Trapped Part 2
“No!” Taler woke with a start, his eyes snapping open, the darkness that had enveloped him shattering into a blue tinted gloom. Cold shafts of light rippled through the icy walls around him as he looked around rapidly, and a flurry of snow falling through the hole above him. The adrenalin that had been absent from his muscles moments before surged through every vein as though it had forgotten its purpose for a split second. The brief reprieve and moment of stillness was washed away by an animalistic urge to fight.
He struggled to control it, his mind trying to catch up with what had just happened, his body quivering with a mix of fear and rage. At the back of his thoughts, he knew it was a simple reaction to any threat the body might be under, and that he could harness it and use it to fight harder and for longer. It was one of the first things his sergeant had taught him back on Kamino, which seemed a life time ago. But in the first few painfully slow seconds after regaining consciousness, the mind was working slower than the body, and this was when he was most at risk. His heart was hammering in his chest like a war drum, and he could hear the surging whoosh of his own blood boiling in his ears. His mind was blank, nothing but the simple desire to survive filling every darkened crevasse.
Trying to scramble backwards, a throbbing pain erupted across the left side of his chest, his muscles burning and his left arm suddenly shuddering as he struggled to hold it aloft. He tried to move his hand and he felt the muscles in his shoulder stretching and tearing, the bone scraping painfully against the socket where it should have been locked.
It was dislocated.
Looking around desperately, making sure that he was alone and not in any immediate danger, he shuffled himself backwards as far as he could, away from the beams of dim light that fell from the shattered ice ceiling above him. The snow that had come to rest on his armour fell away into the drift that had broken his fall, and he felt his back press against the cold, smooth walls, each movement sending waves of pain across his chest. Tucking himself as tightly as he could against the walls, he dropped his right hand to the holsters on his thighs and pulled out his blaster, holding it out level with his shoulder, ready to fire.
The tunnel ahead of him remained empty and silent.
Feeling secure that he could not be taken by surprise, he inhaled deeply, holding the breath in his lungs for a heartbeat before slowly letting it out through quivering lips. The pounding in his chest began to slow, and the rushing of his blood began to grow quiet, replaced by the howling wind of the storm that raged above him. Grunting painfully, he lay his pistol on the snow beside him and gingerly wrapped his hand around his left bicep, gradually getting tighter and tighter. Taking three deep breaths, he clenched his jaw, and in one swift upwards motion, forced his shoulder back into its socket. A wet thunk echoed through the small cavern around him, and he let out a scream of pain as the ball joint slipped back into place, the muscles all twisting and stretching out of shape. His heart leapt from his chest to his throat as the intense agony shuddered through his body. He fell onto his side. His eyes closed tightly, and he gasped desperately for air, the cooling air flooding his lungs and numbing the pain enough for him to focus once more.
Reaching into his belt pouch, he grabbed a single use hypo, and jabbed it directly into his shoulder, the sharp tip slicing through the body suit and sinking into his tender flesh. It stung, and as he emptied the phial into his blood, he felt it spreading through his muscles and soothing them, even if only a little.
His hand fell limply to the floor as he lay on his side, panting heavily, the hypo rolling from his fingers into the snow. He shuffled rapidly back into a seated position and he scooped up his blaster once more, holding it ready by his side as he strained to slow his breathing.
Squinting through the gloom around him, he watched the world around him blur before finally slipping back into sharp focus. Ahead of him was a tunnel that sloped downwards at a steady angle before disappearing around a bend, the path hidden by the frozen walls of the glacier. Though not pitch black, his helmet filters did momentarily flicker to night vision, before returning to normal. He did not blink.
As the primal instinct began to subside, and his muscles relaxed - a little at least - his memories bubbled back to the surface. Snow. Cargo. Devaronian. Blasters...
The word tore through his mind like a detonating grenade, brushing all other thoughts aside as it raced to the forefront of his memories. He remembered it all now. The blaster fire searing the air around him, the Aqualish thugs falling one by one to the slashing yellow blade, and the uncontrollable desire for vengeance that blinded him to all other things. The icy chill of the tunnels, and the agony of his injury faded away into a distant memory as his blood began to boil once more in his veins, coursing through like the fiery tunnels of Mustafar.
He had not fallen alone. The shocked face of the Quarren Jedi had followed him down most of the glacier, and though Taler had tried to keep hold of the struggling alien, the Jedi had tried to bring his lightsabre across in a slashing motion. Taler remembered kicking out wildly, planting his foot hard against the Quarren’s chest and forcing them apart. The blade has sizzled past his stomach, and the Jedi slammed into a ledge half way up the glacier wall, a dull thud rapidly devoured by the wind rushing past Taler’s head as he continued to fall. The ground rushed up towards him, and Taler braced himself for the inevitable.
The images faded away from his vision, like a recording coming to an end on his visor, but the memories remained, and the feeling of white hot anger continued to sear through his veins. He had never felt like this in all his life. Only once had he ever come close, and that was back on Kamino. But this was a hundred times more intense. The sergeants and trainers on that rain lashed cloning facility had never taught them how to deal with these emotions. They were trained to kill dispassionately, to always remain detached. Emotions got you killed.
But Taler knew that this feeling would not surrender to his logical mind and his training. He knew that there was only one way to stop it.
Setting his jaw, and furrowing his brow, he pressed his back firmly against the wall and pushed himself to his feet. Staggering forwards as he struggled to find his balance, he blinked at the HUD, activating the comms. A warning flashed across the visor in front of him, stating that the comms were down due to the storm.
He was alone again. Just like Geonosis.
The storm raged just beyond the hole above him, and as he looked up, a break in the clouds showed him the ledge where the Jedi had fallen. It was a few tens of meters above him.
Clenching his fist, his face contorting into a sneer, he turned away from the shattered ice, and moved forwards towards the tunnel and into the icy labyrinth.
Ber’ik stopped suddenly in his tracks. He had barely entered the maze of caves beyond the ledge when the uncomfortable feeling of being watched swept over him. He closed his eyes and let himself sink into the force, feeling out for the source. Stretching out in all directions, he felt his mind touch other creatures that lived within the icy prison. Most were barely sentient, ice worms and parasites that lived only by instinct and repetition. He reached out further. And then he felt it. A burning ball of anger and rage, so fierce he could almost feel its heat burning his skin. He tried to focus on it, to see its true nature. It shifted, blurring in his mind before it seemed to lunge towards him. Two familiar eyes glared back at him, eyes that he knew but could not place.
A ripple of danger crashed through Ber’ik’s mind barely a heartbeat before a deafening crack echoed through the tunnel. His eyes shot open and the floor fell away from beneath the Quarren’s feet. A cloud of shattered ice engulfed him as he fell through into the darkened cavern beneath, the jagged edges of the broken ice tugging at his robes. The world became flooded by darkness, and he braced himself for the inevitable.
Ber’ik felt his chest crunch painfully as he slammed into the floor, his robes billowing behind him as the sudden rush of wind blew past him, shards of ice tinkling noisily onto the frozen floor around him. The ground sloped away into the dark chasm, and in the flurry of motion, Ber’ik saw the edge of the slope racing towards him, the ice rising sharply in a ramp before vanishing in a sudden drop into utter blackness.
His eyes snapped up sharply as something twinkled in the gloom. A glimmer of light flickered across a ledge on the far side of the cavern, roughly fifty feet across the bottomless drop. There was nothing else around him, and he was almost at the edge of the slope. Using the momentum of the fall, he rolled through the tumble, bringing his feet down onto the slippery slope and giving himself just enough friction to ski down the incline. Bending his knees and using one hand to steady his rapid descent, he turned and glared back towards the debris that was still tumbling down through the hole behind him. Boulders the size of Tauntauns rumbled and crunched along behind him, shattering against the jagged ice walls and crushing the smaller ones that got in his way. They were getting closer. Turning away, he fixed his eyes on the ledge across the cavern and drew the force into himself.
He felt it tingling through every nerve ending and filling his muscles with power. The edge was only a few meters away now. He would only get one shot at this. Tensing his body, he waited until the very last moment. His feet were mere inches from the edge and the largest boulder crashed onto the delicate structure. Ber’ik watched it shatter beneath him. He kicked down hard, letting the ramp throw him out into the chasm, and feeling the force propel him upwards.
Emerging from the debris filled clouds, wisps of ice particles billowing in his wake, he soared across the shadowy cavern, arcing through the frozen air. The far wall was suddenly upon him. His feet stepped out in front of him, and they crunched down onto the ledge, the force of the impact throwing him forwards onto his side. He rolled along the tunnel and skidded to a stop.
The rumbling of the falling ice echoed through the tunnels like thunder across the skyscrapers of Coruscant, each terrifying boom like an explosion, the last few rumbling quakes shook the icicles above his head ominously. But it began to fade away into silence, leaving only the soft klink of shards tumbling into nothingness, and his own, pained panting.
He lay on his front for a few moments, breathless and aching, the tentacles on his face twitching and shivering in the cold air. Swirls of condensation danced around his lips as the warm air from his lungs cooled as he puffed it out. Rolling over onto his side, he looked up at the ledge and the cavern beyond. The darkness beyond was complete, the walls and ceiling around the ledge like some ominous gaping maw stretching towards him. The hole which he had tumbled through in the ceiling of the cave was no more, blocks of ice had fallen into it and closed it off, blocking everything, even the light.
Sighing heavily, he let his head drop to the floor again for a moment. It was more out of irritation that anything. Struggling up into a seated position, he closed his eyes and slowed his breathing, steadying his racing heart as the after effects of adrenalin began to subside, and stretching out once more to the familiar presence he had sensed before his fall.
But they had gone, the focused rage and anger he had felt a moment before had diluted into a more constant thrum of malicious intent, like the distant rumbling of an approaching storm. He closed his eyes tighter, stretching his awareness through the force, but the figure continued to elude him as he glanced through the cloudy images shown to him in his minds eye, the presence always there, yet hidden.
His focus was slipping, his body shivering as the cold air began to seep through his skin.
Opening his eyes, he slowly stood up, his muscles aching, and brushed off the shards of ice that had clung to his robes. Gripping the sides, he pulled is robes tightly around his chest to stave off the cold. Turing away from the ledge, he started off down the tunnel as it lead away downwards, deeper into the glacier.
He would have to find a way out soon.
The gloom grew thicker the deeper Taler ventured into the caves. With each bend the light receded, and as the storm continued to rage across the outside of the glacier, night was rapidly descending across the frozen planet. Soon, there would be no light at all within the icy prison.
Periodically, his helmet visor would switch to night vision, the cold blue world around him shimmering into a pale, greying mess of tunnels and caverns. Branches lead off in all directions, each spreading through the ice in an ever-changing map. The sensors on his helmet had been mapping his progress each time he had changed direction, but on the few occasions he had been forced to double back, he found himself walking through different tunnels, tunnels the he did not recognise.
The glacier was almost constantly moving, each tunnel at the mercy of the monolithic slab of ice. The cracking and rumbling of the ice sheet as it slowly forced its way down the valley echoed through the glass-like walls, the ground beneath his feet vibrating with each movement. Blasts of frozen air howled through the icy veins, the silent whispers like half-spoken breaths of a dying giant.
Taler was struggling. The audio enhancements he had made to his helmet were amplifying the sounds around him, each crack and slight shift of the ice sounding like insects scurrying around him. Each time the HUD visor switched to night vision, the icy tunnels lost their colour and looked worryingly similar to the underground caves of Geonosis. The months since that fateful day just vanished. Everything he had seen across the outer rim, all the things he had learnt and experience seemed to fade away as though it had yet to happen, and he found himself once more flooded with panic and fear and anger and hate.
“It’s all in your head, Taler,” he said calmly, though his voice was wavering. The absence of any other sound had made him realise how much he missed hearing his own name. It had been over four hour since he had woken up in the ice caves, and he had no idea how long he had lay there in an unconscious state. Fatigue had not yet started to set in, but the warning signs were already beginning to ripple to the surface.
Rounding a corner, the walls angled away from him and the ceiling soared up into darkness, and he found himself in a cavern big enough to house over fifty LATTi dropships. His jaw went slack for a moment and his grip on the DC-17m loosened, the weapon swinging limply down by his side, awe numbing his mind at the scale of the open space so deep beneath the glacier surface. Reaching up to the side of his helmet, he activated the tactical lamp, the harsh beam of light tearing through the gloom like a blade. He swept the light across the walls, watching as they vanished into darkness as they arched away around him. And as he looked up, the beam of light barely reached the icicle covered ceiling far above him.
As he stood staring at the majesty of this natural wonder, the voice of his training sergeant rose from the back of his mind. Always know your landscape. Exploit the high ground and find cover. Never get caught in the open. This was far too open.
His grip tightened again on his DC-17m, bringing the weapon up to his shoulder and sweeping it across the cavern. To his left, he saw a steady incline which ended ten meters above his head, a small recess carved away into the glittering, frozen walls. It would make a perfect sniper position, and would allow him to rest for a few moments without the danger of being seen. From there he could watch the entire cavern.
Making up his mind, he pressed himself up against the wall of the cavern, and rapidly began to climb the slope, reaching the top and sweeping the rifle across the recess. It was empty. Dropping onto his knees, he shuffled inside and tucked himself as far back as he could, vanishing into the darkened hole. Momentarily secure, he popped the seals on his helmet, feeling the cold air of the cavern rushing in around his face. The icy chill picked at his cheeks like a thousand tiny needles, but it was necessary.
Reaching into his belt pouch, he drew out a small ration bar, and shoved it hungrily into his mouth before replacing the helmet again. The suit sealed once more, and the environmental controls began to warm his face. Bracing the rifle on his raised knee, he inhaled deeply, and let his eyes close.