"...sometimes you can hear them scream when they die, and the
sounds of combat echo from deep within the starbase." DoomII
Guy sat up, feeling more than a little disorientated. Where was he again? He looked around, searching for a visual clue - something to trigger recollection. His eyes darted from one item to the next, looking for something he might recognise, but the disorientated feeling persisted. Nothing familiar.
A voice? Who is that? The voice didn't sound familiar - still no resolve - but at least it sounded friendly. Guy could now see a man, dressed in light, earth-colored armor, sitting on the other side of a short wall, looking back at him intently. A reflection maybe? No.
He could remember now; Hell had just invaded Earth, with a vengeance, after the crushing defeat first on Mars, and then on their home soil, and he was a soldier trying desperately to protect his home planet. Guy wondered what had triggered the recollection, but then realized that he hadn't yet brushed off that disorientated feeling; he still didn't know where he was. He couldn't remember being in this room when he'd gone to sleep, and he didn't know who that other soldier was wearing the weird uniform.
"The names, Jack."
He could read minds? No, he looked to be waiting for a reply. "McCoy..", he managed to say, "Guy McCoy."
Jack nodded, looking content.
"Good to meet you, Guy. Welcome to Hell."
Guy felt a jolt of shock run through him as he listened to those words. Had they somehow been taken back to where the first war had ended? Or did he - Jack - actually meant that they were both dead? Guy looked around his room, hoping to determine which of the two possibilities it might be, but that only added to the confusion. Since when did the inhabitants of Hell supply you with a clean room? And a bowl of food, sitting on a well crafted metal table? The disorientation was beginning to mutate into mild panic.
Jack shrugged and lay back on his bed.
"Which..." Guy wasn't sure how to phrase the question.
Jack looked over and read Guy's puzzled expression.
"Don't worry, I meant it figuratively - we're not dead. At least, not yet."
"So.. where is this then?"
"Who knows, but I'll tell you one thing; this is as close to hell as we're ever going to get.."
Guy looked at Jack carefully, trying to make sense of that comment, but the look his face suggested he was deadly serious.
"I've been to Hell, it wasn't like this." Guy gestured around the room, now noticing a toilet and shower inset into the back wall of the room. "This is definitely not Hell."
"Been to Hell, hey?" Jack seemed strangely amused at the thought. "Whatever you say, mate."
Jack appeared to be slightly older than Guy, but of a similar enough age that he would had to have been in both wars, just as Guy had been - and still was for that matter. But his amour didn't even faintly resemble the standard issue UAC suit that Guy was wearing; could he actually be from a distant Earth outpost and had somehow missed the horrific events of the past year?
Guy stood up to have a better look around. The room was clean and well designed, but small and utilitarian. It was very compact. As he tried to make sense of his surroundings, Guy could sense Jack watching him.
Jack was sitting in what looked to be an identical room, separated by the thin bench which ran the entire length of the wall - the only way into Jack's room seemed to be over the bench. He approached the bench, hoping to get a good look at the other room, interested in differences or similarities that might help him identify his location.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
"What?" asked Guy, wondering what it was he was about to do that he shouldn't.
"Look..." Jack waved his hand in a circular guesture at the space above the bench.
Now that he was looking for something, Guy could now make out the faint blue shimmer of a force field, although not of any type that Guy was familar with. Now aware of the fields existance, it was suddenly clear to Guy that the field covered all open areas of his room, leaving not a gap to spare. Trapped!
Trapped, but at last Guy finally felt the disorientation and panic clearing from his mind; there was simply no recollection to be made! He was completely unfamilar with this place, which made the situation perhaps all that more serious, but he was glad that he could forget trying to remember. It was only now that he realized his weapons were nowhere to be seen.
Jack was still watching him, although it was difficult to read anything conclusive into his expression. But if Guy were to guess, Jack seemed to be taking a keen interest in how Guy was reacting to the situation - how quickly he came to the realization that he was now a prisoner.
"So, are you going to fill me in?" No point dancing around the issue, Guy thought, Jack clearly knew more than he did.
"Finally realized you're not in Kansas any more, eh?"
"But not Hell either.." was Guy's quick response.
"It may as well be, trust me." There was a foreboding tone in Jack's words.
"I know Hell, and this decor is definitely not Hell." Guy looked around his room again. Nope, definitely not Hell, unless they'd had a decorator in recently...
"Well, I don't know about that," said Jack, a looking a little unsure how to take his new neighbour, "but if this isn't Hell, then it's got to be pretty close."
Jack lay back down on his bed, resting his hands behind his head and looking at the featureless ceiling. He seemed to be taking things in his stride, although Guy detected an edge to his words that suggested otherwise.
"And??" Guy was getting annoyed at Jack's constant need for prompting.
Jack didn't move. After a few seconds he said, "Maybe I'll fill you in tomorrow, if you're still around. Not going to waste my time, otherwise."
"They might let me go, depending on what I do?" Guy was desperately trying to read between the lines, but Jack wasn't offering anywhere near enough information to allow a complete understanding. There wa no choice but to continue the prompting.
"Let you go? Heh."
Guy didn't say anything this time. Jack's reply was clearly designed to illicit a response, so Guy saw his opportunity to manipulate Jack for once. After a long pause Jack finally sat back up on his bed, then stood up and walked to the dividing wall.
"I don't know why I even bother. I've explained this a dozen times in the last twelve days and none of them even made it through the training session. To be honest, I'm getting totally sick of it, and if I wake up tomorrow and find yet another newbie sleeping in that bed," he was pointing wildly at the cushioned box Guy had woken up on, "I'm going to be really pissed."
There was a sense of sarcasm in Jack's words, but no hint of humor in his face. But things were flowing now; Guy knew not to interrupt.
"OK, here's the deal..." Jack paused for a moment, perhaps trying to condense it into the least possible number of words. "Today you'll go through the trainer. Make it through the trainer, then every day until you die you'll wake up and have a fight to the death with some poor bastard thats in the same deep shit as you." Jack looked up at Guy, wearing a sly grin. "Pretty simple really."
"Simple?" Guy coughed, looking for some hint of sarcasm in Jack's face, but it was still expressionless.
"Don't you get it yet? We're the entertainment!" He flung his arms into the air and walked back to his bed. "God damn entertainment! They pair us up for a match to the death, and sit back wherever it is they watch from and enjoy the proceedings." He accompanied the outburst with a series of mock clown routines. "If you loose enough matches then they don't bring you back." Jack shrugged. "I know it doesn't make sense, but thats how it is."
Entertainment? A third possibility had presented itself which, according to Jack, was the truth. Guy still held on to the belief that there was a Spiderbrain behind a curtain somewhere, studying them for some unimaginable purpose, but the more he learnt, the more he felt that they perhaps weren't behind things after all. But if not the Spiderbrains, who did that leave? Had another alien race entered the equation, or maybe even worse, a human group.
Jack continued; "I've been here for about a month now." he was holding up a finger, showing it to Guy, "I'm on two losses and 15 wins if memory serves, but what that means in the grand scheme of things, I have no idea." He wandered animatedly around his small quarters. "If I reach a certain number of wins, do they send me back? Do all those wins mean I can afford more losses? Frankly, I don't give a shit.."
Guy could see that he meant it too. Jack was clearly heading over the edge, or then again, perhaps being over the edge in the first had kept him alive this long.
"So if I get through the trainer, then it'll be me against you?" asked Guy.
Jack looked into Guys face, probably wondering what Guy thought about that idea. "Maybe, but probably not. We're both human, like the freak down the end there, and they usually prefer to pit different species against each other. Usually, that is... We may even team up - you never know what they've got in mind. It's like they're mixing and matching, trying to find the ultimate combination."
"I am not human." The words weren't yelled, but were spoken with a forceful power that startled Guy when he heard them. Guy looked around for the owner of the voice, finally spotting a faint glow of light emanating from a small room far beyond the other wall of Jacks quarters. He now realized that Jack and himseld were occupying the last two rooms in a long corridor; the only other occupied room was one at the very other end, with all rooms inbetween completely dark, as were the entire row on the other side.
"Is he or isn't he?" Guy asked. He couldn't see the occupant clearly from where he was, just a solid shape silhouetted against the soft glow of the room, but he looked like he could be human.
"Don't listen to him, he'd definitely human," replied Jack, laughing to himself. "He used to be in that room over there," he pointed to the room opposite them, "until he freaked out."
"I am not human."
Jack just shrugged. "Like I said, he's a freak."
"I am Strogg."
The look on Jack's face showed that he'd gone through this conversation numerous times before. "Maybe humans are called Strogg in his time-line, I don't know," Jack said, speaking to Guy, "but take some advice; if you get paired with him in a co-op match, blow the crap out of him right at the start and go it alone. In the end, you'll be far better off."
"Time-line? So they're pulling us out of different time-lines? Or just different times?" Guy was looking at Jack's armor, trying to decide whether it was more, or less, advanced than his own.
"Both. I think they're pulling soldiers from everywhere and everywhen, trying to find the ultimate soldiers. I recognize your uniform; one of the soldiers in that room last week wore a similar costume, although his was a more tasteful colour than that flouro-green they have you in. Man, I'd demand a refund."
Guy was happy to see that Jack did actually have a sense of humor tucked away in there somewhere, even if it was mostly sarcasm. "It's to aid team-mate sighting in the big field battles. At 500 meters, you want to make damn sure the area is clear of your mates before you fire off a BFG round..." Guy felt like he should stick up for his suit, it had served him well in recent times.
So the perpetrators had to be alien, of a race Guy wasn't even aware of, unless the Spiderbrains had decided on a change of modus operandi. Knowing this changed way Guy viewed his predicament - it wasn't going to be something he could rationalize his way out of.
"What's the trainer like?" he asked, realizing that everything he thought he knew had to be thrown away, replaced with as much fresh information as he could gather.
"Just a straight one on one deathmatch with one of their bots. It's very tough if you let it get an upper hand, but it'll still be the easiest match you'll play here.
"It's basically a test to see that you meet their minimum standards." Jack was watching Guy carefully as he spoke. "They've been trying to fill that position," Jack gestured towards Guy's room, "since Sarge struck out a couple of weeks back." Jack walked back to his bed and sat down. "He was a tough bastard..."
The shower was warm, a luxury Guy rarely enjoyed even when he was free, and the food on his table was surprisingly edible - enjoyable even. His hosts were obviously intent on making the stay as comfortable as possible, Guy figured. At least, outside of the arenas.
The room itself was very solidly built, with almost no joins; a completely single-molded room, made from a very tough, smooth rock-analog material. Guy flicked a fruit stem at the shimmering blue field and watched it bounce back as a splatter of organic goo. Nice. The techs back at UAC H.Q. would love this stuff, he thought.
There was no suggestion of age in his surroundings - everything looked immaculate - but the solidity of design suggested it wasn't created on a whim; it was the perfect design for a human prisoner, and perfection meant trial and error. This may have been the latest in a series of designs dating back years. Centuries? Pulling people out of time-lines was some serious technology - they had to have been doing this for a very long time.
There wasn't even time to wonder what to do next, as Guy suddenly spotted a large, dark form making it's way down the corridor. It was very tall, with a purposeful, elegant stride, yet in no apparent hurry. Jack hadn't noticed the approaching mass yet, or maybe he simply wasn't interested.
Finally the approaching form entered the pool of light surrounding the two lit rooms, it's true shape emerging from the darkness, Guy watching with unshakable interest. As it took shape, Guy actually felt himself gasp - it looked truly frightening; a bipedal creature of immense stature cast entirely in metal, with very few extraneous parts. There was little doubt that it was one of the bots that Jack had mentioned earlier.
Without even looking up, Jack stood and walked towards the door of his room. "Wonder who I get today.." Jack announced theatrically, winking at Guy. Yet another side to Jack that Guy wasn't expecting. Full of surprises.
"Good luck," Guy said.
"Thanks kid, see ya in the next life."
Jack stood at the door with a grin, strangely content for a reason that Guy couldn't fathom. Before opening Jack's door, the mechanical creature walked on to Guys room and placed a small metallic-green object on a bench just inside the door, seemingly able to penetrate the blue field without a care. Could metal pass through? On closer inspection, Guy noticed that a rectangular area surrounding the bench was without the blue shimmer, but as the bot removed it's arm the field was instantly reinstated. He was happy to at least learn that the field was controllable, the first sign of weakness he had seen since waking up that morning.
The field across Jack's door disappeared next. He stepped defiantly through the opening and into the corridor beyond, his six foot frame now dwarfed by the bot standing beside him. The bot displayed no signs of emotion - there was no face to betray it's thinking, and it's rigid body design gave away no sense of posture - yet somehow it's wish was incredibly clear. Jack marched off into the darkness, followed closely by his silent entourage. They quickly become little more than silhouettes gliding down the corridor, leaving Guy to wonder whether it had all been a dream.
A slightly loony soldier from another time line, and a nine foot robotic demon; can't be real - it had to be a dream.
But dream or not, the object left behind by the apparently very real bot was still sitting on the bench beside his door. Guy approached the object carefully, hoping to be able to determine it's use before he got too close; it was about the size of his hand, intense green in colour, and apparently made of some type of metal judging by it's reflectance. Along the slope of one side appeared to be a display, and there were several protruding buttons along the bottom edge. A communication device of some type no doubt. Probably safe.
Guy picked the object up and had a closer look. There were no readable markings of any description and, as with the room, it looked to be crafted from a single piece of a light metal alloy. That was quite an achievement considering the intricate, almost ornamental look of the thing, with fine detailing etched onto each face of the unit.
The one major design feature was an emblem on it's back, comprised of a central line, flanked by a pair of circular arcs which become parallel where they met up with the central stroke. It had the impression of a stylized pitch fork, but Guy couldn't determine what it's true symbolism was.
He pressed the first button which, evidently, performed the generally useful function of turning the unit on. It was quickly apparent to Guy that the little unit was a 'user manual', which detailed weapons mainly, judging by the introduction display. Guy sat down on his bed, examining the small display carefully. The main menu, written in English, listed nearly a dozen weapons, but Guy was disappointed to see that there were no chapters explaining rules or an overall purpose of the events. Guy was still hoping that there were rules, but hadn't Jack said "to the death"? Not a pleasant thought.
At least Guy now understood why Jack's description of events had been so limited; he probably didn't know the answers either.
It took quite some time to finish reading through the documentation contained within the manual. Guy picked up his helmet from the desk and checked the time on the heads-up-display; three hours. He felt that, since they had made the effort of supplying him with it, then the information was likely to be very important. So he had taken great care to memorize and analyse as much of the information as possible, including making detailed comparisons between the various weapon stats.
Many of them, thankfully, were comparable with the UAC weapons he was familiar with. They had slightly different firing rates or travel speeds, but clearly in a lot of cases their intended uses where the same. The other weapons in the list weren't so easily identifiable, although the manual included remarkably detailed tables of firing information so Guy was able to at least imagine the circumstances they were intended to be used in.
Not like getting his hands on the real thing, however.
Guy remembered back to what Jack had said, about being brought back after a loss if you had been doing well previously. Brought back from the dead? Why would the manual make no mention of this? It went some way towards supporting Jack's theory that this was all a big show, staged for someones twisted entertainment. It was at least plausible, if not particularly sensible.
The other notable absence in the manual was the lack of an aim. What did you have to do to get sent back to where, and when, you where taken from? Was there a certain number of rounds? Or would they send you back once you had beaten the toughest opponent they had to offer? Or would that just make you a more prized posession?
Maybe it was best to not play along with their sick game and just accept death. Would they care?
Too many open possibilities, and no way near enough information to determine answers through logic alone. So for now, Guy decided, it was best to play along. Gather whatever additional information he could and then re-evaluate his options. No point accepting defeat before he'd even started, but then, maybe that was their aim?
More damn possibilities...
Guy had just finished his daily exercise routine when he noticed a familiar shape steadily making it's way down the corridor. He quickly made use of the toilet facilities - he didn't expect there was going to be a toilet break in the events ahead - freshened up, and took a drink from a liquid dispenser built into the table.
As ready as he'd ever be, he figured.
Guy picked up his helmet and was standing ready at the door as the bot arrived.
The blue field across the door dissolved, giving Guy his first feeling of freedom since waking up that morning, although with that massive sentinel awaiting in the corridor the sensation was little more than a hopeful illusion. The idea to make a break for it was an obvious one, but without knowing what lay beyond this single, enclosed building, or the capabilities of the bot, Guy didn't seriously consider it. However, the possibility was always worth considering.
Guys intention now was to gather as much information as possible, and he decided the process may as well start immediately. Rather than stepping immediately through the door, he decided to wait and see how the bot reacted - find out whether it could communicate.
The two of them stood there in silence for only a short while before the bot finally spoke; "Please exit the room". It was an obviously synthesized voice, but spoken in a reasonably understandable simile of English. So, they could speak, although it was impossible to tell whether the bot had initiated the communication, or whether there were operators in some safe, far away room controlling the situation. Maybe they were just as interested in Guy's behavior as he was in theirs.
Guy didn't move. He stood there resiliently defying the instructions, looking as casual as he would if he were waiting for a bus to arrive back on Earth. There was another silent pause, shorter this time, before the bot again spoke up; "Please exit the room or you forfeit the event".
Clever. A simple, clear sentence, yet it gave away no information nor implied more than it needed to. Guy wanted to be removed from the event, but there was clearly more to the bot's wording than any literal implication; a soldier that didn't participate was of no use to it's keepers, and Guy didn't expect there would be any consolation prizes.
Guy stepped through the door into the corridor. He probably just unwittingly passed another test, which was annoying in a way; he didn't like being a prisoner, but to be knowingly manipulated was far worse. Well, it was frustrating at the very least.
The bot was now clearly expecting Guy to walk down the corridor and Guy decided that it wasn't worth risking another test. He was content with the knowledge he had gained and so headed off into the darkness at a walking pace slightly faster than the speed the bot usually traveled at. It kept up without a problem.
As Guy's eyes grew accustomed to the darkened lighting conditions of the corridor, he again become aware of the other human occupying these barracks, someone who he had completely forgotten about in the past hours. He could see the room well now, lit up at the other end of the corridor, with a lone figure standing quietly in the corner. Strangely enough, he seemed to be standing in the same place, and in the same pose, as he had been that morning when Jack had indicated his presence. At that time, Guy had assumed the stranger had been doing something on a bench, but approaching now he could see there was no bench near him. He just stood there, staring into the dark. Could he see something that Guy could not?
Jack's comments were coming to mind again now. Jack didn't like him at all; he had suggested killing the stranger if they ever got paired in a team matchup, a fairly hefty comment by anyones standards. Actually, it wasn't so much a suggestion, if Guy remember correctly, more like a law judging by the way Jack had said it.
Approaching closer, Guy could see the stranger had pale skin, and... implants of some sort? At least part of his arm appeared to have a mechanical component, and it didn't look to be neatly implemented at all, with pieces of metal jutting out of at awkward angles, and pins holding the skin back. There even seemed to be dried blood leaking from various joints. He didn't look well.
Was this what Jack meant when he said they 'brought you back'? They replace damaged parts of your body with mechanical substitutes? Although, Jack had alsp said that he had lost twice and yet he didn't appear to be swinging any mechanical appendages. And surely they couldn't expect you to wake up one morning with a mechanical arm and be up to old form; it would take months of training with the new systems before you were anywhere near peak condition, and thats if you could get back at all. Guy doubted it was possible.
So, if not a form of regeneration, what then? Perhaps he already had the mechanical pieces prior to arrival and he was hurt in a recent match? That made more sense, although if those behind these events were so keen to find good fighters - keen enough to treat them well, even considering the circumstances - then surely they'd see the benefits of good medical attention after a match. Wounds like those on the poor chap Guy saw in front of him would go gangrenous incredibly quickly, if not already. He'd be no good to them then.
Guy entered the bright region around the strangers room.
He was clearly human, although Guy now found himself unsure how convinced he was of that fact any more. He had a ghastly look about him, with deep set eyes and hollow cheeks. Gangrene appeared to have already taken hold in a number of places around his body, alongside a virtual forrest of other fungi. A dreadful sight, yet the man showed no signs of pain or discomfort, he simply stood there, staring into the dark.
"Are you OK?" Guy asked as he passed the room.
A response; the strangers head turned quickly to look directly at Guy, watching closely as Guy passed his quarters. He didn't say anything, only stared.
Guy looked away from the stare - an involuntarily action - and continued on his way towards the large door at the end of the corridor. Jack was right about one thing; our friend there was, at the very least, a freak, and at worst... well, it was hard to imagine what the lower limit might be.
The end of the corridor was visible now, the first time Guy had been able to see it with any clarity. This end was quite different to the otherwise blank paneling featured alongside his room. Central to the corridor was the large, heavy looking door, spanning almost the entire width of the walkway with thin glass strips down either side. The strips appeared to be lights, but they weren't on. Or perhaps they were on, but shone a wavelength of light that he couldn't see? Perhaps the whole barracks area was lit up like a lighthouse and he just didn't realize it?
Guy wondered what an ultra-red light would look like through human eyes.
But then, the whole building seemed switched off somehow, not just those lights. There were around fifty separate quarters in this single building alone, and yet only three were in use. Guy couldn't even begin to contemplate the meaning.
The door opened as they approached, rising quickly and fluidly into the cavity above. The door appeared to be at least ten inches thick, possibly more, and had been sunken into the floor by about three inches. Panels under the floor moved up to fill in the now vacant area, leaving almost no sign that there were joins at all. Very tidy, Guy thought.
The whole elegance of the setup suggested far more than mere entertainment, as Jack had believed - they clearly took the event very seriously, and Guy had only seen what he assumed to be the human barracks; there had to be similar arrangements made for a whole range of other alien species, each with their own specific needs. This place must be huge.
Guy strode purposely through the open door and into the bright yellow glow of the corridor beyond. It took a few seconds for his eyes to again adjust themselves to the sudden change in lighting, but once the glare become bearable he was able to see just how true his previous thought was; the place was massive. The corridor, which was perfectly straight, trailed off as far as he could see in either direction, and periodically along both walls where doors identical to the one from which he had just emerged.
It was actually a little overwhelming; like an Escher drawing, with perfectly identical corridor segments repeating off to infinity - or so it seemed - and everything unnaturally bright. Guy glanced around behind him in time to see the door close just as efficiently as it had opened, barely a sound to be heard. The door had a large graphic symbol on it, painted in a similar green to that on the little weapons manual box. Alongside the door, set deeply into the wall, was a display area showing a range of information, obviously pertaining to the inhabitants of the barracks, although, unsurprisingly, Guy was unable to make any sense of it.
In front of them was a small, open vehicle with a single bench running along it's length. Guy figured it could probably hold a dozen soldiers, six on each side, and there was a place at the back - or front, depending on which way it went - which was clearly designed to host the bot.
As if to acknowledge the thought, the bot stepped up onto the platform and lowered itself down into the arrangement of metal structures which acted a bit like a claw, clamping onto the lower section of the bot and locking it down into a position that actually looked very uncomfortable. But the bot didn't seem to mind.
Guy thought for a moment that the bot had turned itself off, but just as he started contemplating the thought of running for it, the bot's head swung around and looked directly at Guy.
Guy knew it was still in his best interests to play along.
He stepped onto the platform and sat down on the middle seat. Almost immediately the tram began moving smoothly down the corridor, slowly at first, but it quickly got up to a very fast pace; quick enough that falling off would do some serious damage. Guy watched the doors fly past, noticing that each one was identical to the one he had existed from.
Surely they weren't all for humans?
By Guy's estimate, the initial portion of the trip had taken around fifteen minutes. He hadn't thought to note the time they had left the barracks, but was still able work out a decent estimate. Regardless, it was a long trip.
The long corridor had terminated with lift which, even though it was travelling at least twice the speed of the tram, still took quite some time to reach it's highest level. Guy accepted the reality that escape from the confinement complex was, to put it mildly, highly unrealistic.
For the first time in quite a while, Guy now realized that he really was going to participate in at least the first match. Until that point, he had been planning to escape long before he arrived at the practice area, but there was no question that the small room he now stood in was the direct precursor to the actual match - he hadn't even seen the whiff of a chance for escape yet.
The room he found himself was bare except for two weapons hanging on the wall and a centrally positioned table. He recognized both of the weapons from the manual; one was a close range melee weapon, worn on the arm, and the other was a fairly high-spec machine-gun analog. According to the manual, from what he could recall, these two weapons were available for all combatants at the outset, whereas the more powerful weapons were to be found around the arenas.
Not knowing where the weapons were to be, or even the layout of the arena for that matter, was going to be a big obstacle to overcome, especially considering his opponent would most likely be familiar with both. Guy's aim initially then was to play the mouse for a while, hoping to familiarize himself with the layout and item placement - and to give the weapons a bit of a blast - before he had to face his opponent.
The weapons felt comfortable at least, and while the Gauntlet weapon didn't appear to be particular useful, except perhaps as a last hope, the machine-gun specifications had suggested that it might be a pretty useful weapon. So even if the bot turned out to play the cat better than he played the mouse, Guy still he felt had a chance of a decent showing. Assuming, that is, that the deathmatch bot was as docile as the one that had brought him to the room.
Guy suspected that he was being a bit hopeful.
A door in front of him slid open, allowing access into another small room adorned with a variety of concentric panels and lights. Guy recognized it's use immediately; a teleporter. The design was different than those he had seen and used in the Hell wars, but there was just something about a teleporter pad that immediate gave it's purpose away. This was technology he knew and understood; Guy felt at ease for the first time since he woke up.
"The match will begin upon entering the chamber."
The softly spoken announcement ended the feeling of ease he had just acquired, and the butterflies had definitely returned.
Guy had battled a whole clan of Cyberdemons before and come out of the conflict with a minimum of blood loss, but then he knew the Cyberdemons; he knew their weapons, their strategies, and even how they thought to an extent. But now he was to face something he had never encountered before, using weapons he was not familiar with - a situation he was certainly not comfortable with.
"What the hell-"
He put on his helmet and stepped confidently into the chamber.
Immediately he felt the strange, tingly sensation associated with teleportation. He watched the room dissolve quickly in a vibrant sparkle of lights, and then saw another location twinkle it's way into existence.
Guy immediately began running - no direction in particular, just running - since standing out in the open would be an invitation to be shot at, but also because he knew the risks one took when one delayed leaving the exit pad of a teleporter. The stories he'd heard...
He followed a path into a tunnel which lead into a small room dotted with ammo clips and health packs. The ammo clips were for the gun he held - he recognized their markings from the manual - so he picked up a couple on his way through, plugging one into the spare slot on the gun and clipping the other onto his belt.
The environment reminded Guy of a toy set he had as a child, where pieces of a variety of shapes and sizes could be joined together almost at random, with which a child could create his own little worlds. Guy could still remember building all manner of castles and fortresses which, to a child's imagination, looked absolutely real, but to everyone else they probably looked more like the random collection of shapes that they actually were. The environment he was in now had that same look to it; strange structural elements joined to each other with no apparent overall plan.
Although Guy knew that there would be an underlying design, intended to highlight it's purpose - deathmatching - and he needed to determine that flow as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately that wasn't going to be easy. He had no idea how large the environment was and so for the moment had to concentrate more on survival than map making. Instinct was probably going to be more useful initially, and he was hoping that his brain could do the cartography as a background process.
The arena turned out to be smaller than Guy expected, based around a fairly simple figure-eight layout. There were no weapons to be found - at least, none that he could see - and even more surprising; no bot! Were they giving him a chance to become familiar with the layout? It was definitely handy, but Guy was annoyed that he didn't know about the grace period earlier so that he could have made better use of the time. He'd been so careful avoiding the bot that he hadn't really been able to analyse the layout to the extent he would have liked.
"Bot One has entered the arena." The announcement echoed around the arena, bumping up Guy's alertness level several degrees. Lets see just how good this bot is, he thought, bringing his weapon up into a ready position.
He'd barely had time to finish the thought when he felt bullets ripping into his armor. "Argh," he yelled out; the armor was holding them back for now, but the impact shocks still hurt. His body fell backward under the shock, shoving him into a short corridor and briefly out of fire. He hadn't even seen the bot and already his suit was in tatters.
Guy didn't bother to examine the damage, he just got straight to his feet and took off at the best pace his body could muster. Everything still seemed to be working, so looking at the damage would only waste time.
At the end of the corridor he stepped around the corner and came to a complete stop, counted to three, and then blindly fired off several rounds in the direction from which he had just come. A quick peak around the edge showed no sign of the bot.
Guy found that he knew the layout well enough to anticipate the bots next move, given that it hadn't followed his retreat, so he quickly ran across a short walkway in front of him to the other side of the room and up a short set of stairs. Next he ran sideways across the face of a doorway, firing off a volley of rounds into the darkness and, sure enough, the bot was already halfway down the corridor, taken completely by surprise. Guy had landed a series of shots to it's upper torso and head region before it even had a chance to react to his movement in the doorway.
Then from aside the doorway, Guy swung his weapon back around the door frame and fired off another series of blind rounds, sweeping them back and forth across the corridor, knowing that if the bot hadn't retreated it would be taking a lot of hits. Switching quickly to the gauntlet weapon, he then stepped out into the corridor just in time to find the nine foot tall mechanical monstrosity practically on top of him, minus an arm and with it's head hanging off at an unlikely angle.
Guy swung the gauntlet, almost more from surprise than with real intent, connecting soundly with it's midsection. The bot's head snapped clean off from the impact, and the rest of the bot slumped back hard against the wall. Guy watched the limp body slide smoothly to the floor.
It didn't move.
Guy stood in the arch of the doorway, breathing heavily into his helmet, looking over the motionless body of the bot. It was dark in the corridor and so he still couldn't see it very well, although it was clearly similar to the one that had escorted him to the match. Slightly shorter perhaps, with a sturdier frame, but there were more similarities than differences.
He looked around.
That was it?
As he began to examine his suit for damage, Guy felt his hands start to tingle, a sensation which quickly spread to the rest of his body, as he watched his surroundings fade away.
Guy opened his eyes and let out a hearty yawn.
Where was he again? He checked the time on his suit's internal clock, hoping that he hadn't overslept; 7:15am.
Suddenly a wave of deja vu hit him, followed immediately by the deep rooted sense of panic as he recognized the small room he was in. His thoughts raced, piecing together the events of the previous day; he could remember winning the practice match... and then waking up just now.
Guy sat up on his bed and ran his fingers through his greasy hair. He'd survived! Maybe it was just a practice round, but Jack had said that most players didn't make it that far, so he actually felt as though he'd achieved something. He quickly scolded himself for the thought.
He looked over into Jack's room and saw him sleeping on the bed. "Jack!" he called, still buzzed from yesterdays win which, to him, happened only moments ago. "Jack! I beat the practice bot!"
Jack stirred, and then sat up abruptly giving Guy a mild fright. Guy was confused for a second or two, but then realized it was not Jack sitting on the bed in the next room, but someone else entirely. Jack had lost? Weren't his stats good enough to give him another chance? Guy didn't know what to read into Jack's absence.
"Where am I?" was the question from the stranger, now standing in the room adjoining Guy's - it was uttered in a oddly synthesized voice. Guy stopped wondering about Jack's fate and examined the man, who appeared to have a large plate of metal stuck to his face. At first he thought it was some sort of helmet, but on closer inspection it was clearly attached to the front part of his face, wrapping deeply around both sides. Apart that oddity, he looked human.
"You're a prisoner," Guy answered.
"I don't know." Guy wasn't about to start sharing theories just yet.
His new cell mate began surveying the surroundings - much as Guy had the day before - still clearly full of questions.
The stranger looked around in the direction of Guy again.
"Hey," he replied, "the names Simon, but my friends call my Visor," he added, guesturing at his facial ornamentation.
"Hah!" Simon let out a burst of synthesized laughter, "you should see yourself!"
Guy grinned, realizing that he had been staring - it wasn't possible to tell where Simon was looking. "So what's with the face plate?" he asked. Clearly Simon - Visor - wasn't shy about it.
"Had my face removed by a mortar during the first war - my own fault really," he looked up to the ceiling, as if playing out the events in his mind, "I saw it coming but figured I still had time to fire off a few rounds.." He went quiet for a second. "The meds ended up putting this thing on as a replacement."
He was looking around the room again. "It's actually pretty good; gives me far better vision than I ever had before." Guy could tell that he was now examining the blue field between the cells.
"And that sexy voice," Guy joked.
"Hah!" Visor gave another burst of synthed laughter, but then turned his attention back to the barely visibly barrier; "Nice field, this one. Very clever indeed."
"I wouldn't recommend touching it," Guy added.
"No, I can see that," he said, still examining the field from a variety of angles, "very impressive."
He stood up again and looked around the room. "They must have used some sort of electronics disrupter.. overrode the visor surveillance and got me while I was sleeping." He looked around at Guy. "I don't recognize this place though.."
Guy realized that Visor hadn't fully understood the nature of his confinement.
"You're.. not where you think you are," offered Guy, not really sure how to put it himself.
Guy told his companion everything he knew while Visor sat at his table listening intently. At least, Guy assumed Visor was listening; it was difficult to tell, with only the occasional nod giving any indication that he was actually paying attention.
"That explains that weird suit you're wearing," offered Visor when Guy eventually finished. Guy couldn't see his face, but he knew there'd be a smile in there somewhere. "So Jack lost too often and they replaced him with me?"
"I guess so."
"You seemed to accept my explanation pretty easily - you're not astounded.. or overwhelmed, or something?" queried Guy, gesturing to their surroundings.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that I accept your explanation yet, it's just that it happens to match with what I've observed so far better than any other explanation I've come up with yet. I'll accept your explanation as at least plausible until a better one presents itself."
Guy liked his approach.
Visor looked across the corridor to the unoccupied rooms. "They seem to have room for a lot more, but just have you and I here. That doesn't make sense to me."
"Yeah, I was wondering about that myself." Guy suddenly realized he'd forgotten someone, "although we're not alone, they've got someone else in the cell down the far end there," he added, pointing into the darkness. "Jack gave me some pretty stern warnings about him..."
Visor stood up and focused his attention down the length of the shadowy corridor in search of the person Guy was talking about. "Oh shit, it's a God damn Strogg!"
Guy sat up, recognizing the name immediately. "Yeah, thats what he said yesterday!" He could see Visor wasn't totally comfortable with their companion. "But he is human, right?"
"No!" Visor was quite animated now. "If he looks human, it's only because he killed someone in order to use their body." He turned around to look at Guy. "Thats how the Strogg survive, you see, they use body parts from other alien species to create a body for themselves. Heaven knows how they got to the point where they couldn't reproduce naturally, but it doesn't surprise me really; they're total sickos."
"Jack called him a freak."
"Doesn't come close," replied Visor, bluntly.
"I can hear you, human." The words echoed strongly around the large building, but as before they were not shouted.
"I don't doubt that," Visor replied.
"You think you know things. You think you understand, but let me tell you something, human, you don't know anything. You're unaware that greater truths exist, and so you should be thankful that we use your bodies for a better purpose. You should worship us."
"Hah!" exclaimed Visor, "it's locked up like a dog, a millennia from home, and still thinks it's in charge." Visor threw his arms into the air as if to say, I give up. He looked back at Guy again, "first chance you get, take it out of action. Smartest action you'll ever take."
"Funny, Jack said the same thing," Guy replied, "although he thought it was human."
"Sounds like Jack had a good head. Pity he lost it."
Guy shrugged. "So," he pointed at the Strogg in the distance, "is there anything left of the human in that body? Can we evict the alien somehow?"
"Nope, it's not that sort of deal - they use the body bits like some sort of sick Lego set, mixing and matching an arm here with a mechanical piece there. Man, their body factories on Stroggos make you sick in the stomach." Vizor was obviously reliving some memories. "This visor, of all things, is based partially on Strogg technology - they have an understanding of biomechanics, I'll give them that much, but at what cost.."
"You say that now, human, but you wait... the wheels are in motion - today you have a new face, capable of vision far greater than you would ever have experienced without it, and tomorrow they'll see how a leg can be modified for unbeatable performance. Step by step, piece by piece, your kind will begin to see that perfection-"
"Blah blah blah.." Visor interrupted, one synthesized voice talking over another, "just shut your damn servo motor will ya." Vizor looked around at Guy again, "I bet he has pamphlets too.."
Guy spotted a shadow once again making it's way down the length of the corridor. He nodded at Visor who was sucking pulped fruit through a whole in the side of his facial unit. Visor swung around to have a look.
"Wow." He didn't take his eyes off it. "Nice tech."
The bot reached the end of the corridor and placed one of the instructional units on the bench just inside Visor's room. Visor was right up against the wall, scanning the construct from top to bottom, visibly impressed. Only when it went on to Guy's quarters did he direct his attention back to the manual.
Guy watched the blue field across his door space dissolve away, again feeling himself at least slightly tempted to make a run for it. He wasn't seriously considering it of course - he knew the underground layout now, and there was nowhere to hide between his room and the elevator many kilometers away - but the urge was still there.
He stood up and walked to the bot that was now waiting for him. He turned to Visor.
"See ya tomorrow."
And with that brief exchange, Guy walked off into the darkness.
The preparation room was the same as the previous day, with the two weapons available on the wall and an adjoining teleportation chamber awaiting his entry. Guy's heart was already pumping, and his mind twisted into all sorts of knots.
According to what Jack had said, this time Guy would be facing a live opponent rather than the mechanical construction he had faced yesterday. The thought made Guy feel decidedly uneasy.
With some deliberation, he stepped into the teleporter.
It was a different arena this time - although featuring the same stylized-Gothic architecture used in yesterdays environment - and everything was antiseptically clean. The sky was still churned up like a storm was about to crash down on him any second, and yet there was not even the whisper of a breeze to be felt. Was the sky always in that state?
Barely a moment after arriving, Guy heard an announcement; "Klesk has entered the Arena". It had started! There was no grace period - they were straight into the deathmatch. Guy took off running in whatever direction he was facing, hoping that the "Klesk" was as caught off guard as he was.
He kept to the darkness, running around, desperately trying to get a clear image of the layout in his mind as quickly as possible. Already he could tell it was larger than yesterdays area - and more complex too - but with none of the clear, geometrical layout he had been hoping for.
All too soon he spotted the Klesk, at about the exact same moment that it saw him. There was a period of extended pause as both aliens attempted to comprehend the events leading up to this meeting. Guy had certainly never seen anything like the creature facing him, and the Klesk was probably thinking the same thing.
For that brief moment, Guy wondered whether he could reason with Klesk - come to some mutually beneficial understanding - but that thought was cut short when the Klesk snapped out of it's trance and raised a weapon towards Guy.
Guy leaped behind a tall pillar, just in time to avoid a barrage of bullets which wizzed past, ripping into the wall behind and showering him with chips of the rock-type material that the walls were make from. Guy wasted no time to return the greeting, swinging his weapon around the perimeter of the pillar and firing off several clips in a wide arc.
A quick peek around the pillar was enough suggest that the Klesk wasn't advancing on him, so he made a break a door just off to his side, down a short corridor, then up a set of stairs and along a veranda which hugged the outline of the central building.
As he rounded one corner, Guy spotted a weapon propped up on a pedestal across the other side of a small field before him - the first new weapon he had seen. He recognised it at once; it was a weapon that, statistically at least, resembled a classic UAC double barrel shotgun, and it was even similar visually apart from a slightly more high-tech appearance. If it worked like the UAC equivalent it'd be virtually useless at long distance, but right in close - taste-his-breath close - the thing would be deadly.
Under normal circumstances Guy wouldn't have hesitated to go after the weapon - he was confident in his ability to get close enough to a Cacodemon or Hellknight in order to make best use of the weapon - but here... he had absolutely no idea how the Klesk approached one-on-one combat, nor did he know for absolute certainlty that the weapon on the pedestal operated in a comparable fashion to the one he was familiar with. So, for now at least, he was content to stick with his machine gun and only risk going after the shotgun if he found himself around the other side of the complex, where the weapon was closer to the cover of buildings.
That might have been a good decision, for barely a second later he was sprayed by a burst of bullet fire, emanating from where he has just exited the building - the Klesk had followed him, or found another way to that location. A couple of the bullets embedded themselves into his chest armour, sending him sprawling backward and coughing as the impact forced breath from his lungs.
In one clean move, Guy rolled backwards and off the veranda, grabbing his gun just before he went over. Unfortunately his Gauntlet was well out of reach, so he now had the additional pressure of careful ammo consumption to contend with.
The bullets were still flying overhead, although the firing wasn't getting louder so he at least knew the Klesk wasn't approaching his tactically weak position. Yet.
Guy fired off a volley of bullets blindly over the ledge and then run as fast as he could in a low crouch until he rounded a corner. He then stood up and ran, watching carefully for a shadow that would give away the Klesk's presence at the corner he had just rounded himself.
He reached some stairs which lead back up onto the veranda and as he was three steps up he saw the give-away shadow growing out from the base of the corner. Guy paused as long as his nerves would allow and then fired off a stream of bullets in the direction of the advancing Klesk. Just as he had planned, the bullets arrived at the intersection at the very same instant the Klesk did, welcoming the tall alien with a series of strikes across it's naked mid-section, sending the lanky creature flailing backwards over the ledge. A spray of liquid - some sort of blood-analog - rained down to the ground where it once stood.
The victory was short lived; Guy spotted the alien's minigun peep over the ledge, the muzzle flashing relentless bright orange flares as it pumped out round after round. Luckily the aim was off at first, giving Guy time to make it onto the veranda and back into the building.
Feeling like he now had the upper hand, and not happy at being forever on the defence, Guy stepped back out of the doorway, firing countless rounds towards where he had last seen the Klesk, but he quickly returned to the safety of the archway when the Klesk's weapon appeared over the ledge again and resumed it's firing.
Guy still had his weapon firing around the corner in short bursts when he heard the Klesk's weapon begin to make the rapid clicking sound of an automatic weapon firing from an empty clip. Guy saw his chance. He bolted out of the doorway, down the stairs, and along the outside edge of the walkway. The blood was really pumping now; if he miss-read the sound, or if the Klesk had a spare clip and was able to load it quickly enough, then this could be the stupidest chance he'd ever taken.
As he approached the blind corner, he moved out in a wide arc, giving the Klesk no opportunity to pummel him with the Gauntlet.
Rounding the corner, he saw the Klesk in a kneeling position, Gauntlet cocked back ready to pop him as he emerged, and then he saw the unmistakable look of deep disappointment as it realized that Guy had anticipated the move and was well out of reach.
It reeled back at the realization and began to retreat for all it's might as Guy fired his weapon at the stricken creature. But now it was Guy's turn to be horrified; the gun fired off no more than five shots before it too began singing the empty-clip tune, leaving the Klesk with the only active weapon between the two of them. Surely the biggest reversal of fortune in the history of armed conflict!
Without even a second thought, and even before the Klesk had realized what had happened, Guy turned tail and headed out across the expanse of ground between him and the double barrel shotgun, which was still floating quietly on it's pedestal.
He was lucky to get that head start because the Klesk was powerfully built - and also not weighed down by extraneous armor - and so was a lot faster than Guy. Even at full run, the Klesk was almost twice as fast as Guy, getting closer by the second. Guy wondered what it would feel like as the Gauntlet's spinning blade and razor sharp spikes ripped into his head. Probably wouldn't be nice.
He was close to the shotgun now, but probably not quite close enough - he unclipped his helmet, lifted it off his head and hurled it backwards as hard as he could, collecting the Klesk square in the face, hardly fazing the large creature at all, but it was slowed down just enough to allow Guy to reach the pedestal - without the distraction of a Gauntlet embedded into his spinal cord.
Guy leapt over the pedestal, grabbed the weapon mid-tumble, landed on the other side - tight to the base - and fired both barrels directly into the air just as the Klesk straddled both the pedestal and Guy. Guy was showered in a milky goo as the alien slumped awkwardly to the ground only meters in front of him.
Without pausing, Guy pumped another double round into the body, but it didn't move. It was dead.
Guy took a breath, the first one he could remember taking since the match began.
The scenery dissolved away.