APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 9 September, 1999


The Tell-Tale Hunter

Tom McGrenery

Yes, nervous - edgy, as you say - I had been. And am. But why do you say that I am mad? It sharpened my senses. Sharpened them - yes, like a knife. My ears, in particular, became most sensitive - while others slept at night, I could hear everything. Everything. No, I see it still - how you shake your head, how your eyes glaze over and dart from side to side. You are afraid to look a madman in the eye. I will prove my sanity - listen, and see how calmly, how sanely I tell the story.

I have no idea how it first entered my mind to do what I did. Once it did, however, nothing else could occupy my mind. There was no material gain for me in the deed. There was no vengeance I had in mind. I loved the regiment. It had never done me any harm. I think perhaps it was the EW unit - yes, yes, so it was - always chattering, privately, secretly, always watching. I felt isolated and vulnerable every time I passed near them. For some time after, too, as I knew they were always watching, with their Hermes and their radios, their cold, mechanical eyes in space.

Now, here is my contention - you think me insane. Mad. A squad short of a platoon, if you will. Madmen, however, are insensible. They know nothing. I, however, was so alert, so wise, as I went to work. You would marvel at the foresight I showed. The Earth had a legend about foresight - Prometheus, he was called - stealing fire. Such was my ingenuity. I was never more diligent in my work for the regiment than in the week before I brought about its destruction. And every night, about midnight, I left my lodgings so, so quietly, camera in hand. I filmed the compound, the disposition of forces and always so stealthily that I never once disturbed the slumber of the troops. It took me an hour to creep from block to block, barracks to barracks, until I had an ample view of the whole camp by night. Hmph - would I have been so careful, so cunning, had I been mad? And then, when I could see all, I prepared an uplink to that hated space. Yes, the irony, the delicious vengeance in using such a tool. Then, I turned the lens to the EW building, so that I could see what happened within at great magnification. This I did for seven long nights, but always there was a man on duty, scanning for communication. And so it was impossible for me to do the work. Every night spent thus increased my hatred, my eagerness for the deed was more, for it was not the regiment which I hated, but its EW. Every morning, when the day broke, I reported boldly, speaking encouragement in a hearty tone, asking the technicians if anything noteworthy had occurred. So you see, they would have been very shrewd indeed to suspect that every night, I looked upon them at work.

On the eighth night, I was even more cautious than normal. The shadows of the day move more quickly over time than did I as I approached my vantage point at the jungle's edge. Never before had I felt my own power so keenly - my sheer cutting intellect. I could barely restrain my feelings of triumph. I chuckled quietly at the idea - that there I was, recording their weakness, and they not even knowing I was present. Perhaps they heard me, for floodlights went on, and gears hurried urgently on their patrol routes. You might have expected me to draw back, but no - I knew that I was well-concealed. I knew they could never find me. I was about to open the link, and look in upon the communications officers, when my hand slipped on the device, and the handshake went up.

The scanners leapt up, startled, and as I looked in, the staff officer ran from his terminal to rouse his CO.

I kept quite still. I was prepared to wait, to lie there for a whole hour if need be, until I saw my chance to enact my plan. Carpe diem, it is said, and so I did - while the scanning console was unmanned, I sent my footage to the Southern troops I knew were near by.

Soon, officers were rushing around the comms block. And I knew the fear in their eyes, in their demeanour. I know the look well. Many a night, it has shown itself on me, while the world sleeps, and I wake to escape those deep terrors which prey on me. Their fears had been growing since that first handshake was heard. And now they knew their doom - by now a blanket of white noise would be descending upon them. They tried to think it nothing, but all in vain. Death was upon them. I watched them try to send a cry for help, and it made me furious.

Soon, though, the Southern artillery began to fire upon them. Over and over, over and over, until the pounding shells had saturated the camp in front of me. And as the communications tower was broken and burned, I began to laugh. The laugh of the triumphant victor.

Even as I rejoiced, that acuteness of sense which you mistake for madness came to my aid. There came to my ears a metallic clicking, accompanied by dull thuds, as if some lone percussionist were beating a drum in the darkness. I knew that sound well - the sound of a heavy gear. I turned, and saw before me one of the regiment's Hunters. Coming towards me. The hellish tattoo of the jungle drum as it paced towards me. With its camera eyes. Watching.

A new anxiety seized me - its pilot would report me. With a loud yell, I dropped my camera and seized a large rifle which I had cleverly procured for just this purpose. I fired again and again. Its chest caved in and it seemed to bleed, but I knew whence that blood came. There was one shriek only. The Hunter fell forwards into the mud and walked no more. Both it and its pilot were stone, cold dead. There was no motion in the camp either. The electronic watchers would trouble me no more.

If you still think I am mad, you will not when you hear what I did next, my wise precautions for the concealment of my deed. Daybreak approached, and I worked hastily. First I dismembered the pilot's corpse and, taking up the floor of one of the hangars, I buried him beside the gear, which likewise I dismantled. I then replaced the flooring so cleverly, so carefully, that no detection, not even the regiment's, could reveal anything wrong.

When I had finished, a small northern force approached. Adopting a suitably fearful stance, I greeted them with confidence - for what did I now have to fear? Three men came nearest, who introduced themselves as military policemen, as if I had not been able to tell from their insignia. I smiled and looked relieved (for what had I to fear?) I took them to the centre of the camp and told them the South had attacked, and that I was the lone survivor by pure chance. I asked them to search well for any clues that might be there to be found. At length, I led them to that hangar. I even brought in chairs for them to rest on and got them cawfee. In my enthusiastic confidence, I even placed my own chair directly above the hidden grave of the gear and its pilot.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them of my innocence. I was at ease and chatted cheerfully with them. But before long, I was pale and wished they would go. My head ached, and I thought I heard a ringing in my ears. Still they sat and chatted and chattered. The ringing became clearer - I talked more freely to alleviate the sound, but it continued and became louder. Louder and louder it grew, until it became clear the sound was not within my ears.

Now, doubtless, I grew very pale, perhaps even sickly. I talked even more, and with a more stentorian voice. Yet the sound increased - and what could I have done? It became clearer - a mechanical clicking, accompanied by a muffled thudding, as if there was approaching a man with a heavy drum. I was lost for breath, and yet the policemen heard nothing. I talked more quickly, more feverishly, but that percussive noise yet increased. Why would they not leave? I stood, and paced back and forth, back and forth, in time with the thumping drum. I behaved as if the men's idle conversation had incensed me. What could I do, by Mamoud? I raved and cried and swore by the Prophet! I dragged the chair upon which I had sat along the floor, grating it violently. But the noise rose up and increased still more. It grew louder - louder - louder! Still the military police smiled and talked amiably. Was it possible they could not hear? Sweet Prophet - no! No! They heard - they suspected! They knew.

They were mocking my terror, but anything was better than this agony! I could bear their hypocritical smiles no more. I felt that I must scream or die. There it was still - louder, louder, louder!

"Curse you!" I screamed, "Enough of your lying, your masquerade! I admit the deed! Tear up the floor! Here, here! It is the sound of that infernal Hunter!"

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 9 September, 1999