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Now to those of you who have helped and supported me so far, thank you x10.
Some may be disappointed with the previous work (Downfall of the Galt).
According my reviewing 'critics' (on amazon), my grammar is 'dreadful' and I shouldn't quit my day-job, plus a few other nasty things.
Anyway I can promise you this book will be better (although I can't promise my grammar is gonna be perfect ).
This book is much much more of an adventure, is a lot, lot longer and some of the loose ends about Galt, his past, his own faction are explained a bit more.
It takes place in the Oriental landmass and those of 'multicultural' persuasions will maybe find a few bits inherently 'racialist' / 'racist.'
The total length of this book is about 37,000 words making it a Novella (compared to Downfall. which is about a quarter of the size and a short story).
It's in a genre of it's own, Sci-Fi Adventure, but with fantasy (not too much) and fair helpings of military ingredients and of course survivalism elements!!
I can't easily classify it though.
The only people I know doing this is Jaqhama and some of the cool survivalist writers of old like Ahern, Nolan and Axler .
Maybe I can pick up the baton too, maybe, maybe not...
Anyway it's time to meet Galt once again, as he is in flight from his near-demise at the hands of his enemies.
Beyond The Underworld
By Tyler Danann
All Rights Reserved, All parts of this story are Copyright 2012
Galt flew low from the Triamese border his trans-unit carrying him fast and sure. It meant he was exposed to the elements, but at nightfall in the tropic's this was little to be troubled about.
The exhilaration of eluding Stenman’s wrath soon faded after several hours of sustained flight. Now the hard-slog of surviving as a renegade Pathfinder began.
He made detours and manoeuvers, swings and half-loops so that there was almost no chance of being tracked. The Triamese had a small air force, but Stenman was highly unlikely to have the connections to bring them into play. The Fell Ryder’s he'd clashed with were another story. He’d killed one of their number and that meant a blood-feud was likely from them. They being unbound by Triamese law or rule meant he’d have to be careful how he surfaced and moved through the Yellow People’s lands of the Orient.
For Galt there was no foolish guilt or remorse at Perep’s death. He saw it as a mean’s to an end. That end was his escape and freedom and he intended to make the most of it. He had to land after nearly fifty miles of travel to make some trim and ballast adjustment’s then he headed deeper into the jungle interior. From there, in a dense jungle he waited a week to weather out any storm of retribution. Existing on his stored ‘essence’ supply and various cached food supplies. The latter of which he'd stored in various areas of the jungle interior for emergency's just like this one.
The boredom of nothing but existing, along with the erie jungle-nights soon set in. By the end of the week, the strange night beasts, creeping biters and fliers that bit at exposed flesh were taking their toll. One sleepless night in the jungle too many he summoned up the will to return to Triam's border, which he did without incident.
Once he reached the river that he’d fled across the previous week he detected no hostile signs from Parohm. Even so he proceeded carefully.
As it was the early hours of the morning he held off for a while, that way even the most hardened Triamese drinkers were nowhere near his former abode. For he knew from experience the girly-houses and sing-bars were less than a few hundred yards adjacent on the waterfront.
When he felt the time was right he moved in, taking extra care that no enforcers were lurking about. None were present, no doubt asleep in their police-quarters as they usually were whilst on night-shift. From the outskirts of the riverside it was a quick infiltration inside.
As Galt had expected, his once-thriving workshop was now a blackened ruin with debris and broken furnishings everywhere. The stacked oil drums outside facing the waste ground were still intact though. Exiting the workshop through the northern facing-window Galt flew down to them, all the while his optimism climbing.
He now took his time as these contained his hoarded supplies and equipment.
tech-relic’s or techrels as they were referred to in the Saken slang was a better way of describing them. One by one he removed each ring-clamp and all was how it had been when he’d last closed it up.
He’d sealed most of the cache inside evacuation bags months before Stenman’s raid. It was environmentally-sealed, which was just as well, for the drum he’d stashed it inside was filled with waste hydrax oil.
He didn’t open the bags, but he knew from memory it contained his gold reserve in both hard and monoss forms, spare ammunition for his fallien revolver plus nine encrypted data-slates. The last item were crowning jewels compared to the rest for these were the dataslates and truly worthy of the name techrels.
For they had an ocean-like capacity of details and gnosis peculiar to the Pathfinders. Perep’s flight-unit was inside another drum, also oil-filled. It was a sky-soar variant, fast enough to keep up with his own type but would need a major overhaul when he had time. For there had been no time for sealing it up during confusion and chaos of the raid. The concealment oil from the drum would undoubtedly gummed up the nano-mechanism from within. Once he removed the unit Galt used a spare poly-bag to seal the oil-ridden unit from contaminating any of his other gear.
Minutes later he was airborne with both the evac-bag and the poly-bundle netted and suspended on a glider line below him. Now he was ready to pick himself up and start anew elsewhere.
A vengeful part of him mulled over hunting down Stenman and wringing the little wretch’s neck for what he'd done to his dreams of power within Triam. Yet deep down his soul knew it was time to move on, he’d danced long enough here and with the son of a Pathfinder’s uncanny intuition, he knew the land of Triam was now unfavourable to The Galt. It had the influences of both Indus and Jade ruling castes upon a native population, making him a second or third-best competitor anyway. His chance's at success in the Oriental fringes now depended on places elsewhere.
To the north were the lands of the Jade Empire. A vast, decentralised realm busy warring with the UNAS faction far to the west. To the Pathfinder that meant an opening, for where there was a distraction, there could be opportunity.
The Blue Serpent
Chientze was a small and industrious town, a mere thirty miles or so north of the Triamese border. From the mountainous terrain that separated the nation of Triam from the Jade Empire it flattened out around Chientze for a few dozen miles. Away from it to the north and east it became undulating hills with a few mountains. Beyond them lay vast mountain ranges with many more narrow valleys between. Great jutting and ugly brown things for the most part, not like the lush terrain further south Galt thought.
Trade was big business in Chientze and not all of it was above board and lawful in the eyes of the Jade Overseers. Inside more than one of the bustling casinos, gambling dens and warehouses. The latter of which tended to have plentiful trading rooms with a thriving black-market trade in smuggling. Heavy trucks, belching black fumes roared out with fresh wares for smaller markets and factory’s across the vast Empire. Leading and following the heavy trucks were smaller escort wagons and scout cars with armed men inside, ensuring that any who wished to intercept the cargo wagon would have to brave the escort-guard first.
One of these trading-room in particular was the Blue Serpent. Like most of the warehouse and trading rooms it was of rough concrete construction with wooden fascia’s for the trading room’s, lending it an aspect of traditional surroundings. On the upper floor was where the leader and inner-clique of the Blue Serpent lived, while he ruled his smuggling business concealed with a veneer of trading machine-bearings below.
The occupier of the Blue Serpent was a short and conniving easterner known as Tong Paeng and was a typical-looking denizen of Chientze. A wispy moustache and a faint beard on wrinkled feature’s showed experience and a mind keenly honed to the cut-throat business of the smuggler’s world.
The euphoric fumes of the olume leaves, deadly in concentrated amounts and the precious fluids of human blood were the Blue Serpent’s specialty. The olume crops were harvested in the fields not far from the town. While the life-giving fluid of blood was syphoned off from the Triamese and Jader’s desperate enough to sell that part of themselves. It was also rumoured that some originated from harvested murder victims. Like most smuggler-lords Paeng asked no questions on those making such trades with his fledgling faction.
Thick and heavy with chelg fumes Paeng's business headquarters was a murky place indeed. The smoke shrouding the periphery as the two figures now entered the Smuggler’s lair. Those at the entranceway dispersed somewhat at their arrival inside.
The two entering figures were of the Caucus race, as they stepped into the light they became noticeable. One was tall and lean, the other stocky and broad. The former was helmeted and wore a grey and black skin-suit with an active cooling system that whirred faintly. His trans-helm was open and raised but the auxiliary glass over one eyeball gave him a measure of their intent. All seemed neutral, for now.
On his back was a roughly square-shaped back-pack which helped his suit perform wonders. Armed only with a holstered pistol at his side he radiated assurance with what he carried. The latter one was just as exotically attired, with pad-armor clothing, a holstered side-arm and a back-pack slightly smaller than his companions.
Behind Paeng were two hired warriors. Both Jader’s of some means and they eyed the two warily. Paeng's men were equipped to a higher standard than ordinary foots-soldiers of the Jade Empire. Both had Aker carbine’s pointed off to one-side and Galt subtly kept his hand only inches away from his serch-suits defensive velocity-field switch. Caucus folk were seldom seen in the Jade Empire. The immigration restrictions on them coming and going meant either serious connection’s had to be made, or the border check-point’s had to be ignored entirely.
“So who are you white man and how is it you come to us.” Paeng said addressing the taller one and taking the measure of them both.
“I am Galt Pathfinder.” The tall one responded ignoring the last part of Paeng’s question. He spoke with an I-trans device synthesising his words into the Jade tongue. It was capable of a variety of language translations.
“I’ve heard that name before, something on the Nex-new’s of trouble by that name.” Paeng said shrewdly.
“The Nex often makes mention of trivial-nothings. I have rivals who foster dissent on the news-net. Being a Pathfinder has its own hazard’s you must understand.” Galt smoothed.
“Hmmm, what is it that brings you to the Jade Empire?” The old one asked, knowing this was no passer-by.
“Opportunity, travel and profit.” Galt smiled as he spoke the last word, knowing that it would be an ice-breaker. In response the rheumy eyed one now nodded and smiled, showing cracked and herb-stained teeth.
“I am listening, what is it you offer?” Paeng said, narrowing his eye’s now. The hard-nosed businessman in him was flowing into being as he listened for the response.
“As you know, the war between the UNAS and the Jade Empire rage’s onwards, supplies are ever required for the war-machine and on the front-lines.”
Galt paused to let the words sink in slightly. These yellow folk were no fool’s though and they made no attempt at enjoining word’s but instead typically would stay completely silent until the speaker had fully finished what he wanted to say. Galt continued.
“I am a veteran Pathfinder, trained in the arcane arts by my father who is no longer of this world.” Galt said in his best Jade tongue. Exaggerating his status and standing. This was absorbed at first but after a few moments Paeng responded.
“Who is this one?” The Jader said, pointing at his companion who, in response looked wary at the suddenness of it.
“This is Roachas, my apprentice.” Galt responded smoothly, but slightly annoyed at the interjection. The apprentice line was a partial cover-story which was stretching the truth, even by Galt’s somewhat liberal interpretations. Roachas was a Craiven warrior of course, but the less Paeng knew the better.
The Jader took a slight inhalation on his chelg pot then bade Galt continue.
“You are a contraband smuggler, one who specialises in blood-packs and narcotics, the latter of which the Jade Council have officially outlawed for many years now.
The largest cities and troop garrisons are paying a premium for your wares though. For the most part though, these are nearly two thousand miles away in the Tiershan plains. With the UNAS front lines being contained just beyond the Nuklun mountain ranges further west, it's a lucrative business.
So you require subterfuge from the mainstream avenues of passage. Yet to sell your ware’s at a profit you must often risk such a route.” Galt spoke fluidly, without hesitation and the elder smuggler-lord bade him continue, impressed at his knowledge.
“The mainland routes are risky though, patrolled by Jade Warriors who have order’s to slay any suspected smuggler they capture. You could try to make a way’s across the Koralle Mountain’s, thus avoiding most Jade Enforcer and military patrols but that’s mostly infested with drone-warriors, skraeg creature’s and mercenary-marksman.” Paeng now began to realise this one was no mere chancing scoundrel, intelligence radiated from him. Galt carried on in full flow.
“The small and narrow trails would delay you at least three to four months anyway assuming your convoy made it through relatively unscathed.” Galt raved the lengthy appraisal and oversight of Paeng’s smuggling plans quite smoothly. His I-trans device complying and conveying his words into sing-song Jade language with only the slightest of delays. It was something he'd taken great care to fashion into his Trans-Helm so it was not obtrusive to the eye. Roachas also had one of these also but it was a somewhat more basic and bulky model.
Paeng had absorbed the words and now regarded Galt with a combination of suspicion and intrigue. Unofficially the UNAS were allied to the Shadow House of Saken making them the enemy of his homeland. Yet as a smuggler he was part of the criminal underworld and this Galt seemed a wise snake to converse with.
“Times are hard now Pathfinder. The last two shipment’s sent out have not been... fortunate. I cannot afford a third loss! What is it you have for me? Stating the facts does not change them.”
Now Galt smiled as he unfolded his master plan that would set him up for the future.
“I can navigate a safe way, one which has no meddling Jade authorities or treacherous mountain’s to cross. As a Pathfinder I have access and knowledge of the Underways.”
The I-trans speech translation came across somewhat sketchy and Paeng frowned a little. Galt explained further.
“These are great stretches of tunnel that run across much of Terra. One of these exists not far from this border-town. It goes far and away across the empire to the central plains and valley’s you so dearly seek to sell your wares in.” Galt finished, laying out his scheme.
Taking all this in the Blood Trader’s mind now weighed up the options. Galt in his own mind was taking a gamble. For what he was attempting was risky, as an experienced, albeit apprentice-level of Pathfinder he had only the rudiments of finding and tracking through an Underway, much less leading a supply caravan.
Yet he allowed himself a smile, his data-slates gave him an edge for they were rife with detailed files, plans and charts of the Underways. Normally even a veteran Pathfinder would struggle to acquire more than three, but Galt had managed to purloin nine. One of which was the entire Underway network beneath where the Jade Empire was, all the way to the west, stopping at the central plains, where the Eurasian borders began.
It was his trump card and he intended to play it well.
“The underworld is too dangerous Caucas man. Those entranceways are hidden, sealed, guarded and the interior infested with demon-beasts and impossible to navigate.” A dismissive tone showed in Paeng. He too was intelligent and not altogether unknowing of the hidden knowledge of the world.
“Not for a Pathfinder! I an expert on safe travel through such places, no demon-beasts will assail us if I am trusted to lead the way. I can assure safe-passage.” Galt inadvertently raised his voice more than Jade etiquette allowed and the guards behind Paeng shifted uneasily.
A silence set in.
The narrow-eyed one briefly regarded the white-eye with a baleful look. Who was he to state that tunnels underneath the Jade People’s feet was Saken’s?
Yet the previous two attempts at a smuggling run had ended in abject failure, a third loss of merchandise would see both his standing and his fortune’s destroyed. He had already had to pay the money lenders a visit to cover his losses.
Now a chance was before him to set his fledgling smuggling house back as credible smuggling operation.
Galt smiled his best with grey eye’s twinkling a conspiratorial gleam. “Name your term’s Master Paeng.” He concluded, smoothing over the jagged moment of transgression.
“The Pathfinder can speak first, as is the custom in doing business with outsiders.” Paeng countered, the merchant-class roots of Paeng’s ancestry showing...
Galt expected this and was ready for hard-nosed negotiating.
“We can lead your supply convoy into and to the end of the Underways. That is all the way across the Jade Empire westwards to arrive not far from Uzbez at the western fringe valley.” Galt said firmly, Uzbez was just twenty miles from the Jade border and within range for distribution up and down the frontier.
“How much for this service?” Paeng said carefully.
“Four centires of gold.” Galt said positively with a fair smile. A centire being roughly equivalent to six ounces of gold monoss.
A pause as Paeng’s minded spun the numbers. Centires were a Europan and Eurasian standard he was aware of but Paeng was more used to Jade specific weights and measures. These tended to be somewhat less than a Centire. When he'd worked out their worth he answered.
“For such a mission one is all I can spare.” Paeng said firmly.
Galt said nothing in answer, forcing the Jade one to speak on.
“Hydrax is a high price these days especially since the UNAS resumed their blockade.” Paeng said, feigning regret now.
“Is there not plenty of bio-hydrax to spare? The way through the Underways is a straighter road than the overpasses and mountain routes, less expense and time from your gold-box. A single fuel-tank of hydrax will be required plus a reserve for emergencies.” Galt responded shrewdly, before repeating his original offer.
“You push your luck outlander, the Jade Warrior’s garrisoned outside this town would be keen to know of strange Caucus people here.” Galt’s hand subtly rested onto his velocity-field-switch. It wouldn't stop a bullet dead in it's tracks but would slow it down well enough.
Roachas tensed for action. He had no protection from a shield-barrier himself and would have to hope Galt's own field-projection from his would shield him if it deployed.
“Trying to harm or have us captured won’t change your problem.” Galt said slowly and deliberately, placing emphases on the word 'trying.' “If you want a way out and your merchandise sold for a safe, tidy profit then I can be the key. All other suppliers of your wares will flock to the Blue Serpent once more, for you will be the one with what you smugglers call ‘The Golden Route.’” Galt let his words sink in carefully before going on.
“With I, Galt Pathfinder steering the way your former glory as Smuggling Lord can be had once again. The offer stands at four centires. You are the best in Chientze, I know you can afford this risk.” Galt wasn’t one for schmoozing about but it had its place in negotiations and he wasn’t budging on his offer either. He’d be taking a calculated risk bringing outsider’s into the Underways, especially for profit and his own end’s. Yet in the Galt’s eye’s it was worth it.
“Three centires then, but for that I expect no problem’s Galt!” The Jader hissed loudly, he did not like to hard-bargained with, especially with an Outlander Caucus.
Galt nodded with a grin. Things were going to plan and he listened as Paeng laid out the arrangements...
The next morning Galt and Roachas walked among the smuggler-folk. The morning cool was sharp and crisp this high in the mountain valley. Inside the compound of the Blue Serpent numerous support elements scurried about in the large warehouse yard. They busied themselves with loading up the convoy and making last minute checks. Several of the smuggler-troops had arrived the previous evening and brought with them victuals and other supplies for the journey.
There were three vehicles: Two small vehicles and a larger wagon that would be transporting the ‘wares.’
The road to where Galt had said they could enter the Underways was fairy intact but the doors themselves were a challenge. From scouring the data-slates The Pathman knew it would be a tight fit.
He’d flown out earlier in twilight hours to personally check the concealed, great gate-like doors where in order. Removing the shroud-plate with an access template from his wrist unit he’d exposed the unlocking mechanism and set about operating it. Even with the data-slate as a guide it took him nearly twenty minutes to align and unlock the complex rotary dials. Then another five to check the metal lock-pins retracted before re-locking them.
Galt had had Roachas lurk in the shadows while he did all this to covertly eavesdrop in and around the Blue Serpent, just in case Paeng was plotting their downfall. On returning, he was assured by Roachas there was no treachery afoot, although he'd eavesdropped some of Paeng’s advisers being critical of Paeng’s trust in letting Galt lead the way. The usual convoy-leader was absent during the night-hours, but Roachas gathered that he liked hard-drink, smoking Chelg and wenching pleasure-girls when he wasn't transporting wares for Paeng. Galt biefly met and was introduced to the man earlier that morning, all what Roachas had told him certainly matched the man whose gnarled hands he briefly shook. The Pathfinder had known worse examples of humanity and Genlee, while not the worse certainly was not companion material.
The Jade-built wagon they were using was an older ‘turtle-giant’ model with a noisy hydrax-fired engine. Stencilled on the side was the image of a turtle and a name in Jade script. Galt’s trans-helm made a rough translation of ‘Loper.’
Which was the name given to a lumbering beast of burden still bred in parts of the Jade Empire. The Loper was slightly wider than he'd envisaged and accommodating it through both ends of the Underway would be tricky. After double-checking his Intel and measuring the actual dimension’s his fears abated slightly, for it would still be a near-squeeze.
Three of the smuggler guards regarded Galt warily as he did this. His wrist-unit, the climate-controlled skin-suit and his flight-unit all regarded jealously.
Although Galt was a Pathfinder, he was seen on a murky level as that of a favoured guide. As well as the obvious racial difference he and his companion’s technos was far superior any in Chientze. Even in the capital cities all but the wealthiest Jade nobles would have anything close to their equipment and abilities.
The passage through the Underways also concerned the Yellow folk. Many rumours and half-truths were whispered of them, mostly dark and foreboding.
“This bunch aren’t a friendly lot Galt. We’ll have to be on our guard.” Roachas said, faintly.
“I know it, I had to choose the best of what was available my friend. While they are less friendly than the Triamese folk I've known, I doubt any treachery from them telling of us to the Jade authorities. They are of the criminal class remember.” Galt said, checking his complete panoply of equipment as he did so.
Any irony of what Galt said was ignored to himself, for he did not consider smuggling a criminal endeavour and felt fully liberated in what he was planning to do. The Jade Emperor did exactly the same thing in his dealings, only it had others to do the dirty work via the insidious Delman clerks.
Roachas was more uneasy about this, although the adventure and tales Galt had told him of his time in Triam was appealing, away from his comfort zone of the Saken surface base the fear of the unknown lingered. Yet he felt confident enough to join Galt making a brief display of low, concealed airborne flight around the tiny convoy. Both concealed with their stealth fields meant little issue from prying eyes nearby.
The Loper was open-topped, with thick steel sides. Being a rigid chassis with a long forty foot cargo ‘bin’.
There was no articulating lynch-pin like that of the massive cargo-haulers. Thus it lacked manoeuvrability at slow speeds and tight spaces. It was easier to drive though and had more stability.
“How much do you think its worth?” Roachas asked Galt, as they eyed the last of the blood-bags being loaded.
“The entire cargo? About thirty to thirty-five centires I reckon. It’d be worth more but the blood bags aren’t being cooled so they’ll have added stilsis to preserve it instead. Yet doing that will lower its purity and market value.”
“Do the para-serpents really need that much blood?” Roachas said, referencing the cyborg-creatures used in Jade armies.
“No, they are only part organic. I suspect that the traders on the other end of the route sell it on to the black-market, the medical houses. Plus any elite fighters that use sustain modules.” Galt said referencing the way combat-effectiveness was boosted. Sustain units were scarce though and led to deadly toxic-effects unless used carefully.
“There’s not much Olume on board though.” The Craiven said referring to the
intoxicating opiate drug. Only a few bags had been loaded, nearly all of these into the main crew-cab where the driver and two passengers sat.
“There won’t be, it’ll be for the officers and Jade Elites who like that sort of thing. Foot soldiers are usually forbidden from taking it.” Galt said wistfully before continuing.
“Most Olume from these parts is sent either south through to Triam or east to the Jade sea-ports. I believe the other smuggler guilds in this town tend to focus on Olume more than this one.” He finished. Galt hoped that Roachas would be remembering and the knowledge of the smugglers ways.
“Where does it go to after that?” Roachas was indeed curious, for the most part he was clueless about Europa, ISTAR and the Black Lands.
“From the ports it’s shipped off to the rest of Terra. Where it’s refined, blended and cut into the noxious stuff the skanker’s shoot up their veins. Like many things in this world my apprentice, the original product tends to be not so bad, but further away from the source it becomes less pure and vile.” Galt saw that Roachas was intrigued and went on speaking.
“In the old day’s it was a lot easier for making money narc-running that than it is now. ISTAR was ripe for the plucking then and the smuggler’s had a field day. Now though, the ISTAR Militia’s make infiltration difficult and Europa is as fickle as always.”
“Did you smuggle...” Roachas started to speak but Galt held up his hand and pointed.
Below them there was a buzz of activity and they descended once more, the convoy was almost ready to move.
The Captain of the smuggling band was a tough and shrewd Jader called Genlee, he was a sallow-faced, angry-looking man with a distinct fighting scar across his left-cheek. The hard drinking and heavy chelg smoking habits made him no less healthy. Genlee didn’t like Galt and his already narrow eyes viewed the Saken-pair balefully. For the Smuggler Captain had been keen to try one last attempt at the mountain trails. Now though, this grey-eyed one had convinced his master to try for the mythical Underways. The Caucus pair did not declare themselves for any faction allegiance, but to Genlee’s bitter and cunning intuition that told him they were an unpredictable factor, especially when war raged against his people far to the.
The agreement that was sealed earlier saw that Galt as the Pathfinder would be convoy master and Genlee would in limited control as convoy commander. The former being in charge of the journey and destination, while the latter was in charge of the guards, convoy vehicle and precious wares. To Genlee it was he who ought to have outright control as Convoy Master and Commander with Galt accompanying them as advisor only.
Galt had briefly conversed with him on the initial departure time but nothing for the route itself. The first impressions of one another were jagged. Galt was adamant that any details of the Underways were to remain under his control while Genlee wanted a map to study and scrutinise. The division right from the start was worrying, but it could not be any other way even if Genlee could understand the elder-Saken tongue it would be foolhardy to let such a person learn the secrets of just a single data-slate. Galt tactfully stressed that as the Underways were the domain of his shadowy faction it was safer for him to be overall commander.
Thus, grudgingly Genlee allowed the Galt and his companion to lead the convoy from the front in the scout car, while he would command the Loper that followed. The extra smuggler troops designated as the Escort Guard followed in a tougher rumble-rover class of vehicle leading behind the Loper. This, along with the outlanders being outnumbered, kept Genlee's delicate sense of superiority balanced.
Galt landed alongside Roachas at the car and they loaded three bags of provisions, spare clothing plus their evacuation gear bags. The latter item being the first thing to be grabbed in an emergency prior to escape.
The Underways were one of the best kept secrets of House Saken and Galt knew that he’d have to have his wits about him, not only for external threats, but the danger from within as well. Genlee had the slight energy pattern of jeopardy about him for this mission. From discretely further scanning of the Convoy Captain, Galt could see he was a controller-type matrix persona. His men were firmly under his thumb and the Pathman was glad he had Roachas to watch his back.
“Mr Galt we go now OK?” Genlee called out in rough-caucus language, he wore the tan-camouflage fatigues as did the other smugglers.
A flash of a ‘thumbs up’ came from Galt and the rest of them now scurried about into their vehicles. The whole convoy was disguised as a military expedition, with forged manifest’s and papers. It had served Paeng fairly well over the years since the Border Wars had broken out between the UNAS and his people several years before. Galt, with his grey and white pattern serch-suit looked like an officer-class type to all but the highly experienced eye. While Roachas in mostly light blue-black-pattern Craiven uniform roughly corresponded to that of a foreign mercenary. It was almost non-descript but still soldier-like.
Inside the large transport Loper was where Genlee and now climbed, aside from Genlee, was the driver, a chubby Mongus-looking fellow and Genlee’s own personal bodyguard Yan. Yan being another one Galt was wary of. Although Galt knew of most Saken to be less than savory characters, Yan seemed something of a deviant in his ways and manner. A couple of the lower-ranking guards had the dubious honour of riding on the trucks upper cargo hold, they'd be exposed to hazards and the elements, but such was the cargos value Genlee insisted on it being babysat.
He heard fumbling to his left and saw it was Roachas now fiddling with the ignition mechanism.
“Nice and easy driving one of these things Roachy.” Galt said breezily, behind them engines were being started and revved. “Not too far ahead of them yet keep it so Genlee isn't creeping up our backs either.” He ordered his warrior who nodded.
Roachas had some experience with vehicles and got familiar with such things fairly quickly. It was manual transmission but lacked a fully-functioning power-steering accessory. The Craiven now turned the key and the battery sparked, firing up the hydrax-engine. In a corner of the compound, almost fully ignored by the occupants, was the wrecked hulk of a computer-engined vehicle. It was from before the days of the Blue Pulse which had destroyed the delicate technos on Terra. Only the rugged, crude engines without fancy computer controls had survived and could be rebuilt. Such things were a fairly crude way of propelling vehicles Galt reckoned, compared to his back-pack attached Trans-Unit that was. Most of House Saken lacked artifact technology such as his though and so hydro-carbon tended to predominate both on the surface of Terra and in the bases beneath the surface.
Behind the Loper the Escort Guard of four smugglers mounted up into the rumble-rover, they were tougher-featured than the rest, Mongust-looking and wearing light body-armor. Their vehicle was bigger than Galt's scouting vehicle, being a sightly longer, bulkier rumble-rover class of machine. It was brown painted and military-framed and imported from far-flung Albion with a Jade-engineered engine. The Escort Guard now crammed inside after loading their weapons and supplies. They were the fighters of Genlee's troops Galt critically surmised. Their added heavy firepower of a single belt-fed machine-gun augmenting the more lightly armed nature of the others. Along with extra provisions and supplies the Escort Guard would be the main tool of Genlee to fend off any danger as any serious opposition would see them be a bulwark of defence. Galt knew though that with a good forward plan and advanced scouting the heavy-weaponry was purely secondary. He wasn't entirely dissatisfied with the set up though and nodded at things overall.
'They'll do.' His inner-entity murmured.
Then the entire convoy moved off.
The first hazard lay just five miles north from Chientze. Here, there was a check-point manned by a detachment of Jade soldiers. Galt had Roachas slow right down while he zoomed in and analysed the approaching obstacle. His artefact-level of technology, scanned and analysed to a precise level of outcomes and dangers, with suggestions and alternatives.
They were some way off but the way the check-point was built there was no driving through with ease. Steep slopes on either side would challenge his off-road vehicle and the Loper would stand no chance, unless it built up speed to smash through it.
Even that would be suicide, for a small mandrake tank was emplaced next to the barrier building. It was a on a raised mound for increased elevation and was a quick-firer; capable of slamming narrow cannon-shell after cannon-shell into an opponent.
Galt brooded few a few seconds weighing up in his mind how to proceed. The Mandrake would be an issue if they had to fight, but Galt wasn't one to be intimidated by Terran technology, especially as his faction practically wrote the book on them.
“Is your ‘I-trans’ receiver working properly?” Galt asked his companion. “Last night you seemed a bit concerned about it.”
“It’s a bit fragile, but it can hear and sqwark Jader pretty well.”
“Good, if they stop you, try your ID, then the papers. You know the cover-tale on them?”
“Yeah, it’s supplies for General...” Roachas said haltingly, stumbling for the name.
“Zhang.” Galt inserted helpfully.
“Right, got it.” Roachas nodded.
“Zhang uses Caucus mercenaries, so with the ID and the manifest papers you should be ok with them. However if that fails, play it cool but watch for my lead.” Galt spoke the orders carefully and deliberately.
Roachas nodded and focused on the road. In some ways Roachas was a fatalist, either his way would carry him or it would not. It allowed his to put worries aside, indeed he was a gentle soul when the mood took him but was capable of incredible violence if the need arose.
Galt activated his trans-pack. As he ascended into the morning sky his stealth field bloomed, matching the grey and colorless hue of the morning. Then he was like a shimmering ghost in the sky.
Minutes later the convoy, minus Galt who Roachas assumed was now on overwatch, had reached the barricade.
Two large armored cars formed a ‘V’ blocked the roadway completely. Together they formed an obstacle that even the Loper would struggle to shunt clear. Behind them the mandrake crew sat away from the check-point. Two watching a vid-screen while a third was busy finishing a breakfast snack. An Overseer was inside judging by the plain-green uniformed man that peered out at them approaching.
The Jade soldier sentry thrust up his hand in a crude way while another nearby moved towards him. The Craiven noticed that their camouflage uniform was a different pattern to that of the UNAS trooper imagery he'd been shown during his training days. It was darker, with a simpler pattern matrix. The sentry’s carried Aker rifles, a weapon type that was awash within the Jade Empires forces. Reliable with generous machine tolerances for the working parts. Yet much cruder than the new SKAR carbines being issued out to western forces. The Akers tended to be somewhat inaccurate at any range over 150 yards.
Roachas slowed down and halted just before the pair and held out the papers for the sentry. These were the manifest document’s Paeng had given them. He had no idea how they would stand up to the guard’s scrutiny though. While he could hear and speak Jade with his I-Trans, no amount of fine tuning his scry-lenses lynex interface could translate the strange script they wrote in.
The soldier took them from him with a scowl. Noting his non-Jade features. He perused them while his partner went along the convoy to the main supply vehicle.
Once at the Loper he exchanged words with Roachas, asking him questions.
Roachas wisely turned up his feedback unit and the translated words filtered through in a neutral Caucus accent.
“What you carrying?” A pinch-faced soldier said.
“Supplies for General Zhang’s army.” Roachas said carefully, passing the papers to the weasel-faced guard who looked at the embossed and colored manifest.
This seemed to have an effect as the guard nodded, the details on the manifest sinking in.
“You are Caucus, why are you here in my world Outlander?” The guard asked, his caution mixed with arrogance, his caution still noticeable.
“The General pay’s well for outlander’s with UNAS forces experience.” Roachas said glossing over his own faction identity, but figuring that as he was allied to the UNAS the statement had some truth.
“Your UNAS people fight against mine outlander.”
“Not I.” Said Roachas. “I am fighting for the Jade Emperor now. Zhang trusts those he chooses.”
This seemed to convince the man, who nodded to Roachas then spoke rapid Jade-speech with the guard who'd spoken to the Loper smugglers. Roachas surmised he was confirming with him their stories matched up. Galt had taken pains with Genlee earlier to get this in place, so if it didn't match Roachas tensed for calling out for Galt the instant he felt threatened.
The danger passed and the scrutiny-guard called out for the barrier to be raised.
As he drove through the Loper slowed down for the checkpoint. The Craiven saw in his side mirror the guard beckon them through without being searched.
After they’d gone another few miles Galt uncloaked and brought himself alongside the passenger door. Unlocking it Roachas began to ease off the accelerator.
“Don’t slow down and stop, keep going.” The Galt shouted, his voice distorted behind the trans-helm. He then opened the door himself, propped it open with his foot before lowering himself across and down into the seat next to Roachas. All while reducing the throttle to his flight unit.
Roachas was impressed, had he tried a similar move with his own hydrax-fired machine the seats would be on fire, Galt's Trans-unit utilised arcane-forces beyond his understanding, save that its 'cold-burn' emissions were safer than his own sky-soar unit.
“Follow this road straight then wait for a right turn on my mark. We’ll make a trail-finder of you yet.” Galt spoke evenly.
So far so good, only the Underways awaited them now.
Not even Galt knew for certain how old the Underways were or who really built them.
Galt reckoned it was both House Soliter and House Vril originally, with some Pathfinders adding bits on after the Founder Wars had ended. In recent centuries there had been only minimal work done to any Underway expansion in Saken territory. Indeed most of that was just shaping out some tunnels into extra outposts and a Base Rock here and there.
Once they’d reached the great doorway no-one save Galt could discern a way into the mountain.
The join between the pair of doors, massive doors at that, was perfect. Even Roachas was hard put-on by Galt to spot the entrance, disguised as it was by rocks and vegetation.
“It’s a twin door entrance, about eighteen feet high by about ten feet wide.” Galt spoke matter-of-factly.
“Ten feet should see the Loper through easily enough.” Roachas said with a rookie’s air of assumption.
“Assuming the internal frame doesn’t catch.” Galt said, correcting the apprentice. “If it does prevent entry, we abort the whole thing. Get the Loper out of the way then I'll seal the Underway doors. Shroud-up, Take to the air, and abandon the convoy, head north and I'll follow after.” Galt said firmly.
“It shouldn't come to that.” Roachas said positively.
He exited the car, looked over at Genlee and then took off upwards until, once ten feet off the ground, he found the disguised access panel.
Roachas didn’t hesitate in getting airborne to assist Galt.
Taking hold of the panel Galt removed, the Craiven one saw that there were over a dozen dial recess slots in the space.
“Check for them observing Roachy. I don’t want any scoping me getting this door unlocked.” He said sharply without turning around. The sound of the hydrax engine faded and he resumed what he was doing.
He didn’t say it, but the less his Craiven apprentice saw of him unlocking the massive doors the better. Even Galt knew better than to show all his tricks and secrets.
He’d had left the combination in its correct alignment the previous night rather than peruse the data-slate and manually cycle through the individual sequences again. The less time they were stuck outside the Underway entrance the better.
Even in the remote area of the entrance he felt exposed up there in broad daylight.
With a spin of the release wheel the finely balanced and lubricated locking pins retracted. Checking behind him that there was enough clearance for the doors to open he made the final touch of opening the entrance up. He pushed the tilt button and the doorways ingenious gimble-function moved one degree inward.
As if the very mountain seemed to come alive and move he monitored the openings progress carefully. There was no rushing of air-flow, for slits and tiny ventilation openings were already set into the mountain allowing
His father had told him never to rush an Underway opening. The gateway technos was murky even for Master Pathfinders and any damage to them was a nightmare to fix without major assistance. Rushing the doors could result in the locking pins buckling and shearing if the vast weights jarred or banged open harshly. As it was he was ‘rogueing-it’ and could have no mishaps.
Once the doors were a quarter of the way open he reset the doors tilt angle by pressing its opposing counterpart. Inertia carried them open for another few feet before gravity slowed them down, then as they crept to a halt they'd swung nearly wide open. Nothing was behind the doors, something Galt knew at the first moment of the opening if under-creatures lurked out of sight and none were present.
The Pathman withdrew back to the scout-car and felt a surge of pride at the feat. His measurement analysis told him the Loper would squeeze through, catching at the wing-mirrors. Yet they looked like they’d fold in if it came to that.
“So far so good.” He said to Roachas.
He heard murmuring from the smugglers behind him, both fearful and curious. Beyond the doorway was a gently sloping tunnel that led downwards.
The tunnel’s hollowed out passage was known to both Galt and Roachas from experience but to the Jade smugglers the lack of support beams was both a worry and something of awe.
The distant ceiling was arched perfectly supporting the walls and ceiling. Compared to mining bases and even bunker-tunnels the Underways were a work of near-precision. No lamps or torches were set into the walls, only in occupied areas of the Underways were these usually present.
The Lopers headlights would be their main means of illumination. Galt ordered the convoy to wait while he and his companion went ahead to where the sled-train was supposed to be.
With rookie-aggression Roachas drew his Ceezeck and aim-walked ahead as they disappeared into the gloom.
“The way is already clear Roachas, no need to make it look like we are outsiders to our homeland.” Galt said with a barb of sarcasm. His Craiven companion whispered an apology, holstering his weapon as they moved further in.
Both had their vision-viewers 'illumination' frequencies turned on to maximum in the pitch darkness. Shapes and objects, invisible to the naked eye showed up with fair clarity. They differed compared to most rival factions, who used helm-viewer lenses of light intensity and amplifiers. House Saken’s depended on broad spectrum analysis and high-refresh rates.
Within the Underways the temperature hovered at a near constant level. Neither chilly nor hot but tending towards a cool end of room-temperature. It was a relief from the warm and hot climate of an oriental summer. Yet high levels of humidity was a perennial problem, with only the most ventilated areas of the Saken Underways having fresh air blown in to offset the issue. The Galt's chosen location of travel had little to none of this comfort. However he knew from experience that the travel effect from what they would be using would bring some relief.
Looming out of the darkness was the distinct frame of the sled-train, massively long it would easily take the entire convoy with forty yards or so to spare. It took up nearly three-quarters of the width of the tunnel, which was not much wider as it was at the entrance doorway. The triple-rail lines gave incredible stability, which was essential for the speeds the slyder-trine power-train would propel the locomotive to.
Further down the tunnel the line went into infinity. Galt was almost certain from the indications given on the data-slate that it would broaden out to be much wider and spacious. His trans-helm's life-sign reader gave little indication of others but for themselves in the area yet he still took his time though. It wouldn't be wise to blunder, especially in the Underways where not all were friendly even to the Saken folk.
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