July 25, 2017
They call me Crackpot. I tried to get my name to be Crackshot, but working alone doesn’t exactly inspire people to follow your suggestions. I have a history of being a Jack of All Trades and Master of None. That did not serve me well in the first two Taker groups I was a part of. On my first mission with the Gunslingers, it was a couple of months after the Crash, and we knew we needed to start a system of being able to survive. We were so sure we were “true survivors” because we were still alive, that we didn’t take the precautions necessary when we tried to get into a hot zone that was an inner city department store. I survived by locking myself in the woman’s changing room while the rest of the crew went vector. People have commented that listening to that many apologies from my former teammates caused me to crack, and I would agree. After a week of living in your own feces, rationing my two canteens of water, and not sleeping because of the screaming, who wouldn’t crack? Needless to say, the torpor couldn’t have come fast enough for me.
After a lengthy recovery time, I knew I had to get back out there to provide for those depending on me. Samuel was sharp as a tack and valued as an engineering mind, but the wheelchair he was stuck in made him dependent on someone. When the crash hit, we were at a Starbucks. He was with his girlfriend, Jackie, and per the norm, I was on my own waiting for a latte that would never come. The story of how the three of us made it out of that symbol of capitalist greed and self-indulgence will have to wait for another time, but suffice it say the three of us bonded like a family over the next few months. Jackie was fit, athletic, and perhaps in better condition to be a Taker instead of me, but she felt her place was by Samuel’s side being his social champion to keep him relevant to the enclave we eventually landed in. That left me to go out there and provide. I had never really a family I cared about, so I was about to abandon this one. That meant I had to get back out there.
The enclave we lived in was a historic military fort from the 1800’s. It happened to be up on top of a plateau that was not easily accessible. The location would never have been considered wilderness pre-Crash because there were towns within 15 miles or so, but now it felt pretty distant. We could forage somewhat, but it came down to creating enough satellite locations on other nearby rocky plateaus to have the space and functionality to maintain an enclave. We had to haul up dirt to plant crops, cut and drag up timber to build make-shift log cabins for shelter, and devise irrigation systems by siphoning up water from the medium sized river running on the north side of the plateaus. Some park ranger type people used to be our security detail, and after the Gunslingers went down in a blaze of glory trying to get our start-up material for the enclave, the Rangers were formed.
At first they wouldn’t let me be a Taker in the group, but I guess I begged enough, and they realized they needed the extra body. We knew we couldn’t go into the bigger cities like the Gunslingers had because of the density of casualties, so we started pilfering everything we could from the nearby houses and couple of tiny bumps in the road that earned the name township. This was a year and a half after the Crash, so several hardened survivors were still holed up waiting for the government to come back and save the day. Needless to say, in our scrounging and scavenging, we accidentally made more enemies than friends. More often than not, we ended up in the Black, so our enclave, now called Flat Tops, began to be a relatively safe harbor in a world gone mad. For a couple more years, things began to get into a rhythm where we thought we could make a real go of it. “Forget the Recession! Loss for Life!” became our battle cry as progress continued. Unfortunately, those people we stepped on to make our way to the top came back for us one day.
The Rangers were heading out to scout a new area for a satellite when the ambush happened. The next potential piece of Flat Tops was already occupied by several of those we had wronged over the years. A shoot-out took out people on both sides, but our side was absolutely shredded. By my count there was only one other Ranger alive besides me after the first two minutes. I had survived largely because I froze in fear, and the other Ranger was wounded. On a whim, I started yelling, “Rangers, cease fire!” Soon the ricochets of bullet sounds finished bouncing off the cliffs. I could hear several voices still on top of the rock and knew we were outnumbered and most likely dead. I had one shot to save my skin: lie like a dog.
“We just called in the reinforcements. They’ll be here shortly, but I’d prefer to end this without further bloodshed,” I called out, lying to the people on the rocks. Fear pounded in my heart again and again as I kept thinking about the last time my crew had been wiped out.
I had only survived by cowardice, and now it felt like cowardice to just keep lying to save my own skin. Over the next hour or so, I did my best impression of two different people being hunkered down with me (who I kept telling to shut up since I was in charge), and I begged, commanded, cajoled, intimidated, and made promises that I knew I couldn’t keep to try to get the men down from the rock on their own volition. My wounded partner didn’t say a word throughout the process, but he knew where I was headed. The people up top didn’t believe there were as many of us as we were playing at, and they definitely didn’t believe the cavalry was on the way. At the end of that hour, my wounded colleague had crawled further away and started a ruckus, throwing a grenade or two in different directions. He had also somehow managed to set-up a couple of pistols to automatically fire a few shots from different locations around the plateau. Suddenly, those up top believed there really were more of us.
I didn’t know until the end that there were only four left up top, and one of them was wounded. They must have been scared as all get out. After promising to let them down and maybe even bring them into the enclave, they began slowly making their way down the side of the plateau. The remaining wounded Ranger, Hotty Scotty, popped up out of cover and covered the attackers with his rifle. The fear and adrenaline jumped up a notch in my bloodstream as I saw our attackers. They still outnumbered us. What if this went sideways? What if I was still dead no matter what? One of them was latent. What if he vectored? It’d be just like last time, but there was no changing room for me to hide in our here.
“Put your weapons down, please,” Scotty asked them professionally and with a hardened voice despite his nearly bled out leg. They complied. It was at that point that I came out of cover and opened fire on all four of them. I pulled that trigger until it was clicking empty and kept pulling it as I screamed in panic and rage.
I know why I did it. It was an evil instinct of fear that I gave in to. While those people weren’t innocent, they were just as innocent as I was. Who was I to send them to their Maker? I like to say that I couldn’t help it, but deep down, I know that’s a lie even to myself. Needless to say, I cracked again. I became a blubbering fool, alternately screaming for forgiveness from my victims and then yelling condemnations at them. Scotty told me later that he thought I had gone vector at first and was about to shoot me before I made the flip to cussing out those poor, dead souls. Being ever mindful of our position, Scotty scavenged the bodies (except the latent who had taken a head shot) and somehow guided me back to the main enclave.
The council of governors, the leaders of each satellite location who rule Flat Tops, were not happy that I had been so unhinged and shot down unarmed foes who had surrendered, but they knew my loyalties firmly lay with the Flat Tops. They decided to not punish me for my crimes, but since then, no one will work with me. I’m respected but given a wide berth. People always have their hands on a gun or knife when they’re near me as if I’ll go off at any moment. I hated living like that. I still hate living like that. I decided to make a change.
For the last year, I’ve come to terms with the crime I committed and my own cowardice. I started striking out on my own thinking that I could take jobs that are better served with subtlety rather than force. On my own, I can hide my cowardice if need be and give in to my greed as it suits me. Sometimes fleeing is the wiser course, and it definitely has kept me, Samuel, and Jackie alive. Those two keep me grounded. When I see how much they love each other and remember how they forgave me my sins, I can’t help but want to be a better man even if I never actually am. I guess I’ll keep trying, which brings me to today: Crackpot, the lone Taker.