Radiation. The whole planet was saturated in it. Vegetation had turned brown and wilted, the primitive cement blocks of outmoded settlements were corroded, and vast fields that once produced crops for outlying systems scarred black with iridium poisoning. A crimson sky streaked with acidic grey cloud generated a dense atmosphere. The planet’s single sea was mucus green, tainted beyond repair, glowing filth visible from orbit. Ylarys they called the planet once, before war had come and the inhabitant’s pathetic resistance was wiped out in a single thermal battery assault. It was a desolate setting, but it was where Kale Argon found herself.
“Miserable place,” a voice said, sounding through Kale’s combat interface. She glanced round at Ghalris, her newest recruit, an un-blooded soldier prone to speaking his mind more often than necessary. His crimson Algoryn infantry armour a flickering green through the tinted vision of her helmet. Kale clicked her tongue in response, indicating that he should keep moving with the rest of the squad and remain quiet.
“It’s quiet too,” he continued, indifferent to her command, “almost too quiet.”
“Enough, Ghalris,” she hissed down the interface. “Keep moving.” Despite her frustration she knew the infuriating Ghalris was right. The whole landscape of Ylarys was eerily still. The only audible noise was the buzzing from her squads armour comms. They were seven strong, and Kale led them through a thick wooded area. the trees bereft of leaves, a stalking mass of spindly branches that crumbled the moment they came into contact with them.
A low hanging bough caught on Kale’s mag gun. She pulled it free and it disintegrated in a shower of ash. A desolate, quiet place, but this was where she was.
A new voice whispered in through an external shard. “Leader Kale, respond.”
“Leader, here,” she replied, raising a hand, ushering her squad to a halt.
“Commander Fantris awaits a report. Hold for contact.” There was silence, the dull hum of the shard activating, then yet another voice materialised, a familiar voice, one that filled Kale with scorn.
“Commander, Fantris,” she said, forcing her tone to remain neutral. “The woods are quiet, as expected. Contact with Leader Jarg, seventh squad, confirmed no life forms present in the villages south either. The planet is empty, sir.”
Kale may as well have spoken to the trees around her, for Frantris ignored her completely. “Order, Kale,” he mewed, “there has been no report from Leader Drayus, fifteenth squad. Reconnaissance with Drayus, and report back immediately as to their status.”
“Drayus, sir? Drayus and his squad are six thousand yan west, towards the mountains.”
“Did I give you cause for question, Leader Kale? You have your orders; I shall expect results within the hour. Fantris out.” The monitor made a rasping sound, and then shut down.
“Six thousand yan?” lamented Byris, her second in command who had been hefting her squad’s mag support gun for the past two sun turns. They had halted. Squad member Gestra had been on point, her keen eyes a trusted and valued asset. Bringing up the rear was J’ko, Maynn and Usta, the three male Algoryn calm yet alert, soldiers for many years. Byris ordered them to fall in, and Kale could sense their disgruntled mood.
Despite the silent grievances of her squad coupled with the distain with which she regarded her superior, Kale was a soldier, trained like all Algoryn from birth which meant she followed her orders. “You heard the commander,” she said, “six thousand yan east. Move out.”
“Six thousand ’teheck’n yan.”
“Ghalris, I won’t warn you again.”
They set out, Kale leading at a strong pace. She was tired, her body aching under the weight of her armour that she had worn without respite that past week. Her squad had slept rough too, sheltering in abandoned barns and under trees. They ate only the package food from the ship’s canteen they brought with them and it was running low, yet still Fantris urged them to go on. “There is a transmat here,” he had said in his marshalling speech, “a way of safe passage through the system. We will find it, and we will secure it, for the glory of the Prosperate!” Kale remembered the scattered, pathetic applause that had accompanied her commanders declaration.
“Don’t see why we have to do it,” Ghalris whined again, “why are we even here?”
Kale stifled a sigh. Ghalris was new, a recruit fresh from the world of Kah’uun, a world on the periphery of the Prosperate. He had not witnessed the destruction of Zyra, the homeworld of Kale and the rest of her squad. The catastrophic damage that the Algoryn had been forced to inflict upon their own world, once a vast, lush troposphere had torn their hearts asunder but better that than have the Isorian’s taint it, bending the environment to their will.
So they had come to Ylaris, at the edge of the solar system in search of a Gate that could lead them to another world, one they could perhaps call their own once more. Except now they were tapped on Ylaris, and needed to find a transmat to regroup with the fleet proper. Kale felt a twinge of sorrow as they marched east, armoured footfalls kicking up a cloud of ash in their wake, reminding her of Zyra. She looked up and prayed there would be a Gate out there in the heavens, and that no other world should have to suffer the cruel fate that was becoming all too familiar to her.
They cleared the woods, only to be met by a steep incline that rose into the foothills of an impressive mountain range. All remained quiet and the crunch of footfalls on ashen forest ground was replaced by the scrape of metal armour on stone. Kale programmed her sensor field to probe outward for any Algoryn presence yet the scan returned void. Byris had noticed the irregularity also.
“Odd,” he said through a private interface so the rest of the squad could not overhear them. “Do you think it’s a trap?”
“Doubtful,” she replied. “We’ve been here for fourteen suns and still no sign of any life in the planet.”
Byris was silent for a moment. “Ylarys is a big place, and the expeditionary force was small enough to begin with. Maybe we shouldn’t have separated our forces.”
“Leader Kale, look,” Gestra, who was leading the squad on point duty interrupted.
Kale turned to where the AI soldier was, thirty paces or so ahead, overlooking the crest of an incline of stone above. She charged up the slope, fingers instinctively tracing the trigger of her mag gun.
The slope lowered into the vast expanse of a crater, formed no doubt by the massive impact of one of the immense thermal bombs that had ravaged the planet. Dust and toxic residue still floated skyward from the devastation. Kale scanned the scene, the view green and blinding from her tinted visor until she saw what caused Gestra’s alarm.
Red armour, mangled and scattered across the crater floor.
“Weapons ready,” she ordered, raising her mag pistol. Her squad checked their weapons’ compression chambers ensuring they were ready for whatever could come their way. “Move out. Byris, Gestra set overlapping fire grid here. Watch our backs.”
With the cover of the x-launcher behind her Kale led the advance into the craters centre. The armour was Algoryn, of that there was no doubt. Shards of twisted crimson plate marked white with kill insignias lay scattered at their feet as they moved to investigate the scene.
“They get caught in the blast?” Ghalris sounded.
“Have you seen any thermal blasts in the past suns?” Kale said, shutting him up. Something didn’t sit right with her about it all.
One hundred yan took them to the centre of the colossal crater. A signal flickered up on his sensor screen, faint but nonetheless there.
“You see that Byris?”
“Keep our backs.” Kale glanced around. A rumbling sound broke the silence, like that of thunder in the distance. She checked the sky, which was clear, save for the wispy ash clouds. The rumbling endeavoured on. “I’m going to have a look around.”
“Affirmative. Weapons ready.”
Pacing slowly, she ordered her squad to spread out. She checked the scraps of armour, noting that they were blood-stained and warm, heat radiating through the padding of her combat gloves. Algoryn had been here, and now they were dead. The rumbling got louder.
“What is that?” Ghalris asked.
No sooner had the words sounded down their combat array than the earth exploded with a titanic surge. Fragments of rock blasted from the perimeter of the crater, followed swiftly by harsh gravelly grunts and the too familiar ripple of mag gun fire. Shots fizzled off Kale’s energy shields, drawing her attention to the haze of stone cloud that obscured her primary vision. Her visor fed her distorted readings, faint dancing images of hulky forms advancing from all sides. Boromites. She levelled her gun.
To be continued….
Keep your eyes peeled for further installments as Andrew William Tinney takes us ‘In To Darkness’ following Kale and her AI Squads fight for survival in to the very depths of Ylarys!
Andrew William Tinney is an aspiring writer of fantasy and sci-fi. When not spending hours secreted in a dark room illuminated by the wan light of a computer composing his debut novel Echoes of the Dead, Andrew enjoys war-gaming of all types and was thrilled to have the opportunity to write on the immensely popular Antares Universe.
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