Short Story: One Shot

You want to know where I got this nasty old wound above my brow? Be honest now. Okay, very well. I’ll tell you, but you’d better be listening, you hear?

It was 2525 and I was posted on the barren archipelago of Midland. It sits on the equator of Port Merlin. I had the miserable “honour” of guard duty that day, on account of a disagreement with a superior officer of all things, but that’s unimportant now. So there I was, bored out of my skull and melting under the midday suns, wondering who in their right minds would ever consider these god-forsaken dunes on the sea to be of any value and importance when lo and behold, the enemy struck with a force we were ill-prepared to defend our little installation against.

The Andromeda Alliance, never ones to be seen as sound of mind on any day, good or bad, had been picking at us with small skirmishes up until that point, almost like trying to carve through our defences with little more than a chisel, and only then did they throw a hell of a jackhammer our way: a hundredfold extra footsoldiers emerged from the sea like the dreaded fish-people you hear about in 20th-century horror stories, backed up by as many as fifty 54-ARK amphibious tanks and a couple of 57-OMP bipedal assault suits marching across the continental shelf like it were a paddling pool.

We were doomed from the start, believe me. Our own numbers would have struggled against the footsoldiers alone and the walls would have easily crumbled under the force of those tanks. Oh, for sure, we could have probably picked off a good few of those tanks with our own cannons, but the majority would still slip through and punch a hole in the walls assuming the gargantuan assault suits didn’t step on them first or wipe them away with their arm-mounted cannons.

It was a desperate time for us all, and you know what they say about desperate times? Oh for crying out loud, get your mind out of that gutter this instant! No, desperate times called for desperate measures, and none more desperate than my actions that day. Most of the men focussed on the ground troops or tried to strike down the walkers with heavy artillery or missiles. Men who had never taken the time to read up on the enemy enough to know that you can rarely take out one of those buggers with anything short of a god-damned nuke! But it wasn’t a nuke I used that day, no siree.

You see, the shields they were packing will hold off most turret fire and high explosives without fail for an extended period of time, but the Alliance scrimped a little on the walker’s budget, I heard. They never bothered once to try and make those same beehive barriers of theirs dense enough to stop a bullet from a handgun or a rifle. And when I wasn’t being penalised for calling the top brass a bunch of spineless cravens and pencil-pushers, I was the sharpest shot this side of the Horsehead Nebula.

So took a double risk that day: not just the risk of failure but the risk of the penalties for abandoning my post on top of my earlier crimes of the day, but I knew that I was the only one who could turn the tide of a battle weighed unfairly against our favour. I vaulted the barrier behind me and dropped to ground level, making a break for the armoury the moment I’d finished my rolling landing. Ignorant of the protests I received on the way and as I chose my weapon of choice – a Zeus-class shock sniper, I’ll have you know – I raced back to my post and started to load up.

By the time I’d taken aim even the commander started screaming in my ear, demanding that I drop the rifle and pick up something more suited to the task. What did he know, I ask you, what could he possibly know better than I? If he had any better ideas, a large chunk of our losses that day could have been avoided. All around me, good men were powerless to do naught but die, be it under the tracks of those tanks, torn to shreds by their guns or blown to kingdom come. Running wasn’t an option. That just earned you an on-the-spot execution for cowardice, which had me counting myself lucky that the commander himself was reluctant to pop a bullet between my eyes.

Once again, I blocked out all the protests and cries and accusations of being dropped on my head as a baby and focussed all of my attention on seeking out the closest assault suit’s cockpit and lining its pilot into my sights. I did everything in my power to keep my cool, in spite of the chaos and bloodshed around me, and held my breath for as long as I needed to get the shot just right, because that’s all I had before those walkers were on top of us. One shot that could have spelled our salvation or sealed our destruction. I had to get it perfect.

And then… BAM! Exactly as I’d prayed for in my mind, the bullet zipped through the shield better than a hot knife through melted butter, into the otherwise unprotected cockpit and right between the eyes of the pilot. And that was when the real magic happened. The awesome moment nobody under either banner, not even myself, could have seen coming. Whichever way that sorry bastard must have fallen in his death throes also sent the walker tumbling down, but not before staggering right into his other gargantuan friend behind him. If the surviving pilot hadn’t then tried to push the fallen one away, well, he might never have been dragged down with him. Let me tell you, it was a glorious sight to see two of those buggers collapse right on top of the majority of the Alliance’s fighting force before them. Most of the tanks wiped out in one fell swoop while the footsoldiers that didn’t get crushed along with them were torn to shreds, too distracted by the horrifying reality of their shameful defeat. Imagine that, a fighting force large enough to take a city in a day, reduced to nothing in seconds, and all thanks to that one shot, that single bullet that changed everything.

I was a hero that day. Even the commander was more than willing to overlook my transgressions and even offer a promotion, I tell you.

What was that? What does any of that have to do with this wound, you ask me? Well, about twenty minutes later the little bastard riding that walker got one shot in as well. Threw his Xbox controller through the front room window. No, not through the glass. I had it open all day. Yep, called the police about it. Sticking him on ignore when I can remember his GamerTag, too.

Author’s Note:

Admittedly this story was slightly inspired by Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell’s animated short War. Aside from the basic theme of annoying an opponent during a video game, though, the similarities end there. I do not, under any circumstances, condone the act of teabagging another player.

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Short Story: Retail Past

She found her favourite seat, empty as always. Her favourite seat for some time. Her favourite since she was little.

The Kid sat down on the decaying wooden bench and unwrapped a sloppily-assembled sandwich from its plastic food bag prison as he looked toward the row of empty shops across the road. They were all boarded up some years ago, she remembered. One after the other in a protracted chain of closures.

As she began to recall a better, more colourful time, before the closures, the plywood boards covering the windows slowly faded and gave way to their old selves. The old café where she would always be taken for some of the best sausage rolls in town flickered back into life. Crockery clattered a random, unstructured song as staff rushed to serve a growing queue of customers and the customers endured the challenge of simply finding a free table without spilling their coffee all over. The empty building next door slowly became a clothes shop once more. A score of women, none of them could possibly be younger than thirty, fussed over this summer dress or that sky blue sweater before the thought of trying them on even crossed their minds. Meanwhile their children moped about at their parents’ sides, looking bored out of their skulls. Truth be told, The Kid was among those little ones.

The sequence continued, each empty shop shifting into their former selves, each one bringing nothing but good memories. The music shop where she discovered the likes of Moby and Orbital at an early age, the catalogue shop that never failed to bring her joy when her newest toy landed on the collection desk, everything down to the shop that sold sex toys and lingerie, took renewed shape before her. The Kid’s mother always rushed her right past that one without any explanation, at least until she finally figured it out in her early teens.

The sandwich was finished, a lot quicker than The Kid had hoped, and the bustling retail units all reverted to their empty shells as quickly as they had sprung back to life. The ghosts of retail past. Nothing more.

The food bag fell into the nearby bin as flawlessly as ever and The Kid hopped to her feet once more. She checked her watch. Half past twelve. Her music downloads should be finished by now, she figured, and with any luck her brother stayed in the house long enough to receive the new summer dress she ordered.

Author’s note:

I kind of bashed this one out after finding that, following the news surrounding retail chain GAME’s downfall of late, my two closest stores were shut down and cleared out permanently, with a sign pointing me to a surviving store that’s more than half an hour away. Not cool. Anyway, this half-arsed job, as you probably gathered by the fact that I was too lazy to give “The Kid” a name, wasn’t supposed to come across as DOOOOOOOOOOOOM! However, the more I went over it the more it felt that way, despite that not even being my intention. Oh well.

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This short story is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.