Chapter 69:

Chapter 69 - Zen and the Art of Good Coverage


“Why d’you even want my advice on fightin’ Marka?”

Morgan had asked each of his pupils to take five minutes to stretch before the lesson, presenting him with an excellent opportunity to question the former mob boss about his intentions. “You’re a grown man. You probably have years of experience with this stuff. I mean, sure, my new memories are tellin’ me I was kind of a hotshot back in the day… But you’d need to be kind of a hotshot yourself to keep the Moukahla family in line, no?”

Marka kept right on doing crunches throughout his reply. “A true warrior never stops seeking opportunities to learn,” he said simply, smiling through the sweat. “In combat, I have always followed my instincts. And that has gotten me far… But I am no longer just a brawler with a big gun.”

“Right. Now you have two big guns,” Morgan observed with a smirk.

“The second of which is much more complicated to use,” Marka reminded him, switching to lunges mid-sentence. “Boldness and brawn will not help me master Lifebringer. I know this. If I want to evolve, I must learn good tactics! This is what I hope you can teach me.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll do my best,” Morgan sighed. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced over at his other trainees: Roulette appeared to be doing jumping jacks, and Beretta…

…He had no idea what Beretta was doing. Spinning in a circle and singing, it looked like.

“My memories have been comin’ back to me since our fight with Turu,” he said. “Helpful ones–ones that remind me what it’s like to be a Gunslinger. I think I can pass some of that on to you all, but it’ll take some doin’.”

Marka finally finished his regimen of stretches, settling into a more relaxed posture. “It will be fine. I trust you.”

“Uh-huh. You all do,” Morgan replied. “But should you?”


Morgan gave his head a shake. “Nevermind. Get ready, we’re startin’.”

With that, he climbed the steps to the foredeck and turned to regard his motley crew of greenhorns. They looked up at him expectantly, standing among the varied assemblage of junk he’d laid out on the deck for training purposes.

They all looked so excited. Morgan drew a deep breath, relying on his determination to do right by them in an effort to calm his nerves.

“So, you all want to be real Gunslingers?” he hollered. As expected, everyone assembled nodded their heads enthusiastically. “Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. That desire–the desire to be a real Gunslinger–is a mistake. I want you all to forget about it! Because real Gunslingers only do one thing, and that one thing should be your only focus:

“Real. Gunslingers. Survive.

Roulette raised her hand.

“No questions!” he barked. “Questions’ll get you killed. Delusions of grandeur? Those’ll get you killed. Flashy moves? Killed. Standing out in the open like a dope? That’ll definitely get you killed. What we are going to learn here today is how to not be killed. Anyone have any ideas about how we accomplish that?”

Roulette raised her hand again.

“Yes. Okay. You there, with the tiny tophat!”

“Uh, I’m Roulette?” she called back quizzically. “You know me? We’ve been adventurin’ together for over a week and we just finished talkin’?”

“Yes. Good. Go ahead, Roulette!”

She crossed her arms and scowled up at him, but went on with her answer all the same. “Find somethin’ in the environment to use to your advantage!”

“Not bad, but too advanced!” Morgan answered. “That’s plannin’, and you can’t plan if you’re dead. Next!”

“Shoot them before they shoot you!” Beretta roared, her voice brimming with uncharacteristic bloodlust.

“No! Wrong! It’s more important to shoot last than first! Remember that,” he called back. “You over there, the big guy with the ‘stache! What do you think?”

“Charge the enemy’s position!”

“No, no, no!” Morgan huffed. “This is what I’m talkin’ about, people. In a gunfight, you can’t just do whatever you want. Sure, there are times when it makes sense to scan the battlefield, shoot first, or even charge ahead… But those things are all offensive strategies. Today we’re all about defense.”

Morgan raised his hand in the air and made a fist. “There are three things that are important to any defensive strategy,” he began, lifting a finger in tandem with each new point: “Cover. Teamwork. And observation! Now, everyone go ahead and repeat that back to me!”

“Cover. Teamwork. And observation!” they shouted in chorus.

“Good! We’re going to start with the first of these: Cover,” he announced. “Cover is anything you put between you and the bullets coming at you. You won’t always have it, but when you do, it’ll make everything–teamwork, observation, and offensive strategies–much more possible.

“Now, I want everyone to look around at all the stuff I brought up from belowdecks for this exercise. Your job is to pick one thing and use it for cover, exactly as you would in a real battle. When you’re ready, I’ll come around and let you know how you did.”

Morgan looked on as his pupils milled around the deck in search of good cover. His heart swelled at the sight of them taking it all so seriously. He hadn’t really expected to thrive as an instructor, but something about it just felt so natural. It made sense, really; in a handful of his newly-resurging memories, there had been some indication that he’d once been responsible for training up recruits.

…Based on what he was seeing from his current crop of learners, though, Morgan was coming to believe that this particular class just might be the most challenging of his career.

He stopped by Beretta’s chosen cover first. She’d been quickest to settle on an object, and seemed particularly proud of her choice.

“Alright, Beretta. Why have you picked this thing for cover?”

The “thing” in question was nothing more than a pile of sticks and jungle foliage, generously contributed by Marka through his use of Lifebringer. It wasn’t very tall, so Beretta had been forced to lie down behind it in order to remain out of sight.

“Nobody can see me behind all these leaves!” she explained. “And I am low to the ground, so I can jump up and surprise the enemy if they come too close!”

Morgan shook his head. “I’m sorry, Berry, but I would rate this cover as a C-,” he said. “Cover is something you choose to protect yourself from live fire. Leaves and twigs might be alright if you’re setting up an ambush, but if the enemy spots even a hint of you, you’re dead. Also, you’re prone–lying on the ground. That has its place in a battle, but it’s also the hardest posture to stand up out of; if you jumped up to surprise somebody, they’d probably have time to gun you down first.”

His harsh critique got her sulking, but she eventually sat up and gave a reluctant nod. He smiled down at her encouragingly before moving on to Roulette, who had elected to squat down behind a barrel.

“Talk to me, Roulette. Why the barrel?”

“It’s solid wood, and pretty big,” she answered. “And if push comes to shove, I can give it a kick and send it rollin’ at whoever’s messin’ with me!”

Morgan stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Not bad, not bad. I’d give this choice a solid B,” he judged. “You’re still thinkin’ too offensively, though. We choose cover based on its ability to protect us, not as another method of attack. And when you’re takin’ cover behind a container, you’ve always got to think about what it contains. This barrel, for example, is empty–a bullet would pass right on through, no matter how solid the barrel itself is.”

Roulette stood up and dusted herself off. “Fair enough. What you’re talkin’ about sounds like plannin’ though. How’s that any different from what I said earlier about usin’ the environment to your advantage?”

“Choosin’ cover is usually a split-second decision,” he replied. “Based on a few core principles that never really change. Once you get those principles down, you don’t need to think about it–you’ll just throw your back against the best cover you can find, and then you can focus on scannin’ the battlefield for more options. Take Marka’s choice of cover here, for example.”

He gestured toward the big man, who stood almost fully concealed behind the thick mast connecting the deck with the great, bloated balloon up above. “Marka’s cover ticks all the right boxes. It’s sturdy and solid all the way through. It’s locked to the terrain, so it’s impossible for the enemy to shift. And it’s immobile; Marka has full control over when and how far he can lean out to retaliate or look around for more options.

“If it were wide enough to conceal Marka’s entire body, that’d be an easy A. Unfortunately, it’s not big enough to cover him entirely–nothing here is. That’s something to be mindful of, Marka: in any given gunfight, you’ll have to work harder than most to find good cover due to your size.”

At that, Marka peeked out from behind the mast and gave a thumbs-up. Morgan returned the gesture with a grin. I think I’m actually getting through, he thought to himself with pride. Let’s see how they do with the next lesson.

“Alright everyone!” he called, waving for them to gather around.

“It’s time we get started on our next unit: Teamwork!”

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