"The Dig"--A short story

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PART 1

Tap. Tap tap. Tap.

“Do you hear it?”

Tap.

“This is what you called me for?”

“There’s something there, Captain. Something’s coming.”

Tap tap. Tap.

The Captain snorted.

“It’s the refinery, settling above us.”

“But—“

“It’s nothing. Finish up here and then report back, soldier. That’s an order.”

The corridor was illuminated only by Dex’s mining helmet and the Captain’s Gauss Rifle, which was now retreating down the corridor towards base camp. Dex seethed as he watched it go. How could the captain not realize what was happening? Something was digging its way towards them. Something was coming to save them.

Tap.

With the light from the Captain’s rifle gone, the dark was an oppressive thing. Dex sighed, did his best to ignore it. He hefted his makeshift pickaxe and continued to dig, drowning out the sound of the tapping. He’d lost count of the days down here, in the black. They all had. The dig and the nightmares were the only things that existed now.

Dex threw himself into the dig with fervor, taking comfort in the familiar work. It wasn’t much different from mining minerals on the surface, and no one in the SCV Corps was a stranger to that. Maybe he didn’t have his fusion cutters to speed the process along, but a zergling claw lashed to the butt of a rifle was better than using his hands. Low tech beat no tech any day.

The persistent stench of the refinery’s Vespene Gas assaulted him, stinging his eyes. He still wasn’t used to it, but in a way he was grateful for it. The dark, the gas, the exertion. All of it. Anything to take his mind off the horrors that haunted his dreams. Teeth, ripping through steel as if it weren’t there. The screams of dying Marines. Vikings and Banshees, swatted from the sky like buzzing insects. Shouted orders, frantic and desperate and futile.

They had thought they were safe. The Zerg had thought different.

It had been Dex’s idea to take refuge in the refinery after their command center was destroyed. Thirty-three Terrans had followed him before it crashed down around their heads, trapping them in the dark.

Now there were nine.

Dig, extract. Dig, extract. Find a way out. Ignore the sweat dripping into his eyes. Ignore his aching limbs.

Sometimes, the exertion drowned out the screams that still echoed in his head.




Tap tap.

It was the next day, and somehow word had gotten around. There was a small group with Dex now, three or four more people, all silent, straining to hear the tapping coming from above them.

“It’s the Terrans,” proclaimed Dex. “The Terran Dominion. Come to rescue us.”

“Rescue,” repeated a voice in the dark, and the group took it up as a mantra. “Rescue. Rescue.”

Others took up shovels and began to dig at his side. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Dex registered the falling debris, the groaning that the structure made above them. But they were reckless now, wild.

Only the Captain was able to put a halt to it.

“You idiots want to kill us all?” he snapped. “One man per tunnel. We move any faster than that we risk the entire thing coming down on us.”

“But sir, we’re rescued.” This from Franklin, barely sixteen. His hopeful eyes seemed to shine even through the dark.

A dull chunk as the Captain’s armored fist struck his jaw, sending him to the ground with a cry. A tooth went spinning through the air and was lost.

“We don’t know what’s waiting for us up there. We don’t know that it’s anything.”

“But—”

“Even if it is rescue, we won’t get there if the entire place comes down on us. One man per tunnel.”

Dejected, the group soon dispersed. The Captain stayed behind.

“Who the hell told you to spread the word about your damn noises?” he said. Dex thought of Franklin’s tooth and remained silent. The Captain’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you still here, anyway? Mess was called a half hour ago.”

“Wasn’t hungry,” Dex said. The Captain snorted.

“Get the hell back to base and get some food in you. You think collapsing on the job will get us dug out any faster?”

Tap tap.

The Captain snarled. He snatched a chunk of debris from the ground before Dex could blink, and then hurled it at the ceiling, towards the sound. The resounding clang echoed down the corridor.

Dex held his breath and strained to listen. Was there a response? Was anything back there?

Just silence.

The Captain nodded, as if he accomplished something. Dex sighed and followed him back to base.
PART 2

“Whacha doin?” whistled Franklin through a mouth with no front tooth. The bleeding had stopped, although he was still a gory mess. There wasn’t enough water to spare for hygiene.

“Digging.” said Dex.

“But it’s night.”

“We don’t know that for sure.”

“But people are sleepin’.”

That much was true. Dex had needed to sneak by the Captain himself to come back here.

The sound of footsteps, echoing down the corridor. “What’s he doing?” whispered a voice.

“Digging,” said Franklin.

“But it’s night.”

And so it went. By the end, every survivor but The Captain and Adam, his second, was gathered around Dex, watching him work. There was muttering in the crowd, murmuring. Some of it hopeful. Some of it angry, too, but no one stopped him.

Dig, extract. Dig, extract. Pause, rest.

Tap tap.

Seven heads looked up, but there was nothing else.

Dex went back to digging.




“I’ve decided to shut off excavations in the western corridor,” the Captain announced the next day, during their morning meal. Calling it “breakfast” was a bit much, for no one felt as if they’d broken their fast at all. The canned goods they’d discovered had seemed a bountiful treasure at first, but had depleted at a shocking rate. Even stretched thin with their remaining water, there wasn’t enough of the greasy stew to go around.

The western corridor, of course, was Dex’s, and he wasn’t surprised when the Captain made the proclamation.

“But the sounds,” said Franklin, rising to the bait. Dex cursed softly under his breath. “Captain, what about the sounds?”

“They’re of no consequence.”

“But…”

“You think if it were the Terran Dominion come to rescue us, they’d be tapping?” he said. “If the Dominion was here to rescue us, we’d damn sure be rescued. The sounds you hear are the Zerg.”

Angry, confused muttering followed that. The Captain seized his advantage.

“The Zerg are clever. They know we’re here, they know we want rescue. But if we dig towards the tapping, we’re playing right into their hands.”

“You mean claws,” muttered Franklin, earning him nothing but sullen stares.

“Until those sounds stop—until the Zerg move on—we avoid that corridor. You hear me?”

Dex sure heard him. It was a joke. If the Captain thought it was Zerg, why did he throw the rock towards the tapping days ago? No. It was spite, pure and simple. The Captain blamed Dex for their imprisonment. But would it have been better to stay up top, to be slaughtered by the Zerg?

Dex looked down at his meager rations, thought of the day’s work ahead of him. Maybe it would have been. Who was he to decide where they should dig? Like it or not, the Captain was right; his decision to take refuge in the refinery had been a terrible choice.

“You’re not going to stop, are you?” whispered Franklin, a little later. “The Captain…the Captain doesn’t realize, that’s all. He doesn’t know.”

“Maybe he knows more than we think,” Dex said. “Leave it alone.”

Franklin skulked away, and Dex thought that may have been the end of it. But a moment later, he saw Franklin jabbering away at Shep. A moment after that, the old man was at his side.

The grizzled veteran of the SCV Corps didn’t typically have much to do with Dex. But now the old man was kneeling by Dex’s side, his foul breath wheezing into his ear.

“You don’t stop now, boy. Not when we’re close to rescue.”

“Maybe the Captain’s right. Ever think of that? Maybe it’s the Zerg up there, hunting for us.”

“The Captain’s not right in the head. After the Zerg gave us that beating up top, you think that’d go tapping like little mice, trying to find us? Or would they rip this place to shreds and come get us?” Shep looked him up and down. “You’re not a stupid man, are you?”

“No.”

“You know as well as I those noises ain’t the Zerg.”

“Yes.”

“That’s all there is, then.”

Dex stirred his stew, thinking. Then Shep surprised him.

“If it comes down to it, boy, there’s folk you can rely on.”

Dex looked up, but the man was already retreating into a corner, joining Franklin and a few more survivors. The group was staring at him. Shep met his eyes and gave him a nod, as if they’d reached an understanding.

Dex realized that perhaps they had.

Was it Terran Dominion, come to rescue them? Or Zerg, come to finish them off? In the end, did it matter? If they stayed in this refinery much longer, they would certainly die. Either their air would run out, or their dwindling food supplies would finally exhaust themselves. If the Zerg were right on top of them, there was no chance of surviving. No chance at all. But better to go down fighting than to die trapped in this prison.

An hour later, Dex was back at his tunnel.
PART 3

“Captain’s looking for ya,” said Franklin. He’d been watching him work—even offered to take over for Dex, let him rest a spell. But Dex declined. This was his job.

“He ain’t,” said Dex.

“Sure is. He was asking folk where you were the past two hours now.”

“The Captain knows where I am. He’s just hoping I’ll come to my senses before I force a fight out of him.”

“If the Captain wants a fight, he’ll get it,” said Franklin. “He don’t scare me none.”

“If we fight, kid, we all lose. Look at your damned tooth.” Franklin put a hand to his mouth, which was still streaked with blood. “What if that had been a broken arm? A gunshot wound? Who’s gonna fix you up down here?”

Heavy footfalls made Dex and Franklin turn around. It was Adam. The Captain’s
second.

“The hell have you been?” Adam said.

“Been right here.”

“The Captain ordered you to stop.”

Dex didn’t reply. He turned back around and started to dig again.

“Don’t do something you’ll make us all regret,” Adam said. Dex heard him smack
a fist into his hand. “’Course, some of us might regret it more than others.”

Dex ignored him. But on his backswing, Adam caught his makeshift pickaxe and
yanked it out of his hands.

“You don’t want to be doing that,” said a voice from the dark. Shep, backed by two more survivors carrying shovels, stepped into the light. “You let that boy continue his work.”

“He’ll kill us. He’ll bring the Zerg down right on top of us.”

“He saved us,” said Shep. “No one knew what the hell to do up top. Only he thought to take refuge here.”

“And look how far that’s gotten us,” snarled Adam.

“Better’n being dead,” said Franklin.

Adam’s eyes flashed angrily, as if contemplating taking them all on at once. Dex braced himself…

But then Adam spat, threw the shovel to the ground. “This ain’t over. Not by a long shot. You open that tunnel, you kill us all.”

As he retreated down the corridor, Franklin let out an excited whoop. “Told ya, Dex! Told ya we could do it!”

“No, he was right.” Dex’s eyes narrowed to slits. “This ain’t over.”




The normal excavation routine that they’d lived with until now stopped altogether after that. Dex dug, as always, and Franklin cleared away the debris. But Shep and his guards stood by at all times, pickaxes and shovels in hand, waiting for the fight they all knew was coming.

The five of them weren’t welcome at mess anymore. Shep had thought ahead, though, and had brought provisions. They would live in the tunnel now. Until they broke free or starved to death.

“We’ll take turns,” Shep said. “No reason you have to dig us out by yourself. We can share the burden.”

Dex was vehement in his refusal. “This is my job. I’ll finish it.”

“Kid, it ain’t your fault we’re trapped here,” Shep whispered. “It don’t all have to be on your shoulders alone. Don’t go blaming yourself for something you couldn’t control.”

“It’s my job.”

“Have it your way,” Shep said. And Dex did.




A day later, the Captain came to them. He put the crew on edge, but he seemed content to simply watch them work for a while.

Finally, he spoke.

“We found a way out. You boys are welcome to join us.”

No one answered him.

“You hear me? I said—”

“We heard you jut fine,” said Dex. “If you found a way out, you’d be out.”

TAP TAP.

It was louder, now, the tapping. Had been for a while, now. They were getting closer.

The Captain glanced up, mumbled, “This has to stop.” Then, louder: “This has to stop.”
PART 4

“We’re almost there,” Dex said, and Franklin gave a loud whoop. He called to the others: “He says we’re almost there!” Shep nodded.

The Captain had left them to their own devices hours ago. Dex had no illusions that he’d be back, and that he’d bring violence with him. The Captain’s patience had run out, and force was the only thing he understood. If it came down to a fight, Dex didn’t like their chances.

Guns would be practically useless; there were no more bullets. The fighting would be close, then. Dirty. Personal. Out of all of them, only the Captain and Adam had experience with the Terran Marines. They would be potent weapons in a brawl. But himself? Shep? Those in the SCV Corps didn’t fight unless forced to.

Dex’s only hope was to reach the surface and escape before the Captain attacked. He was exhausted—his arms were heavy and numb, like two iron rods attached to his body. His legs could barely support him. But these folk were counting on him.

He took a breath and threw himself at the wall with renewed vigor. He had come far, so far. He just needed to go a little farther.

Dig, extract. Dig, extract. Ignore the sweat dripping into his eyes. Ignore…

A breeze?

Dex stopped, just to be sure. But there was no mistaking it. Somehow, a small breeze was making its way through the earth.

“They’re coming!” Shep cried, suddenly. “Dex, they’re--!”

Dex turned in time to see the knife take him through the eye.

“Damn you!” yelled Franklin, as he raced towards their attackers. Dex turned back to the tunnel. He was so close now, so goddamn close. He just needed another minute—

Franklin’s agonized scream made him turn back, and he quickly realized how wrong he had been. He’d thought it would be an uneven fight, but it wasn’t a fight at all. It was a slaughter. Shep was down, as was one of his guards. The other was fighting two men at once, while Adam stabbed Franklin in the gut twice, in quick succession. His scream turned to a shocked gasp, and he toppled.

And all the while, the Captain was coming towards Dex.

Dex ignored him, turned back to the tunnel.

“No!” the Captain cried out, running towards him. “No, you idiot! Don’t let them in!”

A crack, and the earth started to fall more freely. A rush of hot air assaulted Dex as he broke through to the other side. He stumbled back.

Cause lost, the Captain slowed his charge and stood beside Dex. They peered into the dark cavern he’d revealed.

A hand—a human hand—gripped the earth.

A woman poked her head through the gap and blinked in the light of Dex’s mining helmet. She was skeletal, as if she hadn’t eaten in weeks. Her tattered dress was of the same indeterminate color of her skin.

“Please,” she rasped, voice barely audible. “We heard tapping…Are you here to rescue us?”

Dex’s strength abandoned him. He sank to his knees.

“We have survivors…please,” she repeated. “Please. Please.”

THE END.
Liked and +1ed
Wow, great story man. Great way to end it. You misspelled Gauss though in the first few paragraphs of part one. Keep up the good work!
I loved it so much, especially the ending!
Thanks for reading, guys! I'm glad you liked it. And thanks for the heads-up on the typo, Gene.
No problem, great story!
Unexpected turn! +1
Nice job! +1
What a twist! I loved it :D
Thanks for the read, guys! I'm glad you liked it :D
Very nice. I'm glad I took time to read this, it's gold.
Liked it very much dude, you really have writing skills. Let us all know when you come up with the next story.

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