Antares Fiction – ‘A Curious World’ by Tim Bancroft

Since the launch of the Beyond the Gates of Antares Rulebook, we’ve been contacted by several community members who wanted to share their own writings – and we’ve been hugely impressed with some of the fantastic work that has been sent in – it’s great to see the community making their own mark upon the canvas that is the Antarean universe!

We were particularly impressed with the writings of Tim Bancroft – who has sent in a number of pieces! This is the latest section of Tim’s stories that we’ve shared – his previous pieces can be found hereherehere, here, and here

Antares Fiction – ‘A Curious World’ By Tim Bancroft

‘Ma’am, this storm is ruining our scanners. And there’s no nanosphere to appropriate or hijack.’ The technician gestured helplessly at his signal amplifiers and booster systems. ‘These are useless, just amplifying random noise. We’re blind.’

Ceahray absently stripped off her gloves, scratched at the sealant over her injury. ‘So is everyone else, even Ghar.’ She kept one eye on Batu as he talked to the research team. The Freeborn’s own medics were seeing to the pair of bodyguard injured in the rush from the lander; her medic wanted a better look at her chitin-stripped hand and forearm. ‘What’s that.’ She pulled her hand away from the medic, pointed to a sudden blip on the research team’s holo-displays. A complex array of shapes flashed, sounds squealed, then both were gone almost as soon as they appeared.

The tech nodded towards the research team. ‘It’s what’s getting them so excited. Something from within the ruins. A regular signal. Faint. It only started operating when we made some deep scans.’

The medic shouldered the tech aside. ‘Ma’am, my last order from the ship was to dress that wound properly.’

Ceahray sighed, held out her hand. ‘Do it. Whilst we’ve time.’ Lights flickered, dimmed and she looked up, frowned. ‘What’s with the power?’

‘Don’t know yet, Ma’am,’ said the tech from over the medic’s shoulder. ‘The generators only work intermittently. We’re running on stored power but whenever anything becomes contaminated by the dust, it drains.’

‘Weapons?’

‘That’s a problem. The plasma weapons are sealed units, so shouldn’t be affected.’

‘So the mag repeaters might be problematic.’ Ceahray looked round at her strike squad.

‘Weapon hygiene is going to be vital, but even then…’ the tech trailed off.

‘Understand.’ She looked thoughtfully at Batu’s Vardinari, their plasma weapons. They may have the edge on her own troopers on this planet. She started as the medic gasped and jumped back. ‘What?’

‘Your hand – the dust. It’s…’

She raised her hand. It seemed to be much more dirty than it had been on the ship. The few grains of dust had grown into rough scabs, almost like chitin regrowing. ‘What is it?’

The medic decompressed a scanner from the medkit she had brought down, held it over her hand. His expression turned grim. ‘Ma’am, look.’ He waved at the wall and a magnified projection appeared, her hand, the particulates. The projection zoomed in.
Particles moved in the projection and caught Ceahray’s attention. ‘What’s that?’

‘The problem.’ The medic stared at the readouts, avoided her gaze. ‘They’re bionanocytes.’

‘Nanocytes? Why is that a problem? We’ve all got them.’

‘They’re not ours, Ma’am. Nor Concord. They’re bionanocytes, closer to Isorian but…’ He adjusted the controls, shifted the image.
‘It could be they are the remains of this world’s bionanosphere.’

Ceahray pointed her free hand at the projection as several nanocytes clumped together, then moved apart. ‘Are they replicating?’

‘Yes, ma’am. I think their resource base is biological matter and neural impulses.’ Ceahray looked at him blankly; the medic looked away. ‘They’re converting your body mass.’ He gulped. ‘Ma’am, they’re eating you alive.’

Ghar-Battle-Assault-Collage

The Outcast grovelled in front of Shaltok. ‘Sir, your scourer is almost unusable. And your team’s equipment is barely any better. Sorry, illustrious Force Leader.’

‘Almost?’

‘We’ve scavenged it, sir, and used some parts we brought down with us.’

Dare I ask where those parts came from? ‘And?’

‘We’ve built a functional assault claw and merged a bomber with the remains of your scourer.’

‘Have you tested it?’

‘The assault squads have cleared out as much of the cave-system as they can, sir, though they have not entered the regular tunnels. Your assault claw beheaded one of the local cave-rats. The scourer – you said not to fire disruptors in the caves. Sorry, sir.’

Shaltok grunted, pushed himself to his feet. ‘What word from the tectorists?’

One of his guards handed him his combat array. ‘The storm is waning, sir. A message, sir. Encrypted, your eyes only. Came down in an asteroid impact in the storm, impacted where we landed.’ He handed him a badly-scarred cylinder, molten sand and dust adhering to its external surfaces. ‘Tectorists retrieved the message block.’

Shaltok put the block on his array, enabled his encryption codes, quickly scanned the orders. ‘We act as soon as the storm abates. We attack to pressure the humans. We are to draw down reinforcements, sacrifice ourselves if needed to give the impression there are many more of us.’ His guard nodded, said nothing. ‘Then the main force will strike.’ That’s not in the orders, but it’s what I hope. Is it wrong to want to survive? He flagged a Slave-Commander. ‘We will make most effective use of the Outcasts if we have them utilise the available cover. Sub-Commander, I trust your slaves have all the skins they need?’

‘Yes, sir. Other than the disruptor cannons and a few loaders, of course, your most excellent…’

‘Stop snivelling. Any Outcast without camouflage skins goes with the cannon. All the others must use what cover they can, hide, use the skins, lay mines. We must beat the humans at their own game.’

‘Of course, your illustrious genious-ness.’

Shaltok growled and cut the transmission. Damned snivelling Outcasts. Probably only understands half of what I ask. But they may help. ‘Suit up!’ he barked and his amplified voice once more boomed around the caves. ‘We go hunting humans!’

There was a faint, orderly – even obligatory – cheer and the command was swiftly obeyed. Suits hummed into life, whips cracked, disruptor cannon and scutters clattered across the rocky floor as the Ghar fell into formation. They look efficient. But are we merely sacrificial bait? Within the comfortable confines of his suit Shaltok shrugged. Orders must be obeyed.

A safe light flashed on Shaltok’s overlay: the storm had abated. ‘Remove the seals!’ Assault suits made short work of the rocks making the dust-locks. His Ghar raiding party emerged from the caves to an eerie landscape, layers of dust softening outlines, hiding boulders and potholes alike. A light wind lazily shifted tiny drifts of dust but the sky was still hazy. Perhaps another storm threatens.

Whips cracked and Outcasts fanned out to either side, sticking to cover as they had been told. He was pleased to see the armour-plated skins were as effective a camouflage as he had hoped.

Shaltok waited for the last of his platoon to emerge. We have work to do.

‘Move out!’

*

IMTel Announcement

Winged Hussar Publishing are now accepting short story submissions based upon our sci-fi game –  ‘Beyond the Gates of Antares’ until June 1 2016. Submissions can be between six and ten thousand words.

Winged Hussar Pub

They should not feature any characters already named in the Antares Universe and should focus on the conflict between the main named civilizations used in the Antares rulebook. Authors may submit more than one story.

Authors whose stories are chosen will be given a contract and published in a forthcoming anthology.
All submissions should be sent to editorwhp@gmail.com