On the far-flung planet of Hayveon Blaze, a plucky army commander, is fighting a seemingly hopeless battle. In a universe where empires span solar systems, a great war has split the galaxy into three. UCEF, the Union of Creature Energy Force, is an alliance of aliens fighting for freedom and justice. But set against the Cosmaratic Empire and the Barrens, an empire with mind-controlled citizens, UCEF must achieve the impossible in order to win peace.
The cave was not natural. The simple statement screamed out from what lay before him, illuminated as it was by the glow of torches and lamps. Slowly Blaze turned his head round, tracing the cavern back; it was long and relatively thin, sloping gently downwards into darkness on his left. He stood in a chamber about fifteen metres across and six or seven high. The Dinos were gathered round the entrance in a number of concentric semicircles, ready to pour fire through the opening. The walls were rough and bore scratch and scrape marks across them. But there were not just a few marks, there were thousands of them which was what he found so curious. They did not resemble the long lines torn into stone by gigantic drilling machines, but were instead a multitude of marks as if the cave had been cut out by hand with pickaxes. The overriding fact though was that there was no way it was natural.
The second thing that hit him, and it truly did hit him, was the smell; it was like a physical assault catching in his throat and trying to choke him. The cave smelt of something akin to dead and rotting animals mixed with overripe volki fruit and added to the pungent aroma of month-old eggs. He hastily sealed off his suit from the external environment and purged his air supply, replacing it with fresh air from the emergency tank built into the PASHAS.
“Smells delightful doesn’t it?” R3318 remarked, appearing at Blaze’s side before hastily clamping a paw over his nose. It took Blaze a few moments to reply, his mind was racing like a reactor core on overdrive. An unnatural cave beneath the base. It did not look like the Barrens had made it, nor for that matter did it seem to have any Human origin. However the prime factor that was baffling him was that it had not been there prior to the base being built. Somebody or something had made this cave since the forces of UCEF had arrived on Hayveon. This led him down another path of thought… if something had made the cave, then the something had to have come from somewhere. That somewhere had to lie down the cave, for it terminated at the point where the UCEF base broke into it.
“Down! Move deeper in!” Blaze’s ordered as he finished his calculations.
“Sir, don’t we want to hold the chokepoint?” R3318 asked, looking back at the relatively narrow entrance into the cave.
“No, this cave must lead somewhere,” Blaze replied slightly quieter, although he did wonder where.
“But sir, whatever other features this cave possesses, it’s unlikely to be more defensible than this,” R3318 retorted, lowering his voice in turn.
“You know as well as I do that when we turn and fight, we die. We must keep going and hope we can shake the Barrens off our trail,” Blaze reasoned.
“Weren’t we going to make a glorious final stand?” R3318 asked much more softly now so as not to be overheard.
“We were, but I have a feeling that there’s more to this cave than meets the eye. We need to find out what it is,” Blaze answered; R3318 opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. Blaze just had a gut feeling that they should not stand and fight, not yet, he could not put his paw on why, he simply knew. For some reason he felt that the game had changed, there was another card yet to be played he just had to work out how best to play it.
“You heard the boss! Help the wounded and head deeper in!” R3318 relayed. There followed a chorus of “yes sirs” and murmurs of consent before the Dinos uprooted and began making their way down into the caving system.
“I… think I can walk,” the Dino who was still lying in Blaze’s arms announced.
“No, it’ll be quicker if I carry you,” Blaze replied, before stamping deeper into the cave, the damaged leg motors whining as his PASHAS objected.
A hundred metres in and they reached the wounded, the Dinos who had been rescued earlier in the fighting or who had fallen back into the complex before the walls had been breached. Blaze scanned the cavern doing a rough headcount. There were about eighty of them, propped against the wall or lying on stretchers, compared to roughly two hundred able bodied Dinos. The wounded were being attended to by twenty or so weary and stressed Queaksys, a race of levitating shape shifting creatures who served UCEF as medics and warriors. They were a unique specie, able to morph their body shape at will, shifting the matter they were composed of to form tendrils, hands or other appendages. Mostly however, as was the present case, they maintained a non-descript cone shape, hovering around their patients.
The Dino troops swiftly made their way over, supporting those who could just about walk and picking up the stretchers of those who could not. The injured accepted the help unquestioningly, not bemoaning being moved again or wailing in pain. The Queaksy medics did not appreciate their charges being relocated, but likewise did not complain, instead just gathering what medical supplies they had.
“Those who can, cover the rear, lights to the front,” Blaze ordered his voice echoing in the dark confines of the cave.
They made their way down at a slow march, the three hundred or so survivors… all that remained of the UCEF presence on Hayveon. Blaze noted the increasing looks of disgust on the faces of his troops; the smell was clearly getting worse. Noses were being scrunched and paws clasped to faces to prevent gagging. Those with helmets seemed to be suffering less, but whatever the stench was… it was intensifying. The cave kept a steady and gentle downwards incline, staying roughly the same diameter and height, in fact ‘cave’ was the wrong word now he thought about it, it was more like long large tunnel…
Look out for Part 26 of Mathew Gill’s story!