The weekend was not fun. I spent the day hanging out with people who I knew were safe. That meant John. Unless I was missing something, since John was the other UNIX spy, he was the least likely to betray me, because then he’d be all alone at best and facing the combined wrath of both UNIX and NIU Campus Discipline at worst.
That’s not to say that other people didn’t drop by. Cross liked to drop in on us at meal times. He always seemed happy to share various bits of advice about how to get by “in a certain business,” and John really liked talking about various self-defense tactics. Depending on who started first, we could get into a really interesting conversation about how to defend yourself from someone, or how to get the most money for killing someone.
At Sunday dinner, Eric and his crew joined us. “Good evening, Killer,” he said, as he and his four friends wandered up towards us, food trays in hand. “Mind if we join you?”
“Go ahead,” I said. “There’s room and you guys are pretty cool.”
“Thank you, Killer,” Eric said. He then held out his hand to the Cross and John for them to shake. “I don’t think I’ve met your friends here. I’m Eric the Entertainer.”
Both John and Cross shook hands with Eric. “Nice to meet you, Eric,” John said. Cross gave a friendly smile.
“These here,” Eric said, “are my friends. This is Ray-Gun Robert,” Robert nodded, “Doc,” the shortest member of the group said something in a language I didn’t recognize, “MC Disaster,” a scarecrow with a beard and afro flashed a peace sign, “and The Monk.” The lightest-skinned of the five bowed in imitation of a Buddhist monk.
“Greetings,” The Monk said.
“Nice to meet you,” Cross said, “come on guys, pop a squat before a bunch of random people steal your seats.” He patted bench next to him, and Eric’s group sat down. By this point, we had all gotten new clothes and showered. I was extremely thankful for this, mostly because I finally had gotten all the literal blood off me and I had started to get to the point where my own stench was so vile I gagged every time I inhaled, and partly because I didn’t want to smell anyone else’s odors.
“’Pop a squat,’” Eric mused, “That is an American expression I am not familiar with.” He paused, then asked, “You three are American, are you not?”
“One hundred percent,” Cross said. “Accept no cheap imitations.”
“Unless they have the free healthcare like Canada,” Doc said. MC Disaster and Ray-Gun made an “oooh” sounds and Monk gave Doc a high-five.
“I believe,” Eric said, “that is what you call a ‘burn’ in the states, yes?”
“It would be,” Cross said, “if we hadn’t gotten it passed several years ago.”
Eric nodded. “True.”
Before he could say anything else, I quickly changed the topic. “So, how bad do you think the weapons training will be?”
“Bad?” Cross asked incredulously. “Dude, we get to mess around with M-16s and shit! How can that be anything but awesome?”
“Well, for me personally it may have something to do with the fact that I’m a Jew who’s beaten up a Klansman and killed a rising Al-Qaeda star about three days ago,” I said somewhat neutrally.
“Aw, that’s just you,” Cross said. “Me, I hope we get to play around with HCARs. Those things are fucking sweet.”
Doc shook his head. “It is unlikely,” he said “that they teach us some fancy gun that probably breaks down. They will teach us the AK. Everyone uses the AK, because the AK does not break.”
“Americans don’t use the AK,” Cross said, “because the AK can’t hit anything beyond a hundred meters.”
Doc slammed the table. “Americans forgot that you need to make reliable gun after 1950! You make the Thompson! You make the M1! You make the two best pistols in the entire world! Then you forget and make M16? Why? Your computers, cars and movies are still the best. Why did you forget how to make weapons?” I suddenly realized: Doc’s relationship with American firearms was the same as a fanboy who had finally realized his favorite comic book writer sucked.
“Maybe they will have E-11s,” Ray-Gun said hopefully.
“Aren’t those the blasters the Stormtroopers in Star Wars use?” I asked. I knew full well that they were. However, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. There could be a real gun called an E-11.
“I know,” Ray-Gun said sheepishly, “but one of the magicians here could summon a few of them up.”
“You know there’s no such thing as magic, right?” John said.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology,” Eric said, seemingly quoting from memory, “is indistinguishable from magic.” He paused. “Besides, ‘magic’ is easier to say than ‘technolologomy.’”
Most of us laughed, but Ray-Gun flashed Eric a grateful look.
“You know,” I said, “I think we might get training in more than one weapon.” People nodded. “We’re probably going to learn how to use AKs, but we might cover other things like FALs.”
“I used a FAL once,” The Monk said. “It was a decent weapon. The only problem I had was I could not figure out how to reload it. To be fair, the situation was… stressful.”
“So what are we all majoring in?” I asked. There was a pause, and I said, “I personally haven’t decided.”
Eric said, “Good question. I’m going for Officer Candidacy.”
Doc raised his hand. “Battlefield medicine,” he said. “I have always been good at patching people up.”
“I am Combat Engineering major. The rest of us are Extended Infantry Operations, I believe it is called,” MC Disaster said. I noticed he was quieter than the rest of his group, and this was the first time he had spoken up.
“Sounds like you guys planned this out between you,” I said.
“We did,” Eric said, not volunteering anything further.
“We haven’t planned anything together,” John said, “but I personally am planning on going Physical Security with a minor in Cyber Security. There’s a few companies where I am that could use that.
“Nice,” Eric said. “Good pay and close to family.”
“Speaking of family,” Cross said, his eyes twinkling, “my dad works in his business as a… a trouble shooter, if you get what I mean. I’m going into Shadowhaven to help him with that stuff. You know, entering the family business.”
Eric and his friends went silent. “I see,” Eric said. Then there was more silence.
Finally, the MC spoke up. “If, let’s say back in history, we would happen to take something that belonged to someone else, would they hire you to do the trouble shooting?”
“Where did this happen?” Cross said cautiously, looking warily at the people who had joined us. They, in turn, were considering him in much the same way Bai did when Eliza had accused me of spying.
“Africa,” Ray-Gun said noncommittally.
“The less civilized part,” The Monk added.
“Then there should be no problem,” Cross said, with a bit of forced cheer. It seemed clear that he thought if he seemed cheerful, then they would calm down as well. “My plan is to mostly operate within the states. I could get you guys a job there.”
“Thank you,” Eric said, back to his normal genial self, “but we already have a job. A calling, to be more accurate.”
“I have an offer for you,” MC Disaster said.
“Oh?” Cross asked, the wariness creeping back on his face.
“You are mercenary,” the MC said. “Worse, you are one we do not know.” The wariness on Cross’s face was now back on. “However,” the MC continued, holding his hand out, as if signaling Cross’s thought process to halt, “I do not want you dead. I figure the best way to keep us both alive is satisfy your needs. Here is my proposal: I have my own share of our… gains. Every year we are all here, I give you, Cross, a million dollars to be wired to your account when you are on the plane home.” At this, Cross’s eyes widened. I’m sure mine did, too. “However, these payments are conditional. If any of my friends die in an unexplained manner or in a way you could have prevented, you do not get the payments. Is this fair?”
“Way more than fair,” Cross said. “You don’t need to do this, you know?”
MC shrugged. “Price for a good night’s sleep,” he said. “Fairly cheap for it, from what I hear.”
The conversation turned to bitching about the program in general and drill sergeants in particular. I personally made my gripe with Krieger clear. That was odd, because normally I keep my opinions to myself. It was only when I really hate a teacher that I complain about them while I have them. I think the last time I did was when I was in First Grade.
After that, we went to bed. Well, I went to bed. My five bunkmates didn’t. I had been asleep for a while when Eric started saying, “Hey, Killer!”
After about the fifth time I registered this, I asked groggily, “What time is it?” I was developing what I call morning headache, which is what happens when you get a headache from waking up too early.
Eric began to ask, “I don’t see what that…”
I repeated the question, injecting every ounce of menace I could muster. “What. Time. Is. It?” The headache really helped, I think.
“Is it important?” I asked.
“We were just wondering,” Doc asked, “what are your thoughts on when it is ok to kill someone. You see, we are having this…”
“Well,” I said, with false cheer, “Talmudic law has an answer for this, like so many other things. Basically, it boils down to only when necessary, like self-defense, saving the lives of others, or” here I swapped the fake cheer with the most threatening voice I could muster, “when your idiot bunkmates are inconsiderate enough to wake you up at three. In the. Fucking. Morning. Am I making myself clear?”
“Crystal, Killer,” Eric said, a little scared.
“Good,” I said, still pissed, “now shut up and let me get to fucking sleep.”
They kind of avoided me for the morning. That was good for me, because they seemed kind of groggy. I was afraid that if I hung out with them, being bright, chipper, and somewhat vengeful, they’d end up having to kill me and dump my lifeless body in a crater.
I still had Eric as a partner for the daily sparring exercise. We were doing a drill where we would stand perpendicular to each other. One person would draw a wooden gun to point in the second person’s face. The second person would grab the gun by the slide, then bring it away from and past their face. While they were doing that, with their other arm, they would elbow the second person in the face. The drill sergeants made it a game. If the shooter could bring up the gun and say “bang” before the second person could perform the maneuver, they earned a point. If the second person was able to get the gun away from the shooter, they earned a point. I was actually killing both positions. I think it was because Eric was so tired.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I stayed up too BA-OWWW!” The “BA-OWWW!” was him trying to pull a fast one on me.
“Sorry,” I said, indicating the fact that I had elbowed him the face. “Maybe you wouldn’t be so tired if you actually slept? Just a thought.”
“You know,” Eric said, grabbing his nose, “I could let you do the next few rounds with Dickface or Eyepatch.”
I looked over to see if I could find them. I spotted them immediately. “Guess who’s partnered together?” I asked, chuckling a bit.
“Let me guess,” Eric said, “Our friendly neighborhood Klansman and the local Al-Qaeda representative. That is not good.”
“On the contrary,” I said, “take a look. Don’t worry, they’re kind of busy.”
Eric turned and looked where I pointed, then started to laugh. Richard Forrest Taylor the Third and the unnamed Al-Qaeda dude who had threatened me were both being chewed out by a drill sergeant. However, instead of looking at the drill sergeant or down at the ground, they were looking at each other like they were trying to summon up an expression of rage powerful enough to kill the other. Both had black eyes and bloody noses.
Eric could barely contain his laughter. “That, my friend,” he began, “is hilari…”
“BANG!” While he wasn’t looking, I had pulled my training gun on him and “fired.”
Eric turned around, an exasperated look on his face. He looked even less amused when he saw my goofy grin. “You know,” he said, “just because your enemies fight themselves, does not mean you should make more.”
“Sorry,” I said, lowering my practice gun.
“Besides,” Eric said, smiling suddenly, “I could do this! BANG!” Taking advantage of the fact that I was looking at the ground, he brought up his practice gun and pretend-fired at me.
“You missed!” I said, even though if he had fired a real gun at me, there would probably be a bullet in my chest. It quickly degenerated into a playground pretend-fight from there.
Around the time when we were arguing over whether or not my “everything-shield piercing bullets” could pierce his everything-shield, a South African-accented voice asked us, “Are we having fun, lads?”
We turned around. There was Karl Krieger, a bit of a frown on his face. Yet I couldn’t help notice an odd twinkle in his eye.
Eric did the correct thing. He looked down at the ground, the picture of contrition, and said, “No, sir.”
I, on the other hand, did the dumb thing. I grinned and said “Yes, sir!” in unison with Eric’s response.
“I see,” Krieger said. He then reached into his belt and pulled out what looked like some chrome-plated M1911 clone.
I did exactly what the drill was supposed to accomplish, except for real. I grabbed the gun, and pulled it past my face while elbowing Krieger. There were a few differences. First off, because Krieger was a bit taller than me, I was pulling him down, making it so I had to elbow him in the throat, causing him to let go of the gun and stagger back, wheezing.
The fact that it was pointed at the ground may have saved someone’s life because the second difference was that Krieger’s gun was loaded, and apparently didn’t have the safety on because it went off. Even so, it nearly hit the foot of someone practicing nearby. She, like everyone else, turned to see what had happened.
I, realizing that I had an instructor’s personal firearm in my hand, dropped it. It fell, and I slowly brought my hands behind my head and interlocked my fingers, a horrified look on my face.
Krieger’s wheezing quickly turned into peals of laughter. “Very good job, boyke!” he said, “but you didn’t follow it up. That allows me to do something like this!” He then punched me in the stomach so hard I was lifted off my feet. I fell over, my world one of pain.
“Get up,” he said, dragging me to my feet. “A little wobbly, eh boyke?” he asked when I was up. I didn’t reply
Kreiger then picked up his gun. I noticed this time he kept it pointed at the ground and he used his left hand. “Next time you’re in that situation, instead of dropping the weapon, pull the slide back!” He demonstrated this. When he did, a spent casing flew out instead of an entire bullet. “See? What happened there is you gripped the slide so hard the spent casing didn’t come out. Now that you’ve cleared the jam, you can do this!” He then fired into the ground until his gun clicked. I jumped because the bullets landed too close to my feet for comfort.
After that, things were pretty uneventful. After lunch, we learned how to field strip an AK-47. Needless to say, Eric, Ray-Gun, Doc, MC Disaster and The Monk were the best of our group of eight. In fact, they were so good that it was impossible for me to tell which one was better. I did have to admit, Cross was pretty close.
“So, what do I do after taking the receiver cover off again?” I asked.
“You put it back on before a drill sergeant realizes you did that without removing the magazine first,” Eric said.
“Thanks,” I said, clicking the receiver cover back into place.
“You need a refresher on how to unload it?” Ray-Gun asked.
“Nope,” I said, demonstrating the steps as I went, “you push the magazine latch forwards, then you rotate the magazine back towards you. Then you pull back the bolt carrier to eject any remaining rounds.” I looked up to see how I did. A look of horror passed over my face.
“You may want to do it faster, boyke,” Krieger said. He was standing right behind Eric, so he jumped. “Also,” Krieger said, a hint of a smile on his face, “maintain constant vigilance. You don’t want to be surprised while cleaning a weapon in battle.”
After he wandered off, Cross asked, “If this thing doesn’t ever break, why are we even bothering to learn how to clean it?”
“While I have only heard legends of a Kalashnikov breaking,” Eric said, “I still do not want to be caught unable to fix it. I also know that these parts do not last forever. For instance, look at the recoil spring,” he said holding up a long metal rod with a spring attached to it. “The spring does not look so springy anymore, yes? Also, the constant proximity to explosions is causing the rod to bend. I am not sure what it does, but I do not want to find out what happens when it breaks, so I will request a replacement.”
“You know what I like about these things?” John said. “They come with these.” He held up a small capsule that you could find in the butt compartment of every AK. “My dad owns a civilian AR-15, and because it has a folding stock, it can’t fit anything like that in there.”
“What’s an AR-15?” The Monk asked. “I have heard it mentioned in several American rap songs, yet I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s an M-16,” I said. “The US Army arbitrarily changes the names of the various weapons it gets. For example, the Berretta M92FS becomes the M9.”
The Monk nodded. “I see,” he said. Then he thought for a moment, then asked incredulously, “What?”
“The US Army has a hell of a lot of eccentricities,” John said.
“In fact,” I said, “at its worst, just like any bureaucracy, it becomes a Kafkaesque nightmare.”
Before anyone could ask who Kafka was, Professor Zemylachka called out, “Assemble Arms!” We all struggled to get our AKs back together. Well, some of us struggled. A few like me had just put the finishing touches on our assembly, others like Eric and his group could assemble and strip them in under a minute. John was not so lucky.
“You need help?” I asked.
“Naw, man,” he said, “I got this.”
I kibbutzed anxiously as he assembled his AK. Literally the second before it was all assembled, Professor Zemylachka called out, “Company, form up! Parade Positions!”
We all scrambled to Parade Positions, hoping to pass inspection. We stood there for a few minutes while Professor Zemylachka inspected the ground where we had been stripping our weapons. Apparently, it was clean enough, so Professor Zemylachka turned to us and said, “Company, present arms!”
We all held out our weapons for her to inspect. Before she began to inspect our weapons, though, she seemed to have an announcement. “You may all be wondering,” she said, “why do we teach field stripping before the shooting. The answer is two-fold. Firstly, we prefer that you have respect for weapon and knowledge of how it works before you fire it. Secondly, the easiest way to test this knowledge and respect is if you go to shoot weapon you field strip. Especially with tovarisch Kalashnikov. Why? Because the only way an AK will not be firing, especially these AKs, is if someone screwed up their firing mechanism.” She glared at all of us. A few people gulped.
Eric’s hand, however, shot up. “Yes,” Professor Zemylachka said, nodding at him, “I see you, recruit. I will get to you shortly.” She then continued her speech. “None of you have left parts behind. That is good. Usually we get one derevenshchina who leaves a part or two behind.” Ulfric giggled. Everyone else recoiled, but Professor Zemylachka continued on, only flinching slightly. That was still more badass than anyone else there. “This shows that you are respecting your weapons. Now, recruit,” she said, turning her attention back to Eric, “What is your question?”
“Ma’am,” he shouted, “My receiver spring is showing signs of age, ma’am!”
“Can it be fired?” she asked.
“Most likely, but it may be on its way out!”
Professor Zemylachka nodded. “Very well then. I will come see you after the exercise. Any other questions?” There was silence. Professor Zemylachka then walked to a point between us and the door, and then yelled, “Company, about face! Forward march!” As soon as she gave the order, the schools jaunty, militaristic theme music began to play over the speakers.
We turned ninety degrees towards the camp exit and began to follow the professor, a group’s drill sergeant in front of every group. Immediately after leaving the gate to the camp, Professor Zemylachka took a right. She led us to a shooting range behind the barracks. There were places for each group marked in the grass. Between the walls were two lines of Campus Security. The first line had riot shields, the second were armed with P-90 SMGs. I had a good look at them because they were all pointed at us.
When we were all in position, Professor Zemylachka yelled, “Company, halt!” She then walked to where the benches that marked the shooting positions were. “About face!” We turned towards her.
“Good,” she said, “you know how to march. How do I know this? You are all exactly in the squares marking where you should be. Now, at ease, sit down.” We all sat down.
Suddenly, a pick-up truck rolled up. I, like many others, turned around to see what it was. After a moment, I saw that it was Bai, still on crutches, being helped out of the bed by two Campus Security Guards in patrol gear: you know, suit-like uniform with the cool badge, hats and sunglasses.
As Bai walked towards her seat, Eliza stood up and began to clap. I figured, what the hey, Bai deserved it, so I stood up as well. Then a bunch of other people, including Eyepatch and Ulfric stood up and it just snowballed from there, with everyone applauding, cheering, and chanting Bai’s name from the lowliest student to the toughest drill sergeant. Even Professor Zemylachka was applauding and smiling with approval. By the time she got to her spot on the far end, Bai’s normally pale face was completely red.
“Now, Sergeant Mando, Sergeant Burra,” Professor Zemylachka called out, once we had all sat back down, “Please come up.”
Two sergeants came up to stand on either side of the Professor, one a hispanic man with a square face and a haircut somewhere between a buzzcut and a small Mohawk, the other a small, lithe blond woman with a tan. Both carried AK-47s. They turned to face us, weapons shouldered.
“Aim left!” As soon as the professor said that, Sergeant Mando (who was on the professor’s right) stepped forward and went to one knee and Sergeant Burra (who was on the professor’s left) stepped back. They also both aimed down the sights of their weapons. I noticed the bolts on the weapons were open to show that there was no bullet in them.
“Sergeant Mando,” Professor Zemylachka asked, “why did you step forwards?”
“You were in my line of fire, ma’am!” he yelled in response. His voice had a slight Hispanic accent.
“But your gun was unloaded,” Professor Zemylachka said.
“It doesn’t matter, ma’am!” Sergeant Mando responded. “If the guards thought I was pointing a loaded weapon at you they’d shoot me. Pointing a gun at something means you are prepared to destroy it, whether or not it is loaded, ma’am!”
“Good answer,” Professor Zemylachka said. “Now, Sergeant Burra!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Sergeant Burra shouted. Her accent was Australian.
“Why did you take a step backwards?”
“I didn’t know if Sergeant Mando’s gun was loaded. If I stood in his line of fire, I risked being shot. It should be bloody obvious!”
“Sadly,” Professor Zemylachka said, “It is not always obvious to the fresh meat what is and isn’t proper gun safety.”
She turned towards us. “We have just had demonstrated common sense gun safety. Is imperative you follow these rules, or you will be punished. Sometimes, punishment is from God and from your weapon. Other times it is from friendly neighborhood Campus Security Guard.”
A few of the Campus Security Guards had their guns make ominous clacking sounds to demonstrate the brand of punishment you could receive from them. “You see, CSG likes to protect students,” the professor said. “If the barrel of your gun is not pointed at the sky, the guards should not be seeing it. If they do see it, they will shoot you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am!” we shouted.
“Good,” she said. Then she yelled, “Mando, Burra, rack one in!”
The two each took bullets out of their vest pockets, slid them into the receiver, then pulled the bolt back.
The muzzle climb was a lot less than I expected. The distances the empty casings were a lot more. They almost made it to where we were sitting. They repeated the process two more times. After the third time, the professor asked us, “So, fresh meat, do you think you can replicate the process?”
There was a chorus of “Yes, Ma’am!”
“Good,” Professor Zemylachka said. “Now, the people I call up will be Group One. Remember your group number. I will be very annoyed if we have to sort this out every time we do this.”
She called out several names, one from each group. I was first up.
“First exercise,” the professor said, “is sighting. If you are not blind, you can see that down the range is a concrete wall. Your first task will be to hit it. Aim down the sights by lining up the rear sights with the front sight. The rear sight is on a little bar with notch near the receiver on top of a knob. The front sight is on barrel.
“As you fire, watch where your bullet goes. If it is too far from concrete wall, move knob towards you. If bullet goes above wall, move knob away from you. The goal is to get your gun zeroed at the distance wall is, which is two hundred meters. You will have five shots to do this before we move on to the next exercise. You will notice that there is also several boxes of ammo near you. When I give the order, you will take a bullet and insert it in your gun like you saw Sergeants Mando and Burra do.” She paused for a moment, then yelled, “Rack one in!”
We did so. I fumbled a bit trying to get my bullet in, but I was ahead of some other people who kept dropping the bullet. “Aim!” I had just finished loading my gun, and it was already trained on the concrete wall. “Fire!”
There was a staccato ripple as five AKs fired almost at once, the sound echoing. My shot didn’t even hit the wall, instead landing several feet away. “Rack one in!” I grabbed another round from the box and loaded it into the AK. “Aim!” I quickly adjusted my sights. “Fire!”
Again, the AKs chattered in unison. This time my bullet landed even farther from the wall. Crap. “Rack one in!” I did so, almost dropping the round. “Aim!” I moved my sights in the opposite direction. “Fire!”
The AKs shot off again, this time closer together. I missed seeing where my bullet landed because there was a ding! and I saw a green light. I turned, nearly getting shot for breaking the rules of the range. In the place right next to me, Eliza was looking down at a green light.
“Ah,” Professor Zemylachka said, “It seems Miss Henderson is first to hit target. We have laser field to see if you hit target. You have to be very precise, though. Now, rack one in! Aim! Fire!”
When I fired this time, my buzzer lit up. So did Eliza’s. By the fifth time, everyone could hit the wall. When we were done, Professor Zemylachka said, “So you can adjust the sights. Good. We deliberately fucked with sights. It wouldn’t do you much good if you could hit anything on your first shot. This way you learn. Now we move on to loading magazines.
“First, remove the clip from your Kalash. Then, put your gun down.” We followed her directions. “Now slide a bullet into the magazine. Make sure to press it all the way to one side. You will notice it does not fill up entire magazine. This is because the magazine is double-stacked. Double stacked magazines allow the gun to carry more ammo in less space. The next bullet will push down the first bullet and be on the opposite side. Repeat this process until the magazine is full. And hurry, we do not have all day.”
We hurried. I managed to get in all thirty before the professor called out, “Stop!” We stopped. “Load weapons!” We loaded in the magazines.
“Now we are going to play a game called ‘Open Fire/Cease Fire.’ Is similar to a game called ‘Red Light/Green Light,’” Professor Zemylachka said. “You will flip the fire selector switch on your weapon all the way down. That is the semi-automatic position. When I say ‘Open Fire,’ you will try to hit the spot we were just targeting. When I say ‘Cease Fire,’ you will stop shooting. Every time you hit the target, you will earn a point. Points earned increase every time you hit the target consecutively. If you miss, all your points get taken away. When you run dry, you are out of the game until next round. Do you understand?”
“Then take aim!” The professor paused. Then she yelled, “Fire!” A few people began firing. Professor Zemylachka angrily yelled, “Cease fire, cease fire!” The people who were firing stopped.
“You have to listen to my exact words,” the professor said angrily. “Let us try this again. Fire!”
That was the kind of thing we could expect from that exercise. I ended up coming in second in each of the five rounds of Open Fire/Cease Fire. Eliza, obviously, came in first.
When we were told to go and sit back down, I took out my notebook and began taking notes on who went up. Eric and his friends were disturbingly good, for instance. They had adjusted the sights to a much better setting while they were waiting their turn. Ray-Gun even got a point on his first shot.
They were far from the only ones, though. I mean, I expected the Al-Qaeda people and the other people who had been called up to get their sights sorted pretty soon, but it was a nasty surprise when Richard managed to get a point on his second try.
Tuesday we did the same thing, but this time with M-16s. Doc was not happy. “Look at all the parts we have to remove!” he complained. “And see how we’re doing it over a tarp? That is because if we put them on the ground, the dirt will cause them to jam because this is the A1.”
Cross laughed. “You’re just annoyed because I’ll hit the target the first time.”
Doc laughed. “Oh really? Good luck.”
Cross was true to his word. When he came back with the highest score of his group, he stuck his tongue out at Doc. Doc just glared. None of the rest of his sub-group (we were all in sort of the same group now, but Eric, Ray-Gun, The Monk, MC and Doc were still their own thing) had done anywhere near as well.
I also noticed that other people did better with the M-16 than the AK. Kyle (AKA Dumbass, AKA, the guy who had turned his back MC and Ray-Gun while waving a knife at Eric,) seemed to be doing better with the M-16. Others like Ricardo and Richard were equally proficient.
Me, personally? I liked the M-16 a bit better than the AK, once I figured out how to use it. It was lighter, but had much less of a kick. Accuracy-wise, I’m not sure I was a good enough shot to notice a difference. The potential downside, though, was that I was afraid the stock wouldn’t be that good of a thing to club someone with.
It managed to even impress Doc. When preparing to go out for our run the next morning, Doc grudgingly told me, “I actually like the M-16.”
“Is this the kind of thing I shouldn’t tell Cross?”
Eric laughed. Doc punched him the shoulder, which only made Eric laugh harder. Doc then turned back to me. “I do not care, Killer,” he said. Eric made a coughing noise that sounded like “liar.” Doc ignored him and said, “The M-16 is actually a very good gun to shoot, but I will always be afraid it will break in combat or that I will lose a piece while cleaning it. I do not have that fear with the AK-47.”
He paused. “If you tell Cross I said any of this, I will stab you in the shower.”
“Understood,” I said.
As usual, I was near the back of the pack with John. At some point, being near the back had become a choice. We could have moved up to above the mid if we really pushed ourselves, I think, but normally, that would have been a bad idea. The fifty percent mark was where you started to get around the scary people. For instance, that was where Eyepatch and his friends hung out. Usually.
“John,” I asked, “do you notice anything different about the people running with us today?”
John looked at me curiously. I jerked my head to the left. He looked and saw Eyepatch and two other Al-Qaeda people matching pace with us. Another three were on the other side. John’s eyes widened. “Fuck,” he said.
“You can drop back or speed up,” I said quietly. “They might not be after you.”
“No way,” he said. “I’m staying with you.” He smiled. “Besides, Kreiger’s got to be around here somewhere.”
“I overheard some of the drill sergeants talking,” I said. “Krieger’s going to be busy with Bai this morning.” I hefted the wooden block cut to resemble a rifle that we had just been issued that day. “At least we have these.”
The next few minutes were tense. Every crater could conceivably house another of Eyepatch’s crew. Finally, the gate to the camp was in sight.
“Let’s do this quickly,” I said when we got close enough. We picked up the pace from a steady run to an outright sprint. As we ran, we failed to notice that Eyepatch had slowed down to a leisurely stroll.
When we got to the gate, about seven people piled out. I was near one side, so they just had to use one of the fake guns to smash me in the sternum. I felt my legs fly out from under me and I landed on my back, struggling for breath. My attacker then rammed the butt of the gun into my face. I was pretty sure that I’d have a black eye if I survived this.
Meanwhile, John had been able to get one of our attackers before they brought him down. As someone dragged me to my knees to force me into a kneeling position, I saw two people kicking him. Someone familiar watched, a look of terror on his face.
“Hey Mubashir,” I managed to cough out. “Long time, no see.”
Before Mubashir could respond, I heard Eyepatch say, “You are not allowed to talk.” I turned to look at him. He and the other five that had herded us in to the trap were almost here. He stood in front of me. “You,” he said, fixing me with a disturbingly empty stare, “are a dead man.”
“Funny,” I said, “I’m still breathing.” Eyepatch slapped me across the face. “Still not dead,” I said. “If your only weapon is bitch-slapping me…” he slapped me again, “….we’re gonna be here a long time.”
Eyepatch pulled out a knife. “Ok,” I said, “now that might make things go a little quicker.” I can’t say I was even more terrified because I already as scared as I could possibly be at this point. Also, since things were as bad as they possibly were, and the person holding me still had a very good grip on me, I might as well shoot my mouth off.
“So, Eyepatch,” I asked, “what’s going to happen to John?”
“My name is Salim,” Eyepatch said. “And he will be dealt with after we are done with you.” Eyepatch then turned to Mubashir, held out the knife, and said something in Arabic.
Mubashir held up his hands, and refused. Eyepatch stood up and started yelling at Mubashir. “Come on,” I said, “you can have your lover’s quarrel later! I don’t want to die of boredom when you’ve got some perfectly good clubs and knives!”
Mubashir and Eyepatch ignored me to focus on their fight. Someone else whacked me in the head with the fake gun. “Shut up, Zionist scum,” he said.
“Come on, you assholes,” I said, “you don’t have all day!”
“’E’s right,” a Cockney-accented voice called out.
Everyone turned around. Standing there, head bent down slightly so you couldn’t see her eyes, was Eliza. She was flanked on either side by Oro and Ulfric. “In fact,” she said, “time’s pretty much run out.”