JUNE 2023 SPOTLIGHT: DON MONEY
Don has 27 short stories (military science-fiction, horror, and science-fiction) that have been published in a variety of anthologies and magazines. This featured story, “Tunnel Rat”, by Don is a military science-fiction story about a lone soldier’s battle on an alien planet. We hope you enjoy it.
snub-nose blaster, a Warbird combat dagger, a set of dark-vision goggles, and a block of Trintulex explosives. This is all the gear you get before you head into a tunnel. Tunnel rats, they call us, harkening back to an almost forgotten war back on Earth.
The blaster and dagger are for killing the damned Clackers when you find them. The goggles give you an even chance of seeing them at the same time they see you. And the explosives are to avoid the painful feeling of the mandibles ripping you apart while you are still alive and to collapse the tunnel protecting the troopers above ground.
A tunnel was discovered by scouts clearing a route for a battalion’s advancement. The call came in over the comms for a tunnel rat and my number was up. A scout on a hoversled rushes me to the location where a small group of war-weary troopers set up in firing positions around the entrance hole leading into the dark abyss.
I jump off the sled and approach a Major, throwing up a half-assed salute, “Engineer Specialist Gaige reporting for duty.”
The Major points out the obvious tunnel opening, “Alright, Rat, hop to. See if it is abandoned, clear what you can if not, and don’t let anything get past you if it goes to hell.”
Approaching the tunnel, I slide the dark vision goggles in place activating the vision filters and the heat sensors. Blaster in my right hand, I disappear into the dark.
The tunnel is a tight fit even for my slender frame and runs down at a slope for two hundred meters before opening up into a larger chamber. Fresh pieces of Clacker carapace litter the light brown soil base of the chamber. I think about crawling out to tell the major that it is an active complex but I know he will just send me back down to search around more, so I might as well get this over with.
This tunnel search puts me into double digits, making me an old timer at the job. The bugs we are up against tend to not leave that many of us alive for this long. Originally, when the Planetary Army landed here on H-167 they thought they could just bomb the little bastards out, but the way the clackers dig their tunnels they curve and angle around so much that the thermobaric and hypersonic bombs proved ineffective.
Now, it is up to engineers like me to crawl in and see if this is an active tunnel. If it is, the army just reroutes itself around the complex. These three foot long, six-legged, razor sharp mandible critters drive the command mad with their infestation of this potentially resource rich planet. Catch them on the surface in the open, you have a fighting chance against the swarming alien insects. But, if you find yourself unaware in a tunnel complex field, you have no chance as they pop out all around you.
I leave the chamber and continue to crawl down another ramp, this one a little steeper, but also bigger than the first. My heat sensor flashes bright red at the dirt as I complete a turn that leads me off at a sharp angle. One of the Clackers has buried itself in some loose dirt to hide and waits to rip open my belly as I cross over it on my hands and knees.
Stopping myself just short of the bugger, I pull out the Warbird and stab down into the small rounded dome of the head that was barely showing. An ungodly clicking sound erupts from the creature in its death throes, but just as quickly it goes silent. Still with much timidness, I crawl across the dead body in its shallow grave.
Several more switchbacks, a three meter drop off, and I find myself in a chamber triple the size of the first. Things get interesting with this chamber because three paths lead out of it. My decision making process is interrupted when from the tunnel on the right a Clacker emerges. Its mandibles clack rapidly in what seems like surprise or to signal the others of its kind, but I end the noise with a blaster shot that tears a hole through its head.
My brain tells me to crawl back out the way I came, but experience reminds me that will leave me defenseless and open as I scramble away. Clacker tunnels always have multiple openings so my best bet is to keep crawling forward looking for a path leading back up to the surface.
I choose the path to the left and crawl on my hands and knees as fast as I can. In my haste I don’t register the cleft area on the side and as I crawl past, one of the buggers ambushes me snapping out with its mandibles ripping open my arm holding the blaster. The blaster drops lose from my grip and I tumble, my heading plowing into the bottom of the tunnel.
Luckily, I land on my back and as the Clacker crawls up onto me my left hand drives the combat dagger up through the bottom of its head. A clacking sound echoes through the tunnels. My presence has alerted the colony. My lacerated arm can’t bear weight so I awkwardly shuffle ahead on my three points of contact. My pain has dulled my senses and I don’t notice the dropoff.
It is at least a five meter drop straight down that lands me in an enormous chamber. An egg chamber. Thousands of Clacker eggs are mounded up in the center of the chamber. The sounds of approaching bugs spurs me to action, if I am going out, then this tunnel rat is going to make it count. Dozens of Clackers pour into the chamber as I dive into the egg pile and activate my Trintulex.
You can find out more about Don on his member profile page.
Visit the WCCW Group Member Spotlight page.