Into Darkness: 2 – The Belly of the Beast

Antares Fiction by by Andrew William Tinney

Of the many pieces of Antares fiction sent in, Andrew Tinney’s was one which struck as as invoking the eeriness of an alien planet and the problems faced when your enemy is much more at home in their environment that you are…

Continued from Part 1, in which Kale and her squad become trapped underground in a Boromite mine on Ylarys.

2 – The Belly of the Beast

“Open fire!”

Her squad regrouped and sent a volley into the new enemy. The ambush had downed two of her squad she noticed immediately, but those who remained enacted revenge with swift, practiced efficiency. Maynn and Usta she noted, warriors of a dozen campaigns, gone in a single volley. Kale would mourn them later. Mag slivers pounded towards the exposed hides of the advancing Boromites. Some merely glanced off energy fields, but more found their mark and the torrent of fire brought the brutes to a halt. Kale ceased fire with her mag pistol and raised her right arm, sending a frag round from her x-sling into the relenting foe. It struck a Boromite square in the chest, exploding in black smoke, leaving nothing in its wake but gore and rock flesh. Seeing the Boromite’s cease, Kale ordered her squad into a counter attack formation.

Then the second explosion sounded.

“Fall back,” Kale ordered instinctively as dust rose from her flank and another squad of Boromite warriors appeared. This time plasma rounds accompanied mag shards. A lance of blue light seared close to Kale and struck Ghalris on his arm, severing it cleaning from the elbow down. His screams funnelled through the monitor, and Kale rushed to his side, shoving him on.

“Back,” she ordered. “Back.”

Byris covered their retreat with short bursts from the squads deadly micro-x launcher, explosive rounds keeping the Boromites in check. Dragging Ghalris, Kale mounted the hill and slid down next to her second.

“Bastards,” Byris swore, sending another volley into the Boromite ranks, felling one. “What now?”

Another explosion sounded, robbing Kale of her reply. Below, and behind them at the foothills of the mountain, another tunnel erupted, spewing forth yet another gang of Boromites who formed a line, taking cover behind rocks and trees. In their ranks Kale could see the sinister silhouette of an x-launcher which would blow her and her squad into nanite particles if she didn’t act fast. Byris turned to his rear and unleashed a torrent of fire from his side arm onto the enemy below.

“Maintain fire,” Kale yelled, standing tall and pointing her weapon back towards the crater. A Boromite took aim at her but she downed him with one precision shot to the head before he could pull the trigger. A mag shot managed to penetrate her shields, yet it merely chipped her breastplate. Kale, ignoring the blow, rose to her feet and charged down into the crater once more.

“Squad with me!”

It was near suicide in theory, but this was no textbook manoeuvre. A score of Boromite warriors stood in the crater, but all were stunned by her sudden attack, expecting the five remaining Algoryn to remain pinned. Kale’s charge had ground them to a premature halt, giving her time to launch another round from her x-sling and watch it decimate two brutes. Her mag pistol fired then, a steady stream of munitions that though heavily inaccurate forced the Boromites to keep their heads down. She howled, her squad echoing her cry through the combat array and she knew those howls would not be heard by the Boromites. They came like silent crimson death, blasting their way through the stunned assembly.

Kale lead the way, her gun sending a steady stream of fire towards the Boromites. She reached the mouth of one of the recently emerged caves and ordered her squad in. “Take cover,” she barked and they obliged, maintaining a steady flow of covering fire as they hunched down behind rocky debris. Even Ghalris, blood oozing from his severed arm charged into cover, using his free hand to discharge shots from a mag pistol. Byris was behind her, standing his ground in the centre of the crater, wielding his heavy gun in both hands. Thick mag rounds were flung across the space, tearing tough Boromite energy shields to the hard flesh beneath, mangling the rocky hide. Kale hissed at him down their shard.

“Follow me, Byris that’s an order.”

He let his gun erupt explosive shots into the face of a Boromite who dared to charge too close. “Go,” he replied, “I’ll cover you.”

“Byris,” Kale snapped, “get over here.”

It was too late. The Boromites closed the gap and surrounded him. Kale watched in stunned silence as slivers of mag sliced through Byris’ shields and seared into his armour, tearing strips from his flesh. Blood spilled but Byris fought on, his support weapon laying into the brutes, dispatching three and pinning the rest. One Boromite weathered the torrent, the thick rounds that managed to reach him bouncing harmlessly off rock-grey flesh. He wielded a glowing blue pistol in one hand from which he discharged a single round that crippled Byris, bringing him to his knees. In the other, a crude, primitive drill whirred menacingly. With one mighty thrust the Boromite brute drove it through armour and shield into Byris chest, grinding armour, flesh and bone into one gory mess.

“Hell,” Ghalris breathed, just loud enough for Kale to hear.

She ignored him, wrenching her eyes from Byris corpse to the swiftly regrouping enemy. She bolted back into the tunnel. “Run,” she barked to her squad, “down into the tunnel, go!”

They ran, years of combat drills and training overriding any emotion they may have felt at the death of one of the longest serving squad members. Kale’s squad sped ahead, and she levelled her x-slinger, firing two rounds at the roof of the cave, causing it to crash, sealing them inside in a tomb of dust, stone and darkness.

*  *  *

A maelstrom of ash engulfed them. Kale’s visor flickered with static as the tunnel entrance cascaded down, shutting them off from the Boromites and the desolated planet beyond. She switched to night vision and the darkness dissipated into an emerald glaze, flecked with the hazy outline her remaing squad; Gestra, J’ko, and Ghalris whose severed arm was being cauterised by his armour, the dull hiss of the sealant masked by his groans. Without the antagonised shouts of Boromites could still be heard. And Byris’s blood would be soaking into the hard, radiated earth.

“Move out,” Kale called, hefting her mag gun and turning towards the tunnel interior. She had scooped up the weapon from the dead body of Maynn, comforted that she would now avenge his death with the fallen warrior’s weapon.

“Move where?” grunted Ghalris, his voice cracking as his armour finalised the sealing process. The bleeding had ebbed away, the sophisticated stemming system of his battle armour slowing circulation. He was alive, but Kale feared for him, for his blood had been exposed to a heavily irradiated atmosphere.

“Down the tunnel,” she retorted, “Gestra, take point. Activate night vision. Go!”

They adjusted their visors to low light conditions, the scene turning from pitch black to a collage of greys and whites. Gestra took the lead, setting a cautious pace, treading down the tunnel which meandered deep into the mountainside. The crude rock had been meticulously carved away, support beams HMC placed at regular intervals. The Boromites had been there for some time, Kale surmised. But why…

“This stings like nothing else,” Ghalris moaned.

“You’ll survive,” Kale said. She approached him, glanced over his wounds, and, satisfied, grasped his shoulder firmly. “I’ve seen worse,” she encouraged, “you’ll live.” As long as radiation hasn’t seeped into your bloodstream, she wanted to add but knew that would do no good. As much as Ghalris irritated her, he was a member of her squad and it was her duty to keep him alive.

Just as she should have kept Byris alive.

She shook those thoughts from her head. Byris would be mourned, as would Myann and Usta. They would also be avenged, she vowed, drumming her fingers on the handle of her mag gun. Dust trickled down from the ceiling, a continuous torrent of grey cloud seen through their visors. Gestra slowed. Kale marched to her side.

“What is it?”

“Check your sensor probe, Leader,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.

Kale calibrated her visor, a green flash scanning the area. Heat signals returned positive.

“More Boromites?” Gestra said, raising her weapon.

Kale said nothing. The heat signals were odd, very odd. Instead of the normal human sized silhouettes of enemy soldiers, the signals returned as lumps of red, blipping briefly before flickering away only to return after a series of seconds. They were moving, slowly and in random directions. Kale could discern four separate readings, each varying in size and stature.

“Could be a glitch,” J’ko added, though he too held his weapon ready.

More dust fell from the ceiling and Kale was convinced she could hear the sound of digging behind her. “We need to move on,” she said. It would not take the Boromite’s long to re-open the tunnel entrance and trap them within. Though where they were going she had no idea. She only knew they had to keep moving.

They advanced forward, slower even than before. Shadows danced in the peripheral of Kale’s visor. Fear gripped her for a reason unknown and she felt ashamed. Algoryn do not feel fear in battle she reminded herself. The heat signals flagged up again.

“Wait,” Ghalris breathed down the interface, his voice weakening. The squad halted, Kale keeping her eyes fixed ahead.

“Status?” she asked him.

“The rocks,” he said quietly, “shoot them.”

“The rocks?”

“Shoot them now!”

Kale would have executed Ghalris then and there for breaking fire without command, only for the gout of flame that emerged from the tunnel ahead. It engulfed Gestra, who shrieked, but Ghalris was there, mag pistol firing, drumming into the boulder that seemed to scuttle ponderously towards them.

“Aim for their mouths!” he shouted.

Kale saw it then. The heat signals were creatures, small and hunched and rocklike in appearance. There were four of them and they moved with swift purpose despite their bulky frames. Gestra was untouched, her sophisticated reflex armour protecting her from the flaming burst. The rock opened its mouth again and inside Kale could see a molten interior. Fire should have come from that gut of lava but Ghalris discharged a furious number of compacted rounds into the gaping maw. The creature shuddered and slumped to the ground and the heat signal died.

Kale immediately took action. Mimicking Ghalris, she sent rounds from her pistol into the opening gullet of another rock creature. The beast reared onto its hind legs spouting a torrent of flame. The torrent came at Kale through her visor like the waves of a grey ocean. Akin to Gestra, her armour absorbed the inferno, energy shield sizzling, and she burst through unscathed, her shots firing down the monsters throat. It too shuddered wildly and keeled over, dying in a rising cloud of dust. The other two creatures were felled by J’ko and Ghalris, who stepped over one of the dead frames and kicked it.

“Lavamites,” Ghalris said, wheezing.

“What are they? Boromite?” Kale had fought the worker gangs before but never had she encountered creatures that breathed fire.

“Boromite pets,” Ghalris answered. “They use them to melt rock particularly hard to shift. Nasty buggers, especially in groups. They’re usually herded by a Boromite soldier though. These one’s must have broken free.”

“Or this is him here,” J’ko hailed.

Kale went to where J’ko was standing, thirty paces down the tunnel. He stood over the body of a fallen Boromite. Through the grey tint of her visor Kale could see the rock flesh was singed and bitten. The herder had been killed by his herd, and Kale harboured no sympathy. In the dead rock brutes had was clutched a glowing apparatus. Kale reached out for it.

It appeared to be some form of tech, Boromite in origin. It was square in shape, clumsy in design and heavy. The single screen at its centre whirred and blipped, foreign symbols flickering at sporadic intervals. Kale tried to decipher the wavering digits but her interface found no match in its vast databank. “What is it, Leader?” J’ko asked.

Ghalris responded. “It’s a map,” he said, reaching over to press a button on the devices flank, which locked the screen onto one sequence of symbols.

Kale was sceptical. “How do you know? There are only numbers and lines.”

“That’s how the Boromite’s read maps. The numbers down are the tunnels they have excavated, the series of digit beside them are the co-ordinates to the entrances and these blocks that flash green are where they camp. They have multiple settings, dependant on which sector they are in, making it easier for gangs mining to find one another. It’s made so their enemies can’t track them.” He sounded pleased with himself. “Quite clever really.”

Kale pulled the device away. “You know how to read this?”

“It’s simple, once you’re shown,” Ghalris said with growing enthusiasm.

“And who showed you?” J’ko asked. Like the rest of the squad, J’ko held a distain towards their newest member and his know-all attitude, even in moments like these where Ghalris’s knowledge proved surprisingly useful.

Ghalris shrugged, holding his severed arm. “Back on Uuvan in my village a Boromite gang was hired to blow through core rock to reach the minerals beneath. The Boromites were quiet, but liked to show us things, especially things to do with digging and blowing things up.” He kicked the dead lavamite again. “Showed us how to deal with them too.”

Kale had to admire her newest squad member, despite his supercilious demeanour. “Can you read it then?”

“Yes.” He remained still.

“Then read it,” Kale barked, throwing the device at him, “and get us out of here.”

Ghalris made what she could only imagine was a discontented groan. He struggled using only one arm, but after clicking a few buttons, seemed to manage it. Dust clouds cascaded from the ceiling again. A rumble sounded behind Kale. She turned to look back down the tunnel and saw glimmering through the suit of her visor the faint glow of daylight.

“Move,” she called, lifted her weapon and charging back to her squad. “They’re coming. Move out.”

“I’m nearly done,” Ghalris started but a sharp shove from J’ko soon silenced him.

“Do it running then,” the veteran squad member said, “unless you want to see if they’ll help you.”

They ran down the tunnel blind, taking the left route where a junction appeared. Kale had no idea why she led them that way only that they needed to move and move fast. Ghalris was behind her, shouting.

“We’ve gone the wrong way! This leads deeper into the mountain.”

“Then find another way,” she shouted back.”

They ran for a good five hundred yards, dust flailing in a cloud behind them. Through the visor Kale could hear her squad panting with fatigue and knew they could not maintain this pace much longer. They couldn’t hide, for these were the Boromite tunnels and the brutes would know every nook and corner.

“Right here,” Ghalris shouted.

They branched right. Through the pounding in her visor Kale could hear the distinct yet unmistakable flurry of gunfire coming from beyond. Were the Boromites closing the gap already?

“Right,” Ghalris shouted again, taking them down a steep decline. Kale skidded and dust clouded her vision. J’ko overtook her, his armour clanking on the earth. Kale got up and pounded on, her armour heavier with every furious step. Ghalris hailed them through the interface.

“Wait, something isn’t right.”

“What are you talking about Ghalris?”

“This isn’t…wait!”

But they couldn’t wait, because the ground beneath their feet gave way and squad Kale plummeted down into the dark.

To be continued….

Keep your eyes peeled for further installments as Andrew William Tinney takes us ‘In To Darkness’ following Kale and her AI Squads fight for survival in to the very depths of Ylarys!

Andrew William Tinney is an aspiring writer of fantasy and sci-fi. When not spending hours secreted in a dark room illuminated by the wan light of a computer composing his debut novel Echoes of the Dead, Andrew enjoys war-gaming of all types and was thrilled to have the opportunity to write on the immensely popular Antares Universe.