Author : Rob Burton

Pour. Spit. Ram. Withdraw. Prime. Cock.

I had really hoped people were better than this.

Aim. Fire.

It’s just a game.

I heard somewhere once that the military used to recruit gamers to be snipers. They’d voluntarily honed their skills since childhood, and could be calm and dispassionate under fire. I can believe that. My hands move fluidly now, too quick to worry about the heat as the drill marches through my head. The words are voiced by some archetypal sergeant. I can almost see the moustache.

Aim. Fire.

The man falls down, an entry wound in his hip like a juicy red apple.

I was a human rights lawyer. I knew the terrible things people were capable of. I just didn’t think it was our natural state. I didn’t want Hobbes to be right. Yet here I am, at a castle gate, making everyone’s life nasty, brutish and short.

Aim. Fire.

When it all switched off we were bemused. Then there was looting, rioting, arson, rape. Blood like the pavements had just rusted. The guns showed themselves for a few days, before the ammunition ran out. I think that killed nearly as many as the knives.

Aim. Fire. His arm still grips the ladder when it falls.

I quickly realised, hiding with the weeping weak, that the simple provision of high walls was enough to keep us alive whilst the world went mad. It’s always the young men. Even before the collapse, as a man you were more likely to die between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five than any other ten-year period of your life.

Aim. Fire. Missed.

So, for all our advances, and all the many places in this great city, we ended up here. The terrible truth is that medieval stuff just works. Forty of us here, access to the river, a safe place to store food, fuel and medicine. Also enough to make us a target. A young man tells me that he thinks the earth’s magnetic field flipped. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it was a computer virus, or nanobots. It doesn’t matter.

Aim. Fire.

Of course, it was a museum, full of things we’d thought we were done with. One of the old men from the home was a chemist. I don’t know how he made this powder, but it was worth every moment of those terrifying midnight scavenging runs. I was nervous when we first fired the musket, shocked when I found out I was the best shot. It turns out that shooting grouse with my grandfather and playing countless hours of ‘longshot’ wasn’t such a waste of time after all.

Aim. Fire. A head pops. It’s just a game.

Except that it isn’t. Maybe it’ll calm down, after some time. Maybe it’s fatty food and television deprivation, or the closing of the world down from global feeds to your field of vision, or worse, some horrible echo of expected behaviour, reinforced by countless films and stories, the same cultural hangover that helps me do this. The longer this lasts, though, this daily grind, the more I doubt it. The more this seems like our natural state.

Pour. Spit. Ram. Prime. Cock. Aim. Fire.

And there goes the ramrod. It didn’t even hit anyone.

So now we die.

A young mother dashes up to me. She’s brandishing a spare ramrod, a prize from another exhibit. With sudden clarity, I wish that she hadn’t found it. Will it be the same tomorrow, as it was yesterday? Can I face it?

Pour. Spit. Ram. Withdraw. Prime. Cock. Aim. Fire.


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