Into the Dark: Nine

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


The breaching charge went off with a dull thud. Sarakai Voutelen knocked in the lock-plate of the metal door with the stock of her rifle and kicked open the door.

Light flooded out into the tunnel, bright, glaring. Amieta's implants rapidly compensated, filters automatically running interference between her eyes and brain. Through the door she could see a metal trolley, some shelving, the foot of a cot, all cast into sharp-edged intensity by bright lamps set up around the room.

It had an instantly familiar feeling. Field medic station. Whether set up in the corridors of a station, in a jungle, or in a spirits damned tunnel, they were all basically the same: boxes of supplies, instrument trays, portable autoclave, lights.

What exactly was the sick fuck doing?

"Looks clear, sir," Sarakai said. There was an uncharacteristic hesitance to her voice, and she kept glancing toward the cot.

Amieta took a step into the room, bringing the cot into view.

It wasn't empty.

Amieta recognised the - Not patient. Victim - immediately.


Cia lay on her back, motionless, although Amieta could see she was breathing. IV stands stood on either side of her, the lines snaking down to needles in each forearm. Her head was shaved in places, and dark sutures zigzagged over recent incisions. Her feet were bare, and the collar of her shirt stained with blood.

Spirits, Cia, what did he do to - she cut that line of thought off as useless speculation. No time. We're running out of time.

Amieta gestured to the door. "Sarakai, see if you can find which tunnel he went down."

As Sarakai nodded and ghosted out down the tunnel Amieta hurried to the cot.

"Cia? Cia, can you hear me?"

Not a flicker of reaction.

With her free hand, Amieta gently turned Cia's head. The implant jacks were clearly visible, plugs missing, the metal seeming slightly discoloured, or even corroded. Not another copy, then, like the one Sarakai left unconscious in the tunnel.

She pressed two fingers to the side of Cia's neck, feeling the pulse there fast and thready. Swearing under her breath, she studied the IVs.

After a terse conversation over her internal com with the medical staff aboard the Utopian Pattern far overhead, Amieta carefully removed one IV, then the other. Cia's eyelids fluttered almost immediately.

She put the hand not holding her gun on Cia's shoulder. "Cia, can you hear me?"

Cia opened her eyes and stared up at Amieta with an expression of stark terror. "No!" she gasped. "No, no, no - " She jerked away from Amieta so violently the cot overbalanced, sprawled on the floor and began to scramble away. "No, no, don't know, can't tell, don't know!"

"It's okay, Cia, it's me!" Amieta said. "It's Ami! It's okay."

Cia shook her head. "No, no, Cia had to go, he was going to make her tell, she had to go!" She pressed her back against the wall, drawing her knees up to her chest. "He'll make you tell too! You should run! There isn't room for all of you to hide!"

"He isn't going to make me do anything." Amieta moved slowly toward Cia. "Cia had to go? Then... are you the burned girl then?"

Cia huddled away from Amieta. "She was scared of being hurt. So she made me to hurt for her." She smiled, then, an expression more nasty than Amieta had ever thought to see on Cia's face. "Didn't work out how she planned."

We're in the damn tunnels, which are about to be under water, her psycho father – who thinks nothing of pistol-whipping a seven-year-old - is off somewhere with an unconscious Camille, and Cia has finally gone all the way off the end.

"Look," Amieta said, hunkering down in front of Cia, "You and Cia will both die if we don't get out of here soon. Do you know the way out of the tunnels? If he has managed to seal the entrance in the church?"

"He wants me to tell. I would, if I knew. But I don't. Can't tell. Can't tell!" Cia said, shrinking away from Amieta.

I do not have time for this, Amieta thought. "We need to get out of here. If you can't be useful and won't bring Cia back out here, I'll knock you out and when Cia wakes up she won't be a clone you live in anymore."

Cia shook her head. "He'll make her tell. It's important she doesn't tell. I don't know why, she didn't say why!"

Amieta's hand snapped out and closed around Cia's wrist. Cia yelped and tried to pull away, but Amieta hauled her to her feet. "We have to go." We have to get out of here.

Out of these spirits-damned tunnels before they fill with water and there's no way out at all ...

She put the thought aside, hard. "Come on."

Cia stumbled behind her as Amieta dragged her towards the door, babbling that she couldn't tell and mustn't tell.

Amieta gritted her teeth. "Can't tell what?"

"I don't know! Cia knows!" Cia hung back, resisting, as Amieta yanked her forward. "Not safe, not safe, have to hide, he'll make her tell..."

"Shut up for a second, okay?" Amieta snapped. "I need to think."

Sarakai was waiting for them where the tunnel branched into three. "That way," she said, pointing left. "Recent footprints."

Amieta studied the tracks, the dim light coming down the tunnel more than enough for her implants to work with.

"Let's go," Amieta said shortly. She let Sarakai take point, following behind with Cia in tow. Was it her imagination, or was the tunnel narrowing?

Cia stumbled and would have fallen if not for Amieta's grip on her wrist. Amieta hoisted her to her feet again, realising belatedly that without the standard rewiring that let Sarakai and Amieta negotiate the darkness, Cia couldn't see a thing.

Should have thought of that. She took a small light-stick from her belt and fastened it around Cia's wrist. Can't let things slip. Gotta concentrate. "There. Keep your hand low, you'll be able to see your way, okay, Cia?"

"Cia's not here, she had to -"

"Go, I know, you said." Amieta pulled her onward again. "You know who I am?

"You're the one he wants to know about. Who you are.Where you come from. I don't know! I told him I don't know! That's when Cia had to go."

"He asked about me? And that's when Cia had to go?"

"She promised she would never tell," Cia - or whoever is living in Cia's skull at the moment - said plaintively. "He was going to make her."

She promised ...

She promised me.

Sitting in her kitchen in Debreth, surrounded by all the food she made for the family who weren't coming home, saying "I won't tell anyone, Amieta, I promise."

"She kept her promise," Amieta said.

"She asked me to help her, and I did. She hid in the fire. And she left me here to hurt for her." Cia's mouth twisted in a snarl. "Like always."

"If you hurt for her so much, I don't think she would hurt so much normally," Amieta said, glancing upwards. The ceiling was definitely lower. It was barely above her head now, and soon it would be pressing down on her and ... She closed her eyes for a second, and when she opened them the ceiling was where it had always been. "I need to talk to Cia now though. She might know what the hell is going on with these tunnels."

"He'll make her - "

"I'm here to protect her now, he won't make her tell," Amieta said. "She's safe. He'd have to get past me to get to her, and if he managed that, Sarakai would kill him. Safe."

Cia shook her head silently, fearfully.

"Look, whoever you are in there, I need to talk to Cia. We've got to get out of here, and she might know the way. So will you wake her up, or whatever?"

"I can't, she can't, she had to - "

Amieta stopped and swung Cia around to face her. "Listen to me. Cia, too, if you're in there, if you can hear me. Cami's somewhere in these tunnels with your father and there's a spirits-damned flood coming that's going to fill all of these tunnels with water, right up to the roof, do you understand?" She swallowed, aware her voice had risen. "I'm trying to get us out of here, all of us. And I need to talk to Cia. She might be able to help."

Cia stared at her, the wrist-lamp casting such strange shadows on her face that Amieta couldn't tell if she understood. She gave Cia a little shake, harder than she'd intended. "Cia! If you can hear me! It's safe now! Will you for once give me some help!"

Cia blinked, and swayed a little. "Ami?"

Amieta steadied her. "Cia? You there?"


"About time. Hey. How do you feel?" Stupid question. She's been filled full of stims and kept under chemical restraints for Spirits-know how long. 'Traditional methods'. She feels like shit, and she's going to feel worse when she crashes. If we don't all drown down here first. "Never mind."

Ciarente looked confused, and then grabbed Amieta's hand. "Ami, Papa - Camille!"

"I know, Cia, I know," Amieta said, squeezing her fingers gently. "Do you know anything about these tunnels? We need to get Camille from your father, then get out of here."

Ciarente looked around dazedly. "Tunnels? Where are we?"

"Under Fortune of the Waters. Old tunnels? Debreth?" Amieta tried to smile, but it felt more like she was gritting her teeth "We made it to the festival after all. Unfortunately, the flood is in just a little while."

"Commander," Sarakai said quietly. "We need to keep going."

Amieta nodded, and they started forward again, faster now that Cia was co-operating. The tunnel was definitely narrowing, a shelf edging out from the wall, forcing them to walk single file. Amieta glanced at it uneasily and found herself staring straight into the empty eye-sockets of a skull.


Sarakai turned, fast, gun ready, and Amieta swallowed hard, gesturing to the skull which she could now see was one of many, a long tangle of bones scattered along the shelf. "Lovely," she said.

"The cemetery flooded, a long time ago," Cia said. "All the bodies washed in here. Then later, people came down and got the bones. Rather than reburying them, they ... decorated. That's the story." She looked at the bones. "There's a rhyme. A children's song."

"A rhyme?" Amieta asked.

"Find your way under Fortune's skirt, follow her pretty bones, and the river will spit you out Fortune's mouth."

"Fortune's mouth? Any idea what that could be?" Amieta asked. "The skirt was in the church, the entrance to the tunnels was under Fortune's skirt."

"Fortune's Mouth! It's what people call fifth bridge." Cia said. "There's a face carved on it, the water goes through Fortune's mouth."

"So if we follow Fortune's pretty bones ..." Amieta said. "I guess we are going in the right direction. Well, hell of a time to go for a swim."

Cia opened her mouth to say something, shaking her head, and then stopped as a faint sound drifted down to them from the direction they'd come.

"Oh," Cia said, going white. Whiter. "Can you hear that?"

Sarakai tilted her head. "Sounds like ... singing?"

"We don't have long," Cia said frantically. "If the singing's started ... the water ... it'll be soon."

Amieta queried the Pattern above over her internal com. The answer was not optimal: the operatives on-planet hadn’t been able to source diving equipment. With a terse instruction to abandon attempts to keep the operation covert and just hurry, she cut the connection and turned to Sarakai. “Let’s go.”

Another turn in the tunnel revealed light ahead. Amieta raised her finger to her lips, and Cia nodded. Amieta flicked the switch on the light fastened to Cia's wrist, so not even the faintest glimmer would betray their presence to Roth, and crept forward cautiously, Sarakai with her. Ahead she could hear Camille: "I will not! I want Cia! And Ami!"

"Be quiet, Camille," Jorion Roth said.

Amieta and Sarakai moved forward, weapons at the ready.

The tunnel opened out into a large cavern. Whether it was natural or not, Amieta couldn't tell, for the walls were completely lined with bones, hiding any tool marks or signs of construction. Bones, not skeletons. They were arranged by type, not as bodies - a fan of femurs, a stack of scapulars. They formed elaborate patterns, rising to a roof of skulls forty or so feet above.

Amieta couldn't see another entrance. No way out.

Jorion Roth stood on the other side of the cavern, gripping Camille tightly by one arm, wedging something into the bones with the other.

As Amieta and Sarakai swung wide to either side and approached quietly across the cavern, Roth dropped the object he held and swore, bending to pick it up.

Camille took the opportunity to kick him. Good girl.

Roth jerked her sharply by the arm. "How did you get so ungrateful, cherie?"

Below Roth's voice, Amieta could hear a distant, low, rumbling roar coming from the tunnel that had brought them here.

So could Roth, obviously. He looked around, and saw Amieta and Sarakai.

Amieta abandoned any attempt at stealth. "Having trouble, Jorion?" she asked.

Roth pulled Camille to him and Amieta saw what he had been trying to wedge in the bones as he pressed it against Camille's head. A grenade.

This just gets better and better.

"Stay where you are!" Roth said. "You won't have her!"

Camille wriggled.

Amieta could hear Cia's bare feet on the stone floor behind her, barely audible over the rising roar.

"Papa!" Cia cried. "Don't!" 

"Your friends aren't leaving me any choice, cherie," Roth said calmly. "Tell them to - "

"None of us is going to have a choice in a minute Roth," Amieta interrupted.

"Papa, please, let her go," Cia begged. "I'll come with you. Let Camille go with Amieta. Please."

Amieta edged closer. "Just put down the grenade, Roth. Looked like whatever you were doing, you should be able to tell neither of them have any implants they shouldn't."

"And even without them, you've turned them against me," Roth said.

"You tried to kill her!" Amieta snarled. "What did you expect? Just fucking let them go, so we can get out of here. No-one has to die."

"I'd rather see them both dead than in your hands," Roth said. "I raised them to understand the importance of family."

"Should have thought about that before poisoning anyone," Amieta retorted. The noise was growing louder, closer. Amieta tried to judge how far away it was, but the acoustics of the chamber and the tunnels made it impossible. Not far. Not far enough. "Now is not the time to have a talk about it though, Roth."

Cia had obviously come to the same conclusion. "Papa!" she cried. "The river's coming! Papa!"

Amieta heard her move and stepped sideways, keeping her gun trained on Roth, grabbing Cia's arm as she tried to run towards Camille and Roth.

As her hand closed around Cia's forearm a wall of water roared out of the tunnel mouth. 

Amieta let go of Cia's arm and ran toward Roth and Camille as water surged out of the tunnel. It lost a little force as it swept across the wider floor of the tunnel, but it was still moving fast and nearly waist-high. And behind it was more water.

Under water. All these tunnels, under water.

Cia lost her footing and fell with a splash, struggling to get back to her feet as the current tumbled her over. 

Roth pushed Camille away, knocking her down, and turned back to the wall of bones behind him.

Amieta had one clear image of Camille, face down, as the water rushed around them, and then the rising river knocked over Roth's lamp and plunged them all into the dark.

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