A short story by Michael R. Lockridge
It was Byron’s “turn in the barrel.” He wasn’t even sure what obscure joke it was for which that was the punch line. He knew what it meant, however. Today he would be blooded as a warrior in his warriors’ clan. This was an important day.
He checked his knives. One on the belt, one in each boot. He had a protective gauntlet for his left arm. All unauthorized weaponry. Nobody would notice the additions to the standard armor as he made his way to the gunship. Nobody ever noticed.
Byron grabbed his gear bag and exited the barracks.
“Ready, Poet?” Said Chief, companionably. He said it loudly, and in Byron’s ear. Otherwise the sound of the gunship’s beating blades would overwhelm the sound.
He hated being called Poet. He hated his real name even more. At least the nickname had some degree of affection in it.
Byron nodded, saying nothing.
The gunship passed slowly over the prison below, and then moved out toward the perimeter. Byron sat behind the automatic rifle mounted in the doorway of the ship. His first patrol as gunner. Free fire zone. Nothing was to be left alive in the perimeter. Nothing.
He racked the gun, and checked the ammo belts. Byron scanned the desert below.
“Ready, Poet? Gunship seven spotted a movement away from the compound.” Said Chief.
Byron just looked down the sites of his rifle. So far he had killed two coyotes today. Mostly he wanted his shift to end. He didn’t want to admit his fear.
The gunship did a slow swing in the direction from which the report had been made. The Mojave Maximum Security Prison had no walls. A compound of very rudimentary buildings, a deep well, and little else. Supplies were airdropped in. So were new prisoners.
Byron scanned the desert below. To insure no survivors from escape attempts, helicopter patrols flew constantly around the isolated prison. Rapid-fire weapons, scanners and detectors. Nothing lived in the perimeter.
“Gunship six kicked the kit. We’re going for insertion.” Said Chief. He touched a tomahawk hanging from his belt. “Sure you won’t try this?”
Byron just shook his head. He had trained with knives. The same kind of knives in the kit gunship six had dropped near his quarry.
Someone was attempting to escape from Mojave. That someone was probably now armed.
Byron adjusted the items in his own kit one more time, as his own gunship swooped down to hover over the desert floor.
“Good luck, Poet.” Said Chief.
Byron slid out to the skids, and then dropped to the ground.
“Hunter One is in play.” Called Chief. It went out over the radio, but Byron knew it had been said more for his sake.
Byron didn’t look up as the gunship pulled up and away. He was, for the next few hours, no longer a prison patrol officer. He was a Hunter. The game was unauthorized, but sanctioned by growing tradition.
He looked toward the ridge that hid his quarry.
“We shall see.” Said Byron. He crouched low, and began working his way toward the ridge.