21 Aug 49%
A man with a seriously kick-ass assault rifle was slowly but steadily coming towards the cabin from the south. I think he had a FN F2000, or some other type of bull-pup style assault rifle. I thought in a strangely detached way that at least if he was an alien such weapon looked appropriately futuristic. The scene felt like a low-budget sci-fi TV series, where producers didn’t bother with creating proper sci-fi looking weapons and used whatever props they had available, thinking that most viewers won’t know or care anyway. He walked the trail, keeping close to the tree line. The soft surface of the trail quieted his steps. He was wearing a typical redneck hunting gear, a convincing jumble of Chinese-printed leaves and branches all over his pants and jacket. A pattern designed to break his shape had only accentuated a threatening black silhouette of his rifle. He looked like he knew what he was doing. His movements were smooth, precise and measured. He certainly wasn’t here to talk.
The man was about thirty meters from the cabin when two shots were fired from somewhere in the west side of the forest. They landed close, but not close enough, stirring up dust next to the intruder’s legs. He dropped to the ground, not like a wounded person would, but in a controlled manner, rolled to the closest tree and started firing towards the source of the incoming shots. After a brief but intense firefight I spotted muzzle flashes of Theo’s rifle. He took position behind a fallen tree about a hundred meters away on the other side of the road, and somewhat behind the intruder. It was a good position, but apparently Theo was not a very good shot. It seemed weird with all his super-skills, telekinesis and what not, plus the augmented reality mental interfaces. But I guess the Advancers were not trained killers, and he had to use human technology to defend himself. Imagine yourself in such a situation: even if you think you are good with guns, what if faith and the best available aboriginal technology provides you with a stone axe or a boomerang?
The intruder was spraying bullets like there’s no tomorrow. It seemed he was not a good shot either. Actually, it didn’t look like he was trying to hit anything, but more like a suppressing fire, or a Hollywood version of one. If it was a mil-sim game that would mean that someone else must be flanking Theo right now. I started searching and soon spotted a crouching figure in the forest, coming close to Theo’s position from behind. I raised my rifle and tried to aim with the scope, but the damn thing was too powerful and I had a problem aligning it with my target. I swayed my rifle trying to locate him, and when I did I saw him level his assault rifle and pull the trigger. He kept aiming, ready to fire again. This moment should have been a difficult one for me, a decision to end someone’s life. It is supposed to be gut-wrenching and petrifying. People get PTSD from it. But I don’t remember thinking anything. He was going to kill someone, actually pulling the trigger at that very moment. His face was in my crosshairs. I pulled the trigger. That was it. My rifle barked and spit a bullet, yanking my target from the scope again. The recoil was formidable. I frantically moved my rifle locating him again. He was lying face down on the forest floor, not moving. I didn’t see any blood but he was not looking like a living person would, if that expression makes any sense to you. I froze for a moment, then reloaded my rifle and looked around from behind my cover, trying to find the first intruder again.
He found me first. With a sharp snap a small piece of rock, dislodged from somewhere uncomfortably close to my head by an incoming bullet, cut my cheek which interjected with its trajectory. Either the shield I was given was not working or the rock was not deemed sufficiently harmful and fast. Next thing I knew was an anvil dropping on my head. At least it felt that way. My vision had darkened, I was thrown backwards, feeling completely disoriented. I felt pain, but my senses were so overloaded that I couldn’t even understand where it was coming from. But nothing really hurt the way a bullet wound should, and I was still alive and well (for the most part), and not screaming and dying in the mud below, so the shield must have been working after all. I could not think complicated thoughts at that moment, it was mostly up to the deep, dark and primitive prehistoric areas of my brain, working in a survival mode. Still I knew that I should not remain at the same spot anymore. My location was blown and someone was coming. So like any self-respecting sniper I should quickly and silently change positions. Or so the war movies and mil-sim games had taught me. I should have done it right away, before I would be shot at. Still, better late than never.
So I rolled awkwardly to my side, took a few breaths while my vision cleared, then carefully but quickly circled the huge rock from behind and jumped into a small creek on the other side of it, which I followed for a few dozens of meters, feeling like a bull’s eye was painted in bright red and white on my back, with a glowing neon arrow and blinking letters forming the words “Shoot me!” I felt too tall and exposed and immediately corrected this by falling on my butt in the mud. I got up, fell again, got up again, and finally ducked behind a very broad tree that happened to be nearby.
When I carefully peeked from behind the tree I saw a shape running towards the rock I was hiding behind a minute ago, making a few potshots that were supposed to keep me ducking behind my cover while he was closing the range. I was lying on the ground behind my tree (I liked it and we’ve bonded already, and didn’t feel like moving anywhere ever again), so I tried to regulate my breathing (failing miserably), to be able to aim my rifle again. That got me thinking about where the hell my rifle was. Apparently I dropped it somewhere without even noticing it in all the craze. I rushed to dig out my handgun from the back of my pants – luckily I managed not to drop it and it was still there. I pulled the slide, sending a round into the chamber, put my elbows on a tree trunk before me trying to steady my aim. I waited for him to walk out from behind the rock, hoping he would not know where to look for me, giving me a few moments to aim. It turned out that I was aiming at the right place. When the intruder popped out from behind the rock, swiping his assault rifle in methodical arcs, I pulled the trigger before even thinking anything. Then again and again. I was aiming at the centre mass, but I think the gun went up after my first shot, which missed him entirely. But at least one of the later two shots reached the target. A black dot appeared on his forehead, annoyingly off center, ruining the “cheap sci-fi show” effect. He noisily crumbled down like… I don’t even know what, but definitely not like someone that was alive.
Time froze, and all I was hearing was the buzzing in my head, the kind you sometimes experience in a sudden and total silence. The warm and damp forest air was wound up as tight as an old garage door spring: eerily quiet but ready to snap at any moment with tons of shit just waiting to crash down on you. Yes, I need to work on my metaphors, I know. Maybe you’ll find some grace within you not to pick on me too much for that. My mind is occupied with different things now. Things that can kill. Anyway, the moment had passed, and then some more time, and then birds and critters started making their cheerful and creepy sounds again. It seemed like it was all over, at least for now.
At that point there was room for precisely two thoughts in my head. The first one was something like: “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!”. It wasn’t very helpful but being repetitive it left some room for another one: “Now what?”.
I needed some kind of a plan.