Jacques led me up a few flights of stairs until we ended up on the roof of the building. I looked around with cautious interest. Up until this point, I had always been down in the streets. It was a bit difficult to truly get a grasp of the devastation that had struck this dying city. To the west were tower skyscrapers, some of them had tipped or collapsed with age and presumably other accumulated damages. To the east, the city gave way to desolate brown suburbs.
The path from south to north had more or less been the trail I had been following since I got to this world. I was dragged down south when I was captured by Bandits. I walked up North when I went to the Rink. Now, I was as far north as I had ever been. I also identified the hospital, which was hard to miss given the size. It was supposedly filled with mutants. Correction, this entire city I was looking over was filled with mutants.
“Look across the street, eh, mon ami?” Jacques’s voice caught my attention and I glanced where he was gesturing.
I saw a man climbing the roof onto the next building. It took me a second to realize it was Snipe.
“Not him… look closer.” Jacques snorted.
“Huh?” I took a step forward and squinted.
That’s when I noticed that there were tons of cans, bottles, street signs, and various other items positioned all over the roof. I blinked in confusion before turning to Jacques.
“It’s Snipe’s hobby. Says it keeps him sharp.” Jacques explained. “He sets up targets, and if he gets bored on patrol, he takes some out. He’s been doing it for as long as I’ve known him.”
“Interesting…” I didn’t know what else to say.
Jacques looked at me in consideration for a second, and then reached into his belt and pulled out a pistol, handing it to me. “Here, give it a shot.”
“Ah!” I let out a cry when he suddenly put the gun in my hand, causing me to nearly drop it.
“Be careful with that thing.” He held out his hands as I fumbled with it. “Her trigger is a bit moody sometimes. I don’t want to be shot in the foot… again.”
“Um… the gun, it’ll make noise.”
He shrugged. “We’re close enough to the mutants that most anyone would think it was them. As for the mutants, they won’t send out a scout at night. Plus, we’re on the roof. The sound echoes. It’ll be impossible to figure out which building we’re on unless they’re standing on a building too. We’re in a fortified position besides. You’re safe.”
“Safe…” I swallowed, remembering that their idea of safe was radically different from my ideas on the subject.
“Use both hands… yes, like that. Now stand like this. This one’s name is Veronica. I’ve used her well, perhaps a bit too much. She doesn’t have much of a kick these days. Don’t be afraid, she takes it like a good girl.”
“Can you please not talk about your guns like they’re women?”
“Hehe… my guns as women, I wish. If only I met a woman so obedient.” He laughed. “Now pay attention. Eyes on the price… now shoot!”
“That is what we call a miss.”
“Don’t be, it’s called practice. Now, keep practicing. I absolutely won’t take you tomorrow unless you can at least hit a can.”
I attempted to shoot a few more times. Eventually, I ran out of bullets and he showed me how to reload. Other than his occasional corrections to keep my stance or aim, he didn’t say anything but merely watched me cautiously. After we had wasted two clips and I hadn’t hit anything, I glanced over at him.
“Why are you helping me?” I asked.
“This is the wasteland. Every wastelander is only out for himself, Oui?” Jacques shrugs. “I am no different. It is my job to keep you safe. If you can use a gun rather than that little quequette you call a knife, then your chances of survival increase.”
“I see… then… thank you.” I gave him a nod.
“Come on, you’ll make me blush. Men in the apocalypse don’t thank each other.” He waved his hands. “Come… come… keep shouting. We have plenty of ammunition. The only thing cheaper than bullets in the apocalypse is human lives.”
We spent another four hours up there until it was about evening, or supper time. We still had a few hours until it was dark yet. I had even managed to strike a few objects. When I hit my first item, a sign which was the biggest item there, and not even the one I was aiming for, I threw up my hands.
“Great,” Jacques snorted. “Now, you just need to find a mutant that will stand there and let you unload four clips in his direction!”
When we finished, I realized I was hot. I wiped the sweat, which I didn’t even know I had, from my forehead. I was just pulling the trigger. I never thought it’d be so strenuous, but my hands were numb and I felt completely exhausted. I went to give the gun back, but Jacques held up his hand.
“Keep it, she suits you. I have many other ladies to warm my bed at night.” He patted two of his holsters.
“Then, thank… ah… I mean, I’ll be taking this then.”
“Take this as well.” He picked up a second bag that had been lying next to his ammo bag and dropped it at my feet, making a loud thud.
“What is this?” I asked, kneeling down and already unzipping the bag.
“As much as I’d like to take credit, this was armor that the mayor had made. He seems to have taken a liking to you.”
“Ah! I forgot about it!”
No one else there was wearing armor, so the idea that I had my special suit was kind of silly. Looking at the pieces now, I already felt silly just holding them. After seeing the Perry Merc Group at work, it seemed as childish as wearing diapers.
“I didn’t give them to you earlier because they’re heavy, and they would have restricted your movement on the go. However, I want you in this during our attack tomorrow. Keep it off for travel, put it on for a skirmish. Understand?”
“I get it.”
“Try it on tonight. We won’t wait up for you while you try to figure out how to tighten your straps.” He added.
He nodded. “Just listen to our advice, stick low, wear your armor, and shoot Veronica as I informed… you’ll be fine.”
I nodded, again, picking up the bag. “I will!”
With that, it seemed like our conversation had ended. I turned to leave the roof, heading back the direction he had brought me. I felt much more confident. I didn’t realize just how scared and on edge I had been before. Did he sense all of that and did this on purpose, or was he as simple as he made himself out to be?
“Daniel,” Jacques called just as I reached the exit.
I turned back. “Yeah?”
“That girl of yours… Katarina.” He sounded uncertain he wanted to talk. “Keep her close to you. Closer, the better.”
I nodded, waiting for another moment to see if he had anything else to say. When he didn’t look back up, I finally took a breath and left. When I returned to my room, Kiera had picked up the kitchen supplies. I hoped she had turned off the gas correctly. I had shown her how, but If it leaked, that was just another expense I’d have to take care of. Kiera was now curled up and asleep, pressed against my bag so tightly that I couldn’t get out my blanket or anything without waking her. Perhaps she had done that on purpose.
Katarina was back in the spot against a corner, mirror in hand, and seemingly asleep. I did as Jacques had asked, trying on the armor. There was a helmet that looked like a bicycle helmet, a large piece that went on the front and back that sort of reminded me of a baseball catcher’s chest protector. It also included shin guards and arm guards. Fully decked out, I truly did look a bit ridiculous. However, if this would keep me safe, then I guess I needed to wear it.
I eventually went for my backpack, waking up Kiera who sleepily asked if I needed anything before passing out without waiting for an answer. After eating the meal replacement bar I should have had a long time ago and hoping it’d quench my hunger enough to get to sleep, I began to wait until the night. Sleep eventually came, but for the first time, I seemed to wake up without being kicked by Katarina. Glancing outside, it was just starting to get dark. I then walked over to Katarina and looked down at her.
Since she was out cold, I considered some way that I could get some payback for the times she had kneed me awake. At that moment, her eyes opened, staring at me looming over her body with a stupid grin on my face. In a rare, but cute moment, she blushed and hid her body.
“Pervert.” She responded.
My heartbeat was racing, and for a moment, I thought being called a pervert by her was probably fine. I turned away from her and started to get ready. This was it, the time of the big assault.