a registered mutant, also wearing the shameful yellow stripes, with the power to not only eat anything, but also gain nourishment from any biological matter he ate.

Peachy-R-LCS-1 was a large clone who was dumber than a box of Happiness Energy Bars. Also a member of HPD&MC, like his buddy Jack-R-JRW-1, he was also secretly a member of Death Leopard, that secret society bent on having fun and destroying things. Secretly, he also had the mutant power of regeneration and it took a lot to injure him for long.

Though they had managed to increase their security clearance, they were still on the low end of the spectrum of security clearances and outranked by ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, INDIGO, VIOLET, and ULTRAVIOLET clearances, in that order. They also followed The Computer’s orders:

STAY ALERT. TRUST NO ONE. KEEP YOUR LASER HANDY.

* * *

The five Troubleshooters had actually met for the first time for only a few moments and were eyeing each other suspiciously, each certain the other was a traitor, when each of their wrist com units suddenly started clicking. It printed out a piece of paper for each of them.

In tiny print, the paper read:


//IOGC.MA.0.7//

MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT

Greetings Citizen. Your services are required.

Report to Briefing Room IOGC. Refer to appended map. Your Mission: an expedition to OUTDOORS sector. Your Mission Objectives:

1. Make a reconnaissance patrol along a designated route.

2. Search for evidence of Communist activity.

3. Return and make a full report.

Bring your full kit. Don’t forget your mittens, it’s cold Outside.

A team leader awaits you at the Briefing Room. Your team leader is an exemplary Troubleshooter and above reproach. You are in good hands.

The mission is our little secret. Don’t tell anyone. You’re just going for a little walk. Got it?

Thanks once again for your cooperation.

Your Friend,

The Computer

MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT MISSION ALERT


Jack-R-JRW-1 tried to look closely at the map that was appended to the message. It was too tiny to see anything.

“I can’t read this map,” he said.

They all looked at the tiny map. None of them had any clue where the briefing room could be.

“I’m not the best at speaking,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “Would somebody like to call up a fellow Red and see if they know how to get us to the …”

“Briefing room IOGC?” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

They looked over their orders again. None of them knew what OUTDOORS sector was, none of them having been there. Peachy-R-LCS-1 pressed the button on his wrist com.

“How may I help you Citizen?” the soothing voice of The Computer came over the com.

“Oh! I’m looking for a room,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said to his wrist com. “I’m looking for, actually, I’m looking for briefing room LOGC.”

“IOGC,” Jack-R-JRW-1 corrected him.

“What is your security clearance?” The Computer asked.

“I’m a Red clearance,” Peachy-R-LCS-1said.

“I’m sorry, that information is not available at this time.”

“You gave me the mission. You printed out the sheet for me.”

“Don’t dis the computer,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“It’s a treasonous comment!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, drawing his laser pistol and pointing it at Peachy-R-LCS-1. “Treason! Treason!”

The others drew their weapons and pointed them at Peachy-R-LCS-1 as well.

“Treason!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said again. “Treason!”

“I’m just trying to figure this out,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said, still looking at his wrist com. “Calm down, guy. I’m just trying to find this room we’re looking for.”

He finally looked up.

“You guys know anyone of higher clearance that we could ask?” he said.

They looked at each other uncertainly. Jack-R-JRW-1 put his laser pistol away and took out a small stylus and pad. He wrote down Peachy-R-LCS-1’s name and noted he had been treasonous and how.

Meanwhile, Peachy-R-LCS-1 looked at his map.

“Where am I in relation to this map that you’ve printed out?” he said into his wrist com.

“What is your security clearance, Citizen?” The Computer said.

“I’m a Red clearance.”

“I’m sorry. That information is not available at your security clearance. Perhaps you would care to explain why your request for classified information isn’t part of an insidious commie plot, Citizen?”

“Because …”

Jack-R-JRW-1 started reaching for his laser pistol again.

“No commie plot here, watch,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “I was out of line. My bad. I’m stepping down.”

“Are you referring to The Computer as a common watch?” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound very good,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“What?” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “A common watch? I never said common watch. I said sophisticated computer …”

“Did he just say Commie watch?” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“I heard Commie!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, drawing his laser pistol again.

“No Commies here,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “No Commies here.”

He looked at the piece of paper again.

“I’m no closer to figuring out this map,” he said.

“We might should ask an Orange for information,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

There were plenty of Infrareds walking by wearing black overalls. A couple of Blue armored troopers stood nearby, holding guns and looking menacingly about. A man in green skulked in one corner, looking about suspiciously.

“What if we ask the blue security officers?” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “But of course, The Computer told us not to tell anybody about the mission.”

“We’re just going for a little walk,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Just going for a little walk.”

“That’s not a good enough excuse to a Blue,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“The Computer says it is,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“That is true,” Jack-R-JRW-1 agreed. “The Computer said that.”

“Again, I’m not the best at conversing,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said again. “So, if someone would like to explain our situation to one of these delightfully higher-colored beings …”

“Maybe someone could talk a little quicker than the rest of us,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said, looking pointedly at Jack-R-JRW-1.

“Yeah,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “Damn. That’s me.”

He walked over to the man dressed in green. Peachy-R-LCS-1 accompanied him.

“Hello superior, sir,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said to the green-clad man. “We are going for an innocent walk to Briefing Room IOGC. We would like some directions, if you would, please, superior, sir.”

“Why don’t you ask The Computer?” the green-clad man said.

“It says we don’t have security clearance,” Jack-R-JRW-1 replied.

“Then why do you think that I would be able to give you information that’s above your security clearance, Citizen?”

“What’s up with this guy harassing you?” Bob-R-OSS-1 said, walking up to the small group and addressing the green-clad man.

The blue-clad security men looked over at the three talking.

“He told me to,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, pointing at Bob-R-OSS-1.

“Listen,” the green-clad man said. “Just walk away. Walk away.”

“Okay.”

“Yeah, walk away,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Stop bothering this nice green guy.”

“You walk away too,” the green-clad man said.

They wandered back over to the other Troubleshooters.

“I don’t know,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “Apparently, there’s no way to get the information.”

Falion-R-TIT-1 stopped a pair of infrared citizens walking by. Each of the men was smiling nervously and occasionally looking up at monitors that read such encouraging mottos as “You are happy, correct Citizen?” The two men stopped smiling for only a moment to glance at the two blue IntSec guards standing nearby with their large weapons held ready. The guard with the blue-barreled laser rifle glanced their way before going back to his conversation with the guard who held a cone rifle.

“I’m happy!” one of the infrareds said desperately.

“I vote we order these infrareds to look around ahead of us,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “If they get in trouble, they get in trouble. Then we just walk behind them.”

He ordered the infrareds to walk in front of them.

“Okay,” one of them said nervously. “Yes sir.”

“He’s Red,” the other said.

“I see! I see!”

“He’s really Red!”

“Sh! You’re going to make him mad!”

The two smiled at Jack-R-JRW-1 and then started walking down the corridor. They kept looking behind them to make sure the Red-level Troubleshooters were still behind them.

They began looking for the briefing room.

* * *

Thirteen hours later, after wandering the halls of Alpha Complex, constantly telling the infrared citizens to quit whining about how tired they were between popping pills, a computer screen nearby lit up.

“Greetings Citizens,” the soft and gentle voice of The Computer said.

“Greetings, friend computer,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Oh benevolent Computer!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“Why have you not reported to Briefing Room IOGC as ordered?” The Computer said soothingly. “Failure to report as ordered IS treason.”

“Oh benevolent computer!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said again. “I seem to have been lost and been accompanied by my fellow Reds in the wrong direction.”

“The infrareds led us in the wrong direction!” Jack-R-JRW-1 quickly said.

“Are these infrareds committing treasonous acts by leading you in the wrong direction, Citizen?” The Computer’s voice said.

“Yes, they are,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“They should be immediately executed.”

“Yes they should be!”

Jack-R-JRW-1 drew his laser pistol, aimed it at one of the infrared citizens now holding each other and cowering, and pulled the trigger. There was a loud snap and a crack appeared in the barrel. The entire laser pistol began to shake. Jack-R-JRW-1 flung the laser pistol at the infrareds, one of whom caught it. Then it exploded, knocking the two infrareds to the ground.

“Briefing Room IOGC is the next door on the left,” The Computer said dryly.

Falion-R-TIT-1 stepped over to the infrared citizens lying on the ground and, in an effort to obey The Computer, stepped on both of their throats, making sure they were dead.

“Friend Computer, there seems to have been a malfunction in my equipment,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “May I−”

“Are you saying that The Computer has given you malfunctioning equipment?” The Computer asked.

“No.” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Nice laser pistol maintenance, noob!” Bob-R-OSS-1 said to Jack-R-JRW-1.

“I’m saying that those infrareds that I killed with it didn’t maintain it correctly,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Maintenance of your own equipment is your responsibility,” The Computer chimed. “Are you saying the equipment was not maintained responsibly?”

“No, it was maintained responsibly,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “It just malfunctioned on me.”

“Let’s see if the infrareds are carrying any pistols,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said.

They quickly searched the infrareds but they had nothing but black overalls.

They went down the hall to the door on the left. Two Indigo HPD & MC guards stood ramrod-straight at attention in front of the door. They looked like Flash Gordon-style Hollywood high-tech guards, in gold lamé tights and garish, revealing jumpsuits, and their weapons were garish and implausible-looking.

“You guys might have an in with them,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said to Jack-R-JRW-1 and Peachy-R-LCS-1.

“Yeah,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

Peachy-R-LCS-1 waved at the two guards and started to walk between them to the door. The two weapons came down and pointed at him.

“I’ve been ordered to the briefing room,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Orders,” one of the guards said. “Let’s see your orders, Citizen.”

Jack-R-JRW-1 handed over the piece of paper from his wrist com. The guard looked at it with disdain and then glared at the red-garbed Troubleshooters. He sneered.

“You’re to wait here in the hall until summoned,” he said.

“Will do,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said.

The two guards went back to looking straight ahead while somehow also managing to keep an eye on the Troubleshooters. Peachy-R-LCS-1 took out a bottle of Bouncy Bubble Beverage, opened it, and took a swig. He felt much happier. The drink was not terribly tasty, but he found himself smiling anyway.

A buzzer sounded in the hall and the bright lights flashed around the door to the briefing room. The guards solemnly lined the Troubleshooters up in front of the door. They repeatedly stressed that they must remain in that order. The door opened and they shoved the Troubleshooters in.

The briefing room was wide and shallow. A long, high bench ran from one side of the room to the other. In the room were four more identically-dressed Indigo HPD&MC guards with even more ridiculous-looking experimental weapons. Two guards stood at the door where the Troubleshooters entered and two stood at the side door. A fifth Violet HPD&MC guard, evidently the guard unit leader, stood with his back to the bench and gestured impatiently for the Troubleshooters to line up in a long recessed pit with floor drains in front of the bench.

Four shadowy figures sat on the bench above the Troubleshooters, looking down over the top of the bench at them. In the middle sat a man in Indigo with an HPD&MC insignia. He had bushy hair and the plaque in front of him read “Peter-I-TOL-4.” To the left was a man with short-cut hair who glared at the Troubleshooters. He wore Yellow, no insignia, and the name Ness-Y-LOX-3 was in front of him. The man to the right looked rather dim and had a large nose. His plaque identified the Orange-clad man with the Research and Design patch as Num-O-NTS-5. A large and dirty-looking Green-clad man sat to one side of the other three. No plaque identified him.

One of the shadowy figures spoke.

“Welcome, Citizens,” Peter-I-TOL-4 said. “I know you are all eager to serve The Computer and Alpha Complex. I am pleased to offer you such an opportunity.

“The Computer understands that you are all raw, inexperienced Troubleshooters. In its wisdom, it has selected for you a routine mission of considerable importance. Further, it has selected an experienced Troubleshooter as your leader and guide. Under such fortunate circumstances, we are sure you will successfully complete the mission.”

He stopped speaking and looked each of them in the eye with cheerful but unmistakable menace.

Peachy-R-LCS-1 took another sip of his Bouncy Bubbles Beverage.

“This mission will take you to …” Peter-I-TOL-5 said, then pointed at Jake-R-SWD-1. “… what sector, Citizen?”

“Outdoors,” Jake-R-SWD-1 quietly said.

Peter-I-TOL-5 simply nodded.

“And what do you know of Outdoors Sector, Citizen Peachy-R-LCS-1?” he said.

“I don’t know a damned thing about Outdoors,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 replied

“And the mission objectives are … Well, perhaps you recall the objectives from the mission alert, Citizen Falion-R-TIT-1?”

Falion-R-TIT-1 whipped out the tiny scrap of paper.

“We are to make a reconnaissance patrol along a designated route, search for evidence of communist activities, sir!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“It’s good that you can read,” Peter-I-TOL-5 muttered. “Hmm … I see.

“Here are a few more details on the objectives of your assignment.

“First, concerning certain equipment assigned to your mission. A vehicle of revolutionary design is being issued to your mission group for testing. R&D staffers have assured us that it will prove invaluable for your special transportation needs. Also, a remarkable new Team Communications System has been made available for this mission. I’m sure you will take great care that this valuable equipment comes to no harm in the course of the mission. Research and Design will brief you on these items when you report there for routine assignment of experimental equipment.

“Second, there is some inventory unaccounted for after a previous mission to the Outdoors region. PLC staffers will provide you with a list of the missing items when you visit the warehouse for outfitting. You will of course make reasonable effort to locate these items and return them to PLC if you discover them during your patrol.

“Third, there are several Troubleshooters unaccounted for after a previous mission to the Outdoors region. You will be provided with descriptions and identity codes for each of these Troubleshooters. You will of course make a reasonable effort to locate these missing citizens and return them to Alpha Complex during the course of your patrol.

“Fourth, you will each prepare a report on the current state of affairs in the Outdoors Region. Missions are sent there only infrequently, and any change in status will be of interest to The Computer and its high-level analysts.

“Before proceeding with the mission, report to the PDQ sector PLC warehouse for outfitting. Appropriate documents will be provided. Then report to R&D to pick up experimental vehicle, communications system, and other devices R&D wishes tested.

“Finally, you are assigned three infrared laborers to assist you on this mission. These laborers are directly responsible to your leader Grund-G,” Peter-I-TOL-4 gestured at the green-garbed figure on the bench, “but I’m certain they will be happy to assist all of you in achieving your objectives.

“We confidently await your return and your mission reports. Serve The Computer, and you will be rewarded.

“If you have any questions, citizens Ness-Y and Dr. Num-O will be pleased to assist you. They may also have a few comments or questions for you. I trust you will give them your full cooperation. Thank you.”

He sat down and looked at Ness-Y, who stood up. He glared at them all for a moment.

“What is your duty to the computer!?!” Ness-Y-LOX-3 suddenly said to Peachy-R-LCS-1.

“Uh,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 replied. “To … respond to it … to the best of my ability.”

Ness-Y-LOX-3 frowned.

“What resources do you need that The Computer has not provided,” he said.

“We’ll need a vehicle,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said.

“The Computer has provided that!”

“We will need some experimental equipment.”

“The Computer will provide that as well! I asked you needed that The Computer did not provide.”

“Uh … I don’t know,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. He looked down the line. “What do you guys think we need?”

“I’m not asking them, I’m asking you!”

“Oh. Uh …”

“I’m confident that The Computer has given us everything that we need,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Except rope,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “I would like some rope.”

Ness-Y-LOX-3 ignored him and glared at Bob-R-OSS-1.

“Your rudeness has been noted, Citizen,” he growled. Then he turned to Falion-R-TIT-1. “What should you do if you discover treason!?!”

“We should end the treason,” Falion-R-TIT-1 replied. “Exterminate the filth!”

“Well, suppose that you discovered evidence that I, Ness-Y, am a traitor?”

“Then I would have to follow The Computer’s commands.”

“So, you would simply report me as a traitor? What if you had no evidence?”

“Then I would not report you as a traitor.”

“Uh-huh.”

The interrogation went on for some time, Ness-Y-LOX-3 trying to trap them with trick questions and attempting to make them confess their guilt of just about anything and everything. They all survived the interrogation without being accused of treason or executed, however. He finally sat back down.

Finally, Dr. Num-O-NTS-5 stood up.

“Do you have any … uh … any questions about any of the experimental equipment?” he said. “Any at all?”

“Anything we should know to keep them out of harm’s way?” Jake-R-SWD-1 asked.

“Don’t break them. That would be good. Try not to break them. That’s bad. Breaking equipment that’s experimental. They’re all very essential - to find out whether they work well. They work. They will work well. We’ve been working very hard on them, but to find out HOW well they work. That is your mission: find out how well they work. Exactly. Yes.”

He started talking about some of the equipment but it sounded like gibberish to them. He was very vague in his scientific technobabble until he finally sat down.

Peter-I-TOL-4 handed Grund-G-GUY-3 a pile of documentation. Then he stood up and left without another word to the Troubleshooters, even too quickly to notice Falion-R-TIT-1 bowing at the man as he left in an attempt to bootlick. Grung-G-GUY-3 sighed morosely, rose from the bench, slouched over towards the door and gestured for the other Troubleshooters to follow him. Peachy-R-LCS-1 looked around for a trash bin to place the empty Bouncy Bubble Beverage bottle but didn’t see one.

Grund-G-GUY-3 took the Troubleshooters to a vacant corridor and then turned to face them.

“Okay,” he said. “Listen up, jerks, and listen up good. I’ve been around a long time, and I ain’t gonna let no wet-behind-the-ears jerks get me killed. I’ll drill the first one of you that steps out of line.

“Now, I’m in charge here. Follow orders or I’ll roast you. If something happens to me, and it don’t kill me, but you cut and run without rescuing me, you can be sure I’ll survive. And I’ll come looking for you.

“Not one of here is smart or fast enough to double-cross me. Don’t try it.

“Now, I need a volunteer.”

Falion-R-TIT-1 raised his hand tentatively.

“Okay, you,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said to him. “I want to talk to you in private.”

He took Falion-R-TIT-1 aside and privately told him that he was the designated group leader if anything happened to him. He told Falion-R-TIT-1that the secret mission code was “sudden death overtime” and then glared at the man.

“I got my eye on ya, so don’t try anything funny,” he said.

He ordered Falion-R-TIT-1 not to reveal his second-in-command status or the secret mission code name to anyone, or he’d personally poke his eyeballs out. Then he grew sly and conspiratorial and suggested that Falion-R-TIT-1 pick out the weediest, most obnoxious member of the party to be used as a scapegoat if things went wrong.

“Drill him if he looks cross-eyed at you,” he told the man. “We’ll set him up as a traitor, a perfect excuse for mission failure, and maybe an excuse to go home instead of wandering around waiting to get killed in the Outdoors.”

Falion-R-TIT-1 said he knew the perfect person.

* * *

“Why is he giving this guy special attention?” Peachy-R-LCS-1 asked.

“I don’t know,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “I don’t really care.”

“We should probably shoot him as soon as he gets back,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “As they’re walking back together just … pff.”

“They might be doing treasonous things back there,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, looking over to where Grund-G-GUY-3 and Falion-R-TIT-1 were talking quietly down the corridor.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t be, you know?” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“It’s suspicious, leaving us here,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “Talking privately. Trying to hide things from the computer.”

“I thought we were a group,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said.

“Yes,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “I thought we were supposed to be picking up weapons. It was a good idea to bring the Infrareds. Very useful.”

“Yeah.”

“They were very useful.”

Just then Grund-G-GUY-3 and Falion-R-TIT-1 returned. The latter looked like he’d been chewed out.

“C’mon” Grund-G-GUY-3 said, gesturing to the others.

He marched for a long time along a series of corridors and then stopped at a red office door marked “HPD & MC Temporaries.” He turned to the red Troubleshooters.

“Stay!” he grunted. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

He went into the door, leaving them alone in the corridor. All alone.

Peachy-R-LCS-1 found a waste receptacle in the corridor and tossed his Bouncy Bubble Beverage at it. It rolled around the edge of the hole and then went in. A crunching noise came from the receptacle.

Jack-R-JRW-1 stood at attention by the door, not moving or being suspicious at all. Falion-R-TIT-1 looked at the office door for a moment then started looking for hidden bugs in the area. Peachy-R-LCS-1 just stared at Jack-R-JRW-1, who stared back. The latter wondered about finding items in the Outdoor Sector for his Secret Society, the Romantics. He also thought about wearing his forbidden technology - the sunglasses hidden on his person.

“I have to use the bathroom,” Jake-R-SWD-1 said. “I’ll be right back.”

He fell in line with a group of other Red Citizens and walked down the corridor and out of sight.

Bob-R-OSS-1 immediately activated his wrist communicator and began to talk quietly to someone the others couldn’t hear.

* * *

Jake-R-SWD-1 found his contact with Corpore Metal and asked him about the Outdoor Sector. The contact had little information but reminded him that if there were any artificial intelligences on the mission, he should try to set them free. He was also told to eliminate as many biological units, i.e. his companions, as possible.


* * *

Jake-R-SWD-1 returned to the group just before Grund-G-GUY-3 came out of the door once again. He had three Infrareds in tow. They were named Lubi-GSV-1, Mani-GSV-3, and Paul-GSV-1. Lubi was big and often stood with his mouth open. Mani was very average-looking and seemed thoughtful and attentive. This immediately made Jack-R-JRW-1 suspicious of the Citizen. Finally, Paul was a tiny little shrimp. His voice was whiney, and dragged his feet, and often fumbled and fidgeted. He seemed to fall asleep if left alone for more than a few minutes.

Grund-G-GUY-3 led them to the Production, Logistics, and Commissary warehouse next. About 20 PLC clerks were in the place, as well as five Red-level guards with laser rifles who looked bored. An Orange-level clerk greeted them with a blank stare.

“Yes, can I help you,” she said dryly.

When Grund-G-GUY-3 handed over a sheet of paper, she looked it over and then sorted through various order forms. She finally found the equipment list and handed it to Grund-G-GUY-3.

“You’ll have to sign for this,” she said.

Instead of signing it, he turned towards the Red-level Troubleshooters and casually pointed his laser rifle at them.

“Sign it,” he said.

Peachy-R-LCS-1, who he happened to be pointing at the moment, stepped forward and looked at the paper. Jack-R-JRW-1 also looked at it.

“All of us have to sign it?” Jack-R-JRW-1 asked.

“Yeah,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

Grund-G-GUY-3 pointed his laser rifle at Jack-R-JRW-1.

“Sign it!” he said.

Jack-R-JRW-1 handed the piece of paper to Peachy-R-LCS-1.

“I’ll sign it,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said.

He filled in the date to the best of his ability, as well as the time. He used the three-digit code “LCS,” which stood for his sector of Alpha Complex, for the Authorization Code and then signed his name under “Mission Group” at the top.

“Are you signing it or are you writing a letter to it,” the Orange-level clerk asked.

“I’m signing it,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “I’m filling it out.”

He finally finished.

“Signed it,” he said, handing it to Jack-R-JRW-1.

The second Troubleshooter hesitated.

“He’s got a gun,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 pointed out, stating the obvious with a clarity unknown to most Troubleshooters.

“I’m Green, that’s all that counts,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 snatched the paper out of his hand and looked it over, quickly signing it. Grund-G-GUY-3 looked impatient. One of the Infrareds, Paul-GSV-1, had apparently fallen asleep on his feet.

“Attention!” Falion-R-TIT-1 screamed at the sleeping Infrared.

Paul-GSV-1 suddenly awoke, looking around, closed his eyes, and seemed to go back to sleep.

As he’d already signed the paperwork, Peachy-R-LCS-1 took out a bottle of Bouncy Bubble Beverage and then shook it up. He walked over to the Infrared.

“Hey Paul-GSV-1,” he said, waking up the clone. “It’s nice to meet you. Have a soda.”

The clone awoke with a start.

“What?” he said. “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!”

“Paul, calm down,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “You gotta perk yourself up, man. You gotta have a soda.”

“What?”

“You gotta perk yourself up, man. Have this Bouncy soda.”

“You know, they’re not allowed to have that,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“I’m not allowed to have it?” Paul-GSV-1 said.

“No, I’m giving it to you, man,” Peachy-R-LCS-1 said. “I’m above you.”

Paul-GSV-1 took the bottle and opened it. It sprayed all over him and Jack-R-JRW-1 laughed loudly at the prank. The other clerks and the Red-level guards also laughed at the Infrared as he shrieked and dropped the bottle on the floor.

“Clean yourself up!” one of the Red-level HPD&MC guards shouted at Paul-GSV-1.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Paul-GSV-1 whined as he tried to clean himself up.

Peachy-R-LCS-1 merely snickered and walked away.

Grund-G-GUY-3 just looked at Peachy-R-LCS-1 and shook his head. During the confusion, Jack-R-JRW-1 signed the form as Lubi-GSV-1 and then handed it to Falion-R-TIT-1, who quickly passed it to Bob-R-OSS-1, who looked it over again.

“What’s the use of the giant Teela O’Malley statue then?” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“What are you talking about?” Grund-G-GUY-3 said to him.

Bob-R-OSS-1 took out his picture of video heroine Teela-O-MLY that had a mirror on the reverse side and showed it to him.

“We have a statue of that on the requisition form,” he said.

The Orange-level HPD&MC clerk put her hand over her mouth and smiled.

“Sign it,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said to Falion-R-TIT-1, aiming his laser rifle at the clone.

“Oh, I’m supposed to sign it as well,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said, surprised.

“Everybody sign it,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

Falion-R-TIT-1 looked over the form for what felt like a long time.

“That is a lot of stuff,” he finally said. “Wait a minute. Do we have to come back with the grenades?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

The Orange-level clerk behind the counter snickered quietly, trying to suppress her laughter.

Probably still laughing at Paul, Peachy-R-LCS-1 thought with great satisfaction.

Falion-R-TIT-1 handed off the form to Bob-R-OSS-1, who tried to stealthily not sign it. Grund-G-GUY-3 seemed to notice however.

“Sign it!” he said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 signed the form. The Orange-level clerk snorted loudly and tried not to grin. Bob-R-OSS-1 handed off the form to Jake-R-SWD-1, who looked it over carefully.

“I don’t see why anybody would NOT want to sign that,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “The Computer’s got our back, guys. Why would it be mean to us? We’re good guys.”

“Because it says Indigo,” Jack-R-JRW-1 whispered to him.

“If The Computer saw fit to say Indigo, it’s cool.”

Jake-R-SWD-1 signed the form and the Orange-level clerk took the piece of paper, looked it over, and laughed out loud.

“Get the stuff out here!” she shouted.

The equipment was brought out in crates on hand trucks by jackobots. The bots were a little careless, however, zooming in, slamming to a stop, and dumping the crates of gear with graceful, fluid motions. The crates toppled over with multiple crashes. Some broke open and spilled their contents across the floor.

The Troubleshooters pried open the unbroken crates and started to grab various items and equipment. There were laser pistols, laser rifles, several indigo laser barrels, a cone rifle and a pile of assorted unmarked shells. There were happiness pills, a 1 meter Sinclair molecule chain in a magnetic bottle, com units, tubes of concentrated algae bits (food), two cases of (classified) repellant, a carton of (classified) antidote, binoculars with infrared filters, sonic grenades, 25 liters of water and 10 1-liter canteens, thermal gloves, a multicorder 1, a docbot model V which greeted them civilly, a jackobot model 360 that greeted them rudely, backpacks, three insulated jumpsuits, 50 meters of rope, hundreds of wing nuts, 10 liters active genetic material in 4% protein broth, a score of used graphite damping rods, over 500 left-foot jackboots, ice 9, nearly 150 cases of “Classic” Bouncy Bubbly Beverage, one firkin neutronium, a crate of oval ball bearings, which spilled all over the floor, a life-sized Teela O’Malley statue that must have weighed at least 1,000 kg, and a single skippy the wonderbot.

Bob-R-OSS-1 picked up most of the cone rifle shells. He also laid claim to the immense statue of Teela-O-MLY. The rest of them started dividing up the equipment. Jack-R-JRW-1 grabbed several of the violet laser barrels, regardless of the fact that it was technically treason for him to have them. Falion-R-TIT-1 grabbed two cone shells from Bob-R-OSS-1. Jack-R-JRW-1 also picked up the cone rifle and handed it to Peachy-R-LCS-1. They all grabbed backpacks. Jack-R-JRW-1 grabbed the manifest off the table where the Orange-level clerk was still laughing to herself. They split up the rest of the equipment, taking far too long for Grund-G-GUY-3’s satisfaction.

Grund-G-GUY-3 looked them over and then pointed at Bob-R-OSS-1.

“You’re Loyalty Officer now,” he said. “Take the multicorder.”

“Yes sir!” Bob-R-OSS-1 picked up the multicorder.

The jackobots, by then, were hauling out several gallon drums marked with a biohazard symbol. They just kept bringing them out, one after another. It didn’t look like it would ever end. Another jackobot brought out Skippy the Wonderbot. He appeared to be broken with a head as large as his little body.

Jack-R-JRW-1 was looking more closely at the manifest. There was a line under list where it went from 50 meters of twine in one entry to 200 gallons of toxic waste in the next.

The entry read:

**break** //from: ed-y-rko-4 //to: meg-o-fun-2//message: larry-I says this is a one-way mission--code 7--dead end: you can assign these suckers anything: //from: meg-o-fun-2 //to: ed-y-rko-4 //message: thanks ill clean out the warehouse **continue**

It looked like a personal message had been accidently added to the list.

“‘You can assign these suckers anything,’” Jack-R-JRW-1 read.

“Oh shit,” Falion-R-TIT-1

“That’s probably a typo,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “The Computer’s got our back. Don’t worry about it.”

The Orange-level clerk behind the desk was laughing out loud by then, especially as more and more drums of toxic waste were pulled out.

“Are we bringing it back or are we dumping it?” Falion-R-TIT-1 asked.

“Wait wait wait wait wait,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said to them. “Put the stuff down for a second.”

He walked over to Meg-O-FUN-2, who was still trying not to laugh too loudly.

“You know assigning equipment to a mission that is not for a mission is treason, right?” he said.

She looked at him blankly. Then she took the list from him.

“I will eliminate the stuff below this … error message, I don’t know where it came from,” she said.

She yelled at several Infrareds to get rid of the stuff, including the toxic waste, the wing nuts, the genetic material, the giant statue and the broken Skippy the Wonderbot, among other things. Bob-R-OSS-1 grabbed a handful of the oval ball bearings and shoved them in his pocket.

“Trying to out-bureaucrat an HPD&MC, it’s just …” Jack-R-JRW-1

Meg-O-FUN-2 just smiled at him.

They divided up the rest of the still-large amount of equipment and gear.

Jack-R-JRW-1 put several of the items into a backpack and then moved towards one of the Infrareds. The Infrared fled to Grund-G-GUY-3.

“Leave the Infrareds alone!” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

“Why?” Jack-R-JRW-1 asked. “They can’t carry stuff?”

“Are questioning my orders?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so. Just pick it up. Pick it all up!”

The Red-level Troubleshooters picked up all of the gear as best they could.

“Who knows how to handle bots?” Grund-G-GUY-3 asked.

“I’m pretty good at mechanical stuff,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“All right, you’re in charge of the jackobot,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

“Pleased to meet you,” the jackobot said. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Humans, oh dear,” the docbot said.

“We got one more thing for you,” one of the PLC clerks said. “It is the clone replacement beeper. As you’ll be in the Outdoors, we’ll need to give you these clone replacement beepers which, if any of you are … vaporized in the service of the computer, then we will have to send another clone out via the 1000mm Outdoor Insertion System. Here we go!”

Several devices about the size of a transistor radio were produced. Another Red-Level clerk got out a cordless drill.

“Turn around,” the first clerk said.

They turned each of the Troubleshooters around and placed the device up against each of their skulls, just behind the right ear, then drilled them into place. It was excruciatingly painful.

“When you die, that will send us a signal,” the clerk said.

“Oh God!” Falion-R-TIT-1screamed as they secured the beeper to his skull.

Even Grund-G-GUY-3 had one attached to him. He didn’t look happy about it.

They grabbed what was left of the gear. Jack-R-JRW-1 wondered what the Infrareds were there for if not to carry stuff. He poked Paul-GSV-1 with his gun to wake him up and get him moving.

Grund-G-GUY-3 led them out into an autoshuttle, a massively shielded room set up on induction coils. There were benches to the left and right. Grund-G-GUY-3 walked in and sat on one of the benches to the right. The Infrareds and bots followed him. Jack-R-JRW-1 and Falion-R-TIT-1 sat with Grund-G-GUY-3.

“Are we picking out a vehicle?” Falion-R-TIT-1 asked.

“We gotta go to R&D,” Grund-G-GUY-3 growled. “That’s where we’re going to get everything else.”

Peachy-R-LCS-1 and Bob-R-OSS-1 sat on the benches to the left. Jake-R-SWD-1 stood near the center by the door. The door closed with an ominous clunk and Jake-R-SWD-1 leaned against it.

When the autoshuttle suddenly accelerated suddenly to a sizeable fraction of the speed of light, it sent Peachy-R-LCS-1, Bob-R-OSS-1, and Jake-R-SWD-1 flying across the room. The bots slammed into the right-side wall as well. Bob-R-OSS-1 was able to brace himself when he struck the far wall and was not hurt. Jake-R-SWD-1 actually fell across the room and landed right on the bench. Peachy-R-LCS-1 launched from his bench and slammed into the opposite wall. There was an audible “snap” as his neck broke on contact with opposite wall.

Grund-G-GUY-3 sighed.

“Son of a …” he muttered. “You idiots.”

As the pressure on the wall decreased as the autoshuttle got up to speed, Grund-G-GUY-3 stood up, walked across the room, and sat down on the opposite side. Everyone else quickly followed him. There was a screech and a wham as the autoshuttle stopped abruptly and Peachy-R-LCS-1’s body flew across the room right at them. The clones are scrambled to get out of the way as the body flew right at Falion-R-TIT-1, who barely leapt clear. Peachy-R-LCS-1 crashed into the wall. If he hadn’t already been dead, he definitely was at that point.

Luckily, none of the grenades he was carrying went off.

The door opened and Grund-G-GUY-3 told the Infrareds to drag the damaged bots out. After stripping Peachy-R-LCS-1 of everything of value, they followed him out onto the exit platform. Jack-R-JRW-1 was content that he finally had a red laser barrel for his laser pistol again.

“Does this happen all the time?” Jack-R-JRW-1 muttered. “Why didn’t the bots sit down?”

Grund-G-GUY-3 consulted a wall diagram and then herded the quick and the lumpy down along a corridor. He had to immediately detour around the ruins of what might have been a research and testing complex. Workers were sifting through the rubble and dozerbots were knocking down the remnants of standing walls. Puny R&D guards (R&D guards were notoriously unimposing) gave Grund-G-GUY-3 directions after the detour.

“What happened?” Falion-R-TIT-1 asked one of the guards.

“Just faulty wiring,” the guard replied.

After a long walk down a maze of corridors, the group arrived at a large set of doors marked with hastily-scrawled signs that read “R&D: Temporary Quarters.” Inside, there were numerous doors down long corridors. At each door a Blue or Green R&D guard stood with weapon at ready. Grund-G-GUY-3 led them to a large green door and handed the Green guard a document. The guard studied the document, checked each of the Red level Troubleshooters tongue tattoo, and then ushered the group through the door into a large room with a Green security graphic running along the wall. The room was filled with strange devices and assorted testing equipment.

Just before the door closed, a Red level clone ran up behind them. It was Peachy-R-LCS-2. They handed off his gear.

“Your cone rifle has a random shell in it,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said to him.

“Nice!” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

Three men were waiting for them. Two of them were Blue-outfitted men while the third was Green outfitted and had two Blue bodyguards with the symbol of the Central Processing Unit on their uniforms. They appeared to be guarding the Green-level R&D staff member.

The man in Green walked up to them.

“Ah … welcome!” he said with a grin. “Welcome. Welcome to R&D. We’ve got some experimental systems for you folks to try out! This is Schnect-B.”

He gestured to a relaxed-looking man who grinned.

“Communism is the only way!” Schnect-B said.

He laughed.

“What?” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Wait,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“And this is Stanley-B,” the Green level scientist said, gesturing to a man who’s eyes seemed ready to pop out of his head.

Stanley-B rubbed his hands together and giggled maniacally.

“I can’t wait to see these things work!” he said.

He laughed loudly and then quieted himself.

The Red-level Troubleshooters were watching Schnect-B, who had spouted traitorous talk. No one else seemed to pay him any attention though. They wondered if he had either powerful political connection or was simply a real genius who could not afford to be killed.

“V for Victory!” Schnect-B muttered. “For Communism! The Computer doesn’t know jack!”

He grinned. Throughout the rest of the time they were there, he continued spouting minor treason at the most inopportune moments.

“So, what do we have?” the Green scientist said. “We have two experimental systems: the Multi-Mode All-Terrain Vehicle and the Loyalty Officer Control Module and Sensory Enhancement Package. I can’t wait to show you. But, before we get onto those, we have some more experimental things for you to test. Oh! I’m Sampson-G, by the way.”

He grinned.

“We also have some other … experimental … technology that we would love you to take into the Outdoors and try,” he went on. “So, you will, won’t you.”

“Of course!” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

“We’d love to,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“Jake-R-SWD-1,” Sampson-G said. “Jake-R-SWD? Jake? Jake? One of you is Jake?”

“That would be him,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, pointing at Jake-R-SWD-1.

“Ah, yes,” Sampson-G said.

He produced a small disk with a single button upon it.

“We have a personal anti-grav unit: serial - PDQ.R&D-123-56,” he said. “Stanly over there built this.”

Stanley-B laughed maniacally again and then covered his mouth with his hands.

“Sorry,” he said. “Sorry.”

“It’s an anti-grav unit and it should float,” Sampson-G said. “There you go.”

“Anything I shouldn’t do with it?” Jake-R-SWD-1 asked.

“Don’t damage it. Bring it back and make sure you have a report ready to tell us how well it worked.”

“How do I make it work?”

“Oh, there’s a button on the bottom. Don’t activate now, though! I wouldn’t activate it right now.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Probably for the best.”

Sampson-G turned to Bob-R-OSS-1.

“What do you think you could use for this mission,” he asked.

“Yes,” Bob-R-OSS-1 replied.

Sampson-G smiled.

“All right,” he said. “We have this device. Oh, this is Stanley’s too!”

Stanley-B laughed maniacally again before covering up his mouth.

The device was a long rod with a flat round device on the bottom. A small control box was on the top.

“This is a metal detector,” Sampson-G said. “It works marvelously! That’s Metal Detector PDQ-R&D-303-45. So, it works great. It works all the time. We don’t understand why anyone would think it wouldn’t work.”

“I made the right answer,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said with a grin.

Sampson-G turned to Falion-R-TIT-1.

“Ah, this is one of my own,” he said. “I would only trust you with this one. It is an experimental, computer-assisted plasma generator.”

The device looked like a typical plasma generator with a tank backpack, magnetically-sealed hose with led from the backpack to a hand projector, and a small shield on the end of the hand projector.

“What this does is, it will fire like a regular plasma generator,” Sampson-G went on.

“I like the sound of that,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “This is going to be great.”

“Now, what this does is the computer inside this device will actually help you with your aiming and firing. All you have to do is give verbal commands to the weapon system controls.”

“Nice,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 grunted.

“You tell it exactly what you want it to do and it will shoot at what you want to shoot it at,” Sampson-G went on.

He smiled and then turned to Jack-R-JRW-1.

“You people are so lucky,” Sampson-G said. “Stanley-B is giving you all of his good stuff! Her you go!”

He handed the clone a pair of boots with rockets on them.

“This is Stanley’s favorite project,” Sampson-G said. “We need to test these to find out how well they work.”

There were 12 individual rockets on each boot. A long cord went from each boot up to a belt. There were some simple controls on the belt.

“How do I operate this thing?” Jack-R-JRW-1 asked.

“That’s what we need to find out!” Sampson-G said with a wide grin.

“Beautiful,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, putting on the boots.

Sampson-G turned to Peachy-R-LCS-2.

“Finally, we salvaged this so we’re not sure who built it,” he said. “This is a portable power drill and jack hammer.”

He handed Peachy-R-LCS-2 a device that looked like a small jackhammer connected to a large battery pack. The man immediately turned it on and it pounded into the metal floor. Jake-R-SWD-1 and the R&D personnel quickly backed away. The racket was terrible.

“Don’t test it here!” Sampson-G yelled over the noise. “You might break it!”

Peachy-R-LCS-2 turned the device off.

“Test it in the field,” Sampson-G said to the clone strongly. “Don’t do it here. You might break it.”

“You and me are gonna be friends,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said to Peachy-R-LCS-2. “I got my metal detector.”

“Yeah,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said. “We’re going to find stuff.”

Sampson-G thanked them all for their cooperation.

“Is there armor that can protect you from plasma?” Jack-R-JRW-1 asked.

“I’m sure there is,” Sampson-G said offhandedly.

He made sure that they all signed documents for the piece of equipment they had been assigned, also making sure that they signed their correct name. Grund-G-GUY-3 told them to pick up their stuff.

Then Sampson-G escorted the group down the corridor to another Green door. The Green guard checked documents and tongue tattoos, then admitted the group through the door into a dark, oddly-decorated room. The entire room − floor, ceiling, and walls − was covered with closely-packed cones, with the sharp ends pointing outward from the surfaces. They appeared to be made of some soft, flexible material. The floor of the room was about three meters below the door sill: a black, slightly resilient metal mesh was suspended above the floor where they walked. There was no sound in the room. None. The Troubleshooters stuck close to Grund-G.

In the center of the room, sitting on the mesh, was a large cart loaded with bulky helmets and an instrument array the size of a steamer trunk. Sampson-G stepped to the cart and bid the mission group to follow. He handed each Troubleshooter a helmet, then placed one on his own head, gesturing for the Troubleshooters to follow suit. When they helmets were all on, he spoke.

“These Mark IV Sensory Enhancer Helmets are fitted with Computer Monitor Visual Arrays − roll your eyes up and you’ll see the monitor − and Internal Hi-Fi Three-Way Stereo Loudspeakers.

“And this,” he said, pointing to the instrument array, “is the Loyalty Officer Control Module. Who’s the loyalty officer?”

“Right here,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Oh, good,” Sampson-G went on. “From this handy station, the team loyalty officer can monitor and control all communications within the group.”

He took the instrument array and dangled it from his neck by a sturdy strap. He swayed a bit under the weight.

“The loyalty officer can now adjust the relative volumes of inter-personnel communications and environmental sound. When external noise is loud, the loyalty officer …”

He turned a dial on the controls.

“… BOOSTS THE VOLUME OF THE INTER-PERSONNEL COMMUNICATIONS …”

The noise inside the helmets was deafening, like sitting it the front row of a Twisted Sister concert. Bob-R-OSS-1 fell to the ground, passed out cold.

“Or when the environmental sounds are critical strategic information, but are at too low a volume to be clearly audible, the loyalty officer can switch over to amplified environmental sensors …”

He again twisted a dial and the helmets were filled with a hiss. Sampson-G continued talking but all they could hear was a loud hiss. Jack-R-JRW-1 kicked Bob-R-OSS-1, who stumbled to his feet and popped a couple of happy pills. Falion-R-TIT-1 tapped on the side of the helmet. Sampson-G continued to talk, unheard by anyone. Falion-R-TIT-1 made motions that he couldn’t hear Sampson-G but the clueless R&D scientists merely smiled and nodded as he kept talking.

Sampson-G eventually twisted the dial again.

“I’m glad I was able to tell you all that because if you missed any of that, it could be really bad for you,” he said.

He handed the Loyalty Officer Control Module over to Bob-R-OSS-1.

“You had the volume up, sir,” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

“What?” Sampson-G said. “Yes, I know. I turned the volume up so you could hear what a completely quiet room sounds like. This room has been modified so it’s completely quiet.”

“Yeah, but …” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“All right!” Sampson-G said, clapping his hands together. “So, there you go. Come with me!”

He led them back out into the hallway. Bob-R-OSS-1 looked over the control module as the others fiddled with their helmets. There were tongue toggles inside each helmet for changing who the clone was talking to, beverage dispensing of Bouncy Bubble Beverage, and the like. The loyalty officer could also control everything in each helmet. Bob-R-OSS-1 turned on Peachy-R-LCS-2 beverage dispenser and left it on.

“Thank you, man,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 grunted as he drank down the beverage.

Peachy-R-LCS-2 soon found himself full of beverage.

“Turn it off!” he tried to say, coughing.

He looks thirsty, Bob-R-OSS-1 thought.

Bouncy Bubble Beverage started pouring out of the bottom of Peachy-R-LCS-2’s helmet.

“Don’t waste that!” Sampson-G said to Peachy-R-LCS-2.

It eventually got all used up and, after a spray of carbonation, his helmet was empty.

“You’ll pick up your experimental transport vehicle at the motor pool,” Sampson-G said. “The techs there will brief you on its operation. Be sure to test all those devices, now, and fill out the operational report forms. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble at all.”

He checked his watch.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to the lab. Server The Computer, friends, and your service will be rewarded.”

He and his bodyguards left.

“When you test that plasma generator, let’s be behind a wall,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said to Falion-R-TIT-1.

“Is anybody thirsty?” Bob-R-OSS-1 asked.

They all agreed that they were not.

“Just let me know!”

Grund-G-GUY-3 grunted, consulted his documents, checked the motor pool coordinates by wristcom, and then ordered them to move out. They went back through R&D and returned to the autoshuttle. Grund-G-GUY-3 sat on the left side. Everyone sat on the left side with him. They noticed that the body of Peachy-R-LCS-1 was gone.

The shuttle got up to speed and everyone stood up. As they walked towards the opposite wall, the lights suddenly dimmed and lit again. The shuttle showed down and sped up several times sending them all flying. The clones were all flung around and a couple of them were injured slightly. Grund-G-GUY-3 seemed to take it in stride. The Infrareds were flung around like ragdolls but seemed fine in the end. They stumbled out of the autoshuttle and the docbot patched them up.

Grund-G-GUY-3 consulted his documents again, requested an autobus by com unit, loaded the Troubleshooters up, and off they went. Time passed. The autobus was quickly out of the familiar territory of the Red level Troubleshooters, though still in Red clearance tunnels. More time passed. Eventually, the autobus arrived and they all disembarked in a hanger with a sign that read “PDQ SECTOR R&D VEHICLE TEST FACILITIES.”

The hanger was a cross between a multi-level parking garage, a space shuttle launch pad, a submarine dry dock, and a demolition derby ring. Vehicles of all sizes, shapes, and degrees of improbability lay dormant in dusty alcoves, or trundled purposefully across the stadium-sized main room. The smell of gasoline, methane, and alcohol filled the air; guys of various clearances from R&D and Tech: Vehicles Services Division wandered about, busily checking things off on clipboards or rolling wildly around on the ground, attempting to put out the flames. From the walls, guards and combots watched the proceedings with interest.

After a few moments, two Green-level R&D guards stopped the party, checked Grund-G-GUY-3’s documents and everyone’s tongue tattoos, then led them across the room against the opposite wall. The journey was made exciting by an aircraft-carrier-sized towbot rumbling imperiously across the room, completely oblivious to the smaller, squishier creatures in its way. A couple of the clones were injured by the huge device but Grund-G-GUY-3 said the docbot would eventually get to them.

In the room they arrived at, finally, they saw a number of desks. All were empty except for one where a Red Tech staffer sat studying some manuals. When they reached him, he jumped up.

“Apprentice-in-Training-Traffic-Dispatcher Zim-R-MEM-6!” he said, introducing himself. “Hi! What are you here for?”

Grund-G-GUY-3 handed him some documents and he quickly looked them over.

“Oh!” he said. “You’re here for that! Follow me!”

He left the office followed by the Troubleshooters. He led them to a bay where the Multi-Terrain Vehicle was parked. The bay had a high ceiling and large pressure doors. The MTV itself was seven meters long and sat on the ground on folded legs. There was a door on the side and a glass canopy on top.

They started to enter the MTV and Zim-R-MEM-6 stopped them.

“Wait, not yet!” he said.

He pointed to a stack of old, battered, dusty cartons piled on a skid next to the MTV.

“Here’s the space suits R&D sent for you guys,” he said.

“Space?” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“It’s cold out there in space,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

“In the Outdoors, it’s not space,” Jack-R-JRW-1said.

“Yes, space,” Zim-R-MEM-6 simply said.

They pulled out several environmental suits with large helmets.

“Here’s the requisition form,” Zim-R-MEM-6 said, showing them the form for the space suits.

They climbed into the space suits, which were very bulky and uncomfortable. The helmets were actually big enough to fit over the other helmets. The suits were covered with dust and there were no manuals included with them. They looked like very old, cumbersome hard suits. Each had air recirculation and powerful heating/cooling systems. The controls were located on the chest of the suit, so they were hard to see. Jack-R-JRW-1 fiddled with the controls and made his suit cool.

“How did you do that?” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

Jack-R-JRW-1 reached over and manipulated the controls on his suit, cooling it.

“Is anybody thirsty?” Bob-R-OSS-1 asked.

“Not in the space suit!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“Not right now,” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

“Okay guys, who’s going to sign for this?” Zim-R-MEM-6 said.

“I vote Peachy,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Peachy has a really nice signature,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

Grund-G-GUY-3 pointed at Jack-R-JRW-1. Zim-R-MEM-6 presented him with a clipboard with some papers on it. He planned to sign it with Peachy-R-LCS-2’s name. Then he noticed that he’d gotten the wrong clipboard. The forms were detailed requests for float decorations for the Patriotic Fervor Festival.

“This is the wrong clipboard,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“What?” Zim-R-MEM-6 said. “What?”

He took the clipboard back and looked at it. Then he gasped.

“Wow,” he said. “Wow. Thank you so much!”

He searched until he found the right forms and then handed it over.

“I can’t believe I almost let that expensive piece of equipment go without it being signed for,” he said. “I would have been responsible for it.”

Jack-R-JRW-1 read over the correct forms for the Multi-Terrain Vehicle and the space suits and signed Peachy-R-LCS-2’s name on it.

Zim-R-MEM-6 stepped over to the MTV.

“She looks like a real sweet machine,” he said. “The preliminary test trials of the vehicle were very encouraging. The test data is not, alas, available at your security clearance, but you can be sure that all systems are completely operational and genuinely reliable. There’s an autopilot that should take you right where you want to go.”

The MTV had a cramped cockpit with only four seats, though there was a cargo area behind it. It looked like it was going to be a tight fit for five Troubleshooters, Grund-G-GUY-3, three Infrared, two bots, and all of the equipment they were carrying. It took them a while to get everything and everyone into the MTV, but they finally managed it. Bob-R-OSS-1 noted that he could drive the MTV.

While they were loading up, Falion-R-TIT-1 looked over the exterior of the machine. Secretly, he used his mutant power of x-ray vision but the power went horribly, horribly wrong. All he could see were bright colors. He squinted against the overload of visual information and then felt his way towards the cockpit of the MTV.

“I think he’s asking for a drink,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

“He does look thirsty,” said Bob-R-OSS-1.

“Nope! Nope!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “We’re good.”

“Dude, what’s wrong?” Peachy-R-LCS-2 asked. “Where did this sudden blindness come from?”

“Head rush,” Falion-R-TIT-1 claimed.

“Stood up too fast?” Jake-R-SWD-1 asked.

Jack-R-JRW-1 pointed his gun at the clone and muttered that perhaps they should deal with it. Falion-R-TIT-1 was getting his sight back and climbing into the MTV. Bob-R-OSS-1 pointed his gun at Falion-R-TIT-1 and asked if he was blind.

“Just leave me alone!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“That means you might not be useful to The Computer,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“What?” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “The Computer loves me!”

Bob-R-OSS-1 climbed into the pilot’s seat and turned up the helmet volume a little bit.

There was a chirp and the video screen in the middle of the control panel blinked. The word “Lucky” appeared.

“Attention, travelers,” a voice that sounded like a Miner 49-er said. “Hands and feet inside, please. I’m about to close the canopy.”

The canopy above them closed with no more than a few crunches from cartons and yelps from Infrareds and bots. There was just enough room to draw their weapons still.

“Where too, mates?” Lucky, the onboard computer, asked cheerfully.

Grund-G-GUY-3 handed a mem cartridge up to Bob-R-OSS-1.

“Slap that into that navigation slot there on the left,” he said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 put the mem cartridge into the slot.

“Hang on boys,” Lucky said. “Up, Simba.”

Zim-R waved cheerfully at them as the entire vehicle stood upon the six legs and then staggered towards the pressure doors. The doors opened to admit the MTV and then closed behind it. The vehicle was in a large, cylindrical tube. Ahead of it was another pressure door. It was very dark and quiet for a moment, and then there was a hiss of air. Water began pouring into the space.

“Why are we underwater?” Jake-R-SWD-1 asked.

“Why that’s because we’re a submarine, boy,” Lucky said.

The chamber filled with water and the outer doors open. Bug-eyed lenses forward suddenly provided a pair of illuminated cones in the darkness before the MTV. Lucky chirped.

“All ahead one-quarter!” it said. “Ding, ding!”

The MTV vibrated, shuddered, and then eased forward, nosed over, and gently plowed into the floor of the chamber. Everything inside the MTV shifted forward. Everyone managed to keep their seats, however. It was utterly silent for a moment.

“Oops,” Lucky uttered in a little whisper.

The screen changed and Zim-R-MEM-6’s face appeared upon it.

“Base to MTV!” he said. “Come in! Status report!”

The helmet speakers amplified it. Falion-R-TIT-1 was deafened.

“Say, no problem here,” the unruffled Lucky responded cheerfully. “Everything nominal. Just a little trouble adjusting to the mass of the land travel module. No problem. No sirree.”

The MTV slowly adjusted to an even keel.

“Wait,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “Why are we going in the ocean if you have a land travel module attached?”

“Look, don’t question The Computer,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Just don’t.”

He set the volume of their helmets back to normal.

“Okay, everybody stow the gear and back in your seats,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said. “And hang on this time.”

The MTV proceeded from the test station chamber down a long subterranean tunnel. Everything went smoothly that time except there as a faint sound of trickling water somewhere forward of the control panel.

“Somebody want to look around for that,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Since we are kind of packed in here.”

The clones all looked around but no one saw any water inside the cabin.

“All right,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “We’re good.”

Peachy-R-LCS-2 called back to the Infrareds, crammed into the cargo compartment, to make sure nothing was leaking back there.

“No sir,” one of them called back up. “Nothing’s leaking back here.”

“They probably wouldn’t know if it was,” Grund-G-GUY-3 muttered.

After 20 minutes of slow cruising, the MTV emerged from the tunnel and slipped into the open ocean. Sunlight filtered down through 20 feet of blue water. Stands of kelp waved to and fro in the wash of the vessel. Lucky dived to 25 meters. They were a little worried about the Blue and Green colors around them. Only Grund-G-GUY-3 was of the proper clearance level, and only for the latter.

There was a click.

“We’ve released the radio buoy to keep us in contact with Alpha Complex and The Computer,” Lucky chimed.

The water was unlike anything they’d ever seen in their lives. The fish that scattered from the front of the submarine were a mystery to the Troubleshooters. Falion-R-TIT-1 was a little disturbed to see that one seemed to have every security clearance. That didn’t make sense at all.

Lucky kept up a chatty travelogue narrative at first, noting that they were at a depth of 25 meters and proceeding towards the mainland at a speed of four knots, and that the things in the water were fish. Someone asked him what fish were and he said they were things that floated around in the water.

“Thanks Lucky,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “That’s very educational.”

The narrative continued nearly non-stop as they continued. For hours.

“Lucky, stop,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said at one point.

Lucky stopped for a bit, then talked some more. Bob-R-OSS-1 turned down the exterior sound on the helmets eventually.

Somewhere in the third hour, something went wrong.

“Gee, fellows, I think we might have a little gkkkkkkkkkkffdzprbizl,” Lucky said. “Hissssssss. SqueeeeeeeeEEEEEELLLLL! (pop).”

At that point, the MTV listed slightly to the port and began to sail in lazy circles, descending gradually toward the ocean floor.

“Turn up the volume!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said desperately. “Turn up the volume!”

Bob-R-OSS-1 turned up the volume on their helmets.

“What’s going on!?!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 tried to turn the steering wheel to the right but nothing happened. He slid the center of three sliders over but again, nothing happened. He guessed that the autopilot was still activated so he popped out the mem cartridge, flipped it over, and tried to pop it back in but it wouldn’t fit the other way.

“Thought I needed to go to side B,” he said.

He blew on it and then stuck it back in. There was no change.

Grund-G-GUY-3 looked angry.

“Should I use my jack hammer, guys?” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

“No!” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

“Maybe,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said as he tried to radio The Computer for help.

“Only in the cargo bay,” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

There was some confusion as they all started talking at once.

“Yes, citizen, how may I be of service?” the dulcet sweet tones of The Computer said.

“Uh …” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Ask how to turn off the autopilot on this machine,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“How do you disable the autopilot on an MTV?”

“What is your security clearance?” The Computer said.

“Uh … Red,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Certainly. I will connect you with the Vehicle Test Facilities. I’m sure they will be able to help you.”

“Thank you, Computer. You are the best.”

The screen went blank for what felt like a very long time. Then Zim-R-MEM-6’s face appeared.

“Are you having problems?” Zim-R-MEM-6 asked.

“Yeah … yeah,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“And you can’t fix ‘em?”

“Nah.”

“Okay … well, um, I don’t have a manual describing the operation of the experimental vehicle … um … otherwise, I’ll help you any way I can. I really don’t know anything about it. I could try to find somebody who knows … and we could call you back?”

“Do me a favor: stay on the line. Did … did you build this?”

“No, I’m an apprentice technician. I didn’t really have anything to do with it.”

“Push buttons!” Falion-R-TIT-1 hissed.

“Ask him if he knows where the autopilot is generally located,” Jack-R-JRW-1 suggested, trying to look over Bob-R-OSS-1’s shoulder at the controls.

“Uh … there’s a nuclear plant,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 stated to no one in particular.

“Try flipping these switches over here,” Jack-R-JRW-1 suggested, pointing vaguely at the controls.

“Try whacking it with your boot! That’ll fix it!” The jackobot said unhelpfully.

“Kick it,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 shrugged and kicked the control panel. Nothing apparently happened.

They all started making suggestions on which controls Bob-R-OSS-1 should try. The panel hissed a little bit and they could still hear the dripping.

Bob-R-OSS-1 grabbed a switch on the right side of the panel. It started in the middle position and it went up and down. He pushed the switch up. There was a whooshing noise and the MTV suddenly headed up very quickly. When he let go of the switch, it sprang back to the middle position.

“Up is good!” Peachy-R-LCS-2 said.

The MTV surfaced.

“You’re welcome!” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

The MTV continued to go in a large circle. There was no sign of land anywhere near.

Bob-R-OSS-1 looked over the panel again. There was a dial with an arrow that was turning slowly as they spun.

“That’s cool,” he said.

He pulled on a knob on the lower right side of the panel. It came off in his hand and the engines died, leaving them floating at sea.

“Nice,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Perfect.”

He fiddled with the steering wheel. When he turned it, there as resistance, as if it worked. He pushed down on the right-most foot pedal. It went down to the floor and didn’t come back up. He tried to pull it back up but it wouldn’t move.

“Press another pedal,” Jack-R-JRW-1 suggested.

Bob-R-OSS-1 pressed down the left-most pedal, which was a little smaller than the one on the right. It went all the way to the floor and it sounded like something big fell off the MTV.

“Nice,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Now we’ll travel lighter guys.”

He pressed down on the pedal to the right of that one. Suddenly, metal plates slammed down over the glass canopy, there was a bursting noise, the bow went down at a sharp angle, there as a roar as the engines kicked in. A warning klaxon sounded: “Ahoogah! Ahoogah! Ahoogah!”

“That was wrong!” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Press it again!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

“Turn off ambient sounds!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

Peachy-R-LCS-2 got his jack hammer ready, figuring he was about to get out of there.

Bob-R-OSS-1 grabbed the lever on the lower right side of the control panel. The klaxon stopped and the foot pedal he’s just pressed popped back out. The MTV surfaced again, though this time they were heading through the water at a decent clip. The other clones suggested that they go the direction the pointer showed.

“Grund-G, where were we headed?” Falion-R-TIT-1 asked.

Bob-R-OSS-1 turned the aimed the MTV until they were heading the direction that the arrow pointed.

“Computer?” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Yes, Citizen, how may I be of assistance?” The Computer’s gentle voice said.

“So, we got this thing going. We don’t see any land anywhere. Really fast. So, can I get someone to track our location with our little cloney things and maybe tell us to get on a heading towards where we’re supposed to be going, Computer, please?”

“I do have a radio fix on your craft. I can guide you to your destination via the compass. You must go on a compass heading of southeast.”

“So, what do I do with this steering wheel to do that thing you told me to do, Computer?”

“The arrow on the compass should point down and to the left.”

Bob-R-OSS-1 turned the craft until the arrow was pointing down and to the left. He was certain he was on course.

“Speaking of which, Computer, do you know where the brakes are on this?” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Because we’re definitely going to hit land, but I would like to hit it slower.”

“One moment please,” The Computer said.

The screen went blank again. A few moments later, Zim-R-MEM-6 appeared on the screen again. Bob-R-OSS-1 immediately hung up.

“What is the last pedal?” Jack-R-JRW-1 asked.

“The one was down and fast so maybe it’s up and slow?” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Because that’s how I’d do it.”

“And we’re already up so … slow,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “It might put up the legs again. I’m assuming the legs are pulled up, correct?”

Bob-R-OSS-1 popped open the small glove compartment. There was exposed computer equipment within and he guessed it was probably Lucky’s brain. It was very damp in the small compartment. That was obviously where the leak was. He guessed that once it dried out, Lucky would probably be fine.

“Don’t worry guys,” he said.

He shoved down on the last foot pedal, this one next to the pedal on the right. A ripple appeared ahead of the MTV as a torpedo was fired from the front of the craft. The pedal popped back up.

“Don’t worry guys, I made us a place to land,” Bob-R-OSS1 said.

He looked over the controls again. One gauge with a needle indicator on the upper left side read full. Nothing on it indicated what it was for. Another gauge with a needle indicator next to it was in the green, though there was, again, no indication what it was for. The final gauge with a needle indicator in that group was in the red zone. It looked very ominous and was, of course, unlabeled.

“We want to turn that down,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Probably nuclear stuff.”

“Might be our speed,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 looked at the upper of three slide controls on the right side of the board. It was slid all the way to the right. He moved it to the middle and, though the engines continued to roar, their speed dropped dramatically. They finally stopped in the water.

“Ah … oops,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

He pushed it to the left and the MTV started to go backwards. He pushed it back to the right. Jack-R-JRW-1 suggested he try the slider under that one, which was all the way to the left. He moved it to the middle and the engines slowed. When he got it to the middle, it was about the same humming sound that the engine had before Lucky went haywire.

He tried the lowest of the three slide controls there. It was all the way to the left and when he moved it to the middle, all of the lights went off in the cabin. When he put it all the way to the right, red lights came up. None of the gauges changed. He moved it back all the way to the left.

“How do we engage the legs?” Jack-R-JRW-1 asked. “That would be useful.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

There were three knobs, side by side, on the left side of the control panel. He pulled out the one that was the furthest to the left. A warning flashed on the display screen that read: “WARNING! DO NOT OPEN CANOPY UNLESS PERSONAL BREATHING APPARATUS IS OPERATIONAL!” He pushed it back in quickly.

He looked at a panel that was crudely bolted to the right side of the dash with lots of exposed wiring and a general sense of hasty and haphazard installation. It had a two switches and a slider.

There were two buttons on the lower right-hand side of the panel. He pushed the one further to the right but nothing apparently happened. He pushed the left one and they all suddenly heard the sound of a heavy machinegun. Splashes appeared in the water ahead. He pushed it again and the guns stopped. It was very loud and scary. He pushed the other button again, but again, nothing happened.

On the left side, coming from below the dashboard, was a separate control panel with six joysticks that moved in three dimensions.

“Legs!” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

“Oh, dear Lord!” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “What? No, that can’t be right.”

“Six legs!”

“No. That wouldn’t be …”

Bob-R-OSS-1 fiddled with the joysticks but nothing happened.

“They probably control arms and stuff,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Arms,” Falion-R-TIT-1 said. “Now that could be.”

Bob-R-OSS-1 also noticed two plastic bubbles. He tried to push them but they did not move.

“They couldn’t have given us the operation manual,” Jack-R-JRW-1 grunted.

“No, we have Lucky, right?” Falion-R-TIT-1 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 reached over to the extra control panel crudely bolted to the right side of the dash and flipped the left switch. The engines shut down and the MTV lost speed very rapidly. None of the dials changed. He flipped the switch back and the engines got going again. When he flipped the right switch, sparks came out of the glove box and Lucky muttered and screeched.

“Press the button again!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“I’m good with that, actually,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

He slid the slider under that button to the right. He was kind of mad at Lucky and wanted the computer to suffer. As he slid the slider, the entire vehicle started to roll and rumble in a strange way. As he slid it more to the right, the rolling got worse. The sub lost speed as well and he slid it back to the left as Lucky muttered, fizzed, and popped.

“He deployed the legs!” Falion-R-TIT-1 guessed.

They didn’t get their speed back so Bob-R-OSS-1 flicked the right switch back. Lucky shut up and there as a grinding noise. Then the MTV picked up speed again.

“All right,” he said. “So, I figured out how to deploy the legs AND I didn’t blow us up. You’re welcome!”

“Don’t hit any other buttons!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, poking Bob-R-OSS-1 in the back with his laser pistol. “No. More. Buttons.”

“There’s not many more buttons to push,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“One of those is the self destruct!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 took the mem cartridge out of its slot and tried to fit it in one of the other slots, but it wouldn’t fit.

“Stop it!” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, poking Bob-R-OSS-1 in the back with his laser pistol again.

Grund-G-GUY-3 shook his head.

“Whoever kills us, I will kill,” he said. “Remember that.”

He glared at Jack-R-JRW-1 and Bob-R-OSS-1.

“What if I just kill him?” Jack-R-JRW-1 said, pointing at Bob-R-OSS-1.

“If it doesn’t kill me, I don’t care,” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

Good to know, Jack-R-JRW-1 thought.

Bob-R-OSS-1 pushed the middle of three buttons on a small panel. Nothing seemed to happen. He pushed the left button. Nothing happened. He pushed the right button. Nothing happened.

“If you shot him, there’d be no place to put his body and we couldn’t work around it,” Peachy-R-LCS-2 pointed out to Jack-R-JRW-1 in a rare moment of clarity.

“That’s true,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said. “All right. I’ll shoot you after we get off.”

“So, I have to land you and prove that I didn’t put you in danger before you’ll shoot me,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Yes, yes you do,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said.

“Done!”

“If I survive, I’ll won’t shoot you.”

“That’s only fair.”

“If I don’t live, I’ll shoot you.”

“That’s fair.”

“You’re a bunch of idiots!” Grund-G-GUY-3 said.

Bob-R-OSS-1 looked over the controls.

“One of them is the self destruct button,” Jack-R-JRW-1 said again.

Bob-R-OSS-1 flicked the lower of two switches just to the right of the steering wheel. Words flashed on the display screen.

“WARNING: SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE IS NOW IN PROGRESS. TO DISENGAGE SELF-DESTRUCT, FOLLOW STANDARD PROCEDURES. THANK YOU.”

Bob-R-OSS-1 flicked the switch back. Nothing happened for about brief moment.

“SIXTY … FIFTY-NINE …” blared over the loudspeakers as the plastic bubble on the upper left started blinking.

Bob-R-OSS-1 flicked the switch back and forth desperately. Everyone else drew their laser pistols.

“Open the canopy!” Falion-R-TIT-1 screamed.

“What did we just tell you!?!” Jake-R-SWD-1screamed.

“Open the canopy!” Falion-R-TIT-1 screamed again.

“Pull the canopy!” Jack-R-JRW-1 screamed.

“FIFTY-SEVEN …”

“Hang on,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Let me think.”

“FIFTY-SIX …”

“Hit the canopy!” Falion-R-TIT-1 screamed again.

“FIFTY-FIVE …”

“Try the lever again!”

“FIFTY-FOUR …”

Bob-R-OSS-1 pulled the lever on the right side of the panel again. The MTV seemed to try to pull up but nothing else happened.

“Interesting,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Interesting.”

“Open the canopy!” Falion-R-TIT-1 screamed.

“Open the canopy!” Jack-R-JRW-1 screamed.

“FIFTY-THREE …”

Bob-R-OSS-1 hit the switch on the panel that had obviously been added to the main dash.

“FIFTY-TWO …”

Lucky buzzed and tried to talk without saying anything coherent again.

“Hey, buddy,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said. “Turn off the self destruct.”

“FIFTY-ONE …”

Lucky continued to buzz, hiss, crackle, and pop.

“She’ll be comin’ round the mountain …” Lucky shrieked.

“FIFTY …”

He turned Lucky back off.

“FORTY-NINE …”

He popped the glove compartment open and tried, quickly, to dry off Lucky’s components with his gloves, but realized how futile that would be.

“FORTY-EIGHT …”

Jack-R-JRW-1 aimed his laser pistol at the canopy and fired, hoping to break the glass. The laser beam burned a small hole about an inch across in the glass.

Bob-R-OSS-1 grabbed the middle knob on the left side of the dash and pulled it. The canopy glass opened. Seeing his opportunity, Jack-R-JRW-1 activated the rocket boots and flew out of the opening. Falion-R-TIT-1 leapt desperately after him as Bob-R-OSS-1 pulled the knob to the right of the one he just pulled and an armored canopy slammed closed. Falion-R-TIT-1 slammed into the armored canopy and fell back down into the cockpit.

“Damn it!” he yelled.

* * *

Outside, Jack-R-JRW-1 shot straight up as he tried to get control of the rocket boots. He went up about eight meters and then started heading away from the MTV as quickly as he could, which wasn’t very quickly. The MTV actually passed under him, as he was heading the same direction. He turned to his left and headed away as quickly as he could, which was about as fast as a man walking.

* * *

“FORTY-SEVEN …”

Bob-R-OSS-1 tried to shove the knob he’d broken off on the right back into place.

“FORTY-SIX …”

He flicked the switch that he’d used when the MTV had crash dived before, but this time flicked it down. The MTV started to submerge. He flicked the switch back up.

“FORTY FIVE …”

“Open the canopy!” Falion-R-TIT-1 yelled again.

“Computer!” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“FORTY-FOUR …”

“Yes, may I be of assistance?” the soothing voice of The Computer said.

“FORTY-THREE …”

“Can you remotely disable the self-destruct of an MTV?” Bob-R-OSS-1 asked.

“FORTY-TWO …”

“What is your Security−?”

“Red.”

“FORTY-ONE …”

“I’m sorry, that information is not available at your security level.”

“Is there a manual way? Still red.”

“I’m sorry, that information is not available at your security level.”

“FORTY …”

“Grund-G, if you don’t want to die, please ask The Computer if−” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

“It’s not going to tell me!” Grund-G-GUY-3 grunted. He slapped Bob-R-OSS-1 in the back of the head. “Fix it! Fix it!”

Bob-R-OSS-1’s head bounced around inside the space suit helmet.

“Make it stop!” Grund-G-GUY-3 yelled.

Bob-R-OSS-1 pressed the left button in the group of three just right of the monitor. Nothing happened.

“THIRTY-NINE …”

Falion-R-TIT-1 reached tried to reach around Bob-R-OSS-1 to try to open the canopy. He pulled the leftmost knob and a small warning came up on the screen. It read: “WARNING! DO NOT OPEN CANOPY UNLESS PERSONAL BREATHING apparatus IS OPERATIONAL!” He pushed the knob next to that one back in and the canopy slammed shut. Then he pushed the next knob in and the armored canopy flew open once again. He screamed in frustration!

“THIRTY-EIGHT …”

Meanwhile, Bob-R-OSS-1 shoved down on the leftmost foot petal again. There was a grinding noise and the MTV actually picked up some speed. He pressed on the pedal next to that one and the armored canopy slammed shut once again and the bow started to head down. Klaxons started blaring. He grabbed the lever on the right and pulled it. The MTV headed upwards and the klaxons ceased.

“THIRTY-SEVEN …”

Falion-R-TIT-1 pulled the knobs on the left and got both the canopy and the armored canopy opened, finally. The Infrareds were all screaming. Meanwhile, Bob-R-OSS-1 quickly manipulated the six control sticks on the small panel to the left. Nothing happened.

“Something’s wrong,” the jackobot said cheerfully. “Something’s really wrong.”

“THIRTY-SIX …”

Falion-R-TIT-1 climbed over Bob-R-OSS-1 to try to get out of the MTV.

“THIRTY-FIVE …”

Jake-R-SWD-1 reached over and flicked the switch that had started the self-destruct sequence in the first place.

“THIRTY-TWO …”

Then he shoved the lever on the right, but pulled it back up when the bow dipped again.

“Stop!” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

“Then you do something, damn it!” Jake-R-SWD-1 said.

“THIRTY-THREE …”

Bob-R-OSS-1 flipped the left switch on the cobbled on panel to the right and the MTV slowed.

“THIRTY-TWO …”

He pressed the left button of the two on the right side of the dash. The guns forward opened fire again. Falion-R-TIT-1 had almost climbed completely out of the cramped cockpit when the guns started going off. He screamed in terror.

“THIRTY-ONE …”

The right warning light started flashing. Bob-R-OSS-1 pressed the rightmost of the two buttons and the recited countdown stopped. Both warning lights went out.

“Cool,” Bob-R-OSS-1 said.

* * *

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