The rapid stuttering of distant lugger gun fire coincided with the tuneful roar of plasma grenades sending pillars of dust and rock into the air. Shaltok grunted in appreciation. The humans had been deceived, were struggling with identifying his camouflaged Outcasts. A pity there aren’t more of the local animals to drive towards them. His array flagged a team of skimmers making a sudden dash along the sides of the valley. On cue, his bombardiers opened up and the ground rocked when the charges exploded. More Outcasts opened up from their hiding places and a skimmer vanished from his display.
His Ghar were spread out over a wide area, so Shaltok turned up his transmission gain. ‘Assault teams, direct attack on the main compound. Cannon and Outcasts clear their way.’ His flanks would just have to hold. Shaltok led his own team to plug a possible gap in the wedge. Disruptor cannon scuttled forward to either side, loaders and ammunition bearers staggered under their heavy loads.
Humans appeared in his scopes, mag flechettes pinged off his armour. He took aim with his cannibalised scourer and fired, was pleased to feel the recoil. His two bodyguards followed suit. Even at this range he hit, saw a human’s reflex armour vapourised in an instant, the human fall. Other humans ducked back down behind their cover.
Perfect. Flitter-bombs were attracted by the noise, caromed towards the target. He sensed the signal from his Outcast techs and saw the explosions flare, plumes of dust roll out from the human’s hiding place. Beacons flickered out on his array and only two humans ran back towards their shelter.
The wedge of Ghar continued onwards.
Comms were deteriorating as interference from the disruptor explosions grew. It would be just as bad for the humans, but the Ghar were used to fighting with little co-ordination. Nonetheless, the advance had to continue. ‘Press forward,’ he ordered and lumbered into a run, skirted the crater that had been the rocks sheltering the humans. He felt alive, elated on seeing the bodies. Blood sung in his veins, pride swelled in his heart: this was the reason that Ghar were created.
A guilty thought came to mind. Why? He quickly suppressed such a treasonous thought.
There was no time for contemplation. A warning from one of his guards, warning lights blinked on his combat array: his suit’s outer armour layers were melting. He glimpsed a plasma beam and collapsed a leg to dodge sideways. He rolled, jumped forward and the beam passed overhead. He scanned for the source of the shot, such plasma weapons more dangerous than the mag weaponry most of the humans carried.
Plasma beams struck out once more, focused to his right, flicked out. A cry over the comms, cut off as a plasma explosion rocked his suit. Reactor alarms rang, the suit’s interior became overbearingly hot. Plasma overload, he thought. I’ve lost a bodyguard.
Shaltok followed back the line of heated air from the plasma strike. A squad of colourfully cloaked humans were picking off his suited troops from the top of the largest shelter. Even as he watched they launched another co-ordinated burst of plasma that glanced off the rocks in front of him. He ducked. ‘Bombardiers, target priorities. Plasma weapons.’ He hoped the message would be received.
Moments later came the inverse-whoosh of disruptor bombs exploding. Waves of interference frazzled his comm-net and battlefield display. He chanced a peek over the top of the rock. The roof had been obliterated and fragments of cloth were fluttering to the ground. Far to his left, a lone skimmer was in retreat; on the other flank Outcasts and disruptor cannon had been wiped out and the humans were advancing. Assault troopers were embroiled in bitter, hand-to-hand fighting with heavily-clad humans, probably Algoryn assault squads.
He issued an order to his slave masters. ‘Outcast techs to the rear, lay covering plasma minefields, rendezvous in the cave system.’ He switched to maximum gain, broadcast general orders. ‘Central and left units follow me. All other units to the right flank. Total commitment. To Success!’
His orders were acknowledged, replies from squad leaders of the simple word: ‘Success.’ He charged forward beside the assault troopers, scourers blazing on dispersed fire, and the units to either side followed suit. The humans ran, though not without heavy loss. He flicked through squad statuses: much of his force had been destroyed.
A message was flashed on his combat array overriding normal output. He slipped in surprise, almost fell, and felt the backlash from a suspensor net knock his suit sideways. Close. The message was from the Outcast techs he had sent to the rear. ‘Imminent arrival of human Freeborn reinforcements. Second human spaceship in orbit, Concord styling. Transmat landers and drop troopers launched.’ A second message overlaid alarms onto the left flank: another dust-storm was sweeping over the valley wall.
I’ve done it. ‘Success, everyone. Withdraw. Break off. Strategic advance to our current rear, use the storm.’ He began backing his squad and supports away, kept firing as they did so. Above he could see transmit landers screaming through the sky, the pods of drop squads exploding, freeing their contents. His newly enhanced array flagged one ship as Freeborn Algoryn, the other as Concord Combined Command.
More Ghar died heroically, the loss of whom he felt keenly. Then the new dust-storm swept through the valley, enveloping them all in an impenetrable cloud of dust and sand. The visual and sensor gloom covered his retreat and hid the pitiful numbers of remaining Ghar.
Escape. Success. Such a Pyrrhic success did not fill him with elation.
Tim Bancroft – has sent in a number of pieces. ‘Pyrrhic Success’ is the 6th 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