Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Entombed: Prologue

So this post took a total of two weeks to get done, but I think the effort shows. It's 1500 words, which is more than I've written in one chunk for months. It's a prologue to the Entombed storyline, so now when you start reading the story you don't just get dropped straight into blackness.

Don't worry, there will still be a post for this week. It won't be a great one, because I dumped all my effort into this prologue, but it will be a thing.

            “Come ON, you metal bastard!” Tech Sergeant Reznic bashed the steering wheel of the Chimera as its engine groaned and strained. The tank floundered in the mud, its treads spinning helplessly. Reznic pushed the throttle until it was fully engaged, and with a lurch and the sound of rusted metal grinding against rusted metal, the Chimera surged forward. Through the narrow vision slit cut into the front of the tank, Reznic could see the interstellar comm relay’s antenna array thrusting into the sky. He glanced over his shoulder and addressed the Lieutenant sitting in the back seat. “Four more kliks, Lieutenant. Emperor preserve us, we’re going to make it before they catch us.” The lieutenant grunted and shifted in his seat. Lieutenant Delgado was running a cleaning cloth over his laspistol. Reznic wasn’t sure if the Lieutenant had even heard him. Across from Delgado sat the two remaining members of the platoon command squad. Reznic didn’t know their names and had never seen their faces. They bore plasma guns and wore the heavy, glare-shielded helmets of specialist troopers.
            “Get the Leiutenant to the comm relay.” Those were the last orders to come through the radio. That had been twenty minutes ago. Since then, there had been only static. Reznic kept the receiver on, but he knew he wouldn’t be getting any more messages from HQ. He and the Lieutenant had barely made it out before the base was overrun. The Tau had come from nowhere and caught them off-guard. What he had learned in boot camp about the Tau – that their eyesight was crippled to near blindness; that they were cowardly in close combat; that they were weaker, slower, and stupider than any man – none of his lessons had prepared him for this. If their eyesight was poor, it did not stop them from cutting down his platoon with deadly accurate gunfire. If they were cowards individually, their leaders could whip them into a fearless frenzy. If they were frail, their heavy composite armour more than compensated for that frailty. They had arrived without warning and conquered the Southern continent with brutal efficiency. If Delgado failed to send a message off-world requesting help, it could be years before any help arrived.
            The chimera’s engine choked and sputtered. Reznic eased the throttle back, and the rumbling died down to what Reznic hoped was a more reasonable level. The gates of the communications compound loomed up in front of the Chimera’s view slit. Reznic didn’t even slow the tank and it smashed through the wire mesh with ease. Reznic imagined he could almost see the relay reaching into the sky, calling wordlessly for help. “Let’s get you inside, Lieutenant.” Delgado pushed a toggle on the back wall which started the door opening. The ramp’s hydraulic pistons shrieked as they strove to push the ramp to the ground. With a puff and a hiss, they finally gave out entirely and the ramp crashed abruptly to the pavement. Reznic lifted the Lieutenant from his seat and wrapped an arm under his shoulders. The courtyard of the compound was a shambles. Rusted vehicles, many of them sinking into the mud, dotted the landscape. Bits of refuse and debris littered the ground. It was as though, when they had abandoned the facility, everyone had simply gone home and not come back the next day. The tower itself, though rusted in places, still looked solid.
            The Lieutenant took a step down the ramp, but one of his bodyguards grabbed his collar and pulled him back. “You wait here, sir. We’ll scope it out,” said the taller of the two troopers. They stepped out, plasma guns ready, and swept their gazes left and right. Satisfied that there were no threats, the troopers beckoned for the Lieutenant. Lieutenant Delgado turned to follow the two troopers. Halfway down the ramp, a blue bolt streaked from beyond the gate of the compound and smashed into the Lieutenant’s chest. He cried out and pitched forward down the ramp.
            “Lieutenant!” cried the taller trooper. He rushed to the fallen officer’s side. The shorter trooper leveled his plasma gun and unleashed half a dozen bursts of yellow energy at the gate. The trees beyond the compound burst into flames. Reznic heaved himself into the gunner’s cupola and flicked the switches to power the Chimera’s multilaser turret. The turret creaked as it rotated and the targeting optics were blurry, but Reznic opened fire anyway, peppering the treeline with laser bolts. Reznic walked a line of fire across the treeline and was rewarded seconds later as the multilaser found a lone Tau pathfinder. The Tau soldier was nearly sawed in half by the intensity of the rapid-fire laser turret. Reznic continued firing as the two troopers dragged Lieutenant Delgado to the door of the comm array. As soon as he was sure the Lieutenant was inside, Reznic ducked out of the gunner’s seat and began digging through the compartments of the Chimera. After a few moments of searching, he found what he was looking for: the Chimera’s medical satchel. Reznic shouldered the satchel and then dashed for the building. His back and shoulders were tensed and the hair on his neck stood on end. He expected at any moment to be cut down by pulse fire, but he survived the sprint from the Chimera to the concrete bunker.
            The bunker’s interior was bare concrete. Dim red emergency lighting cast a phantasmal glow across the faceless helmets of the two troopers. The taller trooper glanced at the medical satchel and gestured toward Lieutenant Delgado’s limp form. Reznic retched and fought back a gag. The Lieutenant’s was a bloody mess, and he looked even worse in the eerie emergency lighting. The pulse rifle shot had burst open his chest. His bones glistened redly in the dim emergency lights.
            “We need to get that message sent,” said the tall trooper. “Where does the L.T. keep his code key?” The two troopers began fishing through the Lieutenant’s pockets. Sergeant Raznic opened the medical sash and pulled out a compression bandage. The Lieutenant’s breaths were labored and shallow. His hands twitched and his eyes rolled back in his head. Reznic retched again as he fumbled with the bandage. Reznic pressed the bandage to the Lieutenant’s chest. It didn’t completely cover the hole. The lieutenant’s blood gushed over Reznic’s hands.
            “Got it,” said the shorter trooper. “You,” he said, pointing to Reznic and holding up a thumb-sized silver tube, “take this to the control room. Send the distress signal. The Pathfinders never work alone. There will be more.” Reznic took the cylinder and clutched it with a death grip. Then he turned and dashed down the hallway and deeper into the bunker.
After a few false turns and dead ends, Reznic found the control room. The door was locked, but the lock was rusted and Reznic was able to shove his way in. The room was about ten metres wide and twice as long.  Inside, the room was a mess. Chairs had been overturned. Filing cabinest were left open. Consoles and machines sat disused and dusty. Reznic checked the walls and found a large toggle labeled POWER. He flipped it and the machines in the room hummed to life, almost as if they had never been turned off. “That was easy,” he mused. One of the machines, a man-sized console in the corner of the room farthest from him, started beeping with a steady, high-pitched beep while a small red light blinked on and off. He tried to go over to the machine to see what it was, but the way was blocked by waist-high debris. He tried to ignore the beeping as he searched for the communications control panel. The largest set of consoles, a long set of waist-high panels full of dials and switches, looked promising and Reznic started dusting them off.
The first label he brushed off made no sense. He recognized the letters, but he did not know any of the words. He moved on to the next console down the line, but could not make sense of it either. As he proceeded from machine to machine, he realized he could not read any of the writing in the room. Everything was written in High Gothic. “You sorry sacks of grox-dung.” Reznic wasn’t sure whether he was cursing the techpriests of Mars or the people who designed the facility. He didn’t really care. With a defeated sigh, he slumped against a wall.
An idea struck Reznic. He took out the silver code cylinder the trooper had given him. One end was rounded and attached to a neck chain. The other end was a hollow circle a centimeter across set with five metal studs arranged in the shape of a cross. Ignoring the signs, Reznic began looking for a receptacle that would fit the code key. He had no success with the first row of instruments, but he rounded that bank and started examining the next row. “Found you, you bastard.” The console looked nearly identical to the rows of others, but there was a small handheld microphone piece and a hole which matched the code cylinder. Reznic carefully matched the pins in the key to the holes in the console and plugged in the code key. The machine howled with electronic noises and static. Reznic examined the machine, but could not make sense of the controls. “Here goes nothing.” He muttered a prayer to the Emperor and picked up the microphone.
“This is Tech Sergeant Reznic, third mechanized division, Pacem planetary defense force. I don’t know who I’m broadcasting to, but we are situation critical. The Tau have arrived on our planet and are making a right proper mess of us. They cut off our communications, they cut off our supply lines, and they’ve been cutting us to bloody ribbons. Requesting immediate relief fleet. I can’t even guess how many of them there are, but I’ve seen at least a few thousand with my own eyes.”
The beeping from the corner console suddenly grew louder and more insistent. “Incoming projectiles danger close. Impact in fifteen seconds.”
Reznic paused. “I repeat, the Tau have invaded Pacem in force. The PDF will not be sufficient to stop them. Please send assistance. They’re about to blow this station to hell so don’t bother responding. Just get here as quick as you can and save my planet. Sergeant Reznic, signing off.”
Reznic replaced the microphone and began praying silently to the Emperor. The torpedo struck. There was a shockwave. The comm station erupted in red and yellow flames. Reznic, the two troopers, the Lieutenant, and the dead Tau sniper were consumed by fire and a second later, only a crater remained.

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