The Hunt (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on The Hunt (Part 1 of 2)

The Hunt (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Admin | Tags: , ,

This short story was submitted to us by Featured Author Samuel Bevan, a Dystopian Wars gamer who was clearly inspired to create this entertaining story. We hope you enjoy reading his work as much as we did:

The spray lashed against the prow of the cruiser, whipping salt and icy fragments over the huddled crew members as they stumbled over the heaving deck. The brooding cloud cover, the driving rain and the booming of the thunder dampened the steady rumble of the engine as Captain Worthing scanned the horizon uselessly with his imagifier. The bronze gears whirred on the handheld device as he tried to spot anything in the stormy sea.

“Sir!” called a man from inside the cabin as another big wave came crashing over the bow. Worthing slammed his imagifier shut and walked with a curious rolling motion across the deck back into the relative shelter of the cabin. Exec Laurel saluted as the captain hung his waterproof over the brass hook and forced the cabin door shut.

“What did you call me in for, exec?” Worthing asked as he strode over to the helm. “Engineering called through sir, they say that our portside paddlewheel has been brought out of gear by the storm.” The Captain sighed in frustration. Whilst the paddlewheel ships could deal with nearly all weather, the drive on the FSS Calhoun had been thrown out of joint thanks to the constant high speed the ship had been subject too as she raced after their prey, a mechanical Ika.

“Well, we’re unlikely to keep up our current speed, and the devilish machine has probably made good headway under the waves whilst we get thrown around in this seething cauldron of a sea. Tell engineering to move to the necessary speed to ride out this storm.” Laurel saluted stiffly and turned away. Worthing understood why. The Ika had wreaked havoc on American shipping right under the Federated States nose just south of Florida. Analysts believed the beast to have been the sister ship of another Ika encountered near the Falkland Islands earlier that month… let loose by the Japanese commanders of the Iwate battlegroup to cause further destruction on Britannian and American merchant lanes. Thousands of Britannian and American merchant sailors had been lost and the blasted machine had run rings around state naval forces until eventually, with pressure mounting, the President had finally released the federal military to deal with the problem as they saw fit.

The FSS Calhoun had been part of the wider search net and had come closer than any other ship to the Ika. After a brief engagement, the squid had sunk beneath the waves and fled into the Atlantic, with the Calhoun in hot pursuit. Now, far into the Mid Atlantic, with the storm destroying the wake of the monster, Nathaniel Worthing II knew that it was time to cut his losses. That the crew didn’t feel the same way was understandable, but the officers needed to understand that this was the kind of decision that a commander had to make.

“Without the wake to follow, gentlemen, we are unlikely to keep tabs on the Ika. I do not wish to endanger this ship by forging a path needlessly through a storm of this magnitude. We will ride it out and then take stock for our next move.” The officers on the bridge nodded assent to the logic of the order, but Nathaniel knew they still weren’t happy about it. To tell the truth though, neither was he.

The vibration of the superstructure began to peter out as the Calhoun’s engines began slowing slightly. Suddenly a bell began ringing and on the console a red bulb flashed several times. Along the wood panelled display several other lights sprang up. One of the officers leapt up and briefly scanned them. “It’s the starboard watch station sir,” the man said breathlessly, “they say they’ve seen something at….” the man traced a finger over the lights as they flashed the position “…twenty degrees starboard. Unidentified” Captain Worthing had been leaning forward as the man spoke, but slumped at the last. Without a positive identification it was useless to attempt anything. “We hold course gentlemen.” The atmosphere of the bridge once again crackled with disappointment, but there was little to be done. Nathaniel turned to the windows, lashed with rain as they were, and trained his imagifier in the same direction that the watch had indicated; outside was just the same as before – the dark heaving sea, the black clouds overhead that obscured what must be the night sky. He glanced at his pocket watch: half past eleven, the crew had been on tenterhooks since early that morning. Even with their prey gone, though, there was no time to relax the alert.

A sudden peal of thunder rumbled in, and a flash illuminated the sky with a few seconds of stark white light. Nathaniel suddenly saw… something… through his imagifier – a metallic glint off in the distance. He pressed a small lever and gears whirred as the imagifier slotted more powerful lenses into place. “Gentlemen, man your posts and inform the crew to stand by. I want the starboard watch focused on eighteen degrees. Tell engineering I want that paddle wheel brought back into line now!” The bridge came alive as the crew sat up at their posts or jumped to obey the captain’s instructions. Exec Laurel grabbed the speaking tube and in his clipped Boston accent instructed the crew to resume alert. A young officer, new out of West Point, Nathaniel thought, called that engineering had made the paddlewheel as close to in sync as possible without disengaging the drive shaft. Worthing blocked all this out as he stared into the distance, waiting for another lightning flash. Whilst this happened he was well aware that the rest of the Calhoun’s complement would be brushing tiredness aside as they awaited whatever may come.

“Con, adjust course two points to the larboard. I want us at the top of the swell when the next flash comes. Tell the observation post they should adjust their imagifiers to compensate.” Silence reigned. The clock in the bridge ticked the seconds away, the floor rumbled with the engine and the rain drummed against the windows. The breathing of the crew suddenly became loud, filling the air as the crew licked their dry lips and stared at their instruments. The silence was largely unnecessary, but there was some human instinct, perhaps from aeons long ago, that said the hunter should be silent, lest he warn his prey ere he has a chance to strike.

The rumble of thunder broke the eerie stillness, then the long awaited flash. Captain Worthing strained his eyes into the distance, willing them to catch sight of whatever it was out there. Nothing. He scanned with his imagifier, first calmly, then desperately, back and forth over the dark waters. Still, nothing broke the waves. With a defeated sigh, Worthing lowered the device. Another rumble of thunder, another flash….. Nathaniel shook his head, whatever it had been, it had slipped from their….

BRRRRIIIIIINGGG!!!! The red light on the panel blazed into the bridge. “Positive identification sir… twenty-nine degrees to the starboard. It’s that damned Ika, sir!”

“All ahead full! Con – swing us around. Weapons – I want a firing solution for the rockets. I want a wide spread to hit that thing’s cog-wheel brain.”

With the Atlantic Ocean swirling as the paddles dug deep, the Calhoun sped onward into the dark and stormy night toward her prey. Aboard, the crew dashed hither and thither, ramming shells into breaches and running last minute checks. Captain Worthing brushed down his grey uniform and opened his pocket watch. It was near midnight now, and the Calhoun continued to plunge through the surf, the rumbling in the deck growing to a groan as the ship continued to forge a path through the sea. Another thunderclap rumbled through and a big wave tossed the cruiser bodily as it smashed amidships.

“Keep her steady con!” exclaimed the Captain as the ship shuddered. Then he laughed grimly and said aside to his exec, “Wonderful weather for a squid hunt eh Laurel?” “Aye sir…. pity this one isn’t biting.” Nathaniel snorted and turned sharply on his heels. “Are those firing solutions ready?”

“Yes sir, just plotted them now.” The officer handed the sheet his commander. “The superintendent of the battery has informed me that there’ll be some difficulty getting the bang for our buck in this weather, sir.” Worthing brushed him aside. “Give me the speaking tube,” he ordered, and was passed the brass funnel with its flexible tube that ran into the bowls of the vessel. “Rocketry, this is the Captain.”

“Aye sir!” came the tinny reply. The tube wasn’t brilliant even on a good day, but with the cacophony raging outside, conversation was hardly going to be easy. “Give me the low down, Super”. “Aye sir. We’re having difficulty keeping the launch pad stable in this sea, so I can’t guarantee they’ll fly straight and true. More to the point, with all this rain we’ll be hard pressed to make the rockets launch in a standard salvo. You’re simply unlikely to hit anything in this weather!”

Nathaniel drummed his fingers against the weapons console, staring at the sheet which gave him the weapons plot. Rockets at this range were his best bet against the Ika, but it was also his one and only shot against the beast. If they missed, undoubtedly the thing would slip beneath the waves again, and the crew would be back to square one. If they hit then the hunt could be over…. or not if the Ika turned and tried to attack. The ship would be hard pressed to fight in this kind of weather, and at close quarters to boot. “Damn the weather, super, I want those rockets in the air! This is our best chance yet. Make it happen!” “Yes sir!” the reply was loud even over the speaking tube, and Worthing passed the device tube back to the weapons officer. “Right gentlemen, all hands to stations. I want the turret tracking that thing’s every movement, and be ready to break out the close-quarters weaponry, in case that Jap beastie comes any closer. Y’all understand?” A chorus of affirmatives greeted his words as he strode back to the front of the bridge.

The outside world remained dark, foreboding and streaked with the torrential rain. Suddenly, amidst the dimness the bright red flare of a rocket, along with the piercing whistle of its passing, burst into the atmosphere. Quickly drawing up his imagifier, Worthing followed the streaking contrail as it billowed up into the sky. He winced as the flare began spiralling, buffeted by the wind, until the projectile was blown far off course, tumbling out of the sky as the tempest took its toll. With a dull boom the rocket finally exploded in mid-flight, the gyroscope mechanism of the projectile triggering a premature detonation. Worthing turned his gaze to the rocket platform just below the bridge…. indistinct figures stumbled to and fro, he saw the brief flare of the next touch-paper and then another rocket streaked skyward, followed by another two in short succession. As the third one began to rise, a massive wave struck the Calhoun, causing her to shudder and quake; the rocket fired off wildly to starboard, plunging harmlessly into the waves, its propellant and charge extinguished by the Atlantic.

Worthing hardly noticed this as he watched the other two more successful launches. The flares pirouetted through the sky, buffeted by the wind, but maintaining their course…. five more shrieks on deck announced the launch of a further spread and the end of the cruiser’s complement of rockets. The streaks of fire lit up the dark sky, a rumble and flash of lightning again threw the scene into a stark relief. One of the rockets was frazzled by an arc of electricity, exploding like a flare far above the ocean as the lightning coursed through it. Still the others flew on towards the Ika, plunging down from on high. Worthing watched with a satisfied smile as several explosions blossomed not too far ahead. “Looks like a palpable hit exec,” he murmured. “Yes sir!” came Laurel’s reply. “But now for the reckoning,” continued the Captain. He scanned ahead, willing for another flash of lightning so that he could pick out the details. Nature seemed to feel obliging, and the brief flash chilled Worthing to the bone….

Rearing out of the water ahead was a monstrosity that only a warped mind could have built. Long lashing limbs thrashed in the water, which splashed onto grinding cutters that spun in the place where a mouth should be. The metallic surface shone dully in the light, and the beast was powering straight towards the Calhoun, leaving bits of armour plating in her wake that had been destroyed by the rocket impacts. Nathaniel fancied he could see the inner workings of the beast, exposed to the elements thanks to his other encounters with it. He realised with a shudder that the Ika had previously been unwilling to fight. Now it was powering towards the gnat that had foolishly disturbed its journey, with the intent of squashing it flat.

With an effort, Worthing quashed the fear rising in his stomach and, keeping his voice level but urgent, gave his orders. “I recommend that the turret begins firing Lieutenant!” “Yessir” – the reply was also just short of the anxious. A moment later, the flash of the main gun bathed the bow in orange. The report of the cannon was lost amidst the waves, but all on the bridge cheered when an answering flash showed directly in the maw of the mechanical squid. “Commendations to the gun crew I think sir?” said Laurel aside to his commander. Worthing gestured with his hand, as if to say, “If we survive…” The Ika meanwhile had reared up, as if in genuine pain. Worthing hardly knew how the machine’s mind worked; he wondered whether even its Japanese creators did, so if it felt pain or not was a moot point. Another shell was sent its way as the Calhoun began to close in.

“Circle and hold our distance as well as you can, con. We don’t want to get too close to that thing.” The cruiser’s prow began to swing to larboard, the turret tracking the beast as they moved. Another shell flew but plunged harmlessly into the sea. The Ika started swimming for them again… the turret fired once more, the crew working hard in their attempt to stop the headlong charge of the beast. Debris cascaded off the top of the metal monster’s bulk as the shell clipped its topside. A sudden screech rent the air, causing many to clamp their hands to their ears on the bridge. With a fluid motion, the Ika dived beneath the raging sea. Worthing spun round. “Arm yourselves, when that beast emerges we’ll be right in its grip! Alert the crew… this isn’t going to be pretty.” Grey uniformed figures scurried to the wooden weapons lockers, one of the staff twisted the combination lock and began handing out swords, pistols and sharpshooter rifles. Most wore grim expressions on their faces; against Luftlancer or Samurai these would be admirable armaments. But what use would they be against the foe that now faced them?

“Where is that beast?” Murmured Peter Laurel, as he glanced nervously through the glass… Captain Worthing glanced over at the Sturginium Detection Officer. The subaltern shook his head: no contacts, not that anything could really be picked up in this weather. None of the observation posts on deck reported any sighting either.The crew of the Calhoun held their collective breath. “Hold fast gentlemen, hold fast.” Nathaniel said gauging the mood of his men as he checked his two pistols and the sword strapped to his belt. Better to die with weapons in hand, even if those weapons were useless. “Where are you?” he whispered, “Come out and fight, dammit.” Still the silent expectation stretched on, the cruiser ploughing through the Atlantic as it awaited the emergence of her foe.

To be continued.