Billy-Bob grew up with guns. His father and uncles took him out shooting all the time. It was just something the men-folk do out in the backwoods of North Carolina. When he was 12, his father gave him a Remington -700 SPS tactical, with 308 Winchester cartridges and a 4-round capacity. In terms of beginner rifles, this was the “gold standard for young-uns,” he remembers his Dad sayin’. “The most accurate over-the-counter rifle you can get your hands on.” This is what his Dad said as he handed young Billy-Bob the weapon and finished his beer. Billy-Bob took to shooting and killin’ instantly. As fast as cat takes to catnip, a duck to water or a mouse to cheese. He was born to shoot and kill; Billy-Bob knew this from the moment he first pulled the trigger on that Remington and felt the sharp recoil against his shoulder. He immediately went hunting and shot two deer and some big Bucks with massive antlers, but he wasn’t very accurate. His Dad hated to see the animals suffer, which meant target practice became mandatory. So Billy-Bob spent most of his early teens shooting empty beer cans and bottles stacked on a granite boulder the size of a meteor right outside the property line of his farmhouse, and it took a very long time before he was accurate enough to shoot live game with his Dad again.
Now here he stood glaring at this Akira bitch and she had mastered what took him years to learn in just seconds. He felt his blood begin to boil and his old rage returning, but somehow, he wasn’t the same.
He thought he should lunge, strike out, to prove himself, but that part of him was gone and he didn’t know how or why.
Something, he recalled vaguely—as if his head was underwater—happened to him in that honky-tonk bar in North Carolina where he first met Lasseter and opened his eyes and woke up on that bed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but from that moment on he knew he was different. He hadn’t thought about it until now, until seeing how fast this Akira bitch learned how to shoot, but he knew he had changed. Somehow. He was more compliant, more at peace with himself, but it was like his soul had gotten sucked out or had been replaced, or the evil he was born with had vanished, or there was another voice in his head—giving him instructions.
He looked the same but he felt like he was the not-the-Billy-Bob I really am Billy-Bob. Staring at Akira, directly across from him smiling gently, he realized this bitch had actually aimed a gun at his head, at me…and almost shot me…no one aims a gun at me and lives.
Why wasn’t he shooting back? Defending himself? And why was he letting this Paul guy order him around? How did he end up here anyway? Not just in this cave, but in California?
“Where to next?” Akira smiled, returning the .22, slapping it hard into Billy-Bob’s hand.
“Mojave National Preserve” he responded automatically, pleasantly, returning her smile resisting the hidden urge to smash her with a left hook.
“I know of some Lava tubes equipped with weapons, electronics, rations, in fact, everything we need for the inevitable apocalypse.”
“How convenient,” Akira responded, grinning from ear to ear.
“Let’s get moving,” Lasseter says. “These bodies are starting to stink.”
“Wait,” Paul grabbed Lasseter’s arm. It was the first words he uttered since Akira demonstrated her newly acquired gunnery skills.
“Maybe we should go straight to Washington.”
Outside the cave, it was darker than it was just moments ago. The owls were gone. The clouds turned a blood purple obscuring the view into the trees beyond.