Flash Fiction – Underling (From the Archives)

Elaya looked down on the bodies of her fallen foes with sadness.

Is this what it feels like, she thought, to be a hero?

Luckily her helmet stopped the smell of the charred bodies from getting to her, but the vision was enough. They had mowed down the assailants, Underlings from the depths of the ruins which had attempted to swarm her unit. The effects of the fire bullets was always catastrophic, but it made it somehow worse when dealing with Underlings. It was the way the poison in their skin reacted to the fire, it would char them from the inside.

Don’t think about it, Elaya thought to herself. She stepped over one charred corpse, a young Underling which had barely developed the typical hard exoskeleton of its adult stage. Even underneath the charred skin, it was clear that the Underlings were once part of the race of humanity, like Elaya’s own race, the Falicians.

Not that it matters now, Elaya thought, kicking a path through the bodies to the centre of the temple. Once, it had been a beautiful structure, made of white marble that had risen high to the heavens, worshipping the Bastien goddess of war, Net.

Now it was full of the yellow oose that the Underlings use to terraform the world to match their caves underground. It caked across every surface, like dried blood, seeping into the structure and changing the very chemistry of the stone to produce the sulphurous gases that the Underlings needed to breathe.

“Captain Elaya,” a voice in her headset said, “come in.”

“Hearing you loud and clear, Draex,” Elaya replied, pressing the comms link on the side of her helmet.

“The reserve unit is coming into the complex now,” Draex said, “is the ground secure?”

“Affirmative,” Elaya said, kicking a body out of the way. Her suit’s exoskeletal strength made it soar high through the sky, curving gracefully like a ball, before plummeting back to earth a few hundred meters away.

“You don’t seem pleased,” Draex said.

“For a computer, you’re pretty perceptive,” Elaya said.

“It’s my job,” Draex replied simply. Elaya thought she could even hear some humour in his voice.

“I know,” she replied, “I just think it’s such a waste of life.”

“Underlings are not creatures that we can sympathise with,” Draex said, “we’re Colonists, Elaya, not some sort of freak show like those damn Kalqens-”

“Still,” Elaya said, “it just feels wrong.”

“Taking back a city for the Bastian peoples is not wrong,” Draex replied, “although it looks like we shall have to stop this debate for now, your second in command is almost on you.”

If Draex was not an AI, and therefore controller of the ship’s brig systems, Elaya would have him thrown in the brig for insubordination. He might not like Trev, but that didn’t mean he had to sound like had just eaten a mouthful of sour graep whenever he told Elaya that Trev was on his way.

“Elaya!” Trev called across the temple. Elaya turning, resisting the urge to kick at Underling corpse in his direction for having his face guard up. The human might be good at tracking, but he had an arrogance boarding on dangerous.

“Put your goddam guard up,” Elaya swore at Trev through the comms unit. Trev scowled, but at least he slammed the button on the side of his helmet that brought up the faceguard of the helmet, sealing him in his suit like an astronaut of old.

“As I was saying,” Trev said, not breaking a step, “we’ve got some strong readings of the Underling next below us. We will need backup before we go in, but if we can destroy the nest-”

“If the next words out of your mouth are “payrise,” I will personally slap you into the next century,” Elaya hissed, “focus on the job we have, not the job you want to do.”

Trev growled.

“Fine,” he said. He didn’t sound pleased.

Good, Elaya thought. She couldn’t have Trev start dreaming of the gold the Bastiens would give them if they destroyed the Underling nest. It would probably bankroll his life on the drugs and drink that he desired, and bankrupt the entire planet in the process.

No one had ever destroyed an Underling nest. You managed them, you exterminated them, but you didn’t go and kill and goddam nest.

“Set the cleanup machines there and there,” Elaya said pointing to the far most corners of the temple, “I want this temple clean enough to wipe the god’s arses on.”

“Yes Captain!” the chorus of responses came through her comms. Trev was still scowling as he led his second unit to the far side of the temple so they could begin to re-turn the marble back from the yellow sticky mess that the Underlings had created to its former glory.

Elaya reached up and pressed the mute button on her comms unit, silencing the chatter of the teams as they set up their materials. She looked at her watch, and the large glowing mass of yellow which was situated hundreds of meters below her feet.

If Trev was motivated by money, then she was motivated by revenge. An Underling nest had massacred her home city, and had almost killed her planet. The image of her family, trapped in their home, burning as the Underlings sprayed their yellow goo across the walls to sulpharise the building.

This was a senseless waste of life, this wasn’t targeting the problem. That would need someone to defeat a nest.

“One day,” she muttered to herself, “one day I’ll get you bastards.”

First posted in 2017. || Image Credit: Photo by Alice Hampson on Unsplash

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