This was going to be the opening scene to Shades of Allegiance. I wrote it years ago, and it stayed in the book all the through beta readings and even went to my editor. I like the scene, but it didn’t set up the book quite right, and after some deep thoughts, I decided the book would be stronger without the Saricean invasion.
11 days to go!
Rykus braced a hand against the tunnel wall. The cold rock vibrated from the impact of another sub-atmo bomb and sent a new cloud of dust and debris into the air. He held his breath so he didn’t inhale the worst of it and kept moving. Not much time left. If he and Gamma Team didn’t hurry, the last of the Javerian mine workers would be trapped in the caverns below.
“Receiving an update,” Kalver said, jogging beside him. “Ground troops have landed. ETA twenty-two minutes.”
It had taken ten to reach this point.
“We’ll make it,” Rykus said.
The metal beams holding up the tunnel groaned and creaked, and the final flickering lights above their heads blinked off, mocking his words. He tapped on the light attached to his helm. They’d traveled deeper than they had on their two previous trips. The first group of miners they’d rescued hadn’t known communications with the surface had been cut off. They’d been working, doing their jobs replacing sensors without any knowledge they were about to be invaded. The second group wasn’t as lucky. The Sariceans’ bombardment had caved in a portion of their tunnel, killing one woman and injuring a man. If Gamma Team had arrived two minutes later, they all would have died.
The ever present dust felt like sandpaper between his clenched teeth. The Sariceans wanted Javery’s thrysite to build more of their tachyon-driven ships. The new technology allowed interstellar travel without the need of a capsule, but Javery didn’t want to trade with the belligerent zealots. When negotiations didn’t work, the Sariceans decided to take the thrysite by force. It was all out war now.
Rykus couldn’t wait to send the enemy limping back to hell.
Another bomb rattled the rock, and a thunderous boom wrenched through the air. He put his back against the wall, stared up at the ceiling overhead and watched as it cracked and shimmied.
The roar continued for a long damn time. Then it stopped. The silence was more terrifying than the noise.
“Ventilation’s out,” Kalver said, recognizing the quiet hum was gone, too. “How long do we have?”
“Fifteen minutes,” Rykus answered. Fifteen minutes until the tunnels filled with toxic gas. “Keep moving.”
The amount of collapsed support beams and fallen rock increased, and when they finally reached the shaft where the miners awaited rescue, it was half covered with debris.
“Gamma Team here,” he called down. “What’s your status?”
A chorus of shouts and cries echoed up.
He unslung the rope over his shoulder, secured one end with a pneumatic anchor, then dropped the other end into the shaft.
“We’re cutting it close,” Mandell, the third member of the excursion, said.
Rykus tapped on his comm-cuff to connect to Liles. “We need more time.”
“The shield is down to 2%,” the commander of the now-dissolved Trident team said. “You have eight minutes.”
“We need fifteen. Make it happen.” Rykus killed the communication. “Mandell. Kalver. Head out. Make sure the civilians have a path to the skimmer. I’ll get—”
A huge slab of wall cracked. It started to fall.
Rykus lunged forward, ramming his shoulder into the listing block of rock the same instant Kalver did.
Rykus’s boots scraped over the dust covered floor. He roared until his feet found traction, then he funneled his strength into holding the rock up. Kalver grunted, too. If the slab fell, it wouldn’t just seal off the vertical shaft; it would block the tunnel, preventing them all from escaping.
“Shut up and hold,” Rykus said. His feet slid again.
“I’ve got it, sir,” Kalver said.
“We’ve got it.” Sweat trickled down his brow despite the cave’s cool air. Anomaly or not, the slab would crush Kalver if Rykus backed off.
“Sure hope they hurry then,” Kalver drawled. “This thing’s a little heavier than sparr-oak.”
Damn anomalies and their dark sense of humors. He’d made them carry the logs on Caruth. They were heavy, but they weren’t bone-crushing rock.
Kalver’s feet slipped. Rykus almost went down.
“Last one,” Mandell called from the hole, pulling a miner up.
“Get them out of here!”
Mandell acknowledged his order, left the rope behind, then hurried after the miners.
Rykus made eye contact with Kalver. “On three. One. Two. Three!”
Rykus heaved, but not even his and Kalver’s combined strength could lift the rock more than a centimeter. It crashed to the ground, raking down his right side and scraping his chest and shoulder.
He escaped being crushed. So did Kalver. They both sat with their backs against the cracked and broken slab, breathing hard. Pain radiated up his back then pulsed down his raw and bleeding shoulder.
“Go,” Rykus said. “I’ll set the timer.”
“About that timer…”
He followed Kalver’s line of sight. The falling slab hadn’t just torn into Rykus’s uniform and flesh; it had ripped the pack from his shoulders. It—and the explosives inside—lay half-smashed beneath the rock.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said.
“I can do it.”
“No. You’ll go.”
Kalver stiffened then blinked. His brow furrowed and he glanced down the tunnel.
“Yes, sir,” the anomaly murmured. Then he set off.
God damn loyalty training. Rykus hadn’t deliberately triggered the compulsion, but the anomalies he’d trained had a hard time defying his orders.
All the anomalies except one.
He took out his knife and carefully cut into his pack, trying not to let Ash invade his thoughts, but every minute they were apart made him feel more claustrophobic than these tunnels. He was on a planet under siege by the Sariceans, and she was across the universe doing who the hell knew what on her home world.
He took a breath and forced himself to focus on his task. The rock had crushed the timer on the explosive. He needed a backup.
He unhooked his comm-cuff then used his blade to pry off its razor thin screen. Tiny silver lines criss-crossed the black surface. There were even more lines that were too microscopic to see, but he’d hacked a cuff before.
Flipping his knife over in his hand, he slammed the pommel down on the top left corner. That broke the circuits connecting the power cell. The silver lines he couldn’t see would be shifting and sliding now, trying to reestablish a connection. When they did, it would create an electrical current strong enough to trigger the explosives.
He turned the screen over so he could tap on its surface and set a forty minute delay before it tried to reconnect. Plenty of time for him to get out of there.
And plenty of time for the Sariceans to get a good number of their people in. The bastards wouldn’t take these mines without a high cost.
He slid the cuff beneath the explosive, then he turned and ran. More of the tunnel had caved in since he’d passed through. He climbed over sharp sections of rock and crawled through spaces that were barely held open by bent steel beams. The mines should have been evacuated days ago, but the Triumvirate had attempted to negotiate with the enemy. Javery’s leaders were too set on maintaining neutrality. Even with a bigger, hostile force strategically patrolling the star system, they refused to officially enlist the Coalition’s aid. They were losing the mines because of that choice, and when the Sariceans got a hold of the thrysite and built more tachyon-driven ships, they would be twice as hard to defeat.
Ahead, portable lights lit up a rocky surface that was littered with trash and deliberately broken equipment. The booms of missile strikes and explosions punctured the sharp roar of Predators flying overhead, and a bright orange haze reflected off low-lying clouds and smoke.
Kalver stood by the tunnel’s entrance, yelling something at Liles.
“What is it?” Rykus shouted to be heard over the sounds of war.
“A group of civilians entered the tunnels from the south side,” Liles said. “Floor opened up. Dropped them into a chamber below level.”
“The south side? What were they doing there?”
“Trying to rescue the miners.”
Rykus wiped sweat from his brow, cursed, and Liles raised his hand in a gesture that clearly said: civilians. Go figure.
“Do we know where they are?” Rykus asked.
Liles passed his flattened comm-cuff over. “Southeast corner. Green line is where they entered. Red is where their signal places them.”
“We’ll take the Estez route,” he said. “It’s a straight line to their location. If we’re quick-” and if the route hadn’t already caved in— “we might make it to the south entrance.” That entrance had been shut down decades ago. Most people wouldn’t know how to find it, but Rykus’s family owned the mines. He knew exactly where the tunnel breached the surface.
He handed the cuff back to Liles. “Get on the skimmer and get out of here. Kalver and I will go. We’ll make contact when we can.”
“You’ll have to do it without air cover.” Liles jerked his chin up toward the Mythian jets engaging the enemy’s fighters. “Called them in from covering the industrial center. Pissed off more than one executive. They leave when we lift off.”
A soldier bellowed something from the skimmer on the ground. Probably telling them to hurry the hell up.
“You good with this?” Rykus asked Kalver.
“Yes, sir,” Kalver said with too much enthusiasm. Like Ash, the man thought he was invincible.
“Lets move out then.”
Rykus glared over his shoulder. The soldier who’d been bellowing from the skimmer was running toward them.
“Get out of here,” Rykus shouted. He signaled to the skimmer’s driver to go, then turned toward the entrance to the mine.
The idiot followed them inside the tunnel, slid to a stop beside him, then stood at attention. “I’m sorry, sir. But you have to board the skimmer.”
Rykus turned to fully face the young Javerian soldier. “If that order’s from General Rykus—”
“The minister prime insists, sir.”
Tersa? After her escapades on Ysbar Station, she’d been quietly stripped of power despite maintaining her title. She shouldn’t be able to insist on anything.
“She’ll have to wait,” he said.
“It’s mission imperative, sir. The skimmer has orders not to leave unless you’re on board.”
He bit back a curse. Mission imperative. He couldn’t ignore that.
“I’ve got the rescuers, sir,” Kalver said.
“Fine. Get it done.”
Kalver acknowledged the order, and sprinted deeper into the tunnel. Whatever Tersa had to say damn well better be important.
He ran with the soldier back to the skimmer, jumping on board just before its doors closed. The workers moved to make room.
The distance to the extract point was short. With the Mythian jets providing cover, they reached the temporary base in six minutes. Three anti-siege cannons intercepted the missiles and bombs the Sariceans lobbed at them, but the attack was too heavy. More than a few missiles had made it through the Javerian’s defenses. Several space-to-ground transports burned. His father wouldn’t be able to hold this base for more than an hour. Not without Coalition help.
The skimmer banked behind the anti-siege cannons’ protective circle and landed.
“Follow me, sir,” the soldier who’d delivered Tersa’s message said, opening the door.
They jogged across the small clearing to a hard shell tent. Two men stood inside. One wore the insignia of a Cryptologic and Information Warfare Specialist. He held out a set of headphones. “A secure comm, sir.”
The men gave him distance as he tapped his security code into the console.
Immediately, Tersa’s grim face appeared. “Commander. We’ve lost Ashdyn.”