Some of you may remember that all last year Phil of the TheShellcase blog (and if you don’t read it go do so now!) was running a monthly writing contest, Shellcase shorts. I entered most months, and was fortunate enough to have my work selected twice as winning pieces. You can read all the fantastic stories by download the pdf compilation here – go do this now, read them, they are all fantastic. Even if that is a bit of trumpet blowing on my part!
The point of that preample is that I’ve decide I’ll post up some of the stories I wrote that didn’t get selected by Phil. Are they any good? Well I’ll leave that for any one that bothers to read them. I appreciate any and all feedback.
The story below was written in September last year. Each month Phil set different objectives for the stories. This month you had to write 2 connected stories, total length 3K words. So below is what I came up with to meet that requirement.
The shot taking the lieutenant down came from nowhere. One minute he’d been progressing down the road, calling for tank support, next he was on the ground writhing in agony, screaming his anguish at the top of his lungs.
“SNIPER, TAKE COVER” Sgt Rawlings’s cry unnecessary, the squad had already dropped, hugged up tight to the closest cover. Fortunately the ruined city provided plenty. Rawlings gazed at the LT, a pool of blood oozing from beneath him. He’d stopped moving, his cries now one long low moan of pain.
One shot. “Anyone get a bead on where that came from?”
Silence, the radio requesting a response to the LT’s last transmission. He continued to stare at the officer. Another young live gone. Why where the green ones keen to get to the front, get into action? Action meant death.
Rawlings and the squad were now in the shit good and proper. The LT had only drawn one radio, sufficient for a quick in and out patrol, he’d argued the area had been cleared by Bravo Company yesterday, what could possible go wrong? Rawlings had pushed for a chimera but the LT had point blank refused to call for such support. Out they’d gone, not even a heavy bolter, the 10 man squad, light weapons and the LT.
After an hour even the LT had become a little twitchy, the ruined city abnormally quiet. He’d finally agreed with Rawlings that they needed support, getting on the radio to call it in. The city had been pounded into submission by the division’s big guns. The General had declared the defenders spent and sent his troops in to confirm this.
Two weeks later and they were still encountering stiff resistance. How these rebels, traitors to the Emperor, were surviving was beyond Rawlings. Yet everyday new pockets of resistance were discovered and, company sized engagements would break out. The fighting deadly short range engagements between the shattered buildings; rapidly degenerating into bloody hand to hand combat, bleeding the 7th company of its experienced fighters frighteningly quickly. Even once these battles ended there was no respite. Snipers seemed to lurk behind every shattered window, robbing the company of its leaders with unnerving accuracy.
Movement broke his gaze from the LT’s body. Smithers, one of his replacements, fresh from training sticking his head up, no doubt reacting to Rawlings call for a location on the sniper. Anger boiled within him. Hadn’t he told Smithers at least twenty times to keep his head down when under threat from snipers?
“SMITHERS, GET DOWN!” Too late. Smithers’ head seemed to explode, the snipers bullet striking true, his lifeless body complying with Rawlings last order, mocking him as it slid to the floor.
“Sarge, looks like you won the sweep.” Rawlings head swivelled and fixed Jenks with his famous withering stare, the shit eating grin on Jenks face fading under the weight of it. Jenks never knew when to keep his mouth shut, always ready with the smart comment.
“What’s the plan Sarge?” Philips stammered. Rawlings turned to the squad’s medic. His hands white on his lasgun, eyes wide, tongue licking dry lips, head moving from him to the moaning LT and back.
“Think you can save the LT?”
“Well he’s still making noise Sarge, can’t say more from here.”
Rawlings considered the answer. Trying to get the LT to the medic would put more of the squad in harm’s way, probably kill at least one more of them. Sitting here wasn’t the answer either, without the radio whey weren’t going anywhere. He frowned, working out how best to minimise the chances of getting hit. Whichever way he did this it was going to be bloody. He moved and waved at the 4 troops across the road, getting their attention before he shouted his plan, hoping the sniper wasn’t close enough to hear.
“Ok ladies, here’s the plan. Jenks, Taylor, Richards and me will break cover on the go signal from Philips, grab the LT and bring him back my position. The rest of you get up and put some fire down range, cover our move. Once I have the radio I’ll call in support and a medevac. Clear?”
The troops across the road held thumbs up, faces set, they knew the risk they were about to take. Bent and Rawlings shouted affirmative from their position.
“Why me Sarge? I was only messing with ya. Why do I get every shitty job?” Jenks said.
He turned and stared at Jenks. Sure the comment had been badly timed, but it had nothing to do with how he’d picked the runners. Jenks was a good trooper, calm under fire, deadly accurate with a lasgun or grenade launcher. Pity he was a total pain in the arse the rest of the time.
“Jenks, your stupid mouth has nothing to do with it. You’re the fastest runner, and we’re behind the others so won’t block their line of fire. I’ll make sure you get what’s coming to you for that comment, assuming we both make it out of this alive.” Rawlings watched Jenks, his face softened, stance relaxing slightly.
“Ok Sarge, let’s get this done.” Jenks placed his lasgun on the floor, stretching his muscles, ready to sprint.
Rawlings placed his own gun down, looking across the street to see the runners opposite watching him, ready to move on his signal. Rawlings looked up into the cloud laden sky, Emperor protect. How many times had he invoked his blessing? Too many times on too many hell holes like this.
Looking back at Philip’s pale face, he winked, drawing a thin smile from the medic, “Ready when you are Philips. Make sure you shout loud enough now.”
Philips checked his lasgun, looking over to the other troops, then back at Rawlings and Jenks. “READY!”
Rawlings pulse began to rise, body tense, ready for the mad dash. “GO!” Rawlings pushed off hard, legs pumping fast, heart pounding with the sudden exertion, sweat pouring off his brow, stinging his eyes. The run seemed to take forever, tense with the expectation of an impact any second.
All four converged on the LT, Rawlings and Jenks at his head, the others at his feet. They each grabbed the nearest limb and lifted, ignoring the sudden scream of pain exploding from the LT. At least he was alive; this mad dash wasn’t a complete waste of time.
There was a sickening thud and Taylor fell motionless to the floor, Richards grabbed the LT’s flailing leg. Philips better be able to save this fool or Taylor had died for nothing.
“GET DOWN” The three me dropped the LT behind the wall. Last thing he needed now was to lose more men to the sniper. The metallic buzz of las bolts stilled, only the cries of the LT breaking the silence, the squad keeping low behind solid cover. He watched as Philips pushed past him on his way to check on the LT. He turned to look at Taylor’s body in the road. He was motionless, a large pool of blood leaking from under his body.
“Sarge, he’s still breathing, pulse is weak but steady. If we get a medevac I think we can save him.” Philips had is med pack wide open, various bandages and tools scattered around as he poked and prodded at the LT’s wound.
Rawlings fought to control his breathing; he really was getting too old for this hero shit. “Radio.” Jenks stopped helping Philips and tossed the radio to Rawlings. No doubt he wanted out of here too.
“Gamma base this is patrol Three Four. We have men down at checkpoint sigma and need support fire and a medevac ASAP.”
“Roger patrol Three Four, say nature of contact?”
“Gamma base, we are pinned down by an unknown number of snipers in buildings north of checkpoint gamma.”
“Roger patrol Three Four, we have a Valkyrie on route eta 5 minutes. Send grids and well get some arty on the line.”
“Wait one for girds.” Rawlings shoulders relaxed; somehow he’d got lucky and found a radio operator at company that was on the ball. “Jenks bring me the LT’s map,” he needed to get a handle on the best place for the heavy guns to flatten again, “Listen in squad. We have a Valk inbound to evac us after it blows the shit out of area ahead. Stay down and stay alert for pickup.” The adrenaline began to ebb away; maybe they’d escape this one after all?
The trigger broke precisely at 3lbs of pressure, the crosshairs not moving as the recoil pushed the butt of the rifle harder into his braced shoulder. 2 seconds from muzzle to target. Automatically his right hand moved to work the bolt, ejecting the spent case and sliding another round into the breach. Not that he expected to get a second shot; the squad in his sights reacted well, even without the leadership of its Lieutenant.
The bullet struck true, a burst of red as it penetrated the target’s helmet and ended his life. He watched the body drop to the floor, the other 3 compensating for the loss of one of them carrying the injured Lieutenant to cover.
If he was quick he could take a shot at one of the soldiers randomly spraying las-bolts down the street. But he decided he’d done enough to the individual soldiers for now. With the radio secured they would call in support, and with luck, he’d get a chance to do some real damage to the invaders, make they pay for destroying his home, his future. Or he’d die in a barrage of artillery, either way he accepted whatever fate had in store for him.
There would be a pause now; the squad would keep their heads down, two dead comrades would encourage the rest. His first shot hadn’t meant to kill, merely wound. The scream of the target had reached his hide, satisfying his need for revenge for a second or two.
The first kill was a bonus. He hadn’t expected anyone to break cover, try and spy him amongst the detritus of his former home. He’d spotted the helmet rising slowly, dark grey giving way to white flesh as he exposed himself above the granite wall. The shot had been trivial, target stationary, wind negligible and the range well known; 750 meters from his home to the bakery, a pleasant morning stroll, until two months ago.
He inched back from the gun, gently placing the butt on the floor, leaving it resting on its bipod, crawling backwards till he could sit. His practised eye moved over the hide, checking nothing had moved during the engagement. He was still invisible, a shadow amongst the ruins.
He opened his canteen and took a long drink, how had it come to this? He’d vowed his days of killing were long gone. Two years had passed since he’d cashiered out of the guard. Sold his service years to buy this apartment and take up a job working in the fields, creating rather than killing. Hard manual work, the soil had been worked hard and yields were down across the planet. Yet the demands kept on growing.
He sighed, that was how the fighting had begun. Demands from the capital for more production, men grumbling that it couldn’t be done, managers pushing for more. Groups formed protesting, demanding more time, lower quota’s or better pay, often all three. Talks hadn’t helped; the governor pressured by the sector commander to provide, and provide he must. Then the unthinkable happened, one province went on strike, stopped supplying food for the heavy lifters to take off world.
The governor had sent the PDF to quash the defiance, he hadn’t understood how strongly betrayed the workers felt. They’d met the PDF with arms and crushed them, many PDF soldiers turning to support the workers, friends and family ties defeating the coin of the imperium. It should have stopped there, talks resumed and a solution reached. The killing of the governor ended any idea of a compromise. The union declared independence, urging other provinces’ to do the same. What madness lay behind such actions wasn’t clear, but the sector commander’s response had been. There had been no warning, the lances streaking from orbit to obliterate the capital, a massive bombardment of destruction paving the way for the landing of the Imperial Guard. The planets occupants declared traitors to the Emperor, renegades to be crushed. And still he’d resisted the calls to arms; he’d left the fields ignoring the calls of his co-workers.
Then he discovered Caitlin had been in the capital.
The rising whine of jet engines broke his reverie. The squad must have called in for a medevac, his wishes had been answered. He placed the canteen on the floor and carefully moved back to his rifle. He surveyed the scene through his binoculars; the squad hadn’t moved, waiting for rescue. Shadows, coming and going, caused by men moving about behind cover.
He ejected the round from the breach of the rifle, removing the magazine, replacing the spent rounds. He placed his final armour piercing round in the breach and closed the bolt. He’d only managed to find 5 such rounds powerful enough to penetrate softer parts of armoured vehicles. He’d used his fourth round to punch through the turret of a chimera, killing the gunner before his Autocannon chewed through him.
He eased himself into his firing position, rifle locked into his shoulder, scanning the field of battle through his scope. The two bodies hadn’t been moved, both dead if the amount of blood pooling were any guide.
The armoured glass of the cockpit wouldn’t defeat his rifle now. Killing the pilot would likely result in the deaths of all on board, one bullet for 4 men and one vehicle; a good return. He’d not destroyed a vehicle yet.
Of course there was risk; the flyer would be gunning for him before landing. The idea he had been spotted never crossed his mind. He’d spent over 12 hours preparing this hide; someone would have to be standing on him before he would be spotted. They would fire before landing, hoping to kill the sniper, thinking they were safe while they remained in the air. He’d prove them wrong.
The sound of engines grew louder, he spotted the Valkyrie approaching, flying rapidly down the road towards the squad, nose pitching up violently, killing its forward movement, hovering short of the squad. He studied the plane through his scope, pilot talking on the radio, gunner’s head sweeping the buildings ahead of him, no doubt trying to find him. The guns on both doors up and ready to fire, a full crew of four to add to his tally.
The pilot nodded his head, the conversations between him and the squad seemed to be at and end, a decision on how they would go about suppressing the area ahead agreed and about to be enacted. His heart beat remained steady, years of training allowed him to lock his fear deep inside, rapid heartbeats and sniping didn’t fit together. If they opened fire now he’d die.
Two months ago he would have called on the Emperor for aide. That option gone, he knew his call would go unanswered. Had he ever truly believed in his divine presence?
The pitch of the engines changed, the Valkyrie pivoted, nose moving to his left. The pilot now perfectly presented to him. Time slowed; his vision locked in on his target, breathing slowing and deepening, his pre-shot routine begun. Rockets began to leave the pods on the wings, speeding away from the aircraft, the left door gun spewing rounds into the building to the right of him.
The dust swirling around the plane made judging the wind more difficult, not that it would deflect his heavy bullet. He locked his cross hairs where they needed to be. Three breaths, then the natural pause, trigger squeezed to the point of release and the round was gone.
The core of the round punched through the cockpit glass, sending crazy lines throughout the pane. The far side of the cockpit went red, blood and gore from the pilots head splattering all over it. His body slumped forward, the plane banking left, accelerating as it dove for the ground. Crashing into a building, crushing the cockpit before the plane exploded.
He stood, making not attempt to hide his movements. Time now his real enemy. Artillery would pound this area any time now. He rapidly broke down most of his hide, leaving only the outermost sheets in place, time to leave his home once more, retreat back to friendly lines, and wait for the next chance to ambush the enemy. Hefting his pack and rifle he took one final look around.
Once again his life was a simple one, live or die, war was the only thing left.