4

Locke shrunk against the craning cavern wall, eyes with fear. His heart turned over in his chest as he witnessed the band of Blue torturously move closer to him, brandishing their claws, just waiting to violently gore the soldier to his death.

There was a feeling of sadness, rage, and fear, all fused together in the boy's mind to form a sickening, heart wrenching feeling of pain and torment. He was inwardly lamenting his own dying, although it had not yet happened…So, this is what it must feel like to be sentenced to death.

He search his body for any form of consolation, retaliation…anything that might be able to help him. The sound of that wretched clicking filled his mind and he was left unable to think straight…he could feel sweat rolling down his face. His eyes caught a few drops, and their salty texture half-blinded him. He may have cried out, or set about sobbing, if there was not that last-chance feeling of urgency that compelled him. Locke, filled to the brim with courage and determination, even in the face of death, would not give up so easily.

He began to feel the sensation of spinning…he felt dizzy, nauseous. He wouldn't be able to stand any longer. His eyes rolled back into his skull, and he blacked out…but not before his hand met his belt, grappling desperately for the grenade that he had felt with his fingertips. One hand pulled it loose, the other struggling to steady him and hold him up against the wall…a thumb flicked out the clip, but, he couldn't handle being awake anymore. His fear tore him out of consciousness…and as he fell to the ground, the grenade bounced out of his grasp away from him.

The explosion did little in the way of daunting the Blue. Maybe a scratch or splinter…but, it was the after-effect of the great vibration that made all the difference. The creatures in pursuit of consuming Locke stopped for a moment…and the ground began to shake.

The armored Shrike standing before them, they could see, slowly began to sink down into the sand, as well as rocks and sediment beginning to fall into a dome-shaped crater that was quickly forming at the center of the cave…all was collapsing into it, and, they began to feel the ground around them pulling them forward into the pit. The Blue screeched in terror, and, everything in the cave was pulled into the crater's tractor beam-like tug…and, it wasn't long before the weak point in the ground fell through, and, sand, rocks, Blue, the Shrike, and Locke's body, were all left helpless in the fall.

---

…Am I not dead?

Locke struggled to open his eyes, but, they stung as sand fell mercilessly into them.

…Where am I?

He tried to take a breath, but his mouth was filled with sand as well…instead, he breathed fitfully through his nose. He tried to sit up, and found it incredibly hard…When he did, he wiped his eyes clear of the grit, and found he was almost completely buried in sand .

…What…happened?

Locke rose to his feet, to discover a painful headache rush into his head. He turned to examine his surroundings, and learned that he was in something of a catacomb of caves…underground, he imagined. There was also a massive steel pipe running through the caves. In random spots it had the numbers '311' painted on it.

"Hmm…" He rubbed his shoulder, which he noticed ached profusely. His body, all around, felt like a sore heap of flesh…but, although he didn't know what had happened, he was lucky to be alive.

He scratched the back of his head…pondering what to do next. But, it was just then that he heard gunfire and yelling meet his ears. He whirled around and saw flashes of light down one end of the long stretch of caves. Immediately he took off running that way…any sign of human life was a good sign to him.

As he neared the area ahead, he could make out several human forms running around, but, they all seemed to be in urgent distress. Some of them were firing guns at something…

Once he was close enough, he saw what they were all so stirred about…a group of at least half a dozen Blue stalking towards them from down another long stretch of the caves. A thin line of about a score of men, holding automatic rifles, were standing in opposition of them…firing constantly and belligerently to repress the coming Blue, who oddly looked already pained and disabled, themselves.

By the time Locke reached the group of people, he realized that not all of them there were men holding guns…some were women, children, elders. Tents were pitched all around, even some earlier snuffed out campfires. The ones not holding weapons were running around, trying desperately to pack up everything as quickly as possible.

It took only a small amount of time to dispatch all the Blue that threatened to slaughter the camp, yet, the feeling of urgency and tension among them was not dampened.

Locke strayed unnoticed into the camp. Most just neglected his presence, not even offering him a glance…but, a large man, one of the gun fighters, caught a glimpse of him and was furious. "Hey, you!" He pointed his gun in Locke's direction.

The din of the camp went silence…no one made a sound and they all turned to stare at him.

"Who are you?" The man yelled…it was obvious that he was both on edge and angry.

Locke hesitated for a moment, then rubbed his head as he spoke, "Ah, I-I'm Locke…I was in the desert, and I got ambushed by the Blue and I…I don't know what happened after that."

The man was about to yell at Locke again…but then, the armored Shrike that Locke had previously piloted, came strolling into view. It was being maneuvered by one of the gunmen. Before Locke could restrain himself, he cried out. "Hey! My shrike!"

A few of the women gasped, some of the gunmen pumped their guns…the leader roared at the boy. "So it was you who led the Blue here?"

"I…I don't know, we must have fell through…I fainted, I'm not sure what happened."

"Damned Second Earthians!" It was likely that the man may have shot Locke at that point…if not for the intervention of a young woman, who came forward and whispered fiercely to the man. He growled and whirled away forcefully, repeating under his breath…"Damned Second Earthians…"

Another one of the gunmen raised his voice above the heightening noise of the camp. "Let's get moving…you never know if there will be more Blue…now that they have a way to get in."

And the people slowly, but surely began to migrate further down the caves.

Locke watched on, crestfallen, as they all began to leave…He was excited at the fact that he had discovered survivors, and maybe someone able to help him…but, for some reason unknown to him, they all seemed to despise his presence, and, therefore, ignored him blatantly.

"Wait!" He followed along desperately behind them, approaching people individually.

"I can help you!"

"We can get you out of here!"

"Please!"

Eventually, he fell to his knees in angst…he was going to be left behind, left to starve, or be killed by the Blue…all alone. He buried his face in his hands and felt like crying, but, his efforts were cut short when he was seized around the collar of his uniform by a cloaked figure, wandering at the back of the group. The person pulled Locke up near their concealed face so that they could whisper to him…"You listen to me, boy…if you want to live, you will listen to me and follow me. These people have no heart for Second Earth, and especially for it's messengers…"

And they threw a dusty and worn cloak over Locke, concealing his body and most of his face, then continued to walk dauntlessly with the rest…

Locke was taken aback for a moment…then snapped back to reality, drew the hood over his head, then got to his feet and briskly tagged behind the cloaked figure.