The Shotgun Professor in “Split Up”

PREVIOUSLY: Professor Herbert Ludlum spent his life working for ODESI, a top-secret scientific research Organization Devoted to Extraordinary Scientific Ideas. During that time he met Keith and Judith Bradford, and Danny Colt, also scientists for the Organization. Their lives were filled with action and adventure as the Organization covertly involved itself in the War Against Australia, but when peace prevailed the Professor and his friends had time to look at their lives. Seeing the Organization was corrupt and amoral, they went their separate ways. Now, reunited four years later the group learns that ODESI has been massacred by one of its own. The quartet, and the Professor’s dog, returned to the headquarters of the Organization, only to find unidentified commandos roaming its halls.

The doorknob rattled as it turned. General Orson looked away from his computer monitor to watch Jenkins walk into the office. Jenkins was always unnerved by Orson’s office, no lights save the computer screen, and sputtered as he spoke.

“The boys have confronted the four mystery guests. Shots were fired and the guests are loose in the building, one possibly injured. The boys are all fine and are pursuing.”

Orson nodded and looked back at his computer screen. “Very good. Keep me informed.” Jenkins left.

On the screen archive footage was playing. It showed American soldiers in Viet Nam and Orson pondered his own military career. Now Sixty-Three years old, he’d served all over. He had made General during the War Against Australia, the bloodiest conflict in world history. He was a good soldier and a better general. It was as if God himself had reached down and made little Sam Orson into the Ideal American Military Man.

But in this new age of peace, the American military was not needed. General Orson was to be the last generation of General. The military turned its new recruits over to law enforcement agencies. Bases were being closed and weapons deconstructed.

The computer now displayed footage of the American troops engaging the NVA. Orson shifted his weight in his chair and continued watching.

* * * * *

Danny Colt ran down the hallway and jumped around the corner. From what he could tell, there were six of the black-dressed military commando guys running around. That means that two would go after the Professor, two would go after Bradford and Judith and two would come after himself. “When two armed commandos are after you,” he thought, “it wouldn’t hurt to be armed.”

So Danny ran down another hall. With a glance behind him, he spun and turned into a doorway. The Ballistics Lab.

The room was ruined. Danny had no doubt that this place was hard hit during Atkins’s rampage through the building, Atkins knew what was here and wouldn’t want it used against him. But there were hundreds of weapons here and Atkins couldn’t have taken time to demolish them all. Danny rushed to the back end of the room, out of sight of the door, and began digging through rubble.

After a moment’s work, he found a case. Opening it revealed a set of weapons that Jon Rico must have been working on over the last few months. Danny recognized the designs and opted for a lightweight rapid-fire deal. It was not the most powerful gun in the batch, but it was blue.

Armed, Danny closed his eyes and sighed. The last week had given him an escape from an insane mass-murderer, a fistfight with a cyborg, a motorcycle war against robots and now cat-and-mouse with mystery soldiers. He felt like a teenager again. He remembered that one time in New Zealand when Australians had hunted him through an abandoned factory and and nearly killed him. He smiled. He ran back into the hall.

* * * * *

Bradford tried to make Judith keep moving, but she refused to go past the infirmary without taking a look at his wounded arm.

“They know I’ve been shot,” he said. “They’ll expect us to come here.”

“They’ll be right,” she replied.

So they went in. Working together they were able to get the bullet out of Bradford’s arm and patch it up before they detected any sign of the commandos. Discussion turned to what they would do next.

“The Professor suggested we split up,” Bradford said. “I assume we’re supposed to be dispatching our foes. Though if the times haven’t changed too much, he and Danny will do all the real work there.”

“Did you see the Professor’s face when Danny showed up during that fight?”

“Yes. He loves the boy, doesn’t he?”

“I’m glad to see them getting back into it,” she said smiling. “It makes up for us having to destroy our house and give up our lives, dismal though they may have been.”

“And my poor car,” said Bradford. “I don’t think it’ll run again…”

Judith rubbed her husbands hand and rested her head on his shoulder. He closed his eyes and they sat in silence.

After a while, Judith spoke. “Do you suppose the others have finished dealing with the military men, yet?”

“Well,” Bradford started to stand. “I’ve not heard any explosions yet, so if they have, they’re slowing down.”

Judith smiled and the two moved toward the door. Before they reached it, it burst open. Six guns were pointing in.

“Hands up!” One of the commandos said. The other five began forming a circle around the couple.

One of them shouted. “Surrender and you’ll not be hurt!” Bradford looked at Judith to ask what the plan was. Judith’s eyes replied that she wasn’t certain. They both raised their arms.

A shot rang out. “Aaaahhhh! What? Owww!” Bradford dropped his bandaged arm and rubbed it.

“Sorry,” one of the commandos answered.

* * * * *

The Professor grunted as he, with much effort, hustled down a hallway. He kept close to the wall and held his shotgun in one hand out ahead of him. When he got to a corner, he slowly peered around it, glanced back the way he had come, then turned into a new hallway.

His body was stiff from the excitement of the last few days. His joints ached. His mind, however, was alive.

Like his sidekick, the Professor believed the attackers would split into groups of two to pursue. Two highly-trained young military troops tracking an old man was bad enough, but better than six. The Professor had an advantage, however, in that he was one of the designers of the playing field. No number of briefings on the layout of the ODESI building could have granted those grunts with knowledge of the layout so intimate as the Professor’s. Even with the systems down that would give him access to all manner of computer and security devices, there were plenty of tricks waiting to come out of both sleeves.

Scrambling up a ladder, the old man entered a maintenance hall between floors. There was no light. The Professor reached into his briefcase and pulled out his bulky goggles. Putting them on and activating them, a green light illuminated the room slightly. From the Professor’s point of view, the room now appeared as bright as day. A stream of text along the bottom of his field of vision gave him atmospheric information.

“Alright, you damn kids,” he muttered to himself, “Let’s get this over with.”

He turned back to the ladder and listened. They should be nearby, the Professor was sure. They couldn’t have fallen that far behind. They must be especially stealthy.

The Professor turned back into the darkness and walked as quick as his old legs could travel. Finally he came to another ladder and climbed again, this time coming out in a darkened laboratory on the floor above.

A large console adorned the wall just across from him. The Professor went to it and pulled off a panel. He stuck his arm inside. Still no sign of the commandos. Surely, the Professor thought, these guys were even better than the ninjas. The ninjas had always given themselves away by this point.

The console hummed and lit up. The Professor had triggered its self-sustaining emergency power generator. Every piece of equipment in the building had one, if you knew where to look. This piece of equipment, however, served a very specific purpose.

The Professor raised his shotgun into the air, then brought its butt down hard onto the console. The console’s face shattered and let out a hiss and, through his goggles, the Professor could see white gas billowing out in a hurry to fill the room.

The atmospheric readouts on the goggles told the Professor what he already knew. The gas was poison. Not to him, not to Judith nor Bradford nor Danny. Anyone who worked for the Organization was given an immunity. The soldiers, however, would be rendered unconscious.

With the room filling, the Professor found his way into the hall. The gas began to spread here as well. The gas had never been used before, but it was designed to fill the whole complex in ten minutes.

The Professor kept his guard up, but he was certain the problem was over. No intruder had ever outwitted ODESI in their own building.

Judith and Bradford would have, no doubt, stopped to treat his wound. The Professor decided to join them and make fun of Bradford, assuming he was okay. He headed to the stairs.

He opened the door and heard a footfall. Then his chest hurt. He looked down to see a tranquilizer dart. He slumped over.

“Check to see he’s alright,” one of the commandos ordered and another did just that. There were four coming up the stairwell and two below guiding the married captives, now with hands tied, behind the others. The head commando spoke again. “That’s three. One left. Let’s go.”

“I don’t think so!” Danny leapt around a corner and began firing like a madman. The commandos instantly dove for cover. Danny fired again and again, hitting walls and consoles.

The white gas billowed along like a slow fog. Seeing this, the head commando realized he had no time to waste. As Danny lay waste to the area, the commando stood straight up and took aim.

“No way, man!” Danny said, but it was too late. The dart was in his neck. “Awww, damn.”

When the mad gunner fell, the head commando was there to catch him. He shouted to his men, “Get out. Avoid the fog.”

* * * * *

Jenkins stepped into the dark office once more. “The boys have captured all four of the intruders, Sir. Also we have found two vehicles, one being towed by another near the building, one with a dog inside, which we believe belong to the group.”

“Very good,” Orwell said. After a pause he adjusted his glasses and stood up. He tugged on his jacket to smooth out any wrinkles and said, “Take me there.”

NEXT TIME: Peace On Earth

Patrick D Ryall, the D is for Tablets
Originally posted on Contains2 Saturday 20 August 2005

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