This is the 16th story in the Connacht Disaster Zone series, and is inspired by the Site Recon mission from XCOM: Enemy Within. For those who haven’t played that mission (or even that game), the general concept there was that XCOM (an international black ops unit dedicated to resisting an alien invasion) was tasked with investigating a fishing village that had gone mysteriously quiet. In this case, the people involved are some regular soldiers and a pair of Inquisitors – the enforcers of the dwarven church – inspecting an outpost and making an unnerving discovery…
Three miles southwest of Louisburgh, an oppressive silence fell over the countryside that basked in the hazy sunshine. The overgrown fields behind bush-riddled drystone walls were unnaturally still, without any trace of the native species that would have filled them. Something had caused them to hunker down.
This was not readily apparent to the party of four dwarves and two humans that held onto various parts of the Ford that roared along the rough road that led to an outpost looking over the sea at Carrowniskey Beach. With the exception of the driver, who possessed the faint smirk of somebody enjoying the sensation of being just in control, they were more concerned with the fact that it shook around on the uneven dirt and stone surface like a possessed beast or an unusually demented púca.
The other human was in the back, clutching onto the mount of a French-built Bauchat automatic rifle and trying to ignore the way his bandoleer of ammo bounced up and down on his chest as he scanned the terrain as best as he could. At five foot ten, he and the driver towered above the rest. Both shared the same red hair, blue eyes and round chins underneath their caubeens, but the gunner had a grimmer look on his face.
Beside the gunner, two dwarves held onto the back of the front seat. One was clad in the tan-coloured monk’s habit of the Inquisitors with his hood drawn up against the sun, like another in the front seat. The other, sat directly behind the outward passengers’ seat, was dressed in the same drab grey tunic and trousers as the humans and the dwarf in front of him, with his own caubeen tucked into his belt while in transit. The one deviation in clothing was the peaked cap perched upon the head of the dwarf in front of him.
A hundred yards from the coils of barbed wire around their destination, the driver finally took his foot off the accelerator, causing the roar of the engine to simmer down to a low rumble. His left hand reached under the steering wheel, settled on a button mounted on the column, and squeezed it. A loud, shrill ooga erupted from underneath the vehicle, briefly eclipsing the engine’s low rumble. He squeezed it a second time, and then a third as they finally rolled to a halt.
“I think they know we’re here, Delaney,” the dwarf in the far-right seat commented dryly. He frowned and lifted an IKEA Model 3 carbine from where it had rested between his body and the door. “If there’s anyone there. Odd.”
“What is odd about it, Lieutenant?” the Inquisitor in the back demanded. The Lieutenant suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, wondering once again what he’d done to displease the Church enough to end up with being tasked with escorting a pair of their enforcers to one of the outposts. It could be anything – being a minute late to Mass more than twice in a month, having a family name similar to the Fomorians, or even just a random whim – but showing them disrespect was a sure-fire to end up on their watchlists. Even if they were a wet-behind-the-ears eejit.
“The gate is open, yet if there were anyone present, we would have seen them by now,” the second one replied hoarsely. He turned back to the Lieutenant. “I believe we should investigate further.”
“Delaney, bring us in – slowly,” the officer acknowledged, leaning forward against the dashboard as Delaney gently pushed the accelerator. Behind them, his twin knelt and gripped the Bauchat more carefully, eyes roving over the half-open gate and the pillboxes on either side of it while the other two glanced to the rear.
The car juddered to a halt in front of the central blockhouse. About thirty yards in front of them, the sea lapped against the stony beach on the other side of the barbed wire; had the blockhouse not been in the way, they would have been able to see Clare Island to the northwest, still in the League’s hands like the Homelands to the south should have been. Another pillbox faced directly south along the beach.
“O’Toole, check those guard posts,” the Lieutenant instructed as he swung open his door and clambered out, followed by the senior Inquisitor. Behind them, O’Toole dropped off the tailgate and hefted his own carbine as he moved towards the nearest pillbox. The other Inquisitor belatedly climbed off, started to follow him, and hesitantly looked towards his superior for orders.
O’Toole frowned as he peered into the pillbox, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. A folding chair in a corner next to some boxes, a footrest with extra steps in it for dwarves up against the wall that held the firing ports, and a potted light-plant pulsing in the other corner. What wasn’t ordinary was that there was nobody inside.
He turned and moved over to the other one, finding it looked exactly the same, aside from one of the crates being open. The crate lid bore Connacht Trading’s symbol slap-bang in the centre and the word “Ammunition” stencilled into the wood and was, to his surprise, completely empty save for a bread roll that looked more a stone with a swarm of flies buzzing over it, an open flask and a pouch. A quick sniff and glance into the flask revealed it to be long-since cold tea.
Briefly sniffing the pouch caused him to grin, revealing tea-stained teeth. He opened it, revealing a dozen tea-leaf cigarettes – something that would ordinarily set him back a good five pence. Since there was nobody around to complain, he closed the pouch and pocketed it. Today was a lucky day, he felt it in his bones.
Or at least until he exited the pillbox, and a shiver went down his spine. Glancing around, he saw that the Delaney twins had turned the Ford around to face the entrance. Niall had removed the Bauchat from its mount and flattened himself against the side with the muzzle covering the beach, apparently deciding that the fixed stability of the vehicle wasn’t worth the limited field of fire. Even worse, Tommo’s smirk had vanished as he slid the gate further open, to be replaced with the haunted, wary look of somebody who had just felt something indescribably wrong.
“You feel that, Danny?”
O’Toole nodded slightly. He didn’t need to ask for details; even with the motor car’s engine providing some noise to fill the air, it was unnervingly quiet. Even so, he didn’t want the Inquisitors to think he was chickenhearted, so he kept his face still as he made his way over to the Lieutenant and the Inquisitors. No salutes – regulations prevented that out in the field, and the senior Inquisitor had thought it necessary to remind his junior brethren of that before they had left – but with a hazy chain of command here, he wasn’t completely sure who to address.
“Nothin’ in the pillboxes, sir,” he reported, deciding that as the Lieutenant had ordered him to check the buildings, he was the one to address, “but one of them left a sandwich and a open flask of tea. No sign of any fights or anything like tha’.”
The Lieutenant and the senior Inquisitor traded a glance.
There was no immediate sign of anything out of the ordinary as they passed through the half-open reinforced doors into the entrance hallway. Almost directly ahead of them lay the inner guard post, the metal shutter slid aside to allow full visibility. A light-plant pulsed to one side of the shutter to mark the stairs, with another in the back of the guard post casting a shadow on the ladder up to the main floor.
When they got up to the first floor, O’Toole glanced to his right into the armoury, and stopped dead in his tracks at the disarray. The ammo and weapon cabinets were open, in spite of the signs warning that they should remain locked at all times, and the boxes of ammo had been strewn about on the floor in front of them. He hesitantly entered, and stopped as his foot landed with a dull clunk on some shell casings. Quite a lot of them, in fact.
“What happened here?” the junior Inquisitor asked as he peered inside, not directing the question towards anyone. “Was this – could this have been Fomorians?” O’Toole could have sworn there was a note of fear in his voice. It was a slight relief.
“Unlikely,” the senior one replied, shaking his head. “They tend not to be so subtle; there would have been signs of combat outside.” He looked at the Lieutenant and O’Toole. “I believe we should contact Louisburgh, if the wireless set is operational. Trooper, guard this location and make sure nothing comes after us.”
As soon as they had climbed to the next floor, O’Toole flattened himself against the armoury door and focussed on keeping his breath perfectly steady. His eyes roved over the relatively well-lit armoury – no shadows where a Fomorian could hide there, thank you very much – and back out into the corridor. Seeing nothing unusual, he glanced back along the armoury. Still nothing.
He began to feel the dry itch in the back of his throat that said he needed a cigarette. If only there wasn’t a no-smoking sign in the armoury…and a pair of Inquisitors just above him. Well, at least the sign made sense here, unlike those ones in the mess hall back in Louisburgh or Westport. A-
An indistinct sound from across the storage room across the hallway snapped him out of his reverie. Tensing and lifting the carbine, he crept over to the door and raised his off hand to ease it open. It was only as he pushed it open that he had a sudden vision of his body being framed in the light from the stairwell, in full view of the four-legged insects that had popped out of a dead whale and turned an entire village into-
He shook his head and chuckled nervously. Where had that thought come from? Next thing he’d be swapping the IKEA for a gun that shot beams of light and his regimental insignia for a shoulder patch that bore the words “Vigilo Confido”. What did that even mean?
“Focus, Danny,” he muttered under his breath. “It’s probably just a rat.”
As soon as he peered inside, he froze. The shelving had been overturned and thrown aside, the one remaining light-plant box had been knocked away from the wall to plunge the rest of the room into darkness, and there was a smell that he just couldn’t describe. He hesitated, wondering if he should call for the rest of them, or just wait until they were finished.
Something clicked in the far corner. Leaning further inside, he just caught a glimpse of something moving in the corner of his eye. He instinctively looked to his right, saw nothing in the shadows, and turned his head forward again to use his peripheral vision.
His screams echoed up the stairs as something lunged towards him.