Master Arshavin laughed coldly as he watched the fleet of ships scurry to face his creations. Millennia had passed since he had last crossed swords with the Church; he had hidden himself away, developing his children to ever new and exigent levels.
His allegiance to the Tauran High Command had been swept away long ago, when he had followed the new Warmaster, ignoring the call of his brothers that he left behind. The time spent on the path of war had been helpful, but his arrogance knew no bounds and once again he had chosen solitude over the pitiful whining of his peers and subordinates. That had been a long time ago.
Combining the height of Church Technology, with demon possession had worked for a while, but he had soon decided that what he needed was something different. His spawn needed to obey him totally, and for that he had developed something new.
No doubt, both his Tauran brothers and the Church forces would declare him a heretic, but finally he had made his breakthrough. Those robots he had created, were self-thinking entities, to a point. Unswervingly loyal to Arshavin’s design, they had rudimentary brains, whose synapses were linked to his own central command. On the battlefield they could innovate, within the limit of their programmed capacity, although he still maintained the self-destruct option, if they ever advanced too far.
No-one had ever faced their like and survived and the prize waiting below, would add to their abilities. Carefully watching his screens, he saw the moment when they deployed their tactical weapons and grinned savagely. This was going to be entertaining.
Viker finished tightening the straps on his uniform, his gaze flicking across to Leftenant Krantu, who even now was receiving some last minute instructions from the Colonel.
He saw Corporal Johns and his old squad arrive and nodded to them with easy familiarity. It would be good to have them by his side once more, his amalgamation into Krantu’s squad was a little more difficult than he had first expected.
The call came and they formed up, ready to march onto the waiting pinnace. This was to be a quick and decisive strike, their target already defined by the Colonel. They would be dropping with some of the Eyatolians into what was expected to be a hot zone. The main body was to be held in reserve right now, the Colonel apparently ready to wait and see how the battle developed.
Marius fired his autocannons, the metal slugs tearing through space and impacting on the incoming objects. An ovoid of light flicked into existence and his rounds ricocheted harmlessly away.
“Careful boys,” he transmitted, “they’re shielded!”
His targeting reticule locked onto the next in line and he fired his plasma cannons. There was a brief resistance and then an incandescent explosion, as the creature disappeared.
“Captain!” screamed a voice, “Our laser cannons have absolutely no effect, we…..”
Looking at his tactical display, Marius saw the tags identifying his fighters begin to wink out and swore. With a snarl of rage, he slammed on the power and hoped he would get there in time.
The quill-like protrusions arched forwards, bending almost double and now facing towards the incoming fighters. Their shapes became fainter as the spines turned fluid and were flung forward, squirming towards the oncoming craft. Their serpentine motion made them hard to track and impossible to predict, yet not many pilots were overly worried, then the first of them struck.
It lashed around one of the fighter’s wings, shearing through the resistant metal as though it had never existed and continued on its way. The pilot instantly lost control of his craft, the fighter starting to spin and tumble, flying straight into more of the snake-like strings of energy. It was neatly sliced into pieces, with seemingly little sign of any diminution of the weapon’s strength.
Laser cannons fired, their beams ineffectual as they only scored the robot’s shields, with little or no penetration. Pilots were dying and there appeared to be nothing that they could do about it.
Arshavin crowed with delight as his robots’ weapons deployed, he was sublimely confident that the Churchmen had never faced anything like it and that nothing would be able to resist his latest inventions. He unknowingly had made a couple of mistakes; his opponents weren’t strictly speaking Churchmen and their technology was significantly higher than anything he had faced before.
“Fighters fall back, I repeat, fighters fall back!” ordered Marius as he and his Wing roared into battle. “We’ll soften them up for you and then you can finish them off, out!”
The delta wings flew in a linear formation, their plasma weapons blazing, the robots shields flaring and dying. Still Marius did not relent, utilising his vastly superior speed to turn and rake the robots again.
“Okay boys,” he transmitted, “they’re all yours! We’ve got bigger fish to fry!”
Once more the delta wings formed up on his lead and this time they powered on towards the waiting mother ship.
Arshavin had been surprised by the firepower exhibited by his enemies, but not overawed. It was time to put an end to this. He sent out a short mental command and drop pods began to deploy, augmenting his forces on the planet’s surface.
Another command, sent a beacon spinning outwards from his main ship, its pulsed signal designed not to control his current forces, but to call for reinforcements. He knew that his earlier preparations would now bear fruit. The two drone ships he had brought with him would arrive shortly and this battle would reach another level.
“Marius…” came the soft voice, reverberating inside the Captain’s head, a quick glance showing no radio activity.
“Yes, my Lord,” responded the Captain, his senses still focused on the burgeoning attack run on the robot’s mother ship.
“Abort your attack on the ship, I will take care of it,.” Marius began to protest, but he was quickly cut off, “No arguments. The protection of our landing force is of paramount importance. Take your Wing and give covering fire. We cannot allow these robots access to the treasure hidden below. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal, my Lord,” replied the Captain, already beginning to transmit new co-ordinates to his Wing, “We won’t let you down!”
“I never doubted that for one moment, Captain. Now …” the voice trailed off, and Marius saw the new ships dropping out from the warp.
“My Lord!” he exclaimed.
“You have yours orders, Captain!” snapped Walters, abruptly cutting off communication.
Shan had followed his instructions to the letter, his flagship, the Spiteful Dawn, led a fleet of plague infested vessels on the trail of Walters and his men. The beacon drawing on Walters, had also guided the Tauran Adept. Its pure light and chorus of song had inflicted some pain on Shan’s corrupted ears, but pain was something he revelled in.
They had quickly decimated the Church fleet, their unexpected attack had converted many before any resistance could be mounted. His new brothers had gleefully joined in the destruction of the few die-hard Immortals, and his now putrescent ships followed their new God faithfully.
Surprise he thought would be on their side, the Churchmen would not be prepared for the overwhelming Tauran attack. His new connection with his God gave him many things, but unfortunately for him, prescience was not one of them.
The jump directly into an ongoing space battle would not have been his most fervent wish, but he quickly adapted, ordering rapid deployment of his new ground forces and driving the Spiteful Dawn and her sisterships straight at the heart of the engagement.
Walters snarled as he recognised the abhorrent taste of Shan’s followers, corrupting the ether. His eyes flashed as he turned to face Berbatov.
“We seem to be outnumbered, Sargeant!” he said curtly.
Berbatov only grinned and gripped the staff of his halberd more tightly, “Which one’s mine?” he growled, unconcernedly.
“The Taurans,” responded Walters, smiling at his ever ready Sargeant, “take Uther and the rest of his men with you. I will personally get you to their flagship; the rest is up to you.”
“Just how I like it!” replied Berbatov, before turning and barking orders to his men.
Viker grunted as the pinnace shuddered under fire, it seemed that their enemies were already aware that they were coming. Jones, as did the other non-commissioned officers, shouted at their men, forming them up and making sure that their motivation was at its highest possible.
The pinnace landed, its door slamming open and with a roar the infantry charged outwards. From the rear of the craft, a ramp slapped to earth and the Eyotalian’s armour poured forth, their battle cannons speaking almost as soon as they touched the dirt.
Making as if to follow Leftenant Krantu, Viker felt a touch on his shoulder; it was Johns.
“You’re with us, son,” shouted the Corporal, above the intense noise of laser and cannon fire.
Looking up, he saw the Leftenant nod, and Viker raced to join his old squad, who waited expectantly.
Walters stood beside Berbatov and looked over the waiting men and Immortals. They had not questioned how he was going to get them on board the enemy’s vessel nor the force they would face once they got there.
“Call me, if you need me,” he muttered to Berbatov, and then began, drawing in the energy from his surroundings. A green pin-point of light formed, rapidly expanding as he opened the portal. Not waiting for its full formation, Berbatov leapt through, howling his battle cry, which turned into a full-throated roar as his men followed.
Things were going to plan, was the smug thought flitting through the Shan’s mind, as he saw how heavily he outnumbered the others’ forces. His men had already started their descent to the planet below and now it was his turn to deal out pain and suffering. He smiled and moved to issue his attack orders when all hell broke loose. The ship itself seemed to scream in pain, as though it had been dealt a mortal blow, its alarms sounding more like cries than warnings.
Not being sure of what was happening, Shan called for answers, even as the first of his men began to die.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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