“Where did they come from?!” Sam yelled as she dashed back down the tunnel.
“Well, when a Mommy Alfath and a Daddy Alfath love each other very much…” Eric began through gritted teeth, but the effort of joking while hobbling along on his shattered leg was too much.
“We can have the evil cult biology lessons later,” Thomas grunted, half-carrying Eric with him. He tried not to think about the battle raging behind him — a battle waged by his mentor to buy them time to get to a more defensible position.
They made it into the cave and Thomas lowered Eric to the ground as gently as possible. “Dajo, we’re here,” he tried to send over the comms but received only static as a reply. “Kroodles! The hermodric is blocking comms now.” He pulled a med kit from his gear belt and tossed it to Sam. “We may not have any other choice but to go back out through the tunnel,” he nodded to the narrow crack that led to the surface. “Do what you can for him. I’m getting Dajo.”
Thomas ran back down the serpentine tunnel, nearly colliding with his mentor as he rounded a bend. She was a small woman, barely over five feet tall, and highly attractive even in her current disheveled condition. She also had a vocabulary that would make even the most grizzled dock-worker blush.
“Down!” She grabbed Thomas and threw him to the tunnel floor just as a bright flash shot over their heads. A section of the tunnel wall exploded, showering them with shards of glowing hot rock. “Credible tip my exceptional ass,” she growled in frustration as she helped Thomas to his feet. “They knew we were coming. We were set up.” She ducked another energy bolt and fired back a comment about the gunman’s questionable parentage. She and Thomas sprinted back to the cave.
While Dajo used her magic to collapse the tunnel, Thomas checked on Sam and Eric. Sweat beaded on Eric’s forehead and there was a pale green pallor to his skin, but he remained still as Sam applied splint patches. “Not sure how well they’ll work with all the interference in here. Guess we’ll see when we try to charge them.” He tried to play it down but they all knew the hermodric stone could prevent the patches from working, or may even cause them to do more damage than help.
“I already gave him a shot for the pain,” Sam reported as she worked. “A second one may put him out.”
Dajo kept up a running stream of colorful epithets in three different ancient Earth languages while she channeled her magic. He first two attempts failed and she could hear the Alfath approaching. She backed into the entrance of the cave and ordered the others to move back before her third attempt. The entire cave shook as the entrance collapsed, sealing them behind a wall of shattered stone.
“All right, that buys us a little time, but it won’t be long before they break through.” Dajo joined the others. She knelt next to Eric to check his leg and Sam’s placement of the splint patches. She nodded her approval and looked at Eric. “Look at me,” she told him. “Just look at my eyes.”
A soft white glow formed around Dajo and spread to encompass Eric as well. Thomas could see the young man relax, his fear and pain ebbing away as the glow enveloped him. Dajo nodded, a signal to Sam to activate the patches. Sam attached a small charge unit to the first patch and turned it on. Tiny lights started to blink on each of the patches as they activated. Eric drew in a sharp breath but then smiled with relief. “They’re working.”
A blast and the shifting of rocks in the crumbled entrance drew their attention to the approaching attackers. Dajo drew Thomas aside. “Get them to the surface.” She nodded towards Sam and Eric. “It will be rough and he may need another injection for pain, but if the patches hold, you should be able to make it.”
Thomas narrowed his eyes at her words. “What about you?”
“I’m going to make sure they can’t follow you.”
“Dajo…” Thomas began.
“You wouldn’t have made it through Commander training let alone become my protégé if you hadn’t learned that you take care of your team. Now get them out of here or I swear by Moriband’s mucopurulent manhood I will send you back to recruit training and make you start all over again.”
The corner of Thomas’ lips ticked up and he gave her a brief nod. He helped Eric to his feet and ordered the junior officers back out through the narrow split in the cave wall, but paused before disappearing into the narrow tunnel. “Just see to it that your exceptional ass is able to carry through with your threats, ma’am.”