JOE IS BACK, FELLAS.
Last Tactical Tuesday, GovX readers met SSgt Joseph Langley, survivor of the apocalypse detailed in Part 1. When last we saw him, a trio of men were on his tail. His options? Fire a warning shot at his pursuers, leave a trap, a message, or just leave silently.
You voted, and readers thought Joe should move on and hide his tracks.
JOE KEEPS GOING.
The image of the three armed travelers quivered in the binocular lenses. Greybeard called out something, and Rusty moved closer to the boy and clasped his shoulder and cuffed his neck in a fatherly way. The boy’s shoulders relaxed, and he seemed to ease up, as if releasing the courage he had mustered to brave the woods. He lowered the .22.
Joe may have been immune to the disease, but he still allowed optimism to infect him occasionally. Sometimes, you need to raise a hand instead of your gunsights. Maybe the men weren’t hunting him.
Still, good intentioned or not, it didn’t mean they were welcome in camp. I can’t let them see me. They look like rookies, but I can’t take the chance that they’ll find a way to camp. He decided to cut a wide swath around them on his way back to camp.
Joe crawled backwards from a prone position on the rocky outcropping and stood up when he was out of view. He kicked the soil around as best he could to cover his tracks. Rainclouds formed above. The torrent would eliminate any trace of him and would hopefully provide the cover he needed to pass the men.
The sky darkened over the conifer forest. Ribbons of rain fell through the windswept trees. Joe moved purposefully and with every amount of awareness he could summon, but the intense downpour limited his vision. The day moved quickly. He stepped up his pace.
A rockface ahead. Joe wiped his face and grabbed a tree branch and hoisted himself up. The Mk-14 over his shoulder clattered against the rest of his gear. The pack was sodden and heavy. He climbed hand over hand.
The root loosened.
It crumbled free and Joe lost his grip. He tumbled backward and fell hard.
Raindrops fell onto his face, the sky itself mocking his haste. He lay there a moment, praying a burst of pain wouldn’t appear somewhere on his body. A sprained leg. A bruised tailbone. Anything.
Feeling nothing but wounded pride, Joe stood. He decided to go around the damn rock wall.
He trudged around when a sound amidst the din of the storm caught his ear. A panicked voice, a yell. It had to be the men.
He should have moved on. He should’ve used the situation to his advantage to gain some further distance between himself and the men.
But the way Rusty spoke to the boy. That hand on his shoulder.
He should’ve left them.
Joe let his pack drop to the ground, swung his rifle up, and bolted through the forest toward the commotion. The rain whipped into his face and the yelling intensified. Two voices. Not three. And something else. A deep-cored growl as if from the earth itself.
The terrain lifted up. The sounds of the commotion below him. He chambered a round and advanced along the edge of the cliff, hoping to use a high vantage point. He looked down.
Thirty feet below stood a brown bear, on its haunches, nine feet of fleshrending rage. It roared. The kid cowered behind Rusty, who stood cornered against the cliff face. He struggled frantically to clear a jam from the kid’s .22. Where was his weapon?
Joe dropped to one knee and took aim at the bear’s head.
He fired—right when the bear lowered its head. The bullet struck its back, and it barked in pain and spasmed violently.
“GET DOWN!” Joe yelled. He flicked the rifle’s selector to full auto and unloaded on the writhing beast. The bullets slammed into the animal’s back, the haunches, the neck.
Joe’s ears rang. He registered the rain as dull, soundless thuds on his head and neck. The rifle barrel glowed white and the acrid scent of spent brass lingered in the air. The bear was dead.
Rusty and the kid stood up. The kid was transfixed by the felled animal, rain soaking into its matted fur and a pool of blood forming under its great head. Joe stood and removed the empty magazine in a soundless haze, his ears aching from the shots.
Joe called out to the two. “Stay there!” He said. He reloaded the rifle and headed down the cliff. The pressure in his ears began to subside. The boy and the man stood in the forest clearing, wide-eyed and soaked. The rain abated some.
Don’t take the chance, he thought. Joe raised the Mk-14 at the unarmed man.
“Where’s the other one,” Joe said. “The guy with the grey beard. Where is he.”
“No!” the boy said. “Don’t!”
Still stunned by the shots, Joe became aware of something in the trees to his right.
Greybeard stood at Joe’s 2 o’clock position, aiming a rifle at his head. His right shoulder rested against a tree trunk, steadying himself. The rifle barrel shook. He’d never pointed a rifle at another person in his life. But a threat nonetheless. Joe kept his sights on Rusty.
He hadn’t even two seconds to consider his options when the boy dashed forward. He stood between Joe and Greybeard’s AR-15.
“Don’t shoot him, uncle,” the boy said to him. His voice was deeper than Joe expected.
The four survivors stood in the unsympathetic wilderness, their rain-soaked clothes heavy and cold as the storm faded.
A STAND-OFF! WHAT SHOULD JOE DO NOW?
A. Lower his weapon.
B. Try to talk himself out of this situation.
C. Take the kid hostage.
D. RUN FOR IT.