Federation-Apocalypse Session 117b – The Pack Mentality

   The kidnaped children were being held in one of the industrial areas, where there was plenty of noise to drown them out, machinery moving about and regular mechanical cleaning with to cover any physical traces, and inconvenient bodies could simply be dumped straight into the recycling systems.

   There were supposed to be alarms that would pick up on large living things in where they didn’t belong – but they never had anything to report. It looked to Sasha like they might be entirely inoperative. At least none of them seemed to have gone off for quite some time. Was that just having nothing to report, poor maintenance, or something more sinister? Still, they had to save those kids.

   The industrial sectors were generally limited-access with some basic guards to keep out saboteurs and – far more often – to redirect people who’d gotten lost. A lot of raw materials moved in and out of course, but that would be a rather risky approach.

   The workers and janitors and such went in and out of course, but their access was pretty limited. Engineers could get in almost anywhere, but there were relatively few of them. Technicians and repairmen probably had the best access for their purposes… The industrial areas were mostly in the underground or lower levels, so there was access from above – but generally not easy access.

   Wait! Those sectors did pull a lot of power and water; interruptions there might be good diversions – and all that piping and cabling would need access tunnels.

   So… The closest major power plant was nuclear – an old-style fission breeder reactor, using 238 and thorium – and the next closest was hydroelectric. The plants themselves were pretty closely guarded of course, but there were plenty of vulnerable connections… The power grid was mostly underground, and the access points are electronically locked and alarmed, but there were no human guards on anything but the most critical junctures. It looked like there were simply too many tunnels spread over too wide an area for effective patrols. It would call for a small army of guards, and the Linear Realms couldn’t spare that many workers.

   Sasha went looking to see what wires they could pull. It had been easy enough to pull some basic maps of the layout, but actually getting in would be harder.

   Hm… They could probably crack the access restrictions, but they might set off more alarms. It would be a lot easier to get a technician with legal access to those areas to open a hatch for them. There were plenty of them out there – and they could get the basic list of who was working where easily enough. How to go about it though? Bribery? That made a dog’s fur crawl! Maybe say the system needs a retuning and fast talk their way through?

   Well, maybe over an electronic connection, rather than in person. The locals weren’t used to talking Neodogs after all.

   They picked a handy junction, called in a trouble report under a phony identity, and requested a technician.

(Tech) “What kind of symptoms have you got? That’s cabling, sparks, heating, a short? I’ll check for major power drains; that could start fires pretty easy.”

(Sasha) “Well, it’s very hot and I think I heard crackling inside.”

(Tech) “Damn! I’m not showing much on the readings; either they’re buggered again or it’s on fire already! I’ll be sending someone right out – but this had better not be a phony report; I’ve got your ID logged, and that can get you into real trouble!”

   Sasha felt a bit guilty over that. It wasn’t right to be fooling people, to make phony reports, or to give the technicians extra trouble to deal with!

   Still, the children took priority – and she liked to think that the technicians would volunteer to help if they knew what was going on.

   Fires were a serious threat in the linear developments. They had a technician out in short order.

   A bit Witchsight to guide their powers, the Hand of Shadows to provide a few modest shorts, and Witchfire to provideda real – if non-serious – fire gave them a bit of burned insulation and a good reason for the technicians to open things up to do some checking.

   It wasn’t long before they had a small technical crew, some barriers set up, a fire inspector, and a small bustle of activity there. It was nice to see that the locals were being fairly efficient about repairs. While the chief technician – probably a manager-type – tended to make impossible demands, and ranted about wastage, the younger ones seemed a lot more practical.

   In any case, the access hatches were open, and a bit of beglamourment and illusion got them in. That didn’t seem to disturb the technicians – but the fire inspector was prowling around and seemed pretty suspicious. Trying to distract him with more glamour simply made him even MORE suspicious… A sensitive? The realm did run towards psychics.

   Hm… His record showed that he might well have a trace of ability. He was very VERY good at locating potential fire hazards. Blast; they needed to get in the hatch before he got REALLY suspicious. He was prowling around muttering about how he didn’t see how that much heat could have built up…

   They settled for the old distracting-noise-while-they-made-a-run-for-it routine. It wasn’t as if the locals were particularly on the watch for psychic dogs…

   The power conduits in the industrial sector were a bit dusty, over-warm, and reeked of concrete efficiency – but there were regular code-markers to keep them oriented on their maps. The main power feeds led to a distribution subsystem. From there, there were a dozen or so possible routes – eight into active sectors, two down for maintenence, one on partial production, and one currently being decontaminated after a bad chemical spill. They’d be safe enough thanks to their smartcollars, but the locals would need chemsuits. They could get in that way, but it wouldn’t be a viable way to leave again with thirty children.

   They went in through one of the sectors under maintenance. One of the plastics-forming and recycling sectors, with a sideline in hydrocarbon reclamation. What little they had suggested that the kids were being kept in the plastics-forming section.

   The conduits wound up in a heavy safety grid, with a selection of electronic alarms. The scene beyond that is moderately busy, with at least two crews working on machines, along with a selection of simple sweeper robots. There was a couple of feet of clearance beneath the catwalks if they got past the grid though – which wasn’t bad for a neodog, and would be no trouble at all if they used shapeshifting. Magic was a strictly limited resource in this world though, would it be better to save it for later?

   There wasn’t a lot of time though – and rat-forms could squeeze through the safety grid without setting off any alarms and could easily creep past most of the other obstacles.

   The plastics-forming section had a selection of disused storage areas for production overruns – all locked, and all pretty miserable. One, however, had a sign proclaiming that a structural collapse was under repair – and two guys who read as guards, even if they were pretending to be taking a break. That same telepathic check showed signs of life beyond the door – a lot of youthful misery and, with a few moments of listening, some faint sounds.

   Those poor kids!

   What did they have to work with? A few tools scattered artfully about, a bench and table, the sign itself, a couple of boxes (suitable for lunches), sodas, and clipboards with assorted paperwork. The men themselves were carrying concealed weapons of course…

   They weren’t being very nice, but they were still human. They didn’t want to hurt them – and they didn’t want an open fight if they could avoid it either. Still, a telekinetic and witchfire distraction to keep them focused down the corridor – and a little sleep-beglamourment – should be enough to take them out.

   Perhaps unwisely, they decided on some gunfire noises to make SURE to focus their attention. That brought out the concealed guns. One of the guards triggered some sort of alarm and stayed by the door behind the bench – while the other moved down the corridor very cautiously.

   That hadn’t exactly been what they’d had in mind, but it let them focus their massed efforts on them one at a time – which made it a lot easier. They put the one behind the bench to sleep, and then took out the one in the corridor, who was trying to figure out what was going on.

   There was… Hm. Panic coming from inside the storage area.

   The door was sealed with a key-card and code-input. The card was on one of the guards, and was easy enough to find – but probing their minds for the code took several minutes. The panic was fading however, which was something of an improvement!

   Could they get in before reinforcements turned up? They set up a few obstacles – even if there wasn’t all that much to work with – and kept working on the door. A bit of illusion to cover up the facts that the guards were missing might delay things a bit more. One of them would have to stay to control it – but that left two to see what was going on now that the door was finally open.

   There were a couple more people coming this way; they seem to be looking for something – so they covered up the open door with more illusion and headed in.

   Their smartclothes reported atmospheric contamination – a fairly unpleasant set of hydrocarbons, that would cause swift unconsciousness and – with too much overexposure – would eventually be fatal. There were a couple of kids – rather hurriedly being tossed onto a trolley and moved by a couple of men in oxygen masks. It looked like they were working their way through the last couple of small rooms that had been being used for cells down at the end of the corridor…

   Sasha and her pack were sufficiently outraged that they simply blasted them into unconsciousness as soon as they set down the kids they were currently holding. They needed to get the kids out of this toxic atmosphere!

   Reverting to normal form gave them custody of four unconscious youngsters – but there were a rather a lot more pallets and such than that around though. Where were the other kids?

   They ran another set of mind probes – not nearly as gentle and patient as the last set.

   It was pretty easy, perhaps due to the guys fundamental nervousness. The last four were supposed to go down the recycling conveyor like the others if the alarm was sent.

   RECYCLING CONVEYOR?!

   NO!

   It was… down the far end, beyond a safety shield. It was there in case a production overrun turned out to be unwanted. And these men had been sending kids down it! That was SO wrong! They had to save them! It… ran down two levels to the organic reprocessing center. The guard wasn’t sure how long it took though; it wasn’t like it normally mattered…

   There wasn’t time for conserving power any longer. They levitated he foud they had and took them along. Taking them down the conveyor might be dangerous – but they pretty obviously wouldn’t be very safe if they were left behind! And at least it would get them out of that gas!

   They overtook another eight unconscious kids along the way before the conveyor – not too unexpectedly – emptied into a giant reprocessing bin. They added them to the floating collection, even if it did start pushing their telekinetic limits. They could handle a few more – but not more than five or six at most! Could they drape some on their backs physically? Maybe four or five of the smaller ones…

   The end of the conveyor has already dumped another dozen or so; still unconscious, but at least the ones on the bottom broke the fall of the ones on top. Of course, that left the poor kids at the bottom shoved into the rubbish and goop – and in urgent need of medical attention. Broken bones, internal bleeding, inhaled rubbish, one with some fairly extensive brain damage – although she would live if they could get her lungs clear, and magic could heal the neural damage in Kadia.

   First aid took priority – and didn’t leave them with much power in reserve.

   By the time they were done, some of the kids were starting to stir – and the back wall was beginning to push everyone forward – towards a shaft that dropped into some sort of chopping device designed to break everything up for reprocessing. Non-corrosive steel alloy walls, no place to get out of the way, the alarms and emergency stops seemed to have been disabled externally, and there were no convenient areas that wouldn’t be swept – well, they would have defeated the purpose anyway. Enough damage might shut things down. They might be able to weld the pushing wall to the floor with witchfire… Oh well, if they just blew a hole in the pushing wall, there had to be a space behind it.

   This was desperate enough to warrant using more magic – and that made burning through the wall easy enough. It was a minor nuisance to line up all the kids so that the wall would pass over them – but it was better than being chopped up!

   Behind the wall there was a great big hydraulic piston, some control relays and sensors – and the kids were waking up, not unexpectedly hysterical. Well, stuck was always better than dead.

(Sasha) “We’ve come to save you and take you to a refuge!”

   Too bad they weren’t carrying more tools. Stealth missions – and pretending to be normal dogs – was pretty limiting that way.

   It was kind of embarrassing to admit it – but the best option at the moment was to call for another team to bring more medical gear, let them out, and help them transport the kids.

(Sasha) “Thank you very much!”

(Backup) “Hey, it’s hard to maneuver easily with two dozen injured kids! You’re very welcome!”

   They sent the kids back to Kadia – and began making plans to do something about the local “authorities” and their murderous henchmen. The kids didn’t have too much information – but they had some faces recorded, and had been mind-probing. It was time to do some research.

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