Categories > Original > Sci-Fi > Bug Run.

Chapter Three.

by Hussar 0 reviews

Category: Sci-Fi - Rating: G - Genres:  - Published: 2013-01-13 - Updated: 2013-01-13 - 3354 words


Near Howardtown, Yanlor.

“Zoe, whit is ‘at?” Judy, a pretty, pale skinned, red-haired girl with an accent most people found impenetrable, pointed to something in the grass.

Trotting over to where Judy stood, Zoe, who’d known Judy since Basic so could understand what she was saying (most of the time), looked down at the dark hole in the ground.

“Don’t know,” Zoe shrugged before crouching down to examine the hole, it was about three feet across and went down about another six feet before it appeared to join up with a tunnel that disappeared off into the dark.

“What’s up?” Lea called as she organised, Brandi, Kandi and Sam into a loose cordon around where Zoe and Judy crouched.

“Don’t know,” Zoe repeated before adding, “some sorta hole or something.”

Walking over to Zoe and Judy, Lea peered into the hole and spat.

“Yep, it’s a hole alright,” she agreed.

“Smart-ass,” Zoe muttered.

“Swatch!” Judy pointed to another spot a few feet away, “Ur those footprints?”

Standing up, Zoe went to look at this new mystery, Lea came and stood between Zoe and Judy

“I know what those are,” Lea announced with a smile.

“Well, y’gonna tell or are y’gonna keep it all to y’self?” Zoe wanted to know.

“Those are bug-prints,” Lea explained, “when we first arrived on planet I got real close to some bugs and those are bug-prints.”

The bugs were the largest land animals found so far on Yanlor, they were about the size of a man, they were a shinny black in colour, ate grass and were pretty harmless, at least everyone said so and there was no evidence to say that they’d ever attacked a human. In fact the bugs tended to ignore humans as they wandered about the plains of Yanlor cropping the grass. Most people thought that the bugs weren’t all that bright.

“They live in these holes, see,” Lea gestured to the hole, “in little family groups.”

“Hey listen to knowledge-girl,” Zoe joked, “how come you know all this crap.”

“Oh,” Lea sighed at a fond memory, “when we first got here I was screwing this biologist guy who was studying the bugs.”

“So you sucked out all his knowledge while you were screwing him, eh?” Zoe asked with a knowing grin.

“Hey, honey,” Lea raised an eyebrow as she turned to look at Zoe, “that’s not all I sucked out of him!”

“So, it’s not dangerous?” Zoe thought she better get the conversation back to the business in hand, “Not anything we need worry about or report?”

“Nah,” Lea shook her helmeted head, “bugs are harmless, everyone says so, ignore it.”

“Okay people,” Zoe called out, “Back into formation, let’s join up with the others.”

Leading her squad towards the settlement Zoe noticed several other ‘bug-holes’ and lots of bug-prints in the sandy soil. Thinking nothing more of it she led her people into the settlement. Howardtown was a typical frontier settlement, most of the buildings were standard prefab habitat units or converted cargo containers. Whoever had laid them out hadn’t any idea about town planning. The habitat units appeared to have been just dumped haphazardly on the plain. Power cables and what were probably water and waste pipes snaked between the buildings. Of the hundred plus people who were supposed to live in Howardtown there was no sign.

In fact the only sign of life where the riflemen who’d been searching the place and who were now standing or sitting in little groups not exactly resting but not on full alert either. Telling her squad to wait for her outside a shop with a broken door, Zoe went in search of Sergeant Burden. As she walked through the village she started to notice other things that were broken or out of place; a smashed window, an overturned handcart, some clothes strewn on the ground under a washing line. It was as if someone had been hanging out their washing and then had run away for no apparent reason. Stopping where a little knot of riflemen was standing in the shade of a habitat unit, Zoe asked them if they’d seen Sergeant Burden.

“I’ll show you,” a private pushed himself to his feet and started to lead Zoe along what passed for Howardtown’s main street.

“Y’know what happened here?” Zoe asked, “Where all the people went?”

“Nope,” the rifleman shook his head, “place was pretty much like this when we found it.”

“Weird,” Zoe breathed the word quietly, “you mean you found no one around?”

“Hey, we’d only been here five minutes before the copter took off,” the rifleman pointed out defensively, “not much time to do a thorough search, y’know?”

“Yeah I get that,” Zoe replied, “but…”

Before she could finish what she was saying the rifleman pointed to a large habitat unit, probably the settlement’s admin office.

“Sarge is there with the new L-t,” the rifleman turned to go.

“Hey thanks,” Zoe called pleasantly before heading towards the building.

Once inside she found Sergeant Burden, the L-t and the two corporal squad leaders belonging to the Rifle platoon all in deep discussion about the present situation. Standing to the right of the door she’d entered by, Zoe waited for someone to notice her.

“Corporal Smith,” Sergeant Burden called on catching sight of her, “come and join the group…” there was an audible sigh from the two rifles corporals and a silent frown from the L-t, “…after all you are a squad leader today,” he added pointedly to the others.

“Now we’re all here,” Lt Henderson said with heavy sarcasm as he glanced disapprovingly at Zoe, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.” The L-t took a deep breath, “As you saw the chopper took off without warning,” he glanced at Zoe as if the helicopter’s departure was some how her fault, “apparently there’s some emergency down south near brigade HQ,” Henderson let this news sink in for a heartbeat. “So this leaves us twenty-five or more miles away from home…if we set a good pace and everyone can keep up,” again Henderson looked accusingly at Zoe, “we could be home by evening.”

Ignoring Henderson’s pointed remarks, Zoe did the time-distance calculations in her head. A human could move at four miles an hour across good going and as the plains were generally flat and the grass only knee high they could do that easy. Okay so twenty-five miles in six hours wasn’t a problem. Add some time for the unexpected that meant they could be back at Tedium in six to eight hours.

“So let’s find some extra water and any rations we might need and get a move on,” Henderson finished speaking, just as he was about to dismiss everyone, Burden spoke up.

“Erm, L-t,” Burden began slowly, “what about the colonists?”

“The colonist?” Henderson repeated, “What about them?”

“Well,” Burden shrugged his wide, powerful, shoulders (Zoe started to wonder if she’d been a little hasty about refusing the sergeant’s offer of shacking up together), “L-t shouldn’t we make a thorough search for them?”

“I don’t think so,” Henderson said in a superior tone of voice, “the colonists have obviously gone somewhere for their own reasons and a search will just slow us down, we need to get back to Tedium.”

“Tedium will still be there even if we spend an hour looking around, L-t,” Burden pointed out.

“Erm,” Henderson hesitated for just a moment before continuing, “that emergency call from Brigade HQ sounded pretty urgent, I think we better get back to base as soon as possible…”

“But, L-t…” Burden tried to say something more but Henderson cut him off before he could get started.

“Look, /Sergeant/,” Henderson sneered, “I’m in command here and what I say goes…so, if its alright with you,” Henderson turned to the two rifle corporals and ignored Burden and Zoe, “we move in thirty, in the mean time search the place for food and water, enough to last a couple of days.”

“Sir!” the two corporals braced to attention before heading for the door, no doubt thankful to be getting out of the bad atmosphere.

Gathering up Zoe with his eye, Burden headed for the door with her right behind him. Following the big, veteran, sergeant out the door and around a corner, they stopped where they couldn’t be seen by the rest of the platoon.

“Zoe,” Burden turned to look down at her, “you keep your head down around that asshole Henderson, understand?”

“Sure thing Sarge,” Zoe nodded before asking, “What’s goin’ on?”

“Something weird and that’s f’sure,” Burden gave her a worried smile, “and its ‘Ian’ when no one’s around…look,” Burden gazed into Zoe’s eyes for a moment, “you’re a cute kid I don’t wanna see you hurt on account of that asshole Henderson. If the shit hits the air-con you and your people keep an eye on me and do what I do, okay?”

“Erm, I think so Sar…I mean Ian,” Zoe went on slowly (right about now she was seriously considering Sergeant Burden as a life-partner), “you think that the shit will hit the air-con, I mean I’ve not seen anything weird goin’ on.”

“Hey,” Burden shrugged his shoulders and Zoe went sort of weak at the knees, “it’s just a feeling,” he smiled, “I’m probably talking outta my ass, now go to your people an get ‘em ready.”

“Roger that, Sarge,” Zoe smiled up into the sergeant’s grey eyes deciding then and there that when they got back to Tedium she’d try him out in his bunk one night; with thoughts of a night of passion with the big sergeant still going through her head, Zoe went and rejoined her squad.


Sure enough, thirty minutes after Zoe left Burden, Henderson gave the order to move out. In the time between talking to Burden and heading out of the settlement, Zoe and her squad had filled some plastic bottles with water and found a load of sealed food packs that didn’t need to be cooked before consumption. They also found a couple of civilian packs to put everything in, the girls in each team would take it turns to carry the extra rations.

Finding themselves put more or less in the centre of the platoon as they formed into a loose column on leaving the village, Zoe walked along, rifle in hand scanning the grass for movement. She didn’t really know what she expected to see, perhaps there was some unknown life form out there that had caused the colonists to run off. The settlers could just as easily all gone mad, ripped off their clothes and run off out onto the plain never to be seen again; maybe someone would find their bleached bones in fifty years time.

Listening to her own feet and legs as the swished through the grass, Zoe looked up and down the column. No one seemed to be taking much interest in the plain around them, there wasn’t much to see. Little flying, insect-like creatures with three sets of translucent wings flittered between the stalks of grass, seemingly playing tag with each other in the heat haze that rose off the ground. In the distance she could see one of the strange terraced hills that rose up haphazardly all over the plains. A few clumps of the fern like trees grew near the base of the hills, but other than that there was no sign of life.

Finding herself switching off from the mind numbing business of moving one foot in front of the other, Zoe didn’t really notice the slight rise she’d been climbing until the column stopped and some one called out in excitement. Looking up and around, Zoe realised what all the excitement was about; there in a shallow depression in the plain was another settlement. Not as big as Howardtown, perhaps two thirds the size; this village had one thing Howardtown didn’t have, however, people!


The colonists were at first puzzled by why the military was out here so far from their base. No, they didn’t know what had happened to the inhabitants of Howardtown and ‘no’ they hadn’t noticed anything unusual; even if the two settlements were only a mile away from each other. In fact Zoe got the distinct impression that the colonists from the two settlements didn’t get on, there was something in the headman’s tone of voice that said the people of Howardtown were not welcome in his ‘town’.

Everything had been going fine with the colonists starting to relax around the soldiers and offering them refreshments. It was then that Lt Henderson had decided he was going to evacuate the settlement’s inhabitants and take them back to Base Tedium. The headman had lost it right then and there, he yelled at the L-t calling him all sorts of unpleasant names; Zoe’s opinion of the officer was pretty low, but even she didn’t think he deserved to be called some of the things the headman was calling him.

“Whit’s gonnae oan?” Judy asked as she came up to watch the fun.

“L-t’s just told the headman,” Zoe pointed to the ranting figure, “that him and his people have gotta come with us.”

“Crap!” Judy cursed, “Dae ye ken whit 'at means?”

“Yeah,” Zoe nodded her head, “it means we’ll be late home coz we’ve gotta drag a bunch of reluctant colonists along for the ride.”

“Aye,” Judy nodded her head and spat with disgust into the grass, “an' Ah hud a date wi' th' Captain’s clerk tonecht.”

“Oh poor Judy,” Zoe mocked, “gonna miss out on a screw are ya?”

“Tay damn reit Ah am,” Judy confirmed; when the unit stopped being a proper military formation, being the life-partner of the C/O’s clerk would put Judy pretty high up on the social ladder.

“Never mind,” Zoe commiserated, “you’d probably have been too fucked to fuck anyway.”

“Aye, ur probably reit,” Judy agreed sadly before walking away to rejoin her squad mates.


It took the platoon almost an hour to get the reluctant evacuees organised. Once the column started off again, Zoe and her squad found they’d been given the unenviable task of riding herd on the colonists and ensuring that they didn’t just wander off home again. They’d not gone more that half a mile or so when the column came to a halt once more; apparently there was something up ahead on the hill in front of them that needed investigating before they moved on. Surrounding the colonists with her small force the best she could and leaving Lea in charge, Zoe climbed up the slope of another little hill next to where they’d stopped. This area of plain seemed to be pock marked with a number of the flat topped hills, many more than was usual in fact.

Climbing to the top of the hill, Zoe found it gave her about fifty feet of elevation and a clear view to the next set of hills about two hundred yards away. Up ahead, Zoe could see perhaps twenty bugs just standing on the lower terrace of the hill blocking the column’s path. This was odd, normally bugs just moved out the way when they sensed humans coming, not exactly running away but not hanging around either, these ones were just standing there.

Movement caught her eye as more little groups of bugs came over the hill to join the ones standing in the column’s way. It was just as these new bugs joined the ones blocking their way that Zoe started to feel uneasy. Perhaps what Sergeant Burden had said was starting to make her feel nervous, maybe it was the way that those bugs just stood there. Glancing down at the colonists as they sat on the grass being watched over by her squad, Zoe did some quick planning, she hit the ‘send switch’ tapped to the fore grip of her rifle and activated her tactical comms.

“Lea?” Zoe called.

“Receiving,” came Lea’s immediate reply.

“Send Brandi and Kandi up here to me, you stay down there with the civ-pop, okay?” Zoe ordered.

“Roger that,” Lea replied as Zoe looked down and saw her signalling to the two hill-girls to join Zoe up on the hill, “Trouble?” Lea asked.

“Not sure,” Zoe wasn’t sure but she wanted her two best marksmen up here with her; Brandi and Kandi despite there silly names, cooking abilities and cute looks were deadly accurate shots, if they’d been men they’d have been sent to sniper school straight after Basic. Even without the advanced training they were probably better shots than the guys in the two sniper teams that were covering the column’s rear.

“Okay,” Lea’s voice crackled over the comms link, “they’re on their way.”

“Roger, out,” Zoe broke the connection and went back to watching the bugs.

It now looked as if Henderson had got fed up with waiting for the bugs to run away and had sent a squad forward to chase them off. There had to be at least a fifty bugs now with more joining the group by the minute. This was all wrong, Zoe told herself, those bugs should be moving off by now, the squad that’d been sent to clear the path for the column was maybe thirty yards short of the lead bugs. The riflemen yelled and waved their arms about in an attempt to frighten off the bugs, but apart from shifting around a little the bug’s paid them no attention.

“Wot cha want, Zoe?”

Turning her head Zoe saw the two hill girls standing a couple of yards to her right; just for a moment she couldn’t help but wonder how they’d persuaded the recruiting sergeant to sign them up. Although their documentation claimed they were both nineteen, to Zoe’s eyes they didn’t look much more than sixteen or so.

“See those bugs,” Zoe pointed towards the herd of bugs up ahead, “this feels kinda wrong, take up position so you can give our guys covering fire will ya?”

“Roger that,” Kandi looked at Brandi and shrugged as much as to say that, the ways of NCO’s were strange and mysterious and not to be argued with by mere mortals such as themselves.

The two girls hunkered down on the ground and brought there rifles into the aim and began studying their prospective targets through their optical sights. For just a moment, Zoe wondered if having big boobs like the two girls helped or hindered while they were in the prone position…perhaps it just gave them some extra padding?

All thoughts of breasts as aids to good marksmanship were driven from Zoe’s mind by the sound of a ragged volley of shots coming from the hill up ahead. Looking back at the hill Zoe saw that the riflemen had fired into the air in an attempt to make the bugs back off, it looked as if it was having the exact opposite effect. Watching in horror, Zoe saw one of the bugs charge at the thin line of riflemen and drag one of them to the ground. This was a signal for more firing as more bugs charged forward only to be shot down by the riflemen. Seeing the bugs starting to lap around the end of the riflemen’s line Zoe knew she had to do something.

“Marksmen!” Zoe called sounding surprisingly calm, “Range two hundred, bugs, left flank, rapid fire!”

Bringing her own rifle up to her shoulder, Zoe joined the two hill girls in firing steadily into the advancing bugs.

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