Shell Case Shorts Anthology

Yes, it’s finally that time. A year on from when I ran a short story competition for a bit of fun, I’m pleased and proud to make the Shell Case Shorts Anthology available to download. The collected winning entries from the 12 competitions, plus an honourable mention or two and a little story of my own have all been made available in handy-dandy PDF format.

A massive thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to all the winners. And a special thank you to the awesome Gav Thorpe for writing an introduction.

The Anthology is completely free to download by clicking the image below. The file is a little big so give it a minute to load.

SCSAC2

Shell Case Shorts 12

So we’ve finally come to it; the last (ever) Shell Case Shorts competition. It’s been a long and interesting road with some awesome entries and as we stare down the barrel of 2013 I’m really excited about the anthology which will be out in the New Year.

As it’s the last competition I did my best to make the prize as awesome as possible. And this month I’ve been helped along by the awesome Nick Kyme, Gav Thorpe and Sarah Cawkwell. A huge thank you goes out to them as they’ve already been so generous with their donations to The Shell Case in the past.

So this months prizes are; Tome of Fire and The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme, Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe and Valkia the Bloody by Sarah Cawkwell.

UPDATE – The prize now also includes a signed copy of Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to add to this prize over December to give the Shell Case Shorts the send off it deserves.

scs12prizes

So, what do you need to do to win this pile of awesome? Well, here’s the rules…

Write a short story of between 3,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Monday 31st December 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 10 – Winner

There were some great entries for October’s Shell Case Shorts but, as usual, there can be only one winner and it goes to a short story rather appropriately set in Firestorm Invasion written by a previous Shell Case Shorts entrant, Lee Faccini, who got an honourable mention for his Loyalist Emperor’s Children origins piece back in April.

Lee clearly did his home work I think capturing the what it means to be on the ground in the Firestorm Armada Universe very well. And the lucky bugger wins himself a Dindrenzi starter army for Firestorm Invasion for his trouble.

Firestorm - by Lee Faccini

Davin ran through his system checks one last time. One last time before it all became real. The academies trained you to your peak during simulation but nothing can truly prepare you for that which you have not yet experienced.  Nothing happens as you would expect it to, or want it to. Taking a slow deep breath Davin triggered the main power up sequence, tensing sharply as the display blacked out, flickered, and then gradually brought his surroundings into focus. Waiting a moment to allow his senses to adjust to their new sources of feedback, he flexed his neck and attempted to settle as comfortably as possible into his piloting position.

One by one the system indicators started to come on, each flicking through various warning states before settling on a column of green across the right side edge of his view screen. They glowed prominently against the dull red hue of his suits optics that made the world around him seem even darker than it probably was. Looking left and right, he could see the other members of his unit running through their own pre-combat rituals. Some moved impatiently in their harnesses, others stood still almost lifeless.

There were five of them in all lined up against one side of the metal container and all were ready to go into action at a moment’s notice. Davin ignored his squad mates and merely stared at the ground some ten feet below him, trying to remember everything he thought he’d never forget after the intensive, seemingly endless, training he’d endured leading up to this day. Although a rookie pilot he was a seasoned soldier and had seen enough combat to last more than his life time, with a few more besides. Fighting on foot was easy he joked to himself, easier to fight when you don’t have to remember how to walk.

And it was a joke. Being a true infantryman was utterly unforgiving without ever having to make a mistake.  Unprotected by heavy armour, casualty rates were severe in the extreme and you were lucky to see the other side of a battle, let alone a campaign.  Only through a mix of ability and luck could one hope to progress and eventually gain promotion, and the mix leaned more in favour of the latter the longer you served. Modern day battlefields were no longer a place for unprotected soldiers and he was glad to have left it behind. He had trusted in his ability and knew he would come to rely on it more ever now – he was good, and he knew it.  It was why he had been assigned to this unit despite it being his first suited combat drop.

Davin had never seen himself as the Elite Sections type, but his situational awareness and natural aptitude for combat techniques had got him noticed by his superiors. It wasn’t long before he was training to operate a War-Strider for one of the specialist Combat Infiltration Units. Adept at gaining access to heavily-defended positions in the midst of a full engagement, they were usually deployed away from the main thrust of a diversionary attack. After quickly breaching defences, they were tasked with completing critical objectives – primarily search and destroy- which would either complete the mission outright or enable the main attack to succeed.  It was a risky tactic as the possibility of being observed while deploying was high, and if the enemy had sufficient reserves to spare they would quickly be overwhelmed. But on many occasions the gambit had proved successful enough to now utilise it as a legitimate plan of attack – even if the CI Unit didn’t survive the attempt.

Davin’s unit had their objectives located in a large thermal energy facility that was supplying power to a number of military installations. If it could be captured or destroyed it would severely hinder the defensive efforts in this sector. The Terran Alliance had sought to hide it from the Dindrenzi in a wooded valley far away from any other positions of tactical value.  Hidden conduits running underground and the close in vegetation meant it was difficult to see from the air and almost invisible on the ground.  Only through meticulous intelligence gathering had the RSN pinpointed its location and once the list of assets it supplied became apparent, a full scale attack was inevitable. Three battalions comprising a full regiment from the Storm Legions had been allocated as sufficient for the attack plus a periphery of support elements – including their CIU assistance.

Just as he was about to do another mental check of his objectives, his comm-link sounded. The squad snapped to attention as a calm voice announced himself as Field Commander Horten. The sounds of war could be heard in the background and Davin knew the audio dampeners of his comm were straining against the cacophony of noise that must have been pouring through the transmission. Despite this Horten continue to talk as if nothing was amiss – secure in the knowledge his voice would be heard. Even though they had been extensively briefed on what was expected of them in the next few hours, Horten explained his exacting demands of their action and left each of them in no doubt that failure was not an option. They would succeed, they had been commanded to. 

As soon as Horten signed off, tactical data lit up Davin’s view screen, spooling lists on all manner of information flickered in the corners of his vision. With a jolt, the wall in front of him began to separate and sunlight spilt into the dingy container as it parted along its length, as the roof and floor pulled back behind them more of their surroundings came into view. The drop ship, nearing its target location, had begun to point its nose down for a sharp dive and as it rolled into the manoeuvre the battlefield stretched out in front of them.  As they descended, he could see Dindrenzi forces approaching the facility through the nearest end of the valley and tactical data told him the same was happening on the other side. 

Explosions billowed up from the tree line and fierce fighting could be glimpsed as they skirted the edge of conflict.  Flying lower Davin could see the Terrans were putting up a wall of fire to prevent any of the attackers from breaking through. Valenfyre tanks in concealed positions relentlessly sent shell after shell screaming through the undergrowth, punishing the dense Dindrenzi formations as they negotiated the dense terrain.  Blazing wreckage clogged the spaces between the massive trees towering overhead, providing a measure of cover but also further restricting room for manoeuvre. It was quickly degenerating into a blood bath.

A squadron of Long Bow tank hunters eventually managed to find a position with a good field of fire and holes had started to appear in the Terran lines as they unleashed the fearsome power of their rail-cannons. Lines of fire streaked between the trees, the extreme velocity of the rail slugs igniting the air as they ripped through it at hyper velocity. Trees centuries old and tank armour alike was torn asunder by the force of the slugs, bones of nearby soldiers turned to powder by the concussive force. Successes were short lived however, the distinctive contrails revealing the position of the tank hunters and they soon fell victim to the continued concentrated shelling that was steadily tearing the forest apart.

We need to move quickly thought, Davin.  The attack was doing its job in absorbing the Terran’s attention but at the current rate of attrition it wouldn’t last long, the forest negated their superior manoeuvrability and the Terrans had prepared their defences well.  Time was his biggest enemy now.

They approached the facility perimeter away from the fighting and attempted to break any sight lines the enemy had drawn on them.   The drop ship skimmed the forest canopy as it came in low, dodging the sporadic anti-aircraft fire that lost its way through the dense foliage.  The pilot swung the tail around so it was pointing towards the facility and levelled out for a few seconds before powering vertically into the sky, eventually disappearing into the cloud cover. In that brief pause the ten members of the 201st CIU had disengaged their harnesses and jumped out of the open container doors on both sides of their transport.

Davin braced himself for the impending impact as his suit plummeted to the ground – his descent ending abruptly with a jarring impact and his suits leg servos and inertial dampeners protested against the strain, warning lights momentarily flashing on his HUD.  His team thumped down around him as he pulled himself upright. An amber warning light had stayed lit on his HUD causing him to frown in irritation. A quick diagnostic told him the uneven ground had meant the joint had twisted a load pin on landing the would shear through within the next 30 minutes based on projected operational requirements.

Pushing the concern to one side, his first objective flashed up on his view screen and a timer began counting down – 90. sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

Davin’s suit scanners had begun registering enemy contacts a small circular display in the bottom left corner filling with insistent red flashing dots. As his active scanners started to pick up hard returns his vision was overlaid with white ghosting silhouettes of enemy positions. His system highlighted the weakest defended sections of the perimeter on his map and his squad leader selected their target zone. “Unit 8, you’re with me.” Came his order and he dutifully followed as the squad dispersed further into the trees, some branching out to the flanks in a standard bull horns formation. They pounded their way onwards through the undergrowth, the twelve foot tall armoured exosuits pulping the foliage and smashing through brushes and fallen logs with ease. Their small window of opportunity meant there was no room for stealth of subtlety but within moments they were close enough to launch their attack.

A collection of icons floated on his screen with a distance counters rapidly counting down. They were just over 150 metres away from the perimeter wall. Echos of targets rippled all along their primary objective. Their silhouette identified them as a section of support platforms armed with autocannons and were risky to take on in frontal attack, but time was a factor – they had no choice.

60 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

Davin’s squad leader stopped ahead of him and knelt down behind a dead fall, checking everyone’s position before he gave the order to break cover.  Turning to look straight at him, he motioned ahead with his free arm and Davin heard the go signal in his comm-link. He started forward without hesitation and it was only a few paces before he crashed through the tree line and into the open.  As one the sentries arrayed ahead turned to face the detected threat and locked on to their chosen targets, gun fire rippling along the defensive line a hundred metres ahead.  Evasive manoeuvres were already being taken by the members of the 201st as the 54mm rounds began stitching lines in the dirt towards them but dozens of rounds still found their mark.  Davin’s suit began to register impacts on various locations though thankfully his speed meant they glanced off the thicker plating of his armour.

His comm-link was a chorus of noise. Grunts and yells punctuated by the odd cry of pain filtered in as the cascade of fire maintained its punishing rate. Several of the squad member indicators on his view screen had changed colour, mostly yellows and ambers but a few flashed red then winked out.  Another warning flashed up – it was his left knee again. The warning light had changed from amber to a ruddy orange. He ignored it, pushing on, faster now, dodging side to side as the early warning systems informed him when he was being targeted. Ducking under a sweeping burst, his knee joint protesting vehemently, he risked a sharp glance to his left and was just in time to see Unit 04 get caught in a cross fire than cut him in half.  Another red light. 

30 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

He had closed to within thirty metres and only now raised his coil gun to try and carve a gap, for fear of slowing his rate of advance. Quickly locking on to the nearest turret, he sent a burst of fire towards it, aiming for the sentry’s targeting array. The high velocity slugs tore through the armoured housing with ease, shredding the delicate sensors inside. Denied targeting information the gun fell silent, patiently awaitig instructions that would never come. Davin and the rest of the squad quickly exploited the gap he had created and the guns fell silent as they were neutralised one by one.  Blasting through the perimeter wall, they entered the facility and took up position amongst the closest group of buildings.

Objective Complete.  New Objective – Neutralise Primary Control Tower. 120 sec. Until Mission Failure.

Sirens sounded out as their presence was detected and alarm raised to the Terran defenders.  More ghosts appeared on Davin’s view screen and began converging on their position.  Seven of the squad had made it through in various states of combat effectiveness – but his squad leader was not one of them, a lucky shot shredding his torso as they cleared the breach.  Unit 2 quickly assumed command and split the survivors in to two fire teams, each group moving towards the objective via a different route.  The Control Tower itself was a tall spike of concrete, looming over the smaller structures that were scattered around it like leaves from a tree.

Davin and his two other squad members hastily moved through the industrial maze wreaking carnage with every stide. Enemy infantry were constantly appearing to launch attacks only to be annihilated by the trio’s fearsome weaponry, but there had been several near misses with Unit 6 now missing the left arm of his suit.  Explosions tore through power conduits and heat exchangers as they fought their way onwards causing a warning klaxon to blare out across the compoud. Davin could see on map overlay that Unit 2 and his group had taken a shorter route and were now closer to the tower, but judging by the ring of enemy contacts surrounding them it did not look like they were going to advance much further.

60 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Neutralise Primary Control Tower.

Enemy War-Striders had started to appear amongst the defenders in the heart of the facility and Davin realised the threat they posed had now been realised.  It wouldn’t take long for heavier armour to be redeployed and the facility to be locked down entirely. Reaching the base of tower the three remaining Gauntlet suits formed up to defend themselves against the army of defenders now on the verge of overrunning them.  The Morbius suits the Terrans used were somewhat smaller and less well protected than their Dindrenzi equivalents but their superior numbers were beginning to tell.  Davin fired his weapon continuously without pause, shell casings clattering around his feet. Temperature warnings flashed angrily telling him it was on the brink of a catastrophic jam but he continued to fire, smashing apart the his poorly armoured foes.

Withing moments the Terrans had closed the gap and were amongst them. Unit 6 dropped suddenlty. Without his other arm to defend himself it was all too easy to tear his suit to pieces and his screams were abruptly ended as an armoured fist smashed through his chest plate.  Davin was knocked sideways as another suit blindsided him, sending both of them sprawling to the floor amidst twisted armour plating and spent shell casings. Davin ended up on his back and reacted first to backhand his opponent who was trying to stand.  The blow caved in one side of the cockpit and a variety of fluids seeped out of cracks in the armoured plate as it slowly toppled over, its pilot pulped from the impact.  

As Davin tried to stand. There was a sickening thud as the pin finally gave out, trapping him in place. Two more Morbius suits body checked him to the floor and pinned him to the ground whilst another fired it’s Shardgun at him at close range, trying to find weak points in his armour.  Davin’s arm ignited in pain as it was blasted apart at the elbow, followed almost immediately by the other as it was torn off at the shoulder through brute force.  Fists began hammering down on his face plate which began to buckle under the repeated impacts. Warnings flashed and flickered as cracks appeared across his view and the last thing he could make out before his suits armour plating was peeled open were two words posted across his view screen.  Mission Failed.  Bio-electric feedback coursed through his body and he screamed as every muscle in his body contracted uncontrollably.  Screwing his eyes shut he almost felt a release as he faded out into the black.

***

Davin’s vision began to return from the darkness. The hazy glow soon becoming a blinding light he couldn’t turn away from.  Dull noises reached the edge of his hearing as he lay still, his body seething with pain and unable to move.  His body was still contorted with electrical discharge from the haptic feedback his nervous system had endured just moments earlier.  The lid of his neuro-chamber came in focus and he remembered where he was; back on the RSN Cruiser orbiting above the planet he had been fighting on.  A voice spoke from beside his chamber, slightly muffled by the glass. ‘This one’s alive too’ it said.
‘That’s four. Total.’ Answered a second voice, ‘A forty per cent survival rate is good for their type of unit.’
‘They must be as good as they say then.’ Said the first voice.
‘I don’t think the brass will see it that way. They failed the mission.’
‘Shit.’ The voice whistled. ‘He’ll wish he was dead after all.’
Davin considered the statement for a moment and closed his eyes.  They were probably right.

Shell Case Shorts 11

Well here we are in November and you know what that means? The penultimate Shell Case Shorts.

This months prizes have been donated by none other than Chris Wraight, Black Library author and all round top chap. His interview with The Shell Case can be read here. Up for grabs are signed copies of his novels Wrath of Iron & Luthor Huss.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 3,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Friday 30th November 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 10

We’ve made it to double digits and we’re hurtling towards the end of the year. That means only two more competitions after this one and another step closer to the Shell Case Shorts Anthology.

I’m taking a slightly different tack with this month’s prize, paying forward some extraordinary generosity showed to me by those fine chaps at Studio Sparta. I refer to the two Firestorm Invasion start sets they sent me to review. To keep both would simply be greedy so the prize is nothing less than the Dindrenzi Federation kickstart set.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Wednesday 31st October 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 8 – Winner

August’s Shell Case Shorts was all about sci-fi as the prize was nothing less than a signed copy of Dropzone Commander from Hawk Wargames.

There was some great entries but the winning entry had to go to Erin Freeman (@SixEleven) for not only setting his story in the Dropzone universe but for telling the story from the point of view from a dropship pilot, something which is at heart of Dropzone Commander.

So, without further a-do I give you…

Seventeen Minutes – by Erin Freeman

Seventeen minutes. Seventeen minutes was the amount of time between take off and being knocked out of the sky. Seventeen minutes and my world would be turned upside down.

It was supposed to be a fairly routine mission, do it by the numbers and go home. We’d done a hundred like ‘em and there was nothing to make us think this time would be any different. What’s that saying about pride and a fall?

***

The roar of our twin vindicator cannons reverberated around the cockpit of the gunship, rattling the consoles in their frames and shaking the fillings loose in my head. Another target suppressed. It it rarely matters in war whether you hit the target or not, just whether or not they’re able to fire back. My gunner takes his finger off the firing stud as the temperature gauge starts to turn red and the lack of noise is striking. It doesn’t last for long as movement ahead provokes another withering hail of fire. Something vanishes into a push of red.

The special ops team we were escorting and providing close air support for had been on the ground for four minutes. In that time they had moved into the nearby building and were clearing it room by room. I could hear their comm chatter and bursts of weapons fire. It was messy in there. Above them, my tub and the dropship the special forces had ridden in on were doing their damnedest to keep out of reach of the anti-air fire coming their way from floors our boys had yet to clear. But for all their determination each pot shot only brought more torrents of fire from our guns on to their heads. 

A red light winked on the main console accompanied by a dirty squawk. I tapped at the light, irritated, the missile lock detection system had been playing up for days but none of the mechanics had been able to fix it. A swift thump to the console and the light went out and the squawking along with it. A burst of comm traffic from headquarters warned us of light PHR walkers in the area. I couldn’t help but smile. It was me that had reported them in the first place. Everything we’d seen on the West side of the river had been light walkers and infantry. Nothing we couldn’t handle.

Not that it mattered either way. The mission had been designated Priority-one which meant come hell, high water or immanent crushing defeat, we had to complete our mission. UCM Intelligence had indicated the structure the spec-ops team was in was a hub for a network of underground tunnels that connected to buildings two kilometres behind our lines. They’d been making monkeys out of us, and mince meat out of our men, for weeks and the brass had just about had enough.

The plan was drawn up with the usual flare that the UCM was renowned for. Turn up. Shoot our way in. Complete the mission. Shoot our way out. On top of that we only had a vague idea of which building possessed the tunnel network. It was only the volume of light weapons fire we took coming in that validated our suspicions. 

The comm burst to life in my headset again although it was chopped to hell with static. A lucky shot had hit the communications relay and was now threading everything with static. I recognise the merest sound bite long enough to recognise the voice of my wingman, Janus. I looked over to him waving to get his attention before tapping my head set and then drawing a line across my throat so he knew my comms were down. He nodded his understanding and signed that light walkers had been spotted moving on our position. I signalled my understanding and passed the information to my gunner who was already spinning up his guns.

***

Ten minutes into the mission and the barrels of the vindicators were glowing red as their ammunition ripped apart PHR infantry caught in the open and sawed through the legs of a light walker attempting to protect them. The entire area was choked with smoking wreckage and the burst bodies of the dead. The mission was going well, almost too well. Apart from having to continually adjust the dropship’s position to target the oncoming PHR infantry, the mission was shaping up to be as much fun as escorting a senior officer around a recently secured city sector.

What’s that saying about being careful what you wish for? 

I was torn from my musings by the threat detection console going crazy. System jammers sent the electronic countermeasures haywire and the missile lock warning shrieked like a frightened child. As I struggled to re-engage counter measures the world was suddenly replaced by a searing white light and the sound of shredding metal, explosions and screaming.

For what seemed like an age all I could see was white light as my brain tried to decipher just what had happened to it. As my vision gradually returned to normal everything felt simultaneously normal yet out-of-place. All I could hear was the chatter over the Comm informing me of the bloody obvious, that PHR heavy walkers were active in my sector. There was no howl of engines. No wind noise. And a strange sense of weightlessness. I had just enough time to realise that we were going down before the ground rushed up to meet me and everything went suddenly black.

***

I came to only moments after blacking out. My cockpit was a charred mess and the stink of burning plastics hung in the air, mixing with the taste of blood in my mouth. I numbly fumbled for the canopy release and with a systematic bang of exploding bolts it blew clear. I was immediately bombarded by the battle unfolding on the streets. The crack of small arms fire, punctuated by the crump of grenades all with the undertones of flyers streaking overhead and the familiar whine of vindicator Gatling guns opening up.

Bullets ricochet off the hull of the downed gunship with a comical spanking sound focussing my concussed mind.  Glancing behind me I could see that neither my co-pilot or gunner had to worry about being focussed ever again. How I’d survived a nose first impact with the ground has remained a mystery to me but I was eternally grateful none the less.

Above me Janus’ gunship was still airborne, furiously jinking and bouncing his aircraft in an effort to avoid the worst of the anti-air fire. The hull was scorched and dented from a few lucky escapes where explosives had glanced off or failed to detonate. A smoky contrail and a desperate near miss gave Janus a target of opportunity. I watched from my cockpit as he expertly wheeled on the spot and targeted a crumbling residential building two blocks down.

The familiar, comforting, sound of the vindicators rippled into life and the facade of the building exploded into an expanding cloud of dust and debris before the entire side of the building, already undermined from centuries of neglect broke away altogether and toppled into the street bringing with it broken bodies in opalescent armour.

I remember punching the air like some wet behind the ears, green back, rookie. The PHR deserved everything they got for standing in our way when by rights they should have been fighting alongside us. My elation was short-lived, however, when another rocket burst from the shadowy depth of a nearby tenement and crashed into the back of Janus’ gunship. Flames and smoke belched from the number two engine and the deep throaty engines became plaintive and stuttering.

For a moment I could see Janus struggling with the control stick, desperately trying to keep his bird aloft. He’d lingered too long, stayed on station to try to provide cover for what was turning into a cluster fuck. The gunship lurched upwards, looping drunkenly  down a narrow street. I lost sight of him but the explosion and resulting fireball reaching skywards moments later told me all I needed to know of the fate of my friend and his crew.

With nothing left for me to do but survived I yanked my rifle free from its magclamps on the cockpit floor and made a run for it. I already knew the PHR had me zeroed in as the odd opportunistic shot had come my way. I ducked, I wove and put as much covered as I could between me and where I suspected the sharp shooters were hiding. I felt a round tug at my tunic but ignored it. Stopping meant dead.

I slid to a stop behind a pile of concrete just as a PHR heavy walker lumbered into view. I recalled the garbled comms transmission. Heavy walkers active in your area. No fucking shit. In the area they looked like plucked chickens. On the ground they looked like big scary chickens with massive guns. It’s torso swiveled, weapons tracking skywards as it sought out fresh targets. 

They say in combat time slows down and reactions faster and senses heightened. I don’t know if that’s true or but because when something big comes up against something equally big hell breaks loose to the extent your mind wants to find the darkest corner possible and hide. When the shooting started my instincts took over. I’m not sure how I managed to scramble beneath the debris, let alone curl up into a fetal position, clutching my head as the ground reverberated with the concussive forces being unleashed around me. By the time silence has returned to this corner of the city two more aircraft were smoking wrecks on the ground and the third had bugged out, smoke pouring from its engines.

I risked a glance over the debris and felt the colour drain from my face as barely 10 feet away stood the walker, weapon systems smoking and the sensor dish mounted to its body clicking and whirring. I had no doubt in my mind it was looking for survivors, something else to shoot at. After a few long minutes it loosed a volley of shots into my downed craft almost, it seemed, out of principle and stalked off with what I can only describe as a sense of disappointment.

***

I stayed put for a few minutes to make sure the walker had genuinely moved on before I broke cover. I had to link with the special forces unit and somehow get the hell out of this God forsaken city. With no chance of rescue, at least not from the air, I had to move. The first rule of being downed behind enemy lines was evade capture and, frankly, I was too pretty for prison. My options were clear; either try to hot foot it back to base or link up with the spec-ops and exfill with them. As base was the other side of a war zone it was really no option at all. The second rule of survival training was await for rescue. In the absence of rescue I decided I’d settle for the next best thing; somewhere to hide.

I peered over the balcony rail of an Easterly facing apartment on the 5th floor of an old tenement. In its heyday it would have been quite luxurious but the centuries, and the Scourge, had been cruel. Overlooking the crash site I was in the building diagonally opposite that of the spec-ops team who were plying their trade in. I could only cross my fingers that they were having a better time than I was. 

I stood watch at that balcony for what felt like hours when in reality on minutes were ticking by. The scene below me was oddly calm, the nature left to run-amok oblivious is to the sudden violence unleashed moment before. The scene was ruined seconds later by the walker once more striding into view. It’s body swiveled, as it began to scan the ruins and buildings in the area once more, seeking easy prey or any survivors it might have missed. Hot on its heels a couple of units PHR infantry, clearly emboldened by the presence of such awe-inspiring weapon of war, trotted into view. I immediately dropped down behind the balcony, gripping my rifle tightly. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt fear or, for that briefest of moments, gave into the real chance that I might not make out in one piece.

I risked a glance over the balcony, with great timing as ever, as I’m just in time to see the target building implode. Spec-ops had continued with their mission, despite the chaos unfolding outside. As the PHR forces scattered I realised that the spec-ops were already out and moving to envelope the PHR infantry. Caught unprepared and in the open the PHR infantry were torn to pieces. The walker, quicker to recover turned and began stalking towards the UCM infantry, its weapons spooling up. I wanted to shout a warning but at this distance it wouldn’t be heard.

My eyes scanned the sky in vain for some sign that reinforcements were on the way to save the out-gunned elite soldiers. And once again my timing was uncanny as no sooner had the thought entered my head but a second squad of special ops broke cover from the building opposite my own. It turned out they were keeping tabs on the battle all along and had been waiting for the opportune moment to strike. The walker had its back to the men as it stalked towards the first squad. To my surprise they ran for the building I had taken refuge in. My angry objections died in my throat as the entire bottom three floors of the building they had just vacated disappeared in an expanding cloud of fire, debris and shattered glass.

The PHR walker immediately span on the spot, forgetting all about the spec-ops team it was hunting. It gave the soldiers the opening they needed. Aiming for the weaker knee joints of the walker both teams unleashed their anti-armour rockets, blasting apart the poorly armoured joints, smashing the legs apart and pitching the walker into the ground with a fatal and final thud.

Time seems to slow down as I watch, such a fearsome machine of war put out of action by the simple act of surprise and a few well placed high velocity armour-piercing rounds. The earth shakes as it crashes down into the ground, smoke trailing from a variety of wounds. I can’t say the sight of it doesn’t fill me with a mixture of emotions, the first of those is vengeance for the downing of my fellow pilots, pride in the ability and quick thinking of our troops comes a close second.

From my vantage point it looked like a slaughtered bird, letting out various groaning sounds that I could only assume were its systems and power plant failing before the walker’s shattered body gave up and went limp, fluids and gases venting from its cracked armour like blood.

The loss of the walker took the fight out of the PHR troops who turned tail and ran for it…towards the building I was hiding in. Broken or not they spotted me soon enough and a hail of gunfire was spattering all around my vantage point within moments. Abandoning my vantage point I ran back into the building, looking for the nearest stair case to move higher into the structure. I dive into the stair well, my heart pounding. Below me I can hear yelling and then a flurry of gunfire. The blood rushed in my ears as I gripped my rifle tight, risking a glance over the railings to determine how much time I had.

I could feel the icy effects of panic creeping over me, threatening to drain my energy and slow me down. Evade capture, evade capture, evade captures. I repeated the mantra over and over giving me drive to move my aching muscles once more. I hit the stairs just as an explosion below shakes the building and I get knocked from my feet. I didn’t wait to find out what happened I just ran.

***

Bursting through the door to the seventh floor I darted into the nearest room and behind the first piece of cover I can find. Rifle resting on what I suspect was once a sofa, before nature claimed it, I had a perfect view of the staircase so I could cut down anyone that came after me. I clicked the selector switch from semi-automatic to full automatic as the sounds of gunfire gradually moved up the stairs. 

As the last of the gunshots rang out I screwed my eyes shut and waited for the inevitable. Who was I trying to kid? I was a pilot not a soldier and I didn’t stand a chance against a single PHR ground pounder let alone a squad of them. The sense of panic returned and I didn’t have the strength to fight it off. As the door slammed open I dropped down and cowered behind my makeshift barricade.

I remember the slightest tremor of heavy footsteps entering the room. It seems like an odd thing to notice now, but, back then, the headset I’d been wearing the entire time was hissing static. The shot that had caught my tunic had severed the wire from my headset to comms pack and I hadn’t even noticed. It’s funny what your mind focusses on the moment before you die. But instead of feeling the cool metal of a gun barrel against my head I feel a strong hand grip my shoulder and pull me bodily upwards. 

“Hey, get ready to move out.” The gruff voiced beyond my tightly shut eyes commanded me. My heart soared; it was a voice I recognised, or at least a dialect I recognised. Peering through flinching eyelids I was met by the glassy stare of a gruff spec-ops squad leader. He was covered head to toe in shit and gravy and looked every bit the grizzled elite soldier he truly was. I know full well I grinned at him like an idiot. At first his distaste is evident but it eventually gave way to a barely perceptible smile and points out of the window to the west. I stand up and look out. Shielding my eyes against the sun I could just make out a huddle of APCs churning up dust as they raced to reach us.

I slid to the floor and let out a sigh. I glanced at my chrono and smirked. Mission complete T plus 31 minutes.

Shell Case Shorts 9

This month’s Shell Case Shorts is extra special for me as the prize is a signed copy of the utterly awesome Gruntz 15mm written by Robin Fitton, an honoured member or the wargaming community and all round top bloke.

I had the pleasure of reviewing Gruntz v1 a while back and loved it and I’m really excited that it’s coming out in print. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is the following:

Rules are as follows:

Entrants have two writing options.

1, Write a single short story of between 2,000 & 3,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Or

2. Write a pair of short stories of 1500 words the second following on from the first set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Sunday 30th September 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!