Obvious Conversation

Better gaming through discussion

Sunday, February 18, 2018

04 - Spearhead

Luci was still running up the stairs in her mind, but in reality, she was running across the drug lab. She ran straight into a lab table. The impact pulled her out of the memory.

Beneath her feet, she noticed the crack on the floor. It had grown, and it was growing visibly as she stared at it. She looked around the room and realized that William and Owen were both back from their memories too. Aaronson was not far behind Luci, he had been trying to spot her as she darted across the room before waking up.

“Where were you this time?”, Aaronson asked. Luci explained that first they were in a corridor, then they went down to the East Entrance Lobby, and from there she gained access to a security terminal where she saw Aaronson running down a hall towards the Cooler.

Before Aaronson could respond, Luci asked him, “What were you really trying to accomplish down there?”

“I've told you this already,” Aaronson replied, “I was trying to shut the program down, to end it for good.” Aaronson continued, “It started with deleting the data, but I needed to remove all physical traces of C-1011 as well. That's why I needed to be in the Cooler. That's why I needed to vent the chemical.”

“Who you running from?” Luci questioned him. Aaronson told her that he was running from Jackson, herself, Owen, and William. Luci was confused and Aaronson could tell from her face. He continued saying, “You were there every step of the way, you're the one who locked us in here, and you're the one who stopped me back in the server room.”

The server room, Luci thought. She had no recollection of it. When she didn't respond, Aaronson asked her, “You don't remember the server room do you, you haven't reconsolidated that memory yet have you?” Luci shook her head no.

Lucy knew that Aaronson was trying to sabotage the C-1011 program by deleting the data and destroying all of the chemicals in the storage tanks. However, based on the memory from the Cooler, it seemed clear that Aaronson had not been successful in destroying the chemical in the Cooler. It also seemed as though he have been foiled in the server room, but how? She couldn't recall. Aaronson was still fighting though, she could sense it. What was he still after, she wondered.

By that point Owen and William had walked over and were inspecting the growing crack. Suddenly without warning, Owen had a flashback. He was being escorted into an interrogation room after his clinical trial the previous week.

A guard was holding him up. Owen was weak and could barely stand on his own. Behind him he could hear the shuffle of two others. Once in the interrogation room he was sat down on a chair and a young man was assisted into a chair next to him by another guard. The two guards left Owen and the young man alone in the interrogation room.

Owen looked at the young man beside him, his leg was positioned at an odd angle which looked very uncomfortable. The young man appeared to be feeling woozy too. “Who are you”, Owen asked the young man, “how did we get here?”

“My name is Jackson”, the young man replied, “I'm here on the loan.” Then the memory faded and Owen was back in the drug lab, Jackson's words ‘on loan’ still echoing in his ear.

The flashback had him caught on off guard, but then again, he remembered his first experience with C-1011 and what that memory reconsolidation process had been like. In the hours after the interrogation room following the clinical trial, Owen recalled his brain feeling like it was bouncing to and fro, making connections, and remapping itself thru a series of seemingly unconnected and random memories in an attempt to make sense of his temporary amnesia.

“What did Jackson mean when he said he was on loan?” Owen blurted out. To everyone, the question was completely out of context, but Aaronson had obviously been through enough clinical trial debriefings to recognize the signs of memory reconsolidation. He answered Owen without batting an eye.

Aaronson explained that by the time Jackson had finished his clinical trial with Owen, that he had been with Spearhead for months and had conducted three previous C-1011 trials. Luci and Owen only knew fragments of Jackson's past, but the history that Aaronson proceeded to reveal was nothing new to William.

Jackson was a Marine. He had caught his leg in a lift on a Navy ship. The lift forced Jackson's leg back upon itself at the knee and nearly tore his leg off. There was not a square inch of Jackson's leg from his knee up to his groin that wasn't covered in scar tissue from the accident. Immediately after the accident, Jackson was operated on by Navy surgeons onboard the ship.

During the operation the surgeons discovered that Jackson had an extremely high pain tolerance and an even higher resistance to anesthetics. At first they considered amputation, but Jackson's tolerance of pain and fighting spirit convinced them to leave the limb attached. Jackson was then turned over to another team of surgeons who were given high level clearance to perform experimental reconstructive surgery on his leg in an attempt to restore functionality.

Jackson went through countless surgeries and months of excruciating rehabilitation. In the end, the best the surgeons could do was to give him limited mobility, which in and of itself, was an incredible accomplishment given the severity of his injury. Jackson's mobility was not without consequence though, he was in an incredible amount of pain 24 hours a day which required a considerable regimen of pain medications.

As Interesting as Jackson's history was, it still didn't help to explain why Luci, Owen, and William had been working together with Jackson against Dr. Aaronson just a few hours ago. The question was still nagging at Luci, so she asked the doctor, “Why were we working with Jackson?”

Aaronson explained that he didn't know why the three of them were working with Jackson, but he did know why Jackson was working against him. Aaronson said that he had seriously misjudged Jackson's character, causing him to turn on him, just before he began his sabotage of the program. Aaronson and Jackson had grown close over the past few months as the result of them working closely together. Aaronson had come to pity Jackson and the debilitating pain that he endured every single day. Both men wanted the C-1011 program ended, but as it turned out, the manner in which Dr. Aaronson proposed to terminate the program did not go over well with Jackson.

Before sabotaging the program, Aaronson confided in Jackson and explained what he was going to do. Aaronson also offered Jackson a way out, by way of ending his life. Aaronson figured, that with the end of the program, Jackson would likely be shuffled off to some other experimental program. Death would be a gift. That was Aronson's mistake, he misunderstood Jackson and the indomitability of youth entirely. Despite Jackson suffering he did not want to die, he still held on to hope that there was a way for him to be free of his pain. Furthermore, Jackson still had faith in the system and his government. He was still a soldier and he couldn't turn on his government and the system in which he still had faith in.

Jackson fled from Aaronson before he could stop him. Aaronson expected that to be the end of it, but Jackson doggedly resisted and found a way to foil his plot every step of the way.

At that point, William interjected, “Why do you hate this program so badly doctor? Can't you see that what we're doing here has the potential to benefit our soldiers in innumerable ways?”

Before Aaronson could respond, Luci jumped in saying, “PTSD is real and it destroys people's lives, C-1011 has the potential to eradicate PTSD. As a doctor isn't that a good thing?”

Aaronson seemed shocked by their questions, and responded saying, “Don't you see what we do here? We kill people. This program specifically assists in the killing of people.”

Aaronson's response made William hot. William launched into a diatribe about the importance of our military and its responsibilities to protect our nation. He called Aaronson naive for working on a military research project and being surprised that there could be deadly potential involved.

Aronson's rebuttal was simple. “A hangover is a symptom of drinking. PTSD is a symptom of killing. The intended consequence of such symptoms is to prevent the action from being repeated. By removing the symptom there becomes no downside to the action. No hangover and you can drink all you like. No PTSD, killing becomes easy. How doesn't that frighten you?” he asked.

Just then the floor audibly cracked beneath their feet, Luci used the distraction to step in. William was visibly angry and Luci knew where this was headed. Luci reminded William that getting out of the drug lab was more important than the argument they were having. William backed down and everyone turned their attention back towards circumventing the lockdown.

Luci returned to the door and doubled down on her efforts to bypass the lock. Even as she worked, Luci was still nagged by questions. She wondered, what she going to do when she got the door open, and perhaps more importantly, what was Aaronson go to do. The question was a distraction and she couldn't focus. She asked the doctor as she worked, “What happens when we get the door open doctor?”

Without hesitation Aaronson responded saying, “I’ll continue to do what I set out to do. I'm going to end this program.” Aaronson's response set William off again. William reminded Aaronson what our country does to traitors. Aaronson calmly explained that he had no intentions of living through this ordeal anyways. “I was resigned to die before I started this,” he stated without emotion.

Just then, Luci made a breakthrough, she discovered a security prompt. It required a password to unlock the doors and there was even a hint. The hint read: ‘Tell her I love her.’

Luci excitedly typed in her wife's name. Charlee. A red error code indicated that the password was invalid. Before she had a second to think of another password everything fogged over in her brain and she was transported from the drug lab back into a memory.

Luci was just stepping up to the security terminal inside the main terminal booth within the Spearhead server room. Owen, William, and Jackson were all crammed into the small booth with her. With a sense of urgency, she logged in and immediately found the files on C-1011.

There was a large bar across the top of the screen that was mostly green. The left side of the green bar was slowly turning red. Percentages listed on the bar indicated 95% green, 5% red.

“Someone is already here, they're already deleting files,” she said in a panicked voice. As she said that, another percentage went from green to red, there was no time to lose.

Luci needed to stay in the terminal booth and try to stop the data loss. There were 8 large racks in the server room, Luci was able to identify that there was an active breach on Rack 7. William and Owen formulated a plan to infiltrate the server room and physically locate the hacker and stop them as Luci worked digitally.

Jackson offered to assist, but William and Owen saw him as a liability and told him to stay put with Luci. Then William and Owen set off into the server room. Both men were unarmed as they made their way into the racks. Lighting was dim and the server fans within the racks were loud. Most of the light in the space came from the blinking lights on the server racks which spanned floor-to-ceiling, in long rows, across the length of the room.

They had come into the server room on the east end. In front of them was Rack 1. They split up on opposite ends of the racks and moved in unison down towards Rack 7.

Luci had no way to know who had logged in at Rack 7 but she could kick them off their session and lock them out of that terminal. She did just that. Then she began to set a trap in hopes that they would log in again at a different terminal. Her plan worked, another login occurred moments later on Rack 8.

The credentials indicated that it was Dr. Aaronson. Once she knew that it was Dr. Aaronson she was able to revoke his administrative privileges through the system and lock him out of the terminals for good.

Owen and William arrived at Rack 7, near the west end of the room, but found nobody there. They proceeded on and peered around the corner of the last rack and saw three people standing together about midway down the row. Two were armed guards, the other was Dr. Aaronson. He was standing at a terminal.

Owen and William were still on opposite ends of the racks. Using hand signals, the two agreed upon a pincer maneuver. Although they were unarmed, they had the element of surprise. Owen and William made their move. Almost immediately William drew the two guard’s attention, but he was quick. Using the tight space between the racks to his advantage, William engaged both guards and stalled them from drawing their firearms.

Dr. Aaronson abandoned the terminal, slipped through the melee, and exited the racks out the opposite end from where Owen was making his approach. Owen came in hard behind the unsuspecting guards. With a kick to the back of the knee, Owen was able to subdue and knock out one guard instantly. Then Owen joined the fray between William and the remaining guard.

Despite being outnumbered, the remaining guard slipped loose and drew his weapon. Owen and William threw up their arms in surrender and gave the guard space. Meanwhile, Aaronson was yelling something from the end of the rack but the server fans muffled his shouts.

Owen and William retreated back slowly. The guard, with his gun still fixed on the two, stepped back towards Aaronson to hear what he was saying.

Aaronson was telling him to shoot the server racks, saying he was locked out, and that he couldn't delete the data. “Destroy it,” he commanded, “destroy it all.”

Following his orders, the guard pointed his gun away from Owen and William and put a bullet into server Rack 8. As soon as the bullet hit the rack, thermite inside the rack ignited and the rack burst into flames, roasting the drives. Before long, flames rose up out of the rack and set off the fire suppression system.

After the first shot rang out, Owen and William turned and ran away from the armed guard and made their way back towards Luci and Jackson at the east end of the room. Argonite gas spewed overhead from the fire suppression system filling the dimly lit server room with a thick haze which covered their retreat.

Back at her terminal, Luci watched in horror as a huge chunk of the green line went red all at once. Rack 8 was completely obliterated along with all the data on it. Seconds later, Rack 7 went down too.

Luci quickly realized that there was little she could do to prevent the data from being destroyed. She changed tactics. Just as the Aaronson was able to delete files from his terminal, she could move files from her terminal. She pulled a flash drive from her pocket and gave it to Jackson. She told him to get out into the server room and plug into the nearest rack. She planned to pull files off the server to the flash drive before all the data was lost.

Jackson and Luci picked a channel on their earpieces to communicate and then Jackson scrambled out into the smoke filled server room. He plugged into the nearest terminal on the end of Rack 1. As soon as he was plugged in Luci began pulling files to the drive as fast as she could.

Owen and William made it back to Luci quickly. By that point racks 8, 7, and 6 were all down. The guard was methodically making his way down the racks putting bullets into the drives. He paused to reload at Rack 5 and noticed Jackson down the way at Rack 1. The guard slid a fresh magazine into his pistol and then made his way down towards Jackson skipping Racks 5 through 2.

Jackson saw the guard coming and pulled his flash drive. Then he slipped in between the racks, determined to head west and plug-in once again. In the haze, the guard lost track of Jackson. Instead of pursuing him, the guard began destroying the racks again this time starting with Rack 1.

The guard fired a shot into Rack 1 and it lit on fire like the rest. Another large chunk of data went red on Luci's monitor. As the rack burned the guard happened to look over at the terminal booth on the east wall where he spotted Luci, Owen, and William all huddled together. He made eye contact with Luci and the two held each other's gaze for a long moment. Her heart sunk, fearing he would come for them, but then the guard turned and headed back west towards Rack 2 to continue his destruction.

In cat-and-mouse fashion, Jackson hopped from terminal to terminal until they were all destroyed. Each time Luci moved has many files as she could to the flash drive before the rack went offline. Once all of the racks were down Owen, William, and Luci waited nervously for Jackson to return to the booth or answer Luci on her earpiece. There was no sign of Jackson.

The room was completely filled with argonite gas and the fires were beginning to be snuffed out from a lack of oxygen when Jackson finally spoke over Luci's earpiece. He had exited out the west end, fire had blocked his route back to them. He told them to get out of there. He told them they would meet up elsewhere.

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