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This is the writing sample from the second of two short stories I submitted for Fear the Alien. Let me know what you think!
This sample is actually from about halfway into the story, so to give you and idea of what has happened by this point, I'll quote from my synopsis to being you up to speed:
The story begins as an Imperial Guard Regiment make their last stand against the forces of the Tyranids amongst the rubble of a ruined city. All hope is lost, but they need to buy time to evacuate civilians from the planet. We follow one Guardsman, Victor Horst, as his squad are pushed back and picked off one by one by genestealers as they are chased through the ruins. He is nearly caught, but manages to escape and make it back to the Imperial lines in time to evacuate.
Horst is discharged and ends up living in Dunholme, an isolated community on an Imperial agri-world, one of the millions that provide supplies for Imperial Guard regiments.
He had planned to be a career solider, but was forcibly discharged after narrowly surviving the massacre of his of his regiment.
The community openly seem to welcome him, but he feels an undercurrent of mistrust. It seems to originate from the local Preacher, Garakai - a fiery orator who was formerly a Confessor in the Imperial Guard, and another man has fought the forces of great devourer before, taking part in the cleansing of a Space Hulk.
Horst is not sure what to make of the closed off nature of the villagers, but after some weeks he manages to integrate with them somewhat. However, things turn sour after he is seen getting attention from a local girl following a holiday celebration. The locals become overtly hostile towards him.
Horst willed his body closer to the wall, and prayed to the God-Emperor that he wouldn’t be spotted in the shadows. His heartbeat thudded in his ears, but he could still hear the group talking in low voices. He noticed with little surprise Garakai was currently leading the conversation.
‘He could be a threat to us. If I’m right, he’s dangerous.’
The preacher’s co-conspirators nodded at this. Jarlud, one of the most respected farmers in town, spoke next.
‘What can we do though? I don’t want to bring the eye of the Arbites to our town, we’ve had enough troubles with them in the past, and once they are interested in us we’ll never be able to relax!’
The former Confessor seemed to consider this carefully before replying.
‘We’re going to have to risk it. We need to get rid of him before any damage is done.’
The other members of the little cabal seemed to reluctantly agree.
‘Very well,’ said Luther, the butcher, ‘but we have to make sure he just disappears. I don’t want the Arbitrators turning the town over looking for him, or investigating a murder.’
Horst blanched in his hiding place. Murder. There was no doubt now. The villagers wanted him dead. He still didn’t know why they would, though…
His thoughts turned of their own accord to other isolated communities he had visited whilst still on active service, the places where the locals had been strangely distant or hostile, where people had gone missing. He’d been there as they’d gone house to house. He’d been there when they’d uncovered their secret…
It was like an epiphany for Horst. The infiltrators of the Tyranid horde must have wormed their way into Dunholme, holding the villagers in their thrall. They would breed their way into the community until it was composed mainly of hybrids, the least human looking and any purestrain genestealers hidden away to hide the taint from those who were left. Unless they made them disappear… as they were about to do to Horst!
‘It pains me to do it this way, but the alternative could be far, far worse.’
The bastard preacher was signing Horst’s death sentence, and there were no objections from the men with him. Horst knew he had to get away. He still had his lasgun at home. Did he have time to get it? He would have to risk it. He would have to go across country, get away. Whatever he could, then do his best to get to the Arbites in the city.
Employing all of his experience and stealth training, he began moving away from the group, between the houses. They were still talking, but he knew he didn’t have time to stop and listen further. He had little time to spare. Unfortunately his nerves got the better of him, and as he felt his way along the wall, he knocked a loose stone out of place. It scraped as it span round before dropping to the ground with a dull crack. Horst’s eye’s flicked up and he locked eyes with Jarlud, eyes widening as he spotted Horst.
‘He’s there!’ Quick – get him!’
Horst could almost have laughed at the cliché, if not for the fact the men were suddenly pounding down the street towards him. He bolted, all thoughts of concealment forgotten, his boots thudding off the irregular, but thankfully flat, flags as he took flight as fast as he could. He knew his pursuers weren’t armed, but he knew that he had no time for a diversion to his house now. He would have to do without the lasgun.
He didn’t bother to try and lose them here. His best bet was to get out of the village quickly. They knew this place better than he did. He had to get into the woods and keep going.
‘Victor… please stop… Let us explain!’ Garakai shouted breathlessly behind him.
He didn’t bother to reply. He was outnumbered by the men, but he was in much better shape, and he gradually built a lead, hurried backwards glances showing that it was taking them longer and longer to round corners or appear again when he lost sight of them. As he came to the edge of the village, he spotted Farrer, one of the farm workers, relaxing by the gate. The young man looked up with a start, taking in the sight of Horst running towards him at full pelt, then spotting his pursuers. Confusion crossed his features and he raised his hand.
‘What’s going on? Hold up a…’
Horst knew Farrer had to be either one of the hybrids, or a dupe. Knowing this, he put his shoulder down and charged him. Farrer didn’t have time to react, and Horst cannoned into him. Unfortunately the man was stronger than he looked, and though he was knocked from his feet, he pulled Horst down with him.
Horst rolled backwards and sprang to his feet. Farrer was already swinging for him, but instinct took over. He ducked the younger man’s sweeping punch, and then smashed a fist into his stomach. As Farrer doubled up, Horst grabbed him by the hair with one hand and brought his knee up hard into the farmer’s face. Farrer fell backwards, blood squirting from his ruined nose, but Horst was already running again.
He sprinted across the fields at the boundary of the village. The woods were already in sight. He could barely hear the men behind him, and even as he ran his thoughts turned to other matters. How had he not realised? He’d fought the Tyranids and their Genestealers so many times… he should have known not to let his guard down.
What about Garakai? Was he in the thrall of the Genestealers? Hypnotised and infected? Was he ever even a Guard Confessor, or was that just a fabrication? Had he been here all along? For all Horst knew the Preacher could be the leader of the whole damned alien cult!
Okay then, critique number two!
I like this effort a lot more, to be honest. The constant questioning of Horst seems to hint at a paranoia that may or may not be there - are they really Genestealers in disguise, or is he just wishing there were, so he can carry on his life as a soldier?
Maybe, though... The conversation between the villagers is a little to strong to have it work as effectively as it could. Perhaps if they were a little more vague - not explicitly mentioning murder, but still sounding slightly sinister - and then leave Horst to jump to his own conclusions as to what they're up to. And, along the same vein, simply omitting the "Quick - Get him" could also help here - again, Horst draws his own conclusions, decides they're after him, and runs of his own violation.
Of course, all this advice is on the proviso you were actually trying to do with this story what I've concluded you were trying to do, which may not actually be correct - a little bit like Horst here, I guess!
Thanks again for the feedback dude.
I'd love to comment more on it, but if I'm completely honest I can't really do so without giving too much of the story away... maybe I should go on and write the rest of it to put you out of your misery?
TBH this was my favourite out of the two stories I submitted, but I thought the theme of it would be a downside as it's not the sort of thing GW normally put in their anthologies, it's more of a fugitive story / thriller than a war piece. Then again neither were accepted so perhaps it made no difference!