Antares Fiction – ‘Shaltok’s Sheep’ 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

Ghar Shaltok Banner

Ceahray flexed her new hand. The fingers were sluggish, slower than her natural hand and the prosthetic felt …strange, numb with the occasional pins and needles.

“How long will it last?”

The medic sucked his teeth. “Normally I’d say a few months – it’s only a decompressed field prosthetic, after all. But with this biosphere and dust, I have no idea.”

He looked across to the preservation tank in which lay Ceahray’s amputated, grotesquely-deformed forearm and hand. “What do you want done with those, Ma’am? I don’t have the equipment or facilities to analyse anything in safety. I could compress it for storage”.

Ceahray considered her options, drummed her new fingers on the operating table. “Keep an eye on it. If the reactivated bionanospores show any signs of continuing their growth, then incinerate everything. No idea what compression will do to the things and I don’t want to send it up to the ship”.

“Contamination – I understand, Ma’am. It might be safe now, though”.

“Too risky”.

Across the darkened shelter came a shout from the sensor detail. “Movement. Hostiles”.

Ceahray jammed on her helmet, activated the sensor interlock. “Show me”. A map panned out in front of her centred on the ruins and shelters. Blips moved sluggishly across the landscape, the sensors’ intelligence tagging some as Ghar troopers, others as Outcasts, still others as local animals. She frowned. “What’s going on?”

“We don’t know, Ma’am. Looks like a small group of Ghar have rounded up local creatures and are herding them this way. It’s masking their numbers. Infiltrators say they’ve gone straight over the outlying mines but nothing happened”.

Ceahray glanced at her severed arm, shivered, looked away. “Probably buried or eaten by the dust”. She waved at the weather display.”Storm’s cleared. Do we have an uplink, yet?”

“Trying to patch one through the surviving satellites. Disruptor distortion is making things problematic”.

Ceahray sighed.”AI: Unpack the skimmers and targeters, set both infiltrator teams to harry the Ghar, slow them up until we arrive”. The compressed munitions for the skimmers weapons were stored separately, of course, but it would take moments for the magazines to be slotted into place. “Request reinforcements as soon as you can get through. The Ghar want this place”.

Ceahray turned to Batu Delhren. He was watching her, his face calm. “How are you injured?”

Batu gestured to an unconscious Vardanari, his skull already deforming with the bionanocyte growth. “We can’t replace his head. He’s unconscious. The other…” He pointed to another tank containing a warped arm. “Same state as you. We had a field prosthetic with us and your medic let us use his field surgery”.

“Good. Your plasma weapons may be the only weapons guaranteed to operate. Think you’re up to taking out some Ghar?” She was sure Batu paled.

Batu swallowed.”Well, we…” Over his shoulder Ceahray saw his squad leader nod.

Ceahray took the hint. “Good. Then set yourself up on the roof. Keep the troopers occupied and slow them down”. She gestured to Batu’s squad leader. “Listen to him”. She turned away so as not to give Batu any chance to reply and opened a broadcast channel. “All troopers test your weapons before committing yourselves. The dust is deadly”. She was proud to see even the researchers checking their weapons – not that they were as effective as her Vector AI, but whether Servile or Founder leger, they were still Algoryn to the core.

Acknowledgements came from each squad. She tagged assignments and locations for each team. “Let’s go, people. We only need to hold on ‘til the reinforcements come”. She led the way out of the dustlock in time to see the pair of skimmers speed across the valley floor towards the approaching Ghar.

*

“What’s that?” Shaltok’s lenses focused on the small, encrusted and pitted globe in the hand of the tectorist before him.

“A disabled solar charge, sir”.

“An old one? You disabled it?” Shaltok was impressed.
The tectorist sounded embarrassed.”No, sir. It’s new, corroded by the storm. We found others placed at paths into the valley”.

“Probably laid as a minefield. Algoryn Infiltrators. Keep a careful look out for their camo fields”.

“Yes, sir. We also picked up satellite transmissions”.

“Good”. Possibly requesting reinforcements already, which means I can claim success. The thought was relief. “Send the flitters forward”. An idea. “Stop – attach plasma grenades to a few, have them triggered when recognising humans”. The tectorist’s mouth gaped open; Shaltok could only imagine his expression in his face beneath the combat helmet. “Use the Outcast technicians. We must look like a far larger, more capable force”. He clashed his new claws together, relished the sound. “We may be few, but we are Ghar. To success!”

“To success” replied the tectorist. He sounded less than enthusiastic, saluted, ran back towards the Outcast commanders. Outcasts broke off from outlying squads, ran back to the flitters in the pair of cargo scutters Shaltok had been able to bring down. Flitters took to the air, zipped off, wings beating wildly.

Shaltok’s Ghar crept forward again, the cannon and suits sticking as close as they could to cover as they advanced, his Outcasts scurrying from dust-stripped scrub to rocky outcrop under their camouflaged skins. The Outcasts were difficult to pinpoint, his combat array picking them up as living creatures but unable to otherwise classify them. I wonder what they look like to the humans? A herd of sheep, perhaps? The thought appealed. Shaltok’s Sheep…

There was a satisfaction in noting the inbred discipline of his Ghar. He had little fear of human mag weapons, but he was irked by the plasma carbines and had a grudging respect for the Algoryn support teams and assault troopers. They will know their mines failed to go off, so what would I do in their place? Shaltok pulled up a map of the valley. Skimmers to distract and harry, perhaps. Heavier weapons from safety. He dispatched squads of Outcasts – Sheep – to the flanks to lay plasma mines. A whir distracted him: flitters passed overhead, heading for the humans’ shelters. Their bodies were swollen with plasma charges.

All his force had to do was inflict enough damage to ensure the humans requested all the reinforcements they had. Then we can regroup. If there are any of us left. He pushed the fear from his mind. I will survive. Once more he felt guilt about even thinking such a regard for his personal safety: a Ghar’s duty was in such service. Then he corrected himself. No. It’s guilt about not feeling such guilt.

Not for the first time he wondered if the renegade Fartok had a point, after all.

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