… a thousand worms in battle armor fought roughly 200 grint and an equal number of maroons who were trying to hold them in check. Thousands of unarmored worms behind them ate anything organic they could find – what foodstuffs they came upon, plus organic materials in the walls and furnishings, human dead and wounded, worm dead and wounded, and occasionally each other.
Inside Grumbolt, it was a grotesque nightmare. The Hasdradan and their forces held the Rhulle back for almost two more hours. But the overwhelming numbers of starving Rhulle kept breaking through at new points. Slowly, more and more sections of the fortress fell to the worm onslaught. The worm had to try and gain control of Grumbolt, for by now nothing but molten metals, fragile ceramics, and vaporized organic material remained of the Rhulle cruiser-colony ship.
Specialist Amarinta Gigliana hunkered down behind some hastily constructed barricades. Her present position was at ES-9-8c, the intersection of one of the main up-down corridors that ran through most of the lower portions of the fortress. At right angles to this were two smaller corridors. One went left-right, and the other went forward-backward. Thus, from this intersection, one could travel in either direction in each of the three dimensions. It was thus a critical juncture.
With Gigliana were four of her worker-grooms and five of her warrior grint, including the grint leader Chinlu Xaxchittili G-742. The remainder of her surviving grint, if there were any, were with Lt. Cdr. Major, fighting a holding action near the Tri-C.
Also with Gigliana were four maroons, including Maroon Shield Sergeant Yosho Quinridge, and Maroon Flag Corporal Tartis Korollian, neither of whom had been more than five feet from her since they had left the IA.
MSS Yosho Quinridge was in overall charge of the force, with Gigliana facilitating communication with the grint leader, Xaxchittili. Their orders were to hold this juncture as long as possible. Most of the Rhulle were fighting near the Tri-C, but they kept trying to outflank the Hasdradan forces by sending probing units out along minor corridors, shafts, and access-ways in encircling maneuvers. These recon-in-force units blew through walls, ambushed covering forces, and sped forward at eye-opening speed trying to entrap the main Hasdradan force. Quinridge’s orders were to thwart this, at least at this critical juncture.
Gigliana and the forces she accompanied hadn’t seen any Rhulle since they had repulsed the last probing initiative three decks up and two sections to the left. Part of the troops she had been with earlier had stayed at that critical juncture, while Gigliana and this group had been re-deployed to stop the next encircling effort.
They hadn’t seen any Rhulle in over ten minutes, but they certainly could hear them. First there were distant explosions. After a few minutes of relative silence, off to the left they could hear the high-pitched ripping sounds of molecular distortion prods applied to bulkhead walls. Then another minute of quiet.
Chinlu Xaxchittili chattered to the grint forces, while Gigliana listened to the translation in her battle helmet. Xax said that worm scents were drifting through the ventilation system. One of the other warriors agreed with her, and gave relative coordinates of where she thought the worms presently were. A worker, using a probing device, confirmed the estimate.
Xaxchittili chirped. Then a particularly caustic chemical mist emanated from the back of her head. Two warriors and two worker-grooms suddenly scurried down the minor corridor to the left. They went about thirty meters, and then stopped, motionless. Only their antennae writhed back and forth. One warrior held her antennae against the bulkhead wall. After a moment, she sprayed a cloud of chemicals.
The four grint scurried another thirty meters away, and then turned and faced back towards the juncture held by their comrades. The two warriors flattened themselves against the deck. One worker hung on a bulkhead wall, and also flattened herself. The other worker climbed up the wall, and while hanging to the ceiling, shorted the corridor lighting for twenty meters in each direction. She flattened herself against the ceiling. Now all four of the grint seemed to disappear, melting into the darkness.
The maroons knew this meant that the grint had detected the worms, and that the worms were coming. MSS Quinridge moved closer to Gigliana’s left. He rested his beam rifle on the top of the barricade and sighted it along the corridor. MFC Korollian moved closer to Gigliana’s right, and checked the power level of his beam rifle. The sole human in the group was now sandwiched between the two massive maroons. Still, she too checked the power level of her somewhat smaller beam rifle.
As Gigliana rested her beam rifle on the top of the barricade to steady her aim, a loud high-pitched screeching sound emanated from the corridor wall. Suddenly a three-meter diameter circle of red-orange appeared on the bulkhead wall, stretching from deck to ceiling. The red-orange disappeared, and so did the circle of bulkhead wall.
The worms were here ...