As promised the beginning of a New Star Trader Episode!
Matt Milestone stood gazing down into the tunnel at his feet. He was a big man. Some said he had been built too big. But, big made him powerful, and he needed to be powerful in his line of work.
He shucked his backpack off his shoulders and began to rummage through it to find the items he had to take with him through the tunnel if his mission was to succeed. He stuffed what he needed into the various pockets of his cargo pants. He could leave his LongRange AW90, but he had to take his blaster. He couldn’t face what was in there without at least some kind of weapon, even if it was a handgun.
Milestone knelt down and shined the light attached to his blaster into the tunnel. The enemy could be waiting just out of sight. There were so many places to be ambushed in this hell hole. He took a deep breath as his hand ran absently though his tussle of black curls. He wouldn’t rescue the kid by sitting here. He had to go and go now. The window of opportunity was closing. He dropped into the tunnel.
Two steps and the tunnel became a wild slide down a chute to the bottom. If he hadn’t been so afraid of what waited at the end, it would have almost been fun. His body zipped along as though it were greased until he hit the platform hard at the bottom.
He instinctively rolled and managed to miss the spikes to the right of the tunnel’s mouth by factions of an inch. He was on a ledge just a few feet wide with a drop off, he could not see the bottom of with the limited light from his blaster. He stood silently for a moment trying to get his bearings in the dark.
Then he heard it, the faint cry of the boy - a whimper in the dark. He shinned his light toward the sound. The child was huddled on the far side of the cavern the tunnel dumped him into. The boy has taken shelter under an overhang. He raised his head when he saw Milestone’s light. Matt could clearly see his tear streaked, battered face. The boy had been prepared. He was the bait to draw Milestone into this game.
‘Save the child,’ Matt said to himself, almost like a mantra. Forget the danger. Save the child.
The ledge ran around the edge of the bottomless cavern. It was narrow, very narrow for his bulky frame. He called to the boy.
“Come on, son,” he coaxed, “come to me. Follow my light.”
The boy shook his head. “I can’t.” The child’s answer echoed louder in the vast opening and with it Matt heard a rumble from below. “The monster,” the boy added and tried to huddle back further into his small niche.
Milestone heard the beast coming. He had encountered these leviathans before. This was where his build was his weapon. He knew a blaster would not stop the beast. He reached in his large vest pocket and pulled out his thumb laser…a small, but deadly weapon if used correctly and at short range.
Matt tried to ignore the tentacles emerging one by one to slither over the surface of the narrow ledge around the pit’s edge. With the monster came light. It was a florescent beast that lit up the whole cavern. At least Matt would be able to see his enemy this time.
The boy moved his foot just in time to evade the end of one of the arms exploring his area. Matt had to kill the thing before it got the boy or the mission was a bust. But, he couldn’t just start cutting off tentacles. He had to wait for the head to lift. He had to get a shot at the eye of the monster before either he or the boy became captive to one of those suckered arms.
One long appendage slid across the shelf of rock he stood on. He jumped over it just in time and it kept on exploring the cliff.
The disks would appear soon. They had to. It was the only way across the pit.
He hunkered down and watched the tentacles as they continued to slither around the edge. The beast was alerted to the location of the boy when he whimpered in fear as one of the arms came close to touching him.
Now! Matt almost screamed out loud. NOW! The five disks appeared floating just above the pit. Just above the leviathan below.
Matt leaped into action. He hit the first disk right on center and it literally disappeared in a puff of smoke as he left it in a mighty leap toward the second disk. He hit it off center and almost lost his balance as it flipped and puffed into oblivion, but the monster below was rising and he took advantage of a hump of tentacle to propel himself to the third disk. He vaulted successfully from the third to the four and then the beast raised its ugly head between the fourth and the fifth. He had to act fast or he was dead and the child was lost forever. He launched himself at the head, at the eye, at the fifth disk he knew awaited him beyond the beast’s grasp.
The horns on the beast gave him a place to land and hold on tight as he slashed with his thumb laser at the head. The monster whipped its head from side to side trying to dislodge him. It brought its tentacles up to ensnare him, but he reached its eye first and sunk the thumb laser deep into its jellied depths before he pushed the button to activate it.
The monster roared and screamed in pain. As it withered beneath him he leapt to the last of the disks and onto the ledge where the boy cringed wide eyed in terror.
“You’re going to be okay,” Matt said as he knelt in front of the child. “Come with me. We’re getting out of here.”
He took the boy’s hand and coaxed him out from his hiding place - as the beast died behind them, so the light died with it. They were being plunged into darkness with only Matt’s small light left to guide them. Milestone knew there was another way out. He saw it in the light from the beast…another tunnel opening a few yards to the left of where the boy had been hiding. He shined his light toward it, picked up the boy under one arm and ran. There was no telling if there were more beasts where that one had come from. It would be just his luck if it had a mate twice its size.
He sprinted toward the opening and what he hoped was safety for him and the boy.
The tunnel was short and opened up into another cavern with tall cones filled with bubbling lava rising from the floor. It was stiflingly hot, but at least they had light. He could see what might be coming their way. He looked for indications of a way to the surface and freedom from this nightmare.
There! On the other side of the cavern was a door. A door? What in blazes was a door doing here? It had to be a hallucination, a trick of his mind. He set the boy down and knelt in front of him.
“Do you see that door?” he asked the child, as he pointed toward the aberration.
“Yes,” the boy answered. “Is that the way out?” He looked so hopeful. He trusted Matt even though they had just met. He placed his hand on Matt’s arm as though to prove to himself that his savior was real.
“I don’t know if it is, or not,” Matt said honestly. “Let’s go see.”
He took the boy’s hand and led him cautiously around the bubbling cones of deadly lava. His clothes stuck to his sweaty skin and his hair fell limp into his eyes under the onslaught of the almost unbearable heat. The boy lagged behind and eventually sat down in exhaustion. Matt picked him up and continued on.
It seemed the more they walked, the larger the cavern became and the further away the door remained. It had to be an illusion…perhaps brought on by the fumes from the lava, but Milestone could not give up. He had to finish the mission. Save the boy. He trudged on until he saw one of the cones collapse…then he ran!
The lava spread across the floor of the cave and each time it encountered another one of the cones, that cone collapsed and added to what was becoming a torrent of lava.
Matt sprinted toward the door with the boy under his arm. He would make it. It was getting closer now as the waves of lava lapped at his heels. He reached the door only to find it was locked.
He put the boy down and fumbled in his pockets for the explosive he carried. He pressed it into place around the handle, grabbed the boy to shield him from the blast and ignited it. The door was flung from its hinges and out into the approaching lava.
Matt threw the boy over his shoulder and ran. He ran until his lungs burned. He ran up the winding path leading off the floor of the next cavern to the safety of the ledge above as the lava poured in and covered the cavern floor.
He could see the sky through an opening above his head - an opening to the outside. They were going to make it. He searched through his pockets to find the tinsel wire and hook he brought. He installed the projectile on his blaster and shot the hook over the rim of the mouth leading to the sky above. It didn’t catch the first time, but after the third it lodged against something solid above and he could put all his weight on it and it held.
He hooked the activator to his belt and grabbing the boy up in his strong arms. He smiled a reassuring grin. “Hold on. We’re almost there.” Matt activated the windup and they began to rise up out of the cavern.
When they were just short of the edge he pushed the boy up over his head and up onto the rim to safety. He had done it. He smiled and wound himself up further so he could climb out.
He put his hands and then arms on firm ground and was starting to pull himself from the whole when he heard a muffled cry. He looked up as he hung, his feet dangling in space.
The boy was being held by his arch enemy, Daniel the Destroyer. The last thing he saw was the blinding light of Daniel’s blaster as it exploded in his face.
“Damn it, Daniel!!!” Matt exclaimed. He could hear Daniel’s chuckle two solar systems away.
“I can’t help it if you make it so damn easy,” Daniel gloated. “What did you think was going to happen? You were going to get away this time?”
“I swear I will beat you at this game,” Matt said, glaring at the screen showing his dead avatar sliding back down into the cavern below as Daniel’s Destroyer character stood grinning in triumph.
“Well, you might someday,” Daniel answered over the com, “but not today. I have a date with 3su and I have to get going or I am going to be late.”
“No fair,” Matt objected.
“Sorry, what’s that old saying, ‘all’s fair in love and war?’ I really have to go,” Daniel said. Matt could hear his chair squeak as he moved to shut down his system on the other end. “Use your time wisely, my friend. You need to rebuild Matt Milestone to be a bit more agile. I almost got you again with the leviathan before you even got out of the first cavern.”
“You didn’t even come close,” Matt retorted. It was bad enough he lost without Daniel’s gloating. He should have anticipated Daniel’s ambush.
“Later, Moron Milestone,” Daniel joked with another chuckle. “We’ll have a game tomorrow if I can find the time to kill you again.”
The screen went blank before Matt could answer. He was going to have to find a way to redeem himself. He couldn’t let Daniel go on thinking he was the best. Matt knew he was better. Better gamer, better programmer. Better tech. He’d prove it, and soon, if what he had been working on turned out the way he planned.