Vargas screamed. Curly held his hands over his ears to block it out. He stared at the screen showing Yoo’s bloody corpse lying on the ground.
Vargas was a very typical looking brown-haired young man with brown eyes and skin. He was also typical Navy, Curly knew, used to working inside a ship instead of in open combat. He had never seen anybody shot before.
“We need to get out there! We need to save him!”
“Shut it, Vargas. It’s too late for him.”
“We’ve got nanobots! We’ve got another first aid kit!”
“Nanobots aren’t going to save him. He’s too far gone. Look at him. He has practically no head left. His brains are splattered on the ground. Have you seen the size of those bullets? One just took out his head.”
“Well . . . well, we need to do something! We can’t just leave him out there.”
“If we go out there, we’ll get shot. No one is leaving.”
“We have guns! Our guns are better than theirs.”
“We don’t know where they are, Vargas. Now just calm down. I’m going to try and notify the Ensign.”
Curly touched the implant under his ear and said, “Ensign Kilmeade, do you read me? Ensign! Come in, Ensign Kilmeade.”
He frowned and said, “She must be too far underground.”
Once inside the cave, their route necked down to a much more narrow passage. Kilmeade stopped and said, “Okay. You three lead the way, please. We’ll take up the rear.”
One of the men looked like he was going to protest, but he stopped and nodded instead. They went ahead.
That at least made Kilmeade feel better. There were places to hide which someone could use to sneak up behind them, but ahead . . . If they were to be ambushed it would be somewhere down there.
The angle of the cave dipped sharply downward as it twisted and turned into the mountain. The passage grew wide again, lit by hololights connected to a solar panel outside. The lights were placed far apart, making everything dim and dusky in between.
The tunnel grew more complex, spider webbing into the mountain with nooks, alcoves, and branching intersections. The floor grew treacherous in places, too, with dips and uneven surfaces. They carefully edged their way around a large hole in the ground, either a pit or a vertical shaft of some sort, Kilmeade could not tell.
She felt increasingly nervous the further down they went, especially when passing branching intersections. Each time, she expected someone to jump out from one of the adjoining tunnels, but they looked down each one and followed the lights. No one was there.
“How much farther?” she said, gripping her gun tightly. Nobody had spoken a word in several minutes.
One of the miners answered without turning around. He said, “Not much. He’s just ahead in a large room. A few more meters.”
She noticed the way growing progressively wider. Ahead an opening gaped, about three meters by two. It emptied into a much larger open space. Kilmeade noticed the expanded area seemed very dark.
Her heart rose in her chest as they walked closer. The miners were spread out now, three abreast in the widening passageway. Just as they entered the cavern . . . they fell to the ground.
Kilmeade heard the click of triggers echo lightly throughout the cave.
She shouted, “Get down!”
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
The gunshots thundered through the enclosed space. Kilmeade heard lead thunking into the sailors who weren’t fast enough to hit the floor. She turned and saw one man lying next to her, unharmed. They locked eyes. He nodded. She turned back and raised her gun.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah! Thoop! Thoop!
They fired blindly into the cavern, aiming up at an angle. Kilmeade heard screams as some of the bolts hit home. The green flashes of light flickered through the cavern and she could see heads above rocks, with iron rifles sticking out.
The rocky barrier the men hid behind did not provide as much cover as they thought it would. That thought flitted through her mind as they kept firing into the cavern. Blaster bolts slammed into the rocks the gunmen hid behind and exploded. She realized they must have just stacked rocks up in piles. They weren’t hiding behind boulders or tons of rocks. And the piles blew apart when the bolts hit them.
It felt like they shot for 15 minutes straight. She knew, in a detached way, it had only been 30 seconds or so. Squinting into the gloomy cavern she could make out bodies in the rubble.
One of the three men who led them there raised his head cautiously from the floor. He looked inside the cavern then over his shoulder at Kilmeade, who now aimed her blaster at his face.
“D-d-don’t shoot! We was just following Mr. Darcy’s orders!”
“Where is he?”
“He ain’t here! I dunno where he’s at, ma’am! I don’t!”
“Sit down against the wall, over there. All of you. Don’t move.”
She turned to the other uninjured sailor and said, “Cover them. If they move, shoot them. I’ll check the others.”
“We should do something, Curly. It’s not right what they did to Yoo. We should do something!”
“You want to do something, Vargas?”
“Yeah. I wanna do something. I don’t want to just stand here and do nothing.”
“You can start by shutting up.”
Vargas shut up. For about ten seconds.
“We gotta do something. When the ensign and the others come out of there, they’ll be sitting ducks!”
Curly grunted. Vargas did have a point.
“Alright. We’re going to do something.”
He buckled into the pilot’s chair and pulled back on the stick. The transport lifted up into the air several meters.
They felt the bullet hit against the side of the vessel.
“Good,” Curly said. “It’ll take them a while to reload.”
He moved his hand over the holopanel, adjusting the outside cameras. He swept the area.
“There they are!” Vargas shouted, pointing at the slope above and to the left of the cave entrance.
“Alright. Here’s what we’re going to do. You take that blaster, and I’m going to pivot the craft around and open the door. Then you take them out.”
“You heard me. You want to do something? Kill those bastards. Ready? I’m turning now.”
Slowly the craft pivoted in the air, its door turning to face the gunmen.
“They’re shooting at us!”
“That’s good, Vargas. It takes time for them to reload. Now get ready to pepper the hillside with blaster fire. Ready?”
Vargas nodded nervously as he positioned himself near the doorway.
“Wait! I’ve never fired a gun before!”
“It’s easy! Just aim and pull the trigger. I’m opening the door now.”
A warning buzzer went off telling Curly the door could not be opened in flight. He forced a manual override, and the door cracked open.
“Stick your gun out there and shoot! Try not to drop it!”
In a quieter voice Curly muttered, “He’ll be lucky to hit the side of that mountain.”
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
“I think I got one, Curly!”
“Good! Keep shooting!”
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!