Another Day in the Dark: From the Chronicles of a 16th War – Eric Ladwig
May 7, 2009 § Leave a comment
Well, he could just lay there and wait to be killed. He wasn’t sure what to do about this enclosing predicament. It was either try something stupid or wait. What there was to wait for was another intellectual dilemma. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t annoyed. He was just . . . there. Felix Belazzio wasn’t sure if he should be bothered that he had no emotional response to his situation. Probably a result of fighting so many fronts. It was another ridiculous problem that should have never happened in the first place. His predecessor obviously didn’t think this through. And now it was his problem.
Surely, if he moved, the Vilentro would hear him. He was sure they were gathering outside of the opening. Unless they were taking a break. He could hear their raspy voices gurgling in their tongues as quietly as they were able to talk. Their concept of whispering always made their tones harsher rather than softer. But that was not the problem Belazzio had to resolve today. He had to continue with his mission or spawn back to base. The Vilentro made both options harder than they seemed.
He poked around in his uniform one more time, pawing around for that disc that would make one of those options a better possibility. He still could not find the marker. He could have kicked it down or placed it in another pocket. He supposed with the scramble to research his next mission and fumbling around for more magazines to reload, he could have slipped it anywhere. And then he closed his eyes in shame for not carrying more than one in the first place. But the confines of the box made it more unlikely a thorough search could be done without alerting his curious and raspy foes.
Belazzio wasn’t sure what to make of his cozy quarters. Some equivalent of a ventilation shaft. Or even more likely, some type of laundry or garbage chute. It had a slight tilt to it. He tried to look down to see what was below. He saw a good portion of his crotch and the belt that seemed to be hanging by threads. Other than that, his black uniform camouflaged him against the dark. However, he did see the flashing red of the markers’ lights hanging on those threads. They sat winking at him right next to the blinking green light of his shield generator like a row of Xmas lights.
He could slither down…like a Vilentro. They looked more like bipedal salamanders to him. If it wasn’t for the snake-like rhythm of their language, he supposed nobody would think of them as snake-like. Domed heads, big black pool ball eyes, and a wide gaping mouth that opened like a trash lid was all that assembled their features. He thought a child had drawn them; God lazily approved the design and sent it to the shop.
The crank of a door whistled down the shaft. He hurriedly grabbed for his klank, but it was jammed between his thigh and the shaft wall. The brushing noise he made seemed too loud, so he stopped. There were no sounds, no voices, no rushing of feet; not even a humming of machinery. There was just the pounding of his heart knocking against the metal wall.
And then came down some trash. It looked like their version of a turnip slash potato and some meat that he allowed to pass along the side and continue its journey down. The turnip he trapped with his chin and rolled towards a hand to slip it under his waist. The meat he didn’t want to think about. It made him think of his crippled uncle who had been enslaved by the Vilentro. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t need the anger. He didn’t need an excuse to hate the Vilentro more; he needed a thought.
He managed to pull one arm free and felt around for the laser knife from his undercoat. There it was, like a miniature light saber. It made a hissing sound like crawfish boiling in water as it seared into the vent wall. It was quiet enough that his cruel counterparts indicated no revelation to his whereabouts. Such as “Do you hear something? I think that other human is in the garbage chute. Let’s drop some grenades on his head. Heehee.” He picked a spot under his eye and made a small hole. The power shut down. Something turned off. Not like he could see anything except the shaft and the grate. Now, he was in the shaft and the dark.
He removed the knife and peered into the hole. Just as he suspected. Complete blackness. Next problem, how to pray fast enough that God would prevent the snakeheads from discovering he was the culprit. Eventually have their way with him, grinding him up so he could be aside a couple of turnips. Now, he was annoyed; maybe getting frustrated. Felix was then reflecting on what fucking idiot dropped a marker down a shaft where he spawned. Not only that, but not stick around and cover his drop!
He knew it wasn’t worth this much grief. As far as he knew, it was an accident. And there were only three choices available to him. One, crawl up, catch the Vilentro by surprise and continue with the mission. He wasn’t even able to turn on his shield. It would probably be suicide. His armor would protect him only to a point. Two, make a hole in the shaft, and then hope it leads to a safe avenue to return on course, or safe enough to spawn back home. He might drop into a chasm or Vilentro’s arms or a legion’s gymnasium. He could wave to them before they start shooting. Be friendly, first.
Three, crawl down and pray it’s not a furnace at the end.
He crawled down, slowly, stopping periodically to check on his peers above him. There were no changes in their behavior. Perhaps content with their victory over his predecessor. He moved quicker now, confident he was far enough along that they could not hear him. Some luck, here came some more trash. He moved faster, using the trash as a cover for his movements. He kicked something. It was metal. It rolled, bounced and splashed. The marker. It must have been the marker. The one the soldier before him had dropped into the shaft.
It wasn’t that far. Maybe another twenty feet. Belazzio was feeling no heat from below or around him. It could be water. It could be worse. It could have fallen into the kitchen soup surrounded by hungry and angry Vilentro. Belazzio’s imagination never helped him in the military life. It seemed to hurt him as he dreamed up the worst scenarios.
An intense hiss echoed off the walls. The Vilentro may have found him. The grate opened. He could see the silhouetted dome of one of the salamanders, hissing hysterically. A beam of red light shimmered off the walls and caught him with his eyes squinting for breath. The others hissed in agreement that they had truly discovered the human soldier and seemed to hiss in quite a long discussion about how to dispose of him.
While they discussed, for what seemed like hours but was most likely seconds, Belazzio grabbed the laser knife and sliced a hole big enough to free his arm. With his arm free, he plugged a few digits in the band which was wrapped around his opposite arm. Felix furiously retyped as it clicked in error every time he hit the wrong keys. Pellets burrowed into his armored shoulders, burning like welder coals. He knew it was a lot worse, but the pain increased after each digit was pressed. A pellet bounced off his helmet. Keep your head down.
At last, the final digit pressed and the sound of a flock of birds swallowed in a vacuum followed up the shaft. He thrust down the shaft, hoping the portal was directly below him. A grenade began to chase after him; his hands slipping against the metal, goo and his gloves. He pushed rapidly like a rushing salamander; the grenade hopping happily towards him. His legs dropped below his waist as he fell. Instinctively, his finger was poised on the release button to collapse the portal so the grenade would not finish him off on the other end. He saw a horizon of a lime-green pool of acid surround him as he was enveloped by the portal and landed on his back against the floor of the T’ip room. The portal closed and he was alone again. But not in the dark or in the shaft.