Antares fiction: Refurbished Part One

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 fantastic 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 – the first of which we’d like to share with you today!

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The suit sealed itself around Shaltok, enfolding him in a comforting embrace. He felt the brief pain as the neural connectors shafted into place – then the pain was gone replaced by an awareness of so much more than himself. He immediately relaxed, sank into the near-meditative state that oneness demanded: this was where a Ghar was meant to be, how a Ghar was meant to live.

‘Testing,’ he murmured and the suit amplified his voice, almost deafening the techs arraigned around him. They scuttled back nervously. He flexed his arms and the couplings whined in sync with his movements, whirling both arms through a complete arc. He scuttled forward, jumped – the suit lifted him high off the deck to land with a crash – then scuttled back. The suit’s claw snapped shut, opened again at his thought.

The suit flashed up feedback on his combat array – Interface: Optimal. Sensors: Operational. Mobility: Operational. Claw: Operational. Scourer: Powered.

‘Weapons test,’ he said; his voice boomed. The techs scattered behind the protective shields located strategically around the maintenance bay. Shaltok centred his targeting reticule over the weapons testing soak hanging from the roof at the centre of the hall, fired with barely a second thought.

Nothing happened. His array stated the obvious. Weapons: Malfunction. Analysing… Plasma feed obstructed. Critical.

Shaltok immediately hit the suit’s emergency release. The carapace cracked open, connections snapped back and the cocoon ejected him clear. He landed on his feet and immediately scurried towards a blast shield, shouting as he ran. ‘Obstruction in the plasma feed lines. Overload!’ He was pleased to see several of his techs had already started running for cover as soon as they saw him eject.

He dived behind a shield and techs piled in behind him, surrounded him – a combateer – with their bodies. Barely had they time to cover their ears before bright light flared and the suit exploded. The blast wave lifted the shield from its anchor, slammed it into the techs around him. He heard squeals of pain, was buffeted by Ghar bodies, thrown against a bulkhead.

Then all was silent.

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Klaxons began to scream, almost drowning out the ancient, automated calls for clean-up crews and medical staff. There were groans around him as bodies shifted and techs discovered broken bones and bruises. Blood dripped onto his coverall from the body above him and he pushed it off – it crackled, burnt by the wave of superheated plasma that had erupted from the suit. There was no point checking to see if the tech who had protected him was alive: the Ghar had done his duty well.

Shaltok stumbled to his feet. The superhardened floor and walls of the bay were scorched, blackened by the explosion. Semi-molten components were scattered round the bay and tools and spares were smooth lumps of unrecognisable alloys, some still bubbling with the heat. ‘Who checked the feed?’ he asked and wondered why his voice was so quiet. He spoke louder and realised he was temporarily deafened. ‘Who was responsible for checking the scourer’s plasma feed?’

A tech stepped forward, pointed to the charred body that had lain atop Shaltok. ‘Telmak 60-53-32, sir.’

Shaltok nodded, relieved. ‘A fitting punishment.’ He looked round at the cooling debris. ‘Scavenge what you can.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the tech and looked apologetic. ‘There is too much damage to reassemble the suit, sir.’

‘Try and requisition a new suit. I must report to the commander: this reflects badly on us all.’ Shaltok marched out the weapons bay, conscious his face was burning with shame.

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.