19 Aug 50%
Speaking of Theo, he was still out. So all questions would have to wait. Maybe I was imagining things, anyway. I continued reading.
This whole story of coordinated murders was told in a dry language of AIs Progress Report that was queued up for the next transmission window to the homeworld. It was not aware of the entire power dynamics that were in play, but it had figured out who was responsible. Four simultaneous murders could not be coincidental, and the only ones who had the technology to locate aliens were the other “scientists”. Once the AI had started tracking them homing in to locations of remaining Advancers, it knew with 100% certainty who was to blame. The whole report read like a spy thriller, despite its dry language.
Well, I was completely emotionally and physically exhausted. You would think that I wouldn’t be able to sleep after discovering all this. I had thought so myself. Right until the moment when I was unceremoniously woken up by Theo.
“Wake up, they’re coming! Get down, take a weapon from the rack if you know how to use it and run west into the forest!”
“Theo and his instructions,” I thought, “as if I have a built-in compass! Not everyone is an alien with a brain computer, you know”. But the instructions were coming in a relentless deluge of information.
“Keep far from the roads and wait it out. They may not know you’re here, you should be fine. I will hold them off while you run.” – He clearly sounded distressed, and that was bad. He was the only part of my life at the moment that felt solid and reassuring. I had some hopes for more explanations and guidance, although I still didn’t know for sure why Theo was trying to save me and was feeding me all this awfully secret information. So I was expecting all kinds of surprises. But I wasn’t expecting this.
“Who’s coming? What weapon? What the hell is happening and why do I have to run?” – I asked in a raspy morning voice with hysterical overtones.
“No time. Get out. Now!” – was all I got. Somehow it felt rather convincing. “Oh, and take this!”
He handed me a small metal thingie that looked like a vape a hipster might have in his pocket. It felt heavy and solid. I quickly put it in my pocket. Theo continued explaining while we were running downstairs.
“It’s a personal shield generator that the ship has let me take after the assassinations happened. It will stop anything trying to invade your body with sufficiently fast speed, by absorbing its energy, including bullets, shrapnel and such, and even a knife unless the killer is a sloth and plunges it very very slowly…”
I have to admit that I was scared, so I just mindlessly did what I was told. I run to the gun rack and grabbed a long green bolt-action hunting rifle with a large scope mounted on it. It looked simple enough for me to manage. The magazine looked unusually large (and thus probably illegal). The whole thing was pretty heavy. I ran outside and continued running into the darkest-looking part of the forest, which was not hard, as the forest was pretty dense all around. That may or may not have been in the western direction, but I didn’t care much at that point. I just wanted to find a place to hide.
Only in a movie running through the forest looks easy. I wasn’t a good runner even on a paved track. Running in a dense forest with a large and heavy rifle in my hand was really not my thing. I was hopelessly bad at that. In the next five minutes I almost sprained my ankle, fell twice, dropped my rifle, then dropped the magazine and had to get back to retrieve it, scratched myself on tree branches several times, almost took my eye out trying to avoid one particularly sneaky branch and colliding with another, and soon I was totally winded. I turned back and realized that I didn’t make it very far. And also I was making quite a ruckus. If “they” were coming any moment now it would be much better to hide somewhere now and wait them out, than giving away my position by all that noise. I was on a higher ground, and there was a large rock formation that I could use as a good position to watch over the road and the cabin.
I went around the rock, climbed on top and made myself comfortable on the leaves and ground there. I was breathing and wheezing so loud I thought everyone could hear me for miles. I looked around, which wasn’t easy because sweat was burning my eyes. So far nothing was happening. I started to calm down and my breathing got back to normal after a couple of minutes.
I finally looked at my weapon curiously. Up close it turned out that it was not a hunting rifle despite the fact that it looked like one at first glance. It was a Steyr SSG 69 sniper rifle. One of the best sniper rifles ever created, which is why I recognized it while not being an arms expert. Yes, curious geek that I am, I know about many things, for the most part, absolutely useless in everyday life.
Anyway, it was a rather old-fashioned weapon choice for an alien. I would have expected a blaster, particle gun or an energy weapon of some sort, but apparently they weren’t allowed to bring those here. I took the magazine out. It was full. Looked like it had about 10 bullets tightly jammed inside. Yep, illegal. But I had a handgun tucked in my pants which I stole from a drug dealer, so that bridge was burned.
I inserted the magazine back into the rifle until it clicked into place. I was about 300 meters away from the cabin, which must have been comfortably within the rifle’s range. Not that I had any confidence it would mean anything. I started adjusting the elevation knob on the scope but was uncertain about how much to add. I know my way around a gun, but as in many things, my knowledge is superficial. A jack of all trades, master of none, as I think the saying goes. I’m a decent shot as far as a guy can be without proper training or regular practice. Occasionally I go with one of my friends to a shooting range as a guest. I fired various guns, just for fun. But I guess it wasn’t fun enough for me to pursue more seriously as a hobby. And hunting doesn’t appeal to me as I don’t like shooting at living things. I have no moral objections with killing animals for food, after all that is our human nature and a result of many millions of years of evolution. But I prefer that other people do it for me. Why would I do the dirty work if I don’t have to? So I had no idea how accurate and effective I would be even with a good weapon, in a situation like his. My guess was – not very. But I had to deal with it somehow.
It was an old-fashioned bolt-action rifle. So I moved the bolt up, toward me, back and down again, inserting the round into the chamber and locking it in. It took some effort. I managed to snag the reloading mechanism in a couple of places, pushing and pulling back and forth until it was ready to fire. Pathetic. Maybe I should have taken a semi-automatic AR-15 type rifle instead. I thought this one would be easier to handle, but it definitely wasn’t. I guess I have subconsciously picked the same type of weapon that I favored in first-person shooter computer games. I always preferred stealth and precision sniping from a distance to spraying bullets in a Max Payne style frontal assault.
It was quiet, or at least as quiet as it can be in a forest. Which was actually not quiet at all. I kept twitching and looking at the sources of random and suddenly unfamiliar sounds I heard coming from all around me. I actually found myself raising my rifle and trying to aim at a freakin frog! I didn’t know it was a frog of course, I only kept hearing a steady “Thump… Thump… Thump…” of someone large and heavy walking toward me, and it was getting closer and closer and seemed to be just meters away, but nobody was there. I started panicking, expecting an invisible alien to materialize in front of me. I can say in my defence that my fear wasn’t unfounded – they had the technology. Our brains have evolved to register movement on the ground level much better than anywhere else, looking for snakes and such, so I saw a movement and looked down, and there it was, a tiny frog merrily jumping on, looking for food or mate or taking care of some other frog business. I quietly voiced my opinion about the frog, its mother and the nature of their relationship, none of which it deserved. I lowered my rifle and kept watching the road.
Now I had a moment to think. And my first rational thought that morning was “Why am I lying down on a damp forest ground, clutching a military grade sniper rifle with an illegal magazine?” The answer came to me instantly: “Because it’s better than running directionless and very loudly through the forest, clutching a military grade sniper rifle with an illegal magazine.” It felt just like some kind of a mil-sim game: unreal and not nearly scary enough. Still I waited, as there was nothing better to do.
I guess it could be worse: I was well-hidden, with a world-class sniper rifle and a handgun I still had in the back of my pants (I reached for it, suddenly worried that I dropped it somewhere – but no, it was still there). I can defend myself, if I had to. Most likely I wouldn’t even have to. Remaining hidden was fine with me. The mere thought of a plain old me actually shooting some armed attackers trying to kill me was ridiculous. Just as I thought that I saw movement on the track leading to the cabin.
Someone was coming.