Journal entry, 18th of November 2024.
I just had to put the controller down and write. How do they make it look so real? Real enough to remind me of a real event at least. Such fine art. The visuals of the forest took me back to an early autumn morning. A hunting trip with my friends, who were more excited about finding and shooting capercaillie than I was. I had been in the city for so long, that just being in the forest and taking in its wonders with my senses was more than enough to satisfy me. I had recently been reading scientific reports from Japan which illustrated the health benefits of being in a forest. According to the research, people who spend time relaxing, or casually walking in the forest, do not only enjoy decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, they also benefit from the aromatic volatile substances called phytoncides. These amazing phytoncides, which are secreted by the trees, work as natural killers for our cells. Basically, they help our bodies beat cancer cells. How cool is that? The scientists called this form of natural therapy “Shinrin Yuko”, which means forest bathing. I was surely bathing in impressions from the surroundings that morning.
A lone rider with silver white hair was advancing along a gently ascending trail on a lush hill. The rider appeared to be male. His muscular and agile appearance left a solid impression. As the horse galloped, its mane bounced up and down, while the bulky equipment strapped to it hardly moved. As the rider reached the plateau of the hill, he was met with a blazing red sunset. The rider was wearing armor made of leather and chainmail, armor which he wore with ease. The armor looked to have been recently greased up, as the pink rays of the evening sun bounced its light off the chainmail, as well as the shiny leather pads. On the rider’s back there were two large swords tucked into decorated sheaths. The sheaths were so tightly strapped to the rider’s back that they seemingly followed his every movement, as if they were an extension of the rider’s body. The pummel of one of the sheathed swords looked to be entirely made of silver and had the shape of a wolf’s head. The silver pummel reflected the pink rays of the evening sun, like an ignited lighthouse.
As the rider was approaching the end of the plateau a magnificent view of a valley emerged. He pulled the reins discreetly, and the galloping horse eased to a slow canter before stopping completely. The force of the decelerating horse made a small cloud of dust to rise from the ground, emerging into a hovering state. The dust swept over the surrounding flora, which displayed a contrast of eye pleasing colors to the grass fields and bushes. The dirt trail of the plateau was surrounded by green grass of different length. Among the flora there were towering sunflowers, blooming rosemary bushes with their light blue flowers, spots of purple lavender and bright red poppy flowers. As the rider sat upright in the stiff saddle observing the magical view in front of him, a wind gust made his white hair flutter. The wind blew through the short bushes and the fields of grass, as if a green wave put the surrounding scenery in motion. The rider’s gaze appeared to be set upon the peaks of snow-capped mountains, far off in the distance. The glancing white peaks of the mountains looked completely alienated to the green landscape at their feet. Below the mountain, in the far reach of the rider’s sight, there was a colorful valley, filled with the warm sights of summer. The valley was displaying fields of grass decorated with flowers, bush covered hills, and larger parts of land concealed by dense forest. In the more open parts of the landscape there were mighty oak trees, wild vines, and cypress trees which together with the dense forest, displayed every imaginable shape of green. Rivers and streams were pouring down from the mountains, connecting several blue lakes and their white and gold colored beaches. Altogether, the azure lakes enriched the verdant valley, like colorful sapphire jewels scattered in a pile of golden coins. The view was a treasure to behold.
Amongst the pink clouds of the slightly darkened evening blue sky, a small shape was emerging. The white-haired rider dismounted his horse, detached a leather bag from the saddle and laid it on the ground. He then dismissed the horse by saying something inaudible and by making a gesture with his arm towards the trail from where they had come. After the horse was on its way back, the rider again faced the approaching shape, which seemed to be growing in size as it approached the hill. The rider did not appear to be stressed by the approaching shape in the sky as he, calmly and almost mechanically, untied the straps of the leather bag on the ground. He took out a small round shaped glass vessel and put it in one of the side pockets of his leather leggings. The leggings appeared to have been enforced with chainmail around the thighs, protecting the main artery of his legs. He then crouched down again to retrieve what appeared to be a small crossbow from the leather bag. Along with the crossbow, he also took out an arrow which he carefully placed in the crossbow’s mechanism and cocked the hammer.
He turned his head again towards the moving shape in the clouds. The shape had come a lot closer now. Despite the low rays of the bowing evening sun, it was now possible to make out the outline of a reptile like creature with big wings. The rider reached for the sheaths strapped to his back, and with his right arm, which was not holding the crossbow, pulled out the sword with the wolf-shaped silver pummel. As the sword emerged from the sheath, it was apparent that the whole blade was made of silver. There was a flash of pink sun rays that danced around the blade as he pulled it out. The creature in the sky seemed to alter its course a little bit, as if the reflections of light from the silver sword made it hesitate. As the creature changed its direction, it revealed its full shape in profile and a big razor sharp horn was visible on the creatures forehead. The horn was not particularly thick, and it was not pointy, but rather thin, like the blade of an axe lying vertically on its head. The creature’s tail was decorated with small dagger-like horns, which made the tail resemble of a fork. The fork-like tail made an explosive snapping movement, like the snap of a whip, as the creature, with what looked to be renewed determination, dived towards the man on the hill. The distance between the creature in the sky and the white-haired man on the hill had now shrunk to a mere 300 meters. The sounds of drums, violins and vocals could now be heard on the hill as the rider faced the approaching winged beast. He steadily held the loaded crossbow in one hand, and the silver sword in the other. As the creature was 30 meters away from him, he raised his left hand, aimed the crossbow for the two seconds that it took for the beast to close the gap between them to 10 meters. A terrible shriek burst out from the beast. It was an ear stabbing sound that completely concealed the clocking sound of the mechanism of the crossbow, which released the arrow. The projectile hit the beast where the wing connects to its scaled body, at the same time, the white-haired rider leaped towards a nearby bush. The impact of the arrow seemed to have put the beast slightly off course and as a result, the sharp axe-like horn missed the rider by an inch, and the beast hit the ground with a bang. An eruption of dust emerged from the ground around the beast. Its powerful legs were able to absorb the force of the impact. The white-haired rider landed on his left shoulder, rolled over on his back, and back up on his feet. Without glancing back at the beast behind him he reached for the glass vessel in his pocket and, with a single motion, turned around and threw the vessel in the direction of the beast. The beast seemed to put up its wings as a shield before the vessel hit a rock just a few inches in front of it. There was a bang and an explosion of light and fire, as fragments of glass and metal penetrated the shielding wings of the beast. The shriek of the creature was louder than the explosion. The white-haired rider sprinted towards the injured reptile-like beast with the silver sword in his firm grip. The beast made a spinning motion which sent the fork-shaped tail towards its attacker. The white-haired man leaped over the tail and swung his silver sword with both hands, decapitating the beast with a blow to its muscular and scaly neck. As the beast’s head crashed to the ground, the sound of drums and violins slowly faded away. The white-haired rider wiped some blood off the silver blade before he tucked it back into the decorated sheath.
Two girls were sitting on a stained and dusty green sofa in front of an old tv-set. The room where they were sitting was mostly dark, except for a thin stream of light which was pouring in from the one inch of the window that was not covered by a thick beige curtain. Some light also emanated from the old tv-set, a 55 inch flatscreen. The beaming light from the tv revealed the faces of the two girls in the sofa. One of the girls looked to be in her mid-teens. The other girl looked a couple of years older, more mature.
“Yeah! I’m getting good at this Novi! I chopped off that annoying battle music so quickly now. Too easy. Let’s call on the horse again!” said the younger girl with excitement as she looked over at Novi.”
Novi, the older girl had a more athletic and lean body compared to the younger girl whose body looked slightly softer and curvier. The older girl had straight and medium length hair combed to the left. She had a fade-cut on the right side of her head and her bangs were dyed purple. The younger looking girl had longer, dark, and curly hair, tied in a ponytail. Both girls had an olive light-brown skin tone.
“Vizima, you’re such a weirdo,” said Novi as she looked at Vizima with a bored expression on her face. Vizima was still smiling encouragingly.
“I know, but what do you think?”
“Well, first of all, what’s the point of playing this stupid old game if the music annoys you? And secondly, what’s the point of fighting those dragons when they die that easily? Remind me again why you’re making me watch this, V.” Vizima rolled her eyes and let out a sigh.
”Well, first of all, those are not dragons. They are forktails. And secondly, fighting them is not the point at all. If I could mod this game, I’d totally remove all hostile creatures right now so that we could get back to the actual point.”
“Which is…?’ Novi asked with increasing impatience.
“The vieeeeeeeew!” Vizima moaned with resignation.
”What about it” Novi replied.
”Don´t you think it’s pretty? An awsome work of art crafted in ones and zeros right?”
“Yeah, I guess it looks quite nice, so what? It’s a fantasy world, they all look nice.”
“So you do like it?” Vizima asked before continuing, “Don’t you just wish that you could be there, living in that world? Well, except for the monsters, but still, ever since I found this old game in grandpa’s stash and started to explore it, I’ve felt much more…. relaxed, sort of. You know what I mean?” Novi let out a deep sigh before she answered.
“V, it looks great and all, but to be honest with you, to me, it looks like a complete waste of time. And I don’t get how this can make you feel relaxed. If there was one feeling that was evoked in me while watching this, it’s the feeling of dizziness. All that movement, lightning, fire, dust, blood in a swirl of quick movements had me all fed up with it.” Vizima hesitated before she answered.
“Well, I guess I can understand that the battle sequence made you feel dizzy. But that was probably because you were not the one in control of it all. And besides, as I have already told you, the monster slaying is not the point of this game. At least it’s not the main point for me anymore. Could you please just try it out? Here, do some exploring and you’ll see what I mean.” Vizima handed Novi the black controller and looked at her almost pleadingly.
“V, it’s really cute that you’re so interested in grandpa’s old playstation and his fantasy game, but I’m not interested in your fantasy world. I have better and more important things to do. And as your big sister, I am obliged to tell you, that so have you. Since the Corporate Wars started there have not been many jobs available for young people like us, unless you want to sell your soul and be a slave for them, that is. We really need to do whatever we can to get by. You know that the corporation is only hiring people if they can exploit them. They’ll suck all the energy out of us before spitting us right back into unemployment and poverty. The droughts are also getting worse and worse every spring, summer and autumn. It’s April now, and you know that we have to collect, cleanse and store all the water that we can in order to make it through the heat season.”
“I guess you are right, sis, we need everything we can get. But I also think that you need to find some way to enjoy yourself for a bit. Something that can make you relaxed, that takes your mind of Neil every now and then.”
“V, you will never understand how I feel about him. He was the love of my life, and those fucking corporate bastards killed him. My way of coping is to do what I can, so that I won’t lose anyone else. We need more resources. So, turn off that stupid game V!”
“I know, sis. I just thought you’d like it and that it would make you feel good. I’m worried about you,” Vizima said in a comforting voice and put a hand on her older sister’s shoulder. Novi pulled away and walked across the room towards a table. On the table, there were clothes, packs and various gadgets.
“Just help me pack the water vessels, V! We’ve got work to do!” Novi said.
“How can you be so sure that there will be rainfall in the valley today? Is that precipitation device that Neil left you really that accurate?” Vizima asked, looking puzzled.
”Yes, it usually is. Every time that Neil and I used it before, it was accurate. Come over here, and I’ll show you.” Vizima walked to the table and stood next to Novi. “Look, here you can see that clouds are approaching from the northeast and that they should be in the valley by midday.”
“But are you sure it isn’t too dangerous? Ever heard about sandstorms, scavangers, or corporate police patrollers?’ Vizima said with a worried expression.
“Naah, c’mon! I wouldn’t worry too much about that. And besides, you know that there is a risk in doing nothing while our resources are being depleted.” Novi said.
“I know, but I think we should wait for mom to get home from that corporate bullshit job, or whatever it was that she had to do this time” Vizima said.
“We’ve been waiting long enough now, and there is no guarantee that she will come back with any resources or money. You know that. We, meaning you, need to start chipping in if we are to make it through the summer. You have to learn these things!”
“Fine, I’ll go, sis!’
“Good girl! Go get your gear ready, all of it. Novi requested before she left the room.
Vizima walked towards the tv-set and turned off the tv and the Playstation. She then carried the controller towards a bookshelf that was standing on the opposite side of the window. She opened the lid of a wooden box, which had the appearance of a big old tome, and put the controller inside it. She stood frozen, in deep thoughts, staring at the contents of the box. She finally picked up an old journal with leather covers that looked considerably timeworn. She opened it and began to read from it. After a few minutes of browsing, she closed the journal, held it to her nose, and slowly inhaled its scents with her eyes closed as she thought,
Grandpa would’ve known how to talk to Novi about the importance of relaxation. The way he wrote about his love for nature, and how he enjoyed exploring it, always makes me feel calm. Sometimes I wonder if the nature he described really existed once, or if some sceneries were inspired by the games that he used to play? The same games that now make me fantasize about unreal landscapes. Imagine a green scenery with lush hills and trees, a blue lake with a river. A scenery crowned with a snow-capped mountain.
Vizima kept taking long and heavy breaths while inhaling the scents of old paper and leather from the old journal.
To walk among such beauty, if it really existed at all, must have been true remedy to one’s mind. Your soothing words grandpa. Your soothing words.
Vizima carefully put the journal in the wooden tome-like box and closed the lid.
“Novi, do you think any of the Flemings saw us when we passed their house on the bike? Rumors are that the family is running out of resources. I don’t want to turn them down again, if they ask for help.”
”I don’t think anyone saw us. But worry about that if we are able to retrieve some water, not now.”
“Right, I’ll let it go.”, said Vizima as she let go of the steering wheel and paused for a few seconds.
The sisters pushed a quadbike up a sandy trail on a gradual slope. Vizima walked on the right side of the bike and held the steering wheel. Novi pushed the bike from behind, using both hands. They were both wearing leather boots and clothing of a fabric which appeared to be durable. However, the clothes still looked somewhat torn and worn-down. Vizima was wearing sunglasses and a rugged leather jacket, while her older sister was wearing a pair goggles and some kind of a Gore-Tex jacket. They were both wearing a hood over a cap, and scarves that covered their mouths. Grains of sand were ever present within the molesting wind that was blowing on the hill, which they were ascending. Both of the sisters were carrying mid-sized backpacks.
”Oh, it’s getting so warm in this sunshine. I thought the wind was going to cool us more,” said Vizima while she unzipped her jacket. “These Corp-Tex jackets are pretty good at keeping us dry and protecting us from the annoying wind, but still, they get hot.
”Getting hot is inevitable while going up like this, V. The jackets are good, trust me. I just hate it that we had to buy them from the corporation, just like almost everything else.”
“Yeah, that sucks. But it does not make it less hot Novi. Are you sure that we need to push the bike all the way up? Why can’t we use the electric engine?”
”Of course we can. We can also run out of power here in the middle of nowhere and lose all of our belongings by getting picked out by Corpos, scavangers or other vultures. Don’t you know how much power would be drained if both of us were riding the bike up the hill?”
“It used to be no problem,” Vizima answered sounding disappointed.
”Yeah, but this bike does not have the newest battery now does it? So, despite the charge we get from the solar panels on the bike’s body, I would not risk wasting power if I don’t have to.”
“Alright, alright! Let’s change places. I’ll push it up the last bit,” Vizima said and changed places with her sister.
As Novi was getting ready to steer, Vizima took a moment to study the landscape. The trail that they were ascending was surrounded by meter high bushes covered with green, brown and yellow leaves. The landscape around them was quite open, but the view of the distance was somewhat limited due to gusts of wind blowing up sand and leaves from the ground. There were quite a few hills in the vicinity and trees could be seen here and there, although, they were not very tall, and only a minority of the leaves that they carried were green. In the distance there were fields of grass and grain, which for the most part looked to be a yellow color. A few houses and farms could be seen scattered among the fields and hills of the harsh landscape. As they approached the top of the hill, Novi let go off the steering wheel and pulled the bike’s handbrake. She then opened her backpack, took out a pair of binoculars and started to scan the sky above the scenery.
“As I thought,” said Novi and continued, “Heavy clouds are approaching from the northeast. Hopefully no one else will come to collect.”
“And no Corpos,” said Vizima with a trace of disgust in her voice.
“It’s clear; I can’t see any patrols, checkpoints or barricades from here,” Novi said before continuing. “Sometimes they patrol this valley to guard corporate farms and other corporate property. During less intense rainfalls, close to the dry season, they patrol in order to make sure that no one else is collecting rainwater so that as much water as possible gets soaked up by their crops or ends up in their private groundwater systems.”
”Which means that the greedy bastards should be here any second, why are we even risking this? Vizima continued with an anxious expression on her face.
“Didn’t you hear about the rebel attacks and the riots in the western cities, V?”
Vizima did not answer, so Novi went on. “I think they will prioritize sending their scumbags over there, as they are obsessed with controlling the population. Stopping rain hunters won’t be their top priority today.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Vizima.
“And as scavengers thrive in chaos, I bet most of them will accumulate around the district, like flies to rotten flesh. They’ll likely cause turmoil in any way they can; starting fires and spreading diseases with virus contaminated darts, and then pick up the pieces.
“That would surely keep the Corpos busy. So, where would be a good spot to collect without being seen?” asked Vizima while trying to look as composed as she could. Novi picked up the binoculars once more and responded to the question without lowering them.
”Do you see that little hill over there, between those higher ones, V?”
”Yeah, I think I know which one you mean.”
”Good,” said Novi. “We should be able to collect water over there without getting drenched in a flood and while still being hard to detect.”
“Well, I guess we should get going then. Those clouds look like they can unload the rain any minute now,” said Vizima before she started walking towards the edge of the hill and the slope.
The girls reached the hill, which was located further down, on a lower altitude compared to the one which they had previously used as a vantage point. They quickly unpacked something from the backpack that Novi was carrying. It was some sort of grey tarpaulin canvas and some metal sticks. Some sort of tent. The girls started to mount it in silence, and in a few minutes, they had was set up the tent-like construction on the hill. The design of the tent was simple with only one piece of canvas. However, in the center of the piece of canvas there was a funnel that could lead rainwater right to the center of the tent, where it could be collected in the water vessels. As the tent was set up, Vizima unpacked two camping seat pads. She sat down on one of them which she had placed a rock that was inside the tent, and handed the other seat pad to Novi.
”Here you go, sis.”
“Oh great, you did not forget to bring them this time.” Novi took the seat pad and sat down on another rock. Vizima let out a sigh.
”I’ve only forgotten them that one time you know. Will you ever let it go?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just saying. It’s nice that you brought them”, said Novi with a smirk as she lifted the canvas to have a quick look at the sky. “The rain should arrive pretty soon I’d say.”
Vizima nodded. She sat quietly for a while and fixed her gaze on a little grey rock that was laying on the ground in front of her. After a while, she could no longer tell how long she had been staring at the rock, which had been unremarkable in every way, but now had been crowned with a layer of thick snow on its tip. She could see the white-haired rider climbing the rock, which in fact had to be a mountain. The rider seemed eager to reach the snow-capped peak in order to enjoy a glorious overview of the world far below. Vizima was brought back to her surroundings when the rain forcefully pelted down on the canvas above their heads. She reached for the water vessels.
The rainfall was intense but brief and the sun had crept out from the no-longer present clouds and was already drying the ground around the little tent. The sisters were packing their gear when they suddenly heard a familiar and unwelcome noise far away in the distance. It was the sound of engines. Novi froze in her steps as she was about to tighten the straps of her backpack.
Shit! That could be corporate scum. How can I say this without freaking her out? Novi thought.
“V, you must not panic now, but I think that might be Corpos,” Novi said with a troubled expression on her face.
“Are you sure?” Vizima replied with trace of fear in her voice.
“It’s likely. Sounds like their standard patrol truck.”
“Oh, fuck! What do we do!? WHAT DO WE DO!?’ Vizimas expression of panic was evident. Novi however, looked considerably calmer compared to her younger sister.
“Calm down, V!” Said Novi as she scanned the environment for a brief moment. Her gaze landed on a group of rocks by the slope on the other side of the hill. “Quickly, pack the equipment and the water vessels onto the bike, then start pushing it towards those rocks over there! But leave the canvas for the rain-tent unpacked!” Commanded Novi as she was pointing in the direction of the rocks. Novi untightened the straps of her backpack again and took out some sort of device. She then threw it down the slope of the hill which was closest to them, opposite the side with the rocks.
“What are you doing Novi? Fucking help me with the bike!” Screamed Vizima after she had slammed the gear into her pack as quickly as she could.
“Just start pushing. I’m coming,” Novi said just as she had put on her backpack.
The two sisters quickly pushed the bike to the group of rocks and covered it with the tent’s canvas which they had left on the seat of the quadbike. The light grey color of the canvas was quite similar to the colors of the rocks. The camouflaging function of the canvas was no coincidence due to the type of rocks being common around the landscape. When the bike was covered, the girls removed their backpacks, dropped them on the ground and crouched behind them. Vizima laid flat on the ground while Novi was still crouching over her backpack. The distant sound of the engines roared louder.
“Get down you idiot! They are getting closer,” snapped Vizima in frustration. Novi ignored her sisters pleading. She seemed to be searching for something in her pack. ”Come on! What are you doing? Are you trying to get us killed? You do still know that the corporation forbids everyone from collecting water outside of their own land, right?” wheezed Vizima rhetorically with increasing frustration and panic.
Novi took out a handgun from her backpack, and as she was quickly ripping out something which looked like some sort of blanket, she dropped the gun on the ground behind her, close to her sister. Vizima looked like she had just seen a ghost.
”Are you insane? What is that thing? squealed Vizima in muffled shock. Vizima could see that the gun’s compartments, such as its frame, slide and barrel, looked to be made out of a black metal. The grip however appeared to be made of wood, except for the grip straps, which were the same black metal as the other compartments. There was a logo carved into the wooden grip. Vizima noticed some text, numbers and flower-like engravings on the slide along the barrel of the gun. Novi closed the backpack and brought the blanket as she laid on the ground next to Vizima and picked up the gun.
“This is an old Beretta. Shut up and stay low,” snapped Novi.
”What are you planning on doing with that thing? asked Vizima, trembling. “We can’t fight them, sis!” Novi seemed to hesitate for a second or two before replying in a commanding voice.
“If it comes to the worst, I’m buying you time to get out of here.”
“NO SIS!” cried Vizima. “Shut up and do as I say!” snapped Novi as she ripped the blanket into two identical parts and handed Vizima one of them.
“Take this camouflage blanket. It has glue on one of its sides. Rub that side on the ground and it will absorb dirt, sand and mud. Then cover yourself and start crawling in the direction of the bushes and trees down over there.”
“But what will—"
“NOW!’ yelled Novi”
Vizima looked shocked as she pulled the now dirt covered blanket over her head and her back. She started crawling away from the rocks where the two sisters had left the quadbike and the gear. Novi attached a small part of the glue covered side of the blanket to her lower leg, just above the ankle. She then held on to the non-sticky side of the camouflage blanket with one hand and pressed the Beretta to her chest with the other. Novi could hear that the corporate truck was very close now. She took one quick glance towards where the noise of the engine was coming from. As she could not yet see the truck, she started rolling sideways to the left in the direction of what looked like a shallow pit.
Novi could hear the truck’s engine roar aggressively as the vehicle ascended the hill. She continued to roll while pressing the non-sticky side of the blanket to her back, while also trying to stay as low as possible.
Suddenly, she could make out that the roar of the engine was fading. She stopped in her movement with her chest pressed against the dusty ground. She slowly lifted her head. She could now see the silhouettes of the grey and white tank-like corporate truck with its six enormous wheels rolling to a halt. The infamous bulletproof windows of the truck reflected the sunlight like an extra set of headlights. Novi had not yet reached the pit that she had aimed for, and fear sped up her heartrate. She subtly moved her lower leg in an attempt to feel if the blanket was still covering her legs. The panic within her rose even further as she realized that only one of her legs was covered by the camouflage. However, while moving her left foot, she could feel that the ground underneath her foot was softer and somewhat sticky.
It must be the pit on lower ground in which rainwater has gathered, thought Novi. As subtly as she could, she started crawling backwards towards the shallow pit. She could hear a door slamming some hundred meters away and maybe a voice of someone speaking. Novi could now feel her feet and legs submerging underneath the mud. Her rugged Corp-Tex pants and boots were keeping her mostly dry. However, some drops of water were leaking in from a rip on her trousers close to the outside of her right thigh. The cold sensation of the wet pit was barely registered in Novi’s mind. She had now managed to lower herself enough so that she could barely see the roof of the truck. More voices could now be heard. The voices grew louder, and every inch of Novi’s body froze and seized to move, except for her heart, which was still thundering like a stampede.
Vizima was crawling in the direction pointed out by her older sister. Her already worn-out clothes were getting more and more dirty and soaked as she advanced towards the bushes. Her knees and elbows ached as she crawled, and she became more wet and cold. However, her struggle got her closer to safety, inch by inch.
What if they find her? And what if they find me? They’ll shoot us on the spot. Or worse..
Vizima hit a sharp rock with her right knee.
Ouch! It hurts to stay alive. But soon I’ll be dead. Or maybe not. What if they drove past us? What if they never find our tracks? We hid everything well. And the camouflage will keep us from being spotted. Novi knows what she is doing, she has been through worse befo…
Vizima’s thought was interrupted by something which sounded like an explosion behind her.
NOOOO! They found her! Is she dead? Novi!
Novi lay completely still as she watched the corporate patrollers who emerged from the truck. Only one of them could be properly seen from where Novi hide. The patroller was wearing the standard water and windproof Corp-Tex corporate outdoor clothing set, which as always, was white. At least it used to be white. The standard corporate sets were more often than not spotted with dirt and stained with various substances. The set that this patroller was wearing did not look be an exception. The patroller also wore the standard corporate metal mask, with its visor and filtered mouthguard, which covered both the mouth and the nose. The mask of the corporate patroller looked to be polished and in better condition than the clothing set. Sun rays were reflected from the mask’s shining surface. However, darker clouds seemed to return to the area and the mask was no longer beaming sun light. Novi was laying so still that she could hear the patroller speaking. It sounded like the voice of a woman.
”The instruments look to be accurate. It rained here quite recently, and the last rainclouds are approaching, and could pour any time soon.” said the patroller. Novi could hear another corporate patroller replying, but she could not make out the precise words.
Have they seen us? Novi thought as she concentrated on trying to pick out what was said by the patrollers.
“I don’t’ know. But I guess we are going to find out if it was a rain hunter or not. The spy-drone registered pictures of something that could have been a tent, but I can’t see it now. Sometimes rebel hackers cause corruption to data gathered by drones,” said the patroller as she kicked her grey boots in the mud.
Oh, no. This is bad, Novi thought.
“Let’s have a quick look around.” the patroller said while dropping down, leaning on one knee, and seemed to be examining something in the mud where she had just kicked.
“Hey! I see tracks in the ground here. Footprints, and tracks from a small vehicle. Probably a quadbike. Someone has been here, recently.”
Novi’s heart skipped innumerable beats before hammering on her ribcage even more intensely than before, but she still did not move a muscle.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! They’ll find us, she thought.
Another patroller was emerging from the other side of the truck and met up with the first one.
“Let me have a look, Jane,” said the voice of a male patroller who had just emerged. He continued. “It does not look to be a corporate vehicle. Could it be scavangers?”
“I don’t know, Carl! But we should find out,” said the woman addressed as Jane.
“Alright, go and check it out if you want. But don’t you think we have more important things to attend to? Besides, we haven’t seen anyone doing anything illegal yet. I think we should move on.”
“What unit did you say you had worked with before Carl? Jane asked menacingly before continuing. “Get this. In my unit, WE don’t pass up on an opportunity to arrest rain hunters. That is why I got my promotion, and also the reason to why I am in command. Besides, there could be more resources in that quadbike. Don’t you need the little extra on the side?”
“Fine, let’s waste our time. But if we see any sign of scavangers then we should get out of here and return with backup. I’ve seen enough of them bullets and ebola darts dashing past the top of my head. I’m not risking an encounter with scavs, if I can choose to.”
Novi could hear two of the corporate patrollers arguing from the muddy pit in which she was laying.
“For fuck sake, Carl! If you want to be a part of my unit you’ve got to stop acting like a wimp. By the look of the tracks there can’t be more than two of them, possibly only one.’ Snapped Jane as she picked up a corporate gun from her holster. With a push of a button, the gun which looked like a big handgun, transformed into a rifle, complete with shoulder support and a scope. The patroller turned around and gestured towards the truck as she spoke.
“Luke! Stay in the truck and keep watch, I’m going to show this new guy how we deal with things in this unit.”
”Okay Jane, if you’re making me do this. But don’t say I did not warn you,” Carl said as he took out and mounted his rifle too.
“Pussy, you’ll thank me later. Trust me!” Jane said arrogantly. The corporate patrollers started following Novi’s and Vizima’s tracks towards the grey rocks.
No! No, no, NO! I’ve got to get out of here. I’m going to die! We’re going to die. I wish we were a pack of filthy scavangers, then we might have had a chance against these Corpos. We’re dead now. Will they find my tracks or V’s first? Oh sis, what have I got you into. They can’t find yours. I won’t let that happen. They can try, but they’ll fucking die trying. Novi carefully pulled down the sleeve on her left arm to reveal a watch around her wrist. She tapped the watch’s display three times, and lingered with the third touch. A loud bang was suddenly heard by the other side of the truck, somewhere by the slope of the other side of the hill. Novi could see the approaching corporate patrollers throw themselves to the ground.
“WHAT WAS THAT!?’ Luke, do you see anyone over there?” yelled Jane. Novi could hear a third voice, a young man, from the direction of the truck.
“I see lots of smoke over here. Please get back here!” yelled the younger man with a shaky voice.
“Carl, go back to Luke and cover us from there, it could be a little smoke bomb, I know what they sound like. I’ll secure this side of the hill.”
”Got it! said Carl as he ran up towards the truck. Jane got up to a crouch and started towards the rocks again. The approaching corporate patroller kept her gaze fixed on the grey rocks, despite the sound of the explosion coming from behind her. Thick smoke was rising behind the truck, like a dark pillar. Novi pressed another button on her watch. The alarm on the quadbike behind the grey rocks went off loudly.
“The fuck is that Jane!?’ Carl screamed from behind the truck.
“The bike. Someone is messing up behind the rocks. I think he is trying to make a run for it. I got this!” Jane replied yelling loudly.
Novi could see the patroller half running, crouched, until she disappeared behind the grey rocks. Novi was already up on her feet as the patroller was out of sight.
Get out of here V. I got this. Novi reached the rocks in a few seconds. The alarm from the quadbike was so loud that she could hardly hear her own footsteps. However, she heard someone screaming something from the truck before she got behind the rocks.
‘FREEZE! YOU THERE! HEY, JANE! THERE’S SOMEONE BEHIND YOU!’
‘What? Did you guys say something? There is no one here by the bi—' Jane turned around and was now staring down the barrel of the old Beretta.
“Drop the rifle on the ground now, or I’ll blow your brains out on the spot’ Novi said with an attempted sinister voice. The corporate patroller looked shocked, and she did as she was told.
“Don’t do anything stupid now girl. My crew will mince you to shreds with bullets if you kill me,” Jane said. The expression of shock on her face had now shifted to an expression of indifference. That made Novi nervous.
“Shut up, corporate scum! And tell that crew to back off. We have you surrounded, and there is no way you can win this fight.” Novi really hoped that she was convincing enough, and that her left leg would stop shaking from fear.
I have to do better. Novi thought. “HEY, GUYS! If the Corpos move an inch closer to me, rain down darts, bullets and firebombs on them” Novi yelled as loud as she could, like she was talking to people that could not be seen yet. She then walked around the corporate patroller so that she was between her and the rest of the patrol.
She took one quick glance up the hill in an attempt to see if her trick had made any effect on the Corpos by the truck. Except for aiming their rifles and shouting threats at her, they did not move. The alarm of the quadbike was still ringing loudly so she could not really hear the other patrollers.
They are not moving closer, but how many of them are there really? Someone could be flanking me already. They had better buy into my scavenger trick or I’m as good as dead.
“So, you are a scavenger, huh? The tracks I saw up there did not indicate a whole lot of you. In fact, I think you might be alone,’ Jane said with a wicked smirk on her face.
“Shut up!’ Novi snapped.
“There can’t be more than two of you I’d say.” Jane said.
“Then I’d say that you’re not so good at tracking us. You’re a fool, and it’ll cost you your life,” Novi said with as much determination as she could. She peaked over the woman’s right shoulder again, to see if the other Corpos had moved any closer. It was really hard for her to tell. Suddenly Novi could see the woman in front of her dashing towards her. She pulled the trigger in sheer panic and there was a loud bang. She could feel the force of something hitting the left side of her left elbow, which pushed the arms along with the gun to the right. Just milliseconds after, something rockhard violently hit her left side of the head, by her ear. Her world began to spin. Novi found herself laying on the dusty ground. Her ears were ringing, and she was disoriented.
Fuck! She hit me. The gun! Where is the fucking gun? Novi tried to sit up while desperately looking for the old beretta. She did not have to look long. The barrel of the old relic was already greeting her as she sat up. On the other end of the gun was the corporate patroller addressed as Jane. The female patroller who now held the old Beretta had a rip in her jacket by her left shoulder. A little bit of blood could be seen coming from the rip, but it was just a scratch.
“I got her under control guys! You can come down if the coast is clear up there,” Jane said with a cocky voice before she turned her full focus back to Novi. ‘You almost shot me you crazy bitch. I hope you enjoyed my right hook.”
No, no, no. How could I miss her? Novi thought.
Jane had a menacing look on her face.
”Listen bitch! You are going to turn off that alarm now, or I’ll shoot you in your knee cap.” Novi raised her left arm to press the display of her watch.
”Ah, Ah! Don’t try anything now!’ Jane said as she cocked the hammer of the gun.”
I’m, doing, what, you told, me,” said Novi very slowly and then pressed the display. The alarm stopped and Novi could now hear approaching footsteps. Novi could see the other two corporate patrollers approaching. Jane pulled off the grey canvas to reveal the quadbike with all of its attached water vessels clearly visible.
“Ohh, as I thought. A rain hunter, and a pathetic one at that. Now you are going to tell me if you are alone or not. And if you lie, well, knee caps,” Jane said and grinned wickedly.
Novi’s gaze went from the two approaching patrollers and returned to meet Jane’s eyes, and as they did, Novi’s eyes narrowed with belligerence.
“If I was not alone, all of you would be dead already. You steal from us, you torture us, and you won’t let us live our lives in peace. My Neil was right. I should have joined the rebels long ago, so that I at least could have had a fair chance of avenging my loved ones. I hope you get shot by a scavanger’s ebola darts, corpo scum!”
Novi looked like she could explode. The other patrollers, Carl and Luke, were now right next to Jane who chuckled at Novi’s angry outburst. Carl had picked up Jane’s rifle on the way down.
“Your rifle Jane,’ Carl said as he handed it to her. Jane took the rifle and gave the Beretta to Carl without taking her eyes of Novi. Carl was studying the old handgun and Luke looked nervously around them, attempting to scan the surroundings for any movement.
“We’ve got an angry rebel sympathizer here who tried to kill me. That is two crimes punishable by death. She is also a rain hunter, which makes the death sentence threefold. This is a perfect subject for your training, Luke,” Jane turned to the younger of the men. Luke’s eyes widened as he was looking from Jane to Novi. “You need to learn how to take lives eventually, and we won’t find anyone more deserving of an execution than this one.” The patroller called Luke looked confused as he came closer.
“Ehh, I guess not. But, ehh, but.” Luke stammered.
“But what? Are you unwilling to obey orders and unwilling to become an experienced and respected patroller for the mighty corporation?”
”No! No, I can.. do it.. I just ehh. What does the codex say.. is all I’m wondering,’ the young patroller kept stammering nervously.
‘THE CODEX SAYS TO DO AS YOUR COMMANDER SAYS!’ Jane yelled, all red-faced.
‘Okay. I mean uh, yes ma’am!’ Luke said looking pale.
He’s a fucking kid. Could be even younger than me. That could have been me.. If I had never met Neil. And if I hadn’t been born with a backbone. Novi thought as she sat in a casual pose trying to look indifferent. I just hope V makes it out of here. And that this rookie makes it quick. That’s all I want.
Luke started to manage his rifle as he was stepping a little bit closer to Novi.
”Here, let me show you which setting to use.’ Carl said as he walked up next to Luke. Carl used his left arm to turn a button on Luke’s rifle, which produced two clicking sounds. Luke looked puzzled.
“But, are you sure? Isn’t that the drug mode for..” Luke’s question was interrupted by a loud and sudden bang. Carl had raised his right hand, in which he held the old beretta, and with the pace of a striking cobra, he had crossed the right arm over his left, and shot Jane in the head. Jane fell to the ground. Carl pulled back his right arm with full explosive force, and elbowed Luke’s nose, before the young corporate patroller managed to vocalize his scream of shock. Carl kicked the corporate rifle out of Luke’s hands who was crashing to the ground. He then caught the rifle in mid-air with his left hand.
“The drug mode for arresting suspects and non-lethal threats. Exactly Luke, this is the drug mode,” Carl said and shot a dart with the corporate rifle in Luke’s neck. He then put the rifle on the ground behind him, and faced Novi who was sitting on the ground, jaw dropped. Carl took of his now bloodstained corporate mask. He looked to be in his early thirties and had a short but thick beard and wavy hair with undercuts and trimmed sideburns, framing his face. His fringe fell down two inches on his forehead, partly covering what appeared to be a scar. A scar that almost reached one of his dark brown eyes.
“What just.. happened? Who are you?’ Asked Novi as she slowly rose with her hands up.
“I heard you mentioning Neil, and that you should have joined him,” Carl said before continuing. “At first, I did not make the connection, but after I had examined this old Beretta, with the wooden grip and the flower engravings, it all became clear to me. This was Neil’s gun. The corporation took almost everything from him and his family when they found out that his family had a well of fresh ground water on their farm. The corporation made the land deed disappear, and then they claimed the land, and most of their possessions. But they did not manage to collect and discard this old relic of a gun. As a rebel, he used to pull that tactic with the timed smoke bomb and the camouflage blankets when he, or when we, got into trouble.”
“We? You knew Neil?”
“I knew Neil. And I noticed that you said “my Neil” in your angry outburst. I used to say that too. I loved that man, and he used to be my Neil, for a time. But that was a long time ago. Before he met you, I guess.”
Novi’s eyes widened.
“You are… Carl. That Carl?” she asked, raising her eyebrows. Carl nodded.
Vizima had reached the bushes that she had been crawling towards. After she had heard the explosion, she started crawling faster and she lost the camouflage blanket. From the bushes she could see where the blanket was laying. It was hard to detect though, so she was not too worried about it giving away her hiding spot. Her legs and arms were sore from the crawling. She was wet and cold. But those feelings were numbed compared to the frustration that she was feeling about not being able to help her sister, and not even knowing what had happened to her.
Novi is a tough girl. She’s a woman. She can beat them. She will make it. She..
Vizima’s thoughts were again interrupted by something that sounded like a gunshot in the distance. Vizima flinched, and she could feel fear speed up her heartrate once again.
What is going on? Novi! Don’t leave me? I’m not leaving you. I’ll crawl back for you. Yes. I should fight with you. I’ll throw rocks. I’ll strangle them. I’ll bite them. I’ll… Tears were falling down Vizima’s face. And she started crying uncontrollably.
I promised you that I’d stay here, so that you wouldn’t have died in vain. I just, I need to know what is happening. Are you alive? Can I do something? Who are the corpos? How many of them are there?
Vizima sobbed loudly. She pushed her face in the dusty ground and tried to let go of her thoughts. She was drained of energy and felt completely helpless. Her head span, she could smell the wet mud and she had some sand in the corner of her mouth. She was indifferent to the world around her. The second gunshot did not scare her as much as the first one. It just brought her attention back to her surroundings for a moment, but the feeling of helplessness was numbing to her, so she sank her face back into the ground. Vizima did not really know for how long she stayed like that, but after some time she could hear the sound of a vehicle approaching.
Do they know where I am? How? No it’s not corpos. That sounds like… our quadbike! Novi! Vizima felt the sensation of hope return to her body, and she was somehow filled with more energy. Did Novi really fight them off? She lifted her head only to see a man in a white corporate clothing set driving the quadbike straight towards her hideout. She felt more grief than fear as she thought that Novi must have been the one that was shot. But as the quadbike came closer, she could see that someone was riding behind the man. A young woman with straight hair and faded sides, her sister, Novi. Vizima could not believe her eyes. Am I dreaming? Is this me having stress-related psychosis? The quadbike stopped 10 metres from the bushes. Novi climbed down from the quadbike but the man that had been driving remained on the bike.
“V! Vizima! Where are you!” Novi yelled.
“NOVI! I’m, uhum, I’m here!” Vizima croaked as she crawled out of the bushes.”
As soon as she got up, she ran into the outstretched arms of her older sister. Vizima was both coughing and sobbing, so Novi could not hear a word of what she was saying at first.
“What? I’m okay, sort of. Calm down, sis!” Novi said as she was embracing Vizima.
“I was so worried about you. What happened, and why is that corpo with you?” Vizima asked, and her eyes remained fixed on the man that was observing them from the bike.
“Well, you better explain it to her. But do it quickly, we need to get out of here,” said the man on the bike.
“V, this is Carl. He is a rebel who, fortunately for us, had infiltrated the Corporate Patrol unit that found us. Carl has been gathering intel in order to help the rebellion in the Western District.”
“How can you be so sure?” asked Vizima.
”I trust him because he saved my life, and I’m convinced about that he must have known Neil.” Carl got off the quadbike and stepped closer to join the conversation.
“When I realized that your sister was close to Neil, I could not let them kill her, even if it meant that I had to blow my cover. I thought that if you used to be close to Neil, then you could be important to the rebellion. Or maybe you guys were just important to him. Either way, I believe it was worth saving you, just for Neil. He was a good man,” Carl said.
“That’s just wicked! But, but.. thank you! And.. what happened? Did you shoot the other patrollers?” Asked Vizima.
”I had to kill the commander. She was too dangerous to take any chances with. But I have not decided about the young man yet. I don’t really know how deeply he sympathizes with the Corporation and what his record is with them, so I drugged him and put him in the truck. Which I should go back to now asap. And you should get out of here too.”
“What about the body of the commander?’ asked Vizima.
”Yeah, this is now a serious crime scene,” said Novi as she turned and faced Carl.
“I’ll take the body with me in the truck. We need what can be salvaged of her gear as much as we could use this truck. The weather should hopefully cover the rest of the signs, the wind is terrible here.’
“And what If it doesn’t? And what about the tracks from our vehicles?” asked Novi.
“Listen, there are no guarantees when it comes to the Corporation. I would guess that they would choose to follow the tracks of the truck if they suspect that it has been stolen, but that does not rule out the possibility of them following you as well. You’ll have to be careful. We will never be truly safe from the Corporation and that is why I want you to consider joining our resistance. It’s really hard to tell nowadays which is the most dangerous path. Inaction and indifference, joining the corporation, or joining the resistance.”
Hmm, I guess he has a point. Vizima thought.
“Now get out of here!” said Carl
“Alright! V, can you manage driving the bike? I got hit in the head, and I feel dizzy.”
“Yeah, I’ll drive. No problem.”
Carl turned around and looked back towards where the truck was parked. He then turned back to the two sisters who were mounting the bike.
“Good! You two will manage just fine on that bike. But before you go, take this money. Carl said as he stuffed a bankroll into Novi’s backpack. “The money will suffice for your daily needs the coming weeks. And if you would want to join our cause, it’s more than enough money for fuel to get you to our meeting in the West District. I told you where and how to find us, Novi. But remember, you must never write it down anywhere, okay?”
”Yeah, I got it,” Novi said while pressing a hand on her left ear, grimacing in pain.
“Good. Now get out of here! And good luck!” Carl said before he ran back towards the truck.
“Is he going to steal that truck for the rebels?’ asked Vizima.
“Yeah, looks like it. Didn’t you listen?” Novi replied.
”But don’t the corporation have trackers in them as well as in their guns?”
”Yeah, probably. But I guess he’ll stop by some hacker before he drives back to the rebels.”
“I guess. I hope he makes it.”
”Can you just stop talking and drive please, my head hurts.”
”Alright, fine! No problem.” Vizima said and pressed the accelerator.
Vizima and Novi were back in their living room, sat on their green sofa. There was a pot of steaming soup on the table in front of them and the light of the tv beamed in their faces. Vizima wore a stained apron and poured herself a bowl of soup. Novi had cuddled up in a woolen blanket and was holding the black Playstation controller while focusing her gaze on the tv in front of them.
“Sure you don’t want any more soup, Novi?”
”No thanks! I’m good for now. But it was very tasty, your best so far, V.”
”Alright, no problem. I’m just happy you’re feeling better, and that you’re finally playing the game. It’s fun to watch,” Vizima said.
”Yeah, yeah. I did promise that I was gonna play, since you also promised to clean our clothes and the gear from yesterday’s horrible rainhunt.”
”You mean from the day before yesterday, right? Once you got to bed that night, you were out for almost a day. I was kind of worried.”
“Yeah, yeah. I meant the day before yesterday, and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. My head is feeling a lot better now, I’m just tired.”
”I know! I’m not worried any longer,” said Vizima between the slurping of her soup. “So, how do you like the game?”
Novi had put down the controller in her lap and reached for a glass of water. As she did, the white-haired videogame character on the screen stopped running. He stood still in what appeared to be a cold coniferous forest. The character stood on bare ground, but the evergreen pine and spruce-trees that surrounded him were partly covered in snow, and their trunks glittered with frost.
“Well, at first I did not like it. Just running around and exploring, quickly felt pointless, even if the environments were nice, as you have said. It wasn’t until I began a new game from the beginning that I started to enjoy it for myself a little bit. I like the characters, and I’m starting to get invested in their struggle in this fantasy world. It’s like, I can relate to it now. And I have to agree that the settings are both interesting and beautiful to watch.’ Novi said.
“Huh, I see. That’s interesting,” Vizima said.
”Why is that interesting? That I can relate to their struggle?” Novi asked.
”No, not that. What’s interesting is that I think it’s important to be as immersed in the world as possible in order to truly see the beauty of the different landscapes and environment of the game.”
”Right.” Novi said, raising her eyebrows. Vizima continued after a short pause.
“When you get to know the characters and you experienced their story from the beginning, you probably started caring more about what could happen to them. This made you pay more attention to the details in the environments so that you could fight off threats or find rewards that could make your character better and more likely to succeed.”
“What are you talking about?” Asked Novi with her eyebrows raised.
Oh I envy her. I wish I could relive playing it for the first time again, Vizima thought before continuing.
”I mean, just by watching you play from the beginning, I realized that it is the relationship that you develop with the characters, and the active role that you are playing, that enhances the immersion of the game. That makes the game’s environment come alive in a way that makes it more real, more interesting and even more beautiful. When I play nowadays, I find it relaxing to explore the game, even though the character that I control no longer has any motive to do so, since I’ve already finished the story. But I realize now that the monsters, enemies and the challenges of the game are not really annoying. They are necessary for the immersion, and the best way of making the game’s nature landscapes feel as enjoyable as possible. The first time that I played and experienced the game, I remember that I could feel stronger sensations of wonder, excitement and relaxation.” Novi was now looking up at the roof, as if she had lost interest.
”Right, I’m not sure if I’m THAT invested or immersed in the game. I just enjoyed playing it for a while. But I do feel more relaxed now, I guess. I might even miss playing it once I’ve gone to join the rebels.”
“That’s great!’ Vizima said and then fell quiet for a moment, staring at the steam that was rising from the pot on the table in front of them.
”Don’t tell me that you still consider going with me? I know that I said that there is hope, now that we know that the Corporation can be hacked and infiltrated, but that does not mean that the situation is safe!” Vizima sighed and turned her gaze back at Novi.
“I want to go too. If you think that Carl and his rebel crew can teach me how to fight back against the Corpos, then I want to go with you. I don’t want to feel as helpless as I felt when that corporate patrol rolled in. Never again! I want to be able to fight back! I want to be able to help! You should never again have to sacrifice your own safety to save me! I won’t let you!”
”V, I appreciate your concern, and it’s good that you want to help. I am very proud of you. But you can’t come with me. Not after what just happened out there, it could be too dangerous.”
“Am I really hearing you say this?”
“V, I need to assess the situation of the rebel camp before I can let you come. I was wrong about the last rain hunt. I thought there would be no Corpos, and that I would be able to protect us, I was wrong. I’m sorry, V.”
”I can’t believe this! How are you planning on stopping me? And what about your own safety?”
“V, you know that I have more experience concerning these matters than you have. I will be fine, trust me.”
“If it’s as dangerous as you say, then I don’t want you to go. Stay here with me! Teach me some more survival skills. At least until mom comes home.”
”I’m sorry, I really need to see Carl again. He.. knew Neil too, and I need to learn all there is to know about the incident in which Neil was killed. Carl might know something, I got that impression, from the short time that I could talk to him.”
”Novi, just let go! Avenging him won’t bring him back. It’ll only get you killed.”
Novi sighed, took the black controller from her lap and placed it on the table in front of them. She then stood up before she replied.
“It’s not about revenge. It’s about the strange circumstances surrounding Neil’s death.”
”What do you mean?” Vizima asked.
”I suspect that Neil was set up, or betrayed. And I need to figure out how that could happen, so that it won’t happen again to someone that I love, or anyone else who opposes the corporation for that matter.”
”I see,’ said Vizima.
”Do you understand then why I have to go?”
“I do understand. But I also want to help the rebellion free us from the Corporation’s tyranny. They own more and more, and we get less and less every year. I’m so angry, and I’m… scared.”
”I’m scared too, V. And we should be scared. It could be too dangerous, so promise me that you will stay here for now. Please, V!”
“I will promise, on two conditions.”
“Firstly, come back for me as soon as you can. I want to learn how to defend myself, and I want to fight the Corporation too.”
”Okay, I know!”
”Secondly, don’t do anything stupid, regardless of what you learn about Neil. He is dead, and nothing will change that.”
”Fine, I won’t!”
”I promise if you promise.”
”Fine, I promise,” Novi said and lay down in the sofa. She fell silent and seemed to be in deep thoughts. Vizima took the controller and started playing the game. After a while Novi started talking again. ”We’re becoming more and more like their slaves every year. Did you know that before countries dissolved, and before the Corporation bought most of the land, people could go hiking in the national parks, for free?”
“Yeah, I know that. Grandpa wrote about that in his journal. It makes me so angry that all of that has been taken from us,” Vizima said.
“Imagine if everyone could walk freely in the forests, if the forests and natural parks were open to everyone and not exclusively to corporate medicinal harvesters or corporate safaris for the rich,” Novi said.
“Tell me about it, I dream about that almost every day. From what I can interpret from grandpa’s writing, there was nature equally beautiful and pure, even in areas which were not classified as national parks,” Vizima said.
“Wow! That must have been incredible. Like you could wander off anywhere, similar to the exploration that you can do in this old game.” Novi fell quiet for a few seconds, and seemed to be daydreaming. After a short while she broke the silence once more. “My head is starting to hurt again. I think I’m getting really stressed and tired of thinking about all of this, V. Rebels, Corpos, Carl, and Neil. Everything.”
”I understand. When I feel stressed, I usually play the game you know. But I guess that’s not gonna work out for you this time. Sometimes I find it relaxing to read some pages in grandpa’s old journal. Actually, this area in the game, with the frosty coniferous forest, reminds me a little bit of a section that he wrote. Have you read his journal?”
Novi lay with one hand over her forehead, she rubbed her temple with the tip of her fingers and resp. “I’ve browsed in it a few times, I don’t remember it being of much interest though.”
“Okay, I think you should reconsider reading it. He expressed in his journal, that he used to play this game whenever he felt stressed and when he missed home. I understand that he spent some years of his life in what he referred to as the capital city. And sometimes he missed the nature and the forests from where he grew up. He referred to it as a beautiful part of the great taiga of Europe. He also wrote that playing the game helped him travel back in time in a way. It activated memories stored in his mind, memories that could evoke any of his senses. He was surprised that visuals and sounds from the game could evoke stored memories of the scents of forests that he had previously explored. Do you want me to read the section for you?” Vizima asked.
Novi nodded subtly, but kept her gaze hidden underneath her hand. Vizima turned off the game and brought the controller to the book-like wooden box in the bookshelf. She opened the lid of the box and froze when she was just about to put the controller back.
“Novi! Is this…’
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. That’s grandpa’s old handgun.”
”What is it doing here?”
”I put it there yesterday.” I kept it hidden from you and mom because I did not want you to get into trouble. I had it with me when I was running with the rebels, when I was with Neil.”
Vizima put the controller inside the box and took out the small pistol. She examined it while she listened to Novi who continued to talk. The grip was made of wood. It had a symbol carved into it that, in the past, must have looked like a star.
”I think that small piece of firearm must have even been old by the time that grandpa obtained it. It’s a Makarov. I thought that now that you also want to fight the Corpos, you should get the chance to practice with grandpa’s old handgun. I put the silencer in there too, so that you can practice without being heard.”
“But.. Are you sure you’re not gonna need it when you join the rebels.”
”Yes, I’m sure. It's better that you have it, V. I carry Neil’s old Beretta now. Besides, you seem to be more fond of grandpa’s old things than I have ever been.”
“Okay! I don’t know what to say. I’ve never liked guns, but after what happened a few days ago I might have to accept that… that I should be able to use them.”
” Sadly, it’s the reality we live in, whether we like it or not. Just be really careful with it, V. I guess you’ve forgotten about the journal now, huh?”
”What? No! I’ll read it for you. You’ll feel more relaxed, I swear.”
”You really don’t have to, V.”
”Yes I do, just listen to this.’ Vizima put the gun inside the box and took out the old journal.
“Let’s see. Here it is,” Vizima said after a few seconds of searching. “He wrote,
‘I just had to put the controller down and write. How do they make it look so real? Real enough to remind me of a real event at least. The visuals of the forest took me back to an early autumn morning. A hunting trip with my friends, who were more excited about finding and shooting capercaillie than I was. I had been in the city for so long, that just being in the forest and taking in its wonders with my senses was more than enough to satisfy me. I had recently been reading scientific reports from Japan which illustrated the health benefits of being in a forest. According to the research, people who spend time relaxing, or casually walking in the forest, do not only enjoy decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, they also benefit from the aromatic volatile substances called phytoncides. These amazing phytoncides, which are secreted by the trees, work as natural killers for our cells. Basically, they help our bodies beat cancer cells. How cool is that? The scientists called this form of natural therapy “Shinrin Yuko”, which means forest bathing. I was surely bathing in impressions from the surroundings that mornin. It had been a cold night. The moss, small bushes and other plants of the under growth were still frozen in the early morning. The forest floor was mostly still green, but walking over it, produced a discrete crunching sound, which reminded me of the winter snow beneath your feet. The scent of the forest was muffled due to the cold night, and it was difficult to distinguish the scent of any particular plant. The smell of the air was just fresh, and otherwise unspecified. It was very pleasant, but not quite what I had longed for. However, as the morning advanced to noon, the clear weather with the beautiful blazing sun had softened the previously crunchy under growth. A mist slowly rose from the forest floor. The humid mist made the scenery slightly more blurred, despite the clear sunny sky. And with the humid mist rose the highly anticipated smells of the forest. At that point, I remember that I stopped walking, and just leaned my back towards a big pine tree and closed my eyes. I took long deep breaths. I felt that I became healthier and happier with every breath that I took. It was both soothing and energizing at the same time. My senses bathed.’
Vizima closed the journal. Its leather bindings made a satisfying low thumping sound. She looked towards the sofa. Novi had fallen asleep, and was breathing slowly and heavily.
Feeling relaxed already, huh? Works for me too.
Vizima turned back towards the book-like box again. She put the journal back in the box and lingered with her hand amongst her grandfather’s old relics. Her fingers touched the controller, the journal and the gun, amongst other things.
Why did you have a gun granpa? You considered fighting the injustices using violence but you found another way? You did not succeed, or you never even tried? I guess you were busy living, enjoying the freedom of exploring the beauty of nature while you could.
Vizima’s fingers found their way to the wooden grip of the old Makarov. She grabbed the grip and squeezed it hard. She closed her eyes and imagined the firm grip of her grandfather’s hand. Her breathing became slower and heavier as she drifted deeper and deeper into thoughts as she stood in front of the box. In her imagination, she could see, and almost feel her grandfather leading her along a trail. They passed a lush meadow with a mighty oak tree before arriving at an intimidating corporate blockade. They ran, hand in hand, gunning down corporate soldiers one by one. In front of them was a man who held a crossbow in one hand, and a sword in the other. It was the white-haired character from the game. He ran in front of Vizima and her grandfather, producing a protective bubble-like barrier around him that absorbed bullets from corporate soldiers. All three of them pushed past the blockade in a heartbeat.
The grip of her grandfather’s hand decreased slightly as he led her through a lush beautiful and calm forest. The terrain got less and less dense as they advanced upwards a steep slope. And then, suddenly, she saw a beautiful peak of a snow-capped mountain towering above a green and lush scenery. Having reached the top of the slope, facing the majestic view together with her grandfather, she felt fulfilled. But only for a moment. The feeling of fulfilment slowly crept away from her as she realized that Novi was not with them. Vizima turned away from the mountain, looked towards the bottom of the slope. There was Novi, on her knees, surrounded by corporate soldiers. One of the soldiers held a gun to Novi’s head. Vizima, still holding her grandfather’s hand, tried to pull him back down the slope. She could feel the grip of their connected hands decreasing slightly, as she desperately tried to get to Novi. Vizima let go of her grandfather’s hand. BANG!
Vizima flinched as she heard the sound of a heavy object hit the floor in front of her feet. She opened her eyes and saw the old handgun laying on the floor in front of her. She felt chills go up her spine, and her heart beat violently inside her chest. Shit! I dropped it, Vizima thought. She then heard Novi moving on the sofa. Novi did not seem to have been bothered by the gun bumping down on the floor. She simply turned in her sleep, assuming another sleeping position.
Vizima picked up the gun and placed it in the box. Her heart was still beating hard, and she felt stressed from her daydream.
What the fuck can we do about the oppression of the Corporation? Not much, I guess. But I like not doing much, so I’ll fucking do it any way. When I’m ready for it. For now I need to relax, take my mind of these things.
Vizima picked up the gun from the floor and put it back in the box. She then took the Playstation controller and sat down on the sofa next to her sleeping sister. She continued playing where Novi had left off, in the frosty coniferous forest. She guided her white-haired character up a hill along a trail. It led to a cozy village nestled among some snowy mountains. Its villagers appeared to be hunters and fishermen. They could calmly tend to their daily shores after Vizima had fought off some giant scorpion-like monsters that tried get into the village through a narrow pass in a ravine. Serenity returned to the village and Vizima unequipped her character’s weapons and armor, and made him join some of the villagers in a steaming hot spring. Snow started to fall lightly, and a breeze made the spruce trees in the vicinity sway slightly. As her character bathed in the hot spring, she listened to the sound effects of the game; birdsong, splashing water, and wind blowing through the trees. The colors of the scenery changed slowly as twilight crept closer. When darkness fell, Vizima equipped her character with armor and weapons once more. She led him through the snow, up on one of the low mountains that surrounded the little village. She placed her character on a cliff overlooking the village and equipped him with a blazing torch.
Don’t be afraid! I’ll watch over you. I am the protector of the vulnerable, the protector of nature’s beauty, and the ones that I love.
Vizima put the controller down and observed the scene on the screen that she had arranged; the white-haired character guarding the village from the cliff with the ignited torch in hand. Vizima’s breathing became heavier and her eyelids seemed to drop with increasing frequency. She finally lay down, cuddled up next to Novi. She pulled a soft blanket over them, and quickly fell asleep. The solid white-haired character kept watching over the village in the game. He also seemed to be watching over the two sisters in the sofa, who were enjoying tranquil dreams.