Short Story: Between Worlds

The air percussed with bursts of fury and fire. Screams of the fallen pierced off-beats. Somewhere nearby, a chain gun was spinning up. It chattered persistence like angry hornets eternally dive-bombing an aggressor. Overhead, smoke parted, reveal the flit of chopper blades over a blinking belly light.

Seamus Mann, Captain of the Flying Vipers, whirled a pair of fingers in the air imperceptibly. All the same, they prompted shadows to slough from the darkness. The dim lights flickered, disturbances too fast to ever be focused. They ducked, weaved, snaked between burnt out cars, over-turned steel dumpsters.

Falling casings of the sputtering chain-gun formed a lit fuse in the night. It glinted and gleamed from the far-end of a spray of demon’s-fire. The impacts sparked fuel canisters, lit the foreground with explosions. Fire-light sputtered, finally revealing the Vipers’ bodies fully.

They kept low, carbine rifles and PDWs sweeping small arcs from their places in the diamond formation. In their center, kept low and covered, was a cowering figure. It half-fell, scrambled up, urged on Viper before and after it. It crossed light again, resolving further into the wired terror-fatigue of a peasant refugee.

Mann ordered the chopper down. The VIP fell-in, team after him. Mann and his partner and Lieutenant, John Findeberg, covered the team from either side of the doors. They piled in and ascended with the chopper, disappearing behind a flicker of smoke.

Across the team’s vision, “Mission Complete” appeared.

They emerged from the V-R headsets to the tread-milled floors of the stadium. The overhead lines feeding their electronics went slack. The noise-canceling headphones and aural VR gave way to the cheering crowd, coaxing them to normality after the jarring shift between worlds.

Mann relaxed to see their opponents doing likewise, however more sullen. He eyed the scoreboard, but if there’d been doubts, they weren’t his. He graciously congratulated the team, then planted a sloppy, wet one on Findeberg before the teams shook hands and hustled from the arena.

The cheering victory meshed seamlessly with the introduction of the next match, and after a quick shower, the Vipers made to celebrate and join the festivities. John and Seamus went along, drank and smoked their shares, deliberately catching the rest of the night’s tournament.

In the end, its outcome was less important than studying the games themselves, their players. All the same, Seamus had no doubts they’d make the championship. The team was sloshed now, but only two games remained ’til the championship.

Tomorrow, the Vipers would face London-based Churchill’s Heat. If history held, it would be a tough fight. Ultimately, the Vipers would win. It wasn’t arrogance. Seamus simply understood what made a team work well together. The SAS had done that for him, at least. More importantly though, John understood it. And Cammie and Cherry. And Mack and Jones.

They were all aware of it; communication. In-game and out.

That was what Seamus had brought to the table long, long ago, why he’d been made Captain. Before the Vipers ever went pro. Indeed, before they were the Vipers. To function well as a team in any setting, two things had to be certain; a chain of command and the assurance of no personal interference come game-time.

For the most part, that’s how things were. For Mann, the team, the league even, it was their no drug-policy. Not for fear of an edge but from its clouding the mind worse than any substance ever could. Exceptions existed, of course, but this one’s were so few as to be unworthy of mention until relevant.

2AM, Seamus escorted John’s stumbling-drunk form through the hotel suite door and to the bedroom. He shot down the cloying demands for sloppy sex, too sober anyhow. He insisted John sleep, slipping out in the mean-time to mix himself a scotch-rocks.

The suite door rustled the carpet, preceding heavy, tamping feet entering behind him. Seamus didn’t need to look; goons beside an equally goonish, rotund mafioso. These were the only types rude enough not to knock but smart enough not to kick the door down.

“This’ a private room. What d’ya want?”

An almost charming laugh. “Seamus Mann, Captain of the Flying Vipers, a team set to take the championship this year. A pleasure.”

Seamus downed his drink, poured another. He rounded on the men, confirming his suspicions entirely, and stepped to the counter between them. “You know who I am. I couldn’t give a cunt’s fuck who you are. I’ll say it again, this’a private room, what fuck d’you want?”

The mafioso eyed his goons. “Not going to offer your guest a drink?

“Guests are invited. You’re an intruder,” Seamus corrected.

The nearest goon laughed, “Like ‘e’d be able to do sum’in ’bout it any’ow.”

Seamus kept silent, awaiting the inevitable answer. Finally the Mafioso seemed to recognize his need to oblige.

“Very well,” he began. “You’ll lose your game tomorrow. Or I’ll return. You don’t want that.”

Seamus was profoundly amused. He laughed once, spine stiff, and threw down his scotch. He thumped it on the counter, resigned to the reality the man had faced him with. The man’s utter contempt echoed through the silence.

Seamus poured himself another, pushed past the goons to face the mafioso at arm’s length. “Yeah, aw’right. Be seein’ ya then.” He sipped his drink, never breaking eye contact, and swallowed. Then, with a deadpan, he eyed the door. “Now fuck off, Sally.”

The mafioso’s eye twitched. He nodded to his men, made for the door, hesitated there, “Lose, or I’ll be back.”

The door shut. Seamus smiled to himself.

The next night, he stood in the hotel suite’s kitchenette, waiting with glass in-hand and a bottle before him. It was as much a celebration as a eulogy. The Vipers were headed to the championship against Cambridge’s Castle Wrackers. Churchill’s Heat had put up one hell of a fight over a series of bomb-runs and S&D matches.

It was a well-earned victory, close, but even then Seamus would’ve been satisfied for that battle as an end rather than the upcoming championship. The Wrackers were push-overs. The Heat had the same spark of greatness the Vipers had. He almost felt it a shame to put them down. Then again, they fought well, and without hard feelings, that was more important in the league.

Seamus let John go out partying without him for a bit, kept him safe and occupied while he awaited for the mafioso’s manifesting. He hoped to get through it in time to drink too, celebrate, but the night wasn’t wasted so long as John remained safe.

The mafioso finally manifested across the suite from Seamus only a half-hour later than he’d hoped. The guy was almost-impressed that Seamus faced him so willingly. He smiled, nodded. His goons drew their weapons and fired. Smoke and plaster filled the air over wooden debris.

Seamus was gone.

The furthest goon dropped to a knee. An ethereal shimmer was swallowed by flashing steel. A blade punched through the goon’s throat, spray-painting the air with blood. Another breath. The blade disappeared. The remaining men reeled in terror. The ethereal shape withdrew. The blade flicked, decapitated the second goon. A final, resonant note of air and steel, relieved the mafioso of his upper-skull.

Bodies fell about, leaking blood and bodily fluids as the ethereal form re-solidified. Seamus set the blade aside to sip his scotch. He winked on a mil-grade HUD implant, engaged the comm-dialer, and spoke only his address and room number.

These weren’t the first idiots to have tried. He doubted they’d be the last. The SAS had taught him that, and more. Especially after the ghosting-Augs and gene therapy had ensured he’d never be able to do anything as poorly as a normal human. It was fine, he didn’t mind anyhow. All that gear was just going to waste in him otherwise. All that mattered was John and the team were safe.

He checked the time on his watch, showered. He returned to find plastic-suited people securing body-bags and tending to various fluids. With a scrawled check and a signed waiver, he checked his watch again; they’d been timely. He still had a whole night. That was most important. After all, like their communication, the team’s bond was key to their success.

Shame he couldn’t follow the philosophy himself.

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