Purple Heart
Chapter 1: Kruger

Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Coercion, Consensual, NonConsensual, Rape, Reluctant, Romantic, Heterosexual, Fiction, Military, War, Science Fiction, Aliens, Space, FemaleDom, Light Bond, Rough, Sadistic, Cream Pie, Oral Sex, Petting, Big Breasts, Doctor/Nurse, Size, Caution, Slow, Violent,

Desc: Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1: Kruger - After a recon mission in the Kruger system goes badly wrong, Moralez finds himself maimed and disgraced, his only hope for recovery rests in the notorious Pinwheel station.

“Incoming charge!”

Moralez raised his XMR over the trench wall, resting the bipod in the wet, black mud. He peered through the thermal scope, finger poised over the trigger, waiting for the telltale heat signature of a bug to flare in the sight. The other UNN troops to his left and right did the same, clad in their black body armor, scanning the haze and broken, shattered trees that littered no man’s land with bated breath.

He saw it, the glow of an energy shield, a line of blue ovals coming at them through the mist. He began to fire, and the sound of automatics exploded around him, plasma bolts and tungsten slugs plowing through the air and impacting the shield wall that advanced rapidly towards them.

Now that they were in range, the bugs began to sprint, bipedal insectoids with four arms, one of which held a plasma shield aloft while the other three wielded pistols and cruel, serrated knives designed to butcher. Their bodies were encased in rigid chitin, in glossy shades of blue, green and red, their elaborate, beetle-like horns protruding from their heads. Or were those their helmets? Impossible to tell where the exoskeleton ended and the armor began. Their green eyes, or maybe visors, glowed through the mist as they rushed towards the entrenched unit. Where the hell were they coming from? They emerged from the fog seemingly at random, disappearing without a trace when their work was done. All they could do was dig in and wait for the assaults to come, it was nerve wracking.

He squeezed the trigger, his slugs melting on contact with the energy barriers in sprays of orange sparks as they drew closer. Damn it, they had to concentrate their fire, only plasma would overload those shields and bring them down long enough for the railgun rounds to penetrate.

“Concentrate fire,” he buzzed through his helmet mouthpiece, “overload those shields with plasma!”

Moralez cursed, fumbling with his belt, trying to free the plasma receiver for his XMR so that he could swap out the railgun attachment. The XMR series, or the X-17 Modular Rifle, was a weapons platform designed for versatility, to be used by any humanoid species of the Coalition in the fight against the Betelgeusians, known to human soldiers as bugs, roaches or critters. The weapon’s receiver could be replaced on the fly, accommodating either a magnetic railgun or a plasma caster.

Moralez’s hands were shaking, he unclipped the plasma receiver from his belt, releasing the catch on the XMR frame and sliding off the railgun, but it was too late, the bugs were too close now. He dropped the whole apparatus, cursing under his breath and unholstered his pistol, the M1911 would do just fine at point blank range, but the bugs were notoriously deadly in close quarters, known to cut soldiers to ribbons in a flurry of knives and mandibles.

The Betelgeusians reached the lip of the trench, raising their ornate knives and screeching a battle cry, a good number had been felled but not enough to turn the assault. Moralez braced himself, raising his sidearm, then a black shadow passed over him. The bugs were thrown to the ground, scattered by several dark shapes that leapt over the trench, emerging from the mist like ghosts, driving what looked like massive spears into the aliens and ripping them apart with their bare hands. They hissed and growled like demons, their long, furry tails waving in the air.

Borealan auxiliaries, saving the day as usual. Moralez vaulted up and over the trench wall, firing his pistol into the bugs, now in disarray as they attempted to engage the eight foot tall Borealans in hand to hand combat. The larger aliens impaled them with their long barreled, bayoneted XMRs, using the huge rifles more as pikes than guns, and tore them limb from limb with their long, hooked claws in an orgy of technicolor viscera. One of the bugs came at him from the left, its four limbs swirling in a whirlwind of ceramic blades, but Moralez emptied his sidearm into it, spraying yellow ichor as the creature warbled and fell. The other UNN soldiers were rising from the trench now, climbing over the wall and firing into the mass of colorful insects, their handheld shields useless in CQB.

Moralez released the catch on his pistol, dropping the empty magazine and slamming home a fresh one, firing into the melee as a Betelgeusian was impaled through the chest by one of the massive Borealan bayonets a short distance away, raising the screeching creature into the air with the strength of the thrust. The cat-like alien snarled, bearing its sharp teeth below its visor and fired the rifle with the blade still embedded inside the bug. It exploded in a shower of gore, and the Borealan dove back into the fray, shrugging off a pistol shot from a panicked bug that barely slowed it.

The enemy was routed, and turned to flee, the Borealans chased them down, pouncing on them and tearing into them with their claws, loosing carefully placed shots from their massive weapons into the backs of fleeing Betelgeusians as the humans formed a firing line, cutting down as many as they could before they vanished back into the haze.

They stood over the bodies of the dead bugs and a few unlucky humans who had fallen victim to their knives, covered in the sticky mud, the barrels of their weapons glowing orange as they cooled.

The pack of Borealans returned to where the humans were standing, draping their rifles over their backs on straps. They were tall and heavily muscled, their UNN black body armor doing little to hide their impressive figures. Orange tails and fluffy, round ears protruded from their combat armor conspicuously as they loped over the scarred terrain on their digitigrade legs.

One of the larger males walked over to Moralez, removing his helmet, orange hair falling about his shoulders like a mane.

“Lieutenant Moralez? My name is Zuga, I am Alpha of Lambda Company, we have been sent to reinforce your position.” The alien spoke with a rolling accent, but it was understandable enough, and he saluted. Moralez returned the gesture, motioning for him to be at ease.

“Good job you guys showed up when you did, never been happy to see a Mad Cat before today.”

Zuga huffed appreciatively, then turned to bark orders to his pack in their harsh, native tongue.

“These bugs are becoming more brazen, Lieutenant. Holding the trenches may not be possible next time. I have new orders from high command.”

The alien retrieved a small data card from a pouch on his belt and held it out in his massive hand. Moralez took it from his palm, inserting it into a slot on his helmet. He lowered the visor and the green HUD flared to life, detecting the storage device and playing the video briefing automatically.

It was Admiral Doherty, leader of the defense forces on Kruger III, the video seemed to have been recorded on an orbiting carrier, Moralez could see stars beyond the window behind him, along with other fleet vessels hanging lazily in space. The Admiral leaned over a console, speaking into a camera.

“Lieutenant Moralez, as you well know, the defense of Kruger against Betelgeusian forces is not going well. Since assaulting Kruger III, the only habitable planet in the system, they have become heavily entrenched, somehow able to avoid detection and withstand orbital bombardment. The means by which they were able to move across the planet undetected and with such speed are no longer a mystery, our intelligence suggests that the Betelgeusians have dug tunnels below the surface of the planet, and are using them to move troops and supplies.”

Damn it, crafty roaches, they could be moving under their feet at this very moment, the thought raised the hair on his arms.

“It is unknown whether this previously unseen behavior is a new battle strategy, or if they have begun colonization of the planet in earnest, however that doesn’t matter right now. Your new orders are to abandon your current position, that line is no longer defensible, and investigate what we believe to be an entrance to the tunnel network near where you were stationed. The coordinates will be automatically uploaded to your onboard computer. It is paramount that you report back your findings. I have reinforced you with a Borealan pack, Lambda company is under your command now. Enter the tunnel network, record your findings and relay them to me.”

The video ended, and Moralez ripped the data card from the slot in his helmet, throwing it angrily in the mud.

“God damn it, I’ve lost two dozen men defending this fucking line, and now they want me to abandon it? If this order had come two hours ago, I’d have ten more men to send.”

Zuga waited patiently for him to calm down as the Lieutenant balled his fists and stamped the storage device into the wet mud with his leather boot. He took a moment, then composed himself, this was not the first time he had been given contradictory orders or the lives of his men had been spent needlessly.

“Fuck it, Zuga, you’re under my command now, orders of Admiral Doherty. Gather your men, I’m going to brief everyone.”

Moralez called over the two dozen men who remained under his command, and Zuga gathered his pack, the Borealans towering over the smaller humans as they milled about. Moralez relayed the Admiral’s orders and their mission to the group, which were met with many angry exclamations from the human troops. He waved his hands trying to calm them down.

“I know it’s bullshit, I know you’ve fought and bled to hold this position, but those are our orders, there’s nothing I can do about that, they come straight from the top. Let’s take this opportunity to hit the roaches where they live. Get some payback.”

A few of the soldiers perked up at this, and the outraged muttering mostly ceased. He ordered the men to collect what gear and supplies they needed, then beckoned to Zuga who lumbered over obediently. The Borealans were massive and deadly, but they took orders well.

“Zuga, I need your pack to spearhead the search party, you’ll find the tunnel entrance before we do, use your nose, it should reek of bugs. We’re probably gonna meet resistance in there, and when we do, I want the Borealans at the front, your people will fare better in close quarters than mine.”

“Very well, Lieutenant. We will be ready on your command.”

They trudged through the mud, passing between the decrepit skeletons of dead trees, their XMRs shouldered, scanning the gloom and mist for any sign of the enemy. Kruger III was a cursed hellscape, nobody in their right mind would want to live here, even before the orbital bombardments had attempted to dislodge the bugs it had been a wet, barren wasteland, punctuated by what scraggly plants could grow here. Let the bugs have it, who the fuck cares, but obviously someone cared enough to fight over it. It probably had some strategic value that someone poring over a star chart would recognize immediately, but on the ground, ankle deep in filth under the oppressive, grey sky, Moralez couldn’t see the appeal.

There were many theories as to why the Betelgeusians did what they did, the foremost of which was that, as insects obviously operating based on some kind of communal hive society, they were always in need of new territory to house their ever expanding numbers. Another popular speculation was that, like many insect species on Earth, the Queens, if indeed Betelgeusians had them, would flee the planet of their birth to found new colonies. Being a spacefaring species, rather than flying over to the next garden, they would travel over interstellar distances.

Regardless of why they were doing it, the bugs attacked systems all along the borders of Coalition space, never announcing their invasions, demanding any kind of surrender, or communicating in any way their victims could understand. Their only goal seemed to be capturing and holding habitable planets, taking great care to fortify them when possible, if they were inhabited by sentient species or not.

Moralez had been a soldier in the UNN before Earth had joined the Coalition, and he had been fighting the bugs since day one. He didn’t consider them to be an especially dangerous adversary, but their sheer numbers and persistence could wear down even the most experienced and battle hardened units. It was nice to see Borealans and Krell filling out the ranks and taking some of the strain off the human soldiers.

“Over here!”

One of the Borealan scouts was aiming his rifle at the ground, circling warily. The group ran over to him, weapons raised, and the thick fog parted to reveal a wide hole in the mud. Moralez inched over carefully, aiming his XMR down the hole and peering through the infrared scope. After a moment he lowered his gun and stepped back.

“No bugs, at least not here. It doesn’t go straight down, there’s a curve to it.”

One of his soldiers looked over the lip of the tunnel entrance, his face pale.

“What do we do L.T?”

“We have our orders, Private. Borealans go in first, we follow them down.”

“They don’t pay us enough for this bullshit, L.T.”

“Suck it up, the sooner we get it done the sooner we can leave. Lambda pack, move in.”

The Borealans approached the hole and jumped down dutifully, disappearing one by one into the dark opening. Moralez waiting for shouts or gunfire, but none came. Were these entrances completely undefended? Why would they do that?

“Clear,” he heard one of the aliens yell from below. He exchanged a resigned glance with the soldier next to him, then slung his XMR over his chest and jumped down the hole.

Moralez landed in slippery mud, then skidded down the curving floor of the passage, coming to a stop in an almost level tunnel a few meters below the surface. He rose to his feet, brushing himself off, then hefted his XMR, flicking on the torch attachment. The white beam illuminated the pack of Borealans, waiting obediently in the tunnel, their yellow eyes reflecting the light. It was tall and rounded, tall enough for a Borealan to stand erect. Why was it tall? Bugs were roughly the same height as humans, were they using these secret warrens to transport vehicles? He knew that bugs used spaceships but he had never seen a bug tank or a troop carrier before. Besides a tank wouldn’t fit in here...

He stepped out of the way as the rest of the soldiers slid down into the hole, cursing and stumbling as more crashed into them from behind. Soon the whole platoon was inside the dank tunnel, at least what was left of them. Moralez shielded his eyes against the flashlight beams.

“God damn it, keep those beams on the tunnel, form up and follow Lambda. Don’t fire at anything unless I give the order, you’ll cut eachother to pieces down here.”

Zuga raised his bayoneted rifle, seeming to abandon the idea of firing it at this range, wielding it instead like a spear as they advanced down the tunnel, moisture dripping from the ceiling. The humans followed them, boots squelching in the wet mud.

How had the bugs hollowed these tunnels out so quickly? They hadn’t been entrenched on Kruger III for more than six weeks, and it would have taken human engineers with mining equipment months to dig tunnels like this. One of the solders sidled up beside him nervously.

“I got bad feeling about this, L.T.”

“Yeah, you and me both, eyes forward, kid. Zuga, you smell anything?”

The Borealan shook his head.

“Just bug smell, nothing close.”

“What do they expect us to find down here,” the soldier continued, “what if we don’t find anything to report?”

“I’m sure we’ll find something,” Moralez replied, playing his flashlight beam over the uneven dirt walls as they walked. “And I bet it won’t be anything good.”

After a few minutes of walking they came to a junction, two tunnels splitting off in different directions, one angled slightly downwards. The Borealans stopped, waiting for orders.

“No markings, no signposts, nothing?” Moralez examined the wall between the two tunnels, expecting to find some kind of Betelgeusian text indicating which path to take, but the wall was bare, his gloved fingers met more slimy soil. He stepped back, appraising the two routes.

“What can you tell me Zuga?”

“Smell is worse down there,” the great alien gestured with a clawed finger, pointing at the tunnel to their right that sloped gently down.

“Figures they’d be deeper, to avoid the orbital bombardment. Well, this was never going to be a picnic, lead the way Zuga.”

They marched down the tunnel, their footsteps echoing as they trudged through the filth. Moralez sincerely hoped it was just mud and soil, though he didn’t smell anything foul, just damp and dirt. It smelled like a grave. They went deeper and deeper underground, the slant of the tunnel staying consistent as it led them towards some unknown destination. It was bizarre, there was no visual information, no indicator of where they were going, no lighting, how did the bugs navigate this network? They halted as they came to another fork, this time three tunnels branched off in different directions, curving out of view. This was getting dangerous, it was a maze, could they find their way out again if they got lost down here?

“Zuga... ?”

The alien sniffed the air, walking between the tunnels, considering as the human soldiers behind them shuffled and muttered nervously.

“Smell is stronger here.”

He pointed at yet another downward curving passage.

“Then I guess that’s where we’re going.”

Moralez jogged further ahead, until he was beside Zuga at the front of the pack.

“Zuga, what exactly is it that you smell? Can you tell me?”

He considered for a moment, then gave his tentative reply.

“Definitely bugs, but the smell is ... stronger ... richer. Somehow more complex than just bug scent. It is hard to describe.”

“Do you think it could be pheromones? Is that how the bugs communicate, how they navigate these tunnels?”

“You may be right, the stronger smell seems to outline a path. Towards what, I cannot say.”

They must have traveled a good thousand meters before they reached another fork in the passageway, three more tunnels branching off.

“L.T this is fubar, we’re gonna get lost,” someone shouted from the back of the formation, and his complaint was met with a chorus of affirmations and curses. Moralez turned, squinting through the flashlight beams.

“Listen, I don’t want to be here any more than you do, but these orders come straight from the Admiral, if you have a problem with those orders you can take it up with him when he court-martials you for desertion.” That shut most of them up, and he turned back to Zuga who had his nose to the earth like a bloodhound, crouching in the tunnel and sifting dirt between his fingers.

“Zuga, report.”

“I ... don’t understand what I smell. The path up to here was clear, but now the smells change, they are ... more subtle. Perhaps as you say, these are pheromone trails, and I cannot interpret the information they convey. It is as if the directions are written in the smell, but I cannot read the language.”

“Well that’s just great...” Moralez cursed under his breath, trying to figure out their next course of action. What the fuck were they supposed to do now? The logical course of action was to split up, but if they did that, how would they ever find eachother again? If they split into three teams, there would be enough Borealans for each team to have at least three, and perhaps they could smell their way back out, but it was risky. Fuck it, this whole operation was risky.

“Ok, here’s what we’re gonna do, split into three groups, each group gets three Borealans, Zuga you’re with me, Gutierrez, Briggs, you’re in charge of your teams. If nobody finds anything we meet back at this junction in two hours. If one of the groups finds something and doesn’t come back, the other two groups take their tunnel and go find them.”

“Ain’t you never seen Scooby Doo, L.T?” There was a chorus of laughter.

“Enough lip, let’s get it done.”

The group of humans and Borealans split into three teams, and each proceeded down one of the tunnels. Moralez checked his helmet comms, but they were blocked by the dirt that surrounded them, they wouldn’t penetrate the walls. Even if they did, who knew how long that would have lasted as the tunnels wound and snaked away from eachother.

This tunnel seemed to go on forever, and as Moralez checked his digital watch, he realized they had been walking for forty minutes. They would need to turn back pretty soon in order to return to the junction on time. He shook his head, frustrated.

“What the hell is this, Zuga? We’ve seen no bugs, no vehicles, no storage areas, none of these tunnels even seem to go anywhere. Just what are they doing down here?”

“I cannot guess, but I do know that we cannot return with no information. We must find something, anything.”

He stopped abruptly, and Moralez almost walked into him. He was looking down, and Moralez edged around him to follow his gaze. There was a hole in the middle of the passage, the same circumference, angled directly down. Moralez leaned over the side and shone his flashlight into the opening, it looked like some kind of well, he couldn’t see a curve or a bottom.

“Well this is different...”

“Do we go down?” Zuga asked hesitantly.

“How? We don’t have climbing gear, I can’t even see a bottom.”

“A Borealan could make it, we could climb using our claws.”

Moralez thought for a moment, then shook his head.

“This is too risky, we need to turn back and meet up with the other teams, maybe they’ve found something.”

When they eventually arrived back at the junction, one team was waiting for them, and one was not. Briggs greeted Moralez, a worried expression on his face.

“You guys are a little late, I was starting to get worried, you find anything?”

“Nah,” Moralez shook his head. “Where’s Gutierrez?”

Briggs looked down the center tunnel, concern furrowing his brow. Moralez sighed, popping off his helmet for a moment and running his fingers through his dark hair.

“Give ‘em fifteen minutes, if they’re not back by then, we go after them.”

The quarter hour passed with no sign of the third team, and so the remaining troops grouped up, with the seven Borealans leading the way. As they advanced, the passage became steadily steeper, angling downwards, until the humans had to dig their heels into the soil to avoid slipping. The going was slow, and it was at least five hundred meters before the floor of the tunnel leveled out again. The surface of Kruger III was wet and windy, like a cold, rainy day on some godforsaken Scottish island, but as they made progress deeper below the ground, it was becoming warmer, and uncomfortably humid.

“Wait...” Zuga raised his balled fist, indicating for them to stop. The humans raised their weapons, taking a battle stance as Moralez inched forward to stand beside the Borealan.

“What is it?”

“I smell blood, yours and ours,” he whispered.

Moralez signaled to the troops to be cautious, and they advanced slowly, XMRs trained on the tunnel that curved out of view before them. As they rounded the corner, a battle scene came into view. Moralez had to cover his mouth with his hand to save from gagging at the grisly sight. Half a dozen humans, one Borealan, completely eviscerated. Their limbs and viscera were scattered around the tunnel, splashes of blood drying on the walls and ceiling, it was impossible to tell what parts belonged to which body.

“What the fuck did this? Some kind of mining machine? I’ve seen people killed by bugs, they don’t break people apart like that.”

“What the fuck L.T...” One of the privates was freaking out, staring wide eyed at the mangled bodies.

“Keep it together, we’ll figure this out.”

Zuga walked over to the dead Borealan, examining the wounds.

“Whatever did this must be a machine of some kind, I have never seen wounds like this. It takes a lot to kill Borealans without destroying the vital organs.”

Moralez shook his head, a sick feeling in his gut.

“This can’t have happened long ago, and where is the rest of their team? Stay alert, we move on.”

There was no point checking for vitals, these soldiers were clearly beyond help. Medicine in the 2560s could do wonders, but bringing the dead back to life was not one of them. They stepped over the corpses, careful to avoid the still wet innards that had been spilled on the tunnel floor. This wasn’t good for morale, not in the slightest, to have every man walk over the bodies of his comrades, but there was only one way forward. He heard the splatter of vomit behind him as one of the privates was overcome by the scene and doubled over.

This tunnel was winding, unlike the others which had been mostly straight, and every turn was a nerve wracking blind spot behind which unnamed horrors could be lurking just out of view. The slant was still noticeably downhill, drawing them ever deeper into the bowels of Kruger III.

“The smell is strong here, bugs passed through recently,” Zuga commented, sniffing the air.

Odd, had the gruesome spectacle they had just passed actually been a victory? Had the bugs been driven back and pursued down the tunnel? If only the damned helmet radios worked down here, they might have been able to come to their aid sooner. They followed the tunnel for what must have been almost a mile, the odd smell was even apparent to the humans now, and the heat was starting to get to them. They couldn’t be deep enough inside the planet to be warmed by magma, that would be absurd, it must be the bugs’ doing. Moralez remembered what he had been taught in school about ant colonies, and how the tiny insects could build ventilation shafts in order to cool or warm the areas of the hive that they wished, and bring in moisture and fresh air below the surface. Was that what this was? A Betelgeusian colony? The thought made him anxious, and he thought it best to keep it to himself.

“How long are we gonna keep looking for them L.T? We’re gonna get fucking lost!”

More complaints from within the column of troops, they were becoming agitated, afraid, and perhaps they were right to be. Moralez was increasingly aware that he had no plan, he didn’t really know what he was doing. He had thought he could rely on the Borealans to take on anything they encountered in these narrow passages, but seeing that dead Borealan had rattled him. The only times he had seen a Mad Cat die before today was being totally obliterated by anti-vehicle weaponry or an extremely well placed vital shot.

“Shut the fuck up Smith,” Briggs scolded. “If that was you down there, you’d want us to come after you, so suck it up. We’re not leaving anyone down here.”

“What if they took them?” Another private, a tremor in his voice. “It doesn’t add up, why are half of them missing?”

This was becoming dangerous, some of them might desert if he didn’t rally them. He turned, illuminated by their flashlight beams.

“Listen up, we have two jobs to do here!” His voice echoed through the tunnel, and the soldiers fixed their opaque visors on him. Despite the situation, he had led them straight before today, and the men respected him. They had been through a lot together on Kruger, and that shared experience counted more than any rank or badge.

“We have to find out what the fuck this is, then we have to bring our men back. I don’t care what the odds are, I’m not leaving a single one of you down here to rot. If you’re gonna die it’s gonna be on your feet, with your friends at your side, not alone in these tunnels. When we’ve cleared this shithole out, we’re going to send teams back down here to recover those bodies and send them home. Is that clear?”

There was a chorus of affirmations, some more enthusiastic than others, but peer pressure was a wonderful tool, the detractors would stay in line as long as they faced the ire of their comrades. He waved them forward, and the column moved along.

The Borealans had been silent through all of this, their loyalty unwavering. It was kind of creepy, they didn’t seem to care that one of their own had been butchered, they just marched on without a complaint.

His thought was interrupted by Zuga motioning for them to stop as they came to a blind corner. Moralez gave the hand signal for his men to take a knee, and crept forward to stand beside the alien.

“What is it Zuga?”

“Something new, I don’t know the smell. Advance with caution.”

The Borealans crouched low and moved forward slowly, and Moralez went with them, switching off his light and using his infrared scope to peek around the passage wall. Through the red tinted sight, he saw a warm blob a short distance down the tunnel. He couldn’t make out details, but whatever it was, it wasn’t shaped like a Betelgeusian. Some local wildlife that had found its way into the underground network perhaps?

“What is it,” he whispered, “what do you smell?”

“Bugs and ... death,” Zuga replied ominously.

“Take up firing positions, I’m gonna get a torch on that thing.”

They bunched up, aiming their long rifles down the passage in the pitch darkness, and Moralez stood behind them, ready to turn on his flashlight attachment and illuminate whatever it was.

“On my mark, three, two, one...”

He flicked the switch, casting a beam of white light down the tunnel.

The thing was big, and it was hunched over, its four arms moving out of sight as its round body cast a shadow on the walls. It looked like a bug, its blue-green, shiny carapace shone in the light with a jewel-like sheen, and familiar decorative horns protruded from what must have been its head, rising into view over its back. It chittered softly, then stood.

It was fucking huge! As tall as a Borealan but wider, heavier, and as it faced them, its green eyes glowing at them through the darkness and its serrated mandibles flexing, Moralez saw what it was eating. It dropped the partially dissected body of a human soldier, just a torso and an arm, which fell heavily to the ground with the limp slap of dead flesh. The damned thing was almost as wide as the tunnel, this was why they had built them with such a large circumference, so that these things might pass through them. It took a step forward on massive, armored legs, as thick as tree trunks, and flared its four arms, snapping giant lobster claws that were stained with drying, red blood.

“Fire! Fire!”

The Borealans opened up, their massive, long barreled XMRs deafening in the confines of the passageway, the kick ramming the weapons into their shoulders with a force that would shatter human bone. The tungsten slugs slammed into the thing, penetrating its shiny shell with spurts of orange ichor, but it didn’t slow the beast, on the contrary, it accelerated, charging down the tunnel towards them. It was built like a goddamned cargo lifter, and those Borealan rifles were the most powerful weapons they had at hand. If those hadn’t felled it, what would?

The Borealans changed their stance, raising their bayonets in order to skewer the thing, and Moralez rushed back around the corner into the column of troops to get out of the way of the melee that would surely ensue, alarm and fear on their faces. They had heard the gunfire but the monster was still out of sight relative to them.

The Borealans drove their bayonets into the thing like medieval pikes as it came into view of the column, the vicious blades sinking deep into its meat, but still it did not fall. It slammed into the line with the force of a charging rhino, knocking the massive aliens aside like bowling pins. It drove straight through them, picking one of them up in its four claws along the way and crushing him against the wall behind them. They heard bone crunch, despite seemingly being made of soil, the walls were remarkably well enforced, and the yowling of a Borealan in pain flooded the tunnel.

The members of Lambda who were still standing jabbed at the monster with their bayonets, trying to free their comrade as the creature pinned him against the wall, laying into him with its mandibles and claws. It was futile, even their long blades would not penetrate deep enough to do any serious damage. By God, it was dissecting him alive, Moralez engaged the combat audio filter in his helmet, trying to block out the screams as the thing disemboweled the Borealan with the mechanical efficiency of a compassionless insect.

The human soldiers didn’t know what to do, and Moralez had no orders for them, they couldn’t engage that thing in melee and they couldn’t fire on it without tearing Lambda apart.

“Zuga pull your pack back! We need to mass fire on that fucking thing! Zuga!”

The alien was in a fugue, hacking desperately at the monster, hackles raised as he tried to free his subordinate, who still struggled against his assailant as its mandibles carved up his...

Moralez looked away, even for a career soldier this was intolerable. Zuga wasn’t listening to him, and if Moralez didn’t pull his men back they would run of their own volition. Borealans had a reputation as being invincible, and seeing one carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey wouldn’t do their morale any good. Should he tell them to ready grenades? That might take it down but in this confined space it would kill them along with their enemy, and the tunnel could cave in, trapping them down here.

“Pull back, pull back, staggered firing line! Don’t shoot until I give the order!”

The tunnel was just wide enough for a handful of soldiers to stand shoulder to shoulder, and one line kneeled while the other aimed over their heads, readying their XMRs. They didn’t have a clear shot, and if the Borealans didn’t follow his orders and move out of the god damned way he would order the men to fire through them.

A chill flooded Moralez’s veins, the familiar, calm resignation of combat, and he gave one last order to Zuga.

“Zuga! Pull your pack back right now or I’m shooting through you!”

With a glare over his shoulder, and what could have been either an order or a curse, Zuga and his men hopped backwards, retreating back down the tunnel the way the creature had come and out of their line of fire. Moralez gave the order and his men opened up, their XMR railguns on full auto. The hypersonic slugs peppering the thing, spraying orange fluid as they penetrated the carapace, and it dropped the dismembered Borealan, turning towards the humans.

From behind it Lambda fired another salvo, but it shrugged off the rounds and marched towards the humans, its mandibles clicking and twitching, still dripping with blood.

“Die, die, just fucking die!” The thing marched through the hail of fire as if it were merely rain, viscous ichor leaking from its innumerable wounds. It wasn’t going down, but it was slowing. It was covered in armor, even its relatively tiny head was covered in plating, could have been shell, maybe helmet, impossible to tell.

“Fall back! Keep firing!” The column moved backwards as the thing staggered towards them, but those at the back were holding them up, the tunnel was just too narrow for the two dozen men to maneuver. The giant bug reached the firing line as the soldiers scrambled to get away, laying into them with its claws and tearing the men apart. Limbs flew and guts were spilled as the cries of fear and pain echoed morbidly through the space.

“Keep firing!”

One soldier emptied his XMR from the hip, spraying wildly at point blank range, but the thing bore down on him, silencing his scream with a heavy blow to the head from one of its massive, armored claws. Those at the rear of the formation were running away back up the tunnel, their morale broken. If they didn’t stop this monster in the next thirty seconds, it was all over.

Moralez steeled himself and strode forward, firing carefully placed shots at its head, but it just would not drop. The shots were penetrating, at the muzzle velocity of a railgun, how could they not? Yet it wasn’t enough to put the thing down. The Borealans came at it from behind, leaping onto its back and stabbing it with their bayonets, but they didn’t penetrate far enough into its shell, it was too thick.

The tunnel was a brawl now, the Borealans clambered over the thing, trying to find a weak spot with their spear-like rifles, injured and dying soldiers littered the ground, the giant bug thrashed its arms and clawed at its assailants, trampling and screeching. Moralez unholstered his 1911, his XMR too risky to use at this range, but would the .45 bullets even penetrate its armored carapace? He didn’t have time to find out, he caught a massive crab claw to the side and was sent tumbling several meters down the tunnel, coming to a rest near where the first Borealan had been pinned and butchered.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, his body armor seemed to have absorbed the worst of the impact, leaving his ribs badly bruised instead of shattered, and as he looked back up the passage, he saw one of the dying human soldiers lying at the feet of the monstrosity, fumbling with something on his vest with his one remaining hand.

His grenade belt. He coughed foamy blood, gagging what must have been one last curse before he pulled the pin.

“No! Zuga, get back-”

The blast wave of the belt exploding threw Moralez on his back, the combat audio filter in his helmet the only thing saving his eardrums from popping like cherries. He felt dirt and shrapnel impact his armor like buckshot. There was a great, rumbling cascade as the roof of the tunnel caved in, burying what remained of Lambda pack and the bug in a pile of rocks and dirt that sealed off his side of the passage. He was plunged into darkness, and the air filter on his helmet snapped shut automatically as dust surrounded him.

He scrambled to his feet, dazed, waiting for the smoke to clear. The pain from his ribs seared through his mind as he slapped the torch on his XMR, trying to get the damned thing to turn back on. If it was damaged he was royally fucked. To his relief it flared to life, and he aimed it through the swirling haze at the pile of earth that now blocked off his escape route. The roof had collapsed completely, any Borealans or remaining soldiers were either buried under it, or on the other side. Panic clouded his mind as he realized he might be alone.

No, there was someone, something moving on his side. He stumbled towards the heap of soil and stones, dropping his XMR to the ground and trying to dig out the shuddering figure. After a moment it sprang to life, pushing out of the dirt and shaking itself like a wet dog. A Borealan, female, she seemed to have no serious injuries as she stood and appraised the blockage.

“Are you ok?” Moralez asked, looking her up and down. She must have been thrown by the blast, shielded by the giant bug perhaps? Her black UNN armor was scarred by debris, but it didn’t look as if anything had penetrated.

“My ears are ringing ... what happened?” Of course, the Borealan’s ears protruded from the tops of their helmets, her hearing might be impaired for a while. She seemed to be able to understand him though.

“Someone set off a grenade belt, collapsed the tunnel. We’re stuck on this side.”

She pulled off her helmet and shook her head, her orange mane spilling down her shoulders. She glared at him with her amber eyes, reflecting the flashlight beam eerily in the gloom. He reached down and picked up his rifle, angling the beam down the tunnel. It looked clear, sound didn’t carry well in this winding network of warrens, there was a chance the battle had gone completely unnoticed. The creature would surely have released some kind of stress pheromones though, and who knew how far those would travel if the tunnels were ventilated, as he suspected they were.

“What the hell was that thing? You ever seen anything like that before?”

The Borealan didn’t reply, turning to appraise the cave-in. She pulled a few rocks away experimentally, sifting through the soil, but soon abandoned the attempt. They’d never remove the blockage.

“Only one way to go,” Moralez mused, flashing his torch at her. “You coming or not?”

“Very well,” she hissed, she sounded pissed off, aggressive, but why shouldn’t she be? Her whole pack had just been wiped out and they were cut off from the survivors. They made their way down the tunnel, passing the ruined body of the Borealan who had been pinned. She stepped over him, oddly disgusted, almost angered at the sight. There was no pity or regret in her expression.

Moralez tested his radio, static hissing through the speakers. No matter, he hadn’t expected much. The only path to take now was further into this nightmare, and deeper into the maze of tunnels.

Chapter 2 »