My legs screamed at me to move and stretch, burning from crouching in a bush for most of an hour, but the pain in my legs was nothing compared to the rumbling in my stomach and I remained motionless. Slowly, my arm drew back, holding the tail-end of an arrow and pulling the bowstring taut. I levelled my aim and held my breath, willing my heart to slow, even as my pulse jumped at the thought of my first ever successful hunt.
There, in the open in front of me, sniffing around at the edge of the endless pine trees before me was what I hoped would be my dinner; some kind of wild boar. It was stocky and hairy and brown, with two small tusks that barely protruded from its snub snout. I wondered if it was a baby, and if that meant it had a parent watching nearby. Having only ever seen them on random nature holovids before, I had no idea how big or small they actually were in person.
I slowly let out my breath and counted to 3. I’d shoot, and one way or another, my morning of cramping in a bush would be over.
One. The boar swung his head back and forth. Two. I kept my aim on center mass. That was a term right? Center mass? But so was head shot. Hell, I had no idea if the crap arrows and bow I made could even punch through the thing’s skin.
The arrow jumped out of my hands and was embedded in the boar’s side before I could even track its flight. The animal let out a horrible shrill squealing and stumbled, but came to its feet. I jumped out, unsteady on my own numb legs, but afraid that even after hitting it, it would turn and run.
This boar had no such intentions. As soon as it saw me move, it began charging straight at me.
My first thought was to run the hell away. That instinctive fear that makes people start when chased by a tiny dog a hundredth of their size. This boar was no tiny dog, but it was still only just past my knees…and a pig, besides. How dangerous could it be?
Maybe if I’d paid more attention in school I might have heard somewhere before that wild boar are actually one of the most dangerous animals to hunt. Smart, unpredictable, eminently durable.
Unfortunately for this boar, I was no slouch in a fight either. The only reason I was using this stupid bow and arrow was because I couldn’t get close enough to anything to tangle with any other animal I’d tried hunting before it could run away.
As soon as the it got within a few feet of me, I swung my arm at it and, for lack of a better phrasing, burned the creature’s head clean off. Floating an inch off my hand was a solid bolt of lightning, about 3 feet long, and constantly crackling and sparking in the air, but stable enough to act as a searing blade. The boar’s headless body plummeted forwards, performing a pair of macabre somersaults in the carpet of pine needles before coming to rest next to me. I could smell the burned hair and flesh from here, but the void in my stomach welcomed the sickening smell.
My name is Athan, and I’m an Exhuman. Exhumans are very rare, very dangerous people who one day, without any pattern or reason just wake up with tremendous superpowers. Many use their new powers for personal gain and wind up going on a near-unstoppable spree, killing hundreds or thousands, taking and doing what they wanted. Some keep their powers a secret and live among everyday humans as best they are able. Some, like me, do what we’re all told to do from birth and peacefully turn themselves in for quarantine. Or execution.
That’s the really short version of why I was out here, starving, and carrying a smoking boar corpse back to my little shelter on my shoulders. I was exiled and forbidden from interacting with humans ever again, and in exchange, they didn’t try to kill me. Well, not officially, but as people tended to learn, Exhumans are not easy to kill.
It was a ten minute hike back to what I called “The Bunker”, where I’d eked out a crude living for myself the last couple of weeks since being dumped in the wilderness. It was a freestanding concrete structure, covered in years of dirt and grass, and only about four feet tall, as most of it was underground. I dropped the pig on the ground outside and walked down the wide stairs to grab some wood from inside where I’d stashed it to keep it out of the rain.
I paused inside for a moment to give my eyes time to adjust to the blackness inside. The many harsh angles of the place came into focus. Rusted metal shelves, rusted metal chain link fence, rusted metal machines. The Bunker used to be a machine shop or storehouse of some kind, though it seemed everything inside had been abandoned to rust forever ago. Still, it was shelter, there were some preserves, some bolts of synthetic fabric and rope which I’d already made a comfortable hammock out of, and if I could ever get the machines back working, I’d be able to use the mass-fab to print pretty much anything I could need.
It was a pipe dream, but I figured I had the rest of my life out here, I may as well have something to do.
I grabbed an armful of wood and stepped out to make a fire. Didn’t have to step back into the stone age for that, at least. I made my lightning sword, just a small one this time, so maybe more of a lightning knife, and held it against the wood. It began to sputter and smoke immediately, and in a couple moments more, the entire log burst into flames, no kindling required. I threw it on the small pile and prodded the rest to life before turning to the pig.
“Okay,” I said, realizing as I choked on my own voice that I hadn’t spoken out loud in days. “Okay,” I coughed out, “now how do you turn this thing into bacon?”
About an hour later, after many false starts and failures, I discovered that, when hungry, even a horribly-prepared pig is still delicious. It was the first meat I’d had since my exile, and the first real meal. Until now, I’d been scrounging up nuts and roots, found an egg in a tree, and was generally happy that I’d been exiled in the summer instead of winter. And by happy, I mean, starving and miserable instead of dead.
But sitting there, with a full stomach, a warm fire, a comfy (if dusty and cramped) shelter behind me, and a beautiful sunset blazing over the endless pine forest in front of me, it was hard not to be optimistic about my future life. Maybe this could work out, maybe I could stretch the rest of my life into this ideal forever camping trip.
I should have known better already. Trouble will always find an Exhuman.