I quickly hooked up with the rest of my group. Cross, Doc, The Monk, MC Disaster and Ray-Gun were busy setting up camp, with tents in a roughly circular formation. “Where’s Eric?” I asked.
“Right behind you, Killer,” he said. I turned around to see a slightly annoyed Eric. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Oh?” I said.
“It’s just,” he said, “that you seem to be very close to the center of all this. Would you mind telling me what’s going on?”
“Yeah,” I said, “about that. Well, last night, Salim and Richard were on patrol with me.”
Doc and Cross laughed. Eric, through chortles, asked, “How did you three not kill each other?”
“Apart from them knowing they’d be kicked out of school and tortured to death if I died? Ulfric wanted us to play nice.”
John’s eyes widened. “Ulfric was the peacekeeper?”
“Weird, right?” I said.
Everyone who wasn’t laughing or as chill as The Monk answered with a resounding “YES!”
“Anyway,” I said, “when we weren’t being stalked by someone’s dream-self, we were talking about what the assholes in charge were going to do next. Both me and Salim agreed that it’d be something big.” I paused. “So what do you guys need me to do?”
“Just unpack your stuff,” Eric said, “and make sure to eat one of your packets of power sludge. Apparently, if you don’t eat it after your run, you’ll end up collapsing like a sack of bricks.”
“Ok,” I said. “Probably gonna give me cancer in a few years, but what the hell.” I reached into my backpack until I found some. “Holy shit,” I said, “they come in a squeeze pouch! That’d be awesome if it wasn’t so disgusting!”
“Finish it up and set up, Killer,” Doc said. “We need this camp done pretty soon.” As he finished, I saw a snowflake land on his nose, contrasting with his dark skin.
By the time the camp was set up, it had begun to snow in earnest. When Eliza came to get Eric, I could barely see them from my tent, despite it being only a few feet away. When I poked my head out, I barely got a glimpse of Eliza’s red hair as she led Eric away. I immediately closed the tent flap to stop the warmth from leaking out.
The tent was actually heated. There was a battery of some description and some heating devices. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but it said that it would keep the tent at sixty degrees for the next forty-eight hours. I was wondering how technologically advanced it all was, then I saw the NIU logo on the controls. So it was probably very advanced.
After a while, Eric came knocking at the door of my tent. Combined with the howling wind that occasionally pierced the tent, and it was nearly the straw that broke the camel’s back. I opened the flap. “What is it?” I asked. I had to shout to be heard above the wind.
Eric shouted back, “We’ve got first watch in the forest. Grab some water, a radio, your power sludge, and your training rifle. We are going hunting!”
“You realize we’re the ones being hunted?” I asked.
Eric laughed. “You are partly right, Killer,” he said, “but if the people hunting us make a single mistake, they become our prey.”
We kitted up. We started off trying to make small talk, but it was almost impossible over the sound of the wind. Our radios had mono earbuds, but we didn’t want to drain the batteries unless we had to.
The trek itself was long and arduous. The worst part was going through the large space of open land, also known as the majority of the journey. There were a few forward posts being constructed, basically some snow walls surrounding some tents, but they were just a somewhat nice place to stop before we had to go out into the biting cold.
It got better after we finally got to the forest. Not that much better, but we were at least shielded from the worst of the wind. “O-ok,” Eric, shivering with cold, “D-d-doc, take our zen f-f-friend, Killer, and John.”
“W-why don’t I get a nickname?” John asked.
“B-b-because you’re b-boring.” Eric said. “A-anyway, D-doc, your g-group g-goes up on that side and get a good v-view on the airport. We’ll travel up by the running p-path in case anyone comes from that direction. O-okay?”
“Got it,” I said.
Everyone shot me dirty looks. “A-aren’t you cold?” Cross asked acidly.
“Yes.” I said. “I’m even colder now that I’ve stopped moving.” The dirty looks changed to shock and… something else. “Did I mention I fucking hate the cold?”
“R-right!” The Monk said. “L-l-let’s get moving!”
Everyone quickly agreed. As Doc led us on into the forest, I suddenly realized: they were afraid. “Hey guys?” I said after a while, “Sorry about snapping. Didn’t mean to scare you guys like that.”
“Don’t w-worry about i-it, man,” John said, his teeth chattering. “W-we’re all a little cranky.”
“Still shouldn’t have…” We were cut off by a staccato clatter. “Was that an AK?” I asked.
“Into the underbrush!” Doc said. “Get into concealment now!”
“I take that as a yes,” John said.
We hurried to follow his orders. John and I were about twenty meters behind Doc and The Monk. We waited for a bit. The cold bit into me. I heard Doc’s whispered voice through the walkie-talkie. “Command, this is control, we have possible contact to the Northeast. Repeat, contact coming in from the Northeast.”
“Understood, patrol,” I heard Bai say. “Do you see them?”
“No,” Doc whispered back, “but they have at least one Kalashnikov.”
“Understood, patrol,” Bai said. “Stay alert and see if you can ambush them.”
“Right,” Doc said, somewhat sarcastically.
We waited for a long time. Occasionally, I’d hear the AK chatter in the distance. Finally, I began to hear voices in the distances. They seemed to be all laughing and chatting like they were at some kind of party. Eventually, I could see one person through the bush I was hiding in pass by. He was carrying a G-3K, which is basically a tiny assault rifle in the same caliber as the FAL. This particular one had one of those flippy optics behind a reflex sight.
Suddenly, the AK chattered again. The guy with the G-3K whipped around and from behind him another person yelled in shock. “Jesus!” G-3 guy said, “Stop doing that!”
From behind G-3 guy, I could hear someone laughing. “Stop fucking laughing, man!” G-3 guy said. “The professors told us we should be using the nonlethals, not this shit! Besides, you keep giving away our position!”
From the earpiece, I heard Doc whisper, “Go.” I lifted the training rifle and began to run forwards.
“Man, it’s more fun this… LOOK OUT” The guy who had been laughing suddenly noticed that I had burst out of the bushes. Or maybe he noticed someone else. It was probably me because G-3 guy turned towards me. He almost shot me when John burst out of his bush and yelled, “Behind you!” This was all the distraction I needed. The wooden butt of my training rifle smashed into his jaw with a crack. He dropped his carbine, and clutched his cheek.
He himself didn’t drop. He did turn around from the force of my blow, so I clubbed him in the back causing him to drop to his knees. He fell this time. I threw the training rifle away and picked up the G-3K and aimed it at the hapless guy. “Hands on your head!” I said.
His hands strayed away from his hip, probably because he noticed that John was pointing his training rifle at him, but not that it was fake. This motion made me notice that he carried a pistol on his left side. I reached over, carefully avoiding his legs and keeping my new-found gun aiming at him but not touching him, and grabbed it out of its holster. After stepping away from the guy, I took a quick look at the pistol. It was a vaguely Browning-ish shape with a silver slide embossed with the words P229. I flipped on the safety (which was kind of awkward to do left handed) and shoved it into a pocket in the coat. “Clear!” I shouted, returning my left hand to gripping the carbine.
Only then did I turn around. What I saw made me stop and stare. “Doc! Monk! What the fuck? Seriously, what the actual fuck?”
John turned around to look at where Doc and The Monk were. Doc’s snow-camo Kevlar vest had been splashed with blood and he was bent over and checking a shape in the snow while carrying a black AK. The Monk was choking a third guy with the sling of a FAL, the sling wrapped around the poor guy’s neck.
“Monk, that’s enough!” I shouted.
The Monk shrugged, reached down to FAL guy’s hip, pulled out a large silver pistol, pushed it to FAL guy’s head, and pulled the trigger. The guy I had beaten up flinched at the crack and the side of FAL guy’s head opposite the gun suddenly burst out. He stopped struggling.
“Now it’s enough,” The Monk said, somehow laconic, despite having to yell above the wind. He stowed the gun in a pocket, and in a single fluid motion unwrapped the sling from FAL guy’s neck. When the corpse collapsed, he began to root through it.
Meanwhile, Doc had finished with his victim and was walking towards us, AK hugged to his chest and pointed down at the ground. He also had a belt slung over his shoulder. “I t-t-take it y-you are not g-g-going to let us shoot this guy, huh, K-killer?”
“Yeah,” I said, “because I’m really not a fan of killing unarmed prisoners!”
“Whoah,” John said, “c-c-calm down N-nate.”
“Wait,” our prisoner said, “your name’s Killer?”
“Only if you want to piss me off,” I said, turning back to him to say this. I then turned back to Doc. “Come on, let’s do a good deed. Besides, he might be able to give us some info.”
Doc walked over to John and passed the belt to him. “Here,” he said. “That dumbass had two pistols. I only need one. Might as well have a real gun instead of a large stick.”
Our prisoner stared at Doc like he figured something out. “You killed him,” he said dumbly.
Doc shrugged. “Probably.” Seeing our prisoner’s scandalized look, he glared. “Oh, like he was some kind of angel. He was walking around with an AK!” To drive his point home, he gestured wildly with said AK. “What was he going to do if he saw me, give me some coffee and a biscuit?”
“W-we w-w-weren’t… we didn’t want to k-kill you!” Our prisoner said desperately. “We weren’t s-s-seeking you out! J-just trying to s-scout out the, t-t-the forest!”
“So,” I said, “what on Earth made you guys think this was a good idea?”
“W-w-well, the t-t-teachers said we had t-to u-use the non-l-leathals on you or get expelled. Just soak a few of you with t-t-the water to simulate live-fire exercise or something.”
“Wait,” I said, “you were planning on soaking us?”
“W-well, not us in particular, but most of us h-have these m-modified g-grenade launchers th-that shoot w-water balloons. All that happens is you get s-s-soaked. S-see? No harm!”
I was now curious as to how this would work. Non-lethal weaponry was cool. “Wouldn’t that be like shooting ice balls at us?”
“N-no! No!” Our prisoner waved his hands at us. “Th-th-the balloons k-keep it liquid u-until…” His eyes widened.
“Until w-what?” Doc asked. He adjusted his newly-acquired AK to point casually at our captive. “It all s-sounds very interesting.”
“…Until the balloon bursts apart.”
That was not good. Our coats were very warm, but not very waterproof. They could stop water from a few squirt gun hits, but if there was a lot of water…
“So what you’re saying,” I said flatly, “is that these are weapons designed to cause us to freeze to death.” The idea was horrid. Our winter uniforms getting hit, the water soaking into and freezing inside the fabric… It was sadistic.
“I-i-it’s n-not like it’s…” our prisoner stuttered.
“D-d-did anyone a-ask your opinion?” Doc asked menacingly.
The Monk, who had wandered nonchalantly over by this point, put his hand on Doc’s shoulder. “Peace,” he said. They both laughed. Must have been some sort of in-joke.
I shrugged, figuring I could ask later about that later. Instead, I turned towards our prisoner. “So how many people are we dealing with here?”
“About a h-hundred and f-f-fifty. We’re all a-armed.”
“Shit.” John said. “We’re fucked.” He potentially was right. If they decided to just charge into camp, and if they decided to stick around instead of just soaking us, it would be a massacre. They had guns, and if they showed any shred of common sense, no amount of hand-to-hand skill could beat that. If they just decided to shell us with water balloons, we would end up all freezing from hypothermia. Unless…
“Alright,” I said to our prisoner, “time for you to go.”
“That’s it?” He asked.
“L-leave your a-ammo and your radio.” Doc said. He turned his head slightly to me and said, “C-c-can’t have him c-c-calling for help or y-you r-r-running out o-of a-amo.”
I nodded. Our prisoner undid his belt and pulled out several twenty-round magazines for the G-3K. The last thing he pulled out was a cell phone of some kind. After he was done, he stood up, looking at us for further instructions.
“G-get t-the fuck outta here,” John said with a nod of his head. Our former prisoner didn’t have to be told twice. He ran away from us and his deceased friends, occasionally tripping in the snow.
“We need to call this in,” I said.
Doc nodded. He picked up the radio, and pushed the talk button. “This is Doc. Eric, Bai, come in.”
“We read you,” I heard Bai say.
Suddenly, the chatter of gunfire came through the radio, as well as Eric’s voice. “Kind of busy!” he said. The gunfire stopped when his radio switched off.
“So,” I said, through my walkie-talkie, “Eric, would you believe we’re up against a hundred and fifty armed assholes?”
“Can confirm!” he said, gunfire in the background. “They are all coming towards us!”
“We’ll get there as soon as we can.” I said, “I’ve got an idea, but I can tell it to you on our way over.”