"If the eggheads are right, all our lives are expendable.." Quake
The days went by quickly.
They still referred to them as days, but early on Guy had noticed a discrepancy between the days he experienced and the days that really passed according to the time unit in his helmet. According to the helmet, the period that elapsed between days was anywhere from three to twelve days. Since no none of them could recall waking up when the others weren't around, it appeared that the match scheduling was arranged to have all the human participants play on the same day, and then go back into stasis - or whatever - until they were ready for another round.
There were others in the adjoining rooms now, not just Guy and Visor, although a notable absence from the original crew was the Strogg which had used to bunk at the other end of the building. Visor was happy to believe that the Strogg had simply failed one too many match-ups, but Guy had another theory.
He had seen a gradual shift in the Strogg's temperament over the period he had shared building space with it, from mild psychosis in the beginning to full-on demented madness towards the end. Guy guessed that the Strogg, back when it had first arrived, was probably more human than Strogg, explaining why it was bunked in the human building, but then over time the Strogg personality had time to gain influence, then suppress the human side, before finally taking over entirely.
So Guy believed that the Strogg had simply been moved to a Strogg building when it had become clear to their captors that it was no longer human. Visor, however, would have none of that theory.
Guy sat up on his bed and looked around at the others. The soldier directly opposite was studying his newly acquired manual and the young lad next to him was sitting on his bed eating some fruit. Vizor, still in the room directly beside Guy, was talking about home with Brianna.
Brianna was a female soldier, apparently a from the same time-line as Visor and as a result they got along well. They spent most of the mornings discussing the Strogg war and how various stages of the plan were progressing. Guy tried to listen to the conversations from time to time, but found it difficult to follow the events, and wasn't really interested enough to make the effort anyway.
Brianna had been there for three days - or fifteen days according to Guy's helmet clock - so she could certainly handle herself in battle.
Opposite Guy in one of the newly lit rooms across the corridor was a new participant as of that morning, named Blazkowicz, or B.J. as he preferred. He was dressed in gear that was years away from what Guy would consider to be a serious assault uniform; little more than a pair of jeans, a thick belt, and a bandanna. Nothing armored at all, and a bare chest which showed off his oversized muscles. He had been given some rudimentary armor by their hosts, but the way he was built, Guy thought he might not even need it. B.J. was a big fellow.
After waking up, B.J. had been totally convinced that they were all being held in a secret, underground prison complex, run by a group called the Nazi's, and it had taken quite a while for the rest of the group to convince him that it wasn't the case. Guy suspected that B.J still firmly believed the Nazi theory, but was simply sick of trying to argue his point and so had just let it be. Since Guy didn't know much about the Nazi's, he hadn't dropped the idea as quickly as the others had, allowing it to remain in his mind as at least a possibility - largely, perhaps, because it came as some sort of relief to be able to add someone to the suspects list, finally.
The young fellow in the room beside B.J. really had Guy puzzled. Firstly because he had made it through four days already after Guy had thought it the be-all end-all of miracles when he returned for a second day, but mainly because he wasn't even a soldier. He was just some young kid - nineteen he had said - wearing jeans and a t-shirt, with hair half way down his back, and a single ear ring to top off the whole incredible look. A far cry from the type of professionals that Guy usually saw come and go, with their elaborate armor, high-tech gadgetry and years of specialized training. Yet it was John that returned day after day while the others were nowhere to be seen.
It was difficult for Guy to talk to John at length since the fields which surrounded each room acted as sound dampeners, making it virtually impossible to hear anyone further than a single field barrier away. Regardless of the dampening, Visor's synthesized vocal system was loud enough that everyone could hear him when he let out one of his big laughs, and he had on occasion tried to act as a switch board for conversation, but it hadn't worked particularly well.
Due to the difficulty in making conversation, Guy was really missing the old days when it was just Visor and himself. Their friendship had developed well over the initial week, and they'd even began making a habit of using leftover food scraps - fruit skins and the like - to play a simplified game of chess in the leadup to the afternoon match. They'd spend the morning moving the little pieces of food around a grid - that Guy would scratch into the bench with a sharp metal part from his helmet - talking about deathmatching strategies, escape plans, thoughts on what was really going on in this isolated world, and what their own time-line was like.
Guy didn't like talking about the different time-lines, and would often deliberately steer the conversation away from the topic whenever Visor would, again, remember some pointless little fact about where he came from. There was something uneasy about the idea that his own universe wasn't the universe which made his life feel.. unimportant. It seemed that no matter what choices he made in life, there was probably a universe out there somewhere which had him in it making the exact opposite choice. He was uncomfortable with that idea, and being constantly reminded of it made matters worse.
But other than that annoyance, which Guy kept to himself, they had been good friends up until a disagreement that occurred as the result of a co-op matchup they had played together.
They had been matched against a pair of Sleeg aliens and, before the match, had both agreed that the way to approach the game was to treat it as two separate, concurrent deathmatches, rather than trying to fine turn the intricacies of co-operative deathmatch inside the pressures of an active environment. By keeping track of each others location, they'd be able to keep to separate parts of the environment and so avoid firing on each other.
The plan seemed good on paper, but the arena turned out to be somewhat smaller than they had expected and so things didn't go as planned. The Sleeg had apparently decided on a plan to team up against just one of their opponents, a task that ultimately proved to work better in the small environment, and Visor was facing the brunt of their attack. It seemed that no matter what Guy did, he couldn't get himself into a helpful position, leaving Visor to fight off the advances of two, very skilled, alien opponents on his own.
He wasn't happy about it, and spent most of the match yelling at Guy to take some heat off.
Bad turned to worse when the one time Guy saw an opening and fired a rocket, it had completely missed both Sleeg and impacted on a wall near enough to Visor that he was sent flying by the splash damage. He had been in bad shape prior to that mishap, and afterwards was hardly able to move. The Sleeg finished him up within seconds, leaving Guy to face the aliens alone.
Luckily for Guy, Visor's parting gift had been a quiet spread of grenades which surprised the two aliens, unleashing a barrage of heavy damage to both and easing the pressure that could easily have been left on Guy's shoulders.
Guy had begun this uneven matchup with almost full energy and a full compliment of weapons, yet by the time he finished of the last Sleeg, following a grueling game of hide and seek, he was all but gone himself. Somehow he had hung on just long enough to win.
But having lost Visor, it didn't feel like a victory.
Guy was surprised, but very happy, to see Visor sitting quietly in the adjoining when he woke up the next morning, although the events of the previous days match were to forever change Visor's attitude towards Guy. He had died in the match, and he blamed Guy.
Guy, on the other hand, saw things rather differently; his interpretation was that Visor's death was purely the result of their skilled opponents - the Sleeg - expertly manipulating the play, even to the point where the most decisive blow had come from Guy's own rocket launcher. The shot had been good when he fired, but the Sleeg had somehow been able to hear the projectile behind them and stepped aside at precisely the right - or wrong - moment.
There had been literally nothing Guy could have done, short of getting a temporary hold on the match and spending a few days practicing co-operative moves with Visor, so Visors attitude made Guy angry. That Guy and Visor had won in the end was a result worthy of partying, but Visor continued to be quietly annoyed, and so Guy continued to be quietly angry.
It was the end of their chess games.
Over time they put the issues behind them, although the friendship never returned to it's former strength, and since Brianna arrived they have barely conversed apart from the occasional breakdown of the previous days match - they were still both interested in any tactical information that could help them in future matches.
To date, Guy had lost one match, and suspected he may have lost a second one; he couldn't remember how one match ended but knew that he hadn't been going well up until his last memory of the match.
The loss that he was certain about was against an unusual creature, called Slash. Originally Guy had taken his opponent to be a female - human - but after he had managed to see her at close quarters he realized that his original impression had been deceptive.
At any rate, her battle style was quite unlike anything Guy had seen before, and although her outwardly appearance was that of a thin, frail woman, she gave him a thorough hiding. He faced a perpetual bombardment of close-range weapons fire, from every direction imaginable, even above.
Guy had no way to combat her attack and within a few, incredibly painful, minutes the match was over.
He often played the match back in his mind, looking for a way to nullify her methods for the time when he might have to face her - or her kind - again, but he had never managed to find something useful.
As for wins, he'd lost track of the exact number, but it didn't really matter any more. He could now understand Jack's benevolence when Guy had first arrived; the days just blended into each other in the end, and slowly he could feel his drive and determination slipping away. His temper had become short and he no longer bothered to run through his key-note explanation of events to the new comers.
Let them work it out, he thought.
He was aware of all this, but found no way to rise above the symptoms and become the professional he could remember being on day one. Or maybe he just didn't want to; there didn't seem to be any point.
He was also aware of similar changes in the others that were around for any length of time. Visor had perked up since the arrival of Brianna, but Guy knew that, given time, both Visor and Brianna would relapse. It's this place, thats what it does to you.
Guy had also long ceased the search for a way out. He had never seen even a single weakness in the complex security. There was simply no way out. He still didn't even know what was outside, or even whether there even was an outside.
Guy looked up to see what B.J. was doing.
Oh, he's using the toilet.
He looked over to John and found John looking back at him. They gave each other an acknowledging nod. Guy was really keen to talk with John some more and find out more about his methods, but he knew there wasn't much point. It was just too difficult to maintain a conversation at the top of your voice, repeating every second thing.
On the occasions they had tried, it sounded to Guy as though lots of kids John's age, in his time-line, had electronic war simulators at home. This, apparently, was where John had learnt the strategies of deathmatching, but Guy found it hard to imagine a society that would give civilians access to such equipment. He also found it hard to imagine that simulations alone could provide the level of experience required in order to survive in the environment they were currently in, when there were experienced professionals failing to return from the practice match on a daily basis. So there were a number of grey areas yet to be resolved when it came to young John over there.
Guy turned his attention back to Visor and Brianna. It sounded, from Visor's half of the conversation, that they were talking DM strategies again, a topic Guy would dearly loved to be involved in, but he didn't want to jump in uninvited.
He picked up his helmet and checked the time unit inside, although he knew it wouldn't really indicate how much longer he had to wait for the days match - it could have been any time. There had already been a bot earlier that the morning, but it had only dropped off a manual for B.J. and then left.
They did that sometimes.
Thoughts drifted from the present to the past. What had happened to his friends in the time that had passed? Had the war against Hell been won... or lost? Had they given up looking for him, said their goodbyes and then forgotten he ever existed? Guy felt a need to be back on Earth, doing his bit for the human cause, but was helpless to do anything. It was an unpleasant feeling.
Was this place better or worse, he wondered? The conditions here were far better than they were back at home, he had to admit that, but the loss of freedom clearly did damage to ones mind. He could feel himself going slowly mad in the oppressive environment; the situation on Earth may have been impossibly bad, but they were for fighting for a good cause, and so there was a real camaraderie among the soldiers - a will to be victorious. But in this place, after a week or so the drive to continue was all but lost.
It was raining. Yes, he could remember now, there had been steady rain for several days.
Over past weeks Guy had been desperately trying to remember where he was the very moment he had been plucked out of his own reality and transplanted into this make-believe one, and while the answer always seemed to be right there in front of him, he could never grasp it. But just now, when he wasn't even trying to remember, the answer decided of it's own accord to hold up the white flag and surrender. Guy felt that was a really backward bit of designing; for the brain to remember things best when you weren't trying to remember.
The rain had left everything knee deep in mud, giving most of the demons an upper hand; a lot of them were floaters, and the rest were big enough to be not bothered by a bit of sloshing about. However, the human soldiers found it tough going, especially since the rain was still heavy, limiting visibility and ruining hardware.
Guy's unit had just taken control of an old UAC base that had been destroyed by the enemy, but there were still plenty of supplies around for those prepared to dig a bit.
Supplies were gold, so they dug.
Guy could remember building something of a shelter against one side of the old main building, the rest of his unit were gathered around a small fire they had created in the center, trying to keep warm until morning arrived. Some were attempting to get some sleep, but sleep was a luxury few could afford with the conditions as they were.
Guy was watching the perimeter through a pair of binoculars, searching for the usual signs of uninvited company; a flicker of light, an unexplained shadow...
And that was it. That's where his memory of the events ended. He wasn't even asleep when he had been taken! He wondered whether anyone had seen him disappear, or whether one of his soldiers simply looked up one time and he was gone. He hoped it was the former; he didn't want to be remembered as a soldier that couldn't cope.
Guy saw a flash of light out the corner of his eye. He looked around expecting to see that his entourage had arrived, but it was only the door to B.J's toilet room reflecting the bright room light as it opened.
It got Guy thinking about the whole situation they were in again. The long-held belief was that they were specially chosen participants in some sort of highly refined 'entertainment program', played out for benefits of a high-tech alien civilisation they had yet to meet. It was a plausible theory, and one that everyone accepted, but over recent days Guy had been questioning this belief. There were elements which simply didn't gel.
The idea of gladiatorial entertainment itself wasn't beyond reason. In fact, there were eras in human history - in his time-line at least - where such events were part of the culture, and even during the first Hell war - prior to the point where mankind had gained the upper hand, when the forces of Hell were still feeling pretty smug - there were stories of whole battalions being captured and forced to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of Hell's denizens.
This was the sole reason Guy still had the Cyberbrains on his suspect list, although he knew that apart from that lone fact, there was nothing else about their situation that could be attributed to his old enemy.
Where Guy had the problem with the entertainment theory was with the cultural circumstances where this line of entertainment was popular; they were always primitive cultures, whereas here, where they were now, the alien culture running the show had to be incredibly advanced. Far more than humans at this same point in time, so it was strange to find such a highly evolved, and advanced, culture falling back to such a primitive form of entertainment.
That alone could probably be considered a statistical deviation, but there were other issues, the main one being the lack of information given about this strange system. If their captors were truly interested in being audience to the very best deathmatch games possible, surely it would be in their best interest to supply participants with as much information as possible? But that was clearly not the case, a fact supported by the difficultly they had in communicating with each other in their prison building; the exchange of information was intentionally not encouraged.
Take day one for example; yes, they supplied a new combatant with detailed weapons information, but there was no other information given regarding aims, the format of a match, or the rules of the match, least of all an explanation of why.
So they had dumped Guy into his first - practice - match, totally unaware that he had several minutes with which to learn the layout and get a general feel for the environment. But then on day two, when he had now been expecting the grace period, there had been no such time allowed; they were straight into the match.
To Guy, it really felt like he was being studied rather than participating in some sort of ritualistic entertainment. They were being tested to see how they reacted to certain situations - learning time when you weren't expecting it, and then no learning time when you were - with the aim of... why? Guy couldn't think of a good reason why such a technologically advanced race would go to such incredible lengths to study the fighting behaviour of other alien species, all plucked from different time-lines, but his gut told him that he was on the path to the truth.
And if they had such a fascination for gladiatorial entertainment, why was the audience no where to be seen? In the other cultures, audience involvement had been a major part of the event, yet here it was all watched through 'invisible' cameras.
Guy knew they were being constantly watched, both in the deathmatch tournaments and in their confinement quarters, via small cameras which did some trick with light bending that allowed them to be invisible to the casual viewer. It was Visor who had made him aware of them; Visor had found a combination of visual filters - infra-red with a pulsing ultra-violet overlay - which actually let him see these 'cloaked' voyeurs. Even with those filters he could still only see the impression of them, but apparently they were all around, watching their every move.
Guy was glad he hadn't decided to just make a run for it back in the early days as he was so tempted to do.
Visor had identified two distinct types; those that were in a set location, limited to rotational movement such as those in their quarters and the ones positioned around the arenas to present the clearest view with the least number of cameras, and then there were the free roaming ones which generally followed combatants around each match.
Visor, early on, when the matches were easier, often told stories of how he had managed to get the roaming cameras lost, or stuck against the corner of a wall where it would shake around violently until it finally become unstuck and it would then rush around like a headless chook trying to find it's target.
Guy wasn't sure how far Visor's stories deviated from the total truth, but they were funny anyway and kept spirits up for a while.
If there was to be a way out of this place, Guy knew it would probably involve that piece of information - about being able to loose your tracking camera - but to date he had been unable to modify his helmet heads-up-display in such a way to show up these invisible watchmen.
Guy wanted to run his whole 'lab mice' theory past Visor, but Visor was still talking with Brianna. He'd been reluctant to bring it up in the past, partially because he knew the standard reaction to new theories, but also because he was never totally convinced himself. But the more he thought about it now, the more it sounded right.
For a brief moment, Guy wished he was that Strogg that had been with them earlier on; it had no trouble listening in on anyones conversation and contributing his own thoughts, even from right down the other end of the building! But that thought was quickly retracted; as right as the Strogg might have been on some things, it clearly didn't have a well balanced set of values. If physical perfection was the only thing to strive for, the human race would have dried up from self-pity aeons ago.
No, there was more to life than what that single aim the Strogg held so dear; enjoyment, fun, love, achievement... Guy felt that he could make a list long enough to be considered a book, things that the Strogg no longer had any comprehension of that yet held just as much value as anything the Strogg might consider important. In fact, the more Guy thought about it, the more wrong the Strogg's comments seemed to be. It was the Strogg which didn't understand life fully, not the human race!
And that's exactly what humans fought for, in all the time-lines. We were generally a quiet lot until someone started jumping around on our principles, and that was when the gloves come off and heaven help those doing the jumping. We'd taken it right up to the Cyberbrains when they thought they could mess with our Phobos outpost, and it sounded like we'd done the same thing with the Strogg in Visors time-line too.
It was a lesson worth other races learning; don't get the humans annoyed.
Suddenly Guy could feel himself pumped up again, just as he had been when he first arrived in this place, ready to take on the perpetrators of this outrage - single handedly if he needed to.
And in that moment, he resolved to dish out some payback on behalf of the human race. It seemed only fair.
Looking up, Guy was happy to witness the arrival of todays retrieval bot. He stood up and allowed himself the luxury of a smile.
The ride to the match had been with B.J. on this occasion, leaving the others behind for later matches. It wasn't to be a co-op game; B.J was along for his practice match while Guy was gearing up for what he expected would be a pretty tough round. He didn't know how many times he could win by the skin of his teeth, but was still feeling pumped up, ready to face whatever they threw at him.
He had decided to restart his search for a way out of the perpetual nightmare by experimenting with the environment a bit more; perhaps find out how many rocket blasts it could take before walls crumbled. There'd have to be a limit, surely.
During the lengthy trip, Guy had managed to have quite a good conversation with B.J., finding out more about his time-line and the Nazi group in particular. By the end of their journey, Guy had pretty much thrown out the idea that the Nazi's were behind everything, although B.J. still seemed to want to hang onto the theory for all it was worth.
B.J. was well meaning, and certainly committed in his war against the perceived enemy, but he really didn't seem able to comprehend the level of technical advance in place behind the walls they had been pulled into. It was beyond his level of understanding, and so he was switched off to reality, content to treat it like all was normal.
But it wasn't normal.
Guy had also had the chance to question him about John. Since B.J.'s room was right alongside John they weren't restricted by sound dampening, and so B.J. had a more accurate account of John's story.
Unfortunately for Guy, B.J. came from a pre-computerized civilisation and so he simply wasn't able to totally comprehend what John was talking about. His second hand version of John's story was, at best, difficult to follow.
Guy wondered whether perhaps B.J. and himself were from the same time-line, just different times? Perhaps they were all from different times, rather than different time-lines? He could remember asking Jack something like that once, but couldn't recall his exact answer. Thinking about it now, Guy liked that idea better. It was something to think about.
From what he could determine from B.J.'s version of events, John didn't actually have access to a military simulator as Guy had originally thought, it sounded more like an advanced form of entertainment. Apparently the aim was to beat the program, rather than learn the finer aspects of military training, and it was only a lucky side benefit that John had developed skills that helped him in their current encironment.
Increased reflexes perhaps? Or maybe an eye for projectile trajectories? Guy couldn't imagine that a piece of simple home entertainment alone could provide any of the requirements for armed combat, but there he was. Four matches down and as smug as ever.
The two of them stood in the clean, confined space of the off-loading bay, watching the tram they had just arrived on fold up and slide neatly into a hole in the wall. A thick plate lowered itself in front of the vehicle, allowing the tram to continue it's journey into the bowels of the complex without even the slimmest chance of some wannabe cowboy wondering off the tourist route. Guy had often thought about ripping the head off their escort bot and using it to hold the gap open, but knowing the way everything worked here, it was unlikely that the vehicle would begin the second part of it's journey until the plate was fully down and locked into place.
Of course, there was also the difficulty in ripping off the bot's head.
The bot motioned to Guy as a door slid open before them.
"Looks like my table is ready," he said jokingly to B.J.
"Yeah, good luck," B.J. offered in his usual deadpan delivery.
"I recommend you go along with things.. for now at least." Guy didn't expect to see B.J. again. It wasn't that he couldn't handle the bot - in fact, Guy expected B.J. could take the practice bot down using just his teeth - there was just a look in B.J.'s eye, and his whole approach to life, that said he had reached the end of co-operation. It wasn't in his nature and he simply couldn't handle it any more. "You do no one any good falling on the knife voluntarily."
Guy stepped into the ready room. "Yeah, right," he heard as the door closed.
Guy hated the ready room. Not for the room itself, but rather for the way his brain had a habit of freaking out in the confined space. He couldn't remember it being this bad back when he first arrived, but in recent matches it had been getting worse and worse. Even before the match started he'd be covered in sweat, the inside of his helmet visor fogging up, countered partially by a small fan that filled the helmet with an annoying buzz. His routine now was to grab the weapons and jump straight onto the pad; no messing around.
Guy stepped onto the pad.
He was off and running, even before the teleportation had finished.
"Tank Jr has entered the Arena," came the booming announcement.
Guy was actually relieved; he'd come up against a Tank Jr before and so he knew it was beatable. He also had a bit of an idea how to handle them.
"Tank Jr has entered the Arena."
"TWO TANKS?" Guy screamed. He took a breath, forcing the anger to pass quickly. There was little use dropping into a hissy fit at this point of the game, as much as he'd like to. It was time to reach into some of that resolve he had found earlier. After all, when he thought about the, admittedly few, limitations they had, a pair of Tanks seemed comparable to some of the other matches he had played - and won.
"Tank Jr has entered the Arena."
"DAMNIT! STOP THAT!"
It was very hard to keep a cool head now. Guy found himself just running as his mind went over all the problems presented by three Tanks, yet no solutions presented themselves. His thoughts jumped to what he had been thinking about earlier, back in the barracks, about testing the missile resilience of the walls, and while it was tempting to find a nice corner somewhere and dig his way out of the whole show, the three Tanks were unlikely to oblige.
Three Tanks! He did some quick sums, attempting to determine how much ammunition would be required to take down three Tanks, but quickly gave up. It was a lot.
He turned his attention to the environment; it was another of the organic arenas, mostly flat - for the benefit of the Tanks no doubt - and there was plenty of ammo laying around. The layout seemed to be relatively straight forward which made it easier to see it in his head, but it also meant there were limited possibilities for clever environment usage - this was going to be a straight out slog-fest.
He really didn't like the odds this time.
So far Guy had collected a grenade launcher, rocket launcher, and a railgun. The railgun had very little ammo, and he hadn't seen much of it around - no doubt wherever it was, it'd be a bitch to get to - but it was his preferred weapon of the group. He'd never seen a weapon like it before, but the pin-point accuracy and amazing power really sat well with Guy's preferred playing style. The bonus here, with three Tanks moving around, was that there would likely be times when he could rail a pair of them with one shot, a tactic which would hopefully allow him to wear them down as early and as quickly as possible.
Guy liked the grenade launcher, but saw it as more of a clean-up weapon, where the combination of a grenade shower with the inevitable panic in his opponent would combine to decisively finish off the match. A game plan he had used very successfully in recent matches.
The rocket launcher, on the other hand, Guy used only very sparingly. Unless he saw a situation just screaming for RL usage, he tended to save the ammo for use with the grenade launcher.
Subconsciously, this probably had a lot to do with that misplaced rocket that had ultimately lead to the death of Visor many matches earlier, but more generally it was a problem he had with it's design; it operated nothing like the UAC issue RL he knew and loved, and he felt clumsy using it. He couldn't count the number of times he had stared death in the face, waiting ever so patiently for the next rocket to load itself into the chamber - a process that was incredibly drawn out compared to the speed he was used to - and so he had made the decision early on to leave the RL out of action, unless the situation really called for it.
Thirteen seconds into the match, Guy spotted the outline of a Tanks through a shallow window in front of him; he fired off a railgun round - the shot entered the Tank in the side of it's head in a shower of sparks, which lit up the surrounding environment, before exiting on the other side and trailing off into the distance.
The reflex action of being hit so hard jerked the Tank backwards and out of sight.
First-sighting was a strategic imperative in the deathmatch environment, and Guy was annoyed with himself for having wasted it so frivolously. It seemed that he still hadn't recovered fully from the shock of being handed the task of three Tanks, a problem he was desperately trying to overcome before things got too serious.
But things were serious now; they knew where he was.
He ran up a wide flight of stairs, straight into an oncoming Tank which reacted a lot faster than he did; the trail of bullets ripped across his chest and into his arm, and the followup rocket anticipated his counter move almost perfectly, impacting on the floor only a meter away from where he had just leaped from. The splash impact multiplied his jump by a factor of three, launching him across the courtyard and hard into a wall on the opposite side.
For a brief moment things went Guy's way; the ground beneath his ten meter drop was a soft, throbbing organic mat, cushioning his fall and allowing him to slide off to the ground in one clean move. He hoped that the squishy goo he was now covered in wasn't corrosive.
Bullets filled the air from multiple directions, joined quickly by Guy's own.
He was getting hit irregularly now - mostly into his armor, thankfully, but he could feel the occasional round breaking through his protective layer and ripping into flesh. The drugs were doing their thing, but he knew their effect wouldn't last forever. He also knew that if he lost enough blood, there wasn't a drug around that could keep him upright.
The bullets were soon joined by rockets, everyone making their contribution, with Guy ducking and weaving in and out of pylons, trying to be hit by the least number of projectiles as possible. None, however, was an impossibility.
Guy finally found a Plasma Gun; his favourite weapon. Again, it reminded him of a similar standard issue UAC weapon, but seemed to be ever so slightly more powerful. He loved it. He had a store of clips already and so he was laying out streams of glowing blue plasma almost before it was in his hands.
For the first time in some minutes, the Tanks backed off a bit, although by no means entirely. He still had to keep moving - the Tanks understood the benefits of rocket splash damage and if he ever attempted to bunker down to try some sniping they would quickly manage to route him out. Speed was his real benefit; really his only one, and it'd only last as long as his body held together.
Of course, there was a mental benefit he had too; he knew that no matter what shape his body was in at the end of the match, he'd wake up the next day as good as new. Unless, of course, he ended up dying, in which case it was he probably only had a 50:50 chance of seeing the light of day again.
The thought of having a 50:50 chance of waking up after dying was an odd one.
And so he continued the dance, getting in a shot or two and then running for his life, hoping to find another safe spot. Even a single second of free time was enough to fire off a round. It would take a while, but it was a tactic that allowed the best chance of survival.
The railgun eventually ran out of ammo and he decided to toss it rather than be burdened with it's weight - the ammo for it wasn't easy to reach and after two aborted attempts to acquire some he decided it just wasn't worth it.
The first Tank went down in a rain of pineapples somewhere around the twenty minute mark. Guy saw no panic - witnessed no moment of enlightenment for the mostly mechanical creature as it's life passed away; there was no hint of a soul. It was simply alive, and then it wasn't.
Guy could feel the drugs starting to wear off, and pumping more in wasn't having the effect he needed. Maybe it was his turn to just let go. Who knows, maybe he'd be back tomorrow anyway, all forgiven. The pain made it a tempting decision, but for some reason he kept going. He knew he had the other Tanks close to the edge, so there was hope. Slim hope.
The ammo situation was looking bad. The arena was virtually dry now, apart from packs that were unattainable - requiring jumps that his body would simply not agree to - but he kept moving.
He was concentrating on one of the two Tanks at this point, having lost the other one in another part of the environment. He knew this one was on it's last legs, and the Tanks defensive approach suggested that it knew too. Guy followed it down into the bowls of the arena, a section entrenched in a cold red fog which carpeted the lower chambers to a height of several meters, limiting visibility to dangerously close distances. The frozen air felt good on his body, numbing some of the pain.
They were in a massive chamber now, the red mist making everything hard to see but the Tank's massive silhouette was unmistakable. Guy fired of his last remaining rocket which gently pushed it's way through the mist, leaving behind an intricately detailed disturbance of red swirls.
The impact was devastating, tearing the Tanks entire arm and shoulder away from it's body - missile launcher included - and tipping the stricken beast over onto it's side. Using it's remaining arm, it swung itself back around at Guy, the remaining gun ablaze with fire.
Guy's machine gun hadn't stopped firing, nor had he stopped running and diving around the chamber, trying to minimise the hits he was taking. Eventually his machine gun rang out it's empty sound, leaving Guy with the only option to fire off rounds of his shotgun from the other side of the area.
Guy could only hope that the Tank would give up it's life before his shotgun too fired it's final round, but it was not to be; it had fired it's final shot. Guy threw away the shotgun, leaving himself weaponless save for his Gauntlet.
Guy's resolve was gone, all dried up in the rain of gun fire and moist blood. He stopped running, fell down to his knees and allowed his body to soak up the attack, watching the sparks sprinkling across the faceplate of his helmet. It looked amazing, it really did.
It was a strangely comforting feeling, not know exactly when the armor would finally give out, but knowing that it would. Knowing that the pain was soon to be gone for good.
But then, the unexpected; the Tank's machine gun ran out of ammunition. Guy opened his eyes and for the first time he thought he saw one of the creatures shed an emotion. Surprise? Terror? Annoyance? It could have been any of them; no way to really know.
The Tank began to slowly drag it's massive body along the ground, throwing out it's good arm, digging it into the hard surface, and dragging it's limp body towards the dismembered rocket launcher.
Instinctively, Guy leaped up and began running at the disabled beast, his Gauntlet wound right back behind his head in anticipation of the impact he was going to deliver. But his body wasn't co-operating and soon he wondered if the effort was worth it. Beat this one and there was still another Tank lurking out there somewhere..
Maybe it was better to just let it be. After all, he had already excepted defeat, why ruin that frame of mind when it had been such a painful search to find? He stopped and stared for a second or two, watching the Tank drag itself along the ground, leaving an unsightly trench in it's wake.
His mind flew back and forth with conflicting emotions - run! stay.. run! stay.. - but eventually his heart won the battle; he was running again. But by now it was too late. He knew it was too late, but kept running anyway; there was no way to again find that peaceful sensation he had let slip away moments ago - things had to run their course.
As he ran towards the Tank, he heard a rocket launch from above and behind him. There you are, he thought to himself, I wondered when you'd get here. He stopped running and dropped his Gauntlet to the ground beside him, happy that it was finally all over.
The rocket sailed straight past him. In fact it wasn't even that close; five meters to his side and several meters above his head, even higher than the fog line. He watched with confused curiosity as it entered the fog layer and steadily made it's way down to it's real target; the dismembered Tank.
The Tank wasn't even aware of it's approaching visitor; it had finally reached it's missing arm and was bringing the launcher around in line with Guy when the rocket hit. The Tanks head took the full extend of the blast, tearing it almost totally away from the body, leaving it dangling under the motionless hulk of it's body.
Guy stood in wonderment for a moment, unable to comprehend the events he had just witnessed. He knew that the weapons of one Tank could not damage another Tank, nor could he explain why the other Tank had fired on one of it's own.
He turned around slowly to face his savior.
"Come on, lets go!"
Guy jerked back at the surprise of someone shouting in his face. A human!
"We've got about forty five seconds, MOVE IT!"
Guy was running now, still in shock, trying to put a name to the face. He knew this man, but could not for the life of him remember the soldiers name.
Suddenly he remembered.
"Yeah, take it easy, we're almost out."
It was his old room mate, someone Guy hadn't seen for a long time, and Jack had just saved him. But how?
"We've got to RJ up onto that ledge," Jack said, pointing to an overhang mid way along one wall and high above the fog line, as he handed Guy a spare rocket shell, "follow me!"
Jack ran ahead into the fog, leaving Guy behind a distance, when suddenly Guy saw him flying up through the mist, landing miraculously on the ledge he had just pointed out.
Guy kept running, looking for whatever device Jack had used but found only a solid wall before him. He backed off a way, beginning to feel the effects of shock fading away, replaced by quickening panic. He could see Jack looking over the edge, desperately trying to motion something with his rocket launcher, but Guy couldn't follow what he was trying to say.
Jack jumped off the ledge, landing heavily but neatly next to Guy.
"ROCKET JUMP UP THERE, NOW!" Jack screamed into Guy's ear. He must have been able to read the puzzled look on Guy's face; "Here, do exactly what I do... and get it right first time, there'll be no second go."
Jack took a few steps back, then ran forward, jumped, and fired his rocket launcher into the ground a moment after jumping. The splash impact launched him up onto the ledge as before, leaving Guy's mouth gaping open. Incredible.
Guy took a few deep breaths as he stepped back a distance. It was possibly the craziest thing he had ever seen, and yet, maybe due to the effects of mild panic or the drugs, it seemed somehow plausible.
Without even a thought, Guy took a few running steps, made the best jump he could and fired off the rocket at the ground beneath him. The bottom of his big UAC boots, being the only remaining armor on his suit still in original condition, took the blast comfortably and launched him towards the platform. Unfortunately Guy's flight was nothing like the elegant glide Jack had achieved - rather more like an awkward 'upward fall' - and it was only though luck and desperation that he managed to grab hold of the ledge at just the right moment to avoid falling back to the ground.
There were two pairs of arms pulling him the rest of the way up, one pair belonging to Jack and the other to a female soldier Guy didn't recognise. Once on the platform they told him to keep low and quietly slide as fast as possible through a small gap in the wall behind them.
As he slid through he could see a vast, empty field of orange - perfect orange - on the other side, completely devoid of detail or variation. It had a dizzying effect, but he had no time to come to terms with the vista as Jack was pushing him onward. Once they were both out, a moment passed until the girl followed them.
"Did they see us?" Jack asked her.
"I don't think so," the girl replied, "we made it."
"Phhhewee, that was close," Jack said, the first time Guy could recall seeing Jack with an ear-to-ear grin, a look mirrored by the girl as she pushed the a large piece of stone into the opening to cover their tracks.
"We better go, he looks in bad shape," she said. Guy could hardly feel his body now. He nodded, coughing out the words, "I agree."