This story is set in the Beyond the Gates of Antares Universe. It is completely Unofficial.
Madam Zhia slid up to Thurrid, who was leaning fist down on his desk. “You look uncomfortable.” The Rock Father glowered by way of response. The Matriarch teased him gently, “Is there somewhere you’d rather be?”
“I’d rather be arranging the next cycle’s security patrols or a practice range for the support teams, which does need doing by the way.” He slumped down in his chair. “Teheck, I’d rather be leading a ground assault against Hazard suits.”
“I know Thurrid, but I need you. Young Salina needs you. It is her coming of age celebration after all… and the first day of the rest of her life.”
“I don’t do diplomacy. If someone needs threatening or sorting out, I’m your man. But this…” He shook his head and glared out at the assembled diplomatic parties. “You’ll be fine. Salina and I will do the silken words and the flattery. You just need to be a pillar of strength in the corner, a silent pit-prop. Just try not to punch anyone or have them shot.”
“No promises!” He growled but she could just make out the beginnings of a smile on the Rock Father’s lips. She curtsied: elegant and graceful for such a large woman and excused herself.
It was he reflected a risky business inviting representatives from three other guilds to your mine-head and therefore inside your defences. In theory, all were friendly guilds but history was littered with feuds that started as friendships. Protocols dictated that they should all be allowed personal weapons and Thurrid hated being dictated to.
All three guilds had sent a relatively young Overseer and a few bodyguards. They were likely to be the most eligible bachelor from each guild and all were ready to leave their birth clan and set up a new clan with the Guildess Salina. Thurrid’s Guild of the Resolute Honour had found a promising region on the other side of their planet which would be offered alongside the Guildess’ hand. Thurrid had argued it was too much; eligible Guildesses were rare enough amongst his people that it shouldn’t require an additional prize. The Guild Mother had made a play of considering his advice, before carrying out her plans unchanged. That was after all the Guild Mother’s prerogative.
He checked over the comms link that his men were ready to respond to any threat. Then he circulated around the mine-head. He made a point of playing the dutiful host and greeting every visitor, but in reality he was assessing their threat.
The Ferachi Guild were the richest Boromite Guild in the Sector and this was reflected in their outfits. Gems and diamonds sparkled from every inch. Despite their wealth, Thurrif had not wanted to invite them. They did not observe the traditions and ways of their people. They didn’t mine, they were traders who wouldn’t know hard graft if it bit them on their ornately garbed arses. And what sort of name was Cassar; it was more commonly given to Freeborn traders not decent hard-working Boromites. Needless to say, Thurrid was not impressed by the simpering braggart, but as Madam Zhia would have told him, it wasn’t his opinion that mattered. So he swallowed his words and pressed on to the next party.
Their brilliant blue skins marked them out as the Guild of the Sapphire Fist. Their clothing was also expensive, but it spoke of quality rather than luxury or decoration. It was also fighting garb and the four had the bearing of warriors. They also carried Isorian style plasma carbines. Thurrid got the sense that they were weighing him up, as was only right. Their young suitor was Makkog, with piercing eyes which matched his blue skin. He was almost a head taller than Thurrid, but then he was short for a Rock Father.
The Guild of the Shining Hope had travelled the least distance. They were from a neighbouring planet in the same system. Their suitor, Holith was thin and constantly moving. Often, he just swayed from foot to foot as if he could hear music no-one else could. His skin was dark grey and he had the muscles and callouses of a hard-worker. “Honourable Father, I have heard much about you. They say…”
“Of course you have, we’re neighbours.” Thurrid believed in speaking plainly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have much to do.” He turned and slipped way.
Once he was satisfied that the risk was minimal or at least as minimal as it could be, Thurrid gave the signal for Madam Zhia to introduce Salina.
Salina swept into the room, flanked by two bodyguards. She wore a long flowing formal dress in what Thurrid had been assured was the current style. It had a reasonably long train behind her, which floated just above the ground with its own suspensor field. The black and silver of the dress offset her striking purple skin which shone with its own light. Zhia had clearly given her lessons in moving gracefully and gone was the ungainly girl he knew so well.
Thurrid was not surprised that the first Overseer to approach Salina was the ornately adorned Cassar. “Milady, allow me to present myself I am Overseer Cassar of the Ferachi Guild of Port Desgal. You will not find a wealthier or more well-equipped Guild in this region of the determinate. If you choose me I will ensure you have only the finest robes and the most beautiful jewellery.” It was undoubtedly true but Salina seemed unimpressed.
A new voice cut across, “It is hard to imagine that any jewel could be as beautiful as Madam Salina”. This was Holith from the neighbouring clan of the Shining Hope. At least he sounded sincere. The third overseer hung back, but one of his bodyguards was nudging him subtly to press forward and say something anything. The other two Overseers needed no such encouragement and golden words tumbled from them both. Thurrid tuned them out and carried out the serious business of sweeping the group for any threats.
Madam Zhia swept in and brought Salina to the third Overseer – tall, blue Makkog. Salina greeted him formally and he mumbled his response, equally formally but with little clarity. Thurrid wondered if the Overseer had ever spoken to a woman before. Certainly, the long silence suggested he had not.
Cassar broke the silence, “We have viewed one of the commodities on offer, perhaps we could now go out and inspect the other part of the deal: the land.” Thurrid fumed at hearing Salina being called a commodity and he formed fists at his sides. Madam Zhia shot him a glance that said, ‘Don’t punch anyone’. He relaxed his hands and stepped back.
Instead, the Guild Mother cut in “Shall we move on to the next item on today’s plan? We could go and take a look at the proposed site for the new mine. We have dug some exploratory shafts so you may check out the potential.”
Zhia led them to the Guild’s only craft: an old freighter that had been patched up many times over the decades. In theory it was capable of surviving a journey across the Antarean photosphere, it just didn’t give that impression. Thurrid had had it cleaned and emptied, so it could ferry the visitors out across the planet.
Most of them climbed in to the hold and stood up gripping onto the webbing which ran across the ceiling. Cassar went to perch on a raised section towards the back. He called out, “Please could I have a cushion.” Thurrid was developing a strong dislike for the Ferachi Overseer. Even one of Cassar’s own bodyguards rolled his eyes at that request. A cushion was not fetched and the door closed with a satisfying hiss.
The freighter lifted off and carried them out across the planet. Between Cassar’s boasting and Holith’s empty flattery, the journey promised to be a long one. Makkog remained silent and uncomfortable. Fifteen minutes later, one of the Sapphire Fist guards decided to help his Overseer. “So Milady, do you like locomites?” It was a breach of protocol to speak direct to the Guildess, but Thurrid was prepared to forgive him; if it stopped the other two talking for even a few seconds.
“I’ve always wanted to own one.” As Salina spoke, she shot Thurrid a hard glare; he had always denied her requests. In his opinion, there were more useful Lavan species. He had grudging respect for aggressive lavamites and even the hulking brood mothers but he could not see the point of riding Lavans. Cassar made the predictable response to Salina’s comment. “I could provide you a whole Locomite stable.”
And then Makkog spoke. “They’re fantastic creatures, so noble and so loyal. If you can earn their trust which isn’t easy, mind, you have a steed for life. I know experts favour the Alzanthan breed but I’ve always preferred the Ch’ymi variety, they have a more balanced temperament. Not as aggressive as…” and then Makkog was away. It was clearly his area of expertise and talking about it seemed to relax him. Salina responded to it asking questions and chatting. Cassar chipped in a few boasts but had little of substance to add and Holith withdrew in apparent disdain. Thurrid made eye-contact with the guard who had changed the topic and subtly inclined his head in a respectful bow.
The rest of the flight passed uneventfully, Salina and Makkog conversed the whole way. Even Cassar had stopped contributing and wandered across to bore the Guild-Mother with the fact that his Guild were building a small fleet of interstellar craft, each implicitly superior to hers. Although, Thurrid noted to himself this was a very strebuous standard.
The clearly inferior freighter landed by the new minehead. It was a basic and small affair, but then it was a small network for exploratory analysis only. Holith was keen to explore the mine, and Cassar was reluctant, he stomped around topside commenting to how many ships he could dock here. Thurrid shook his head in dismay: the spoiled brat was not a proper Boromite at all. Makkog gave the impression that he was happy to be anywhere as long as he could talk about his beloved steeds.
Thurrid led the way in to the tunnel, Cassar hesitated at the tunnel mouth. Holith asked all the intelligent questions about strata composition, mineral impurities and scan depth. If he was hoping to impress Salina with technical knowledge; he was out of luck. She only had eyes for the cavalry man. The contest was now a one Locomite race. Thurrid smiled at his own unspoken joke. Zhia sidled up to him, “Stop smiling, it doesn’t suit you.” She laughed. “I assume you are reminiscing about our own courtship.” Thurrid didn’t reply but turned away, in what he hoped was an enigmatic manner.
They descended in a tight spiral, sloping through the clay down to the interesting strata. Here, a few tunnels branched off. None were very long maybe five yans. There was not enough space for the whole group, so they naturally split out into their own clans. Holith from the neighbouring planet finally managed to catch Salina’s attention “Guildess is this ore, potentially palladium rich?” he pointed down the first tunnel which his group had filled. Dutifully the young Guildess went to investigate. Thurrid followed, he wasn’t letting her out of his sight.
He had a bad feeling and it was growing. Something was wrong although he couldn’t tell what. He threw a glance back to Zhia. She was further from the entrance with the Sapphire Fist party. There was the gentle hubbub of conversation but something was missing. Then he realised. The hum of suspensors fields was background noise in a pit of any size. They held the roof up and stopped the sides sliding out. It was a subtle noise but one that was entirely missing. In theory, the pitprops and pillars were strong enough without the fields, but you could never be too careful and this was a young pit, it had yet to fully settle.
“Perhaps, we should head…” He began, but the creak-crack of a pit-prop snapping changed his plan again. “ROOF HO! He bellowed the traditional warning as he triggered his armour. Plates materialised out of nodules doted around his skin and nanites melded these together in to a robust suit of armour.
Cracks appeared in the roof of the second tunnel, spidering towards him. Salina’s tunnel looked reasonably solid, so he charged towards Madam Zhia. As he leapt all the other Boromites were triggering their armour and looking up to assess the safety of their surroundings. The roof started to fall: dust and pebbles pattered off his armour. He grabbed at Zhia, hauled her back past him, throwing her towards Salina and the Silent Hope party. The air turned thick with dust and soil and in the choking darkness, he heard the rumble of bigger articles detaching from the ceiling.
Something solid clumped off his shoulder and bright flames of pain arced from it. As he turned, he reached out ahead and grabbed an unseen arm. He dove through the cloud of descending matter pushing Zhia ahead of him and dragging the arm’s owner with him back to cover. Something large thundered to the ground beside him shaking the floor, but he didn’t slow down. Three of the Amethyst Fists were still back in the thick of the collapse but there was little he could do for them now.
Zhia gasped in pain ahead of him. Then, she stopped. “Let us through.” She shouted above the din of the rockfall. Thurrid realised she had bumped into someone in the cloud and couldn’t get past. Logically, it was one of Holith’s party. Stones clattered off his armour and he could hear the slither of something big moving over his head; no doubt ready to fall. He let go of Zhia and shoved hard at whoever was in her way. The blocker moved and the three tumbled into the safe tunnel. Behind them came a roaring thump as the ’something big’ landed and blocked them in.
Thurrid wiped dirt from his eyes and looked around. He was crammed into the first tunnel along-side Salina, Holith and his bodyguards, Madam Zhia, and the Boromite, whose arm he had grabbed. Although, could not tell he was from the Sapphire Fist now because he was so thickly clogged with dust and muck.
Thurrid opened the compression pouch, which he wore constantly and extracted from it a powerful transmitter, capable of sending through several yan of solid rock. He sent a distress signal and summoned borer drones. Then he began to check the wellbeing of the seven of them. The four who had remained in the rockfall were unharmed if a little dusty. Thurrid and Zhia had some bruises and lacerations. The Sapphire Fist survivor was Makkog, he was badly bruised, his shoulder was messed up and his left arm hung limply from his side. He was also coughing up dirt.
The borer drones made relatively short work of digging the seven out and retrieving the missing. One other from the Sapphire Fist Guild had survived: the bodyguard who had started the locomite discussion. However, he was badly mangled and his continued survival was in significant doubt.
The borer drones carried out the most seriously injured first, then the walking wounded, the Guildess and Overseer Holith in that order. As was traditional for Rock Fathers, Thurrid was the last to emerge. He clambered out of the sunken pit to find Cassar and his group unharmed and clean waiting by the freighter. The moment he appeared the spoilt Overseer announced. “We’ve called our ship to come fetch us.”
Thurrid kept his voice calmer than he felt, “There’s no need for that. Our freighter is here we’ll be half way back before your ship even gets close.”
“How do we know we can trust your ship? It might fall down around our ears.”
“It will be fine.”
“We could have been killed in there!” Cassar’s response was petulant and frightened.
“But you weren’t. In fact you look like you came out of that unscathed.” Thurrid allowed his anger to show through, but kept it in check.Lashing out at Cassar might make Thurrid feel better but would help very little.
“No thanks to you!”
Thurrid bridled at that but let it go. “How did you manage it?”
“We had the good sense not to go beyond the down shaft. So, the moment your ramshackle mine started to collapse; we retreated back above ground, back to safety.”
“Ramshackle?” He started to argue and then hesitated, lost for words. It was hard to defend a mine that had collapsed killing two Boromites. He swallowed hard. He was the Rock Father, his duty was to protect the safety and security of all his Clan and any guests or visitors. Today, he had failed.
“I am sorry, Honoured Guest.” The tone was formal and the words almost caught in Thurrid’s throat but he got them out. “I will pesonally check over the freighter and one of your men can accompany me. When we are all satisfied, then we can head back.” He turned to Holith “Honoured Guest would one of your party care to join me in my inspection?” The inspection took longer than Thurrid would have liked and he had to swallow his pride at several points. Each time, he caught Madam Zhia giving him a reassuring smile and pressed on.
Ultimately, the freighter took off with all on board and the corpses stowed respectfully. Early in the flight, Zhia drew Thurrid aside. She kept her voice low and subtle. “Well done, Honoured Father. I’m impressed. We’ll make a diplomat out of you one day.”
“No, you teheck’n wont.” He snapped back but again there was the beginning of a smile on his lips.
“There are worst fates, you know.” She joked and then her voice went serious again. “Cassar and the Ferachi Guild are withdrawing: they no longer wish to be considered suitors.”
Thurrid bit back a celebratory cheer, to hear his least favourite candidate was out of consideration. However, any joy was short lived when he realised it was now a one locomite race. Makkog was hardly in contention. He strode away from Zhia and paced the back of the Freighter liked a caged Greatcrest. He strode off to the freighter’s bridge and approached one of the technicians there. “How are the drones faring in terms of making the hole safe?”
“They are making good progress, Honorable Father. Better than could be expected.” There was a note of mild surprise in the technician’s voice, but also something darker.
Thurrid raised an eyebrow. “Suggesting the ground was not too soft in the first place?”
“In that case, I have another job for the drones. There’s something I need them to find.”
Once the drones were set on the task, Thurrid wandered back to the hold and kept an eye on the injured Makkog for a bit. He had regained consciousness, but was barely able to sit up.
As Thurrid paced, Cassar approached him, “I have contacted my ship and arranged for it to meet us partway. Then we can get out of here. After all, there is no point me wasting my time.”
“Or indeed us wasting ours” Thurrid countered.
“Indeed.”, came Cassar’s reply, although his expression suggested the thought had never occurred to him. Thurrid agreed to rendez vous with the other ship. In the short term, it would create some hassle and delay the return journey. Ultimately, it would simplify matters back at base.
Thurrid was in the hold with the guests, when the technician requested his attention. The Rock Father strode purposefully to the bridge, where the technician informed him, that the borer drones had found the pit props.
In turn, Thurrid called the Matriarch to the bridge. She swept in and as she saw Thurrid’s expression, her own face set hard. She asked, “You have your serious face on. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking, I wish I had drilled the support weapon and artillery teams more. We are about to enter a guildwar.”
“Can it be helped?”
“Then you’d best win it, hadn’t you?”
“We also need to make a decision regarding the suitors.” They discussed it in the bridge briefly but both agreed quickly.
The two ships liaised twenty minutes away from Thurrid’s settlement and all were relieved as Cassar flew off.
As the ship disappeared, Thurrid made an announcement. “The Guild Mother and I have made our decision. We will declare the successful suitor upon our return. I thought we should arrange an honour guard. To show our respects, all the men of our guild will line the path from the ship to the mine. It will symbolise the new couple’s journey together. I’ll make the arrangements now.” Holith’s only response was to a confident smile. Makkog groaned.
The Rock Father spoke on the comms link and by the time the base came into view, two lines of Boromites were clearly visible. It was an honour guard, all bore arms and even the support weapons were on display. The ship alighted with a worrying creak and the hatch buzzed open. Zhia and Salina had been chatting in one corner, now the Guildess glided across to Holith at the doorway. She watched as the last few Boromites moved into position, joggling the lines sideways to meet the ship.
Thurrid’s voice boomed out the freighter systems “Three suitors visited us today to win the hand or our beloved Guildess, Salina. One has withdrawn and one is seriously injured, so Holith of the Guild of the Shining Hope is the last man standing, literally.”
Confidently, Holith surveyed the scene. He was satisfied that the Honour-guard was for him and in a way, it was. He hadn’t noticed that all the overhead weapons were on one side of the route. All the direct fire weapons were opposite with their backs to the two visiting ships: Holith’s intra-system vessel and the Freeborn craft that had ferried the Sapphire Fist.
Thurrid continued, “As Rock Father, it is my duty to make the best decision for my Guild. So, Brothers, present arms.” Across the two lines of Boromites, mag-guns and tractor mauls were raised and support crews bent over their weapons. All those in the left line turned in place, so now all the assembled warriors faced the visiting vessels. With some satisfaction, Thurrid watched realisation dawn across Holith’s face. “Fire”, roared the Rock-Father. Scramble rounds dropped across the top of the Shining Hope’s ship and its shield faltered and faded. Then the compression weapons and mag support weapons opened fire. Ragged lines of flames blazed across the intra-system ship.
On Thurrid’s freighter, Holith’s bodyguard suddenly snapped into action. They tore their eyes off the carnage in front of them and reached for their guns. But even as their hands made contact there was the whining hiss of two plasma streams and they fell to the floor. Holith turned at the commotion to find Zhia and Salina holding glowing plasma pistols. His jaw dropped and fear gripped his face. Then, Thurrid hissed in his ear. “You abused our hospitality! You sabotaged our mine to further your own ends. You almost killed our Guild Mother, you killed two men under our protection and injured two more. Just to win the hand of our Guildess.”
“I did no such thing. It was your mine that collapsed. You’re blaming us for your shoddy workmanship.” Holith had to shout over the roar of support weapons and collapsing ship.
“Someone turned off the suspensor field and damaged two pit props so that they would fail. But somehow you and your guards managed to find the one safe spot inside the mine.”
“The Ferachi were safe too! But you are not accusing them!” Came the obvious accusation.
Thurrid had expected it. “Indeed, but they withdrew from the competition and to be honest they wouldn’t know how to sabotage a mine, if someone tattooed instructions onto their skin.”
“Well, how could we have done it? We had only just arrived.”
“Clearly, there is a traitor in our ranks. When I found out who assisted you, they will pay! Do not doubt this!”
Holith sounded desperate now. “You have no proo…”
“I bore of this.”, this time it was Salina that spoke. She interrupted her would-be-suitor sharply, before her pistol hissed again. Holith’s corpse fell backwards out of the hatch.
Thurrid strode across to where Makkog barely sat. “Look! Look at your new bride with her pistol in her hand and remember what happened to the last man to betray her!” Then his voice softened “I hope you have a long and fruitful life together. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a Guildwar to win.
In hindsight, the sound that woke Thurrid that night was his comm link. He reached for it, while his eyes adjusted rapidly to the gloom. The technician’s voice rumbled out of it. “Honourable Father, I know who communicated with Holith’s Guild. I know who betrayed us.”
Thurrid’s response was blunt and to the point. “Who?”
“It’s Ghinir, sir.”
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