The next chapter of my latest sci-fi work in progress.
In case you missed it, part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here. I'm sharing the first parts of this story as I write it so you can follow along and ask questions or make comments, so please do comment below – I read every comment.
This story is set in the world of Colony B – you don't have to have read any of those stories, but it will help if you have because they do follow on from each other. If you're interested, there's a link below the story.
The Drogues’ Tunnels
When Jared stood in the center of the main cavern and raised his hands, the others fell silent, watching him from their improvised seats, their keen eyes glittering in the darkness.
“I know what you fear,” Jared began. “This noise, this vehicle we heard; you believe that the company has come looking for us, ready to make us pay for what we did.”
A murmur of agreement ran through the group, but no one was prepared to speak up, so Jared went on. “And here’s the thing: you might be right. But after all this time, I don’t think so. We are dead to them, forgotten. And remember, we left no trace of those who tried to enslave us. We left no trail to follow. We outsmarted them all and got clean away.”
“Damned right,” Katya called out. “It was no more than they deserved.” She looked to the other for support, and Caleb patted her on the back.
“If it’s not the company, then who is it?” Amy asked. “And what the hell are they doing here? What do they want with a poisoned planet?”
Jared paused as if weighing up her words. “We can’t know that, not for sure, unless we confront them, and that won’t be easy. Whoever they are, they won’t have come this far without weapons: pistols, rifles, who knows? But we have nothing but our strength and our wits.”
“Aren't we forgetting something?” Caleb asked. “They might not be hostile. They might be explorers, scouting out a new planet. Or just travelers passing through. Maybe, if we made contact—”
“What?” Jared interrupted. “They’d help us? Is that what you were going to say?” He let out a bark of dry laughter, and when he spoke again, his voice grew steadily louder, stronger, edged with unshakable authority. “They will have comms. They’ll tell people we’re here, they’ll find out what happened on the ship. And then the company will come. By God! They’ll stop at nothing until we’ve been wiped off the face of this miserable rock. Is that what you want? Is it?”
For a moment, the only sound was the echo of his words reverberating from the bare rock walls, but then Katya stood, baring her teeth in a vicious smile. “They will have food, medicines, equipment; things we need. If they won’t give them freely, then we’ll have to take them for ourselves.”
Beside her, Aaron jumped to his feet. “Katya’s right. These people might be armed, but they won’t be prepared. They won’t be ready for us. We can attack at night, cut their throats while they sleep. Then we’ll take their food, their supplies, and their vehicle.”
The others were standing now, muttering greedy oaths, their voices tinged with malice.
“Wait a minute,” Caleb protested. “We need to talk about this.”
“While you flap your gums, they’re getting farther away.” Aaron squared up to Caleb. “What’s the matter? Are you afraid? Have you gone soft, Caleb? Can’t you handle anything except your pots and pans?”
“Ha!” Caleb pulled a knife from his belt, the long blade whispering through the air as he swiped it from side to side. “There’s nothing soft about this, my friend. Take that back or I’ll make you regret it.”
A low snarl crept from Aaron’s throat, but Katya stepped between them, shoving Aaron aside. “Save your energy for a real fight. If we’re going after these people, you’ll need it.”
Rich and Amy went to Katya’s side, standing shoulder to shoulder. “Listen to her, Aaron,” Rich said. “You need to calm down.”
“This is no time for settling scores,” Amy added.
“Bullshit!” Aaron shot back. “We need to get some things straight around here. We need to change.” He turned to look around the group, raising his voice. “Look at us! Hiding in the dark, groveling in the dirt, living on crumbs and drips of water. This is no way to live. We’re no better than the damned snakes.”
Eliot and Megan, both friends of Aaron, stood behind him, their hands on their knives.
This is it, Jared decided. Make or break. He’d have to challenge Aaron, take him out; there was no alternative. If he let Aaron live, sooner or later he’d split the group apart, and then they would all die. Setting his jaw, Jared drew his crowbar with his right hand and his knife with his left. But before he could act, Karl stepped in front of him, raising his hands. “Out of my way,” Jared growled, but Karl stood his ground, and Jared studied him carefully. The oldest of the group, Karl was a loner, not much given to speaking out, but he was as tough as they came and widely respected. If anyone could bring the group back together, it was him.
Karl allowed silence to fill the cavern while he stood tall, his back straight, his head erect. Then finally, he was ready to speak. “I’ve heard enough. We stick together, act together, and maintain discipline. These are the only reasons we’re still alive. If we lose our solidarity, we have nothing. But we will not lose it. We are a unit. Jared is our leader. Do you all understand that?”
A few muttered their agreement, and Karl repeated the question, emphasizing every word, “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Katya cried out, punching the air. “Unity, discipline, strength! Unity, discipline, strength!” And almost everyone joined in, the cavern amplifying their chorused voices.
Jared glared at Aaron. “Say it.”
Aaron met the older drogue’s gaze, his lips twitching with anger and defiance, but then he dipped his chin. “Unity,” he muttered. “Discipline. Strength.”
“Well said, Karl,” Jared called out. “Aaron, Caleb, all of you, this is my decision. We’ll go to the surface. We’ll find the vehicle, and then we’ll see what we’re up against and take it from there.”
Aaron grunted in disapproval, but Jared ignored him, carrying on with his speech. “When we’ve assessed the enemy, we will attack, taking the supplies we need. If we can, we’ll take their vehicle too.” He paused, watching the others as they exchanged hungry glances, grim smiles stretching their dry lips. “But remember this. We cannot allow them to summon help. Once we attack, we can’t let any of them live. We’ll have to take them quickly, and we’ll have to kill every single one of them.”
“But, Jared,” Caleb began, “that will make us no better than the men who did this to us. We’re not savages.”
“Aren't we?” Jared demanded. “Isn’t that what we’ve been forced to become? Isn't that exactly what they made us when they injected us with their viruses?” He searched their faces, defying them to disagree, but he saw only acceptance and grim determination.
“Savage, we may be,” he went on, “but cowed, we are not.” He moved forward, stalking closer to Caleb, never shifting his gaze, nor altering the tone of his voice. “They changed us, my friend. They tried to use us like animals, to toss us aside, but they hadn't counted on us fighting back.” He stopped in front of Caleb, laying his hand on his shoulder. “You fought well on the ship that day. Side by side, we dealt with everyone who stood in our way. They had weapons, ammunition, a powerful ship, but we destroyed it, Caleb. We blew it to hell.”
Caleb nodded slowly as if in a trance, mesmerized by the sound of Jared’s voice. “We won. We were…lucky.”
With a roar, Jared lashed out, his crowbar smashing into Caleb’s side. “Luck!” he yelled as Caleb doubled over. “Luck had nothing to do with it. We were strong!” Sheathing his knife, he grabbed hold of Caleb’s arm, yanking him upright, staring into his eyes. “Say it, Caleb! Say our creed.”
Caleb winced. “Unity,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“Louder!” Jared commanded, squeezing Caleb’s arm tight. “Shout it to stars.”
“Unity,” Caleb called out, his features twisted in pain. “Discipline, strength.”
“That’s right.” Jared let him go, stepping back to face the others. “Together, we’ll find these humans. We’ll track them down, and we will kill them, just as we killed the crew all those years ago. We beat our enemies then, and we’ll beat them now because we have become stronger while they are still weak. They changed us for their own ends, but our skin is thicker, our muscles are harder, and our senses are sharper. In a fight, we can outclass any ordinary human, because when it comes down to it, we are better than them in every way that matters.” He paused, looking at each of them in turn, acknowledging each and every one of them with a nod, a somber smile.
“Drogues,” he said, “go to your quarters and get ready to move out. We’ll be on the surface for a long time, so check your gear, repair your clothes and your boots, and clean your respirators. But above all, sharpen your weapons. You’ll be using them a great deal before we come home; that’s one thing I can guarantee. Go.”
He watched them as they hurried from the cavern, some dashing into the tunnels, others striding purposefully, but none dragging their feet, not even Caleb, although he must still be hurting from the blow Jared had dealt him.
I’m sorry for that, old friend, Jared thought, but you pushed me too far. Sometimes, an example had to be made; it was the only language the drogues understood.
Once the cavern was empty, Jared set off for his own quarters. There was a long slog ahead, and whatever happened next, he’d face it better without a hole in his boot.
I hope you enjoyed this part of the story.
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