In the beginning…
More words and numbers flashed and flickered behind his big black eyes and echoed in his head. Like all the others he didn’t understand them.
STEALTH: UNSTABLE. CHAMELEON EFFECT: COMPROMISED - 42% EFFICIENT
He ran fast and kept low, the way he had been taught but didn’t want to learn, zig-zagging and using trees and bushes to hide him. He tried as hard as he could, smashing through branches if he had to.
Behind him the great crying sound was still filling the sky and screaming in his ears but he could hear flying machines too. The lights the soldiers were carrying through the forest shone quickly this way and that and sometimes turned the raindrops into every colour he knew.
ORDER: FALL BACK: MAINTAIN EVASIVE MANEUVERS
The voice in his head, the one he had heard for the first time yesterday, was gentle and seemed familiar. It made him feel brave and strong even though the words meant nothing. It made him think of the place where the sun played and that made him happy for a moment, but as he went on zig-zagging and trying to hide three flying machines appeared just above the treetops, their bright beams slicing through the woods.
HOSTILES: 3 X RAH-66 COMANCHE: ARMAMENT: 2 X M134 MINIGUNS: 2 X M230 30MM CHAIN GUNS: PAYLOAD: 6 X TACTICAL ASSAULT GROUP
Then the sky was torn in two by slashes of even brighter light and the big noise called thunder and the hard rain got even harder.
BATTLESOFT: FAILED. RE-STARTING. INITIALISING…
He wasn’t brave anymore and stopped and looked back again. Soldiers were sliding from ropes hanging from one of the flying machines. On the ground more were coming his way through the trees like ghosts, and all of them were special soldiers with electric faces who were almost as good at looking as he was and could see him in the dark even if he borrowed colours. He heard their shouts but they made no sense.
“I saw it, 400 metres at one o’clock! Then I lost it!”
“Fan out, then sweep straight ahead. You see it, put it down. And no head shots!”
HOSTILES: 387M CLOSING: 20 TARGETS: ARMAMENT: SIG MPX CARBINES: GLOCK 17 SIDEARMS: EQUIPMENT: THERMAL IMAGING
These words and numbers meant even less than the others but he could see that the lights on the ground and in the sky were getting closer all the time. He didn’t understand the nice voice and couldn’t read the bright, flickering words. He closed his eyes. All he wanted to do now was sleep and wake up in that place where the sun was yellow and the grass was green and the flowers were pretty and everyone played all the time and was happy.
The place where SHE lived, the person he wanted to see and to touch.
BATTLESOFT: COMPROMISED: CHAMELEON EFFECT: FAILED
As he opened his eyes a bright beam of light caught him straight in the face. He wanted to borrow the colour of the night and the trees but he couldn’t. He heard shouting so loud in his head he put his hands over his ears.
He turned to run but loud snapping sounds made him jump and stand still. The tree next to him was breaking into pieces that went spinning into the blackness. And then:
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
Even bigger sounds made by big guns. Like his door slamming. Like his teachers shouting. Like the end of a bad dream.
The lights the soldiers carried were now shining at him from all sides. The lights from the sky were dancing through the forest, everywhere. And the rain was wetting the world as if it would never, ever stop.
BATTLESOFT: INSTALLATION IN SAFE MODE COMPLETE
ORDER: FALL BACK
So he ran again until there were no more trees and no more bushes. In front of him was open ground. He had nowhere to hide. He couldn’t turn back.
All he could do was keep on running.
GPS NAVIGATION: COMPROMISED
He ran until he couldn’t run anymore. Not because he was tired, but because there was nowhere else to go. In front of him was a sheer drop. It seemed to him like the edge of the world. He didn’t know what to do.
BATTLESOFT: RUNNING: ORDER: EVADE CAPTURE
What did that mean?
He turned around. He was still just his own colour. One of the soldiers with an electric face stopped running and pointed a big gun with a bright light and rain in its beam.
He couldn’t move so he just watched. There were four quick flames and four bright little things were suddenly flying. Two were far away on one side. One was far away on the other side. And one was coming straight at him.
INCOMING 9MM: EVADE. TAKE COV
He remembered. The flying things were called bullets.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
The bullets were bright and they hummed as they whizzed and fizzed through the night. They looked pretty because all of a sudden he had forgotten what bullets were and what they could do.
He followed their flying all the way, from the moment they left the man, to the moment when the one coming towards him made a big ugly hole in his chest with a thud and almost knocked him to the ground.
It didn’t hurt. Hardly anything hurt him. But he knew something was wrong because lots of red juice began to trickle from the hole in his skin and he knew it belonged inside him.
He was tired. He was broken. They had won. So he gave up and closed his eyes, falling backwards slowly at first and then very quickly, crashing against stone, head over heels, down and down, covering his head with his hands and arms. As he whirled and tumbled and smashed he felt safe for a moment.
But when he hit the ground hard and stopped falling he was afraid again. They would never give up, not until he was back in his school that was also a prison, trying to teach him things he didn’t want to learn.
In the distance the great crying sound stopped.
BATTLESOFT: RE-STARTING...CHAMELEON EFFECT: RUNNING
He got to his feet, tried to borrow the colour of the night and saw that he could, and ran fast into the blackest part of it he could find.
He didn’t know it but today was his birthday.
He was three years old.