My helmet visor’s head-up display (HUD) reveals the usual; a red dot which is where a bullet will strike, should I choose to fire one, and my position – War Town, Halifax, England – or 53°43’18.75”N, 1°51’58.58”W.
Exactly in place on schedule. I’m studying the wrecked buildings and wondering if the arch ahead will collapse on me today. The rest of the patrol continue to deploy, boots thumping on broken tarmac, dust rising. My red dot moves from the skeletal eye of one bombed-out window to another, down to a doorway no one has been through in … how long?
In a minute a slate will skitter down a roof and crash onto Jackie. It usually hits her shoulder, a couple of times her helmet. On gusty days it can miss her entirely. How do I know this? There … it’s happening. Newa, the sergeant, will run over and check she’s all right.
In a few minutes we’ll race through the south eastern corner of Jerusalem Town, as we always do, past its shops, picturesque church towers and minarets. Then we’ll enter Christmas Town crammed with busy last-minute shoppers and the guy that fixes the lights on the huge tree – like he has always done, every day, for as long as I can remember.
I’m puzzled. Something’s not right. I’m having unusual and unsettling thoughts and thinking I’ve done all this before. No time to think on that now; I always have to concentrate when racing through this crater: there’s tangled wire and broken piping at the bottom. Sometimes it’s filled with water. Easier today; I can see everything. Wire twangs and scrapes my boot.
OK, squat down, run the red dot around openings, then sprint to the rusting hulk of a lorry that I use for cover. Strange, why would I hide every day in the same place? If there were any terrorists they would know where to shoot. But there never are terrorists. I can’t remember ever firing this rifle … or even being trained to … though I know exactly what to do.
I’ve got a memory problem obviously – some sort of déjà vu. I’ll think on this after the quick dash to the column of the first church. The HUD says Jerusalem Town. Unlike War Town there are people here. There used to be the woman in the red coat and a tiny dog on a lead. She always came out of that shop and turned right – only she turned left one day, stopped, and collapsed after putting out a hand and groping around like she’d gone completely blind. The dog turned right, as usual, and got jerked on the end of its lead. An ambulance raced to the woman so fast it was like the crew knew what was happening before she did.
Our combat squad didn’t do anything. Not our business.
Grief, there she is – coming out of the shop and turning right as she always did. Weird.
Another zig-zag sprint to the water fountain. The sergeant waves me down – I always get too far ahead at this point.
Two teenagers running and one on a bike race out from an alley. Red dot on them, one after the other, but they’re never a problem.
My HUD flashes a warning and I flick a switch to new system batteries. I get green checks, rifle, radio and tracker chips all healthy. Trackers – it’s a weird feeling that someone or something knows exactly where my gun is pointing and what my position is, my heart rate, where I’m looking … everything probably. I’ll bet the bicycle – and even the dog is chipped and tracked. Being a soldier, my body carries more chips than ordinary people. Faster reactions, more acute senses – probably other stuff too.
A weird thought crosses my mind, one in which a fantasy of machines, computers perhaps, battle against each other, all striving to record and control everything that is going on.
So it’s not just something to do with my memory; it’s to do with weird thoughts too. Boyne was like that once. Came to the mess table and talked about strange timelines, the way she always intended to visit her mother on our next day’s leave but endless time seemed to pass and she never got to visit. Another strange thought: after that, Boyne disappeared for a few days and came back looking younger. The grey worried look and crows’ feet at the corners of her eyes had all gone. Thinking about it, her missing finger grew back too…
Move on. Head for the railing around some scraggy trees and weeds as if I’m going to use them for cover, but dart to the left and use a letterbox instead. Anyone wanting to set up a shot at me will have to change their aim. Then it’s round to the other side of the letterbox … but I always do these things! Something is very, very wrong.
What if I did something different? Normally, I’d dash between the teenagers and a mum with a pushchair. I remember having done this time after time, patrol after patrol. Instead I decide to stand up. I think I’ll go get a beer from the shop she just left.
My HUD flashes:
ABERRANT BEHAVIOUR DETECTED. COMMENCING SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.
MAINTENANCE REQUIRED: FAULT: 883400.
ZQPX GmbH Halifax Theme Park, subjugated human unit #210013SA/A assigned
Everything goes black. I’m unsteady … falling: I can hear an ambulance siren…
©Gary Bonn, 2017