Down, down, down
The slightly reddish dirt of the plateau was sticking to the boots and legs of their pressure suits. Kim Lu-Hyun kept checking the data stream from the drones as well the atmospheric research sensors from the ship. The sight of Earth in the sky was a reminder they weren't in Kansas.
“We should have no problems breathing this. Plus, this world's been in interstellar space so long, I bet all the germs are dead.” He told them as they walked.
“So, frozen germs can't be revived now that it's orbiting a tar again?” Lt Lowery asked, knowing he had read somewhere they could. Of course you can't believe everything you read.
“Normally, yes. But thousands of years seems like a stretch to me.” Kim Lu-Hyun answered.
“I doubt it. I seem to recall that they find germs deep in the permafrost of Antarctica that readily come back to life.” Senior Lieutenant Igor Kerensky said.
The Korean replied, “Maybe. Look, I'm not saying we should take off the suits, I am saying if we have to it won't likely kill us.”
“Then you should have jut said that.” Max Jackson answered, still looking around for any sign of enemy activity. “Do you think they know we're here?”
“No way to tell. I don't think they feel any reason to put guards or sensors up here. What we are doing is so far outside of their experience, it might never have come up.” Lowery reminded them.
After a couple of kilometers they came to some kind of vent shaft. It was probably used to radiate heat from the inside, to regulate temperature in the underground city. The drones showed that there were several of these in a rough circle around the perimeter of the plateau.
“Can we drop the nuke down the shaft and run?” Sgt Gore asked, trying to keep a straight face.
“I don't think that's a good idea.” Kerensky said, “If it hit the bottom before detonating it could be damaged and not work.”
Lt Jackson shook his head. “Are you saying we need to go into the city?”
“That would work, but we would most likely get killed before we got anything done.” he said with a grin. “I think we should fine a shaft that goes under the city. If possible.”
“We don't know how far down the city is. Even if we reached ground level, we might still be above the city itself.” Kim Lu-Hyun pointed out. “The factories and whatever that are producing those ships might be far above the rest of the city.”
“That's why we have to go down there and see for ourselves.” Lowery told them, “We might be able to assemble the device up here. One of us could have it strapped to our backs on the way down.”
Everyone looked at Lt Jackson “Action” Jackson. He was the biggest, strongest amongst them and he tried to ignore it. “Really?”
“I think I would rather assemble it at the bottom if we have a choice.” the Russian said, then he looked at the Korean. “Get a drone down the shaft, I want to know if it always slants down or if there is a drop somewhere.”
He recalled one of the four drones. It was only as big as his hand, he soon had it reprogrammed. Everyone set the HUD screen in their helmets to receive the feed as it flew into the shaft. Once inside the large tunnel-like shaft slanted downward at a slightly steep angle for several kilometers, it had probably descended downward more than a kilometer at point.
The side of the shaft opened up and they could see what looked like large counter-rotating fans, and beyond this it was a little dark. Kim Lu-Hyun ordered the tiny drone forward, closer to the fans where the wind produced buffeted it some. A better image of what was beyond came to them.
The inside of the plateau was hollow except for rows of pillar-like black rock columns from the bottom to the ceiling. These columns were like tall buildings, there were artificial lights all up and down them. On the ground between them was a mass of alien activity, like some sort of homeless encampment. There were aliens brewing vats of stuff, aliens with carts of roots and such and even a few mechanical vehicles.
“Why does this look familiar?” Lowery asked out loud.
“So many countries in history have impoverished their people to build mighty armies and edifices that it should look familiar.” Kerensky said, “My country was like that for a long time. It still happens that governments would rather build large monuments than feed the people, monuments can be used for propaganda.”
“My people were split in half.” Kim Lu-Hyan reminded them, “This looks a lot like the north half.”
Sgt Gore turned off his viewer. “Maybe we can set the nuke off in their military factories? I don't see how nuking the city will help.”
Lance Corporal James Arlen shook his head. “Read a better history book. Factories can be rebuilt, the people in the city are much harder to rebuild. When Caesar conquered the Gauls, he didn't make them his equals, he made them his slaves. He showed no mercy to civilians at Alesia. The whole notion of war not being waged on civilian populations is a modern one, but it's not realistic in most situations.”
“Those swarms of robots on Earth were built by automated machines. Those factories would make a fine target.” Lt Jackson said.
“All right. Let's not debate this. I'll decide what we do. Right now, I think we need to start our descent through this shaft.” The Russian told them. Kim Lu-Hyun ordered the other three drones to land near the ship and recycle their power cells. He landed the other at the bottom of the shaft so they could see if any aliens started moving in that direction.
The first thing was the three meter drop to the inside of the shaft. For this Jackson, Gore and Arlen took off their packs and weapons and climbed down. They hung from the edge and dropped down, then their packs and weapons were carefully dropped. Finally Kerensky, Kim Lu-Hyun and Lowery dropped their special and critical equipment to the waiting hands below. Then they joined the others by climbing down the same way with the big drop at the end.
Lt Kerensky seemed to hurt his ankle but he said he was fine. He carried his heavy burden without any problem most of the way down. By the then the others had decided he must be fine. It was hot in the shaft, the dry wind didn't help.
They were all a bit startled when a loud noise came from below. It was coming from the city.
“Something is happening on the far side of the city. I can't make out any details, though.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, referring to the feed from the drone parked at the bottom. He reconnected to one of the drones by the landing ship and sent it airborne to check the large metal doors.
Sure enough the massive doors were slowly opening.
“Are they going to launch another wave?” Sgt Gore asked. The answer to this seemed obvious.
“Those massive ships hanging around the moon must have returned to carry another wave back to Earth.” Lowery said, “Bloody hell. We should have nuked those ships.”
“Those ships are probably unmanned. Besides why destroy them when they're empty?” Kerensky said through heavy breaths, he was also leaning on the wall a lot. Everyone else had just noticed this and were glancing at him when he fell down and began rolling down the inclined shaft. Once every few revolutions the atomic backpack hit the ground and tossed him into the air to land with a thud.
The others were now chasing him because he seemed unable to stop the roll. Jackson had thrown his own pack and heavy 50 cal down to increase his speed but he finally reached him and stopped the momentum.
Kerensky's faceplate was smashed, much of the suits arms and legs were ripped. The alien armor shell was not scratched or dented though. The armor had probably saved him from more serious internal injuries, except his left arm was a mess and he couldn't move it.
Sgt Gore ran back up the sloping shaft and brought Lt Jackon's pack and gun. Jackson had a first aid kit but even if he sealed up the gashes on the left arm, there were still broken bones. The arm was useless even if he didn't bleed out.
“We should have brought a med-bot.” Gore said.
“On a suicide mission?” Arlen asked “Well I guess we could have had the nuke inside of it.”
Speaking of the nuclear weapon, the device was scratched and scuffed on the formerly shiny silver surface, but nothing vital looked busted. Kerensky reached up with his right arm and started unlatching the helmet. Kim Lu-Hyun had to help him remove the busted helmet.
He took a deep breath and coughed. “That doesn't smell good. I know I didn't take a dump.”
“Can you walk?” Jackson asked after he wrapped the ankle with a blue gel device that tightened itself while form-fitting the wearer. “How does that feel?”
“Russia doesn't have those.” He complained, and then grinned. “I would have asked for one.”
They helped him to his feet and he gingerly put some weight on his left ankle. “I can walk.”
The left arm had to be tied to his chest. They used a strap from the ruined helmet to accomplish this.
They started moving again. Jackson now carried the atomic backpack while Gore had Jackson's pack slung over the shoulder. It was going slower than before.
“They probably have many cities, right?” Sgt Gore asked. “Even if we succeed here, it doesn't really mean they will stop the invasion.”
Kerensky looked at him. “You are looking for loopholes. The next level will be to convince yourself that we shouldn't nuke the city.”
The Sergeant looked defensive, “No, man. That's not it. I just don't want it to be pointless. So f--- that!”
“We've been through this. We all volunteered.”
Gore stopped. “We were losing the war. It wasn't like there was deep pool of soldiers for them to choose from at that point, the launch site was even being attacked. It's hard to change your mind in that situation. And if you are trying to imply that I'm a coward, then f--- you.”
Kerensky laughed. “You are a US Marine. I would never think you were a coward, but you are very defensive.”
They reached the bottom of the shaft and they all dropped onto their bellies immediately. Taking off their packs at the same time. Lowery, Arlen and Kerensky moved closer to the edge to get a better view. Lowery had high-tech binoculars while Arlen used the scope on his modified 50 cal sniper rifle.
The only thing between them and the city now was the two giant counter-rotating fans and a drop of about twelve meters. The nearest of the giant black-rock columns, which were almost a kilometer thick, was about one kilometer. From human experience there would be hundreds of apartment windows where one might see the strange figures in the shaft. The odds of any of the aliens looking might be rather tiny, but it was still a concern.
The noise of the giant doors opening ended.
“They're open.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, his HUD screen showing him a view of the giant doors. He dropped the altitude of the drone and then set it down on a tall boulder. The camera soon showed more of the triangular vessels atop tall, and unmistakable rockets, being moved toward the launch sites outside the plateau.
“We need to set off the nuclear weapon before those ships can be launched.” The Russian said. “If we could only move it closer to the center of the city we can be sure of damaging those rockets. It would probably collapse the plateau onto the city too.”
“There is a dirty looking river that comes close to us and goes through the center of town toward the industrial area.” Lance Corporal James Arlen said.
“Ugh. Ever been to places like India or central America? The water going down the center of the street is usually open sewage canals.” Lowery told them, “I don't want to do it if we have any choices.”
Suddenly Lowery noticed through the binoculars one of the mechanical vehicles carrying a single alien moving up what must be some sort of road not more than a quarter of a kilometer from their positoin.
“We might actually have a bloody choice.” he told them. He handed the binoculars to Kerensky who used his right hand and soon saw the vehicle. They had no idea how to drive the thing, of course, and they might be noticed too.
“Maybe.” He said.
“I'm guessing we have ten or twenty minutes until those ships are in the launch sites.” Kim Lu-Hyun told them, “Somebody make a decision.”
Please feel free to comment and report any spelling mistakes. I do try and correct them when I find them.