A General's Quest: II

The compound was like an elaborate hive planned by a mentally challenged queen ant. The engineering corps had mined out every scrap of usable technology decades before I was even a sparkle in my old pap's eye. They were the best minds on the face of the planet and even when the outbreak occurred there were still here, toiling beneath the rugged other worldly surface.

Even when the science team above became shambling, flesh hungry undead they simply buttoned up and did what they did best. They built. They explored and they died.

When the progenitors abandoned their outpost here they didn't exactly have an easy recovery for their technology in mind, to say the least. I pity the poor sods, laden with digging equipment and first generation light blades churning through the dark, trying to avoid those ancient booby traps.

At the academy I read about them and their "salt the earth" policies. We didn't know anything about their culture or even what they looked like. The only thing we had managed to puzzle together was that they really didn't appreciate having to back down and leave their territory unguarded.

It took the corps fifteen years just to uncover and disarm a single trap. It shut the whole project down. Good thing, too. When they shipped it off to the arctic for R&D it went ahead and detonated.

Our first taste of cobalt laced thermonuclear technology was not exactly our sweetest. If it had gone off on the surface so close to the shore, it would have wiped our civilization off the map.

So, needless to say after that incident the engineers planned their passageways and chambers with less comfort in mind than conservation of rigged "relics." It took me four days just to clear the first six checkpoints.

As I made my way through the winding and sometimes unfinished corridors her voice grew stronger and more insistent. The woman, her name was Altima at that point, had a power about her. She never mentioned how she found herself beneath the earth or what she was before.

I had always assumed she was the last surviving science team. Someone lucky enough to escape plague and sterilization alike and burrow down far enough to be safe.

But as I continued to listen to her ramble to herself I couldn't imagine her bundled up in a lab coat studying a progenitor chemical toilet. She spoke with a sultry authority that screamed leadership. She never mentioned it, but as I crawled through the filthy and partially collapsed seventh checkpoint I imagined her a corporal or general.

I guess it was wishful thinking on my part. Meeting someone wholly human, who knows the trials of leadership and a woman to boot. Even then I was thinking with my pecker.

Later, after I found her she made sure that was the first thing that I lost. Before my eyes, arms, legs and freewill. It was the old johnson.

With the lovely image of my approximation of her dressed in general's garb and a big honking sword in the back of my head I made camp and ate the last of my rations. They were stale and civilian, but they gave me enough energy to beat one off and pass out.

I don't know when I regained consciousness. When I did I was standing up ramrod straight petting the cold, hard rockface. My palm was chapped and red and starting to ooze blood. As far as I could tell by the dim light on my camp lantern I hadn't managed to get very far and I was quite alone. But there I was, buck naked stroking the smooth tunnel wall like it was a kitten.

Her voice was gentle and perfectly clear when I heard it.

"You're not too far from me now, Gabe."

Before I realized she shouldn't have known of my presence, let alone my name I couldn't help but notice my radio smashed to pieces at my feet.


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