Tuesday, 7 October 2014

OHMCS: Ladies' Night

Back in 2012, I wrote a series of six short stories for our Crooked Dice game On Her Majesty's Crooked Service, which the guys ran at the Salute games day. The stories were intended to introduce the players to the various cast of heroes and villains that they might end up playing on the day. It was also an excuse for me to inflict my writing on a bunch of unsuspecting wargamers, under the pseudonym Robin Bland.

It seems unfair to limit the suffering to them alone though, so here is part one, featuring the dashing, delightful Daretroopers from our 7TV series The Daredevils. The Daretroopers were essentially an elite trio of fighting women who would be called in by their bosses, the high-flying Daredevils, when a threat called for extra firepower.

As with all the OHMCS stories, I tried to build in references to their characters' actual skills and equipment, as seen on the game's stat sheets, obsessive that I am.

One last note: I originally wrote the story for three male characters, and only discovered late that the guys' had written the game with three female models in mind, so taking a leaf from the writers of the film Alien, I flipped the Daretroopers' genders without substantially changing their characters or dialogue. Astute readers might notice that they're loosely based on a far more famous (and male) trio of dashing warriors.

* * *

Ladies’ Night

May narrowed her eyes and concentrated on the target. Blocking out the noise, the heat and the smoke all around her, she focussed solely on her breathing and keeping her hand steady. Someone shouted her name somewhere off to one side, but she tuned it out and took the shot.
“Double top! I don’t believe it!” spluttered one of the pub locals as May strode over to the board and retrieved her darts.
“Best of three, wasn’t it? That would be twenty pounds, my dear chap.”
May, eyes twinkling beneath a sandy blonde fringe, addressed the shaggy-haired young farmer who was still gripping his own darts fiercely in one meaty hand.
“Best of five.” The young man muttered back, eyeing her with mounting hostility.
“Sorry dear, it’s past my suppertime and I was rather hoping to spend your hard-earned cash on a pint and pie.” Still smiling, she put out a hand. “So cough up, there’s a good lad.”
The young farmer scowled and lurched up off his barstool, coming close enough to breath beerily into May’s face.
“I ain’t paying you nothing,” he snarled, “You cheated, you did.”
The rest of the locals in the pub caught the accusation and put their pints down, all eyes on the brewing trouble by the bar.
“Now, now, no need to get nasty, dear boy. There’s no shame in admitting defeat in the face of a superior opponent.”
“’Superior opponent’ – hark at her!” mocked one of the young farmer’s drinking partners – a wiry fellow with close-set eyes. “Coming in here like she owns the place. Why don’t she go back to her ruddy airfield?”
“Yeah, her and her toffee-nosed girlfriends!” shouted another brave soul from somewhere beyond the fruit machine. “I seen strange stuff over at that ‘flying school’. Weird lights in the sky at night, trees all blown over one minute and all stood back up the next!”
“There’s something not right about them lot!”
The murmurs and grumbles grew from every part of the pub, as the locals began to get off their stools and close in on May. A slender woman reading a book of poetry looked up from her table with an expression of alarm.
May drew her hand back, bunching it into a fist. But before she could take any action, a dark woman in a fur-fringed leather coat detached herself from the jukebox and moved between her and the young farmer.
“Easy there, we’re just here for a quiet drink. Nobody wants a fight.” Her voice was cultured, soft and calm, her eyes bright beneath finely arched brows.
“Says you, stewardess.”
Sneering out the last words with sarcasm, the farmer waved a fistful of darts menacingly in her face. May’s gaze flicked from the dark woman to the wicked metal tips and back again. “Sorry April, I appear to have offended the natives’ local gods.”
Dark-haired April didn’t take her gaze from the red-faced farmer before her, and sighed. “You really don’t want to do-”
She got no further when the farmer jabbed his fist toward her stomach with a drunken explosion of breath, expecting her to jump back out of harm’s way. But April didn’t move, and simply looked down at the farmer’s hand as he withdrew the dart tips from her now punctured leather coat. There was no blood.
“What on..?”
With a quick punch, April smashed the man in the jaw, who reeled back into a pair of his fellow pub-goers as they surged forward, fists flying. May caught the first one in a headlock and swung him round into the second.
Back to back with April, they fought off the locals with feet and fists. Pints, stools and ashtrays flew in all directions.
“Wearing your bullet-proof vest to the pub? I thought you looked a little broad in the beam, sweetie.” May shot a quick glance down to April’s punctured but unbloodied coat. “And we may have to find ourselves another local pub, I fear!” she shouted above the roar of the melee.
“I think this was the last one in the county!” grunted April as she took a head-butt to the ribs and replied with a well-placed elbow.
On the edge of the scrum, the wiry man with the close-set eyes had scrambled over the bar and retrieved the landlord’s shotgun and was even now moving in to let April and May have it with both barrels.
Then he felt something cold and hard and sharp at his throat. A gentle, well-mannered voice whispered into the wiry man’s ear from behind. “I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The wiry man froze, the shotgun now loose in his hands, as the owner of the voice moved round to disarm him. It was the slender poetry reader, sliding a thin blade back into the spine of her book. She looked down at the shotgun with something like distaste, then shoved it forcefully into the man’s stomach, dropping him to the floor with a breathless oof.
“Much obliged June!” called May, catching her partner’s eye as she charged past, dragging a dazed local by his belt. Behind her, April was throwing a man through the doors of the ladies and apologising to whomever it was that squealed in alarm at the intrusion.
The bell above the bar suddenly rang and everyone stopped to look round. There, perched on the bar, the bell in one hand and a packet of salted peanuts in the other, was a most attractive young woman. “Time gentlemen, please! And ladies, of course.”
“Katrina!” The three women spoke at once.
“If I can drag you girls away from your Saturday night fighting, duty calls.” She smiled disarmingly, instantly defusing the air of violence in the pub, and hopped off the bar. “Your chariot awaits without.”
April, May and June followed her outside, stepping over groggy locals and spilt pints. Parked immediately opposite the pub was a remarkable vehicle, twenty feet long, like a strange sort of American stretch limousine, though surely no other car looked like this, nor came in such a remarkable shade of sapphire blue.
Katrina Dare climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car with low purring growl. April took the passenger seat as the other two sat behind. “You called, Milady?” she inquired coolly.
The car pulled away smoothly, rolling out of the village and down the high hedged country lanes.
“Yes indeed, April, it seems we have need of you ladies’ skills once more.”
“What is it this time, ma’am?” asked June, “A bomb on the trans-Australian express?”
“A tidal wave bearing down on the royal yacht?” hazarded May.
“Swarm of army ants marching on Rio, perhaps?” April added, with a tinge of dark humour.
“Not quite that exotic, but something that definitely requires the particular abilities of the Daretroopers.” Katrina took the strange car confidently down a winding lane, its sides brushing the hedges on either side. A break in the foliage ahead suggested a field entrance.
“You know of course of S.H.I.V.A.?” The three women nodded. “Well, it seems the Guru is up to another mad scheme, something which would explain the strange weather we’ve been tracking worldwide.
“Where do you need us, ma’am?” April braced herself as Katrina steered the vehicle sharply at the break in the hedge and down a short track. Ahead of them loomed a sturdy chain-link fence and a pair of locked gates, from which hung a sign bearing the words ‘DARE FLYING SCHOOL. CLOSED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER.’
“I need you three to take a little flight with me. I hope you’ve all kept up with your parachute training. We’re going to be dropping in on the Guru and his friends.”
She put her foot down and accelerated towards the chain-link gates. The women all grabbed onto something, even though they knew what was coming. At a touch of a button on the car’s dashboard, the gates suddenly fell backwards to lie flat on the ground, just as the vehicle streaked through the gap and rattled over the metalwork into the airfield.
“I will never get used to that.” muttered May. June raised her eyebrows in agreement. Katrina was a Daredevil by nature as well as name.
As she briefed them, Katrina drove the car at breakneck speed over the grassy airfield to a low hangar whose doors swung back and forth in the wind. She brought it to a skidding halt just inside, leaping out and racing toward the hulk of an old aeroplane resting in the centre of the hangar.
“I say, we’re not going in that, are we?” asked June, trotting behind her with the others. The aeroplane was little more than a metal skeleton, the remains of an old Lancaster bomber.
“To begin with yes,” replied Katrina as she clambered up into the cockpit “It’s something Charlie’s been working on.”
“But, it doesn’t even have any wings!” April scowled at the hulk suspiciously, but had long come to accept that there was often more to the Dares’ vehicles than met the eye.
Sure enough, no sooner had they all climbed aboard the wingless bomber than it tilted forward alarmingly on hidden hydraulics, even as the hangar floor itself dropped away to reveal a dark sloping tunnel, complete with tracks large enough to accommodate the Lancaster’s fuselage.
Their stomachs collectively lurched as the bomber slid down the tunnel with increasing speed, the smooth round walls flashing by them in a blur.
Somehow, without the Daretroopers noticing, Katrina had managed to change into her uniform as they whizzed along to catch a very special connecting flight.
“How did you..?” began May, but then the bomber burst out of the tunnel to emerge into the Daredevil’s secret base, where land, sea and air vehicles of the most fantastic designs stood ready to launch.

Katrina was already out of her seat and sprinting across the floor. “Next stop: the Himalayas!”

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