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30 August 2015 @ 07:45 am
_Project Dystopia_ part 17  

He stepped up to the gap. Turned sideways and eased in making as little contact as possible. It's stood for a century, why would it go and fall now? . . . Umm, Ogly would disagree . . .

Around the corner, more holes not designed at all, let alone for human convenience. A faint whiff of decay. The people got out, but something got crushed.

:: Ebsa? ::

:: Just rocks. :: He opened his shields and let her—and anyone else listening—see what he was seeing as he belly flopped on a slab of what looked like marble and wiggled across to drop his ball of light down . . . maybe ten meters of a rough slot.

:: That's new! There was a shelf down to rubble a couple of meters ahead. :: That was Rich.

Ebsa pulled his light back and sent it across the hole.

:: Yeah. That's where we went. The shelf collapsed into that hole. Can you tell if it ends, or if there's space down there? ::

Ebsa sent his light out of sight down the passage, and stared down into the dark hole. His eyes adjusted slowly . . . was there was a faint light down there? or just his wishful thinking?

He summoned another light ball and dropped it. Pushed in the direction that faint glow had come from and out of sight. A faint rustle . . . distant roaches, disturbed by the light?

The sound got louder. Ebsa elbowed backwards, off the marble slab and stood up. The sound was definitely getting closer. In the light from the entrance he eased softly back to the corner, wiggled and duck through a thin spot. His last glance back showed movement, dimly seen, on the marble slab. He stayed cool and worked his way out.

"I think there may be roaches coming. Let's all step back. I put a good deal of power into both lightballs, so we should be able to see their light through any cracks, tonight. If we stay until dark." Ebsa eased through the group and grabbed his sack, grabbed a bug bomb . . . He could hear skittering over the voices, Professor Coffee saying he should take a look himself, Ollie protesting . . .

"Guys! The bugs are coming! Step away."

The roaches erupted from the gap. Half of them were on the walls and leaped, spreading their wings.

Screaming men dived away from them, stumbling and falling on the rubble.

Ebsa threw the bug bomb, threw the anti-chitin spell, threw up his shield and tried to block the bugs. And dropped the shield at the first shot. Ricochets were nothing to take lightly. Yeahza grabbed Coffee's shirt collar, hoisted him to his feet and threw him toward the road.

Vee got a clear line to the gap and started shooting.

A sharp crack from Paer's gun, as she got clear of the group.

A scream. Ebsa yanked Rich out to the street. Turned back and threw the anti-chitin spell. Kicked the softening bug off of Ollie's leg and hauled him off the rubble.

A shriek from the road. Ebsa spun. Ten meters of scaly whip-thin snake coiled and reared its head to strike.

Ebsa called up the slice spell and threw it hard and high. The head flew, the body thrashed.

Ebsa turned back to the rubble, threw the anti-chitin spell as fast as possible. "One damn it all! Run, you idiots!" He grabbed Ug, and turned him. "That way! Get to the ute! Yeahza! Grab Beau and lead off."

Professor Ollie was frozen, staring at the clamping jaws of the snake's head. Ebsa bumped him off balance. "Head for the ute. Now!"

Coffee grabbed him and hauled him away.

"Vee, back away, Paer, you too. Rich? Rich! Stop staring at the damned snake. Move it." Ebsa cursed, leaped over a writhing coil of snake and hauled Rich back across it.

"Vee, keep your eyes up for flyers, Paer, low on the left, I'll take the right."

It was far from an orderly retreat, but they did stick together all the way to the utility vehicle.

No bugs in sight. He and Paer threw the anti-chitin spell around anyway.

Paer cleaned and wrapped Professor Ollie's leg, then checked everyone. Very much to Ebsa's surprise, no one else had been bitten.

"Well, for all the sound and fury, and terror . . . that wasn't quite a disaster." Paer heaved a relieved breath. "Cockroach jaws really aren't designed to for attacking things our size and shape."

Ebsa looked at his watch. "Not quite thirteen hundred. So, let's relax for a bit, then some of us should recce back around to where we left our bags of bug bombs and poison the crap out them. Give it a day, then we'll return and see if it's any safer to explore."

Yeahza, standing guard a few meters off turned his head. "I don't understand why there are so many bugs. Last week there were just a few of them. And no frogs or snakes."

"That was a toad." Professor Coffee looked around. "Well, it evolved from a Sonoran Desert Toad."

Paer bit her lip. "The weather changed very suddenly. We had a freeze just two weeks ago. Then it warmed up and we had that rainstorm—that was the day before you got here, Ebsa. I think maybe everything is just pulling out of hibernation or whatever they do during the winter."

"Umm, I wonder if they'll settle down once the hot weather hits?" Ebsa eyed the suddenly stubborn expressions on the Academics' faces. He sighed and walked to the back of the ute. Lifted the top and reached over the tail gate. Pulled a pair of wooden spoons out of his backpack, spread them and pulled a cooler out of nowhere. What no one see won't hurt anyone. He lifted the cooler out, set it on the ground and distributed drinks, then sandwiches. Walked out and took over the watch so Yeahza could relax for a bit.

One bloody hell. That was not fun . . . how can I get these guys to leave?

Paer glared when he asked her to stay at the ute, and Vee looked rebellious. But Ebsa and Yeahza jogged quickly back to the battle site.

The snake was half buried in cockroaches. The other half was buried in ants. A bit over a meter long, with a pair of 20 centimeter long serrated mandibles facing forward.

"Now, those guys look like they're designed to bite humans. Let's . . . avoid calling ourselves to their attention."

They were reducing the snake fast, and he imagined by the waving antennae they might be considering a dessert of live cockroach. Would that be good or bad? Roaches are gross, but their mouths point down, not out. Not that a bug battle is something under my control.

Yeahza grinned. "The wind is just right. Watch this." He raised his shotgun and turned the two bags of dichlor into a cloud of dust.

"Right. Let's get out of here and give the stuff time to kill as many bugs as possible."

Ebsa glanced back every few steps, but neither cockroaches nor ants followed them.

The drive back was quiet. The frog, toad, whatever, had been reduced to scattered bones. Ebsa dragged the skull out of the way, and they returned to the camp without any other problems.

Ogly eyed their exhausted appearance and demanded a report. He got it in pieces, as they all rotated through the showers. Cleaned guns. Ate garbage out of the fabs. None of the scientists complained when the Teamers shut everything up tight and crawled into bed before the sun set.

As Ebsa shucked his boots, Ogly spoke through the darkness. "You just took command, didn't you?"


"So . . . what is your official position, here?"

"Mess Chief."

A long silence. "Yeah, you always did have that . . . Alpha taste to your aura. That's why Edge hated you, he knew you were a threat to his leadership."

"Err, I thought he hated that both Ra'd and I were faster than he was."

"Oh, sure. But Ra'd's a lone wolf. Give him an order, and you'd never know whether he'd do it or not. But he doesn't lead. He goes his own way. You . . . well, Edge was right. You give orders and everyone just jumps."

Paer snickered.

Ebsa sighed. "Teamers, maybe, but Academics? Umm, no.."

"He yelled at them. Swore at them and called them idiots." Paer sounded happy about it. "And manhandled them out of a dangerous situation."

Ebsa sighed. "And they want to go back, again. Underground."

"They are idiots." Ogly thumped his bed in frustration.

"Well . . . in some ways . . . but what the hell is down there, making magnetic pulses?" Ebsa rolled flat. "I want to find out too. But first I'm going to kill a whole lot of bugs."