Idle Times

by R.T. Allenson

“Now, Stan. Now’s not the time to be feeling generous.”

Amira pushed the end of my rifle with her cane, positioning it right between the eyes of my waiting victim. The man was panting and sobbing and bleeding from when the psych-bullet tore through his leg and crotch. His eyes would shift around – to me, and back to Amir who met his pleading stare with a demented, lipsticked smile.

“Stan.”, her voice was now firmer, and almost commanding. “Do that thing you do with the mind and the bullets.”

I squinted, clenching my teeth as I focused my thoughts and concentrated in projecting the psych-bullet. I felt it leave my mind and shoot straight into the CZ-X9 Rifle. A second later, my rifle erupted in a thunderous, electric roar as the psych-bullet tore through right through the man’s head, obliterating it completely.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and hoisted the rifle over my shoulder. I gave Amira  passing, hateful glance and made my way north. “I’m done here.”, I muttered under my breath, “I better get paid.”

I heard her prod the man’s body a few times with her cane, and eventually spat at it. I looked back, and saw her leer in disgust, only to smile as she met my gaze. “Oh, you’ll get paid. And he deserved it. Really.”

I stopped in my tracks and turned to her, arms cross. I stared at her, smirking, and she laughed. “I don’t think he was ghosting us.”

“Oh, of course not.” She replied coyly. She sheathed her cane in its holder and started walking northwards. “But I knew him.”

“You knew him? We just got here three days ago.” I shook my head and headed northwards.

“I knew him before. I’m from here, remember?” She said, shouting. I didn’t even look back at her and she sighed a resigned sigh. “Look, we can’t take any chances, Stan. This place isn’t the same anymore since I was last here.”

“I’m calling the shots now, Amira.”, I muttered venomously, “My mind. My bullets. My rules.”

Amira eventually caught up to me and looked at me with a disparaging look. I shrugged her off and continued northwards. “I mean it.”

The trip to the northern expanse wasn’t easy. Earth had not been Earth for a long time and the old maps and diagrams are inaccurate by about seven centuries. Amira told me that where we were used to be called the Pacific Ocean, but it’s been a flat desert for a long time now and you would not know that it was ever an ocean if no one told you about it.

The Stagnation affected everyone. The expansion towards Andromeda was a failure. For all our advancements, we can still barely travel through space properly. The first FTL ship was a disaster – supposedly warping through time but never leaving the destination. The colonists, Amira says, are still stuck in spatial Limbo – undying, unmoving, and no longer a part of us long after the ship was dismantled.

Amira says she was born in a generation ship hailing from Mars and was supposed to head off to the colony at Enceladus, but there was a mutiny and she and a few others fled to Earth. She’s an egghead – a scientist or a researcher as she claims.

As for me, I’ve always lived here in the desert that was once the Pacific Ocean – or so Amira says. My parents weren’t able to manifest the psych-bullets but my grandfather from my dad’s side could. She told me that it happens – the gift gets lost and resurfaces.

I feel a chill on the wind run and I signal to Amira. She stops in her tracks, hiding behind me. There’s a breath – and a scent that I haven’t smelled in a long time.

“What is it?”, Amira asks. Her voice was nervous and she stuttered to say the last part. “Do you hear something?”

“No. Smell.”, I correct her. “There’s a bleeder nearby.”

“Bleeder? What the hell is that?”

“You’ll see.”, I replied. She must have noticed the wry smile I had, but it only served to fuel her nervousness.

“I took the rifle from my bowsling and concentrated. “Three bullets.” I whispered under my breath. The pictures were all I know of bullets; sometimes, I’d think of them in larger quantities and larger sizes, but four was enough. It was just a bleeder after all.

A bellowing noise erupted from behind the craggy outcrop of rock to my north, and I saw it shuffle out horribly – a human shaped thing that was as black as pitch and charcoal.

It was a bleeder. My parents told me there were once men and women like us, ‘cept they were mutated. Its skin was dark and chitinous, and when it moved, pieces of its rocky skin would fall off and it’ll bleed – hence the name. The rock-skin would eventually grow back in a few seconds, but not before bleeding a bit and making a mess of the ground below it.

It cocked its head sidewards, turning it around erratically as it searched and whiffed the air for our scent. It had no eyes, you see, but once it smelled a straggler, it was relentless. “Three bullets.”, I whispered to myself again, and aimed my rifle at the bleeder.

The first shot rung out like thunder rolling across the sky. The psych-bullet travelled instantly, and from my scope, I saw that I had missed by just a few inches, and only managed to blast the bleeder’s left shoulder completely. It roared and gurgled and shambled towards me, with its rock-skin peeling off and bleeding with every inhuman movement.

The second shot was as loud as the first one, and it blew a hole right into the bleeder’s chest. Any animal or mutant thing would die instantly, but bleeders don’t. I saw it paw at its gust through my scope. The third shot obliterated its left leg completely, and the rock-skinned thing fell on the ground screaming.

“Kill it already, you ass!”, Amira whispered angrily. I chuckled and aimed at the bleeder again. The last shot was louder than all three, and the bleeder’s head was no more.

I turned around and smiled, staring Amira dead in the eye. “My mind. My bullets. My rules.”, I told her again. She didn’t’ respond. Her eyes were staring right past me, and she pointed silently and desperately at something behind me.

I turned around and saw a sight that any hunter, even one with psych-bullets run with their tails between their legs. More bleeders. An entire pack of ’em led by one big momma bleeder that stood over ten feet high. The one I shot must have been a scout.

“Fuck.” I whispered under my breath. I slung my rifle on my back and started backing away.

The pack of bleeders were moaning and groaning, and clawing blindly towards us. And the large one. It looked like it knew what I shot its kid…