Monday, 19 October 2015

Ramshackle Games short story competition

Last month Ramshackle Games ran a competition to show off the kind of models that can be made by combining some of the parts from their range. The winning entry would receive a unique model of a water seller's vehicle, built by Ramshackle founder, Curtis Fell. The competition was to write a 300 word short story set in the post apocalyptic world of their Nuclear Renaissance game.

Putting words one after the other to win free models sounded right up my street, so I jumped at the chance to enter. But typically I wasn't able to follow the simple instructions and ended up writing a story over three times too long. Thankfully Curtis, being a gracious sort of fellow, allowed me to enter all the same. However this did me no good, as it turns out the words you choose to put one after the other still have to be really good.

The winning entries, runners-up and significant others can all be downloaded here, or you can just find my story below.

Curtis Fell's characterful, post apocalyptic, water seller model

Where the badlands begin

Standing on the firmer ground at the top of the rock, Tymm used the opportunity to pat down her one-suit, then reached up to wipe the sand from her goggles. Even though the glasses had seen better days they were still one of her most prized possessions. At least until the next siphon-harvest.

It was a time-honoured tradition to pass on your goggles to a chosen stripling and Tymm wanted them in good condition when she was to take her place in the tribe. As one of the smaller young ones she was never able to shake the feeling that she was not yet ready, so had spent several weeks practising her telling of the inheritance story that would accompany the event. If she could tell it well, it might go a long way to quieting the doubts she felt about finally become a strapling. She’d lain awake in the dark evenings, silently going over all the details from the story of the champion dust-rider, a hero from the time before the Renaissance, who had worn the goggles when discovering a deep oasis. He’d found the clear, fresh water after an arduous search, and managed to race back to his parched and dying tribes-kin with its exact location, in time to save the entire settlement.

Elements of the story had always jarred with her, especially when the other striplings teased of the old-times sounding so different, so comfortable, overflowing with water (and a sweet food called shock-let). But she had been vehemently assured it was a truething, and she certainly wasn’t going to let any doubts ruin her coming-of-age ceremony. Besides, she’d always loved the sequence where the dust-rider had to negotiate the gorge at breakneck speed. She had listened enthralled to all the little details; the rider’s subtle shifts in position, using dustier ground to his advantage on the corners, lightly touching the rear brake to encourage the back of his machine to slide out before the apex. She’d been practising the moves since she was big enough to straddle a tank, and her preternatural riding skills were the reason she had been chosen to help. They were the reason she was here now, standing on Hereward’s Rock at the very tip of her tribe’s territory, scanning the horizon of the neighbouring flat lands.

This far from the camp she knew she would have crossed into the region where the bitemites plague the sand. Dusting off and wiping the goggles regularly in such areas was second nature so as not to allow the little critters to chew their way through the leather and maybe even start on her skin. It’s unlikely they would ever get the chance to do much damage to her, but passing on ruined goggles was unthinkable.

She’d been out scouting, trying to help find the dungers lost in the storm two nights earlier, and had had to enter the infested area as the search perimeter pushed outwards. But the bitemites were hardly even an irritant right now, not worth thinking about. Not as she stood there, looking at a massive trailcloud rapidly hurtling towards her from the horizon.

Moving in the dustback without sending up a trailcloud like a penant-pole attracting every ganger and sand-bandit to your location was one of the first skills she had learnt, and was almost as ubiquitously well-known as wrapping your head during a radstorm. But whoever was coming out of the flat lands, throwing up all this dust, was way too confident to care about stealth. And judging by the size of the cloud heading her way, there were easily enough of them to deserve that confidence.

Tymm cursed herself for having stood up and made an obvious silhouette against the sky. A stripling’s error. Perhaps she really wasn’t ready for the siphon-harvest ceremony? What other mistakes could she make today? With the goggles now clear, and the dust cloud coming ever closer she could pick out what looked like twenty or thirty outriders up in front and to the sides of the main pack. They had taken up positions not dissimilar to the ones used by her own tribe when out on a hunt.

She scrambled down off the rock, trying to keep its bulk between her and the rapidly approaching party. Although she was fairly certain she’d already been seen, it would be even more amateur to advertise her position further. And anyway, some of those outriders might have scope-rifles.

It only took seconds to get down to the dustback floor, but already she could hear the roar of supercharged engines. They were coming in fast, guzzling fuel and risking engine burnout. The only thing worth such a cost would be the spoils of war. It had to be an attack. It would be foolish to try to hide out here, especially if they already suspected her presence, but she also knew that getting mobile wouldn’t give her much more of a chance. Not with her stripling’s bike, incapable of great speed, and hardly likely to outrun a warmonger vehicle, But ‘not much of a chance’ was a shiv-load better than no chance at all.

And besides her smaller bike might be more manoeuvrable.

300 strides back was the entrance to Shaitan’s Canyon, a maze of gullies, dried up drainage basins, caves and weird hoodoo rock stacks, that stretched back most of the way to her village. If she could get into that ravine, then she might just make it. And if she could extend her lead she might even be able to warn her kin. She stole a glance at the thundering warband, quickly calculating whether she could dash across the open space between her and the canyon. They were rapidly gaining on her position. It wasn’t going to be easy.

She threw the tarp off her partially concealed bike and jumped into the saddle, one foot coming down hard on the kick-start. Nothing. The woops and yells of the approaching outriders were clearly audible now, and she was pretty sure she must be in their sights. She gunned the kick-start again. Nothing. Her heart was thumping in her chest, blood pounding in her ears. She wasn’t going to make it. Third time lucky and the engine growled into life.

Simultaneously revving the gas and dumping the clutch, the bike leapt forward on its back wheel, and a fresh cloud of dirt spewed into the air behind her. Amid the dust and the din, she accelerated hard. The wind started whipping through her hair. She dipped her head and realised she could do this. She knew she wouldn't fail. The cacophony of roaring engines seemed to recede.

It was just her and the bike.

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