Copper jackets plinking on the ground sounded like rain. The lingering petrichor from a recent shower was cloying compared to the stringent scent of her spent shells. Margie fired off more rounds, the acrid smell of gun powder washing back over her. She could feel the tension release from her shoulders.
The trail exercise always made her think of her dad, and those long ago days when they’d spend hours in the woods hunting for small game and water fowl. Never for sport, he also taught her to field dress any prey they killed. The meat kept their family fed even during the worst of times.
There wasn’t much game left to track, not since the Downturn began, mostly mutant vermin. Not very tasty, but they needed thinning, else they’d overrun the woods within weeks. Their pelts, thick and naturally water-resistant, were highly prized and an easy income source for Margie.
Her shadowing skills were only matched by her talent for staying hidden. Downturn agents tried unsuccessfully to isolate her, but finally had to admit defeat and accept her terms. Margie had autonomy in her movements, and first right of refusal on any missions proffered.
Agency controllers knew Margie went off reservation, knew she supplied rogue resisters with food and medicine, knew also that she was too valuable an asset to try to interfere.
Margie made her way further down the trail, silently moving through the undergrowth. Behind her, three companions swept the bordering scrub. They were almost as stealthy as their guide. Their breathing was still too labored, but that would come with more training.
Margie held up a hand, pointing to her right. One of her companions knelt, steadying his rifle against his shoulder. Looking down his barrel sights, he took a steadying breath, then squeezed the trigger. A loud thrashing told him he found his target.
A quick pat on his back, and Margie gave the boy a light shove to retrieve his kill. The group moved forward, searching for more prey. Margie lagged behind watching her recruits, proud of their improving prowess.
The Downturn had no idea what was coming.