The Shooting Gallery
By David K Scholes
I took aim at the grotesque alien entity that appeared before me. With only a micro second to decide, I fired. Just the once.
“Good clean shot, instant death,” boomed the automated shooting gallery’s robotic announcer. “Only problem is he was a friendly, a Glaxian no less. One of our closest allies.”
Was the announcer rubbing it in? I wondered
Next up was a very beautiful alien woman. Too beautiful, too perfect to be a woman of Earth. Homo Superior I guessed but from where? Those thoughts passed through my mind in the micro second I chose not to shoot her and instead she shot me. Was I influenced by her beauty? That something that beautiful couldn’t possibly be our enemy?
“Wrong again!” boomed the announcer. The thing seemed to be laughing, enjoying my discomfort. Was it programmed such that its attitude changed the more mistakes I made? I might not have minded so much but the alien woman’s shot hurt me. Caused me to stumble and left me feeling numb. “Is that really necessary?” I yelled at the robot announcer. There was no reply.
Next up was a droid soldier. Finally I got it right. It was of Fermian construction and had enemy written all over it.
“You are learning!” said the announcer who, it seemed, had also been programmed with impertinence. “Good, accurate, temporary disabling shot, but you should have followed up with another shot to permanently disable it.”
Was there no satisfying this announcer?
I went on down the gallery occasionally getting it right but mostly killing friends and being shot up by enemies. The cumulative effect of the shots on me was starting to tell.
There was another thing about this gallery. Was it just my imagination or were some of my potential targets looking decidedly real? I asked the announcer. Normally it would not have responded to such a question but inexplicably it did.
“All potential targets are only holograms, re-useable droids, or disposable partial robotic constructions.”
I just didn’t quite believe that.
Later towards the end of the gruelling gallery I was on the verge of quitting from the sheer pain of hits I’d taken. It was only then that the proverbial really hit the fan.
A Velovrian unisex soldier. It had to be an enemy. I’d never heard of any Velovrian being on our side. It may be that I hesitated oh so briefly – then I fired and it fired at about the same time. I scored a direct hit on an excuse of a head and the Velovrian narrowly missed me.
I waited for the robot announcer to tell me I’d done something wrong but no announcement came. Of any kind. It was nice to have silence. Not far away the green blooded Velovrian looked very real and very dead. Then two human security guards came on the scene and unceremoniously whisked me away from the gallery.
They gave me a pass mark for the shooting gallery test and I was told to keep quiet. I needed the pass for my alien embassies protective officer status. So I did as I was told.
When I next came up for re-testing on a shooting gallery I was stationed on Grolton 4 attached to the Earth embassy there.
The automated gallery there was eerily like the one on Earth even down to its robot announcer. Who made these shooting galleries anyway? I wondered.
“Well left,” boomed the robot announcer as I didn’t fire on what looked like an Earthman to me. Was the thing even programmed for sarcasm. It sure sounded like it.
I went down the gallery shooting a few friends and missing a few enemies but mostly getting it right. Seemingly to the annoyance of the robot announcer.
Then everything caught up with me. I hesitated. The target seemed to be located in an Earth setting and appeared to be another Earthman. Except that he was wanted in 8 star systems. I got off a shot but he beat me to it. I fell and kept falling. It was a feeling I have experienced just once before. Travelling through a gateway.
Bloodied and in pain I awoke from unconsciousness just long enough to realise I was no longer on the shooting gallery on Grolton 4 but on the shooting gallery on Earth where I’d first been tested. Security guards stood around me unconcerned and with them was a robot announcer. Just for once it didn’t have anything rude to say for itself.
The shooting gallery on Earth and on Grolton 4 have been closed,” said a voice as I started to come to. “Others on other worlds will follow. Things were in motion beforehand but what happened to you was the catalyst.”
At my bedside was an alien. A law enforcer from Grolton 4 but with extra planetary authority. I knew him slightly and knew he’d been sniffing around about the shooting galleries.
“It all started when they tried to make the shooting galleries for each world more realistic. Laser and other weapons that actually hurt. Then they occasionally brought in real people that got hurt. They really overdid it when they established some gateway links between shooting galleries. They actually had participants from different galleries up against one another. Then there was ____.”
“It’s a long story,” he sighed “but then you’re not going anywhere.”
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The author has written over 150 speculative fiction short stories many of which appear in his seven published collections of short stories. He has also published two science fiction novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF and Beam Me Up Pod cast sci-fi sites. He has also been published on Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine. He is currently working on a new collection of science fiction short stories.