The Claiming of Shamasai: 1 – Refurbished

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 (now a Warlorder) – who has sent in a number of pieces – the first of which we’d like to share with you today!

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.

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.

*  *  *

High Commander Karg 12-40-9 kept him waiting of course, a deliberate tactic intended to demean a brood-mate. Shaltok tried to think his way through the problem. I must remove this shame; my promotions already lag behind the others of my brood. Except for the Outcast, of course…

Outcast: that was it. A glimmer of hope, a strategy. Mechanics and Outcast were easy to come by, but since the rebels were founded, trained engineers and troopers were in short demand.

A buzzer sounded; his name appeared on the pixelated display. He stood, walked through the door guarded by a pair of Ghar in assault suits.

‘High Commander. This Ghar offers his service.’

‘Except you didn’t, Shaltok. You allowed your team to destroy a suit.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Be humble.

‘The accident very nearly destroyed a maintenance bay. Tell me why I should not pour more shame on you and your team?’

‘Sabotage, sir.’

‘Sabotage?’ Karg frowned in confusion. ‘How so?’

‘The Outcast rebel leader, sir, Fartok. One of my mechanics used to service his suit.’

Karg slammed his fist down on the console. ‘Fartok! Again!’ The annoyance turned to curiosity. ‘What has the mechanic have to do with the cursed rebel?’

‘I believe he developed a sentimental attachment to the rebels’ suit, sir. It seems he replaced my scourer’s plasma feed with a poorly refurbished item from his ex-commander.’

‘Sentiment?’ Karg looked shocked.

Shaltok took a risk in mention the hated name again. ‘Yes, sir. If Fartok was involved, it seems hardly surprising.’

‘Antares take Fartok!’ Karg scowled. ‘I trust you punished the technician involved.’

‘Telmak 60-53-32 died in the blast, sir.’

‘A fitting end.’ Karg’s expression was one of deep satisfaction. ‘Good.’

‘Sir? May I make a recommendation?’

‘As long as it is sound.’

‘I believe it is, sir. I recommend all of Battle Group 9’s refurbished spares be double-checked by those from other groups. I also suggest that all Fartok’s technicians be made Outcast. There is a risk this may happen again, sir. Fartok’s memory and erratic influence needs to be eradicated.’

Karg pulled at his lower lip. ‘Good suggestion, but difficult to implement. The revolt has made things difficult – the vats can barely keep up with replacements.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Have the refurbished spares be double checked, on my orders. Interrogate the technicians with questionable authority. Only those who are not proven loyal to me and our cause are to be Outcast or shot, understand?’ He scratched his head. ‘You may have uncovered a deeper problem in our ranks, Shaltok.’ He frowned, looked deep in thought.

‘Thank you, sir,’ said Shaltok. Push it. ‘Sir – Do I have permission to break out a new suit from storage?’

‘What? Yes, certainly. Dismissed.’ Karg muttered to himself, words that sounded like a curse on ‘Fartok’.

Shaltok ignored the comments, saluted and marched out as sharply as he could. Saved myself. That he had done so by risking the lives of hundreds of mechanics was of no concern: they were Ghar, would just have to take their chances. I had better keep a few of Fartok’s techs around, though. They may come in useful, again. He nodded to himself, satisfied. Such strategic thinking was the heart and soul of a Ghar.

*  *  *

We have the complete storyline of all the Batu and Shaltok stories. Part two continues the tale…

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.