Chapter 23: Tunnels
“This is Rhino, calling Echo and Alpha squads. Report in, over,” said Riley into the ICN radio.
It took a while for anyone to answer, but eventually, he heard the sound of gunshots and explosions. “This is Echo, we can hear you loud and clear Rhino!” said Captain Brown from his side. “We’re almost at the tower but we’re running low on munitions and a few of us already took hits.”
Riley was about to reply when Alpha team’s channel turned on out of the sudden.
“This is Jefferson from Alpha,” said Major Jefferson. “We’re on our way towards the tower with our tank and a commandeered supply truck. Just hold on, Echo!”
“Glad to hear that Major!” replied Captain Brown after he fired off a burst. “What’s the situation on your end, McConnel?”
Riley was sitting at the entrance of the main hall on one of the benches as he was coordinating with the other squads, all the while he was trying to fix the dent in his helmet. Compared to the other squads, he was having it pretty damn easy.
“We reached the city hall and we managed to rescue about three dozen unarmed locals.”
Riley could hear someone cheering on Alpha’s side. “That’s a relief to hear Rhino,” said Jefferson. “Once the jamming is down, we can get them to safety on the Skyraider.”
He sighed. Now was the time for the bad news. “About that… the Skyraider was shot down around half an hour ago. The two pilots are alive, but the plane and the long-range transmitter on it have been destroyed.”
There was dead silence on the radio for a while as everyone processed what that meant. The Skyraider was their only lifeline to the outside world, apart from the enemy-controlled GCSA tower. Without a transmitter and the dropship, they had no means of evacuation, essentially leaving their entire force stranded on Paks.
Eventually, the silence was broken by Captain Brown. “…I’m afraid our only option now is to get the jamming down and call for help.”
“It’s either that, or we make our way to Blackfort Airport and find an aircraft,” Kingsley suggested on Echo’s channel.
“Or we head to Black Harbor,” mentioned Jefferson. “There is a chance we could find a ship there.”
Riley recalled that he wanted to visit the airport in order to check where the drive’s box could have come from. While it would have been a bad idea to divert resources over there just for shipping manifests, if they could find a plane there then that would be their ticket out of this mess.
“I second the airport idea,” Riley stated. “…but not until we get the jamming down and take care of the nuke.”
“Hmm…” hummed Brown as he thought about the situation. “…very well, we’ll go there as soon as the jamming’s down and Alpha gets here. You take care of the power plant, Rhino.”
“And McConnel,” said Brown, specifically addressing him instead of the squad. “...this time I want everyone to make it back to the RV. You did well so far, so prove to me that you’re no longer the idiot who gets people killed!”
Riley wasn’t too happy about Brown bringing up his incident on the team radio, but instead of complaining about it, he raised his hand for a salute. “Will do, Captain! Rhino out!”
With that, he turned off the radio and stared at in silence for a while.
Somehow, in the span of a single day, he went from a scared citizen running headless from the occupation forces to a soldier, and then the coordinator of the retaliation strike teams, along with his old captain, Brown. He wasn’t sure if it was pure circumstance that led him here, or perhaps if it was fate, but despite everything that had gone so horribly wrong today, he now had a chance to at least fix one of his many mistakes, or at least atone for it.
As he was pondering on the events of the day, he noticed Agent Zenovich walking up to him. Riley didn’t exactly trust the man since unlike Cipher and Simmons he hadn’t helped either one of them directly, but it could have been that he was simply working behind the scenes.
“You’re McConnel, right? One of the locals?”
“Cipher and I found something that might interest you.”
Before Riley could ask what he had meant, the agent began walking away. He quickly jumped up from the bench, leaving the heavy radio behind for others to use. The two of them walked up to the second floor of the building, down a long hallway that led to the western wing of the building.
“So where are we going?” he asked.
“When we took this place over a few days ago, we found a bunch of dusty maps in the archives,” he explained “…and one of them is… well, it’s very different from the rest.”
“It shows streets and buildings that simply don’t exist.”
Riley blinked, but after stopping for a moment he followed the agent without asking any more questions. Blackfortress was built a very long time ago, so while it was possible that the map, they found was simply outdated, there was also a chance that they had found a set of hidden routes. Hidden routes, that Rhino and the rest of the soldiers could use to their advantage.
The two of them quickly made their way over to the archives. Zenovich opened the door as they stepped inside, revealing hundreds of differently sized shelves and drawers, with each of them containing possibly hundreds of papers and documents. The dream of a historian and the nightmare of a janitor. Zenovich led Riley to the drawer that contained the map, and after he opened it, he handed it to him, who then proceeded to lay it across a table.
The map contained the basic layout of Blackfortress with the five districts on it, these being the residential and the commercial districts, the industrial sector, Black Harbor, and the city center, with the bigger streets and roads also marked on it. However, as he looked through it, he noticed a second set of highways that stretched across the entire city, connecting each district. There were also numerous side passages and buildings near them, though Riley could swear that not only did he never see these streets before but that some of the areas they went through had never even been used for construction. It was almost as if they weren’t even on the ground, but rather the…
“Holy shit,” exclaimed Riley.
Zenovich suddenly turned to Riley, no doubt startled by the sudden shout. “You found something?”
“Agent, these aren’t just streets… this is a tunnel system!”
The agent almost pushed Riley over as he ran up to the table and took a look for himself. He stared at it for a while, before he nodded to himself. “Fuck… McConnel, your city is full of surprises! And in this case, it’s a damn good surprise.”
The two of them spent a few minutes marking all the exit points of the tunnels, which they then copied over to the normal up-to-date city maps inside the archives. It became very clear to them afterwards that the tunnels not only connected the big districts, but some of the more important structures also happened to have direct connections to the tunnel systems, along with the sewers. Such structures included the material storage complexes at the south-west, and much to their happiness, the city hall.
Riley was very curious why these tunnels weren’t used for anything these days, so after he and Zenovich finished making extra copies of the tunnel map, he turned to the agent. “Can you take these to the others? I’m going to take a look at the historical section to see if I can find out why no one uses these things today.”
Zenovich nodded and grabbed the maps. “You think they collapsed?” he asked.
“Maybe, or maybe they were flooded. But it’s also possible that they were simply forgotten. Whatever the case, I’d like to know for sure.
“Right, get to work then. I’ll radio if something comes up.”
Riley nodded and then afterwards he began digging through the drawers straight away at the speed of a child on Christmas morning.
“So how are we doing in terms of ammo?” asked Patterson at the start of the briefing.
“I think we’re good for one or two more firefights but we’ll need to rearm soon,” answered North. “You guys found anything down in that armory?”
“Well our resident locksmith busted the locks open in record time,” Hopkins explained as she nodded at Daniel “so we’ve got a couple of SGR type gauss rifles along with ammo for them. However, there wasn’t a single battery down there…”
“I have a couple of spare power cells that we could repurpose” added Agent Cipher. “…they should charge a few of them up for a while.”
As Riley was listening to the briefing, he felt quite worried. It took the squad another thirty minutes to finish their jobs, and by now it was getting dark. Everyone from the squad, along with a few civilians were discussing the situation in the main hall, but Riley hadn’t heard anything about Echo or Alpha teams since his transmission. He was confident that they were still holding out, but the truth was, that they’ve been on their own for quite a while now. And that was never a good thing in this city.
“Right, that’s good news,” Patterson concluded. “Now then, onto the game plan.”
He nodded at Riley, who proceeded to lay out the city map, along with the one that marked the tunnel system.
“The Steelhorn power plant is about three kilometers away from here, so we can get there quick. However,” Patterson continued.
“…the same goes for the enemies?” guessed Nick.
“Yes. I’m fairly certain they had the chance to fortify themselves ever since we kicked them out of the hall. But luckily, we have an advantage over them.”
Riley stepped forward. “As you can see on the map,” he started “…there is a rather large tunnel system that goes through the entire city, and much to our luck, there’s an exit point right under the power plant and the city hall!”
Many of the squad members seemed impressed, with the exception of Staff Sergeant Nichols, who still had that pissed off look on her face. Riley figured that that was pretty much normal for her. “How come no one knows about a huge structure like that?” she asked.
One of the civilians listening in their discussion, an elderly man with a bushy grey hair, raised his hands confidently. “Uh, sorry for the interruption, but I can answer that.”
Nichols looked at the man somewhat sternly. “And who might you be?”
“Right, sorry, the name’s Paul. I’m one of the miners who helped dig the whole thing out a good… thirty years ago?”
Nichols nodded but did not say anything.
“Well, the thing is, they were never intended to be used regularly. When we built our nuclear reactor, the mayor at the time wanted to make sure that we had a nuclear shelter in place for every citizen on the off chance that something went horribly wrong with it. And instead of digging a bunker for every person…”
“…they just made one large system?” Daniel finished.
Paul nodded. “That’s correct. We repurposed a few of our empty mining shafts, expanded them here and there, and then connected them via a bunch of smaller tunnels. The whole thing is basically a giant bug-hill of empty tunnels for the most part, but there are a few support buildings down there. Generator rooms, dorms, infirmaries, that sort of thing…”
“Well, that’s great!” Zenovich said excitedly. “We can go all around the city without worrying about detection.”
Paul looked away from the others for a bit. “I’m afraid it’s not that easy. These tunnels are old, and certain sections have collapsed, like the one between the airport and the city hall. There might be some other damaged spots, but that’s the one that I’m most sure of.”
“Ah, that’s a shame,” Zenovich concluded. “Still, a few open tunnels are better than nothing.”
“Especially in our current predicament,” agreed Paul.
“Well, thank you for your insight, Paul,” Patterson said when he finished.
Paul took a seat once again, and Patterson continued. “Now since our T-Croc is beyond repair, my idea is that we hit the NAF from below and take over the plant from the inside. I sincerely doubt that they know about these tunnels so we should encounter minimal resistance.”
“Sounds good to me.” Agent Zenovich said. “When are we going?”
“Hold that thought agent,” North said suddenly. “we still need to take Paul and the rest of the locals to safety.”
“And how exactly do you plan to do that Corporal? The whole damn city is a warzone right now, and the only vehicle we have is our truck.”
North opened his mouth to speak but Nick beat him to it. “A few of us can stay behind to keep watch on them while the rest of you take the power plant.” He explained. “Hell, some of the braver people here already volunteered to help with the fight. They just need a bit of training.”
Agent Cipher crossed his arms. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to split up?”
“Well, this place is quite defensible” Major Langley added. “…especially with that destroyed entrance.
“Yes, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to defend the building,” agreed Hopkins. “and while you all are away, Nick and I could train these people and help coordinate the other squads with the ICN terminal here.”
“I’d also prefer to stay, sir,” Riley said. “I’m still a bit banged up from that shot to the head, and I’d like to see if I can find out anything more about the tunnels or the drive.”
Patterson stared at the maps for a while as he thought of an answer. “Very well then. The four of you can stay, but I need the rest of you in case the enemy does know about the tunnels.”
Nichols smiled. “I’m more than happy to get some payback for my bird.”
“And so am I,” Daniel agreed. “That was one beautiful dropship we had.”
“Speaking of dropships,” said Simmons. “what exactly is our plan of getting out of here? Blackfortress is a nice place, but I’d rather not overstay our ‘welcome’.”
“I was just about to get to that,” Patterson mentioned. He grabbed a pencil from one of his back pockets, and then circled the airport, and Black Harbor, the island’s only port. “As far as I can tell these two are our only options to get out of here, outside of waiting for reinforcements. The logs that Simmons found mentioned that the NAF evacuated their hostages from Paks using submarines and ships, so there’s a pretty good chance that we can hop onto one of those if we get there.”
“If we get there…” pointed out Daniel.
“The port would probably be heavily defended,” Nichols remarked, “…but then again so was Blackfortress, and yet here we are.”
Daniel crossed his arms as he turned to Nichols. “Yeah, after we lost three of our planes and James.”
“Now the other option,” Patterson continued. “is the Blackfort Airport, which is personally what I’d vote for. We do not know if there are any working aircraft over there, but we can get there on foot in an hour or so, and even faster with a vehicle.”
“There is a tunnel to Black Harbor according to the map, sir. Wouldn’t it be easier to get there instead of the airport?” Hopkins asked.
“Maybe for us, but for Echo and Alpha teams it would take twice as long to get there than to the airport.”
“And how sure are we that we can find a plane there?” queried Simmons.
Patterson sighed as a reply. “Not at all.”
As far as Riley was concerned, the airport was the better option, though he was very much aware that there might not be anything useful in that place. The NAF probably locked down all aircraft to prevent people from escaping, if they didn’t outright destroy them.
“Well, if that's the case,” Simmons said as she stood up from her chair. “I’m going to get our truck and my gear ready as soon as I finished digging through the archives, and then scout the airport while you retake the power plant.”
Daniel crossed his arms. He didn’t start beating the crap out of Simmons however, which Riley took as a good sign. “On your own?” he asked instead.
“The lieutenant is going to need help retaking the plant, and the truck we have still has NAF markings on it.”
“Not to mention that she managed to outrun both Nick and me,” Hopkins agreed. “I think she’ll do fine.”
“If you say so,” Daniel answered after a bit of thinking. “Just don’t get yourself shot.”
Simmons put one of her hands on her hip. “Wow, I had no idea you cared!”
“Don’t push it…” growled Daniel.
Patterson raised both of his arms to get their attention. When they both turned towards him, he continued. “Does anybody have any questions?”
No one raised their hands. No one, except for Riley. “Sir, not to add more to our list of complications,” he started “…but what’s going to stop the NAF from blowing up the city after we leave? Because from what I can tell, the reason they didn’t do it yet is that the storage drive we found is still in the city, along with their men.”
The entire squad turned to Riley, and for a while no one said anything.
Cipher was the first to do so. “I will.”
Riley and some others turned to the agent. “I like your bravery agent, but–” Riley started
“McConnel, I’ve been trying to bring down the NAF along with the rest of my team for almost a year now, and that investigation cost me more than one colleague. I know their tactics, their equipment, and what to expect from them. If anyone can hold out while reinforcements arrive, it’s going to be me and my team.”
Zenovich and Simmons both nodded in agreement. “We’re with you to the end, but if anyone has to stay behind to hold the fort, it’s going to be us,” said Zenovich confidently.
Riley looked at the three agents and couldn’t believe what he was hearing. These people were volunteering to stay behind to defend his city at the cost of their own lives, even though they have probably never been to Blackfortress before the occupation had started. “I’m… I’m not sure what to say...”
“It’s our duty, McConnel.” Cipher said. “And as the saying goes, fortune favors the brave.”
Riley saw Daniel suddenly stare at Cipher, but before he did anything Patterson spoke up. “We can discuss who stays behind when that becomes an actual necessity. Until then, the plan is that we kick the NAF in the balls and go home happy and safe, alright?”
“Sounds fine to me,” Nick said in agreement. “They have to run out of soldiers and retreat sooner or later.”
Patterson stepped away from the desk. “All right people, grab your gear and prepare for the trip ahead!” he announced. “Riley, radio Echo and Alpha and tell them we’re on our way to retake the power plant.”
Riley saluted and hurried back to his radio, while everyone else went to grab their gear.
As he grabbed the terminal and turned it on, he felt something move in his gut. He couldn’t tell if he felt lighter or heavier, but what he did know was that he could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. When he saw the gliders of the Aftonians crash down from the sky he couldn’t figure out if he should be happy or not, but as he looked at all of his squadmates, he finally saw the possibility of Blackfortress being freed, and him living to see it.
And all of this wouldn’t have happened if Collins hadn’t given his life to send out the distress call.
For possibly the first time, Riley felt that he could accept his death, seeing what it resulted in. He saluted the sky as he grabbed the radio.
“This is Rhino checking in. We’re about to launch the assault on the power plant…”
I'm just an average dude from Hungary who has way too much time on his hands. I started writing a couple years ago as a hobby, partly because I wanted to practice and improve my English, and partly because there's just something amazing about inventing new worlds and people from scratch and then writing about their deeds and adventures.
At this point I honestly can't imagine myself putting down my writing pen ever again, and I would like to wish lots of luck to every other writer out there with their projects!
Favorite genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Military