Sorry once again for the month long gap between updates. Again the usual excuses apply. Thanks again to all readers and commenters.
Also Dahan, if you’re reading this. Sorry I didn’t meet the self-appointed deadline for chapter 5. Its been an awkward time here and I’ve run into some writer’s block on the fall of the flag front. Nevertheless, I’ll get the chapter finished as soon as I can.
Chapter 33: End of Round One
I flinched instinctively at the sound of the shot, expecting immediately to feel the heat clawing at my flesh, burning my fur to cinders and sending me to Sivar in a momentary fit of agony.
At first I could not determine what was happening. I was still dazed from the impact to my face. My thoughts seemed to be following the actions around me at a distance of two paces. It was several moments after hearing the agonised roar that followed the sound of the weapon discharge that I realised it was not mine.
I turned my head to my attacker, only to find my eyes no longer obstructed by the sight of a gun barrel. Instead my enemy was flailing madly, seemingly trying to reach for something on his back. His weapon shot out once or twice into the trees, no doubt in his agony his fists had closed involuntarily, his finger closing around the trigger as they did so.
A bright orange flash of light buried itself in the back of the enemy’s head and he immediately collapsed to the dirt. The appetising scent of his superheated brain lingered on the breeze for a few moments and as I slowly recovered my wits I made it a point to enjoy that smell.
“Are you alright my Lord?” Asked an unfamiliar voice from somewhere above me. I looked around and saw a few paces away a Kilrathi marine clad in the protective armour of the Confederation. He was, presumably, one of the marines I’d previously ordered to fall into the forest. Of his comrade, or mine for that matter there was no sign.
“I am fine.” I replied, images of my mate and cubs in my mind hastening my return to consciousness. The smell of burning wood on the breeze had much the same effect. Weapon’s fire had set alight to the forest and now that fire was spreading. With no one available to control this blaze the forest would be nothing but ashes by tomorrow morning.
I chased off a momentary image of me and Vra’kara vanishing into this forest as cublings, entire days spent in innocent frivolity. Now it was going to be destroyed. The loss of it weighed heavier on me then it rightfully should have considering the circumstances.
“We must strike down any remaining Imperial soldiers.” I said, doubting that the two of us would make much difference against the force we faced, “we need to give our people time enough to reach the shelters.”
“I understand sir. And the others?”
“We cannot wait. Come.”
We set out of the burning forest and back into the open. Ideally we would have used the tree line for cover but the smoke from burning wood was making the air un-breathable. We could not hope to stay in there without inviting suicide.
No sooner had we exited the trees then to my utter astonishment I saw two Imperial marines barge out of the trees not five meters from us. Their visors were up and they were hunched over, gawping at the floor and gasping for breaths of unspoiled air. Their weapons dangled carelessly from their paws. I truly almost laughed at the sight.
Why were their visors up? This was my first of many questions on the subject, Their battle armour would cleanse the air they breathed of poisonous smoke.
With a silent nod to my comrade, we raised our weapons, aimed for the heads and fired. Air soon became a somewhat less pressing priority for the two soldiers.
“Unbelievable.” Muttered the soldier next to me in quiet tones, twitching his head back and forth as he spoke. “What fool of a commander has trained these troops?”
“I suspect that these were roo-” I cut myself off, not wishing to use terran mannerisms here, “cublings, soldier’s on their first mission. Still, I have never seen soldiers so inept.”
The Empire was not above throwing unprepared warriors in the face of the enemy. It was a fact that many Kilrathi fighters were eliminated by vastly smaller terran forces simply because the terrans had, to quote Ryuku, ‘earned their wings’ whereas the Imperial equivalents couldn’t tell the wings from the weapons. There were exceptions of course, but not many.
The same, albeit to a lesser extent, was true for marines. The Empire had been known to cast unprepared soldiers into battle against trained terran marines. Several young warriors from virtually all battalions, seeing unimpressive looking opponents only half their size often make fatal errors based on overconfidence and a lack of thought. But the two enemies that we had just shot were less vigilant then a sleeping Utara. Any self respecting Imperial instructor would have ordered their deaths for such stupidity long before they were let loose on the battlefield.
Something was not right here.
However, the corpses on the floor were not entirely typical of the opponents we faced. From what I had seen so far, many of the warriors seemed reasonably confident, if just somewhat – ‘green’, as you might say. Perhaps this was simply a case of idiots as an exception. Though ultimately this did not matter much.
With my comrade… I grow weary of referring to him as such, it sounds awkward. I was later to learn that his name was Halgak. In any case, whilst he still scoured the immediate area with his eyes, I lifted a pair of terran standard vision enhancer goggles to my eyes and scanned the surrounding area.
I noticed the group of whom my h’rai was a part, still running towards the shelter. It looked like they still had a fair way to go, but they were making good speed. Also it looked very much like they were no Imperial marines chasing them. I think they were still focusing on us. Understandable considering we’d taken out several of their ranks. Vengeance had to be satisfied, though I had no intention of accommodating the enemy in this way.
As I returned the goggles to my belt, another two Imperial marines burst out of the forest, though these were infinitely better trained then the first two. They emerged with their visors down, their weapons at the ready and they immediately began scanning the area around the forest upon exiting it.
Halgak and I were fortunate enough to be close to a sloped area of land which provided limited cover. Gunfire soon began to chase us to this cover, and our first few shots were blind ones, the laser discharges too numerous to allow for proper aim.
With each shot their aim was becoming more accurate. We had to act, now.
As if sensing my thought, Halgak rolled to the left, firing as he did so. This presented his body to the enemy, which as he hoped drew their fire towards him, allowing me to make my move.
I raised myself and fired at the enemy whilst they were firing at the still rolling Halgak. After two missed shots, I burned a hole in one of the Imperial soldier’s ribs. He fell over and howled his last agonised breaths to the wind. The second one went down as he turned his weapon back towards me, but it was too little, too late. He died instantly with a burning hole in his face.
Halgak hastily stood up and fired off a few more shots into the still howling Kilrathi. The marine soon fell silent, but I did not doubt that his comrades would have heard his wail and would be moving to investigate.
“Fall back!” I shouted to Halgak, making no attempt to conceal our doubtlessly exposed presence. “Run!”
No sooner had I spoken the last word then the fairly quiet yet all too familiar sound of Imperial gunfire started to sound. Streaks of red light began to chase us as we ran back towards the city, firing almost blindly back in the direction of the burning forest as we did so.
Everything was happening too quickly to make a definite count, but judging from the frequency of gunshots and some half seen figures that were shooting at us, I estimate that there were at least five Kilrathi pursuing us.
I searched for any available cover, but all I could see for meters was relatively flat grassland punctured in some places by scorch marks from weapon’s fire. The only protection we had came from the reasonably sizable distance between us and the attackers. This was a poor substitute however.
A sound akin to a crash of metal and a pained growl to my right told me that Halgak had taken a hit. I flicked my head in his direction and saw him fall to his knees, clutching at a steaming hole in his leg with one paw whilst trying desperately to fire more shots off in the direction of the enemy.
I stopped running, dropped down and fired into the line of enemy troops. They were closer now, and their shots were growing closer by the moment. Our own rushed fire was meeting with little success. I did not believe that we would be survive here. But we had to buy our people whatever time we could. As long as we held the Imperial marines here, they could not intercept the colonists on their way to the shelter. (If fate favoured us). We had been caught by surprise, and Sivar only knew where our already thin forces were spread. For all I knew there may already be Imperial troops moving through the city.
If they are there then the fighters will strike them down. I told myself again as I continued to fire.
Over the noise of the gunfire I thought I heard a slight whistling sound, but it was gone as soon as it arrived and was not significant enough to be worth my attention. At least that is how it was until the first of the explosions broke out across the line of what was now seven enemy soldiers.
My first thought was that a passing fighter had unleashed a basilisk missile into the enemy, but it soon occurred to me that no matter how intense the fire-fight, I would have heard the noise generated by the engines and checked to determine whose side the fighter was on.
Realisation still hadn’t struck by the time that the sound of the second explosion tore through the surroundings. Whatever had caused it had by the looks of things struck an imperial soldier. There was nothing left of him save the tiny, charred segments of flesh and bone which rained down over the battlefield.
I resisted the urge to look around and see what form this new friendly addition to the battle would take. But turning one’s head away from an enemy that was shooting at you was something done by Kilrathi as stupid as the inept “plebes” (One of Fool’s less then endearing terms for first year academy cadets), as the one’s me and Halgak had shot earlier.
The line was becoming disorganised as a result of several warriors forming it exploding. Some attempted to fall back into the forest, only to think better of it when they felt the intense heat. Other broke off to the left or right. I managed to down one of the soldiers who stood his ground and fought. His lack of movement allowing me to perfect my aim after a few failed shots.
Another enemy marine was claimed by an explosion from what I then came to recognise as a relatively low yield surface to surface missile. Those that were still alive were now well into a hasty retreat. Their running forms became less and less recognisable as they moved along the tree line.
When I felt it was safe, I made my way over to Halgak and at the same time cast a look behind me. In the distance I noticed a small looking grey patch in the sprawling green field before me. No doubt one of the colony’s ground assault vessels. It seemed to be heading in our direction.
Halgak made a noble attempt to stand before I reached him, it was not long however before the damage to his hind leg sent him crashing back to the floor. He parted with a single growl which was as much in fury as in pain. I could appreciate his frustration, but aggravating his wound would not help anyone.
“Remain still.” I commanded when I reached him. “Persist in this folly and you’ll find yourself in need of a new limb.”
“That might not be a deterrent my lord.” He replied through gritted fangs, “A new fresh limb, though unsteady would likely serve me better in this battle then this useless piece of meat.”
I had known marines who had grown such attachment to their limbs. (I cannot help but wonder why humans apologise for puns), anyway, when they are lost such marines mourn their missing arms or legs for months, often letting it interfere with their focus and endangering their entire squad as a result. It was refreshing to see such disregard for a non important piece of the self in the face of a greater need.
I told Halgak so, he managed a brief hint of a grin before hissing in sudden pain once again. After that we both watched the burning trees until the screech of a decelerating vehicle appeared from behind us.
There were four marines, two terran, two Kilrathi in the vehicle. The terrans raised their guns and bellowed their triumph as they came to a stop beside us. The Kilrathi manning the missile turret also looked pleased. The remaining Kilrathi had vacated the vehicle and was already moving towards Halgak. This was somewhat unnerving considering he was the driver, but the assault vehicle came to a graceful stop despite his absence.
“Grimes, Ado,” He roared, almost distantly, “Make yourselves useful and clear some space.” He then gave me the quickest salute imaginable to me before gesturing at Halgak’s shoulders. I nodded and together we hoisted him into the rear section of the idling war machine.
Within moments we met up with the crowd of colonists that I had been escorting less then an hour ago. I soon noticed Vra’kara and my cubs. More then anything I wanted to go over to them, but I knew that I had to stay vigilant until they reached the shelter. I couldn’t help but notice that all of them, even M’thrak seemed as surprised by my return as they were relieved. Though this may not be an all too unreasonable response considering the odds we faced, it was still a little unnerving to know that my h’rai had been bracing themselves for my death.
Relief, in part came from the fact that the sky was suspiciously devoid of fighters, suggesting that they were not needed to provide ground cover presently. Or alternatively that they’d all been shot down though I did not entertain this thought.
Alas, this became less of a relieving realisation when I returned to the shelter and learned that those fighters were all heading off to engage an incoming Snakier class carrier and troop ships. What meagre hopes of this battle being all but over were promptly incinerated. This battle had only just begun.
To be continued
Ah, as it turns out i can fit these chapters into a single post after all. Rest assured this one's as long as the rest.