This Science Fiction short story is a lead-up to the book titled, Onyalum Wars. The book is part of the Science Fiction Onyalum Series written by NB VanYoos.
Kragort slogged through the dense undergrowth, leading his squad towards the heavily defended mountain fortress. The planet’s location was critical to moving new units into this undeveloped region of the galaxy, but taking it had proven difficult. The locals were fiendish fighters, and the planet itself defied subjugation.
He was an Onyalum possessing the Acriend squad leader Hakmog, a lowly underling in the battle with the Trilliu. He had only recently been recruited by Hamot to fight the war for the ultimate prize.
Kragort felt confident he had made the right choice, but starting from the bottom was like a slap in the face. He’d possessed thousands of military leaders during his existence, and to be forced into a lowly soldier was demeaning.
Still, if he could employ his experience to set himself apart from the rest of the beastly horde, he would ascend in rank quickly. This was his first subjugation mission, and he intended to complete it with all the rewards that would be due. But first, he had to find the damn enemy. The thought of what he and his men would do to the locals once the battle was won filled him with proper malice.
The world was called Plaximari, and the residents were known as the Herolen, a peaceful, trading species known for their fairness. But they put up a more formidable defense than any of the Acriend leaders anticipated based on prior intelligence—intelligence that was likely tainted. More than a few times, intelligence assets had misled the Acriend leadership in the hopes of damaging the juggernaut. Retribution was swift, but the damage was usually already done.
The idiot Acriend were far too arrogant to engage in peaceable negotiations to ensure cooperation without coercion, so every subjugation was a risk. In this case, the intelligence was misleading, and the hostile planetary environment had been omitted from the early reports. Creatures the size of houses roamed freely beneath the dense canopy, while the jungle floor was littered with decaying detritus made worse by off and on rain. Even his Acriend size, normally an asset, proved a hindrance within the dense vegetation.
He slashed wildly with a formidable blade at the limbs and vines barring their path. He normally reserved this blade for spilling blood but was forced to hack his way to the base of the bunker looming in the hills above them, but unassailable by air. Subjugation aerial units had already wasted two squadrons attempting to bomb the facility.
This was why they had sent in Kragort’s squad along with two others, each approaching the fortress from different directions. Their orders were clear: penetrate the facility, kill everything within it, and destroy all weapons that could not be cannibalized. He was up to the challenge but was losing his lust as the jungle wore him down.
The oxygen content of the atmosphere was high, but so was the heat and humidity, something that slowed Acriend soldiers. The gravity was lighter than what they usually trained in, so the going wasn’t bad once you cut through the thick vegetation. Jungle fighting was never Kragort’s strong suit, so fate had dealt him a tricky hand with this mission. But he would persevere.
“Damn it!” He screamed to the planet’s gods, his blade tangled in a particularly sticky vine oozing a glue-like substance. “All right, men, stay away from the purple vine, it leeches glue!” He flicked on his radio and signaled the other squads. “This is Hakmog, everyone avoid the purple vines—they secrete a glue-like substance that will slow you down.”
He yanked hard until his blade slid free, the viscous substance splattering his pant leg. Almost instantly, the substance sizzled and popped as it burned through the material and into his leg.
“Get back!” He yelled to his men as he pulled out a small canister and fired it into the wound. Within seconds, he stopped the acidic reaction eating his flesh.
He pulled out another vial and squeezed some of its contents onto the wound, the material cleansing and cauterizing his damaged leg. He carefully picked up his blade and wiped the remaining ooze on the surrounding vegetation, but the native flora was immune to the acid.
He broadcast this new bit of information to the other squads. “The glue-like substance is a volatile acid, so be careful if you have to move through it!”
The other squad leaders relayed they understood, and once again, he thought about fate choosing him to be the first one to run into such a nasty piece of vegetation. Everything about this mission and this planet stunk, and Kragort wondered if he would ever get to prove himself. An uneasy feeling of dread momentarily seized him, but he quickly refocused and signaled his squad to continue.
After diverting around the patch of the purple vines, he picked up a game trail that made the going easier. However, he was uneasy stepping in and out of the enormous tracks left by animals far larger than himself. He had already seen some of these beasts, and they were formidable. Fortunately, he had two men carry large caliber weapons ready to meet any creature intending them harm. He didn’t want to take any chances since blades would not be sufficient to stop the beasts.
He heard sounds up ahead and stopped, signaling his men to do the same. They crouched in a defensive posture, eyes scanning for movement or threat. Kragort pulled down his infrared lenses and focused on the distant track. Flashes of small animals illuminated the jungle on either side, but nothing threatening was visible.
He signaled his communications man, and had him scan for anything in the audible or radio spectrum. The soldier played with equipment, focusing his dish on the distant track. Within seconds he signaled there was something up ahead.
“Animal?” Kragort asked.
The soldier shrugged. “Maybe, not quite sure.”
Kragort connected his earpiece to the device and listened. It was a low, ominous hum that sounded like it came from the planet itself. “Damn if I know.” He said. “Maybe power generation or automatic emplacements?”
The soldier shook his head. “I don’t think so. I have never heard any power generator like this. It is too irregular.”
Kragort signaled another soldier. “Macog, scout the source of this sound.”
Macog took a quick listen before stowing his weapons and crawling into the undergrowth. They waited quietly before he finally returned. “I can’t find anything.”
“Damn it!” Kragort complained. “I hate this planet!” As if responding to his curse, the sky opened and a light rain fell to the jungle floor.
He peered around their position, deciding to move off the game trail and around the mysterious sound. If they didn’t know what it was, it was a good bet they didn’t want to meet it. He pulled his blade and hacked a new path through the jungle, moving closer to the mountain fortress on their right, but still too far east.
After an hour, they finally reached a relatively thinner part of the jungle where it met the hard rock of the mountain. They were vulnerable without the cover of the trees, but would make faster time. He decided to risk it. Thankfully, the rain stopped.
He picked up their pace, scrambling over rocks and debris as they crept closer to the impenetrable base. If his calculations were correct, the fortress should have a weakness, some way to enter without being detected. Sewage lines were notorious weak points, as were power lines or fresh water feeds. Considering the rocky composition of the mountains, natural resources would be hard to find, at least that was the theory.
They rounded another ridge and spotted the main weapons peeking out of the rocky fortress a mile away. So far, they hadn’t seen any signs of habitation, and he wondered why no defenses were visible along the tree line. Surely these people would expect some form of ground attack. Perhaps they believed the jungle was too hostile for an army to successfully navigate through it. They didn’t know the Acriend.
He stopped once more, taking stock of the situation before radioing the other squads. “Any squad reached the base yet?”
No one answered, so he tried again. Nothing. It was possible the other squads were already reconnoitering the area for penetration points and wanted to maintain radio silence. He turned his off and decided to move under the trees while scanning for possible entries.
His communications man scanned all the spectrums once more before signaling he found something. “Sir, you need to hear this.”
Kragort connected his earpiece and listened. It was identical to what they had heard before, but this time it was louder with an added high pitched sound. “Damn it, what is that?”
“I don’t know, sir, but it’s coming from beneath us.” The soldier replied.
“Has to be artificial.” Kragort concluded. “Some sort of power generation, I‘m certain.”
He unplugged and signaled the men. “Sounds like power production, so there is a good chance we might find an air intake or exhaust vent. Spread out and look for anything artificial.”
The troops spread into a line as they marched deeper into the jungle. The ground shook slightly, and everyone stopped. It shook again and Kragort looked puzzled. It could be the power generators below them, or a wild beast on the hunt. Although natural earthquakes were not uncommon, it seemed implausible considering what they detected.
He stopped and sniffed the air, attempting to identify any exhaust or unnatural scent. Nothing. He signaled they continue before stopping when he noticed a light breeze blowing off the mountain from behind. He quickly signaled his men to group into a defensive posture, but before they could gather, the ground shook wildly as a violent crashing through the trees indicated they were under attack.
Only one of his soldiers with the large caliber rifle had made it back, while the other huddled behind a large tree to avoid the enormous beasts crashing through the undergrowth into their midst. It was three of the largest predators this crappy planet possessed, and they looked pissed. Kragort jumped out of the way as one charged him, and he just managed to grab an upper branch on the tree beside him, swinging his bulk into the canopy.
The communications man wasn’t as lucky as the beast seized him, crushing him with bloody teeth the size of swords. Kragort swung his main weapon around and fired, but the shots barely dented the thick skin and ricocheted off the formidable skull. Another of the beasts grabbed the other end of his soldier, ripping the man in half before consuming him.
The third beast was running down two other soldiers as one of the riflemen fired into its mid-section. The green skinned beast whirled on its attacker, the wound barely making it flinch. It charged wildly as another shot to its mid-section made it hesitate. The other riflemen fired once more, this time catching its lower jaw in a burst of bone and blood. The beast bellowed in pain bringing the other two running to its defense.
Kragort leapt out of the tree and fired at their retreating forms, but the beasts fanned out going after each of the rifle men. The men didn’t have a chance and were quickly run down by the monsters. The other soldiers fired uselessly while the injured beast continued to bellow in pain and frustration.
Kragort stowed his weapon and pulled his blade. He charged the injured beast from behind, leaping onto its back in the light gravity. With a determined force and accurate blow, he severed the beast’s main artery in its neck, strangling the beast in its own blood.
He leapt free of the falling form as the other beasts abandoned their quarry to charge him. He climbed out of reach in a nearby tree as additional thundering echoed through the forest. The bellowing sounds of the pack signaled his squad was in trouble. Working together, the pack of beasts could easily uproot all the trees in the area, removing any chance of escape or cover. He ordered his men to retreat towards the mountains.
Several soldiers flew out from behind cover, confusing the beasts in indecision. Kragort took advantage to swing over to another tree before hitting the ground running at full sprint. The beasts were right behind them, but the dense undergrowth slowed them down. Once he and his men hit the mountain rock, speed and dexterity would win the day. Kragort hoped he possessed both.
The ground shook violently as he approached the clearing at the base of the mountain, but before he could reach the safety of the rocks, the ground beneath him gave way, an enormous maw opening in the ground, sucking in everything above it. Trees, rock, and the pursuing beasts collapsed into the giant chasm.
Kragort jumped with all his strength, but with nothing solid to hold onto, he fell towards the bottomless pit as the screams of his men and the bellow of the beasts were drowned out by the thundering crush of earth. His mission had failed, the planet had won, and subjugation was even further away. The Herolen didn’t need artificial defenses against ground attack, the planet provided it for them.
As the darkness swallowed him, Kragort realized he would have to take over another soldier, starting at the bottom after this epic failure. He only hoped they would permit him command of another squad. And next time, he hoped they wouldn’t pit him against such impossible resistance.