Out Amongst Them
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
right, now listen here," Hunter Leader says.
The three tourists gather round him. They’re clad in black
balaclavas, hems rolled up, and camouflage outfits, a dapple of greens and
greys on a grey-green background, almost invisible in the night’s shadows. The
guns slung over their shoulders are Chinese, bullpup designs in light hard
plastic and alloy in matt finish. They try hard not to appear nervous or
Hunter Leader has a South African accent and an Afrikaner
name which nobody has bothered to remember. He’s known by the job title, and
everyone’s been told to call him that. He’s tall, lean, and has a jaw like a
battering ram. When he speaks, his lips hardly move.
"This is the ultimate tour." Hunter Leader taps the huge
metal gate set in the concrete wall towering above them. A searchlight from a
distant watchtower washes over the little group for a moment, like pale milk.
"You know what you signed up for, and why you signed those releases, I assume?"
The tourists nod. Two of them exchange a slightly uneasy
glance, but the third, and smallest, doesn’t look away from Hunter Leader.
"This isn’t the luxury tour," Hunter Leader continues, after
a pause. "We aren’t going out there like the big parties, in armoured buses
with machine guns in roof turrets, out at nightfall and home by mid-afternoon,
with meals served every six hours. I’d like to remind you precisely what you’ve
signed up for – seven days and nights, on the other side of the Wall, with no
other support or help but yourselves...and us, of course." He nods at Hunter
Two, who stands to one side, watching them with total disinterest. "We’ll be
out there, on foot, among them, cut off completely from any help. Do you
"Are you trying to scare us?" asks one of the tourists. He’s
young, very fair, and has a prominent beak of a nose over a chin beard. His
eyes are sunken so deep in his head that they are pools of shadow.
"If you’re going to change your mind, now’s the time to do
it," Hunter Leader replies quietly. "We can’t afford failures of nerve on the
other side. If you’re going to change your mind, you’re free to do it now, and
your fees will be refunded to you, apart from the service charges, of course.
Am I making myself clear?"
The thin young man wipes his face with his hand quickly, and
nods. Hunter Leader stares at him for a long moment, but he doesn’t look away.
"You’ve been trained," Hunter Leader says, "and briefed on
what’s going to happen. What you have to remember is this: everything on that
side of the Wall is real. It’s not like being in one of the video films
you’ve been shown. If you’ve taken the luxury tour, it’s not like the things
you’ve seen from the bus window. You’ll be out there, among them, with nothing between
you and them, or between you and the taste of your own fear. And you’ll feel
fear. Don’t doubt that.
"Fear has its uses," he continues. "It can keep you alive.
But fear can be a deadly thing, too, when it comes in the way of your doing
what’s best for your own survival. When you’re out there, you’ll have to
conquer your own fear.
"And remember one thing, one vital thing. We aren’t going
out there to fight. In fact, as far as possible, we’re to avoid violence
completely. I’m sure this has already been explained to you, but I’ll repeat it
anyway. You’re armed, and you’ve been trained how to use those guns, but they
are only for self-defence, weapons of last resort. There are too many of them
to fight, and no way for help to come to us. If there’s any fighting to be
done, Hunter Two and I will be doing it." He glances around inquiringly. "Is
everyone sure they still want to come?"
Ten minutes later they’re moving through the passage between
the inner and outer gates. The passage is carved into the concrete, the walls
roughly-finished and lit by a dim yellow bulb set in a frosted glass dome set
in a wire cage in the ceiling. There must be a hidden camera somewhere, because
the outer gate opens slowly as they approach, with a slight dragging sound.
They’ve been up on top during the day, and watched the
terrain across the Wall through telescopes. It’s a tumbledown vista of shattered
cityscape and new growth of vegetation, pushing skywards from cracks in the pavement
and through collapsed roofs, from overgrown parks and school playgrounds.
Nothing had moved in that crumbled stretch, of course; the denizens of the
ruined city were primarily walkers of the night, and few of them ever ventured
so close to the Wall.
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