Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“Yes, Uncle. As you expected, your brother is preparing a substantial force. Shall I transmit the data directly to you or bring it back via the datasphere?”
“Send it to me now, my Niece. There is no...”
His image cut out, and all the displays went dark.
“What’s happening?” asked Xenophon, immediately suspicious.
Lady Artemas waved her hands, and the images on the screen altered to show the space around the apartments, as well as the exterior of the spire.
“Look!” she said in horror.
All of them watched on as a group of tall soldiers, wearing the uniforms of Laconians, blasted their way past a small group of Arcadian soldiers and entered the lower levels of the spire.
“The inside, can we see that?” asked Roxana.
Lady Artemas shook her head.
“No, internal recording is forbidden for the privacy of anybody that visits. Who would come here if their images were public knowledge, as well as their interests? Why are Laconian soldiers coming here?”
Xenophon was already moving back the footage of the attack outside. He moved back almost ten minutes until he could see the arrival of a local transport. The figure of the recently departed brother of Menon stepped inside, and a group of Laconian soldiers emerged a few second later.
“They aren’t Laconians!” he said loudly. “They are Medes troops in fake uniforms. Look at them. They are too tall, and they have the wrong crests. They are coming for you, my Lady!”
At that mention of deceit, both Xenophon and Roxana pulled out their pulse carbines and rushed to the main archway, checking for signs of danger. Artemas, however, remained and brought up a number of internal video feeds of the apartments.
“Do you have any weapons or armour here that we can use?” asked Glaucon.
Tamara had already beaten him to it and was stood in front of a series of glass cabinets containing more captured Terran relics. There were eight manikins, each one full dressed in mint condition clothing and armour of the ancient Terrans. The helmets were of the old style with full-face protection other than the eyes and mouth. Reinforced breastplates with multilayered polymers for projectile protection and magnetised hand shields. It was all from an age of primitive kinetic weapons and edged weapons. Only a few large calibre rifles were on view along the bottom of the cabinet, but there were a variety of knives, axes, swords and bayonets. Some ceremonial, most were military sidearms. She smashed the butt of her carbine at the glass and it shattered, giving her full access to the contents inside. She whistled loudly, and Glaucon turned to look.
“What about this stuff?”
She held up one of the helmets and a long, slightly curved sword that gave off a golden hue on its blade.
Xenophon heard the commotion and stepped back to look. The sight of the blade instantly aroused his imagination.
“Equipment from the Attican soldiers at Marathon? How did you get those?” he demanded angrily.
Lady Artemas marched from her position and grabbed the sword, pulling the helmet over her head. It looked strange to see an antique helm mixed with modern Terran armour and Median clothing. Even more so, it was strange for Xenophon to see this attire on a beautiful Medes princess.
“What are you waiting for? Grab what you can and get into position. They will be here in less than three minutes, and the only way out is either through the elevators or out there!”
She pointed back to the smoked windows running along one side of the floor. Tamara lifted her carbine and aimed at the glass, but Artemas lifted her hand to stop her.
“No, you saw how far the drop is, and I can promise you they will have sniper drones in position outside. Once the armoured glass is down, they can pick us off.”
She stepped to a panel on the wall and banged her fist on it. A dull rumble reverberated through the massive room as a series of thick protective shutters rolled down, sealing off the interior from any external threat. Even the archway was sealed as a double-layered barrier came down from the ceiling with a thud. In just a few seconds, the Royal Apartments had transformed into a fortified bunker.
“My uncle knows we are in trouble. He will send a rescue party to this level. We just need to hold until then.”
She moved back to the displays and brought them down to focus on the water features and gardens in front of the apartments. At the far end the doors to the elevator opened, and two naked forms were thrown out. Two-dozen or more Laconian dressed soldiers rushed out and spread out. More soldiers rappelling inside through the breaches followed two bright flashes along the glass exterior. All were dressed the same and carrying what appeared to be Doru style Arcadian rifles. She looked to the smashed cabinet to see the curious sight of her four Terran companions. Each was dressed in a motley collection of faded and heavily worn antique armour and carried both their modern carbines and blades taken from the cabinet. She held up the curved blade in her hand and performed a quick series of diagonal strikes to check its balance.
Movement caught her eye on the displays. She turned to Xenophon who was busy tightening the strap of his slightly rusted helmet. She pointed at the display where a group of soldiers were now moving across the open ground and towards the sealed archway.
“Get ready, here they come.”
Pleasure House of Anahita, Khorram Shipyards
Tamara and Roxana took up position behind the thick stone display units a few metres from the archway. Both had dragged multiple weapons into position there and aimed their carbines at the expected entry point to the apartment. Tamara threw a glance back to the throne and spotted the three of them dragging heavy objects into position around it. As each second slipped by, so their defensive position improved. The first sign of the enemy’s approach was when Artemas shouted out.
“They are aiming something at the arch. Take cover!” she screamed.
There was no hesitation, and all five of them ducked down behind whatever solid object they could find. Simultaneously, a heavy armour piercing projectile slammed into the outer plate of the arch’s shutter. Glaucon popped his head up to take a look, but Xenophon forced him back to the floor.
“Stay down, you fool. It’s probably a timed charge.”
In answer to his comments, a massive rumble shook the room, and one of the paintings tilted and fell from the wall, smashing onto the ground. Xenophon glanced quickly over the cover and back down again.
“Well?” asked Glaucon.
“Not enough, they will need more than one to get through.”
Glaucon nodded, turning his head to smile at Artemas.
“Your people make good doors.”
“True. But it could also end up being our tomb. There are no safe ways out of here.”
“Safe?” asked Xenophon, intrigued by the possibility that there was another way out.
“Yes, there is a secondary shaf
that moves down to the reinforced rib of the spire. It is the strongest part of the structure and contains a landing platform for evacuation.”
Glaucon grabbed her shoulder, but he was interrupted by another shattering impact on the metal shielding around the archway.
“Why wasn’t that our first plan?” he asked.
“Because they will almost certainly know about that route. They probably have people watching it already. This main team will be for flushing us out into the shaft, so we can be trapped and finished off by a waiting kill-team.”
A third and final blast hit the metal, but this time a wave of heat and bright yellow light washed inside the apartment. Artemas could just about see the projected screens from her hiding place behind the thick marble. She spotted four or five warriors moving through the breach.
Roxana aimed the recovered Terran light machine gun at the group and pulled the trigger. She half expected the antique weapon to fail, but the high-powered railgun accelerated multiple projectiles to high speed. Only the power system was needed for the weapon to function. The ammunition was old and slightly corroded, but unlike the earlier chemical weapons, they were inert lumps of metal. The slug hammered into the approaching soldiers and easily shredded their imitation armour.
“Aim for the centre mass!” Glaucon suggested.
The rest used their pulse carbines to put down an impressive level of suppressing fire. The soldiers were cut to pieces, but one was able to jump back through the breach before the others were killed.
“No way are they Laconians. Their armour is useless, and they have no idea of Laconian battle training or tactics,” Xenophon said. Contempt dripped from his voice.
Roxana picked up her own carbine and discarded the antique firearm.
“Good equipment, but the power pack is dead already. Must be the age.”
Xenophon crawled along the floor to the right of his cover so he could get a better view of the arched entrance. The dust and smoke was already clearing. To his amazement, the bodies had also vanished.
“What the hell! Where are they?”
Artemas looked back to the displays and noted more shapes moving to the door.
“Oh no, no,” she moaned bitterly and turned to Xenophon.
“They’ve brought in more men, and they also have a combat drone. How did they get that inside here?”
Glaucon checked his carbine and lifted himself up slightly higher to get a better view.
“Not just the drone. How are they getting so many people in here without our Terran soldiers even noticing what’s going on? We’re making a bit of noise here.”
“No,” Artemas answered, shaking her head.
“The spire is constructed to eliminate surplus noise and heat. Only by breaching the outer skin will anybody hear a thing from in here.”
The noise of a mechanical warrior entering the breach turned all of their attention back to the archway. It stepped inside with clumsy movement, almost like a young child trying to negotiate a bumpy surface. It was not much bigger than the soldiers following it, yet its upper body was much more substantial and reinforced with armour plates. The short, stubby arms ended in low-velocity pulse carbines.
“Lay down your weapons!” it said in a slow drawl.
Glaucon lifted himself slightly, emptying an entire magazine of pulse rounds into its torso while swearing at the top of his voice. More soldiers ran past the machine, taking shelter behind broken marble and the many columns.
“Stop them!” called Xenophon, and once again the zigzagging streaks of gunfire lit up the apartment like some ancient battlefield.
Neither side made much impact, but the longer the fight went on, the more enemy soldiers arrived. Roxana spotted another five coming through and managed to hit two before jumping back and ducking to the side of the great throne. It wasn’t a moment too soon either, as three rounds tore chunks out of the top of the wooden chair. Xenophon and Glaucon both maintained as much fire on the drone as possible, but the small weapons were doing little more than taking chunks out of its armour. They needed something else. Xenophon thought back to what he’d heard about the Laconians and their battle at the Aronton Station. From what he’d heard, they had overwhelmed the primitive processors and tactical options of these machines by avoiding their strength.
We need to avoid their firepower!
“Tamara, Glaucon, you have your blades?” he called out.
He then looked down to his own weapon, taken from the cabinets. It was modelled on a kopis blade but fitted with a charged monofilament edge. By all accounts, it should be capable of cutting through almost all armours but doubt filled his mind. He placed it near the marble unit and struck it lightly. A flurry of sparks indicated where he’d cut a three centimetre long gash in the stone.
So, after all this time, it still works!
“Stay close to the columns, work around and hit the drone.”
He then turned to Roxana and Artemas who were ducking down to avoid gunfire.
“I need covering fire. You have to keep the drone busy. Understood?”
Both nodded and checked their weapons again. He looked back and made a mental note of the positions of the enemy soldiers and the drone. They were taking their time, either due to orders or more likely because they were supposed to force their enemy to retreat, rather than destroy them. It was a weakness, and Xenophon intended to exploit it.