-Bruno tends to value personal loyalty over high minded ideals
-He's easily offended and has unrealistically high expectations of others
-He's a bit jumpy and tends towards impulsive behaviour when under pressure.
-He's dealing with the guilt associated with murdering a friend who Bruno believed had betrayed him.
Before the outbreak, Bruno had been living in Chernarus as a casual labourer for around 6 months. Before then he grew up in the South Island of New Zealand in the dead-end town of Gore. As a youngster Bruno struggled with drug addiction and had taken up bird watching as an attempt to have something else to focus on. As he slowly got off drugs he managed to replace that particular set of addictions with a passion for bird watching and became somewhat obsessed with knowing all the details about as many species as possible. He was interested in the local bird life in Chernarus and had been documenting each local species as he found them. Hardly a rich individual given his wasted youth and lack of skills, Bruno carried out odd jobs for the locals in the tiny village of Berezhki where he rented a room. Failing that he would sometimes secure casual work as a farmhand in the valley. By this point in his life he had been off drugs for a couple of years but had managed to alienated all his family members in roughly the ways you'd expect. Tragically, he had found some measure of peace watching birds and appreciating the local scenery and coastline and had just decided to try and reconnect with his family shortly before the outbreak.
Bruno looked at Eduard’s body and wondered what events had led them both to this point. Actually, he wasn’t totally sure Eduard was dead yet but couldn’t bring himself to check for a pulse. He was pretty sure Eduard was unconscious, so at least there wasn’t any undue pain to speak of beyond whatever pain came from being stabbed in the back. The irony of literally living out a figure of speech wasn’t lost on Bruno and it occurred to him that backstabbing probably had actually happened in the course of a betrayal back when the world was a violent and bloody place. And now that much of the world was violent and bloody again, perhaps the figure of speech would fall back into a literal utterance.
Red spots began to grow on the back of Eduard’s jacket and Bruno reached down to retrieve the hunting knife embedded there. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been staring at it. He was conscious of the old barn that they’d passed back down the road creaking in the wind and rustling trees. Standing in the open for too long was dangerous. He sheathed the knife without wiping the Eduard’s blood from the blade. Usually he would have cleaned it.
Violence had always been something Bruno had taken steps to avoid. It wasn’t so much that he objected to it morally but rather that the intensity of physical conflict sent his nerves on edge in a way he didn’t like. Probably some of it was just plain fear of death and pain. But Bruno wondered if he just wouldn’t ever be good under pressure. The sick feeling in his stomach afterwards. The internal struggle with whether he’d done something evil or good. Or maybe that evil or good weren’t as easy to distinguish before he’d had to think about them as much. He’d tried to rationalise the killing of other human beings in a survival of the fittest manner. Or later, as resources became scarce and people became more desperate: in the ‘it’s either them or me’ manner. And then eventually just something like: a car-boot load full of food wouldn’t last two people long and heck, they were fighting over it now anyways so it might as well be a fight to the death. But he couldn’t get the thought out of his head that perhaps he wasn’t any more deserving than anyone else. He’d also become aware that the whole experience, right from the intense physical and psychological sensations (as a potential for conflict morphed into a fight for life) through to the moralising afterwards, wasn’t unlike what he’d gone through taking drugs as a junkie. And that wasn’t a place he wanted to go again. But then, you don’t generally succeed in getting away from the things you’re running from.
Eduard made a gurgle that might have been what people describe as a death rattle. Bruno nudged Eduard with his foot. He wasn’t sure what a death rattle sounded like but the three red spots that had been spreading over the back of Eduard’s jacket that were now combining to become one large stain suggested he was most likely dead. Chernarus winters were brutal and while they were only in mid autumn, Eduard had been wearing three layers of clothing underneath the jacket. Initially distracted by the blood, Bruno noticed the red scorpion embroidered on the back of the once-white jacket. It was somewhat more worn than when Eduard had traded for it. The red stain on the white of the jacket’s faux-satin was now just a large irregular semi-circle, almost indistinguishable from the scorpion embroidery.
It had been a pleasant day, at least by current standards. They’d both had bellies full of food and had stumbled into an old convenience store. Usually such obvious targets were picked clean but Bruno and Eduard had found a storeroom obscured by debris and spent the afternoon working their way through a crate of whiskey. They’d only spent a night there though, both having agreed some months before that it was best not to spend too much time wallowing in the way things used to be. Later they’d met a nondescript old man on the road who, after some cajoling, turned out to have some decent items for trade hidden deep in his trash-laden shopping trolley. Eduard had liked the coat, despite the fact that they’d agreed it was a disaster in regards to camouflage and the fact that they probably needed the extra food more. Bruno had said to Eduard ‘hey, why the hell not man? You only live once right?’ Even the old man had summoned a snigger at that. Eduard had said he liked it because scorpions were badass and so was he. In the end it wasn’t long before the white jacket was so dirty that any loss of camouflage wasn’t really a problem.
Not knowing quite what else to do, Bruno sat down next to Eduard and was surprised to realise he was unsuccessfully holding back tears. He so so angry when he’d finally done it. Not a hot anger, volatile and unpredictable, but a cold anger, nurtured slowly alongside his resentment. And when Bruno had finally decided to do it, maybe he was a little surprised but not very much. Why had Eduard gone and changed the way he had? Things had started out so well between them. Holed up in that house the first time they met. Eduard hadn’t had a chance until Bruno showed up. There had been a crowd of zombies too large for one person to deal with trying to smash their way in. Eduard had later told Bruno that they must have heard the commotion as Eduard had stumbled upon a couple vacant zombies in the house and somehow he’d chosen to fire his .22 instead of using the garden hoe. That’s how it happened sometimes though. You thought you were hardened to all the hacking and hewing, the blood splatters and mangled flesh, then one day you just go for your gun instead, even though you know it’s a bad idea. And yeah, you’ve long been disabused of the notion that there’s some remnant of the old person there behind those raged, bloodshot eyes. But you use your gun anyways. Weird.
That night over a camp-fire, they’d agreed to always be loyal to each other. Regardless of what happened.
Eduard had said, “You know, I get it that you can’t trust anyone anymore. But you know… I don’t even know how I know it. But I can feel you won’t let me down.”
Bruno had nodded. He’d felt the same too. Back then at least. They even clasped hands for a moment in a kind of semi-arm wrestling handshake. A strange gesture between strangers. Perhaps something like this existed back in tribal times when a gesture that meant more than words could muster. Except that was then. And this was now.
Eduard’s body hadn’t moved since the death rattle. Bruno glanced up at the flat, grey sky. There was a red-footed falcon carrying on somewhere with its disjointed cackle. It sounded mournful. Probably calling for a mate. She wouldn’t have much trouble finding one. The predators were doing well these days, they hardly even had to work for their food. Bruno had had trouble distinguishing red-footed falcons from lanner falcons when he first arrived in Chernarus but it hadn’t taken him long to understand the differences.
After a few months in each other’s company, things had been going well between him and Eduard. It was a funny thing post-outbreak. You craved relationships but when you found them it was often difficult to not come to blows over some minor issue even though you agreed on the life and death stuff. A bit like being married really. But with zombies. Despite some heated moments him and Eduard had talked when it was needed and minded their own thoughts silently when the talk ended of its own accord. It was one of those relationships where you felt like you’d known each other for ages straight away. And things had been going great right up until the met the Czech paramilitaries outside Elektrozavodsk.
Bruno had told Eduard he’d had a bad feeling about the place. He’d been surprised when Eduard looked at him skeptically. For some reason Bruno thoughts guys who were into hunting would have given weight to intuition. But not Bruno apparently. Bruno had said they really needed to find batteries for their head torches. And what better place than a powerstation right? Bruno had still laughed even though he thought it was a bad idea.
They had carefully moved through the partially opened gate without disturbing its corroded hinges. They kept to the partially ruined walls, pleased with their efforts to avoid obvious sight lines. When they’d finished their indirect route to the main building, intending on searching it thoroughly, the one that always carried grenades on his chest rig with the thick dark hair had laughed at them. In a fairly good natured way but Bruno remembered being angry anyway. Thinking back on it, he suspected they might have both died that day if they’d looked more well equipped or dangerous. That and Eduard’s knack at impressing people he’d only just met meant that a day later they’d found themselves part of a group. At least if they could prove themselves useful.
Bruno realised he’d been lucky he hadn’t come across these guys on his own, even though he’d wanted to avoid the place, these kinds of encounters tended to happen eventually despite meticulous efforts to avoid them. The bird watching had initially been a way to get himself off the drugs. It had then become an obsession of its own and while it helped with getting clean Bruno had still been left with the jittery way of talking and involuntary nervous glances apparently not uncommon for ‘rehabilitated’ addicts. Making good impressions on people who have every other reason to kill you hadn’t been a risk he’d often been willing to take until he’d met Eduard. Bruno figured Eduard did the charming while he did the thinking. Probably Eduard wouldn’t have liked that idea so Bruno kept it to himself.
The next few months went from bad to worse for Bruno. The paramilitaries took Eduard under their wing straight away. With his winning personality and the knowledge of firearms he’d developed from his hunting, it didn’t take long for him to learn about military weapons and earn the trust of the group. It occured to Bruno that the others might have been doing Eduard a favour by keeping Bruno around. Over time he found repeated evidence to support this notion. Most of the members of the group had mocked him. In small ways to start with but more intensely as Bruno’s responses somehow always seemed to evoke their displeasure. Perhaps if their dislike of Bruno was restricted to social interactions it wouldn’t have been so bad but despite repeated instruction Bruno couldn’t maintain his weapon to the satisfaction of the self-appointed weapons officer, Ludvik.
At the time Bruno thought they were just picking on him unfairly but as Bruno and Eduard had wandered past the barn, Eduard telling some innocuous story about a local Chernrus girl who he’d once liked, Bruno had lifted his AKM ever-so-silently and it had clicked forebodingly. He wondered if maybe Ludvik had been right. Stabbed in the back or shot in the back? Bruno figured one didn’t really have it over the other as figures of speech. He’d have preferred to shoot Bruno in the back but then, you don’t always get to choose the exact manner with which you betray your best friend.
The old Czech knife fighter in the group had been the only one who was kind to him. The old man hadn’t actually been in the military or police at all. Apparently he’d been a circus performer pre-outbreak and then having fallen on hard times had somehow become engaged in real knife fighting. The other members of the group had been uncertain of the details but given that, despite the old man’s age, he could take any of them with wooden sparring knives every time, they’d figured maybe it didn’t much matter exactly how he’d learned his skills.
The old man hand winked at Bruno conspiratorially one day as they practiced. ‘You know Bruno, I like you. The others don’t see it but I know you’re one who can act when he needs to. Maybe those drugs messed you up when you were a kid but you still know that whatever people say, whatever they promise you, sometimes you have to do what needs doing. And then you act. And you’re alive and they’re dead.’ The old man had winked again as though the discussion had been about something amusing and inconsequential and made a gesture with his hands that Bruno figured must have had something to do with killing people with knives. He then added, ‘remember Bruno, if they’re closer than a couple of metres, always use the knife. Guns. They are much too slow. Always use the knife.’
When Bruno pulled the trigger and the AKM had misfired, he could see exactly how it would pan out before it even happened. He thanked the old man in his head. Thanked him that that his advice had led to Bruno holstering his knife on his left hip so he could practice reaching across in one fluid motion, drawing it and smoothly rolling the knife point outwards to transpose the draw into a stabbing motion. He knew Eduard would even manage to turn a little before the knife made it to his back and in between his ribs. But it wouldn’t matter. Bruno hadn’t even consciously made sure he’d been close enough to use the knife in time. Lucky. Sometimes you were just lucky. After the tip of the knife pierced Eduard’s back, more easily than Bruno anticipated, perhaps it had made it to Eduard’s heart. Bruno wasn’t sure really. This was the first time he’d actually had to stab someone who wasn’t undead.
The red-footed falcon called again, this time further away. Bruno looked down at Eduard’s body and wondered about burying him. Eduard had fallen forward and straight into the dirt, he hadn’t even cried out. Bruno figured he might not be able to avoid Eduard’s eyes if he buried him and left him in the ditch at the side of the road instead. He walked away, the tears were slowing now. Maybe betrayal is easier to rationalise post-outbreak. Maybe he wouldn’t lose too much sleep over this. Maybe.
A memory came unbidden then, a person he’d not thought of for years. A women with whom he’d once used. They were both sitting on tatami mats in a run-down apartment smoking something together. He couldn’t remember what they had been smoking but it was before he’d gotten into the desperate end of his time as a drug addict. He remembered that there had been a moment with her when he’d felt completely at ease. Not happy exactly but just OK with whatever came afterwards. She had smiled and he’d just stared and he hadn’t cared that life was more often miserable than not. A sliver of sunlight had made its way into the room from a crack somewhere in the ruined walls and fallen on his face. Then he smiled back.