The Year 2020

Outside Gillette, Wyoming


The woods were unnaturally quiet. It was as if the wildlife, knowing what was happening, had all fled to avoid the bloodshed. Not even a bird dared make a sound as the man made his way through the underbrush. Silent as ever, he didn't mean to be stealthy. After all, why would he be? He had no enemies in the world. What had happened was but a freak accident, and now he had to get home, to get to safety.

His stealthy movements were now simply instinct, two decades of hardcore training having ingrained them into his very psyche. They were as natural as breathing, and as hard to stop. Now, he was not a man who forced himself to be quiet; he was a man who had to force himself to make noise. This irony was not lost on him as he trudged onwards towards the rally point. He wasn't meant to be an assassin or a spy - he was a guerrilla.

His sole mission in life, the single purpose and centre for his being could be diluted down into one little word. Guerrilla. He was lucky, this man, though he did not know it. How many people could say that they knew their purpose in life? His was simple - he was to insert into a location and proceed to destroy an enemy force over an extended period of time, using whatever tools - both physical and psychological - he could make.

But that wasn't his passion. He could find no joy in what he did. Neither could his handlers find joy in such a failure of what should have been a perfect specimen. It was not that he was bad at what he did, it was just that who he was...was unnatural.

Hearing a twig snap behind him, he continued on, pretending he didn't hear it. It was probably an eight, maybe even a careless six. No five or seven could ever make such a critical mistake. It was because of this that he felt no fear - if someone wanted to kill him, they would have sent more than a trainee. Hearing another twig snap, he whirled around in anger at the child for disturbing his quiet. He saw his stalker, and froze - the child was no child, but a soldier.

The man smiled.

He thought he'd have to go find them, but they came to him. He didn't mind the walk, but it was nice to be back among familiar faces. Not that he knew the soldier - the men guarding them regularly rotated, to prevent forming any attachments. But still, the sight of camouflage and assault rifle comforted him. Looking around the soldier, he noticed five others, all trying to stay out of sight in the brush. They would have managed it too, had he not been who he was. He was trained in all forms of asymmetrical warfare, and the ability to spot a hidden enemy was a large part of that.

He walked up to the soldier and saluted, drawing himself up to his full height. Which wasn't much, all said - not compared to some of his brethren. One hundred and seventy centimetres he measured, from head to toe. He had a light build, perfect for his job - just on the muscular side of skinny. It let him move fast through his environment, as his results on the parkour field showed. He had pale brown hair - almost greying in places - that was cropped short in the standard military cut. Unlike some of the other fives, he never had to blend into the public. In fact, he'd never even met a civilian - whenever he wasn't at Manticore, he was stuck in a forest or jungle, making life hell for some poor foreign army.

"X5-722, reporting in sir," he snapped out. The soldier facing him nodded and paused, as if unsure what to do next. "Shall I continue onto the rally point sir?" Prompted 722. He was no brownnose - in fact, the idea would never have occurred to him. The soldiers were in command, and were due the respect and obedience that position deserved. Why should he be rude? Again, the soldier nodded, and 722 smartly swivelled back to face his original direction. He was about to step forward when he heard a slight rustle.

That was all he needed. As one of the few specialists in guerrilla warfare, a large part of 722's training was focused on situational awareness and threat detection - in other words, as soon as he heard the rustle behind him, he knew what was about to happen. He twisted around, contorting his body as his legs tried to follow his abdomen. He was just fast enough, the bullet punching through the air where less than a fraction of a second before his occipital lobe had hung. Reacting on pure muscle memory, his right hand whipped down and grabbed the soldier's knife from its scabbard, drawing it and sliding it across his throat in one smooth motion.

It seemed as if time slowed down for 722 as the knife stole the soldier's knife from him. The man had a look of complete shock on his face, his eyes registering only surprise. 722 didn't see this - all he saw was the line of red following the razor-edged blade, and the blood starting to spurt out of the dying soldier's neck. He could have watched all day, completely mesmerized by the beautiful sight.

But he couldn't let himself be distracted, not this time. Even before the knife had completely left the soldier's neck, the killer was reaching down and grabbing his victim's rifle before it had even left his hand. Using a rifle singlehandedly was hard, very hard. All of his people were strong, but it was still hard to balance eight hundred and thirty-eight millimetres of metal on a pivot point as small as the grip while keeping the gun pointed towards the target. He had to do this fast, before the other soldiers could react and start firing back.

Sighting the first target, he fired a single round, and then moved the rifle around, lining up the next target. He didn't even wait to see if the first bullet had hit, but he knew instinctively it had. And even if it hadn't, he didn't have the time to properly line up the target and fire the standard triple burst. He had already let off three shots before they reacted and fired back. He had predicted this, and was already leaping out to his left to avoid them, dropping the combat knife at his first victim's feet. The soldiers only managed to hit their already-mortally wounded comrade, killing him before the blood loss could.

Rolling as he hit the ground, 722 quickly snapped the rifle up and let off another series of shots, these ones properly aimed, and he was satisfied to see the rounds pepper the soldiers, the small bursts of blood showing him he had wounded them. Quickly, he snapped back to the first three soldiers, unsure of how many he had hit. He was satisfied to see one of them unmoving, and one of them writhing in pain on the forest floor, but one of them had rolled, and was currently aiming his rifle straight at 722's chest. 722 twisted his upper body, trying to minimize his silhouette. A fraction too late, he hissed as he felt the sudden impact of a bullet slamming into his right shoulder. His twist had brought the rifle in his left hand into line with the enemy soldier, and he fired, spraying the enemy with a line of wounds that stretched from his right hip up to his heart. He collapsed, and 722 took a moment to finish off the wounded soldier writhing on the ground. In all, it took him seven seconds to acquire a weapon and kill five professional soldiers.

Dropping the rifle, 722 got to work inspecting his wound. A through-and-through, he was lucky. The bullet had punched all the way through the shoulder, so there wouldn't have to be any bullet to fish out. There may be fragments, but he'd have to deal with that later, as well as the prospect of infection. Bandaging it, he all but collapsed onto the ground.

722 felt as if his world had collapsed. He couldn't explain what had just happened, he couldn't even process it. Why would soldiers attack him? He had always been a good soldier, never stepping out of line, always following orders. To 722, it was as if his parents had suddenly tried to murder him - that is, if 722 even knew what the concept of parenthood was. Hyperventilating, 722 panicked, his mind racing in circles, seeking vainly for an answer, any answer. His roving eyes noticed the soldiers with the split throat, and he stopped thinking.

Blood was always his thing. It is what made him different from any other transgenic, what made him bad at his job. He was fixated with it. He didn't know why, nobody did. But as long as he could remember, he had been enamoured with it. As he watched the blood slowly leaking out of the corpse's throat, he focused. Blood always had that affect on him. It helped him gather his thoughts, remain logical, stay precise. Of course, it was best when could draw it out and in turn watch it spurt, like a scarlet geyser, but even blood with no pressure behind it still helped. 722 kept watching it until there was no blood left. It had all been soaked into the ground, and he had stayed far, far too long. If this was a test, he would have been punished severely for such stupidity.

Looking around for the abandoned knife, he picked it up and tucked it into his belt. He couldn't take one of the rifles; it would be too bulky if he had to run at all. Instead, he stripped a pistol and holster from one of the corpses, along with several magazines. He would have liked to take some of the clothes as well for camouflage, to replace the gray undershirt he was currently wearing, but they were too damaged, too bloodstained. Having that much blood, that close to him would just be distracting. He couldn't afford distractions.

Wearily, he set off towards the rally point.