by Sam Fletcher
Miles looks at the first column, all of his units presented in neat order by the blue and green spreadsheets. Blue and green, the corporate colors for ABC or Alliant Bullet Company Projectiles. On each spreadsheet that logo, blue and green, is proudly stamped. The headers are green; the data and other subtext blue. Even the lines on the spreadsheet—blue for vertical and green for horizontal—follow the nauseating pattern. Miles’s tie, today, is green.
It dangles from his collar as he looks at the timer on his wrist. He licks his thumb, wipes at a ketchup stain from lunch. It won’t come out.
He starts the timer. The speed on the spreadsheet reads 12,000 mph. Intercontinental. He multiplies that by the sine of the angle. Squares it. Adds 2 times 9.8 meters per second squared, the gravitational acceleration at that distance to the earth’s surface, times the initial height of the projectile. Finds the square root of that number. Multiplies the speed with the sine of the angle once more. Multiplies each set of numbers with the initial 12,000 multiplied to the cosine of the angle divided once more by the gravitational acceleration rate. 5,256 miles. He drags his finger to the “distance” cell. It reads: “5256.” In other words, the theoretical physicists inputting the initial numbers into the spreadsheet are correct.
He takes as much time as he can get away with running the flight, angle of reach, and velocity of the hypothetical missile. They are most likely just as correct on the spreadsheet, rare when the initial physicists make a mistake. They tend to be more qualified for measuring the trajectory of a theoretical projectile than ABC Projectile’s proof office.
“After you log your finished time,” starts a voice behind. Miles jumps, unready for the gravel in the man’s throat. Typically Prescott’s thick boots—loud through even the padded carpet—are a dead-giveaway of the manager’s approach. Like a cowbell. “I want you to print off your RPS sheets from the past month and bring them to my office.”
“Will do,” says Miles. He stops his timer less than a minute later, and plops a stack of hot sheets on the manager’s desk, clasped by a paperclip.
“I’m gonna let you look at those actually,” says Prescott. “Tell me what you see.”
Miles pretends to peruse the papers, but he instead zones out on the “Reports Per Shift” heading.
“Do you know why I record the RPS of you and your peers?”
“Competition promotes efficiency,” says Miles. Not only do both men know the answer of the question, but they are aware that they both know.
“Mhmm. Tell me what you see.”
Miles sighs. “They’re not good,” he plays back.
“You look like shit, man,” says Prescott. “You know we have resources available. I don’t want another repeat of last year.” Miles looks at his superior for several seconds before nodding. “Why don’t you head home. You can come back Monday with fresh eyes.” Silence.
Miles gathers his papers and opens the door.
“I need you to take care of yourself, Miles.”
Miles loads his pick-up to a sunken sun’s glow. He fires it up and sets out. Four layers protect him from the cold, starting with long underwear and ending with expired military pants, a worn-out jacket, and a stocking cap.
Gravel punches into the mountain from the truck’s deliberations through the fog. Such narrow mountainside roads used to innerve him his first years up here. He pulls over at the highest landing his pick-up can reach and heads down the other side through the trees. Miles down the mountain he reaches a stretch of land. Overgrown grass and weeds, as well as the occasional stump, coat the dirt. On its edge, a great cliff overlooks the largest lake in the state. Of course he can’t see it now. But he knows it is there. He knows it will look beautiful come sunrise, granted the fog doesn’t cover the whole damn thing.
Miles draws his knife, cuts off the strip of neon orange construction tape tied to the narrowest tree in the pack, and stuffs it in his pocket. He likes orange.
Next he presses a firm heel into the trunk and paces into the grass. Toe to heel, heel to toe, toe to heel. Ten paces in, he jabs the sharp edge of his shovel into the ground and jumps on the lips.
He persists until he is sweating in the October weather. He sheds some layers and continues until the tip of his shovel handle is below the earth’s brim.
After carving an adequate hole he hikes back to his truck and warms up for a few minutes before falling asleep.
Several hours before sunrise, Miles wakes. He dips sliced bread into peanut butter for some sustenance before opening day. Rifle loaded, he returns down the mountain.
The fog finally lifts—the morning is much crisper than the previous night. Miles walks seven miles before kneeling on a perch overlooking a canyon.
An hour past sunrise, a flicker of hunter’s orange catches Miles’s eye. With care he watches his target meander down the sister perch on the other side of the canyon. Miles pulls the hem from his camouflage glove and starts his timer.
He estimates the degree of the shot (65). And, based on the size (7mm), weight (8 grams and some change), and speed (over 3,300 feet a second) of the bullet, his shoulder height (about 5 feet 2 inches), wind speed (probably 10-ish miles per hour from the east, which is slight but will cause some resistance), Miles calculates his target at a little over 150 yards away. He pulls the trigger.
As his kill toppled over itself down the canyon ledge, Miles stops his timer. He straps the rifle to his back and heads down.
It takes several pauses and groans to get the short but overweight corpse up the bluff. That is the hardest part, however. They are only a couple hundred yards from the plateau.
The walky-talky clipped to the belt of the corps whirs loudly when Miles drops the mass into the hole. Suddenly he hears a voice. Heard a shot from where you were headed a little while ago. Any luck? Miles throws dirt on the talky first, but it doesn’t shut it up completely. Hello? Geoff? Should we head that way?
Miles doesn’t turn it off. It will be buried shortly and run out of batteries.
After about an hour, Miles artfully resituates the grass over the hole. It doesn’t look as natural as it did, but it doesn’t look like there is a large hole anymore. He removes a stream of construction tape—red this year—from his pocket and ties it around a stump a little closer to the cliff’s edge.
On his way out, Miles passes by two more hunters. Most likely a father and son pair. “Mornin’,” he says.
“Mornin’,” the hunters reply, an unsettled expression on their faces.
As he starts his pick-up, Miles looks at the numbers on his watch. A new record.
On Monday Miles wakes before his alarm. He yawns and stretches, fumbles his way to the bathroom where his stubble flakes to the drain. He wipes off his razer and his face, buttons up his shirt, and pulls out a clean tie from the drawer.
It is bright orange. And as he ties it around his neck, he can’t help but smile.