Track 9: The Southern Man

As soon as Richard pulled out his gun, I heard the sound of cloth being rustled, then a bag full of metal quickly falling to the floor. I turned to see that Eric had pulled out a belt-fed machinegun with a chainsaw grip, large silver silencer, underbarrel grenade launcher, and laser pointer/flashlight combo. The people in Richard’s group took a big step away from him, giving me another sign he wasn’t as in charge as he appeared.

Cross and John had also drawn their weapons. Cross had another 1911 clone, this one was a shiny silver color and much more customized, and John had a Browning Hi-Power. I sighed inwardly. While I appreciated the thought, if they had ignored Richard like I was planning on doing, he wouldn’t have had cause to draw a gun. Or maybe Richard would have done it anyway to get a reaction out of me. Still, I didn’t like the way it was escalating. Also, all my guns were in my case. I’d have to unlock it before I could get to my guns.

“I’d put the gun down, my friend,” Eric said, his voice tense. “It would be… not in your best interests to pull the trigger.” Suddenly, I noticed that, while Eric, John and Cross all had their fingers squeezing down the triggers of their guns, Richard’s finger was resting on the trigger guard of his gun.

We heard an amused laugh from down the hall. Everyone turned. Down the hall, Salim and Mubashir were standing there. Mubashir, a look of panic on his blocky face, was trying to get away from Salim. Salim, his handsome features marred only by a burn he had received in a predator drone attack, was chuckling to himself. I wasn’t surprised. I had killed his best friend and mentor, Amir, during a particularly brutal part of Hell Semester called Fight Night. Then, when he tried to get his vengeance, Eric’s group and some of the Seven Supreme had put a stop to him, with Eliza in particular having killed a bunch of Al-Qaeda terrorists. Richard… Richard was probably just a dick to Salim. Anyway, I could see why Salim was so happy.

“Please,” he said, still laughing a bit, “continue! Don’t mind me.”

“Fuck you, asshole,” Richard said, holstering his gun. I couldn’t believe it. Richard hadn’t holstered his gun to save his life. He’d done it to spite Salim. I tried to hide my smile. It was much harder when I saw that Salim was looking pissed. However, most everyone else, especially the neutrals, looked relieved.

Almost as soon as everyone’s weapons were put away, the door opened. “Hello, students!” a voice with a French accent called out. “I see you are ‘aving a chat.”

I turned around. Standing behind me was a woman with raven black hair braided and falling over her shoulder. Her build was the exact kind you’d find on a fashion magazine. She was dressed in a business suit with skirt and heels. She smiled at us, standing out of the way. “Well, come on in!” As we filed in, she said, “Please take a seat, and get your weapons prepared. But no more pointing them at people, if you please.”

So she had seen that. I shuddered as I walked over to Charlotte and Jen. “So,” I said to them, “before you guys go…”

“Oh,” Charlotte said, “we won’t be going for a while.” I noticed that they were both giving each other very weird smiles, like they were just pretending to be polite but were getting ready to punch each other. I also noticed that Charlotte was carrying her Webley in a holster and Jen was carrying two pistols with black grips and long silver barrels in armpit holsters and that they were both still wearing safety goggles like they were going to go back to the shooting gallery.

“Well,” I said as I set down my case, “there’s a back-to-school party at this place called Graham’s Game Bar.” After putting on some safety goggles over my glasses, I opened my case and began checking the guns, starting with the P229. “It sounds like fun. You wanna to come?”

“Sounds fun,” Jen said. “We just have some… business to take care of.”

“Ladies and gentlemen!” the woman who had let us in called out. “If I could ‘ave your attention for a moment!” We all turned around. As I did, I noticed that the previous class was still there. “Ah, very good. My name is Professor Antoinette, and I will be your instructor for this semester. Now, as I explained to my Rogues, today AMS and Shadowhaven will be showing us how to fight.”

There were murmurs. “Now, for our first activity, our two best shooters shall be facing off against two average AMS students. Facility, please prepare Gas Station Panic.”

As soon as she said “Gas Station Panic,” there was the sound of gears turning away. Desk-like areas for the shooters fell away as well as plexiglass dividers until there were four distinct lanes for shooters, instead of a multitude.

“This is an immersive exercise.” Professor Antionette began. “That means that who the bullet hits matters as much, if not more, than where the bullet hits. There will be hostages. There will be noise. There won’t be good visibility. Your job is to shoot the bad guys and not hit the hostages.” Behind her, props began to fall in behind her, including gas pumps and parts of a convenience store, cutting the length of the range from three hundred meters to about seventy-five. The lights dimmed from clinical blinding light to a dusky sunset and lights began to turn on inside the convenience store sections. Semi-transparent mist began to float up from behind the fake storefront.

“Now, will Miss Blackmoor-Ward, Miss Kagemoto, Miss Feng and Mr. Jacob, please take shooting positions. Bring a preferred pistol and two clips. When those clips are emptied, press the green button.”

I spent a few seconds choosing between my Sig-Sauer P229 and my Berretta M92FS Inox. I decided that the M92FS would be better. After all, I hadn’t put very many rounds through the P229 and had managed to achieve decent accuracy with my M92FS. Regretting my lack of a holster, I removed the M92FS and a spare mag. After putting the spare mag in my pocket, I walked over to a position.

“Get ready!” Professor Antionette said when we were all at our positions. “Ten seconds!” A computer voice began counting down for her. I spared a quick look at my competition. Jennifer had drawn dual two-tone Berettas with compact lasers from her armpit holsters in an exaggerated, yet fluid motion. Charlotte was slowly drawing her Webley. The two girls traded competitive glances, challenging each other.

Bai, meanwhile, had drawn her Glock G26 in a quick, professional manner from her hip. Instead of focusing on looking cool, she had focused on speed and lining the sights up with her eyes. Her stance, like mine, had her feet in an L-formation.

Suddenly, the computer voice got zero. When it did, sirens began to wail and flash, and voices (seemingly cops, robbers and newspaper reporters) began to yell. Before I could get my bearings, targets began popping up. Unlike Jennifer and Charlotte, Bai and I waited before firing.

My first target was a stereotypical mugger hiding behind a woman target. The woman-target and the mugger-target were both bobbing up and down. I could hear a recorded voice coming from the mugger-target. “Drop your gun!” It said. “Drop your gun or…”

I fired. The mugger-target jerked back with a plink and the woman-target slid off, falling into the floor. Meanwhile, another target appeared behind a gas pump. It was a mugger-target with an AK. The AK flashed and a recording of gunfire played, and the mugger-target disappeared behind the pump.

By the time I had started on my second mag, I had figured out the several kinds of targets. There were the mugger-hostage combos that would appear in the area close to the pumps. Then there were the targets behind the gas pumps that pop out. Then, from inside the window of the convenience store, hostages and muggers would raise their heads. Finally, I ran out of ammo. I quickly hit the button and put my gun down.

Instantly, the simulation stopped. The smoke stopped flowing, the sirens turned off, the yelling stopped, the targets dropped into the floor, and the scenery began to float into the ceiling. “Cease fire!” Professor Antoinette said. “Holster weapons.”

As I put my M92FS on the table I looked around. Jennifer’s guns were back in her holster and she was sulking. Charlotte was shaking, her gun still aimed down range, smoke lazily drifting out from the barrel. Bai, however, seemed somewhat satisfied as she re-holstered her Glock.

“Now,” the professor said, “for the results. Miss Kagemoto, you fired thirty rounds. You eliminated six tangos and accidentally shot four civilians. Miss Blackmoor-Ward, you fired twelve rounds and hit one civilian. Mr. Jacobs, you fired thirty rounds and killed twenty-seven tangos. Miss Feng, you fired twenty rounds and killed twenty tangoes.” She paused, then asked, “Can anyone tell me what Miss Kagemoto and Miss Blackmoor-Ward did wrong?”

I looked at the other students. Most of the AMS and Shadowhaven students seemed sympathetic. The Rogues were hanging their heads in shame. Eric raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. Eric?” Professor Antoinette asked. I noted that not even people with the attendance sheets knew Eric’s last name. Maybe not even Eric knew it.

“Well,” Eric said, “I think they panicked. To be fair to them, they weren’t ready for something that intense.”

“I admit,” Professor Antoinette said, “it was not fair. But their enemies will not be fair either. Despite their lack of training, students in the Rogues program are the second-most likely to get into a fight to the death in their careers. They are also less likely than Shadowhaven and AMS students to win. Therefore, I would like to invite my Rogues to train with you for a few sessions. If they want to leave, they can leave. However, I would not recommend it.”

None of the Rogues left. “Good,” Professor Antoinette said. “Today we will be doing the Mozambique drill. Please pair up, one Rogue with one AMS or Shadowhaven.”

It turned out that the Mozambique drill was a high-pressure drill where you would have to shoot a target twice in the chest and once in the head. However, if you took too long, the target would “fire” at you and you’d have to switch with your partner. I was partnered with Jen. Eliza and Charlotte were right next to us.

We quickly figured out that Jennifer needed to stop doing things to show off in combat situations and focus more on doing things like aiming or counting bullets. She had managed to get good enough at duel-wielding so that she wasn’t a liability, but her accuracy did increase forty percent when she was using a single pistol. Charlotte, meanwhile, had terrible reaction time and a tendency to freeze. Couple that with the fact that she was using a revolver with a heavy trigger pull, and she was getting out a lot.

“Listen, Char,” Eliza said, “you need to use a different gun. The Webley’s large, hard to control, slow, and weighs a bloody ton. Use the Walther.”

“But people might not take me as seriously with the Walther!” Charlotte said.

“If someone laughs at you for ‘aving a girl gun,” Eliza said angrily, “shoot ‘em in the fucking face! Boom! Problem solved!”

“Here!” Jennifer said, slamming down one of her Berettas. I noticed that the silver-colored slide was marked Elite II. “Use this!” Needless to say, Jennifer hadn’t been taking my advice well. Funnily enough, it had started when I had refused to adjust her shooting position manually because it was obviously a mental thing. After that, she had started getting irritable.

By the end of the lesson, Charlotte improved dramatically. However, she was still a little strained. “Can we please get something to eat?” she asked. “I feel like I’m going to break down and cry if I don’t get any food.”

“Please not Sun Tzu!” Jen moaned. “I hate Asian food. Always brings back bad memories.”

Before Charlotte and Jen could start fighting, John interjected, “There’s actually a bus going back to Newton-Howell soon. We don’t even have to hurry.” The rest of us sighed in relief. There apparently was a stop by Squire and Marine, which we used to drop off our weapons. I noticed that I was the only one in my dorm who stored all his weapons. I didn’t really think too much about it.

When we finally got to the dining hall, I realized that I had to poop. “Gotta go,” I said to them.

“Nature calls, huh, Killer?” Cross said.

I didn’t answer. It was actually kind of bad. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, it was a couple minutes before I was ready to start wiping. Suddenly, two people walked in.

“…Can’t fucking believe you,” I heard Kyle’s voice say as the bathroom door opened. “I mean, I know we’re trying to appease Smith, but there are safer ways to do that. Like hiring The Punching Bag.”

“We’ve already used her twice.” This was Richard talking. I heard his voice move closer to my stall. I held my breath. “I mean, she’s good at her job, but they’re getting suspicious.” For some reason, he seemed to be standing right next to my stall. “Besides, you baited Eric the Entertainer and his crew… Karen.” I figured out why he was standing next to me when he unzipped. I tried not to sigh in relief or think about the tinkling sound he was making.

Kyle sighed. “That’s because I didn’t know those guys had killed sixty people stealing an African warlord’s bankroll. I just knew they liked to pull their punches. Killer’s lived up to his name for less than that bullshit you sprung on him today.” Then, as an afterthought, he added, “Besides, you shouldn’t call me that. You don’t know who’s fucking listening.”

“Sorry,” Richard said, obviously not. “Anyway, I thought Killer only bashed in Amir’s head. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to kill someone over an insult.”

“He didn’t,” Kyle said. “This guy, Nguyen, was being a dick, not letting them go in after their patrol was other. Killer hit him so hard he went into a coma.” Kyle suddenly switched track. “Jesus, man, how much piss do you have in you?”

“Geez, man,” Richard said, the trickle stopping. “I’m done, ok! I’m done.” After he zipped up and buckled his belt, he asked, “So, Killer goes hog wild on a guy?”

“No, man,” Kyle said. “That’s the thing. It was just one blow, and Nguyen’s a vegetable. And Killer just walks off like nothing fucking happened.”

“I actually saw that happen,” Richard said. “He was actually pretty stressed at the time. I doubt ‘Killer’ would do that in a normal situation.”

“Then why isn’t he carrying a gun like everyone else?” Kyle asked. “Face it, Richard. Even Killer is fucking scared of Killer. Besides, his friends aren’t the kind of people you fuck with, either.”

I heard footsteps and a sigh. “Fine,” I heard Richard say. I then heard water flow. “Guy creeps me out, too. That being said, so does everyone else on this fucking island, and most are scarier than him. Anything else?”

Kyle’s response was so quiet that I kind of had to strain to hear him. “Just one thing. You’re forgetting why we’re here. Remember. Or I’ll remind you.”

I heard Richard gulp. “Yeah. I remember.” I replayed what Kyle had said, how he had said, and everything I thought I knew about both him and Richard. Nothing I could think of could make me understand why Richard would be scared of him. I obviously needed to do some digging.

I waited until they went out. Then I sighed in relief. Simultaneously, diarrhea splurted from my butt. This was going to be a long bathroom break.

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