Sorry it’s taken so long to get an update up. Also thanks to all who’ve reviewed and commented.
Chapter 27: 2.4 Cublings
I tried to sleep through the shuttle flight but tired as I was, I couldn’t manage it. I’d barely been able to sleep since I’d gotten back to the Hermes. I kept expecting to wake up back on the H’varkann. Then again, I’d felt the same thing at pretty much every waking moment. It had been a shadow hanging over my head ever since I’d first woken up in the Hermes’ infirmary.
The psych types had asked questions for what must have been two solid days before I was even aloud out of the room. I’d been this close to knocking Doctor Simmons’ teeth down his throat when I was finally discharged.
The shadow was still there when I first saw Fool, Adish and the others. It was a miracle that they had all survived, considering that virtually no one else had. We’d lost so many people, and everyone who was left had looked like they’d had their souls ripped out.
The looks on Adish and Fool’s face when they first saw me was, strange. I can’t think how else to say it. In their eyes, they’d both almost killed me. In reality they’d done just the opposite, without Adish’s torpedoes I’d never have escaped, and if Salamander and Fool hadn’t taken out the carrier, they could have easily tractored me back in and clawed my throat out. Salamander seemed to understand this, but Adish and Fool didn’t. I’m not certain I’d feel any differently if the situation had been reversed.
It had to have been at least a week since I’d heard someone laugh. I mean since I’d heard a laugh which didn’t belong to an enemy.
“Are you ill at ease my friend?”
Z’ratmak’s booming voice startled me out of the half conscious daze I’d been stuck in for the last ten minutes. I shook myself and blinked a few times, trying to get used to the light level.
“I’m alright.” I replied.
Z’ratmak grunted and returned his gaze to the stars in the window. The marine units from the Invincible had been granted shore leave as well, Z’ratmak had come over to the Hermes and now was heading to Ghorah Khar, with me in tow.
It had been Simmons’ idea. Going to Ghorah Khar was supposed to help me get over any lingering quote fear of the Kilrathi that may remain after the, um, ‘incident’ unquote. Maybe it made sense, but personally, and no offence to Z’ratmak or any of the Kilrathi on Ghorah Khar, there were a fair few places I’d rather spend three weeks of leave.
Unfortunately, I had to prove to the powers that be that I could be among Kilrathi without being reduced to a gibbering wreck, along with about three thousand other tests, otherwise I was looking at a medical discharge.
I wouldn’t lose my career to the Kilrathi.
“I believe,” Z’ratmak said with an uncharacteristic hint of caution in his voice, “That Sivar has tested you in the Brimstone system.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. I was more inclined to believe that divine intervention had been responsible for my escape. And why that would be Sivar I didn’t know.
“Yeah?” I asked, trying to force away the weariness.
“She tested your worthiness by delivering you to the hands of the enemy. You proved yourself a true warrior through your escape.”
He flowed up this assertion with a satisfied noise that was halfway between a purr and a grunt. I couldn’t help but smile.
“You think so?”
“Sivar tests all warriors.”
“Even human ones?”
“All warriors,” he repeated, “Victory in this war shall eventually be granted to the most worthy species. The Empire has abandoned honour and with it their worth.”
I nodded and considered this theory for a moment. It was kind of creepy in a way to think that the entire war was orchestrated by a Kilrathi war god simply to see who was worthy and who wasn’t. Maybe I’m missing the point.
“Attention.” Muttered a nonchalant computer voice, “Estimated arrival time at Ghorah Khar is now five hours.”
I sighed and pushed my head back into the headrest, then abandoned it in favour of Z’ratmak’s arm. It was considerably more comfortable.
“Insufferable cubling.” He muttered. I laughed and after a few seconds, so did he.
As a rule, fearless Kilrathi warriors don’t like being used as pillows. He didn’t shrug me off however, so I closed my eyes and eventually managed to sleep.
Four and a half hours later
“I believe you know how poorly your race fares in this war. I believe you know how close defeat is, and I believe you know why your carrier advances on our command ship. So I will ask you once more, why does it challenge a ship which will swat it aside with ease?”
I know what comes next, but I can’t do anything to change it. The claw is resting on the side of my head, there’s already blood trickling down it. I try to get away from…
I awoke with a loud gasp and lunged forward in my seat, only to be caught by the safety harness before I fell to the deck.
Realisation struck. That made the fifth nightmare I’d had since I’d escaped. I didn’t need this.
In the wake of the dream, it was more then a little unnerving when Z’ratmak rested a paw on my shoulder.
“Are you alright Ryuku?”
I turned and stared at him. There was obvious concern in his eyes.
“I’m ok.” I said, not fooling either of us.
Z’ratmak continued to stare at me for a few moments, then he removed his paw from my shoulder and returned it to the arm rest.
“I believe Sivar tests you still.”
An hour later
I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.
Ghorah Khar was a beautiful world, at least this part of it was. We were in a small village near the edge of a city that apparently covered half the continent. There were tall trees, huge green fields, unreasonably large birds which looked like a freakish hybrid of a bat and a seagull, and all manner of other natural wonders that made it seem all the more implausible that Kilrathi lived here.
I guess I expected all Kilrathi worlds to resemble Kilrah. Ghastly hell holes that compliment the Imperial soul. Apparently, Kilrah used to look like this world, but the Kilrathi had promptly ruined it. Well, them and the frequent earthquakes.
Z’ratmak was walking at an awkwardly fast pace that it was hard to keep up with. The look on his face was one of a man who’d been away from home for far too long. He was taking in deep lungfulls of air as he walked and paused occasionally to watch the in-system security’s patrol crafts, (mainly Drakhi and third generation Dralthis.) The Kilrathi citizens had insisted on keeping their own fighters as opposed to switching to Confederation equivalents. That wouldn’t do them many favours if the Kilrathi attacked.
There were a fair few humans dotted about the streets among the Kilrathi. Many of the Kilrathi were going about their business as usual, however there were some who seemed to bristle at the presence of terran apes on their streets, (in a context other then that of slaves or lunch.) I resisted the urge to sneer at one such Kilrathi who bared his fangs at me as I passed.
“You’re h’rai know I’m coming right?” I asked, running up beside Z’ratmak, who looked as if he was moments away from breaking into a sprint,
“Yes,” he replied distantly.
“Are they alright with it?”
“They are. Although my mate made hushed mentions of a lingering smell you were likely to bring with you.”
Eventually we came to a building which looked like two horns extending from the ground. They were joined by a rectangular area at the base.
Seated upon the grass outside was a young looking Kilrathi who looked like he was guarding the house. Upon sighting him, Z’ratmak called out something to the youngster, who moved into the house and shouted to those inside.
Z’ratmak took off towards the house and was promptly greeted by four other Kilrathi, his mate and children. I stayed in the distance for a while, not wanting to interrupt the family reunion. It was a strange sight, they all stood in a rough circle, talking at the same time and flicking their tails from side to side in the same way that contented terran cats do. I couldn’t help but grin.
Eventually I was called forward. Vra’kara, Z’ratmak’s mate greeted me with a curt nod, she seemed friendly enough, but there was an impression that it was forced. I’m not sure but I don’t think that was anything against me personally, I think my presence was just an inconvenience for her.
The children, (the oldest of whom was ten years old and who also towered above me), stared at me with looks that made it seem that they had to remind themselves that I was a guest and not dinner. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Anyway, after the introductions were over, we headed inside.
Three hours later
After the evening meal, or the day’s meal for that matter, I sat in the dining room for about an hour with everyone else slumped over the table, snoring loudly.
Kilrathi dietary habits are somewhat different from humans. One colossal meal sustains them for a day, after which they sleep so deeply that it’s only the occasional fart that shows you they’re not dead. Seriously.
I’d been handed a smallish slice of meat from the colossal beast that M’thrak and Krath, Z’ratmak’s two eldest sons had hunted down earlier that day. I was also given an unpleasant amount of some assorted leaves that I’d seen scattered about everywhere on this planet. They tasted surprisingly like cress. I was told I could pick leaves from the garden if I became hungry later on.
Later, simply out of curiosity, I’d gone for a walk around the house. I’m not sure what I expected to see, family holo-images, skulls on the wall, paintings on the fridge. It was hard to imagine.
Many of the rooms were clean and barren, and pretty spacious for that matter. There were assorted tables and chairs. All made out of solid stone. There was an ancient looking book in the centre of one room, flanked by candles and two statues of creatures which looked vaguely Kilrathi. I wasn’t sure what the purpose of this room was, but it looked like something best left alone.
As I moved off and turned the corner, I felt a light tap on the back of my neck.
I turned and found myself face to face with M’thrak; he was looking very pleased with himself.
“If you were truly my prey, you would be dead now.” He said.
After a few moments, it occurred to me that he must have been practicing his hunting skills on me.
“How long have you been following me?” I asked eventually.
“Since you left the feasting hall.” He replied, “My father names you for a formidable warrior, but it seems you could stand to be more vigilant.”
This kid didn’t sound, (or look for that matter), like a ten year old. Maybe Kilrathi develop quicker then humans, I never really found out.
“I’m a pilot,” I replied, “We’re taught the value of vigilance in a cockpit of a fighter, it’s a little different.”
“Ah yes, I have read of it.” There was a strange energy to the Kilrathi in front of me that briefly made him look as young as he was, “I hope to one day become a pilot myself, so that I may fight as my father does.”
“You want to fly for the Confederation?”
“Yes. I believe I could benefit the fight against the Empire.”
I waited a few moments before asking my next question, I wasn’t sure how to phrase this.
“You, um, you don’t have any problems with fighting against your own kind?”
At that, he unsheathed his claws and let loose a long, angry growl. I took a few steps back, but he seemed to shake his head and lowered his still sheathed claws to his sides. It seemed he wasn’t snarling at me.
“The Empire,” he roared, “has lost what honour it once had. It strikes out at all it sees, leading itself to ruin, sacrificing so many lives in the glory of an Emperor who cares not for his own people. They slaughter worlds of defenceless creatures and consider it an honourable hunt. They would gladly slaughter my h’rai if they were able. I will not allow that to happen so long as there is breath in my lungs.”
We sat in silence for a few moments after that, he gradually calmed down, I considered what he’d said. Z’ratmak had told me as much himself many times, with the same anger in his voice. For the first time it actually seemed clear to me why the Kilrathi on Ghorah Khar had defected, before now I hadn’t really considered it as anything more then a fluke, but now, with this enraged, youthful warrior standing before me, I got an idea of just how many Kilrathi shared the same view as most humans, that this war was a pointless waste.
“You take after your father,” I told him eventually, “I’m sure you’ll make him proud.”
Abruptly, the anger seemed to melt away from M’thrak and he was soon grinning again. As I looked at him, something occurred to me, something that again made me want to knock Dr. Simmons’ teeth down his throat.
How was I ever going to be able to fight after this? How would I be able to go on killing Kilrathi if every time I fired, I envisioned such faces as the one before me in the cockpit? Before now, I’d always treated Z’ratmak as an exception, only one of a very small number of Kilrathi and completely unlike anyone I’d ever meet in a cockpit. Now, how could I tell that the people I shot down weren’t people like the Kilrathi in front of me?
I received my answer with the sound of the first explosion.
I’m sorry that this has taken so long and I’m also sorry that I haven’t directly responded to the queries in the thread. However I didn’t really want to show up without a chapter. It didn't seem right. Anyway, it’s been a hectic time here to say the least, house hunting, student troubles, second term of uni just starting, Christmas, rapidly vanishing money and so on. Anyhoo, enough prattle. On to the chapter.
Chapter 28: Justification
The blast shook the ground and sent M’rath and me to the floor. Pain surged through my arm as my elbow connected with the hard stone surface. I ignored it, or at least tried to. The terrifying realisation had at last set in and I knew that I couldn’t afford to waste time with physical pain.
Whether I could spend it doing anything more constructive however was something I doubted.
From outside I hear the first screams. Pained and fearful roars of civilians and the quieter human equivalents. Z’ratmak’s own roar drowned them all out as he presumably figured out what was going on.
“No!” M’rath roared from above me. He righted himself long before my brain had told my body to do the same.
He began to move for the hall leading to the front door.
“Hey wait, what are you…?”
“My test is at hand.” He replied, moving to the door at a speed which I could barely match. “I must go to defend my homeland.”
“How can you help, they’ll kill you!”
“Perhaps.” He replied, his voice both grim and angry.
This wasn’t the case of an idiot rookie overreaching in the name of glory, this was a kid who knew full well that he couldn’t do anything to help and would only get himself killed in the attempt, but he was going to try anyway.
He really did take after his father.
Speaking of his father, Z’ratmak miraculously appeared on the other side of the hall before M’rath could get to the exit. He grabbed the youngster by the scruff of the neck and immediately began shouting something to him in Kilrathi. I don’t know what he said but I imagine it was something along the lines of ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing you idiot?’
Most people would think that he was angry, but I’d listened to Z’ratmak speaking long enough to realise that he always sounded like he was ready to rip off someone’s head. I could also, barely detect the faint traces of concern and even, well, fatherly pride I guess in his tone.
A second explosion, this one closer. I fell to the floor, the other two fell against the walls but managed to stay standing.
With one arm, Z’ratmak hoisted me to my feet, with the other he pointed behind him. On this cue, M’rath disappeared from the scene.
“Fighter base?” I managed to cough out in the midst of coughing and cradling the damaged arm that I’d again fallen on.
“I will take you there.” Z’ratmak said, he sounded remarkably calm considering what was happening.
I nodded and soon found myself struggling to keep up with Z’ratmak who was making a pained effort to be quick and move slow enough for me to catch up to him at the same time.
No sooner had the door to Z’ratmak’s house opened then I found myself staring at the bulbous bow of a Ralatha class destroyer. At its sides were two Kamrani class corvettes. Beneath them lay flaming wrecks of buildings that they had obliterated.
People were running in the streets. Some were hastily trying to get their families out into the open where they presumed it would be safer, others were just running, either to somewhere or just away from the Kil…from the imperial warships.
I noticed four or so humans who were dressed in flight gear. It looked like they were heading in the same direction as me and Z’ratmak.
“I’ll follow them!” I shouted over the noise of the chaos in the streets, I doubted that Z’ratmak would hear me, but I had to try, “You get back, get your h’rai away from here.”
No sooner were these words out of my mouth then Z’ratmak sidestepped and swung around. He gave me a rushed clap on the shoulder which almost sent me flying to the ground again, and then disappeared back into the crowd.
I tried to keep up with the crowd of pilots and at the same time tried to ignore the voice in my head that told me that there probably wouldn’t be a free ship at the base, and that even if there was, they wouldn’t trust me with it.
Four minutes later
“Terran. You shall fly on my wing.”
The face on my com screen lingered impatiently and it took me a moment to realise that I wasn’t looking at the face of the enemy. I could happily walk among the streets of a Kilrathi planet it seemed but on the com screen of a fighter, it was hard to think of them as anything but enemies.
“Power up your engines and prepare to follow me to the destroyer. We shall show these fools what it is to be a warrior.”
I scanned my fighter’s cockpit and found the start-up controls in the same place as they were in a Thunderbolt. The Grikath I was sitting in had been redesigned to accommodate human pilots, but the layout of the controls still seemed different to what I was used to.
The engines started up with an unfamiliar whine. I waited impatiently, trying not to think about the buildings that were being levelled and the civilians being killing by the enemy whilst I was sitting on the ground.
“Attention all fighters, we have incoming hostile contacts on radar. Get your ships in the air ASAP.”
My radar was still offline. This was taking too long, damn sluggish Kilrathi technology.
Two streaks of white smoke shot away into the air. I couldn’t see what they were firing at, but I knew that they were directly overhead, and that they had to be pretty close now.
There was an explosion to my right. I turned my head around and saw a flaming wreck that had been a second Grikath. Debris from the fighter slammed into my hull, I landed a fist on the controls in the pointless hope that the damn thing would power up sooner.
A Dralthi swooped into my field of vision and then began to climb upwards. Another missile soon incinerated his craft, but my now operation radar told me that there were no shortage of hostile fighters to take his place.
“Ready to launch.” My computer uttered disinterestedly. I punched the stick and retracted the landing gear. My wing leader was nowhere to be seen, maybe he’d already been taken out by…
“Terran, follow me to the destroyer. My brothers and your pilots shall hold the enemy here.”
Or maybe not.
I called up the Ralatha on my tactical display and brought my ship around. A bomber is sluggish at the best of times and the windy atmospheric conditions weren’t helping. If nothing else it didn’t seem to be doing the hull any damage.
The Ralatha had already moved past Z’ratmak’s house. I could only hope that he’d managed to get his family out of there and gotten clear of the area.
“Attention all fighters. The fighter squadron from the TCS Caledonia has entered the atmosphere. They shall arrive in 10 minutes.”
In ten minutes the Ralatha could level the village and a fair bit of the city. To that end they could have levelled the colony from orbit with a few well placed nukes. Their method of attack was slow and put their own ships at unnecessary risk.
A theory as to why they may have done this did spring to mind, but I didn’t have time to contemplate it. My ship shuddered as a Darket began to fire meson blasts into my rear shields.
There wasn’t time to find a gunner so the computer had to handle the rear turret. The Darket didn’t seem to be having any trouble evading the painfully slow shots that were being hurled at it.
I was tempted to shout at my Kat wing leader for not snaring some fighter cover for this bombing run. But in a more rational moment I doubt I’d blame him. All that mattered was to him was to protect his people form that destroyer. He was so focused on that that he couldn’t consider anything other then charging at it with as many torpedoes as he could find.
And as admirable as that was, it looked like it would get us killed.
“Incoming contacts.” I said over the com, “looks like four Vaktoths, heading straight at us.”
“Prepare one of your torpedoes and reset your targeting systems to fire blindly. Aim for their lead fighter. That should allow us to break through We must not let anything stand between us and that destroyer.”
My rear turret wasn’t meeting with any success, and it looked like another two fighters were closing in from behind us.
The Vaktoths were getting close. I could see my target, it looked like he was coming at me. The other two were heading for the second Grikath. They weren’t sticking to a fixed course, it was going to be next to impossible to hit him.
My ship had stopped shuddering.
I ignored this fortuitous fact and kept trying to line my ship up with the Vaktoth. Almost a heartbeat before I would have fired the torpedo, I saw the enemy fighter break into a chaotic spin, and then break apart.
The other two ships peeled off. I checked my rear view display, my pursuer was gone as well.
“What the hell is?”
“My brothers on the surface. They are covering us.”
So it seemed, my radar was showing a lot yellow dots which were closing on the red ones. The marines or land warriors or whatever they were called were laying into the enemy fighters with portable rocket launchers and by the looks of things a few tanks had made it into the streets. These weren’t ideal weapons to use against fighters. It would probably take about four successive rocket hits to have destroyed that Vaktoth. But they certainly seemed to be getting the job done. The two remaining Vaktoths were soon little more then debris sticking out of the grass.
Marines covering fighters. It doesn’t really sound right does it?
Anyway, we were getting close to the Ralatha. There was a second friendly Grikath wing behind us which was a little reassuring, unfortunately there were also seven Dralthi and a Kamrani corvette between us and the destroyer.
“You shall die, pathetic traitor.”
The voice belonged to one of the Dralthi pilots. I’m guessing that he realised I was a human and not a Kilrathi defector, but he didn’t seem to care. His voice was filled with a revolting satisfaction. The pilot was helping to slaughter innocent civilians and to him they were nothing more then prey to be slaughtered.
My teeth tightened and I was about to call up an anti-fighter missile when inspiration struck.
“Sir,” I said to my wing leader, “I recommend we fire all our friend or foe missiles into the wing of enemy fighters in front of us. We might be able to punch through them, or scatter them long enough to break through.”
I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to that, to be honest I wasn’t sure if he was even listening to me. For a few seconds there was silence, and then he spoke.
“Very well, prepare your missiles and fire as soon as we are in range.”
We each had three missiles. I prepared them for simultaneous release and called up the nearest Dralthi on my tactical display. They were close now. 12,000 kilometres.
I realised then that the missiles might very well all head for the same target. That would leave 6 unmolested Dralthi free to rip us apart. Still, it was the best shot we had.
A single Ralatha couldn’t destroy the colony, at least not at this speed. This had to be a demonstration strike. Something to put the fear of God into the Ghorah Kharans. They’d almost certainly be sending a stronger force to the colony soon.
The thin trails the missiles created vanished quickly in the now cloudy sky. I watched the radar and watched in dismay as all of my missiles converged on a single red dot. If nothing else they managed to take it out. I didn’t see how well the other three missiles had fared.
“I go to Sivar!” Came the shriek from one Dralthi pilot who was plummeting to the ground. Hopefully onto a patch of empty space.
There were five of them left. Still more then enough to take us out, but they had scattered.
“Activate your afterburners terran. We must destroy that ship no matter what.”
I did as he ordered. We were 15,000 kilometres away from the destroyer. Another 5,000km and we’d be within torpedo range.
But the Dralthi would recover themselves and move to intercept us long before then, and the first bits of flak fire were already coming in from the flanking corvette.
Something on the surface was firing at the Ralatha’s underbelly. By the looks of things it was trying to destroy its turrets. It didn’t look like they were meeting with much success.
A Grikath passed in front of my view screen. Its engines were on fire and it was leaving smoke in its wake. I had to pull up hard to avoid hitting it.
I felt a brief, almost instinctive elation at the destruction of a Kilrathi ship, then realised that this was my wing leader. Panic, regret and a trace of shame soon followed this realisation.
“Terran,” The face of my doomed wing leader on the screen was startling to say the least.
Why didn’t he eject?
“You must destroy the Ralatha.” He continued, I think he was trying to pull up, “It must not li…”
His face vanished from the screen, and his ship vanished from the radar.
I lined my ship up with the Ralatha once again. It was at last in torpedo range.
I gripped the flight stick so tightly that I’m surprised I didn’t snap it off. This was what I’d been waiting for. I didn’t at the time realise that I’d been waiting for it, but now, fuelled by a desire for vengeance and also to avenge those that had been killed by that monster, I felt my self energised by a strange kind of focused fury.
My ship began to shudder, The Dralthi had finally engaged me. I swung to the left somewhat in an attempt to evade their fire and at the same time keep the lock, they soon compensated.
My lock alarm sounded and I released one of the ship’s chaff pods in response.
It made no difference.
The missile slammed into my ship and I was instantly sent into a spin. The Dralthi peeled off, they were probably getting too close and were pulling back for a new attack run. By the time I corrected my ship’s course. I had lost my lock on the destroyer.
I was out of time. The Dralthi would finish me with their next attack, and I didn’t have time to wait for a new missile lock.
My ship was shaking, my engines had taken a hit and it was difficult to keep my fighter steady. I think I was losing altitude as well.
I prepped the ship’s three torpedoes for simultaneous launch, over-rided the launch controls, and fired.
To be continued
Thanks as well to all readers and commenters and sorry again for the wait.
Excellent job with the two latest chapters, well worth the wait. I have to say you have done a good job with the smoothness of your continuity. Even though its been a while since your last post the two newest chapters flow very smoothly into what you wrote prior. I know for myself, and I assume others, that the characters in your story have come to mean something akin to what fans feel for Bear, Sparks, Doomsday, Kevin Tolwyn and others from the novels. Don't leave us hanging! You got to tell us why the Cats are attacking Ghoran Khar, why the heck would a destroyer do a sub-orbital attack, and what happens to Torrent.
Thanks to all readers and commenting persons. I’m relieved to see that people seem willing to forgive huge gaps in between chapters. Hopefully there won’t be any more of those for a while. Oh and just one point, I screwed up one of the names on the last chapter. Mrath or whatever i wrote is supposed to be M’thrak.
Chapter 30: Predators
I could barely hear Krath’s shout over the deafening sound that had caught all of our attentions. He needn’t have said anything, but cubs I’ve found have a tendency to point out the obvious with surprising zeal. I was much the same when I was Krath’s age.
The blast from what I could only assume were torpedo impacts quickly dissipated in the wind, but the fatal blow that they had delivered to the destroyer was evident. A colossal hull breach appeared to have claimed about half of the entire forward section. The bridge of the destroyer had been consumed by the blast, and what was left of the bow was engulfed in flames. The ship appeared to be tilting backwards, though I could not be sure.
Someone cheered, another did the same a moment later and before long we were all celebrating the destruction of the craft that had brought down devastation on our homes. This celebration was short lived however. It was now evident that the ship was losing altitude. It would crash into the surface, and the resulting explosion from its fusion core would surely take out the village and a considerable chunk of the colony.
This was, for lack of a better word, a shame. But what is of the utmost importance is that we were able to evacuate everyone we could. The people of Ghorah Khar are no fools. We knew that we would forever be a priority target for the Empire, we knew that the Emperor would want to wipe us from the face of creation for daring to shrug off his rule, and with our world so close to enemy territory we knew that such an attack as this would happen one day. The council had ensured that every male, female and cub be they terran or Kilrathi knew exactly what to do in such a situation. Unscheduled drills were also far from uncommon.
Currently a handful of Kilrathi marines and myself were escorting a group of perhaps twelve eights of civilians to a nearby forest. The trees would provide limited cover and an underground shelter there would keep our people safe long enough for our pilots to drive off the remaining enemies. Hopefully.
We should have had more warning then this. The alarm should have sounded as soon as the Kilrathi force was detected. Instead the only warning that many of us received was the sound of the first building being levelled. If this was the result of incompetence or negligence then I would personally claw out the throat of whichever creature had failed in his duties and led to hundreds of civilian deaths as a result.
I pushed the thought aside. I had more pressing matters to deal with.
“We must keep moving!” I shouted to the crowd. “The enemy are not defeated yet.”
With these words, those whom we were guarding seemed to remember that they were in fact in danger. Looks of fear returned and banished the looks of triumph on many of the faces that I could see, and soon we were all running towards the forest.
The presence of terrans among our ranks was not helping. If it had just been Kilrathi then we could reach the shelter in a matter of moments. But terrans are a physically inferior species to Kilrathi and doubly so in terms of speed. We were thus held back considerably. In the terran’s defence, they were moving as fast as they could. This defective aspect of their race was not their fault but that of their Gods.
It was hard to keep my eyes facing forward. I kept looking back to the colony, searching with hasty eyes for some indication of its fate. I saw nothing, save for the Ralatha which now was burying itself into the dirt, its bow pointed towards the sky. All else was invisible at this distance. All else that is except for the damage.
The buildings of the colony typically stood out among the green landscape light stars in the night sky. However the still standing buildings wee difficult to make out amongst the smoke, fire and charred wreckage that now laid where the homes of my people should have.
I felt my heart beat faster and the twinge in my fingers as the urge to exact vengeance returned. I put it aside. My h’rai and my people were not lost, and I would make sure they lived through this battle.
I noticed that M’thrak was looking back towards the city almost as much as I was. I could tell that it pained him to run from the enemy rather then fight them. He was brave my son, and showed true promise as both a hunter and a warrior, but he could achieve nothing by fighting other then a fool’s death. Perhaps that is too harsh. He is young, and his heart thirsts for battle, but he does not know nearly enough to challenge the Empire. He has too much to learn. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to see that he had developed both bravery and unwavering loyalty to his clan in my absence.
I had missed too much of my offspring’s lives.
Forgive me, my mind wanders easily. The forest was now in sight. In the distance I noticed what looked like a second group of refugees making their way towards the forest.
There was a faint sound in the distance. It took me a few seconds to recognise the sound. When I had it locked down, I felt momentarily as if my soul had been ripped from my body. Then sense overcame this foolishness.
“Take Cover!” I shouted as loud as I could, crouching down and raising my weapon as I did so. “Get down!”
A fresh round of nervous sounds emanated from the crowd. Some threw themselves to the floor, others tried to make it to the forest which was still too far away. In retrospect we were lucky to be as far away as we were.
The sound grew much louder. I looked up and was able to see only two fast moving blurs. These were obviously fighters, but it was difficult to determine whether they were Confederate or Imperial.
I received my answer when the two ships reduced their speed. They had done so almost directly above us. I soon found myself looking at two Dralthi. These were the modern versions, not the third generation models in the colony’s arsenal. This meant that these were imperial ships.
My heart sank as I sat helpless below these vessels. I expected any minute to see bombs descend from the fighters and to see my h’rai consumed by flames.
But it did not happen.
The two ships instead launched missiles into the edges of the forest. Deafening explosions filled the air, and we all soon found pieces of dirt and dead tree raining down on us.
Instinctively I threw myself to the floor when realisation set in. When I lifted my head, I saw that the trees closest to us that had not been destroyed by the blast were now ablaze.
The Dralthi fired again. And again. There was nothing we could do to stop them erecting a wall of fire to block out path. By the time we reached the forest we would have to traverse through an inferno to reach the shelter. The heat resistant marine skin suits might protect me and my comrades, but not one of the civilians could hope to make it, and we would not leave them behind.
One of the Dralthi spun around and flew back towards the city. The other did the same, after firing a few shots into the crows. Three people, two Kilrathi and one terran died as a result of this.
A few angry shouts were hurled at the Dralthi as it withdrew, for what little it is worth. Most however were either paralysed with fear or were lost in confusion, trying to find some tangible option that would lead them to safety and finding nothing.
“On your feet!” One of the other marines shouted, “We must move quickly around the flames. We will be safe if we reach the shelter before the fire.”
I had to forcibly lift a number of people to a standing position. Some, mainly terrans (no offence) seemed content to simply cower on the ground. We did not have time for this.
Eventually we were moving again, this time to the right. It was in this direction that I had seen the other group of refugees but now they seemed to have vanished. They must have already vanished into the trees.
No sooner had I made this decision then I saw a figure emerge from the forest. Followed by another, and then several figures emerge red from the forest in rapid succession. They were a fair distance off, but judging by their height I assumed that they were Kilrathi. They seemed to be clad in some sort of grey attire.
Realisation hit my like a claw in the stomach.
“Back” Roared one of the marines, “Get back, away from here! Imperial soldiers are waiting for us in the forest!”
That was all he needed to say. Soon the entire crowd of civilians has turned and was charging back towards the city.
M’thrak did not flee instantly. He spared me one look which was unreadable. I matched it with one which I tried to keep from looking filled with the sorrow I was feeling. I had been reunited with my h’rai less then a day and now I was to be ripped away from them and into the arms of Sivar, to wait for them for many cold, lonely years. At least I hoped it would be for many cold, lonely years.
Eventually, M’thrak turned and led with the others. I turned my attention back towards the enemy soldiers who appeared now to be advancing on us. There were at least five eights of them. There were five of us. We would be hard pressed to stop them in their tracks.
Still it was strange. If they had waited but a little longer then they would have been able to slay us all with ease when we approached. But they didn’t, they had revealed themselves and were charging directly into the path of our guns.
What were they doing?
“Ready weapons.” I said, I was the highest ranking marine of the five of us and no one challenged my command. “Divert their attention towards us and try and draw them into the forest. Head for the fire.”
“For Ghorah Khar!” Someone shouted.
“For Ghorah Khar!” The rest of us echoed. We were still far from defeated, and we were about to prove it.
Two minutes later
The first shot came from them.
It was a red streak of light that tore through the air and narrowly missed the helmet of one of my comrades.
The shots from our own guns were a somewhat lighter shade of orange. The Confederation weapons that we had been issued worked differently, somehow. I wasn’t sure of the details but I did know that they dealt slightly less damage then the Imperial equivalents. The recharge time was slightly shorter however, and they were still powerful enough to penetrate imperial body armour.
The formation they had arranged themselves in made it hard for us to shoot and not hit one of them. Three of the enemy were killed after our first wave. A further two fell on our second.
Finally, one of the enemy soldiers managed to land a successful hit on one of our number. The soldier did not scream, but simply lay almost peaceably on the ground with a smoking hole in his chest. The stench of charred flesh would doubtlessly attract predators to the battlefield come night time.
“You two,” I shouted to two soldiers at the rear, “Head into the forest. You,” I turned my head to face the final marine, “You and I will lay down suppression fire as we withdraw.”
“Yes my Lord.”
We stood and fired, not really caring where we aimed so long as it was in the general direction of the enemy.
I noticed one enemy soldier fall, the rest were close now. Too close.
We turned about and made for the forest. The fire had spread considerably in the small time since it had started. The wind had doubtlessly assisted considerably in its growth. I slung my rifle over my shoulder and fired blindly in the direction of the crowd behind me. Red streaks of light were passing inches from me, I was sidestepping and ducking at random, though this could lead me into the path of an incoming shot as easily as it could lead me out of one’s path.
To my right I heard a short pained grunt, and then discovered that the soldier that had remained with me had fallen. I cursed momentarily, but then cast the thought from my mind as I passed into the fiery forest.
All gunfire seemed to cease for a moment. I kept moving nonetheless. The enemy’s armour would protect them from the flames as easily as mine would. I had no idea where my other two companions were.
I had no idea if my plan had even succeeded. The enemy might simply send in eight or so soldiers to deal with those of us who remained and send the rest to chase down those who had run. The civilians had no weapons and would be slaughtered if the enemy caught up with them.
I had no choice, I could not risk the life of my h’rai. I had to go back and fight.
As I turned I found an Imperial soldier standing before me. I had no time to react before his weapon smashed into my helmet’s visor. The material cracked under the impact and the blow knocked me to the floor.
As I fell, my weapon was cast away a distance of a few metres. I unsheathed my claws for all the good it would do, and prepared as best as I could in my shocked condition to strike at the well armoured enemy before me at the same time as he pushed the rifle into the space where my helmet’s visor had been.