My legs hurt
By Matthew Sylvester
“Mummy, my legs hurt,” moaned Sylvia, at only ten years old she was short for her age, with pale blonde hair. Bottom lip hutting out, she dropped her pack and slumped to the floor, rubbing her thighs.
Mummy in this case, was thirty-eight year-old Michelle, and her thighs ached just as much as Sylvia’s. She sighed, shrugging her own rucksack off and dropping it onto a relatively flat patch of ground. A light dusting of snow covered the ground and their breath misted as they sat in silence.
“We’ll have five minutes. But then we’ve got to get going darling. We can’t wait any longer. My legs hurt as well.”
“When’s daddy getting here?” Michelle looked over at Sylvia, saw that she was struggling to keep the tears back. “He said he’d be with us by now.”
Michelle swallowed, it felt as though there was a rock in her throat. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes and she struggled to find the words.
“He’ll be here as soon as he can. He had to lead those awful men and women away,” those awful men and women being members of the Sentinels. Michelle was still stunned that their island paradise had turned into a literal banana republic overnight.
“Why are they after us mummy?”
Michelle wasn’t sure that even she understood. One minute she and her family had been homesteaders, breaking new frontiers and living a more frugal and simple life whilst the Skell employees lived in their high-tech enviro-friendly apartments and villas. The next she was dodging mortars and bullets alongside her fellow homesteaders.
“The bad men want to take all of the drones and computer programmes and make money from them. Jace Skell was unable to stop them.”
“But why are they after us?”
“Because they say we don’t belong here.”
“But we were here first!”
If only that simple logic could apply to the real world, thought Michelle.
“I know baby, but they’re bullies. Time to go. We’ll walk for another thirty minutes and then have a snack.”
After thirty minutes of scrambling up the hill, they’d only managed to cover a further five hundred metres. Sylvia was trying her best, but she was young and unused to walking for so far and so long. For every step they took forward, it seemed they climbed two. It was maddening.
“Hey baby, have an energy bar. Lots of sugar, really good for you,” Michelle plastered a smile across her face as she unwrapped the survival bar. She took one for herself and then closed up her pack, sitting on it to stop the snow seeping through her trousers.
Sylvia was too tired to reply, taking the bar and biting into it without any enthusiasm. She ate like a robot. Bite. Chew. Swallow. Repeat.
“What’s that buzzing noise mummy?” asked Sylvia, spraying crumbs as she spoke.
Michelle held up a hand, ears straining to hear what Sylvia was talking about. At first she heard nothing, but then she the faint noise of a motorbike drifted through the air. It was closing, and closing quickly.
She cast her eyes around, looking for cover. A group of snow-covered boulders offered not only good cover, but also concealment.
“Quick, get in between those rocks,” she didn’t wait for Sylvia to move, grabbing her by the scruff and forcing her into the small gap. As soon as she saw Sylvia was in, she unshouldered her rifle. A Remington 700, it only held 4 rounds in an internal magazine, and was better suited to shooting the wild pigs and deer roaming the island. Moving a few metres away from Sylvia’s position she placed her pack in the cleft of a rock, then tucked herself down behind it, resting her rifle on the pack.
Whilst she was a good shot, she’d never had to fire it in self-defence, or at targets which might be firing back at her. Hand shaking, she worked the bolt, pushing a round into the chamber. Her breathing was ragged, mouth dry, and it felt as though her palms were soaked.
Looking down the sight, she tried to force the tension from her body. It was like telling a naked woman in the North Pole to stop shivering. It was like Buck fever, only much worse. If she missed a buck, she’d be able to try again. Miss a mercenary, and her daughter would be killed.
“Mummy, are you going to have to fight?” whispered Sylvia, voice so quiet that Michelle barely heard her.
“Sshhhh, only if I have to baby. They’re bad men, but hopefully they’ll go away and leave us alone.” It was at that point that her bladder decided it needed to empty itself. If it hadn’t been so cold, she’d have been tempted to just piss.
The motorbikes were getting closer. She could tell there were two now. A standard mobile Sentinel patrol. They roamed the island at will, setting up checkpoints and rounding up homesteaders they didn’t like the look of. Which recently seemed to be most of them.
A fleeting movement, barely caught in her rifle’s scope. Trees dotted the slope, giving the bikers fleeting moments of cover as they approached. Then silence, the engines cutting off so suddenly she was sure she could still hear them.
“Stay quiet now baby,” Michelle whispered. She thanked God that she’d ignored her husband Frank’s teasing about the fact she’d bought a camouflaged backpack. A bright red civilian pack would have been certain death.
A bare head appeared, closely shaven. It was there for a second, then out of sight. Zeroed at one hundred and fifty yards, her sight settled on where the head would reappear. It did, and she was taken aback by how young the man looked. He can’t have been older than twenty-five. But whilst young, he had the hard-bitten look of a veteran. The same sort of look that many of the homesteaders, including Frank, had.
Another head appeared, quickly followed by shoulders and then a torso. Another young man, the same look on his face. Both held their assault rifles loosely as if they didn’t expect to find anything. They were cocky, and that was dangerous. For them.
She realised that her shaking had gone. Now she could see the treat, literally put a face to it, her nerves were gone. It was just like when she had competed in Tae Kwon Do tournaments. The pre-fight nerves were terrible for her. But when she stepped onto the mat for the first fight, they disappeared.
Laying her reticle on the man at the rear, she started to breathe slowly, adjusting the scope as it rose and fell, keeping it centred on his chest. Headshots were all well and good, but they were also insanely difficult as they were a constantly moving target. The chest on the other hand contained heart, lungs, lower were the liver and kidneys. All of which would be seriously compromised, all of which would cause what Frank called ‘Involuntary Incapacitation’. Which, bollocks aside, meant that when her 30-06 bullet hit them, they were going to go down and completely forget about fighting her.
Lead Sentinel’s head dipped, looking down at a patch of snow, his fist shooting up in the ‘hold’ sign. Both immediately dropped to their knees, rifles coming up to their shoulders as the lead looked down once more.
Shit, fucking boot prints, the snow had been unavoidable. And she wasn’t some sort of expert tracker who could erase their tracks at will.
Breathe in, then slowly release and hold. Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull. The recoil and noise surprised her she’d been so in the moment that she hadn’t realised she’d taken the trigger to the point of firing.
Rear Sentinel through his hands up, mouth opening in surprise as her shot took him centre mass. Blood puffed into the air as he toppled backward. As quickly as possible she chambered another round, working the bolt, cursing as it refused to close for a split second.
A split second was all it took. Lead Sentinel started firing, his shots sending chips of rocks flying in all directions, Sylvia’s screams adding to the noise as bullets ricocheted around them.
“Keep down baby!” Michelle screamed, swearing as she tried to find where the remaining Sentinel had gone. Like any good soldier he’d moved from his original position, rolling either to the left or right.
More bullets hammered their position.
“Fuck!” she’d been aiming at the wrong area. Shifting, she panned to quickly, moving the sight past the muzzle flashes. Adjusting her aim, she flinched as a shard of stone cut into her cheek, red-hot pain exploding through her face, stars filling her eyes.
She realised she’d screamed. “Stay back! Stay hidden, I’m okay. It’s just a scratch!”
Her pack shuddered as bullets hit it, the well packed ration bars slowing them enough that they lacked killing power as they tumbled through, one hitting her in the side.
Biting down a scream at the pain, she clutched at the wound, gasping at the pain. She’d never imagined how painful it could be to be shot. Frank had, he’d been shot whilst on tour. But he’d never really conveyed the true feeling. It was like trying to describe child birth. Until you experienced it, you never truly appreciated its meaning.
Michelle rolled back onto her stomach, bile rising into her mouth as she pressed the rifle into her shoulder. Just in time she saw their attacker rising, trying to make a dash for a rock cluster. Instinct took over, she’d practiced shooting enough that her body knew she needed to lead a running target.
Crack, impact to her shoulder. Rock leaping into the air as her shot landed just in front of him. He flinched. Only natural. It was just a momentary pause, but it brought his forward momentum to a complete stop. A foot slipped on the loose rock, forcing him to try and gather his balance. Just enough time for her to reload, lay the reticle onto his side and take another shot.
Unlike the first one, he didn’t throw his hands in the air, just dropped to his knees, arms falling to his side, head drooping forward until it looked like he was praying.
Silence. Sylvia crying, sobbing really. Michelle’s breathing hoarse, ragged as she tried to staunch the bleeding in her side. It was a through-and-through, tearing a ragged chunk out of her love handle. She sighed in relief as she saw that whilst painful, it wasn’t deadly. So long as she could patch herself up with a bandage from her bug out bag they’d be okay. Until the next time.
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