I haven’t had the faintest idea of how a plan might look like. So I decided to do “baby steps”. Maybe if I start with some small and unimportant things now, the grand plan will reveal itself later. It may also distract me from the fact that I just killed two men. That wasn’t the thought I wanted to dwell on at the moment. 

The first thing I had to do is to take care of the remaining potential threats. The whole scene felt a bit like being in a bad action movie, and in the movies, it often happened that a supposedly dead antagonist was only wounded and before finally dying would grab a gun and squeeze off one final shot. So that possibility needed to be taken care of.

After waiting in hiding for a suitably long period of time, to make sure nobody else was coming, I slowly approached the nearest body, keeping my Beretta aimed at its torso, and carefully picked up his rifle. A closer look at the body left no doubt whatsoever that he was dead. His head was punched through by a 9mm bullet, splattering blood and brain matter from the exit wound on the nearby rock. This one was not coming back if he had anything close to a human body. I refused to entertain a concept of alien zombies in my mind – I’ve had enough stress as it was. I patted him down and checked his pockets, but found nothing. The camo looked brand new, all pockets empty and sealed. I slung his rifle over my shoulder and went to the other body, where I proceeded to do the same, with identical results. Then I went back, found and picked up my SSG 69. Burdened by three heavy guns now I went looking for Theo. 

His body was lying behind a fallen tree. There was not much blood. If there was any, it had been soaked by the soil, brown from last year’s leaves. I tried to remember how to determine if someone was dead. Detectives in the movies were usually using a small mirror positioned next to a victim’s mouth, or checking for pulse on the neck or wrist. I didn’t happen to have any mirrors on me, and I always had trouble checking anyone’s pulse, even my own. Every time I tried it just wasn’t there. So if I couldn’t find a pulse on a living person, I was definitely in trouble now. I had to be certain though, so I kept trying. But eventually I had to admit to myself: Theo was dead. I didn’t even see the entry wound. Maybe he was lying on it. 

I felt bad, but not exactly because he was dead. I felt bad because I wasn’t really feeling anything. I was supposed to feel something, wasn’t I? A human being was dead, after all. Well, not exactly human. And possibly not exactly dead either. If what he said is true, supposedly the alien “black box” will keep his soul intact so he could be revived if his body is picked up any time soon. I liked him, but he was an alien. I just couldn’t bring myself to mourn him. Either that, or I was not as good a human being as I thought I was, and that thought worried me. Or maybe I just could not feel anything anymore and that was as simple as that. Or maybe there was something deeply biological in not identifying with an alien and not being able to feel the same compassion as I would for a human. One thing is certain: I’m overthinking that way too much. That’s me all right: never failing to look for, and find, my faults that may be responsible for, or at the least aggravate all kinds of trouble I may find myself in. That kind of guilt fishing trips must be in my genome.

I felt like I should be grateful. It didn’t make sense that his shield didn’t save him when mine worked fine. I realized that he must have given me his own shield. It was a forbidden technology, so he presumably didn’t have a bunch of them lying around. So I must be carrying his shield in my pocket. And it did save my life. If that bullet would have gone through my flesh… I’m not a navy seal or a pumped-up macho berserker. I wasn’t born or trained for this. I would have probably curled into a fetal position, screaming and crying from pain and horror, even from a relatively light bullet wound. I mean, wouldn’t you? Whoever shot me would have had no problem finishing the job.

Whether he intended it or not, Theo had sacrificed his life for me. Now, as I might have mentioned already, I’m not a huge believer in altruism. He must have had a reason. Why am I important enough to protect at the ultimate cost? I mean, I’m rather fond of myself and all that: I’m reasonably talented and smart, people like me, I’m reliable and just an overall decent person or at least I try to be – but on a civilizational or interstellar scale I’m positively a nobody. I haven’t done anything that would leave a mark in human history, or anything that could affect what happens with the Horsemen’s plan. All I did was accidentally discover a possible alien artifact, but nobody would have believed me or taken me seriously if I had tried to attract attention to it, at least not fast enough to matter. So I wasn’t much of a threat. And considering the aliens’ obsession with large population numbers, what would it matter to Theo if I were killed by the other guys?

Anyway, there was no point in standing there and staring at the dead body.  It wasn’t the kind of pastime that promotes cheerful look at life. I took a deep breath and proceeded with searching Theo’s many pockets. First thing I found was his phone. I thought for a moment and took it, placing my phone in his pocket instead.  I was hoping that Theo’s phone was secure enough. And I was curious to look at his address book. It was the same low-budget and underpowered model that I was given. So not much improvement there. I almost forgot about the fingerprint lock. Oh, hell. With an internal shudder, I used his finger to unlock the phone, and then removed the lock entirely.

The  second thing I found was a highly reflective metal object that was difficult to identify or describe, other than it was a highly reflective and vaguely cylindrical. Its shape looked somehow wrong, even though it wasn’t similar to anything I’ve seen before. I could not understand why looking at it gave me an uneasy feeling. I thought that it was because it might be a genuine alien artifact I was holding in my hand. That was a huge deal. But there was something else nagging me, something in the deep recesses of my mind begging me to notice… And then it hit me: there was a metal glint of something in my surveillance video of the forest anomaly. I felt shivers running down my spine. Was it Theo I saw entering my forest artifact? Why was he there? Did his AI try to kill me then? Or was it the Horsemen’s AI? Why was he trying to save me, if his own AI was trying to kill me? This did not make any sense, which was an ever more regular occurrence lately. Nothing made sense since that damn invisible wall in the forest… I pocketed the key, assuming it was what I think it was.

The third object was a regular key – not sure what from, but I took it just in case. All that was left was his gun, which I slung over my shoulder along with others with a heavy sigh. Thank heavens I didn’t have to walk long with all this clanking and unwieldy load.

I went back to the cabin, dropping guns on the floor on the way to the kitchen, poured myself some single malt, drowned it in one gulp and went upstairs to pick up the brain interface baseball cap. It was lying on the floor next to the bed. It must have fallen off my head when I fell asleep. I wouldn’t want to forget something like that. It had all the documents, videos and data that could help me figuring out what to do. Maybe I could contact their AI or the ship with it? I haven’t really explored its full functionality yet. 

As soon as I put it on my head, a notification popped up in my view about a new incoming message. I opened it, curious about who it was from: Theo was supposed to be the only one of his race left on this planet. But it was not a message to Theo. It was a message from Theo.

Wait, what?

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 09:37h, 06 September Reply

    Good and actively moving three chapters!

    The inconsistency I found is the easiness how quickly Al got sweat on his forehead by running away from home to the shooting distance (two chapters back).
    I think only an incredibly overweight person could got enough sweat on such short distance. Or it is hot desert. Or the riffle wight is close to his own. Or he is super lucky sniper to hit a person through deep forest on such a long distance. Or he made very long circle and turned back to cottage.
    After all he easily made the way from first body (with alien’s gun) to the other one (2 guns) and back (with 3 guns).

    And by saying “I slowly approached the first body” what you mean by “first”? The one who was killed first? Or the one who was closer?
    Is not it better to say “nearest”?

    Then for the first body you say ” I checked his pulse (nope)”
    Later you explain that never was able to check even own pulse.

    Regarding “Theo was dead. I didn’t even see the entry wound. Maybe he was lying on it. “. Are you leaving loose end to revive Theo later? If not then it would be natural to look for a wound to make sure it is really deadly one. He turned over the other body, why not this one?

    Theo also had a gun. If Al collect all guns why he did not mention his one?

    “I went back to the cabin, poured myself some single malt …” – what about 3 heavy guns?

    • roman
      Posted at 20:02h, 12 September Reply

      Will address this…

      • roman
        Posted at 22:22h, 12 September Reply

        1. Runing through the forest with a large firearm is very tiring for an untrained person. I’ve done some milsim games with full gear. I got totally winded after 100 meters consistently. Hyperventilating due to adrenalin doesn’t help.
        2. Corrected
        3. He didn’t care much for an enemy’s pulse, but he was much more careful about Theo’s.
        4. He didn’t turn any bodies over, he was repulsed by it…
        5. Corrected
        6. Corrected

        • Konstantin Medvedev
          Posted at 10:32h, 13 September Reply

          Regarding 3. He didn’t care much for an enemy’s pulse, but he was much more careful about Theo’s.

          Search by “Pulse” word and see how close those two statements:

          1 I checked his pulse (nope)
          2 I always had trouble checking anyone’s pulse, even my own. Every time I tried it just wasn’t there. So if I couldn’t find a pulse on a living person, I was definitely in trouble now.

          Turning back to the logistic of movements.

          You wrote “where I proceeded to do the same, with identical results. Then I went back, found and picked up my SSG 69. Burdened by three heavy guns now I went looking for Theo. ”

          Al travels from nearest alien to other alien then to Theo and then back to the first guy because I assume he did not run toward gun mans but rather from them when they noticed him. So he lost his rifle not so far from nearest body then and far from Theo and cotrtage.
          It is not logical to make so long ends.

          May be I am too picky about details but it was the points where I felt disconnect with the story.

          • roman
            Posted at 11:35h, 13 September

            I’ve taken out the first pulse mention, replacing it with a description of the dead body – you’re right, it felt a bit rough.
            As for travels – they make perfect sense, and I did mention the reason – first and most important step is to make sure a possibly wounded enemy does not have a weapon, so Art had to collect weapons and make sure the attackers are dead, before anything else. Second step is to find and pick up his own rifle, ensuring he’s capable to defend himself (handgun is an inefficient weapon at anything but a very close distance and is the last resort). Only then he can search for Theo at his leasure. Theo was the farthest one anyway as he deliberately tried to lure the attackers feom Art. Art’s path is not linear: get to the nearest body, then next body (not too far), then back to get his rifle, then far away to search for Theo, then back to the cottage. It’s all very logical.

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