Monday, April 20, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 10

< Chapter 9                                                                                                  Chapter 11 >
Exploring the cave at the end of the trogs’ trail, David finds the hidden entrance to another cave!

The tunnel took a sharp turn to the right, deeper into the mountain, a few feet past the entrance and I wanted to get a look around that turn. I sidled into the new cave quietly and carefully, keeping my chest pressed against the right-hand wall. My ears probed the cave ahead of me, alert for the slightest indication someone was coming. That saved me.

I heard the sound of fabric against rock, the barest of unnatural susurrations, but it told me I wasn’t alone. Without a second thought, I dropped into a backward somersault. Just as I tucked into the roll, a trog jumped into view. He fired his blaster rifle from the hip and the bolt ricocheted off the wall I’d been pressed against half a second ago.

The barrel of the rifle tracked my way as I came up out of my roll. Planting both feet against the left wall, I leveled my sword and lunged at the trog’s chest. My blue-skinned opponent brought his blaster rifle up in an attempt to parry my thrust. He deflected my blade up and away from his chest—and into his throat! Hot blood sprayed from his neck as my sword ripped veins and arteries.

Gurgling, the trog dropped the rifle and clawed at his throat in a futile effort to stem the fatal flow of blood. He stumbled forward, eyes wide and glaring at me. The trog dropped to his knees then pitched face-first onto the cave floor.

Snatching up the blaster rifle, I waited for fifteen tense seconds but no more trogs leapt to the attack nor did I hear shouts or cries of alarm from deeper in the cave. Confident I was alone, I cleaned my sword on the trog’s tunic and sheathed it. Leaning the blaster rifle against the wall, I picked up the heavy corpse and draped an arm over one shoulder and a leg over the other. Careful with my ungainly burden, I grabbed the stock of the blaster rifle and staggered back the way I’d come.

I’d been in the cave for no more than ten minutes, but the sunlight was dazzling and felt almost unnatural in comparison. Callan and Chris rushed to help me when I emerged. Chris looked particularly pale, staring at the dead trog with troubled eyes.

“I swear I didn’t see the trog, sir!” Chris said as he took some of the trog’s weight off my shoulders.

“Are you all right, David?” Callan asked, her eyes flicking all over me in search of any wounds.

“I’m fine, Callan. All of the fresh blood on me is blue.” I gave an encouraging smile at Chris. “I know you didn’t see the trog, Chris. There’s another cave branching off behind that big boulder at the back of the cave. This guy was in there, probably standing guard. You couldn’t have seen him.”

Despite my words, Chris looked down, refusing to meet my gaze. “I should have found that cave.”

“You most certainly should not, Ensign Marlow!” Callan snapped, her sharp tone catching the lad by surprise. “You were under direct orders from a member of the royal family to be careful and avoid unnecessary risks—such as exploring a cave by yourself.”

“Before you lay into him further, dear,” I said, handing the blaster rifle to Callan, “could we please find a place to stash this body? It’s rather heavy.”

“We’re on a mountain, David. I’m sure we can find dozens of places to hide the corpse.” Callan looked about quickly before leading us upslope. “Why did you even bother bringing it with you?”

“I don’t see any point in advertising our presence any more than necessary.”

“Won’t the trogs figure out what happened when they discover all the blood inside the cave?” Chris gasped, struggling with his half of the heavy burden.

“I’m going to go back and scatter dirt over all the blood,” I replied. “It might make a particularly dim trog think this guy came outside to relieve himself or something.”

Callan pointed beyond a jumble of rocks. “There’s a steep scree over here. If you toss the body down it, it should be pretty easy to push more rocks down on top of it.”

We did as instructed then spent the next thirty minutes pushing rocks down to cover the body. It wasn’t perfect, but it was far better than I’d hoped for.

When we were finished, the three of us settled down to rest in the shade of an overhang which was out of sight from the cave entrance. I took that time to take a look at the blaster rifle. A cursory examination showed the rifle wasn’t complete—much of the outer covering was missing, for instance.

The missing pieces didn’t affect the rifle’s function, but they might affect how long it functioned since the covering existed to protect the more delicate inner workings from the elements. Without constant cleaning, dust and sand could completely disable the internal electronics. Looking at this one sample, cleaning hadn’t been high on its owner’s list of things to do.

“Are you going to explain all of those murmured comments and grunts you’re making, David?” Callan asked.

“Sorry, dear, I wasn’t aware I was making them.”

“You never are, darling.” She smiled fondly to make sure I understood this fell under the category of ‘endearing trait’ rather than ‘annoying habit’. “So, explanations?”

“First, the rifle is rather crude by galactic standards. It looks like whoever built this repurposed a lot of electronics to function as a blaster rifle. The Federation restricts weapon components for this very reason, but someone quite clever figured out a way around it.” I pointed to different interior components of the rifle. “These are quite common electronic parts—you can probably find them at every Federation research station on Aashla—but they’ve been combined in such a way that they work entirely differently than designed. That explains how those two rogue researchers got this stuff past Federation inspectors.”

Callan and Chris exchanged a look before Callan said, “We non-technical lost colonists will happily take you at your word. That explains the muttering. What about the grunts?”

“That was just me expressing professional disdain for the trog’s weapon maintenance. This thing is filthy. Dirt can mess up the operation of weapons as simple as crossbows. It’s about a hundred times worse in something like this rifle. I’m surprised the thing works at all.”

Callan patted my arm. “Well, hadn’t you better get started cleaning it?”

“You know me so well, dear.”

Chris leaned in, keen interest written on his face. “Will you teach me how to clean this weapon, sir?”

“Sure. And how many times do I have to tell you to call—”

Suddenly, a trog voice rose in the distance. I didn’t have to understand the language to recognize the tone of someone issuing commands. The trogs must have discovered their guard was missing!

Will the trogs discover our heroes? Find out in Chapter 11, coming Wednesday!