This is chapter six of our serialisation of Andrew Murray’s Shroom Raider – make sure you check out the earlier chapters on STORGY Kids….
Chapter 6 – Shroom Shooters
‘How much longer is this going to go on?’ whispered Arla from her top bunk. Sgt Gus had just ordered the lights out, and the whole platoon were stirring and fidgeting in their bunks as they tried to get some shut-eye. ‘When are we going to move on from marching, and polishing our buttons, and crawling through filth? When are we going to get our hands on some… fun toys?’
Icarus lay awake. He knew Arla meant weapons, in particular the shroom-shooters that were issued to every fully-trained Shroom Raider, and which every recruit hungered to get their hands on. Biff and Arla had not yet set foot in the Armoury. Icarus had, several times: once, to steal an Army Strangleshroom, and once, to say goodbye to his brother. Icarus said nothing. He was thinking about the shroom-shooters, but not in the same way as Biff and Arla…
A week ago, he had walked slowly out of the Armoury in the early morning, nodding in silent thanks to the MP sentry just as the Airborne were stirring in their bunks. And as he carried Ethan’s urn back to his dorm, he met Sgt Gus marching across the parade ground.
Sgt Gus took a deep breath, as if preparing to deliver the usual beasting, when he saw the urn. He looked Icarus in the eye, and said, more quietly than Icarus had expected,
‘Tactical lecture at 7am sharp, Private. No exceptions.’
Gus turned to go.
Gus turned back, lips pursed.
‘What’s on your mind, Private?’
‘I – I want to say I am fully on board. What happened to Ethan, I – I – I owe it to him to be the best Shroom Raider I can be.’
‘You should have had that attitude from day one, Private Earthstar.’ Then, almost imperceptibly, Gus’s face softened.
‘Message received, Private. Now go get some breakfast.’
And from that early morning Icarus was true to his word. He studied hard in the lectures, ran and climbed and crawled hard in the assault courses, applied himself to every tactical training scenario. But if he had ever hoped that Sgt Gus would cut him some slack, he was wrong…
Biff was last on an assault course – and Icarus got latrine detail with him.
Arla ran late for an early morning lecture – and Icarus got kitchen detail with her.
A corporal came round to inspect the dorms, and Icarus sneaked a look at his clipboard – he had given Icarus an almost perfect score. But when the scores were posted on the wall, Icarus saw that someone had docked his score down to average. Extra floor-scrubbing detail for Private Earthstar…
Arla didn’t have to wait long for her toys, for the very next day Sgt Gus set them marching along a different route, past the barrack huts, through a gate guarded by MPs and into the vast building that only Icarus had seen from the inside. They saw the sign:
‘FIRST AIRBORNE BRIGADE ARMOURY’
Biff and Arla swapped excited glances.
‘The Armoury!’ whispered Biff.
Arla grinned. ‘That means… fun toys at last!’
New London was small, much smaller than the rock that the Neufundlanders dwelt on below, and it lacked the Enemy’s great reserves of minerals – but while Neufundland’s rock was surrounded by an Acid Sea of boiling, caustic waters, New London opened out onto a cave ceiling covered with a hanging garden of fungi. A rich and varied ecosystem of mushrooms, toadstools, bracket fungi, mossites, snottites, luminites and algae clung to the ceiling and provided –
- A blue-green light, thanks to the biochemical glow of the luminites.
- The staple foods of the people of New London, thanks to a range of edible fungi that hung down, juicy and inviting, for the Harvesters, with their brave heads for heights, to harvest.
- And a source of fungi-technology. Military fungi-technology. A wide range of fungal survival strategies, with biological and chemical and physical weapons and defences, which the scientists of New London had been studying, and cross-breeding, and modifying, and changing, into defences that could benefit New London, and weapons that could hurt the Enemy…
‘Observe, gentlemen’, barked the Weapons Sergeant who was their guide around the wonders of the Armoury, as they gathered on a metal gantry to watch, ‘Observe these prototype Shroom-Bots in action…’
The Shroom-Bots were a hybrid mix of metal and mushroom, with clanking steel hinges and hydraulics and petrol engines on their backs that chugged out thick black smoke – but these mechanical parts blended seamlessly into bulging fungal stems and volvas and caps and Shroom-Shooters.
‘Now watch, gentlemen’, barked the Sergeant. ‘These Shroom-Bots here are armed with Sticker-Booms. See those targets over there? Now these Bots will shoot, courtesy of their Shroom-Shooters, a kind of airborne fungal spore, the Sticker-Boom, which our scientists have designed to both stick to its target – hence the Sticker – and then explode – hence the Boom. Observe, gentlemen, observe…’
The recruits of 2nd Platoon stood in fascinated silence as the Shroom-Bots, engines smoking, joints clanking, raised their mechano-fungal heads to look at their targets, raised their mechano-fungal Shroom-Shooters to take aim… and with a sticky slurping slapping sound fired their Sticker-Booms… Every head in 2nd Platoon instinctively turned towards the targets, expecting to see the Sticker-Booms swarming towards them – but nothing swarmed. Nothing flew through the air at all. The eyes of 2nd Platoon swung back to the Shroom-Bots: instead of flying towards the targets, the glue of the Sticker-Booms had gone to work too early, sticking the Sticker-Booms around the nozzles of the Shroom-Shooters in great gluey clusters. The Shroom-Bots craned their mechano-fungal heads to peer down at their weapons, as if dimly realising what was going to happen next…
‘Gentlemen, I suggest you hit the deck!’ barked the Weapons Sergeant – and they all ducked as a cluster of massive explosions tore through the air, shaking the gantry –
The shock-waves rolled over their heads, and rolled away, and faded… and 2nd Platoon were breathing a sigh of relief and raising their heads, when – BOOM! – one last Sticker-Boom went off.
2nd Platoon peered out over the gantry to see scientists, in white coats splattered with fungus stains, scurrying around the smoking remains of the Shroom-Bots, scratching their heads and scribbling agitated notes on their clip-boards.
The Weapons Sergeant stood up and straightened his uniform.
‘The good news, gentlemen’, he said in a calm, level voice, ‘Is that our scientists have filled those Shroom-Bots brim-full with Pain. And I assure you, they will fix those Bots and fix those Sticker-Booms, so that the Pain will reach its intended recipient: our Enemy down below. “From New London – Don’t Get Well Any Time Soon!’”’
The Weapons Sergeant barked a harsh laugh. And the recruits of 2nd Platoon laughed, nervously, along with him.
NL Army Document LW001 Rev 02 Fort Snottite 04/02/1011
Legal Waiver for the Use of Army Issue Mark II Shroom-Shooter
I, the undersigned, accept that in adopting an NL Army Issue Mark II Shroom-Shooter I will lose a small portion of my brain. I hereby renounce and relinquish any rights in Law whereby I might pursue any grievances against the New London Army for the loss of the aforementioned brain-part.
Name Icarus Dwight Earthstar
Rank Private 2nd Class
Serial No 1AB-89-01-02-02-441922
‘You lose a part of your brain?’ Icarus had never heard of this before. On reflection, he felt that he was rather fond of his brain, and considered it a fairly handy friend to have in life.
‘Don’t worry’, shrugged Arla. ‘I’ve read all about these Shooters. They shoot some spores up your nose, or something, and the spores eat away some part of your brain that you totally don’t need.’
Icarus wondered, ‘What part of my brain could possibly be useless and surplus to requirements? The part that hates boiled moss-sprouts? The part that’s afraid of heights? The part that keeps seeing… keeps seeing…’ And there was Ethan, in the flames, struggling with the fire extinguisher, with the Neufundlander laughing as he turned to ash… and Icarus prayed that the Shooter would eat that memory, at least.
‘All right, ladies’, growled Sergeant Gus, ‘Grab a pen and sign your name, or make a paw-print, or whatever it is you do, on that dotted line. Lord only knows none of you idiots can afford to lose any of the brains you’ve got – but you will, in return, be gaining the finest personal weapon in the world!’
So everyone in 2nd Platoon signed their name, and Sergeant Gus gathered in the sheets, and he and the Weapons Sergeant ushered them into the Shroom-Shooter Repository…
The Armoury pulsed. The warm day had made the place sweaty and moist, and the heavy aroma of over-heated mushrooms filled their nostrils. Every recruit except Icarus stared at a scene that was new to him. The walls were lined with racks, and every rack held a kind of fungus, rooted into its own soil bed, with a bulbous cylindrical body nearly the length of Icarus’ arm. One end opened out into a bracket-shaped extension, and tucked between the bracket and the main body was a small lever arrangement that looked rather like the trigger of a gun. The other end flared out into a toadstool-like cap, but with the gills pointing outwards rather than inwards – and from the centre of the gill-cap there came protruding a large bulging stamen, looking something like a fat gherkin. Biff leaned close to give one of the fungi a closer inspection – when it suddenly twitched and convulsed, and a black, branching set of tendrils came sprouting out from the body, and reached towards him like a spidery hand…
‘Oh that one likes you, Biff’, said Arla with a grin.
‘Shut your yap!’ barked Sergeant Gus. ‘And listen – the Weapons Sergeant here is about to give you some of the most important information you cockroaches are ever going to have to allocate to your feeble brain-boxes!’
The Weapons Sergeant walked over to a trestle table, upon which lay one of the strange fungi. As he came closer the fungus twitched in the same way that Icarus’s friend had done, and the same branching tendrils stretched their black fingers out towards him. Instead of recoiling, the Sergeant picked the fungus up, and cradled it in his arms like a rifle. The bracket-shaped extension fitted into his shoulder like a rifle butt. His finger settled on the small lever-like protrusion as it would on the trigger of a gun. The Sergeant raised the fungus and looked along its length as one would look along the barrel of a rifle…
But then the fungus did something that no rifle would do. The pale tendrils came reaching towards the Sergeant’s head, and began to touch his temple with their delicate tips. And then the Platoon gasped, as the tendrils seemed to burrow into his flesh… Into his skull they went, gouging, tunnelling, flowing through his skull and into… his brain? And the most astonishing thing of all was – the Sergeant didn’t seem to mind. He just smiled at the Platoon, as if the fungus burrowing into his head and forming a filigree framework of tendrils on the side of his face was the most natural thing in the world.
The Weapons Sergeant laughed.
‘Gentlemen, you all look like you’ve seen a ghost. Don’t worry, none of this hurts – and in no time at all this will be the most natural thing to you too, I assure you…
‘This, gentlemen, is the Mark II Shroom-Shooter. It is the standard issue infantry weapon of the New London Army, and depending on the type of ammunition used and on the shooter’s skill, has an effective range of up to a hundred and fifty yards. My Shroom-Shooter here is loaded with Boom-Spores, a kind of high-explosive fungal spore, so if you will follow me, gentlemen, let us step over to the range and see what these Boom-Spores can do…’
The Weapons Sergeant led them over to a shooting range. At a distance of fifty yards he had placed a number of chipboard targets, in the shape of the Enemy – four Neufundland stormtroopers, with their unmistakeable square helmets, rock-grey tunics, and their mechanical metal weapons that made a stark contrast to the Sergeant’s Shroom-Shooter. Towering above them was a target in the shape of a Rock-Bot – a robotic hybrid of rock, metal and machinery that struck dread into the heart of any New Londoner. The Sergeant raised his Shroom-Shooter and took aim.
‘Observe closely, gentlemen, what happens as I move my eyes…’
The Sergeant looked to his left – and as he did so, the tip of his Shooter also twitched and turned to the left. The Sergeant looked to the right – and the Shooter then twitched and turned to the right.
‘My Shroom-Shooter and I are joined as one. Its tendrils are connected to my brain, and to a certain degree it can see what I’m seeing, feel what I’m feeling, even think what I’m thinking. And it will respond to me. Right now it is aware that I am intending to fire – the fact that I have raised it and am looking along it tells it this – and so it is especially sensitive to where I am looking…’
The Weapons Sergeant directed his gaze to the first of the chipboard stormtroopers, fifty yards away. His eyes became cold and hard. The tip of the Shroom-Shooter turned to match his gaze, and then seemed to set, hard and fixed, like its owner.
Then the Weapons Sergeant pulled the trigger…
The Shroom-Shooter swelled in the middle, as if taking in a deep breath – then spat out a buzzing cloud of angry little sparks, which swarmed towards the chipboard stormtrooper. The target disintegrated in a crackling mass of fiery orange, as each spore exploded with a sharp
Moments later only the stumpy base of the target remained, standing jagged and charred under a cloud of sooty smoke.
The whole platoon gasped.
‘Wow!’ gulped Biff.
‘Blimey O’Reilly!’ said Arla. ‘I can’t wait to have a go!’
‘You have now seen Boom-Spores in action’, said the Weapons Sergeant. ‘But that’s only the beginning. Now, let us load our little friend with, let me see…’
Beside him was a stack of strong-boxes, each labelled ‘AMMUNITION – HANDLE WITH CARE’.
‘Let’s try the Tangle-Spores next…’
And for the first time the Platoon saw the loading process. The Weapons Sergeant rubbed his hand on a particular point on the top of the Shroom-Shooter, above the trigger and just forward of the butt-bracket. And suddenly a hole opened up, like a black yawning mouth. The Sergeant opened a strong-box labelled ‘TANGLE-SPORES’, took out a smaller canister, and fed its contents, which looked like little green seeds, into the Shroom-Shooter’s mouth. The Shooter shook and shivered as if it was actually swallowing and digesting the ammo, just like food.
‘Locked and loaded’, said the Sergeant. ‘And our next stormtrooper is also going to have a very bad day…’
The Sergeant took aim at the second stormtrooper target, and his Shooter took aim with him. Again he pulled the trigger, again his Shooter seemed to take a deep breath – and spat out a swarming green cloud of seedlings, which enveloped the target in a seething mossy mass. Then the mass exploded in a writhing frenzy of small twisting tendrils, which grabbed and gripped and tangled and strangled the target, splintering it to pieces. Soon there was nothing but a scattered pile of match-wood, clutched in the choking embrace of the Tangle-Spores. Again, the Platoon murmured their appreciation.
The Weapons Sergeant finished off the remaining two chipboard stormtroopers, one with Glue-Spores which turned it into an oozing sticky mass, the other with a volley of Howl-Spores which filled the range with such an awful deafening howling shriek that, even fifty yards away, the Platoon were forced to clap their hands over their ears and crouch down into huddled little balls, praying that the awful noise would just stop…
The howling finally faded away, and the recruits were able to stand up and hear themselves think. All that was left was the large target in the shape of the Rock-Bot. The Sergeant reached for a box labelled ‘FREEZE-SPORES’, but not before he had pulled on a pair of heavy gloves. The lid opened with a puff of chilly vapour, and the Sergeant lifted out a canister frosted with icy patterns and carefully poured its contents into the Shroom-Shooter’s mouth. The Shooter gave a great shiver and, was it Icarus’s imagination, or did its skin turn a little paler, a little bluer?
The Freeze-Spores flew like a sparkling blizzard to the Rock-Bot target, caking it in glittering blue-silver crystals. Then the Weapons Sergeant opened one last strong-box, labelled ‘SNIPER-SPORES’. Instead of a canister filled with hundreds of little spores, this time he took out one single spore, much larger than the others. He fed it into the Shooter’s mouth and took aim. Crack! The Sniper-Spore hit the frozen target – which shattered into a million twinkling pieces.
‘Cracking!’ said Biff.
‘Stone cold!’ said Arla.
‘That, gentlemen, is just a taster of what the Mark II Shroom-Shooter can do.’ The Weapons Sergeant turned to them with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Now I think it’s time we gave every one of you a Shooter to call your own…’
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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…
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