The sheltering caves were sealed once more. What Ghar he had left were being treated, suits and weapons repaired. The success had come at a heavy price. Shaltok felt exhausted, bore a dressing on his side where the overheated suit had cooked his flesh. He could not yet allow himself to rest, still had work to do: replace a bodyguard with the best trooper he could find, determine who raised the critical alarm, consolidate his surviving Ghar into coherent squads.
Shaltok issued a demand to have the Slavemaster visit, was drifting off to sleep against the wall of the cave when the Slavemaster’s voice jerked him back to wakefulness. ‘Great and honourable, sir. You demanded our presence?’
Shaltok opened his eyes. The Slavemaster and a trio of Outcasts grovelled in front of him. ‘Initiative. Good. Are these the ones who overrode my comms, broadcast a message on battlefield channels?’
The Slavemaster sneered at the Outcasts. ‘Yes, sir. They are. I was going to punish them but brought them to you due to the seriousness of their crime.’ He spat, gestured towards a bizarre contraption they were carrying, a comms mast plugged into a flitter’s sensory array from which dangled human helmets. Shaltok thought he glimpsed human remains within each helmet. ‘They were using abominable human technology!’
They saved my life. ‘Thank you, Slavemaster. You are diligent. Dismissed.’
The Slavemaster twitched his whip, hesitated.
‘I said “Dismissed”, Subcommander. I will deal with them myself.’ Shaltok allowed an edge of annoyance to creep into his tone. The Slavemaster took the hint, scuttled away. Shaltok silently examined the jerry-rigged contraption from all angles, walked around it to see what had been done.
He settled back into his niche in the wall. ‘You are?’
‘Humble Outcasts, you honourableness. We are those who created the bomb-flitters.’
He regarded them quietly, noted they were the technicians he had saved. ‘What’s that?’ he asked, gesturing towards the comms mast.
The Outcasts trembled. ‘Noble sir, this is what we used to pick up the human signals and sense the new arrivals. We interfaced with the humans sensory implants and helmet tech to make a better comms and sensor unit.’
‘Abomination! And you claim it is “better”?’ Such a reply was expected. But why do I not really feel such disgust?
The Outcast techs quailed but stood their ground. ‘Yes, sir. Sorry, sir, we mean, extend its capabilities.’
Another took up the explanation. ‘Sir, great martial warrior-ness, we found it so effective that we thought you needed to know. It links with such abomination but our Ghar technology is in control.’
The third pitched in. ‘We are grateful, noble sir, for your actions today in carrying out such a difficult and dangerous assignment. We were hoping to present the new sensor mast as a gift, attach it to your suit, sir.’ He looked at the other two; they nodded. ‘We remain loyal Ghar, committed to success.’ All three held their heads high, not bowed like the other Outcasts. Shaltok was tempted to reject the gift, but their pride and ingenuity whilst Outcast caught his imagination, overrode the genetically programmed conflicts he felt rising in his gut.
Looking at their uncharacteristic behaviour, Shaltok had a suspicion, on impulse asked a question. ‘What hatchery are you from?’
‘Hatchery 12 sir, like you. And High Commander Karg and the renegade Fartok.’ The speaker spat, added, ‘May he be forever hunted by humans.’ The curse sounded false.
Shaltok regard the comms mast carefully, examined the flitter sensors, noted they were interfaced with a scavenged trooper’s sensor array. ‘You put this together today?’
Shaltok was shocked, covered up the emotion. They are good. I was right to preserve them. ‘Then fit it to my suit.’ They bowed, swarmed over his suit and rapidly affixed the mast with plasma torches and scavenged connectors. They stepped back; he put on his headset, attached the nerve connectors, activated the combat array.
The display was clear, extensive, able to reach high into the atmosphere even within the caverns, hijacked human sensory feeds as well as boosting his normal input. ‘It works well.’ He was astonished. ‘Should I ask how you made it work?’
The technicians looked at one another, shrugged. ‘‘Thank you, noble sir. We think it might have worked because‘—they turned to one another, chattered quickly in low tones. When the speaker finally looked up he seemed unsure of himself. ‘We believe the quantum frequencies in the, ah, conduction fields have altered. We think.’
‘But you’re unsure.’ A nod. ‘So, you mean whatever it is on this world has affected the human equipment’s operation?’ Emphatic nods. ‘Ingenious.’
The technicians looked relieved. ‘Our only concern, sir, is that on planets where the humans have full control over their conduction fields, human sensory data will be blocked. For security reasons.’
‘Theirs or ours?’ A squirming foot showed discomfort. ‘I see. But for now, the range and visual enhancements will function?’
‘Ah, we believe so sir.’ A whispered discussion took place. ‘For a while at least.’
He took off the helmet, considered the mast for a moment. It might make him a target but, on the other hand, the enhanced sensors could not be dismissed. The human heads, though… ‘I will keep it. But get rid of what’s left of that abominable human flesh.’ The trio nodded, set to eagerly with sand and burners, stepped back. What was left of the helmets were clean, connected into an oblate spheroid cage.
‘Good. Tell the Slavemaster you are to have extra rations and given free access to tools and materials. You are in my favour. Dismissed.’ The Outcasts retreated backwards, turned and hurried back to their station, jabbering between themselves in excitement.
Shaltok put on the helmet again, ran through the combat array’s functions. The input may have improved but it forced an unsettling reflection. Effective as it is, this integrates foul human technology with that of the right-thinking Ghar. If he were honest, he reflected, he felt no such disgust, just wonder. So useful, but no other Ghar has done this until now.
Such a thought brought another concern to the fore, one much more disturbing and that penetrated to the root of all that was integral to the Empire. Is there a problem with Hatchery 12?
It was a question to which he did not want to know the answer.
Tim Bancroft – has sent in a number of pieces. ‘Abominable Tech’ is the 7th and latest Chapter of Tim’s stories that we’ve shared – his previous pieces can be found here:
Tim Bancroft has been longlisted for the James White SF Award 2015 and won the Orwell Dystopian Fiction Award 2014. Follow Tim on his Blog at: timbancroft.me.uk.
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!
and now it’s your turn
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org