Arising early in accordance with planning, as tested a few times during the previous months, I walked up through the trees and brush. The false dawn was giving new light to see. I kept climbing until I reached a cleft below the hilltop. I’d scouted this location a dozen times. It still seemed like the best.
There was nothing auspicious about this day. I’d said my secret good-byes and did all that I could to prepare. It really didn’t seem like enough. There would probably never be enough. I was preparing to break so many laws. The life I’d known would be gone – if I did this. But wasn’t that why I was here?
Yes, I told myself. Yes, that’s why I was here. Carefully, I unpacked and set up.
I settled into a comfortable position to wait. Dawn’s warm arrival awoke me an hour later. 6:59, my watch told me. I’d overslept by fifteen minutes. Not a big deal. The slaves had not arrived.
The wind stayed calm as hoped. Sunshine’s heat soon had sweat bubbling out of me. It could also be nerves. I wiped my palms several times. They kept becoming wet. Gnats and flies began finding me. Large black and yellow bees buzzed my scalp.
Punctual, the slaves arrived at eight, announcing their entrance with soft chanting. They are such simple, happy people. That is the curse, though, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. Is it my right to make them otherwise?
They might not become otherwise. They could stay happy and simple. I didn’t believe that. Everyone freed of the curse becomes angry when they learn what’s been going on. How they’d be used. But, but, don’t they, didn’t they deserve to experience the full range of being human, even if it does piss them off? Others disagree, but I think, yes it does. Yes. Look at who I was and what I’d become. I would not have been up on a hill with a rifle a year ago. I’m here now to free others as I’d been freed.
All the slaves I’d seen before were present, giving no worries. I counted them every day as they went to the different fields and orchards. The races began by working together in small knots, just as they’d arrived, but then males and females separated, moving on to greet people in other groups. Soon couples and quartets were developed, laughing, whispering, joking, and complaining as they picked. Snatches of their talking poked at me as I stayed in wait. Finally, moved by the spirit to do the thing I’d planned, I repositioned myself and raised my rifle.
I remained hesitant. Worry’s last vestiges clung to me like cobwebs. But I’d shot others first, testing the magic bullets and the vaccine loaded in them. The slaves would suffer pain for a few minutes, but then they would be released. I was doing the right thing.
No, I wasn’t doing anything, yet.
I wanted to shoot as many as possible, of course. I counted on being accurate and silent. I’d practiced, practiced, practiced, always in furtive secrecy, protected by The Net. Forty-eight slaves were in the field. I hoped to shoot them all. I didn’t have confidence that was possible, but I would try.
The couple furthest from me, off by themselves in the northeastern corner, were targeted. Four hundred forty-two yards away, I found them in my scope, shifting my rifle with their movements until center mass was presented. Hesitation reigned for another fist of seconds, then two. Finally, almost as though my finger tired of waiting for me, it slipped onto the trigger and moved. The deed began.
The suppressor kept my work unnoticed for a bit. I worked from the northeast across the field, taking the farthest people down before moving back in the opposite direction, targeting closer slaves. Some noticed the others falling but couldn’t, wouldn’t, comprehend why. Their thinking was too stunted.
No, it was not the slaves who worried me.
Knowing they’d soon be on me, I quickened my firing. Fifteen were shot. Nineteen. Twenty-four.
A drone showed up on the horizon and began hovering.
Keeping to cover, I fired faster. Twenty-five, -six, -seven. The first woke slaves were standing, falling over again, woozy as the bullet’s magic worked and released them from their spells. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.
The drone sped my way. I stood and raised a shoulder launcher into place. Its targeting system found the drone. Going green, the targeting system said, ‘beep’, and fired with a snug click. A yellow fireball took the drone’s place. Black smoke climbing, pieces showered down.
Taking a knee, I picked up the other rifle and resumed shooting slaves. Center mass was desired but by now, I was hastening to get whatever I could, telling myself, “Anything but a head shot, anything but a head shot.”
Lawnmower buzzing from above and behind told me of another drone’s arrival. Dropping one weapon, I went for the shoulder launcher.
The shoulder launcher slipped from my slick fingers. I lunged for it, trying to grab it and pull it in, bouncing the launcher into the air. Realizing it would go over the hillside, I stretched further.
Flailing for a branch, I teetered on the edge of balance.
The drone’s sound changed.
Stopped, it was targeting me.
Feeling defenseless, I sucked in air and announced with suppressed desperation, “Here we go.”
I leaped over the ridge into the thickets below. Crashing through them, balance was lost. Branches raked my cheeks and stabbed at my eyes. My left ankle flared with sharp pain.
A small missile explosion marked my previous space with a deafening sound. Rocks and clods of dirt flew by. Twisting, fighting gravity, trying to protect myself, I fell and tumbled, rolled and bounced, grunting and grabbing as I went, finally snagging a branch with one hand. As momentum jerked to a stop, I hung on, sweating and gasping like a sprinter finishing their run, and looked down.
My heart quailed.
A thirty-foot drop was below me. Its spiked, rocky bottom offered bloody promises. If I’d gone over there….
Left of it was a man. Large, black, a former slave, one of the first who I’d shot. He’d gotten here so fast.
He stared at me. The shoulder launcher was in his hands.
The drone swept around to finish me off. “Shoot it,” I shouted, hoping he understood. Swinging, feet fighting with the earth as it fell away, I tried climbing the branch like a rope. Its smaller branches tore into my hands and interfered with my grip. I barely hung on.
Heat blasted out of the sky above me. The former slave had figured it out. He’d saved me.
I laughed for half a second at life’s absurdity. I would not be able to climb back up.
“Let go,” someone shouted from below. “We’ll catch you. Let go.”
Several were shouting that. I couldn’t see them. I had to trust them.
That’s what life is about, isn’t it, I rhetorically said to myself in an absurdly placid moment. Letting go.
Do it, I urged as they shouted from below. Do it, do it. One. Two.
Eyes closing, I let go.