I was one of the first of our unit to hear the commotion. The shouts of “Brouragh! Brouragh!” in the camp. I got up slowly at first and wondered if there was a different translation for what I was hearing. I decided that there was only one reason for Scimrahn to be shouting anything. Their enemy had found them. Literally translated the shout was “Demon! Demon!”. They’re called “Hounds” by Earth forces because they act like some kind of twisted hunting dogs and I think we “Earthers” are a little uncomfortable calling something “demon”. The Chezbah call them “Lower Seed” I didn’t know why back then.
I crawled from my tent and grabbed my night vision goggles. Immediately the tunnel lit up in flashes of light. A hiss and then a crackle with each flash. My nighvision goggles blurred with each flash as they adjusted to the light. The Scimrahn use weapons that store and fires 10,000 degree hot plasma like a lightning bolt without the electricity. The light they emit when the plasma hit the air is a brilliant blue followed by orange and red fire.
Some of my unit were getting out of their tents and trying to frantically get on their armor. This was combat, this is what we came here for. They spun around trying to figure out where the enemy was. The plasma flashes showed the way. Crowley came out of his tent fully suited up in armor and began ordering the men
“Set up a perimeter! Don’t let them get into the tents!”
The men immediately ran for the outside of the tent line and formed a line but the Scimrahn fighters ran out in front of them and continued down the tunnel.
“Where the hell are they going?” Crowley spat.
A moment later, Gaern and the Warriors of the tribe approached.
<Translated from Scimrahn>
“Are your men here to learn from us or to help us?” Gaern challenged.
“We are here to defend your people.” I replied.
“Will you defend us against an army of Chezbah?”
“We will do whatever needs to be done to protect you.” I said with bravado
“Then you will surely die. You cannot hope to defeat the Chezbah and these Demons are only running so that they can tell their master that we are here.”
“You’re saying that they’re scouts?” I asked, but it was more just me trying to think of what Gaern was getting at.
“Yes Earther and they’re getting away.”
“Sir! The Hounds aren’t attacking they’re scouting. We need to prevent them from reporting back.”
Crowley cursed and ordered the men into two of the remaining transports.
I turned to Gaern “Lah-itchaz tordo.” Which translates “Come with us.”
Gaern reluctantly climbed up on the transport, Crowley patted the driver on the head and we drove away. The lights on the transport illuminated the tunnel up ahead. It was only ten meters round and there was very little room to drive to either side so when the Transports reached the Scimrahn on foot we had to come nearly to a stop in order to pass them safely.
Up ahead we could see a strange black object loping away from us, it was one of the hounds. Although they are named after dogs, they bear nearly no physical resemblance to dogs, it’s only their behavior that gave them their name. Otherwise Brouragh would accurately describe how they look, Black skin, two toed feet with horrible sickle claws, and a head dominated by a curtain of razor sharp teeth. Their back legs are massive and allow the monster to leap ten meters in a single bound.
The bark of assault rifles filled the air and the hound disappeared from our lights. I leapt so fast we could not see it move, but the Transports took only seconds to bring the hound back into range. Again the sound of gunfire filled the tunnel in a deafening roar. The Hound was not trying to escape anymore. It was facing us, it’s white teeth gleaming in the light. Again it leapt into the air, bounding off the walls of the tunnel, every second drawing closer. When it was almost upon us one of the rifles found it’s mark as the Hound leapt toward us and landed on the roof of the transport. Green fluid sprayed the hood and windshield.
Gaern turned to me “Brouragh chim shawpel pelshzi!” which translates “You must kill the Hound!”
“Brouragh shzi iensh Gomb?” or “The Hound is not dead?”
“Sh!” Gaern responded. “Sh” means “No” in Scimrahn.
“The Scimrahn says Hound isn’t dead! Somebody check it out!”
By this time more hounds were coming into view and the men were already firing at them and couldn’t hear me. They were having more success hitting the hounds further out now that they knew more about how they would move.
Gaern kept shouting “Chim iennsh pelshzi itchimb!”
“He says you’re not killing them!” I shouted.
The corporal in the front of the transport turned around “What do you mean, we’re dropping them just fine?”
“I don’t know, he says that it’s not killing them.”
“Stupid Scimrahn, we know how to kill these buggers.” Was all he answered.
Crowley pointed up at the roof “Check it out.”
I stuck my head out the window and looked up on the roof of the transport. The Hound was laying on the roof of the transport. It’s body was foaming from the gunshots it had taken. I saw no way of easily knocking it off while we were moving so I drew my pistol from it’s holster and fired at it. Foam oozed from the hole. It didn’t move so I sat back down.
I said to Gaern “Lah-chimb shzi Chahz lah-kelgrentha.” Or “I think it’s dead.”
“Sh!” he replied.
I looked at Crowley, “I can’t knock it off. I shot it again and it didn’t move.”
The men had shot down seven hounds by now. We came to an access hatch in the floor two and a half meters in diameter that had been left open, I couldn’t imagine these creatures being able to open such a massive panel without hands.
Crowley ordered the men down the hatch. We stayed behind with the transports as they could not travel vertically down the hole. For a while, my radio was strong enough to reach the men through the walls of the tunnel.
“Another Hound dead, that’s eight” a corporal reported.
“That one was close, one of them jumped us and ripped through Alan’s armor. These things are fast! They’re not running, I think they’re trying to slow us down. That’s nine down, how many of these are there?” Came another report.
“It-brouragh tocpah. Res-pah Gomb?” I asked Gaern
He thought for only a moment “Brouragh Pah Resh.”
“There should be one more. Keep you eyes open.” I radioed back.
Only a moment later the radio crackled “That’s ten. No problem, we heard a . . . we’re checking . . . five minutes.” They were starting to break up.
“I’m losing you, come back?”
“We’ve found they’re . . . Taking fire!”
“Report your status, how many hostiles? Have you taken casualties?”
“Say again comm? We’re taking fire, three . . .”
“I didn’t copy! Three hostiles?”
I turned to Crowley, “It’s no good sir, I have my gain up as high as it will go, but I can’t make it out. I think that they said three more hostiles.”
“I need to know for sure, get down there and set up at a point that you can relay the signal back to me.”
I set up a relay transmission to Crowley’s radio and started down the tunnel.
The radio came alive again “We can’t hit him hard enough! Too close for grenades!”
“How many hostiles point? How many casualties?” Crowley barked.
“Single hostile, four fatalities! We need . . .”
“What!?! Only one? Fall back! Fall back!”
“Say again comm? Say . . .”
The hatch lead to a tunnel running perpendicular to the one we had been traveling in. I could see a faint light down the tunnel so I followed it.
“Fall back back to cover! Fall Back! Do you copy?” I kept repeating.
Finally a clear reply came through. “Small arms just bounce off! He’s too close for Grenades! He’s throwing us around like rag dolls!”
“Break away and return to the Transports. We’ll regroup and get re-enforcements.”
There was no reply.
“Sir, I’m going to check it out. I’ll stay a safe distance away.” I radioed to Crowley, but there was no reply.
“Top, do you read me?” Still no reply.
Had I traveled too far down the tunnel? My radio was more powerful than the soldier’s personal radios and they had traveled further down the tunnel before loosing contact. Maybe Crowley could hear me but I just couldn’t hear the reply. I couldn’t leave the Chezbah to make his report. If he got back to his re-enforcements, then the tribe could be wiped out. I ran down the tunnel as fast as I could.
I reached my fallen comrades, the scene was shear horror. Their bodies still burned from a Plasma weapon that turned their armor and bodies to charcoal. The smell was an awful mix of plastic, hair and flesh that made my gorge rise. I made my way around the bodies as fast as I could. I couldn’t think about them right now. I had to stop the Chezbah somehow.
As quietly as I could manage, I crept forward. I needed to find him before he saw me. How could I win against something that crushed seven fully armed men?
The tunnel opened into a circular room with a sunken floor. A hundred, three centimeter thick cables radiated away from a Quantum Liquid Computer in the middle of the room. Next to it with its back to me was a large humanoid in white plate armor. He was bleeding and some of the plates of his armor were cracked. The fight hadn’t been entirely one way at least.
He was using the computer to contact reinforcements and I had to stop him some how. With only my pistol I doubt I could have done anything to armor that probably had just deflected a hail of high powered rifle rounds. I had to get close and maybe shoot into one of the joints. I swung my legs down over the edge and dropped down as quietly as I could. So far so good, the Chezbah didn’t look up. I crept up behind him, placing each step carefully so I wouldn’t trip on the cables. My breath sounded loud in the quiet room so I held it in. I checked the safety on my pistol.
One meter away, still not close enough. I couldn’t take the chance. Blood was coming out of a hole near the nape of his neck. That was my target, but I had to be right on top of him to make the shot. I wasn’t going to get a second chance. I checked the safety on my pistol again.
I raised the pistol slowly, making sure that the safety was off.
I don’t know when the Chezbah first knew I was there, he had given no indication. I wonder if he was just curious about what I would do. Maybe it was at the last moment.
The Chezbah swung the back of his hand around in an instant. His hand hit mine so hard that it broke my finger. The pain made me drop the gun.
He had been hunched over to reach the terminal, as he turned around he stood up to his full two hundred and fifty centimeters tall towering over me like a great bear standing on it’s hind legs. A smile crossed his face and he struck me with the back of his hand. The blow lifted me off the ground and landed on my back. As I tried to lift myself off the ground I felt my teeth swimming in their sockets.
His boot planted itself firmly on my chest as he pointed his plasma gun at me. The barrel smelled of ozone. My head suddenly screamed in pain from the impact with the ground.
I closed my eyes, the pain would end soon.
The pressure of the boot lifted from my chest and I opened my eyes slowly only to see the severed head of the Chezbah bounce off the wall. I turned over to see where it had come from. My eyes looked up until they could roll no further up. The body of the Chezbah hung over me and holding it was the Tanroc Fredar Takoog.
“I thought I would return the heroism that you extended to me. It seemed only just. I dislike these counterfeits anyway.” Takoog said in Scimrahn.
Without waiting for a reply he disappeared into the tunnel with grace that defied his size. I closed my eyes and lay on the floor for a minute trying to keep my teeth in their sockets and keep my heart from ripping itself in half from beating so hard. Then I remembered that the Chezbah was sending for reinforcements! I struggled to my feet to the terminal and plugged in hoping that he had not yet sent the message, but it was too late. They were coming and one of them had already killed nine of us and nearly another.
I began to regain my composure as I walked back, my hand and head throbbing in pain. We had to get the Kwi tribe out of the area. Crowley would be able to think of a strategy to get them away.
“Top, Top, do you read? He got a message through. Do you read?”
Nothing. No reply.
I made my way back to the transports calling back periodically but no one replied. I reached the hatch and climbed up the edge. I hoped to see Crowley’s scowling face looking down at me but I knew it wouldn’t be. The first thing I saw was Gaern laying next to a burnt husk of a hound.
“Does it look dead to you now Earther?” came Gaern’s weak voice. “Too bad I can not heal my wounds the way a Brouragh does.”
There was a gash down his side that was bleeding badly. I climbed up next to him and tried to put pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding, but his body armor made that impossible.
“I have to take your armor off to help you.”
He shook his head weakly. “No, the armor is all that is holding me in, the wound is very deep. I tried taking it off earlier. Your leader did not do as well as I did.”
I had expected as much, I looked over as Gaern pointed. Crowley was laying on the ground next to the transport, there was a massive gash across his chest and shoulder. He wasn’t moving.
“I’ve got to get you back to the tribe. Our medics can help you.”
“I am doing no good to anyone here Earther. I doubt I can survive the trip back.”
He was right, he was barely alive now. I did what I could to wrap up his wound, but the hard shell of his armor just collected the blood that was draining out of him. I carried him to the transport and started back.
“We have to get the tribe out of here, I was too late to stop him. He got a message out.”
Gaern gritted his teeth “I expected as much.”
“I was hoping that Crowley would be able to think of a way to defend the tribe while you were getting away. Now that won’t happen.”
“My father. . . will. . .” Gaern slumped in the chair. I almost drove up one of the curved wall of the tunnel trying to keep him from falling over. I had to let him go. He crumpled over, I had to get him back if there was any hope of saving him but Osulo’s words echoed in my mind. For a moment I thought about letting him die. He wasn’t worth saving. The idea was easy, almost seductive. I would free a young girl of a life of torment. He was almost dead anyway.
I couldn’t do it. He was pompous and manipulative and perhaps even a murderer of innocents as he had demonstrated with Osulo but I couldn’t do it. I don’t know why really, I always considered myself rational but Takoog had proved me wrong. Why did I save him?
I groped for my radio “Corporal Abraham, have a medic ready the Scimrahn Enforcer is badly wounded”
“Understood Concade, we’ll be waiting”
“Corporal, have one of the other Comm Officers tell the Matriarch Osulo.”
“I’ll take care of it. Abraham out.”
There was a blockade set up across the tunnel by my platoon. The medics rushed out and carried Gaern back through the blockade. He looked dead already.
“Where’s Top?” Lieutenant Barret asked.
“Inform the Captain that First Seargeant William Crowley was killed in action as are the rest of the Squad sent out to intercept the Chezbah. Also inform him that the Chezbah have been informed of the Kwi tribe’s position.”
His face turned grey and he swallowed hard. “That’s not good news. Get a report together immediately to give to the Captain so he can form a plan of action.”
I wrote the report as fast as I could. I included everything but Takoog showing up. I said I found the Chezbah dead by decapitation by unknown means. I described getting my wounds by falling off the platform. This was becoming a disturbing habit, fabricating stories to cover up for Takoog. How do we get through this now without a real leader? The captain did not have the command ability that Crowley had. This worried me because without the leadership that Crowley instilled, the immediate crisis could go from bad to worse. I had to come up with the way to suggest a proper course of action through my report. I thought on this hard. For a moment I thought of writing that I had seen a reply from the Chezbah that showed a force strength that we could not hope to match. I had already lied enough. I couldn’t continue in that course of action it didn’t sit well with me. Crowley would’ve understood, he would have listened, Captain Gammons would’ve gone by the book, followed procedure to the T as he had been trained. But how can you be trained to combat an unknown enemy. Crowley had understood how to modify his orders to fit the situation through his long experience.
In the end I did my best to relate the cries for help that the soldiers had relayed through the radio. I had hoped that this impress on the captain’s mind that great caution would be needed and not to underestimate these Chezbah. I brought my report to the Captain.
“Concade! Good. You’re here.” The Captain stammered.
I saluted “Sir! Here’s my report. If I may sir I’d like to recommend that we break camp and move to a more secure location.”
The Captain scanned the report with his thumb and muttered. “Heavy armor, close quarters bad, they regenerate. Hmm. Alright. Onix I need you to take my commands to the men, they’re not used to me but they are used to seeing you with Crowley so with him gone, for a brief time they won’t question hearing orders from you. I don’t want to get involved in the minor details you handle that with the Lieutenants.”
“Sir, I’m a Warrant officer, I don’t have the authority to give orders”
“But you are a Communications Officer so transmit the orders I give you and fill in the blanks, you know my style, you’ve worked with Crowley long enough.”
“Sir? I don’t understand?”
“Concade, do you think that I’ve just sat back and watched Crowley all this time? No! Crowley had a presence that made men pay attention and motivate them. A swagger if you will. I’m honest enough to know that is a trait that I lack but do you really think that Crowley did anything without consulting me? I’m a bit disappointed, we always thought that you had caught onto us. It was a strategy that worked well as long as he was around but now I have to pay for. Now I have to either continue the illusion or step out into the light. I don’t think I can expect these men to accept me as the brains behind Crowley’s charisma right away. I’m going to have to ease them into it. You have a little bit of charm that I’ve seen you work, I need you to go use it.”
“Yes sir, I’ll do what I can.”
“Okay, go and figure out what the Scimrahn are going to do. Tell them that we’ll support them however we can, but we need to know what they’re planning so we’re coordinated. Then tell the Lieutenants to be ready to follow that course of action. If you need me radio me.”
Things are seldom what they seem. Sometimes when the layers of misinformation are pulled off they’re confusing and disorienting. A lot of the time they’re difficult to accept. For some reason I wasn’t disoriented. I had no trouble accepting this new information. Maybe it’s because I wanted the Captain to understand I was willing to take what was just handed to me. Maybe it was the adrenalin that made me think in a more functional way. In retrospect it made sense, Crowley and Captain Gammons were intentionally deceiving us, making it look like Crowley was the brains of the operation. I fell for it.
I started out to Tsina’s tent but realized that that wasn’t the right way to go. I should be looking for Osulo. The camp was already being packed up and carried away. The Scimrahn know this routine, it’s how they live day to day, week by week, moving fast to keep the Chezbah off of them. The tunnel we were hiding in wasn’t big enough to store the tribe’s vehicles except for a few. This is a raider tribe, pirates if you will, they rely on their Delta Gunboats to make a living. In some ways, the vehicles are as important as the people in the tribe, they are members of the tribe. One cannot make their living without the other.
The Scimrahn warrior Bahninie was screaming “Rah-pelshzi! Rah-pelshzi! Ahzchim! Torgon pelshzi ahzeken!
Osulo was standing over Gaern, a knife in the gash that the Hound had ripped in it, her face was beaming. “Torgon mbahn Lo-ahzeken keboah gomb!” translated “Your Matriarch asks who will judge the enforcer?”
Several warriors gathered menacingly but the women of the tribe dropped the tents and packages that they were carrying and clustered around Osulo.
“Chim kebalzi chaz pel! Chezbah torahaz pel chim shtah!” I shouted, which translates “People I warn you! The Chezbah come to destroy you!”
There were many scowls but the groups broke up and went back to the task at hand. I approached Osulo, some of the women were unsure of my intentions and stood between us.
<Translated from Scimrahn>
“Its okay, he can come.” Osulo muttered.
I looked down on the man that I had almost killed but spared. Part of me was horrified that Osulo snuffed out his fading life, the rest of me understood and felt that it was justified self defense. Osulo noticed my lingering gaze.
“He was worse than the Chezbah” she said.
“Thats for you to decide.” I paused and wanted to say something to condemn this or something to console her but nothing came out. This was to be her husband, an arranged marriage.
“You came for a reason?” She tried to pry my eyes away with hers. Her beautiful eyes.
“I’m here to find out what the Kwi are going to do so we can defend you”
“We’ll run of course. They expect us to go underground because it’s safe. Instead we’ll move across the surface and they’ll spend their time digging and miss us.” She said proudly. Her voice squeeked at the end of her statement because of her excitement and it reminded me of how very young she was.
“Why won’t they find us on the surface?”
“Of course they will, but by the time they do, we’ll be too far from their main force for them to catch up to us. Then we’ll slip underground again and disappear. The timing has to be right. If we take too long to go above, they’ll catch us. If we stay on the surface too long they’ll come from above. If we go below too soon they’ll catch up with us.” She answered.
“Sounds risky, isn’t there a more straight forward strategy?”
“The Chezbah are too smart. Any plan that makes sense the Chezbah will have already thought of and will be ready for. Only very risky plans surprise them.” she said grimly.
“What will you need?”
She thought for a moment. “A decoy, but anyone sent as such a decoy would be doomed. I thought of sending some of my own people on the decoy but If I do, we will not have enough men to make our next raid. Fighting and dying is one thing, being sent to die is another, I can’t ask your people to do this.”
A familiar voice came up behind me. “I will do it.”
I turned “Hadolko? Why?”
“I think I can make it. I know a few tricks that have fooled the Chezbah before but I will need help.”
“I already said I can spare no one.” Osulo protested.
“I do not need anyone to come with me, they’ll only slow me down.” Hadolko said smugly.
Osulo was incredulous “How will you fool the Chezbah that you are an entire raider tribe?”
Hadolko smiled broadly “I know a few tricks but I need his help.” He said pointing at me.
I did as he asked, I connected to a terminal and he told me what to look for. A certain kind of computer that he would need to carry out his plan. The majority of the underground is dark, without power and without life. Hadolko needed me to find the nearest point that had electrical power going to a Hosent. When asked why, he would only respond “I know a few tricks”. We said our goodbyes and he was away.
I brought the plan to Gammons. As sketchy as it was he only nodded seeming to appreciate the logic of walking into plain sight when your enemy was looking for you to hide.
“What do you think Hadolko’s chances are for success?” He asked.
“He wasn’t specific about what he was planning, so it’s really hard to say. He seemed confident but he’s just a kid.” I thought out loud.
“He’s more resourceful than you and Crowley gave him credit for. So far from what I’ve seen he hasn’t failed once.” The Captain responded.
“Yes sir.” He was right, and he proved again that he has been on the pulse of what was going on. “We can’t keep up with them sir.”
“I’ve been thinking about that and I think we can at least for a day or so, and then we’ll be dead in the water. I’m going to have the Engineers modify the transports. It probably won’t be pretty and it probably won’t be safe but it will keep us on our mission. The issue will be re-supplying once we get to wherever we’re going. That’s where you come in.”
“You want me to find a remote ops station Sir?”
“How long will it take you?”
“No more than half an hour Sir.” I estimated.
“Good, I’ll get the engineers working on the Transports and you find us our best destination. I don’t think there will be one close by. We’re out in the middle of a very big nowhere from our last intel.”
“Yes sir!” I saluted and set to my task. Sending a message anywhere on the network means that message being relayed through a computer that resends the message to another computer and then still on to another. In this transmission that relay would have to happen more than a hundred times. Each computer hop, is another chance for the message to be compromised. One of the ways to get a message through the probes that the Chezbah have in the network is to send out a program that destroys the probes in the computers before the message is sent. The operating system on the computers will recognize the probe is not functioning and will reload it’s operating system from the network and need to shut down to do this but will only shut down after a four to five minute delay giving enough time to send a short message.
I found out that we were in luck. My earlier reports had caused Command to set up a re-supply for us. It was only eight days away. The team hadn’t been cleared until two days ago so I hadn’t gotten the notification. I updated the rendezvous to where we would be headed. Things looked like they were working out.
Sometimes I think that Engineers just like to tear things apart. I came back to find the Six transports we had left with their roofs cut off and all the seats torn out but the driver’s seat. They were strapping 200 liter fuel drums onto the back bumpers, cutting used fuel drums in half and welding them to the vehicle as mini machine gun nests pointing backward. I had only been gone twenty minutes.
I walked up to one of the engineers “Wow you guys are really going at it.”
“Hey, I had this idea back at the train crash. Crowley . . .” he paused and seemed to realize he was about to bad mouth a dead man. “he didn’t want to mess up the transports. We could’ve gotten here in half the time.”
“How many will we be able to fit in these monsters?”
“I figure sixty maybe sixty five, I wouldn’t go any faster than sixty Kilometers an hour in them or everyone is liable to get bounced out of the vehicle but that’s how fast those giant water striders go.”
“Giant water striders? Oh! You mean the Freighters! Yeah, I guess they do look like that, sort of.” I paused. “Only sixty? That’s not good, we’ve got ninety people.”
I reported that a re-supply team was on it’s way to Gammons. We ended up only getting fifty eight in the transport. The remainder would have to hitch rides on Scimrahn vehicles where their ability to fight would be limited if we were to be attacked.