This is chapter four of our serialisation of Andrew Murray’s Shroom Raider – make sure you check out the earlier chapters on STORGY Kids….
Chapter 4 – A.W.O.L.
When the pupils of St. Chanterelle’s Secondary School paid a visit to the Airborne Brigade’s barracks in a gaggle of blue and gold blazers – and the pupils yawned when they were shown the parade square, and retched when they were shown the assault course, and took their chance when they were shown the toilets – the master in charge was a supply teacher who didn’t know his pupils well. He was relying on a head count, and when he counted 32 pupils present and correct after the toilet break, he didn’t notice that one of the 32 had completely changed his identity inside the cubicle. Leaving his victim tied and gagged on the toilet seat, Icarus smoothed down his hair, straightened his tie and prayed none of his new classmates would give him away as they clambered aboard the school bus, which with a cough of blue diesel smoke proceeded to drive out through the barracks gates, past the sentries, to freedom…
The Airborne Brigade took cases of soldiers going A.W.O.L. – Absent Without Leave – very seriously indeed. Icarus had managed to give his class the slip and was now wandering through the streets of New London trying to formulate a plan, when he saw the first notice. It was only four hours since he had escaped:
WANTED FOR GOING ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVE
Name Icarus Dwight Earthstar
Rank Private 2nd Class
Serial No 1AB-89-01-02-02-441922
If you see this individual, report him immediately
to your nearest Police Station or Civil Defence Office.
A heavy hand clapped Icarus on the shoulder.
‘Well, well, well, what do we have here?’ said the policeman, spinning Icarus round to get a look at him. Hey, I know you…’
Icarus struggled to get away, but the copper’s hand was like a steel vice.
That’s it! he thought, I’m done for! End of A.W.O.L. … They’ll drag me back to the barracks and I’ll probably get a month in the Heater…
‘Yes, I know you…’, said the policeman. ‘…You’re from that school trip – St Chanterelle’s isn’t it? What are you trying to do, play truant?’
Icarus looked down at his school uniform, and realised,
He hasn’t recognised me! He hasn’t clocked me from the wanted notice – not yet, anyway…
Icarus moved in front of the wanted notice, blocking it from view.
‘Er yes, sorry Officer’, he stuttered. ‘I was just looking for a… toilet, and I got lost…’
‘Come on, son’, said the policeman with a broad smile, ‘Let’s be getting you back to your pals. Look, there they are in that there tea shop. Hurry up lad, or you’ll miss out on the cream buns!’
Icarus thanked him with a smile, and kept walking towards the tea shop until the copper’s attention moved elsewhere – whereupon he turned and hurried in the opposite direction, working hard to get a plan together. It would be great to get home, collect some belongings, stuff some useful kit in a bag and then… Then what? He was a fugitive on the run…
Calm down, Icarus. First things first. Let’s get home without getting caught, and then you can have a good long think about what to do next…
Then he saw the Military Policemen. One of them was pasting up a wanted notice with a bored gaze, until his eyes fell upon Icarus. And as he shouted, and pointed Icarus out to his companions, Icarus was already running…
Icarus ran through the streets and alleyways of New London, weaving through the traffic, dodging past the market stalls of bracket-bread and toad-potatoes, powdered shroom-gravy and shroom-coffee, and as he ran he saw one wanted notice after another.
Those damn things are everywhere! I could tear them down, but that would only draw more attention to myself…
Icarus looked over his shoulder and saw the MPs giving chase… But now was where all the time spent running wild with Biff and Arla would pay off, all the days and weeks of ducking and diving round every corner and down every back-alley… Icarus knew every main street and side-street, every long-cut and short-cut, every place a fifteen year old could squeeze through but a grown man would struggle… and he was gaining ground on his pursuers…
Minutes later, Icarus was peering down from the service entrance of Amanita’s Laundry, smiling at the MPs on the level below as they bickered and blamed each other for losing their quarry. He took off his St. Chanterelle’s blazer and tie, hung them on a laundry hanger, and took instead a nice anonymous woollen jacket.
That’s enough hide and seek for one day. Now I just want to get home…
Icarus hurried across New London, moving gradually from the shacks and tenement slums of the poorer quarters, through the middle class neighbourhoods with their rows and rows of spick-and-span semi-detached houses, and towards the grand boulevards where New London’s ruling elite lived, spacious and elegant with their lines of tall ornamental shrooms.
Where’s Dad? he wondered. He’s probably at work now in the War Office… but how can I be sure? He’s the last person I want to bump into when I get home…
That’s when he heard the radio blasting from the open door of the restaurant. It was the news:
<<< … and let us go live to General Willard Earthstar, the Chief of Staff, who is going to read us an important message about War Bonds, and how we can all do our bit for the war effort… >>>
Well that proves Dad’s at work!
The mansions of Earthstar Crescent stood quiet and still but for the occasional gardener at work on their shroom-beds, or the soft purr of a powerful engine as a luxury limousine cruised by. These were the residences of the masters of New London – chiefs of industry, government ministers, generals. Up ahead Icarus saw the colonnaded façade of Earthstar House. Home. And all was quiet. No limos parked in the drive. No signs of life. Keeping an eye out for neighbours, Icarus let himself discreetly in at the side entrance, and paused to listen. Earthstar House was silent. Its grand halls, its sweeping stairways, its plush drawing rooms and stern studies looked, sounded and felt empty. Icarus let out a long breath and allowed himself to relax.
Right, to work, he thought as he hurried up to his bedroom. What do I need? Clothes of course, toiletries, money and plenty of it, identity papers which I’ll need to alter, ration books… What useful things can I pinch from Dad while I’m here?…
His mind was racing with all this as he barged open his bedroom door and saw the two Military Policemen. These were not the MPs Icarus had just given the slip. These MPs looked familiar from somewhere else… Their faces were scarred and bruised, and one wore a surgical dressing on his neck. And then Icarus saw the third figure sitting on his chair, with his back to him. Captain Ethan Earthstar swivelled to face his brother.
‘We’ve really got to stop meeting like this, haven’t we, Icarus?’
The officers’ quarters of the Airborne Brigade base had become a courtroom.
‘Will the accused please stand’, said the Judge Martial presiding – Captain Ethan Earthstar of the New London Army Military Police.
The MP guarding Icarus tapped him on the shoulder, and he rose shakily to his feet.
I can’t go in the Heater again, said the voice in his head, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t go in the Heater again…
He looked at his brother. Ethan’s face was pale. For a moment their eyes met – then Ethan cleared his throat and looked down at the charge sheet.
‘Private Icarus Dwight Earthstar, serial number 1AB-89-01-02-02-441922, you stand accused under the Laws Martial of the New London Army of the crime of Desertion: that is, abandonment of your place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently. I must inform you now that, if found guilty, under the Laws Martial in a time of war, this crime carries the…’ Ethan faltered, then made a visible effort to gather himself. ‘That this crime carries the death penalty…’
Those two words entered Icarus’s head and pushed all thoughts of the Heater aside. He gasped and looked up at his brother. Ethan wouldn’t meet his gaze.
‘Private Earthstar, how do you plead?’
Icarus stared at Ethan. He wanted him to look him in the eye, give him some sign, some help, some clue as to how he should plead… But Ethan kept his gaze clenched hard upon the charge sheet.
How do I plead? Well… what else is there to say?…
‘I plead… Not guilty.’
At last his brother looked at him. Then he turned to his colleagues.
‘Will all present please clear the courtroom. I wish to speak to the accused. Alone.’
– Useful Links –
About the Author
‘Andrew Murray’ doesn’t exist. He is the pseudonym of Vic ‘Lucky Strike’ Stryker, who also officially doesn’t exist. As far as the Government of New London will admit, Vic didn’t serve for fourteen years with the elite, top secret Special Drop Service (SDS), and didn’t reach the rank of Regimental Drop Sergeant.
Vic definitely didn’t play a key role in a number of operations that are now the stuff of legend. These don’t include Operation Deathcap, the daring rescue of a group of senior New London scientists held captive deep within the Enemy’s Rock – for which Vic wasn’t awarded the Distinguished Drop Medal with Gold Shroom Clusters. Nor was Vic wounded in Operation Destroying Angel, to sabotage a Neufundland radar station and steal vital technology and blueprints – during which, in the act of rescuing a comrade, Vic received serious burns from an SDS Incendi-Shroom, and was awarded the Purple Woundshroom and mentioned in dispatches.
Since retiring from the SDS, Vic Stryker has in no way acted as a consultant on film and television productions, nor has he founded his own personal security firm, Lucky Strike Solutions.
He is not 6’ 0”, with eyes that are frequently referred to as ‘laser beam blue’.
He does not have a burn on his face, which pulls his lips into a permanent, enigmatic half-smile.
He has not been tasked with performing surveillance on you.
He has not been watching you, 24/7.
He does not know about that thing you did last week.
He is definitely not behind you, right now…
You can follow STORGY KIDS by clicking on social media images below.
Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY KIDS is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of Children’s writers. If you would like to buy us a coffee you can by clicking the link below.
Your support, as always, continues to inspire.