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Approx. 2900 words

All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2015   SJ

The Zone:

Contract Mission


written by  SJ



    Once Lana Lyu LaFong had obtained the rank of Lieutenant, she officially became a Level 4 Special Ops Space Marine, a rank that cannot be gained by training, but by the completion of missions. As for the Cheyenne Rangers, she was officially assigned to Scout Platoon Headquarters. However, as a Level 4 Special Ops Marine, she was allowed to take on contract long as they didn’t interfere with her Space Marine missions, meaning, until she became a Level 5, all of those missions had to go through Major Taliaferro. She ended up receiving the offer for a contract mission at the same time as the Major did; she met with him in his office the same day.
    “I’m still not sure about all the details, but the Tau on New Tau’n asked for you specifically.” The Major began. “Apparently, they have been experimenting on ways to prevent WARP openings, and have developed a device, that once turned on, will create an encompassed area where WARP openings cannot exist. Obviously, I’m sure, once they perfected the device, they intended it to be used on a planetary scale.” He made a face. “However, it seems the device still has a few bugs in it.”
    “So, there’s no exact Chaos threat at this time?” Lana asked.
    He shook his head. “No. But, if they’re successful with this device, and can develop it for use on a planetary scale...well, I think we can both understand why that would be very useful.”
    “You know, I not a scientist.” Lana didn’t understand. “Do you know what they want me to do? Their message didn’t say.”
    “I received the same message,” the Major said, then explained. “I called them, and they said it was simple.” He grinned. “All they want you to do is...turn the device off.”
    Lana learned she could take anyone she wanted on her contract mission as long as they were paid a portion of the contract...and, of course, if they were available. When she called the Tau executive in charge of, what was now considered, a rescue operation, he told her she should come alone. However, she decided to bring one person with her, Staff Sergeant Hank Ramcke, the team sniper. However, Corporal Rodman Zane was there also, wanting to go, saying he wouldn’t even need to be offered a share of the contract. Before Lana could say no, Hank said he would prefer to stay behind on this mission; let Zane take his place. When the Corporal reiterated his offer to not take a share of the contract, Lana told him, no; he’d have to take Hank’s share. But, if he wanted to, he could help load equipment. When she told him to load only one Scout combat bike, he told her he had just recently qualified with it, after which he helped to load two of the vehicles, making sure his Mk. I mastercrafted Scout heavy bolter was on the shuttle as well.
    It was a 3.5 day jump to New Tau’n; once she had clearance from the OSS, she was contacted by Tomash Narga, a Terran/Tau male, the executive officer in charge of the rescue operation. She followed the guidance beacon down to the planet, where she landed near some Tau farmlands, next to a collection of prefab buildings. There, she was met by the current team of rescue personnel: Aside from Tomash himself, there were four Tau males and two Vespid males.
    During the early years of exploration by the Tau Sept Worlds, the Tau met the Vespids, a race that had spaceships, but as yet, had not been able to invent a jump drive. They quickly became friends and joined the Galactic community, some of them eventually migrating to the Sol Frontier. On New Tau’n they lived on the tops of the many rocky peaks which ranged over a large area of ocean swamps.
    Executive Tomash Narga greeted Lieutenant LaFong, telling her to call him, Tom. The four Tau males, were busy on computers, each involved in their own tasks. Lana introduced Corporal Zane, whereas, Tom, introduced the two Vespids, then said they were part of a small Stingwing squad, only two of them.
    There was a table nearby, and the Executive invited Lana to sit down while he explained the problem.
    First, Tom decided to ask Lana how much she knew about the situation, for which she answered with what little she knew. Then, he began, trying to start at the beginning: “Approximately three months ago, they began testing the Anti-WARP device at the Tam’yaldar Research Facility. And, from what I’ve heard, everything proceeded just as they expected, starting out small, at first, then gradually widening the area covered.”
    “How were they planning on testing the device?” Lana asked.
    “That’s a good question.” Tom nodded, then explained. “You realize there was no way for us to create actual WARP openings, nor would we want, to put it simply, they used pseudo WARP openings. They were obviously not, in any way, functional openings, but they created all the equivalent energy of an WARP opening.” He raised his eyebrows with approval. “The Mont’ka worked great.”
    “That’s what they began calling the device. A very old word meaning ‘killing blow’.    
    Lana nodded.
    “They continued to expand the encompassing zone of the Mont’ka until it covered the Research Facility, and a little way beyond. Shortly, after that, they planned to shut it down and do a series of tests.” He sighed. “That’s when the trouble started. They couldn’t turn it off.”
    “Wasn’t there a some kind of fail-safe--”
    “YES.” Tom exclaimed, knowing what Lana was about to say. “There were several remote fail-safe switches--none which worked. The last thing we heard from the Tam’yaldar Research Facility was that they were sending some people inside to manually turn it off.”
    “What happened?”
    “We don’t know. Obviously they were not successful.” On a pad computer he brought up a map, pointing. “Right here is the Research Facility...about three and half kilometers east of our location here.” He pointed at a closer location. “Right here, about 500 meters away, is a military check point. We have check points on all the other roads leading to the Facility as keep civilians out.” He raised his eyebrows for emphases. “But, they are all on the outside of the Zone, except one.” He continued to point at the first check point. “Only this one is INSIDE.”
    “The Zone?”
    “That’s what we are calling the area which the Mont’ka is now covering.”
    Lana frowned one eyebrow. “That’s quite a bit larger than the Research Facility.”
    “Yes..we know!” Tom was not happy. “The initial area suddenly expanded. We don’t know how they stopped it from expanding further, but we’re glad they did.”
    “Have you learned anything from the people inside?”
    Tom shook his head sharply. “We cannot contact anyone inside the Zone. All communications have been cut off.”
    “So you have NO idea what’s going on inside?” Lana was surprised. “How about--”
    “We have very few non-wireless, direct connections inside the Zone.” He frowned. “What few there were, we are guessing, since they were older communication devices, were shorted out when the Zone expanded.” He sighed, upset about recalling past events. “We’ve sent people inside the Zone to try and make contact with someone--anyone. NONE of them have returned.”
    “NO ONE has ever returned from the Zone?” Lana found it hard to believe.
    “Nine days after the Zone expanded, two people came out, found by the Vespids about one kilometer to the north. They were only workers and had no idea what was going on or how it happened. The only thing they could tell us was that people were acting strangely.”
    “There was a man and a woman, both Tau.” Tom explained. “They said at the Research Facility, people began wandering around aimlessly, confused. They couldn’t start their car, so they decided to walk out of the area on foot. When we found them, the man had very little memory of his time there. What information we did receive was from the woman. And even she had memory gaps, saying they were able to get some food and water from one of the stores along the road. She said the people she met there acted angry and confused--so they traveled off the road from there on.”
    Lana sat thinking, then mentioned. “Have you tried drones?”
    “Yes! That’s one of the first things we tried. But, they stop working once they got further into the Zone.”
    “Sounds like a continuous pulsing EMP bomb.”
    Tom nodded. “Yes. That’s what we thought also...even though I’m sure that’s not what they had planned.”
    “Do you know what they did have planned?
    He shook his head miserably. “The only people that know that are still inside the the Research Facility.”
    Lana frowned and sighed. “And you have no idea why they don’t just walk out on their those two workers did?”
    He sat and shook his head, sighed, then pointed west. “The check point over there has five Fire Team Warriors armed with pulse carbines commanded by an officer. Why THEY don’t come out...I have NO IDEA.”
    Lana shrugged. “Maybe they still think they’re guarding the check point?”
    “They’ve been in there for almost a Galactic month!” Tom exclaimed. “Surely, when they found their communications cut, they would’ve sent someone out to see what was going on.”
    “...or to send someone for pizza.” Lana added, almost joking.
    “FOOD!” Tom was not joking. “They have to be running out of food in there.” He looked at her sadly. “If we can’t do something soon, all we’re going to find in there is a bunch of dead bodies.” He sat thinking for a few seconds before mentioning, “about ten days ago, the Ethereal High Executive in charge of the whole Tam’yalder research operation authorized the hiring of a Tau Special Forces officer. He went inside wearing a XV25 stealthsuit hoping to bypass the check point. No one has heard from him since.”
    “Did he have a burst cannon for his--”
    Tom was already nodding. “And some EMP grenades.”
    “Let me guess.” Lana already knew. “Captain Bant’ra?”
    “You know him?
    “I’ve read about him.” She nodded. “He started out as a Pathfinder, a good scout, and doesn’t use battlesuits.”
    He shrugged, obviously not knowing as much about the Tau Special Forces officer as she did.
    But, there was one question Lana needed answered before doing anything. “Tom, after all these other people went inside the Zone and didn’t come back. Why do you think I will do better?”
    He delayed, then answered quite frankly. “Because you’re a woman.”
    “Because I’m a woman?”
    “Of the two people that came out, it was the woman that seemed to be less affected by the effects of the Zone.” He smiled. “And, of course, you are Special Forces. Let’s say, it’s the combination of the two that gives me the most hope for your success.”
    She only had to think a second before asking her next question. “You know, there had to be more women working at the Research Facility than just a few. If they were less affected by the Zone, why didn’t more of them make it out...or help others to get out?”
    He sat nodding, thinking the same thing, but having an answer. “One day before this all happened, there was some kind of event at a nearby town.” He pointed west. “It was a weekend and many of the women that worked there wanted two days off to attend. If it hadn’t been for that, more people would’ve been trapped inside the Zone.” He smiled. “We can be thankful for that.”
    Lana agreed, but then thought of another possible problem. “Captain Bant’ra...why do you think he tried to bypass the check point? Did he think the check point soldiers were violent?”
    Tom frowned an almost became angry. “I thought of that also. In fact, I feared it.” From a nearby desk, he picked up a belt which had a long cord attached to it. “A couple days ago, I tried to prove they were not violent. I put on this belt and handed the cord to my assistants. I walked into the Zone a little at a time, then had myself pulled back out after so much time had gone by. I got within one hundred meters of the check point. I saw two guards standing on both sides of the road next to a couple guard shacks, the road blocked by a wooden fence.” He became more serious. “I waved to them, tried to get their attention...tried to see if they would shoot at me.” He smiled weakly. “They didn’t. I wanted to go closer, but I was at the end of the cord.” He sighed, disappointed. “Also, I was having trouble thinking. I was confused and forgot where I was. I didn’t remember anything until after I was pulled out.” There was a delay as he looked down, then up again, staring at Lana. “I’ve told you everything I know. High Executive Aun Ho’sarn Jilau has authorized me to pay you 100,000 credits for successful completion of this job, 10,000 just for trying. But, I wouldn’t blame you if you got back on your shuttle and went home.”
    Lana only had to think for a couple seconds. “Sure, I’ll go.”
    He almost smiled, but had trouble doing so, knowing how dangerous it was, hoping he wasn’t sending her on a suicide mission. “Essentially, the job is simple: turn off the Mont’ka. But, in order to do that, you’ll have to find the scientists in charge...which means going to the Research Facility. The one thing we know for sure is that the closer you get to that Facility, the worse the mental effects are.”
    Zane had already dropped the back hatch of their Special Ops shuttle and was preparing some equipment. Tom looked inside and had to advise: “Those Combat bikes are not going to work for very long inside the Zone. And that Tau force shield may not work either.”
    “How about those pulse carbines the check point guards are using?” Lana began asking.
    “We think those are operational because they are located on the outer edge of the Zone.” Tom was making an educated guess. “I’m willing to bet even those may malfunction once they get closer to the source of the Zone. Captain Bant’ra was given the same offer as you were for a successful completion of the mission. However, he might have found all his equipment failing once he got to the Research Facility, assuming he got that far. He took along a knife and an auto pistol as a backup. Of course, with any of this, we are only guessing.”
    Lana shrugged. “Well, do I need to take any weapons at all?”
    “Yes.” He didn’t hesitate. “The woman that escaped the Zone said the wildlife in there was getting violent, possibly affected by the Zone. The man she was with was attacked by a Timit, a small rodent that usually runs away. There are some larger animals in there, so you might need to protect yourself.”
    “I guess I’ll just take my two 9.1s” She shrugged. “I’m not expected to get into a least, I hope not.”
    Zane stood eager, then asked, “what equipment do you want me to take?”
    Both Lana and Tom shook their head. She answered firmly. “You not going. Haven’t you been listening to what we’ve been talking about?”
    He was about to say something.
    Lana began ordering. “I want you to stay here and be ready in case I need you.”
    He was going to ask a question.
    “And the only way I’m going to be able to contact you, is if I’m successful in getting that device turned off...which is the ONLY way you’re going to be allowed to go in there.”
    “What if you don’t--” The Corporal stopped himself before finishing his question.
    She raise an eyebrow. “Don’t come out?” She sighed and looked at Tom. “How long do I have to complete this mission. I mean, is there a time limit?”
    He didn’t look too worried about time. “Well, after about another twenty days we had plans to make a bombing attack on the Research try and destroy the Mont’ka.” He shrugged. “After that much time, we figure everyone inside will be out of food. A bombing attack will be our last resort to keep people from starving.”
    “If I’m in there that long, I’ll try to get any survivors clear of the target area.”
    Tom nodded, happy to hear her say that.
    “But, you’re not going to be in there that long, right?” Zane gave his support.
    She smiled and decided to be pleasant. “I hope not...but, in this case, I think it’s best for you to stay here until the device is turned off--and until I call for you.”





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