“The river here is pretty deserted.” I was keen to find somewhere where we wouldn’t be interrupted, not that I thought many people would approach anyone practicing shooting stuff. That would be beyond stupid. Still, I liked inconspicuous, and the only way we were going to get that was to be nowhere near anyone. Not a particularly easy task around here.
I’d chosen somewhere lacking in residential buildings. Industry, and a whole lot of it so close to the rubbly shore of the sluggish, grubby river. It gave us a perfect stretch of land with nothing but water for a fair distance to be throwing lead at hundreds of kilometres an hour, or however fast bullets travelled.
“Romantic,” she mocked. “Alright, this place is as good as any I guess.”
She shrugged the strap of the pack of one shoulder and caught it as it slipped around her front. Kneeling on the uneven broken bricks and stone that made up the floor, she tossed out a couple of the beer cans Danni and Mike were so fond of, along with two unopened sodas that I preferred.
She handed me one of the drinks, then the pistol she’d torn apart and mocked. “Thanks.”
While I snapped the tab to the still-cold can she pulled her own silver gun from her pocket and aimed it down the shore, looking for a target.
She fired three shots. Neat, evenly spaced cracks, their echoes repeating a few seconds later over the top of each other in an eerie resonance. It was quieter than I was expecting. I was used to guns causing my ear drums to… well, burst.
I watched each impact thud into the wall in a neat group, within inches of each other.
She paused, lowered the gun as if to inspect her work. She turned it sideways, pulled back the sleek slider on top and peering into the holes the empty cases came out – chamber? Seemingly satisfied, she knocked up her t-shirt, giving me a fleeting glimpse of the skin of her hip, and shoved in her waistband.
A moment of stillness.
Then a flurry of movement, her hand was at her hip – gun raised and three more lumps of lead in the wall.
“I’ve not done this for far too long,” she said, the energy of her movements absent from her voice.
I didn’t want to interrupt, but she turned her attention to me anyway.
“You give it a go,” she said, “Let’s see your natural technique.”
I shifted my grip on the gun in my hand. It still felt unwieldy. Guns were so crude, no elegance to them. I knew the basics though, the rest I emulated from her.
I depressed the tab that released the magazine, into my palm. There was a glint of brass. Satisfied, I pushed it back in until it clicked. Then, pull back the top thing and it’s ready to go.
I held it out at an arm’s length like she had, bringing my other hand underneath my first. With the same point on the wall she’d placed her shots in between the notches. I pulled the trigger.
I tried to pull the trigger. It stopped half way down.
“You left the safety on,” she said.
“No I didn’t.” I turned it sideways, there was a little switch you knocked with your thumb. “You left it on.”
“That’s because you left it off earlier.” She frowned at me. “You shouldn’t be using it if you don’t respect it.”
“I don’t want to use it. You’re the one so keen on me to carry one of these things.”
“For fucks sake, Alex, work with me here.”
Okay, that stung. It should have. I was being a dick, for no reason. I had the strongest urge to kick myself. Well, not literally. Kicking yourself-
“Sorry. For being an idiot.” I sighed and looked at the chunk of dark metal in my hand. “I’m just way out of my comfort zone with these things.”
“Let’s get you comfortable then,” She gave me a smile. Soft, fleeting, but it filled me with an odd warmth.
Okay. I’d shot before, I know what to expect. It was pretty simple, in theory.
I held out my arm, flicked the switch, lined up the notches on the top with the holes Beth had put in the wall and pulled the trigger.
It made the noise. Louder than Beth’s. The thing jerked in my hand, bucking backwards. My wrist stung with the kick. I’d inadvertently closed my eyes, blinking them shut while I’d been trying so hard to force them open. I think my heart had skipped a beat.
I didn’t even see whether I’d hit the target. “How close?”
“Uh… We’re pretty far away.”
“I missed didn’t I?” I bet I couldn’t hit a fucking wall from the inside of a house.
“It’s fine, Alex. No one expects you to be an ace shot first time.”
“Except you were right.” I kicked one of the broken bricks at my feet. It was less broken than I expected, so I didn’t kick it as much as stub my toe on it intentionally. An action that only furthered my frustration. “Everyone else is going to have guns. I’m going to get someone killed.”
“Listen. Shooting a pistol is easy. Hitting the target? That’s a little more difficult. If it’s moving, that’s a lot more difficult. If you’re moving…” She trailed off. “Let’s start simple.”
She stepped towards me and kicked my feet. “Shoulder width apart, right foot forwards slightly.”
I followed her instructions as best I could. She physically fixed my stance where I failed.
“Now, the safety is off. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to shoot something, okay? I can’t go over how important it is, do you know how many people shoot their friends knees off because they aren’t paying attention? Aim, just like before.”
I did, and she poked my fingers until they were how she wanted. “High up, so the recoil pushes down your arm rather than kicks the muzzle up. Always support it with your other hand, for now at least. Thumbs together, see.”
I nodded, once again. Both hands cupping the handle. Her hand was cold where she touched me. She was standing close enough that her chest brushed against my shoulder. I could feel her cold breath stir the hair on the back of my neck, fogging in the icy air. I had the resist the shiver that threatened my spine, and I wasn’t sure it was because of the cold.
She looked over the top of her glasses into my eyes. “We should really be wearing ear plugs and shit… Fuck it. We’ll be fine. Almost everyone takes them off in combat anyway, I think. I don’t need to explain the sights, but try keep your focus on the front one, and the target. Right, you’re set. Aim.”
One again, I lined up the centre chipped pits she’d been firing at. I found where I wanted everything, got the centre notch between the closer ones. I kept the target in focus, just like she’d said, feeling a bit silly because it was just a certain section of wall…
“Are you going to tell me to squeeze the trigger?” I smiled, and the corners of her mouth twitched slightly. How many times do they say that in movies?
“You just need to make sure you don’t push sideways. Pull it towards yourself, with a constant pressure.” She stepped back.
I tried to do what she said, concentrating on keeping everything pointed in the right direction and on pulling as evenly as possible. I felt the pressure of the trigger change, and a moment later it exploded.
It wasn’t nearly so bad. Instead of the end launching itself upwards I could feel it push my hands inwards.
Better, I saw a plume of dust as on the top left corner of our concrete target. A shit shot, but hell of a lot better than before. It wouldn’t have hit a guy, had I been aiming at one, or his friend next to him, but at least I knew it had gone in the right direction this time. It hadn’t gone flying off into the unknown to hit some poor kid. Or whatever in my hypothetical combat scenario.
“Great!” She clapped with glee, and I couldn’t help but let some of it seep into me. To see her that happy, it was a wonder these killing devices could give someone so much joy. I couldn’t help smile at her as she watched the cloud of dust settle on my accomplishment. “Now, again, but fire three this time.”
I repeated it. My first shot was closer, my second and third missed completely. She adjusted my grip, poked my knees until she was happy. We repeated. After a fifth attempt and a minute to slot in a new set of bullets, all three hit the wall.
Rinse and repeat. The thing jammed a few times. Old casings getting sandwiched between sliding mechanisms, bullets not lining up with… bits. Each time Beth carefully showed me how to safely clear it and load another round. She tutted and scoffed at the thing, but admitted it was quite convenient for practice.
I was sweating, even with the cold wind blowing across from the river. I didn’t think it would be so much effort, but my arms ached a little from holding the gun at such an unaccustomed angle. I’d get used to it, probably.
We stopped when I could consistently hit the wall with all three shots, and my first was pretty well on-target.
“Here,” She handed me the other drink, not taking it for herself, before walking down the river a few yards – the collection of empty cans in hand.
While I sat, sipping the syrupy black coke I watched her movements. Silhouetted against the skyline of the city, brighter and grander than the Island I knew. A few ships cruised at a safe altitude, well clear of the highest glowing, twisted skyscrapers. I tried to imagine how full the skies would have been when the orbiters launched from the hub, back when this place prospered. Now, there was only a handful of private ships, maybe a few military.
The hollow knock of Beth disturbing a rock snapped me back to reality. Her movements were still a little clumsy. A month of inactivity probably wasn’t good for your muscles.
She caught my eye, before walking slowly back. I looked away, suddenly feeling awkward to be caught watching at her.
“Go on.” She nodded towards the cans, irregularly placed on rocks at varying distances from me.
I trained my sights on the closest. Hit it with the first shot, sending crumpled metal bouncing along the beach. The second fared better, two bullets chipping off shards of stone around it before catching it on the side, spinning it out of sight.
The last was less successful. It was further than the wall I’d been practicing on. I knew I was running low on rounds, but the sad, empty ‘click’ that marked the magazine depleted still came as a surprise.
“Shit.” I popped the mag into my palm and passed it to Beth.
“Better save these,” Beth said as she emptied the last of the bullets into her hand and started slotting them into the magazine. She was probably right. We had the trip back to worry about. She was left with a single loose bullet left. “Seems a shame not to use it…”
I passed her the gun and, after siding the magazine home, she raised it with a fluid movement and fired, blowing the can I’d spent too long trying to hit off from its perch.
“You want to try something different?” she asked.