[Since the last one the food situation has been resolved and the narrator has set out on his own to rescue his friend]
I could hear people, which so far had never been a good thing. Definitely worth finding out who they were before they knew I existed. I found out that they were in the middle of a quarry, or a sandpit, or something like that. Steep gravelly sides, one of which I was peering over the edge of. I'd played in places like it when I was young, it was impossible to come down the sides and stay in control. You had to run as fast as you could just to keep from falling over forward, and the surface slid out from under you with every step. The only sane way in would be the road, which in this case required a long coverless approach.
As places to be went, it wasn't that bad. You had a pretty good defense against anything that didn't fly. Anything that came in down the road you'd see a mile away, anything that came down the side would be at a disadvantage.
They'd lit torches, in a circle. Seven men with guns were standing, with knives, over three people they'd tied to stakes. You don't need to be told what's going on when you see that. Criminals you shoot in the head. If bullets are scarce then it's a knife to the back of the neck, between vertebrae. The only reason to take time is for fun.
I licked my lips as I thought about all the things I could do with a knife and three helpless strangers.
I shook my head but the thoughts wouldn't leave. I pushed them to the back of my mind. If they had to be in there let them stay in the dark recesses. Let them be confined to the unlit corridors and musty storerooms. Not in the front, in the light, on stage. Anywhere but there.
I was busy, I didn't have time for ... fun.
I had to figure out what to do with the situation in front of me. Really it was simple: There were more of them than there was of me. They might have their knives out, but a glance was enough to see that they were all armed with more. I was pretty sure I saw both handguns and rifles. The victims were strangers. I had things to do. The best course of action was downright obvious.
Except... except that once upon a time it would have been just as obvious, yet completely different. Before I would have known exactly what to do. I would have felt it deep inside. Back then I knew what was right. Ever since things changed I had been trying to get that back. I was hoping that if I went through the motions of doing the right thing, eventually it would become habit and maybe, eventually, something more.
Everything I did was predicated on the idea that maybe, someday, my moral compass would start working again. Until then I was groping at the memory of where it used to point. And that memory said, “You don't leave unarmed people to be slaughtered.”
Problem being, that was suicidal. How was I supposed to regain my humanity if I was dead? I didn't have an answer.
I said, “Fuck it,” to the world, and charged.
My first steps were wobbly. The ground was just as bad as I expected and I was pretty sure that I'd be dead before I had a chance to do anything.
Then something changed. My footing got surer. My vision got clearer. I felt liked I'd just had my glasses professionally cleaned. I chose my target, I imagined that the man lit up like I had selected him in a computer program. I drew my gun, I found I didn't need to aim, I just pointed the gun where it felt right, pulled the trigger, and the man died.
It should have surprised me. Normally I can't hit a target at ten feet if I'm standing still and looking straight down the sight. Yet for some reason it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Normally the sound of my own pistol makes me recoil, this time it washed over me without jarring me at all.
I didn't need to look at where the gun was pointing, I felt it, I didn't need to look at where the men were, I felt it. I knew the feeling. It was the same thing that told me Jessica was still alive. It was what told you someone was watching when your senses told you you were alone. It was what told you to duck just before something jumped out at you. It was everything the eyes can't see and the ears can't hear.
I gave myself over to it, trusted it to show me what to do. I chose another target. Again, I pointed where it felt right, pulled the trigger, and the man died. Time seemed to slow down. Another round fired, another enemy down. A bullet kicked up dirt to my left, some bastard had shot on me, I figured I should return the favor. Unlike him, I didn't miss. It was as easy as point and click. I did it again, I watched as one casing was ejected and the next round moved into place. I found I could feel the action slide, I felt the round as it was positioned, I moved with the hammer, the feeling of the primer igniting was indescribable, almost ecstasy. Expanding gas pushed the round from the gun, and soon another man was dead.
Tension in me released with that of the spring in the magazine as another round was pushed into place. Again I went through the motions of firing the pistol -I dropped with the hammer, ignited with the primer, expanded with the gas- but this time my awareness exploded forward with the bullet. I was flying. Spinning through the air. Flesh and bone tried to stop me, but the best they could do was slow me down.
Then I was back in myself. Standing on the quarry floor. The last of the men falling to the ground before me. Seven shots fired, seven people dead. It was impossible. But it had happened, and there were still the three tied up people to deal with. Two women, one man.
I pulled out my knife and cut them free before I could process the ideas that inevitably sprang into my mind. Before I said anything to them, before they said anything to me, I armed them with weapons taken from the nearest dead guy. They thought it was because I trusted them; they were wrong. How could I trust them? I didn't know them. The truth was that I would much rather find myself shot than have to face what I might do when faced with three people who couldn't defend themselves.
The most terrifying thing in the world these days is having power over another human being.
They offered me food and supplies if I could return them to their people. I would have rather left them there and just gone to find Jessica, but the problem with not knowing where you're going is that you don't know how much food you need to pack to get there. I was running low on food.
So we're going. Together. In the wrong direction.