Chapter 06: The Caves

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The rain was beginning to get to him.

That gave Mike a moment of pause. The rain shouldn't be bothering him, but it was, making him nervous and afraid. He'd always liked the rain. Ever since moving to Peaceful Trails, he'd sort of reconnected with nature. There was an immense tranquility to be found in it and although it hadn't been easy, he had found it. At least some of it. It was just last month that he managed to go a whole week without having a single nightmare.

Or at least one he could remember.

It had rained often enough while he was living in the valleys. It hadn't really bothered him then. So why now? It took a little bit of thought, but after a moment, Mike decided he'd figured it out. It reminded him of his last battle in the Systems Wars. His unit had been part of a larger offensive to retake a colony from the rebels on some miserable rock of a world. It had been raining, pouring really, for days. The assault seemed to have lasted forever, the minutes somehow adding up to hours that were twice or three times as long as they should have been. He'd fought and killed and bled alongside a couple hundred others just like him.

It was the last offensive that really did him in.

They were making a raid on the enemy compound. The rebels had set up shop in a military base at the core of the colony. There'd been blood and bullets everywhere. Everything was a wet, hazy confusion of pain and screaming, nothing making any sense. Even looking back on it now, he didn't have a very clear memory of what had happened. He remembered getting in through a hole in the wall that surrounded the military base and laying down some cover fire for the others behind him. There were bright flashes everywhere, warriors screaming, bullets ricocheting off every surface. And above it all, the rainfall.

Then there'd been an incredibly brilliant flash. It had felt like his whole body was being consumed with fire, then it felt like just his leg was on fire. Then...he'd been told that close to a week had passed before he fully regained consciousness. He'd lost his left leg, a few of his fingers, and had taken a hell of a hit to the head. They regrew his missing parts from cloned tissue and he'd taken about two weeks of rehab before he was functionally normal. That still blew his mind. His leg had been blown off and less than a month later he was basically back up to snuff. But that was modern medical science. And it wasn't as if it completely fixed him.

When his rehab was over, he'd learned that the war was, too.

He'd tried to go back to the life, as they called it, but he couldn't. Something was different. Something had changed. Or maybe it wasn't that he couldn't, but no longer wanted to. He'd drifted for close to five years before coming to Peaceful Trails.

"Mike, you all right?"

He realized that he'd stopped. The reason being that the path they were taking, that they'd been walking along almost this entire journey for, veered off to the right, into another valley. The one they were in was coming to an end. He'd stopped because they couldn't follow the path anymore. At least not the obvious one.

It was good to see that although his conscious mind had gone wandering, his subconscious was still paying attention.

"Yeah, fine," he replied. "We just need to head into the forest again. It's the only way to get to the caves that will take us up."

"Sounds like fun," Laura muttered, standing next to him, staring into the darkened treeline. They hadn't run into anything for the past ten minutes.

"Everyone stay sharp," Mike said.

He led the way, moving up the primary trail a bit further until they came to a side path that led off into the forest. As they moved into the treeline, the rain fell away slightly, the canopy overhead taking some of it off them. Mike scanned the shadows around them and frowned as he realized that his pistol was shaking in his hands. Not a good sign. He was tired. Hungry, too. And thirsty. On top of all that, he was stressed out.

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