Winner of the Hive, Queen and Country Writing Contest
It is with a great deal of pleasure that I announce the winner of the HQC Writing Contest. The rules were simple, write a story, adventure, scenario or whatever using themes taken from three randomly selected books. There were a total of six entries and all showed a lot of work, creativity and a fine selection of random source material. The following story The Sniper, was selected by votes on my Yahoo group. I hope you enjoy this tale as much as I have. The author is a gentleman named Andrew Webb. He will be recieving his prize, which includes a unit of HQC bugs painted by me and a signed copy of The Hive and the Flame when that is published.
Here is the story-
Serjeant James Ireland of the 65th, he never would get used to the new territorial title “1st Battalion York & Lancaster”, damn Cardwell and all his ilk, as long as he lived, lifted the stock of his Holland & Holland .577 snipers rifle to his shoulder and began his routine check of the targets assigned to him. Nothing much had changed in the last fifteen minutes or so, but given the circumstance that was just as well.
“Hey soojint” came a low voice out of the darkness to his right. One of the men of the Boer Commando assigned for close protection to the British snipers wanted a chat it seemed. Serjeant Irelands instinctive response was to tell him to shut up until spoken too, but although that was normal (and expected) procedure when dealing with a talkative private of one of Her Majesty’s line, it was highly counterproductive when dealing with the inquisitive and highly touchy Boers, highly unproductive indeed. So stifling a sigh, serjeant Ireland replied “Yes Denis?”
“You sure you can hit those Russians from here?”
“Yes Denis, pretty sure”
“Sorry soojint, all this waiting is hard for we Afrikaners” Replied Denis, Sjt Ireland saw his shape move in the darkness.
“What was it like soojint? Fighting those creatures?” He asked.
Sjt Ireland thought for a minute or two, though it seemed like hours as the memories flashed through his mind. He saw his older brothers regaling him with stories of the Crimea, and fighting in India and New Zealand, he thought of his first skirmishes in the mountains of the North West frontier against the Pathans, and his first big battles. El Teb and Tamai in the Sudan, he would never forget those, especially the second fight at Tamai when the square broke. The “web feet”, the Royal Marines and sailors could not keep up and let a gap appear in the corner of the square. He remembered thousands of fuzzies appearing literally out of the ground, and the desperate attempts of the 42nd and 65th to reform in the chaos of hand to hand combat with sword wielding fanatics. He remembered his long bayonet dripping, no streaming, with blood and his uniform being covered in it, the sheer exhausted relief of seeing the fuzzies cut and run, and the vicious pleasure of revenge as he and his comrades fired into the retreating mass.
But for all that they were men, men who were your enemies certainly, but in whom you could recognize the qualities of bravery, honor, discipline, and self sacrifice. Men you could respect.
But the bugs, now that was different, very different indeed.
“The first battles, by God above they were nasty, and we learnt pretty quickly not to let them get too close” Sjt Ireland began “the cold steel was not a very good idea against the hive I can tell you! And that first Christmas offensive, well you would have read in the papers what happened to that. But we learnt Denis, we had to learn very quickly indeed” he continued to explain.
“We learnt about their weak points, about the tunnels and the nests, about the harvesters, about the queens and we learnt about the drones”
“Drones” whispered Denis “what are they”
“Sort of like a bug officer” replied the old serjeant “While they are on the field, the bugs keep coming no matter what, and act pretty much as one, kind of like the Guards really, however if you kill them, then the bugs come all over like new recruits on their first drill practice, all over the shop, they lose all direction and even start attacking each other”
“That’s where that monster rifle of yours comes in eh soojint?”
“Very observant Denis” he replied “come and have a look lads, we have a few minutes spare”
Four of the closest commandos, including their cornet, crept over to his sangar on the ridge line and examined the massive rifle and its large scope with what he could only think of as professional interest. Funny to think that they were simple farmers, but as Colonel Jamieson said “Remember, they may be farmers, but boy they can shoot! Remember Majuba!”
“This, my friends, is the Holland & Holland .577/3” Nitro Express Special Service Rifle, with the Tower armory optical sight, effective at well over 2000 yards” He explained. “It is, as you can see, a magazine fed bolt action rifle, and will splatter drones as far as the eye can see, so you can imagine what it will do to a Russian!”
The grins of the Boers were plain to see even in the darkness.
“Why is the telescope so big?” Asked Cornet Johann Reitz
“It gathers the light, and trust me, when fighting the bugs it’s not good at all to be in the dark. We used to fire flares all night and use electric spotlights, and even then, well you can imagine, anyway here take a look” the Serjeant answered.
Johann took a look through the site at the Russian entrenchments. “By God almighty, it looks like a cloudy afternoon, not nighttime” he murmured.
Serjeant Ireland nodded, but his thoughts were far away, he saw the hordes of swarming bugs racing to defend their tunnels from Lord Wolseley’s second great assault. He felt his heart pounding again as he and his comrades rushed to identify and eliminate the drones which were directing the assaults against the massive armored juggernauts of the Royal Engineers armored corps. He saw again the massive bombardments by siege artillery, the gas strikes, and of course the deadly and repeated strafing by the Naval and Army Aerolyths….
And that was why they were here on the hills overlooking the Russian Imperial “Assistance Force” base near the Transvaal capital of Pretoria. The Russian light Aerolyths could cause absolute havoc with the planned Boer uprising, and delay or even stop assistance from British regulars and Imperial volunteers from Cape Province and Natal. They had to be eliminated.
As explained by his Captain, the Boers had won independence from Britain with significant support from Imperial Russia in 1881; however the Russian support had come with significant strings which rapidly became chains. The Boers now found themselves incorporated as Russian Crown possessions; prisoners of the very empire that they had thought would liberate them. They had been forced to turn to their former enemies the British for assistance.
Sjt Ireland had heard a similar story from members of the Georgian Legion which came to Britain to help fight the Hive, about the Russian depredations and oppression in their homeland, and how the Georgians turned to their ancient enemies the Turks in a desperate but ultimately forlorn attempt to regain their freedom.
Hopefully this would turn out better.
Sjt Ireland looked through his scope again. “Better get back into position lads, it’s almost time”
The Boer Commandoes quickly crept back into the darkness and disappeared from view. It never ceased to amaze him their ability to blend so quickly into their native countryside.
He went through his checklist of targets again, firstly as soon as the assault began he and the other snipers were to eliminate the Russian Maxim machine guns of the relevant redoubts. He quickly scanned the Russian tent lines and officers barracks, they would be the main target of the Royal Artillery 1-pdr Maxims, the “Pom-poms” firing indirectly, but it still paid to keep an eye on them.
Once the redoubts and support weapons were dealt with and the tent lines suppressed by the Pom-Poms, it would be the job of the snipers to hunt down Russian officers attempting to organize counter attack on the British cavalry troopers and Boers who were to capture two of the redoubts and a connecting series of trenches, and provide covering fire for the Royal Engineers and Boers who were to destroy the Aerolyth fliers and their hangars.
“Almost time” he thought, funny how the last few minutes before a battle seemed to be a constant battle with sleep, but in a few seconds he would be awake enough!
He could see the storming party creeping closer to the redoubts and trench lines they were to assault, a minute or two later he saw the bayonets rise and fall as the British troopers dealt with the unsuspecting sentries and silenced the sleeping garrisons of the positions they had captured.
“Any second now…”
Signal flares launched into the night from the captured positions, a sound like tearing canvas ripped overhead and a box barrage and “piston fire” erupted around and through the Russian tent lines and officers quarters. The incredible accuracy of the Babbage field calculators was uncanny, they might be too slow to use against a moving target, but against a fixed position they were simply incredible. The box barrage sealed off the tent lines, while other “Pom-poms” walked their fire with eerie accuracy through the tents with murderous effect.
Now it was the snipers turn, one by one he rapidly picked off his assigned targets and their crews as shocked and still half sleeping Russian conscripts stumbled from their bunkers in the redoubts below him. The training kicked in as always, he could almost hear the Serjeant Instructor of Musketry now. Select the target, breathe in, as you breathe out let the sights fall through the target, squeeze the trigger not pull, all the while bracing for the massive recoil from “Charlie the bastard”, observe the effect and repeat.
Within a few minutes the sniper teams had dealt with the redoubts closest to the breached line, thoroughly suppressing the surviving defenders and knocking out their machine guns. The Boer covering parties now took up the work of keeping the defenders heads down with great enthusiasm. The RA Pom-poms had lifted their fire to enfilade the Russian redoubts and trenches farthest from the entry point.
Sjt Ireland watched as dazed survivors from the tent lines began forming up behind a Russian officer waving his sword towards the captured redoubts.
“Brave, I will give them that” he thought as he swung his sights onto the distant figure.
“Sorry old son” He murmured as he lined up the young Russian officer, through the scope he could clearly see the young officer waving his men forward towards the nearest of the captured redoubts.
The Serjeant used the scope markings to estimate the range, and it was nice of the Russians to have so many pennants around for estimating windage.
The rifle kicked furiously as he squeezed the trigger, and nearly 1500 yards away the Russian officers chest and back exploded as the full metal jacketed .577 round smashed into him, leaving the following Russian soldiers stopped dead in their tracks. Other snipers had seen the danger, more high power rounds ripped into the crowded mass causing havoc and the counter attack rapidly collapsed.
A flash of light followed by a rolling boom split the night and showed the Royal Engineers were amongst their targets already, swiftly a second and third explosion sent flames and wreckage soaring into the night sky.
“One more to go” thought Sjt Ireland as he proceeded to cover the raiding party.
Suddenly the engineers and their Boer escorts began to go down in flailing heaps of men and horses, the survivors rapidly sought cover amongst the impedimenta of assorted engineering and base equipment.
“Damn it to hell” he swore, where was that fire coming from? Then he saw it, an armored car nosing its way out of the last hangar. Fire spat from its two machine gun turrets as it pinned down the Engineers and the Commandos.
“Coronet Reitz” He roared over the noise of the fighting “Get the other teams to concentrate fire on that wagon!” after a seconds pause he added “Sir!”
He took aim at what appeared to be the engine compartment, praying the armor there was not too thick. He could see the sparks and flashes all over the vehicle as the fire of the Royal Engineers and commandos bounced off.
The rifle bucked and an instant later a cloud of steam erupted from the front of the armored car.
“Bastard” he swore, it was steam powered, so much for the idea of setting it on fire then. He sighted just below one of the turrets and squeezed the trigger, wham, once again the rifle kicked like a mule.
Some of the other snipers had the same idea, it was impossible to know which shots penetrated the heavily armored crew compartment, but several did with lethal effect. Inside the vehicle the solid rounds bounced around until they hit something soft, such as the crew, while armor-piercing incendiary round set off the ammunition. The armored car burst into flame from an internal explosion as tracer rounds flew randomly into the night in all directions.
But disaster still loomed, the crew of the final Aerolyth gunboat had used the time gained by their comrades in the armored car to power up their craft, it began nosing its way out of the hanger past the burning wreckage, while its gatling guns began searching the hills in an effort to suppress the snipers and its maxims kept the engineers at bay.
Serjeant Ireland fleetingly saw a small group of engineers cut down as they attempted to rush the Aerolyth with a satchel charge.
He lined up the small bridge of the flyer; luckily the crew was too preoccupied with trying to get airborne to close the battle shutters. He took aim, and began to squeeze the trigger when a blow like a steam hammer smashed into his side. And dust, rocks, and gatling rounds filled the air around him, a Gunner on the Russian flyer had found his position.
Hands grabbed him from under the ruin of his sangar and pulled him over into cover. He looked up into Denis Reitz’s grinning face “You good soojint? Looks like you were lucky, only some rocks in your ribs my friend!” he laughed. Hell, it hurt anyway, the Serjeant knew he was out of this fight, and through clenched teeth he instructed “Damn it Denis, the Flyer, you have to aim for the bridge, NOW MAN!!”
Denis flopped down behind the rifle and peered through the scope, the rifle roared, and then again twice more as Denis corrected his fire.
Under a hail of fire from the British snipers, Cavalry troopers and Royal Engineers, and from the scores of Boer Commandos, the Russian Aerolyth turned and started to climb. Denis’ last shot penetrated the bridge side on, and the craft rolled over on its side and crashed to the ground, fire spewing from its gatlings and maxims to the last.
It was over.
“Well done Denis” Serjeant Ireland exclaimed through clenched teeth as the young Boer bandaged his broken ribs. The horse ride back to the rendezvous was going to be hell.
“Well done to you too Soojint” replied Denis.
All over the Russian station the surviving Russian troops were surrendering, the destruction of the last Aerolyth had broken them completely.
“Thank you Serjeant, and all your comrades” called Coronet Johann Reitz as the column rode down from the heights.
A few minutes later Denis was vomiting violently, Serjeant Ireland hobbled over and patted him on the back.
“Is it always like this?” Denis moaned as he wiped his mouth on his cuff.
“Only the first few times” the old Serjeant replied “Just pray you don’t get used to it like me lad” he added quietly. “You did well, I am glad you Boers are on our side”
Denis and Johann Reitz surveyed the carnage caused by the Royal Artillery Pom-Poms, and the British Sniper teams.
“Not as glad as I am to be on yours” replied the Coronet.
Colonel Jamieson and Commandant Botha looked on as the British regulars and their Boer comrades rode quickly away from the now burning and thoroughly looted Russian base. As they watched their respective troops pass Commandant Botha exclaimed “Well I am glad you did not fight like that a Majuba!”
Colonel Jamieson laughed, shook Botha’s hand and replied “Well, we hadn’t had to fight the bugs by then! We have found it pays to be less, shall we say, sporting! Let me tell you about it……”
Commandant Botha laughed in turn as he listened to his British counterpart, the great Boer rising was on!