Chapter 0:

Prologue: The Ranger's Mission

The Rediscovery of a Passion

The year was 2522. The world was ravaged by war, and most of it had slipped away already. The aftermath of WWIV that had happened in the year 2500 was still playing out in some places, though most had moved on,  clinging only to the technology in their heads, seemingly the only thing left that was unscathed from the wars. WWIII - which happened in 2350 - seemed like nothing compared to WWIV. WWIII was a bluffing game gone wrong, which ended in the shocking demise and nuclear devastation of several neutral countries. The result of the Koreans' mistake had led to their land and inevitably their nation being snuffed out by nuclear warfare, leaving behind only a barren wasteland. The nuclear devastation was catastrophic, and most of the world had united to squash Korea. This led to a shaky period of peace for about 150 years; this was also bridged by world wide spread of America’s leading business the Muskian Corps. The main product was worldwide Interwebs that anyone could connect to. The Interwebs allowed anyone to directly access and link them with their brainwaves at will. This technology also revolutionized how information was taught and shared,  as at the time with proper security the Interwebs would communicate with your brainwaves and upload your thoughts and experiences into its databases where others could access the information you had accrued if they so desired. At the time, there were many security stops in place, and the Interwebs would only upload what you requested it to. After WWIV, this was no longer the case. My thoughts were getting ahead of myself. I focused my mind, and my train of thought immediately went back on track. After the 150 years of peace, bolstered by mass spread of technology, it seemed inevitable that something would go wrong, and it did. All the nukes broke loose, but it seemed like most of the other major nations had countermeasures in place in case of their fall. The result caused WWIV to be catastrophic. It led to the loss of Russia, China, and India. Each of these countries were lost to mankind, their land devastated and destroyed along with almost all of its inhabitants. America and Japan were almost blown away, as well. Japan was ravaged, its land split with multiple pockets of wasteland in between. Her people survived better than most other nations, but they divvied up into seemingly independent tribes and factions. America wasn’t much better off; it lost almost all its land and people, except for the land formerly known as the PNW (Pacific North West) or so I seem to recall the surviving states, were Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Colorado. Rumor has it Texas also pulled through but created their own nation. Either way, the once mighty nation known as the USA had shrunk and banded together to be known as the Pacific North West States of America, or the PNWA. Surprisingly enough, a large chunk of the Middle East survived yet as seems to be the case throughout history, remained at war with each other. The same could be said for what was left of Africa, though the latest news was that Madagascar of all places was emerging as a leading ruler to unite the remaining lands. I was nearing the end of the tracks in my head, and all this being said, I can confidently conclude that WWIV was terrible, and honestly ,there really was no winner - only survivors.

All of these thoughts raced through my head as I thought of the significance of my mission. I knew this would probably be my last mission, for multiple reasons. But the last of America, the remnants of really the last great nation, was in danger. Honestly, this mattered little to me in the grand scheme of things. I was one of roughly 500 left in the nearly forgotten Aragonian tribe of Japan. We had essentially been left to our own devices even before Japan fell. But I held the highest rank possible in our once proud military: Class Ranger, Rank Stride. The Aragonians had lived a secluded life after WWIII, rejecting the Interwebs that allowed you to access any information or knowledge as long as someone else knew it. With that said, we Aragonians weren't against technology, just that technology. And as a Stride rank, I would not let the valuable resources left in PNWA be destroyed. My people needed them. I needed them if I was going to survive in the world with only my own head and skills. And I suppose, as an individual, I would rather not see the people of what was once the greatest nation die out either. Even though the world was in its current dependency on the Interwebs largely because of America, I figured the Americans were also the only people who could put an end to that dependency.

But all of that might not matter if I didn't hit my shot. I was in the vents looking down at a control panel where General Hiro from the same Japanese lands that our people once hailed from had plans. Shima was the clan Hiro was from, and my Intel from my contact and friend in the PNWA had picked up nuclear intent from Shima and had asked for help in exchange for a lifetime of support. He also suggested that he would be able to get his company to work with the last remaining global Aragonian business. I was weary of course, even though America had allied with Japan for WWIV when Japan fell and split into factions and America shrank. The aftermath was everyone for themselves - survival of the strongest - when it came to military operations. This was a good opportunity, and my Intel man, known as EVO33 was a good man, one of the few archers remaining that could shoot close to my own talent.

I curled my hand around the riser of my bow. It was wet and clammy. I shook my head; this was not the kyudo - the way of the bow - that I was taught. I needed to calm down and remember my training.  My family had been the safeguards of kyudo in our clan for centuries and before that, dating all the way back to the late 2000s. They used to make compound bows, traditional bows, and most importantly Yumi longbows. The traditional way is the pride and legacy of my clan. Even with all that pride, they ended up selling out a little and were the first clan to really introduce compounds to Japan for target shooting and populace use; however, compounds remained far from being used in kyudo. I was the first and last person alive - as far as I knew - that combined kyudo with the compounds and ideologies of Western archery. I had grown up surrounded by people who were very engrossed in the way of the bow but refused to adapt. My mentor and his mentor had frowned upon me not shooting the traditional kyudo way all the time and for not primarily using a Yami. But I had accomplished so many missions and become so decorated as a warrior, particularly as an archer, that the elders could not ignore me without making a fool of themselves and everything the Rangers stood for. I liked to think that I still upheld the Aragonian kyudo, just in my own way. But now I was, practically speaking, the 'elder' and the last Ranger of my rank. The last Ranger in duty that still knew the way of the bow. I felt my grip relax. I was the best not because there was no competition, but because I was the only one good enough to survive.

Hiro chuckled to himself as he worked; he liked the thrill. He knew from years of war that any time you try to do something of this caliber, anything could happen. He expected at the end of the day he would be having the hottest young thing around, pouring sake for him, and he would sip as his good luck continued to grow as it had throughout his life. But there was a chance his luck would run out and enemy intelligence would counter. He had done all he could to prevent that. Either way, at the very least this was just the launch site; the actual nukes were kept elsewhere, somewhere in one of the many wastelands that now were common on the face of the round earth. If he failed, he believed another would rise up, likely from his own clan of Shima. Or so he hoped. But with all of his deep research into the minds of others on the Interwebs - past and present - these were the last nukes left on the earth. And only he knew the codes for this facility. He knew it was risky, but he also knew the hearts of the people were weary of war and just wanted it all to end. With these ideologies growing rampant, Hiro feared that even if he failed and died leaving remnants of his great mind for others to pick through,  that even if somebody wanted to research the thoughts similar to his goal, they wouldn’t have the gumption to follow through. Or they would be so persecuted and controlled that even if they wanted to, they would be hard-pressed. Hiro shook his head at the thought; he wouldn't let the war end this way. He couldn't. He wouldn't be satisfied with licking his wounds and living a pitiful life; he would be triumphant, the hero of Shima and the once proud nation of Japan. He approached the console for now was time to etch his name into history.

I watched Hiro chuckle to himself and then get a perverted look on his face. He seemed to be quite the character, all things considered. I had calmed down. My hands were steady and strong. The riser felt cool in my hands, but the clamminess was gone. I took the handles off years ago to feel the bow better and to notice my errors throughout the years. This helped me eliminate mistakes, and when I don't make mistakes, I don't miss. And throughout the years, I had stopped making mistakes. This was because I had learned to mix the art of kyudo with the technology of Western archery. In the West, particularly where my friend EVO33 was from, archery was just about making the perfect shot and hitting your spot. I combined this with kyudo's philosophy of meditation and feeling the shot, and together, they were almost too good to be true. Kyudo, of course, was more complicated than that, and I knew that, but my mental strength allowed me not to delve into the woods, as people used to say. Ironically enough, my mental fortitude, which I had gained from my meditation as was the kyudo way, had caused my mind to wander a little more than usual. My meditation seemed to be a double-edged sword at times. It gave me mental strength and peace, but other times, it allowed my mind to wander more than I would like. Which is why in kyudo, the shot itself is not only a release of the arrow but also a release of the tension on your mind. But it didn't matter; the time was as good as ever. Hiro seemed to be about ready. The time for the release of my arrow and that tension in my mind seemed to draw near. I didn't know if my Intel was right, but it seemed likely, considering the old military building we were in was used seemingly only by Hiro himself.  It hardly even appeared operational. I looked at the hole I had to squeeze my arrow through: three vent shafts and then through his body.

I wanted to wait until he was directly over the console and giving me a good angle. I was almost sure now based on how Hiro was acting that my Intel was correct. Hiro had started humming the old national anthem of Japan. As he prepared, he suddenly threw his head back and laughed. I realized I may have underestimated his mental state, as he seemed ready now. It was days before the counterintelligence predicted, though. I knew that my old friend, codenamed EVO33 in America, would be thrilled that I was so meticulous on my missions. I could almost hear him saying he knew I'd be ready, so it didn't matter how exact he was. Even after all that had happened, Americans still managed to find a way to seem laid back.

Hiro smiled that he would finally have his revenge. The PNWA had no right to be united and functioning - not when Japan was split and the rest of the world was either destroyed, broken, or in chaos. 

I relaxed my grip, curling my fingers around the bow so softly yet just tight enough that any of my past lovers would be jealous.

I drew back and hit my anchor point and each of my check points.  Once at full draw, I paused and took a few slow breaths. I had already picked my spot on my target. He was wearing an old military uniform with his name stitched on it. I knew from his stature and from having worn a similar uniform myself for many years that the stitching was right over his heart. I chose a loose fray in the middle of the O in his stitching. I knew where my arrow was going; now I just had to hold until the perfect opportunity. I thought it was funny he still even wore that uniform; most militaries had been destroyed or disbanded for about a decade after WWIV. The world for the most part seemed tired of war and just wanted peace, struggling to find ways to move on and establish new lives and create new functioning society's.

The digital age had peaked after WWIII, as people had attempted to escape reality with augmented reality. This worked for a time. Until reality caught up and WWIV happened. I figured that, in a way, Hiro was living his own reality, playing out schemes and plans that were real in his head. I wasn't sure if this was a form of PTSD or a side effect of everyone's disconnect from reality. Either way, I knew I had to end Hiro's reality.

Hiro reached forward with a shaky hand, and he paused. He wondered why he was shaky; the lives of the people living in the PNWA were nothing to him. They deserved this. They had slighted him just by their existence, just by still being on the face of the earth. That alone was reason enough for his "just" judgment.

With these thoughts rattling around his head and mixing with the thousands of things that were currently and constantly streamlined to his head, Hiro's detachment from reality seemed even more severe. Such was how the world worked at the time. But Hiro wouldn't - couldn't - let the Americans live in this time. Not after what they had taken. A stray thought landed in his head: "What had the Americans taken from me?"  Try as he might of his own accord, he couldn't think of anything, and he didn't feel like diving into the Interwebs of his head. He knew he was right; he knew he was on the side of justice. Hiro Shima was about to rewrite history. He smiled at the thought as his hands rested on the console. 


 Hiro looked down, an arrow sticking almost completely through his chest. On the arrow shaft right next the fletchings, he could make out the etchings that only appeared when in contact with blood.  It read: "Strider." Hiro's last thoughts were all over the place; his mind was reeling. He couldn't think, and the Interwebs flooded in. The last thought that flowed through his was collected from Interwebs. 

"Aragonian Stride ranked archers in the late 2000s would embed their name into their arrows and make it so they glowed when in contact with select materials so if the arrows was ever found, it could be returned to its owner." 

Hiro died with a look of complete disbelief and horror. One couldn't say whether it was due to the pointless information he accidentally accessed or his reality crumbling before his eyes only to be replaced by a harsh and brief reality that was covered in red. 

Dragos Damian
Colby W
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