Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“Stay down!” shouted Xenophon, not realising they wouldn’t understand a word he said.
It didn’t matter either way, as the poor soldier was cut in half by a burst of pulse fire. The rate of fire from the attackers increased, as another group arrived from the shattered blast doors and aided their comrades. These warriors activated a number of body shields, much like the lightweight models used by the Arcadians. With this kind of protection, even the firepower from Glaucon’s pulse cannon was having a hard time. The group of automatons furthest away tried to fall back but were shredded by the heavy weapons fire. The rounds ripped through their armour as though they were naked, throwing their lifeless bodies against the many broken machines and pieces of equipment. Glaucon glanced over to Xenophon.
“They can’t hold this place!”
Xenophon nodded in agreement and tapped Artemas’ shoulder.
“Glaucon’s right. We can’t hold! Look at them!” cried Xenophon, and he fired another burst.
Although the defenders easily outnumbered their attackers, they were finding it next to impossible to bring them down, due to the incoming fire and the newly activated body shields. For every Terran killed or wounded, at least five automatons were killed. One of the side doors hissed open and out ran two-dozen Anusiyan guards in the colours of Cyrus. The first two were hit by gunfire, not making it to Artemas. One of them, a slightly taller Medes than the others, called out to her. She answered quickly and explained to Xenophon.
“He’s been sent to seal off this part of the ship. We have to fall back.”
Xenophon shook his head. “No chance, look.”
She looked at the battle in front of them. Both sides were now dug in and exchanging vicious bursts of gunfire while the Terrans pushed closer, each one moving just a single pace before another pushed the mobile shield generators forward. Now that they were closer, it was possible to see they were wearing a mixture of Medes and Terran equipment. Xenophon activated the blades on his two Asgeirr-Carbines. The blades punched out, extending in front of the armoured fist. Glaucon watched with amusement at the sight of his friend preparing for close ranged combat.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“They are expecting to fight automatons, and what do we know about them?”
Roxana fired another shot and leaned over to add her own thoughts.
“They break and run when engaged at close range. At least that’s what we were all told back in the Academy.”
“Artemas! Do they have blades?” he shouted.
The young Median noble looked to her warriors and spoke a few words. The taller of them looked to Xenophon with contempt on his face. He reached inside his robes and pulled out a curved blade. He shouted out, and instantly the survivors in his small band did the same.
“I guess we’ve got an answer,” laughed Glaucon.
“Yeah, now all we need is a distraction.”
“Gunfire,” suggested Roxana. “Get the automatons to pin them down, and we’ll do the rest.”
Artemas nodded and called out to the scattered groups of her soldiers. Most were pinned down but upon hearing her, they lifted up their guns and fired, even if they couldn’t see a target. The defensive fire was impressive, and the result was immediate. The attackers went to ground to avoid the fire. Their attack stalled, if only for a moment.
“You ready?” she asked, withdrawing her own blade.
Xenophon nodded quickly and then looked to his group.
“Keep your heads down and move fast. They can’t shoot through the shields. They’re using them to get close, but they won’t stay down for long. It’s our chance.”
Artemas stood up and ran, doing her best to duck and avoid the incoming fire. The other three did the same and with a shout, the Anusiyans surged forward with the weapons lifted high above their heads.
“Let’s do this!” shouted Glaucon. He jumped up and blasted away with his pulse cannon. The gunfire forced the Terrans to duck down behind equipment or to shelter behind their portable energy shields. The others followed him and rushed past, eager to finder cover as they moved closer.
Is this really my best idea?
They moved quickly to cover the ground to the Terran attackers but still managed to lose another five automatons reaching the final set of obstacles, a series of workbenches and tools. The Anusiyans kept with them, and then they were in and amongst the surprised Terrans. Most were pinned down and reloading weapons or making their way slowly to flank the automatons. Instead a tide of attackers, all armed with close combat weapons and carbines moved into their ranks. Wild bursts of gunfire rippled about, felling some of the Anusiyans but also cutting down an equal number of Terrans.
Xenophon watched two of the loyal guards gunned down, but the others leapt over the obstacles and cut away with their weapons. Those with pistols used them with savage abandon. Then he spotted Artemas jumping in amongst the enemy, and a flicker of fear run up his spine at their numbers.
What is she doing?
Glaucon and Xenophon did their best to keep in front of Artemas, but it was almost impossible to stop her hacking away at the nearest Terran soldier. With speed that surpassed Xenophon, and power that matched Glaucon, she severed his left arm and ducked down to follow it up with a savage horizontal cut.
“Xenophon!” Roxana called out.
She’d been caught up by the careful gunfire of one of the Terrans as she arrived at the scene of the bloody hand-to-hand combat. He looked up, but the rifle was already halfway there. He twisted his body and lifted his blades, but he could only dull the impact, not stop it. It was a heavy blow and smashed him against one of the workbenches. The man tried to bring down his rifle again, but this time Roxana was able to blast him in the chest with her rifle before being struck herself. Glaucon waded into the middle of all of this, rounds embedding in his armour as he pulled off two of the Terrans. He lowered his pulse cannon and opened fire at close range. With a large capacity magazine and heavy calibre pulse rounds, it was devastating at that range. Four Terrans were cut to pieces before the first lifted up their hands in surrender. Artemas spotted their gesture and stepped back, calling out to the Anusiyans to stop the counterattack. At least two more were killed before the gunfire halted.
* * *
Royal Chamber, Median Battleship ‘Rashnu’
The heart of the Median battleship was filled with the elite guards of Lord Cyrus as well as three deputy commanders, each responsible for the control and defence of the ship. They waited patiently for their command to leave the command throne at the centre of the room. Unlike the other ships in the fleet, the Rashnu was designed to allow one person to command and control not just the Rashnu, but also every single Medes ship in the fleet. It shimmered and shook with energy, and from inside emerged the form they all dreaded facing, their master, Lord Cyrus. He took two steps out and faced them.
“How did they get aboard?” Cyrus roared.
His senior commanders tried to avoid his gaze, and he was forced to indicate for his guards to grab the second-in-command of the ship
and bring him before him.
“I asked you a question!”
The Commander knelt down before him.
“My Lord. They managed to break in while we dropped our assault craft to the stations. Only a handful made it inside and was pushed back by our forces. The ship is secure, once more.”
Cyrus snorted and pulled out his beautifully detailed Terran pistol. It had been a gift from Clearchus back at the start of their campaign and was one of his most highly prized possessions. The Laconian artificers back on the Titan Valediction had modified it so that he, and only he, could use it. As his palm touched the grip, the onboard computer detected his signature and released the safety.
“I..my Lord...I must..” pleaded the man, but Cyrus was having none of it. He raised the pistol and aimed directly between the Commander’s eyes.
“You didn’t push them back. I have received a report that my niece and her guards led a counterattack that killed a large number of the enemy and took substantial prisoners!”
He pulled the trigger and ended the Commander’s humiliation. His lifeless corpse slumped to the ground to leave just two more quaking in fear. He pointed the pistol at the taller of the two.
“You will take on his responsibilities. Get the prisoners into the interrogation rooms. I want to know what they had planned. Understood?”
The Median soldier bowed solemnly.
“Yes, my Lord.”
He turned and left the Royal Chamber so fast it almost looked as if he were running. The third and final Commander waited for his own punishment.
“You were responsible for sending a unit of my personal guard to deal with the breach, were you not?”
He nodded but said no more.
“Well. It would have been better for them to not make it aboard in the first place. I commend you on your leadership and quick thinking though. You will command the first wave in the final battle. You are dismissed.”
The Commander bowed, turned and withdrew from the room. His reward was no such thing, but even the chance for survival in the final battle was better than summary and ignominious execution at the hands of Cyrus.
Cyrus turned and walked back into the command throne. It crackled like static electricity as he moved inside and took position in the centre. Around him was a projected display of the battle going on. All that was required was for him to use his mind to connect to the command computers on each of the main ships. Though he didn’t have direct control over the ship’s functions, he could queue up requests and orders that the Commanders of each vessel would then follow. He scanned the battle with his eyes, noting with satisfaction that all his warships were now heavily engaged. The defenders had withdrawn their vessels and placed them in orbit around the star fortresses rather than risk them in open battle with his fleet. Thick beams of light indicated the heavy lasers that cut whole sections from ships while massive pulse cannons sent powerful blasts of energy that exploded whole fighters. The opening phase of the battle was well underway.
My brother, we will meet soon enough!
Laconian Titan ‘Valediction’, Cunaxa Nebula
The command deck was busy, but as usual every single officer conducted their operations with skill and efficiency. Clearchus waited patiently as his force of ships moved into position to block the approach of the newly arrived Zacynthian fleet. He counted three battleships in their number with most of the others ships being of cruiser class. Even with his reserve in position behind Cyrus’ ships, he still had enough capital ships to match the enemy’s numbers.
“Auletes, I want to speak with Dukas Meno,” he said firmly.
The disgraced Dukas had returned to his Titan, and along with two dozen ships was now responsible for the reserve. Though only a short distance behind Cyrus, he had been given express orders to not engage the enemy. The man’s face appeared, and he nodded ever so slightly to his commander.
“Strategos, we are holding, as ordered.”
“Good. What is the status of the battle for the defences?”
There was a short pause while Meno checked with his own commanders before returning.
The fully armoured form of Komes Lantos appeared to the side. Clearchus had ordered small Laconian detachments aboard each of the Titans to assist with their defence but also for emergencies. Meno was clearly annoyed at the presence of the man but wouldn’t dare force him from the ship. It was Clearchus’ Legion, and he was entitled to post Laconian troops wherever he felt it was necessary. The Laconian Komes moved to the camera and nodded to Clearchus.
Strategos, the last reports from Cyrus said that two
of the star fortresses
were now under the control of his ground forces. The automatons took lighter casualties than expected. It seems they were not as well prepared as we thought. The third fortress was empty, and
ships and troops
have withdrawn to the
. It is the largest one of them all and heavily armoured,
to hold him back.
apparently there is a Taochi regiment
that is proving difficult for automatons to remove
Dukas Meno added contemptuously.