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Out Amongst Them
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

"All 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 excited.

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 understand?"

"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.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Medium length story
Rating:7.11 / 10
Rated By:47 users
Comments: 4 users
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