Friday, August 13, 2257. 16:43
"Gate F is closed," Mako said with a relieved chuckle, "and so is Gate A. Some of them were beginning to run back out, so I had to close it early. There was about a dozen that escaped."
"It's okay, Mako. You did good," Riley replied.
"Meh. Mine was the easy part." She dismissed his praise.
As Riley, Cheng, and Jenkins made their way to the rendezvous point, Riley opened the map and was shocked by what they just trapped. Countless red dots were moving in a frenzy within the closed off sewer section. He was aware that they had lured a lot of termites, but had no idea exactly how many until he saw them just now. He felt a tinge of regret for not having the grenade launcher with him. Putting a WP in the middle of that crowd would have killed off most of them.
"Wow, that's a lot of termites," he whistled.
"No shit, dude!" Cheng said. "Almost gave me a heart attack when I saw that on my map!" He shook his head and added, "You're insane!"
"No more insane stuff," Riley assured.
"Yeah, yeah, I don't buy it!" Cheng said and lightly punched Riley's arm.
"Ow!" The punch sent a sudden jolt of pain through his body.
"C'mon. I didn't hit you that hard… Oh shit, you're injured!" Cheng said as he looked at Riley's arm. "Better let Mako look at it quick!"
At the rendezvous point, Mako greeted them with an anxious face.
"Was any of you guys hurt?" She asked.
"Riley's got a gash on his arm. And Jenkins tripped." Cheng informed her.
"Riley, sit here, let me take a look. How's your leg, Jenkins?" Mako asked Jenkins, who was sitting down nearby.
"I'm okay. Just a sprain."
"Let me see." She said, inspecting his ankle. "Yep. A light sprain. Spray this on. And keep this pack over it for five minutes. Then tie this on." She handed him the supplies and Jenkins began treating himself.
When Mako turned back to Riley, he had taken off his vest and his shirt.
"It's not too bad. It's long but shallow. Didn't cut through much except your skin. Was it a flying one?"
"Now hold still."
Mako opened the first aid kit and treated Riley's wound. After cleaning it, she stapled it, applied a layer of gel, then covered everything with a bandage.
As the effects of adrenaline worn off, Riley began to feel fatigued. His body was screaming for a rest. The dull pain on his arm didn't help, and he noticed he had a headache, either from stress or lack of sleep. He wanted to ask Mako for some painkillers but thought better of it. The last thing he needed right now is for his senses to be dulled. He took another caffeine pill and wolfed down an energy bar.
The team inventoried their supplies one more time. The ambushes had gone relatively well: they had trapped five hundred termites and killed another five using mostly handgun ammo and a few grenades. Still, the loss of the drone was a considerable tactical drawback.
"We've got about 2000 left," Riley said and the others nodded.
Besides their large number, Riley was wary of more surprises. He didn't anticipate the alates, and there might be more unexpected variants. Then there was the king itself. This creature was one of the most unpredictable elements among the termites' hierarchy. It could evolve in different ways. On one extreme, the king was like the queens, an immobile creature staying in one place to coordinate the termites. On the other, the king might be a bigger, more dangerous version of warriors.
They discussed their next move, and after a short rest, they soldiered on.
"There's no end to these bastards," Cheng said, swapping a fresh magazine into his rifle. "They keep throwing themselves at us."
For the last half hour, the team had been heading North, toward the fourth nest. They had been thinning out the termites with hit and run tactics and had been quite successful. They set up some mines near a crowded site, proceed to provoke the nest, then retreat back to the mined area. After the mine had killed or wounded a significant portion, they would finish off the survivors.
After they had killed around two hundred, however, the termites began avoiding them. Most of the crawlers kept away, staying at the fringe of the motion detector's range. Only a few dozens stay within two hundred meters. Occasionally, a few approached them and was either cut down or scattered.
"They're retreating," Cheng commented.
"They're conserving their forces," Mako shook her head "observing us, tiring us out."
The floor under their feet grew more and more uneven. The layer of brown secretion grew thicker and thicker, and strange lumps and stumps dotted the floor, walls and even ceilings. On one occasion, Cheng tripped and fell on one of the lumps. It burst open, revealing a corpse of an unidentified animal along with a rotten smell that thankfully was very faint thanks to the gas mask. The thing appeared to have recently died. To their horror and disgust, many larvae began bursting out of the carcass. Evidently, the eggs had been laid within to provide the newborn with immediate nutrients.
"Pretty sure I'm gonna have nightmares about this," Cheng said, flicking a larva off his shoe.
"Why aren't they guarding this egg chamber?" Mako wondered.
"Could be their forces have been thinned out, so they are focusing on the most vital areas," Riley theorized. The idea both excited and worried them. Nearly two thousand termites bunching in one place waiting for them. It would be one hell of a battle.
At 500 meters south of the nest, they began to see large movements at the north.
"There's the main forces soon. Stay alert, guys." Riley said, keeping an eye on the waypoint on his vision.
- - - [Nest #4] [480m]… [475m]…
"Oh jeez," Cheng said when they came within 400 meters. The tunnel section surrounding the nest was bright red, representing countless squirming termites.
"Incoming!" Mako said, noting a medium sized group had spread out of the swarm from the north and headed for them. Another group was coming from the east.
Termites of every kind began attacking them. Workers, soldiers, warriors, flyers of several variants poured out of several pathways. Calmly, the team maintained formation and moved into tunnel sections that allow them the most advantage by undermining the termite's superior number. Twenty minutes and a hundred dead termites later, the swarm retreated.
- - - [Nest #4] [150m]
"This is a good spot. You guys know the drill. Let's do it," Riley said at a section of straight tunnel 150 meters south of the nest. Nodding, the rest spread out and set up land mines. That done, they closed in on the nest while keeping a close eye on the motion detector to make sure they are not surrounded.
The fourth nest was in the middle of large cylindrical junction, 20 meter in diameter and 20 meters tall. Leading to it were four tunnels (one at each direction) and a dozen small drainpipes. The path was thick with brown secretion. The ground under them squelched and wobbled with every step.
- - - [Nest #4] [110m]
"Here they come!" Riley warned.
Sorry for the late (and short) chapter. I keep writing and re-writing this part, wanting a decent conclusion to this arc.
Still not happy about it but what can you do.
Enjoy and leave a comment.
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