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Winner: Dewi Hargreaves - Maccabeus

We love nothing more than being hurled into a good story. And nothing gets our juiced quite like landing on a different world. Dewi plunged us into the heart of a war-torn planet without warning - a distant rock where man and alien are pitted in a deadly clash. Why? Who knows. All that's clear is that we're on the back foot, and it's time to get out before anyone else dies. Read his work below.

2nd Place - Open Prose Competition


Dewi Hargreaves

I open my eyes. Boom.

I look around me. Boom. They're coming. It's dark. The small room is cramped and wet, a puddle forming in the centre. The walls are bare concrete. They're white, apart from the corners, which are black. I'm huddled under a wet blanket, which covers my wet armour which covers my wet uniform. The fabric beneath my helmet is wet.

Moving is like swimming – slow and difficult and clammy. My muscles resist, like they're malfunctioning. I'm confused for a second, until I remember the day before, or the night before, the night where everything went wrong. I suddenly remember where I am, who I am.

Boom. My stomach sinks. Boom. They're coming.

There are others around me. They're also hidden under blankets, huddled up against the walls; two are pressed against each other, both shivering. They're wearing standard kit, green helmets and green armoured vests over stained khaki uniforms which are dark with damp. Not water. Blood. They still have their rifles, propped up against the walls to keep them dry.

I scan the room, taking in names. Boom. Yaron. Boom. Tabac. Aubray. Danus. The others are missing. At least I'm not alone. These boys I grew up with on Maccabeus, a planet far from here. These boys are home.

I get that sensation that people sometimes get when they're far from home, the sensation of floating up from the ground. I keep going, my mind spinning, up to the clouds, above. Boom. I'm back. Boom. They're coming.

I lie still for a while longer, calming my heart and my shaking hands before I haul myself to my feet. “Time to go,” I hear myself say. Three of them shuffle. “Sarge,” one mutters.

I know what's wrong before I even move. I approach Danus, the fourth one, and shake his shoulder lightly, then unclip his ident from his uniform. Some don't do this, but I always do. Better for them to go down as KIA than MIA. Boom. Families can move on. Boom. They're coming.

We pull out canteens and mess tins and vacuum-packed proteins and eat without speaking. No-one looks at Danus. Better not to. Light starts to trickle in through a metal grate at the top of the wall. It shines on the puddle. Not water. Blood.

Tabac speaks after eating. “Not bad,” Boom. “Not bad.” Boom.

“You're lucky,” Yaron says. “You can't see it.”

“That's something,” Tabac says, his blank eyes staring.

“No chatter,” I say.

We're preparing to head out when the wireless crackles to life. Boom. Danus has it. Boom. “They're coming.” I remove it from Danus's pack and attach it to my own. The retreat has been ordered. Time to move. We pack away and retrieve our rifles. I check mine. Still charged.

A body lies in the entrance. Not human. We step over it and move down the corridor, flicking our lights on. Beams bounce off of walls and bodies and blood mixed red and green on the floor. Not water. The walls are blackened, scorched by laser fire and explosions. I check my rifle instinctively. Boom. Still charged. Boom. They're coming. Yaron vomits in a corner. We carry on.

We're outside in the weak morning light. The dual suns glare down at us, poking out from behind the gas giant which this moon orbits. They look green through the sick atmosphere that hugs this world. I float again.

“Sarge?” Boom.

“I'm back.” Boom. They're coming.

Tabac speaks as we move down the cliff. “How far behind?”

“Not far,” Aubray says.

“How far ahead?”

“No chatter,” I say.

Our slow descent leads down a path we all remember from before. It takes us over a stream. There are still scorch marks on the rocks, blackened by laser fire and explosions. No blood, just water. The swamps lie below us, covered by mist. Explosions flash, the rumbles carried on the sick air. The battle is ongoing. A gunship shudders overhead and we smile. Boom. It drops. Boom. They're coming.

A gorge blocks our path so we are forced to rappel down the cliff-face. Moving is like swimming; slow and difficult and clammy. I'm last down. Boom. Screaming. Boom. They're coming.

“I'm sorry,” Tabac says.

“Don't worry,” Yaron says.

“It's just that I can't -”

“No chatter,” I say.

I check my rifle. Still charged. We move into the trees, smearing our faces with swamp mud for camouflage. Water, not blood. We continue down the mountainside, following a path we all remember from before. A craft zooms over us, distorting reality; we duck beneath the plants. I float again. Boom. I'm back. Boom. “They're coming,” Tabac says.

The heat is unbearable. Aubray faints. I carry him. The dual suns have crept high into the sky. The swamp below boils, sending steam and awful smells skyward. It crystallises on my skin, dampens my uniform, my armour, my helmet, my rifle. Water, not blood. My lungs strain against the warmth as it sits on my chest. The others are ahead of me. They stop and unpack their canteens, mess tins and vacuum-packed proteins. I join them. They drain their drinks as I use mine to splash water in Aubray's face. Boom. He blinks. Boom.

“Missing Maccabeus yet?” Yaron asks.

“Have been since the start,” Aubray says.

“When are we going home?” Tabac asks me.

“No chatter,” I say.

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