2949-12-28 – Tales from the Service: The Hunt in the Tunnels
Since the few prisoners taken here at Hallman remain under heavy guard and Naval Intelligence scrutiny, it looks less and less likely that I am going to get access to interview any of them before the fleet returns to Maribel sometime in the next few days. Fortunately, one of the brave Marines who have been hunting the Incarnation holdouts in the natural caves that riddle the local rock strata found me and agreed to sit down and talk about his experiences on Hallman so far.
This Marine, Corporal Bozidar “Boz” Rosenfeld of the Tenth Recon Batallion was only too happy for me to use his real name in this account.
Though there is a little left of the account of Duana that was sent to us, it does not pertain to the same suspect or plot. I’ve decided that this feed has used more than enough of its weekly space on this account.
“Boz, you got anything yet?”
Boz Rosenfeld made sure to mute his helmet microphone before groaning. If he’d found anything, he would have radioed it, and Lieutenant Arjuna knew that perfectly well. If the platoon’s leader was checking in on him, it signaled impatience. The real question was, did that impatience originate in the Lieutenant’s own balding dome, or had it flowed down the chain from on high.
“Sir, nothing definite. We’ve found a few places they’ve been through, but the bastards have cut so many cross-tunnels down here that we could wander for weeks.” Arjuna knew all this, too; this was Boz’s way of determining whose impatience he was dealing with.
“Acknowledged. Let me know if anything changes.”
Boz muted his microphone again and cursed under his breath. Had Arjuna been alone in his impatience, he would have chewed Boz out for telling him things he already knew; the abrupt answer told the corporal that a higher officer had come down into the caverns to check on the progress of the platoon’s search. Major Gorov – or, stars around, possibly even someone higher up – had heard his report, as useless as it was. Either someone had realized that Company D simply didn’t have the manpower to comb the entire cave network, or someone was looking for a scapegoat, and Boz didn’t want to be a scapegoat.
“What was that all about?” MacGowan nudged Boz’s shoulder.
“Someone upstairs is getting antsy.” Boz pointed toward the intersection where the other two members of the fireteam were crouching to peer at the silty sand, looking for boot-prints. “We find something?” In the tight confines of the caves, the Marines had left their heavy armor-suits behind; their much lighter environment suits clung to their broad-shouldered frames, providing much less protection and firepower, but much more close-quarters maneuverability.
“Waste of time. Just waiting on you, Corporal.” MacGowan hefted his heavy railgun to his shoulder. “If anyone asks me, we should just seal-”
Boz saw movement in one of the narrow side-passages branching off the intersection and tackled MacGowan into the cover provided by a knobby rock formation. There was a shout of alarm, then the rattle of automatic railshot and the intermittent snapping of laser pulses filled the cavern air.
Boz brought up his carbine and peeked out from behind cover, but by the time he did, it was all over. Moralez and Feng were pressed up against the undulating walls, their weapons steaming, and several scorch-marks on the rocks added their trails of smoke to a fresh haze of rock dust.
“Damned Nate.” Feng shouted, evidently forgetting for the moment that the caverns echoed any sound for miles. “Must have been three or four of them, Boz.”
Boz tunred to check MacGowan, and as he did, he saw the blackened scorch-mark on the wall behind where the other man had been standing.
MacGowan, clutching the left arm where he’d received a glancing laser strike to his suit’s ablative coating, shook his head when Boz reached over to inspect it. “I’m all right. Thanks, Boz.”
Moralez peeked out into the intersection, but seemed not to see anything. “They’re gone.”
“Probably not far.” Boz helped MacGowan up, then activated his comms microphone. “Lieutenant, we just ran into a small patrol. Dropping a place beacon. We’re going to try to follow them.”
As soon as Boz had ended his communication, Feng cleared his throat. “That’s damned insane. Those bastards know the tunnels better than we do. They’ll lead us into a trap.”
“I know. Which way did they go?”
Feng pointed down one of the narrower passages, so narrow they would need to travel single file. “They ran through the intersection and went that way.”
Boz nodded, then produced a metal spike from his tool belt. “Fix your HUDs on this place beacon.” He switched the device on, then set it on the floor, where it quickly sprouted spindly legs and augured its bottom half in the rock. “We’ll go that way for about two hundred meters, then hook left and try to stay within three hundred meters of the beacon. If we get split up, home in on the beacon.”
For a moment, none of the other Marines understood Boz’s plan; all they saw was him pointing in a direction almost perpendicular to the one the Nate troops had fled. One by one, though, they all seemed to get it, and none of them wanted to speak it aloud in case the echoes carried.
As soon as he saw in their eyes that his whole team understood him, Boz started down the tunnel he’d pointed to at a stiff jog. “Come on, before we lose them.”
MacGowan, Feng, and Moralez fell into step behind him.