Short Story: Triggermen

Spotlights threw their beams and heat across two-rows of computers, situated back-to-back before pinstriped Racer chairs. The high-power LAN was accented by LED peripherals that inflected slight hints of color over the otherwise bright white. Beyond them, along the three sides of the arena, the crowd roared in, riled by the convention taking place outside. They sat in their seats as restless and bloodthirsty as any crowd could be. Cube-like displays of flat-screen televisions hanged scatter-shot from the ceiling, ensuring no-one missed a second of the mayhem about to commence.

Slideshow of teams about to enter the arena with short bios and photographs flickered past. Digital banners ceremoniously proclaimed, “Triggermen World-Champion Clan Match: Icewind [ICWND] vs Phantom Cobra [PCBRA].” Triggermen, arguably the greatest E-Sports title ever created, had grown from a few groups of fanatical fans to millions of players, and countless clans, in only a few short years. The first Triggermen championships forever changed competitive gaming.

Mechanically, the game was nothing special; simple team or free-for-all game modes, and a few others more cult-favorites than competitive. The real prize was the immersion. Triggermen managed to suck a player in, as if they were really there, fighting for base-rights, hostages, or bombs. Either from the expertly crafted-atmosphere, the absorbing environments, or the pitch-perfect sound effects, there was something about Triggermen that had captured every player and transported them to a new world.

The two teams filed in. Cheers nearly staggered them. Some players waved or made vague gestures of gratitude or love. Others remained straight-faced, unaffected, too focus to let the crowd gain purchase in their minds. They took their seats, fitted their headsets, and keyed in their credentials. With their profiles loaded, each player chose their load-out and prepped for game-play. The start counter began at 10, prompted hands to make their last, minute adjustments.

Among the teams was Brandon Dodgson, also known as BurntVenom, or just Venom. It was only luck that his gamer-tag had slotted him a place on a team where Venom actually made sense, though he hated the first part of the ages-old gamertag. None of that fronted Venom’s mind though. Like always, Triggermen had completely taken over. He sat amid the rest of Phantom Cobra, taunted by into a rabid fury by a downward tick of a digital clock; “3” coursed fresh adrenaline through Cobra. “2” readied them for bloody gun battles, flowing improv-strategy, and hostage rescue. “1” poised them forward, ready to beat Icewind to their hostages and back to base first.

The teams found themselves at opposite sides of a large map, lined up like their seats in the long dissolved area. “0” flashed as boots hit dirt and beat a cloud of dust with headlong-sprints, Venom among them. He knew the map well, better than most; three, main paths were laid out between the two bases. Cobra’s hostages were sequestered inside the opposing base, just behind Icewind’s spawn. A few shortcuts here and there cut diagonal paths between main through-ways to give players ambushing options– or ambushee options.

Venom knew the cuts well, but he wasn’t about to start the shit-storm of close-quarters fighting. He kept his sights forward, broke into pairs to assault the three, main paths. Slicer was with him; the only girl on the team, and more ballsy than most of the other guys. She insisted on being called a tomboy, wearing the label as something of an achievement. When Slicer’d joined Cobra, Venom cared less about her genitals than if she’d be an asset. A few matches later, she’d smoked the rest of Cobra in 1-vs-1s– Venom hadn’t let anyone else cover him since. She was always at his side, he at hers, and this championship wasn’t going to be any different.

They sprinted through the foliage of the first path, followed its decline, and slowed near its mid-point. They vaulted over a fallen tree, dropped into cover between it another, knowing the play. They’d run it more times than they cared to count. Venom covered slicer with his rifle as she slipped over the tree beside him, shouldered her way along a ruin’s to the short-cut’s opening. She crouched at the passage’s mouth jutting from the jungle around them, and slapped down a proximity explosive.

The first sounds of gunfire erupted in the distance. Slicer hopped back into place beside Venom. Someone on Cobra radioed “C” was breached.” Venom ignored it, B-route was his. So long as they did their job, everyone else would do theirs. He vaulted over the tree as Slicer had, repeated her actions at the mouth of the passage’s opposite side, then knelt to cover Slicer’s advance.

She sprinted past the passages, Venom on her tail. The sloping ground continued for a quarter Klick, leveled out in a low brook gurgling with a shallow current. A few tall stones and toppled trees scattered around the area provided cover. Venom dropped into a crouch behind a stone, angled sideways to see the path forward. Slicer threw herself to her belly, crawled for the cover of tall reeds along the brook’s far-edge.

Rifle fire chattered over the low booms of explosives and shotguns. “A” was being fought for, hard, “B” seemed desolate. There was no way to be certain I-W wasn’t lying in wait, or worse, causing a distraction to extract their hostages. Venom and Slicer could only wait so long before forced to advance on I-W’s base, and their own hostages. When that time passed, they knew of only one way to play it.

Venom was out of cover in his crouch, weaving a random zig-zag to keep anyone watching from predicting his movements or hitting him with gunfire. When he reached the far-side of the brook’s clearing, Slicer jumped up and sprinted for his side. She crouched again beside him, followed in-step to begin the forward advance toward IW’s base.

The ground sloped up, a perfect place for an ambushing sniper to wait for them to appear. Slicer dropped prone, inched upward along the left side of the trail. Venom mirrored the movements at the opposite side of the path. Slicer’s head peeked over the rise. A distant rifle barked. Debris dusted the air a few feet forward. Slicer inched back down, heart racing. Venom knew what to do: it had to be him. The only way to force the sniper to shift his aim would be for him to run– without that split second misdirection, Slicer couldn’t get a shot off.

“On three,” she whispered. “One.”

“Two.”

“Three!”

Venom was sprinting in his zig-zag. Erratic barks traced his path forward. He bobbed and weaved in the open, no cover in sight. A lone shot rang out and the sniper-fire went quiet. A kill fed over the reel of player names above an audible rise in the crowd’s roar. The pair regrouped, went in guns blazing. Muzzle flashes lit darkened corners of I-W’s bunker-base. The crowd’s din rose with each animated spray of blood or sound effect of death. The pair littered a pair of bodies with lead, and with a quick command, the hostages ran for Cobra’s base.

Venom slapped in a new mag as someone spawned before him. His pistol out, murdered the guy before he could react. Sweat beaded on Venom’s brow as he sprinted after the hostages, pulled ahead to clear the path. They made for C, trampling over bodies of both sides for the narrow short-cut back to B. Slicer ran Vanguard, Venom one-shotting an I-W rifleman with his back turned. The darkened passage gleamed at both ends from the daylight scattered over the jungle and its ruins.

“They’re on our tail,” Slicer said, hustling out onto B route.

A burst of fire swallowed her words. She dropped prone, rolled sideways. Venom wanted to stop, knew he couldn’t. He led the hostages nearer toward Cobra’s base– almost there. Slicer was up, rocketing after him. The first proximity explosive went off. A pair of names popped up on the kill-feed. Slicer swiveled, laid suppressing fire on the path’s center. Another pair of I-W troops appeared. Their fire whizzed past Slicer, aimed at Venom’s hostages. She growled, tossed a grenade.

Venom stopped at the doorway to their base, heart pounding. Slicer back-stepped toward him, firing. The first hostage hit the rescue threshold and the first I-W soldier appeared. Venom splattered his digital blood across foliage. The second hostage hit the rescue zone, Venom forced to reload. Slicer kept her eyes forward, blasted the last I-W that tried to take advantage of Venom’s state.

The last hostage hit the rescue zone and the screen popped up with “Mission complete.” Cobra were instantly on their feet, headsets off. The crowd roared, “Co-bra! Co-bra!” Slicer and Venom leapt, hugged. She kissed his cheek with a giddy laugh, and hugged another team-mate. Cobra shook random hands with I-W between monitors, now world champions with more than a few grand to remember the win by. Venom didn’t care so much for the money or the title, he was in it for the game– though he wasn’t sure he’d ever wash his cheek again.

Bonus Poem: Named Her…

Mythos of war,
cries out for more,
with a viral pathogen,
that afflicts all that’s human.

It is not of this earth,
but sours its worth,
a genocidal concoction,
the worst man-made toxin.

There are but a few,
to save me and you,
but brow-beaten, betrayed,
their world’s been frayed.

With one foot in the grave,
they fight to save,
even hatred’s ferocity,
from unthinkable atrocity.

Fight for what’s right,
but know now their plight,
for we’ve no hope unless,
upon them freedom we bless.

It is a weapon,
insidious to threaten,
the curious nature,
of our genetic paper.

A drop of blood,
with science-like mud,
a dash of forethought,
and by death you are caught.

You need not inject it,
nor take a hot hit,
just breathe in,
or absorb through skin,

And you’ll be brought down.
Your genetics a clown.
For mad-men hath built her,
named her Syphon Filter.

Short Story: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

By day, they were no more than a group of nerds– social outcasts banded together from their mutual trait of having been exiled from the other cliques of the standard, American high-school. By night however, they were two psionics, a tank-built soldier, a sniper, and a combat medic whom specialized in healing their wounds. Their goal was not to gripe about the bully of the day, or become enveloped in social commentary on their less-enlightened peers. Instead, they came together for one reason; to game.

When they entered the basement where the walnut-wooded table with its soft, velvet top, resided, they were instantly transported to a universe both similar and so unlike their own. Each night their surroundings were different. At times they might be slogging through a scot-like bog, ascending great nordic-dwarfing mountains engulfed in blizzards, or even delving deep into a labyrinthine bunker of blood and danger.

To the casual observer their D20s were just curiously-shaped number cubes, but to them they were their Gods. Its rolls were the Gods’ words, commandments they were bound by honor to follow whether through great success or unimaginable misery. With each toss, they might find themselves in mortal peril that even the most clever of schemes could not correct. With one mistake, they might doomed, slain before they could react, or else they might defeat their enemy, scour its corpse for loot.

To them, the game was life, the automated die-tracker built-in to the table the oracle of all things good and evil. The randomized, procedurally-generated scenarios eternally crawled from the table’s speakers and the Game Master’s, synthesized, female voice to give narration to the landscapes that rose and fell before them in their Augmented Reality glasses. Each step, breath, and move was tracked in real-time before them as though they were there.

When the tank’s roll came up positive, combat began with him in the lead. His avatar so curiously resembled him sans the full-body armor it wore. Like it, he was enormous; a giant, fleshy redwood that lumbered through space-stations, across foreign planets, and along hidden trails to combat encounters. Like him, his primary weapon– a shotgun– was big, loud, and intimidating. In reality, the soldier was little more than a giant with more heart than flesh– but this wasn’t real-life, that was the point.

Invariably, behind him the Psionics would be scanning the horizon with their sub-machine guns. Whether it was a jungle, ice-field, or even open desert, they’d both be in single-file behind their leader. There was only the smallest hint of a ever-present field of super-opaque blue around them, an effect of their psionic barriers interacting with their armor’s shields. The shimmer told of powerful psychics ready to manipulate sub-atomic matter at a moment’s notice, unleash hell on any would-be attackers.

To that end, the combat medic would be second to last, always with her assault rifle shouldered to suppress any enemies and head for cover. When the others’ shields failed, or the tank-like solider drew too much aggro, she would lay down fire, rush to aid with medical tools, and keep death’s scythe at bay.

Meanwhile, the sniper at their rear-guard would never falter. Her long-rifle was steady, attached bi-pod waiting to be deployed or her light-bending cloak activated to make her invisible to the naked eye. Then could she duck down, bob, or weave through the enemy advance to gain the high-ground, out flank them. Even outside of combat she was ready to sneak ahead of the others, leave the rear-guard to the medic to take up over-watch on a ridge. There she could observe and mark enemy positions and patrol-routes on the over-head, A-R map accessed in real-life by a simple button press on the side of their A-R glasses.

When things finally kicked off, be it from crude, synthetic life-forms; their more-advanced, less obvious android counterparts, or any of the other multitudes of human or alien pirates, mercenaries, or rogue soldiers, they were prepared. The tank’s job, his duty, was to keep the others safe, lead them to victory. With a howling war-cry he’d boost their various stats to increase their resolve, initiative, and stamina, then sprint headlong into the furthest cover forward to take aim with his shotgun and blast their adversaries apart.

Behind him the Psionics would further buff the groups’ stats, spray SMG bursts at the enemies, or manifest elements in their hands to hurl at clustered or individual enemies. Beside them, the medic kept her aim true, ready to bolt and heal at a moment’s notice while her rifle barked with muzzle flashes, spit fire at already-doomed enemies. The few that crossed the sniper’s sights stood no chance, especially when her cloak was still engaged to increase her damage. Even at full health, a single-round from her rifle might strike them down, eliminate the threat altogether.

On the inside, they were more than “nerds,” more than any, singular moniker could apply to them, really. They were a well-oiled military machine, a five-man army with all the fire-power, cunning and honor of even the most fabled war combatants. To see them outside, one would never believe that they had mastered the virtual arts of infiltration, matter manipulation, weaponry or medicine. But such is the deceptive nature of the world. The five needed no approval from those outside the universe they inhabited outside their own. They needed only to rely on each other, both in and out of game, were all the stronger for it.

It is in the nature of the man, like the gamer, to band with those that best compliment their qualities and short-comings. In true gamer fashion, they settled disputes in-game and out with honor-bound duels– either of words or weapons. Even with the latter, no-one was so stupid as to cut the throat, go for the kill, lest they wish the game to end for everyone. Their almost civilized-brutality might have frightened those outside the circle, but the five were well-aware of that.

They were better for it, always respectful for fear of incurring wrath and having their honor-challenged by one whose skills were less advanced. Otherwise, like the game, attacking one meant bringing the full-force of the team against them. Outcast or not, the solider especially was not one to take such attacks lightly. Then again, there were few who would dare to face them at all. At that, they emanated an air of confidence, because– as the adage goes– appearances can be deceiving, and that most certainly applied to them.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Shadows to Run

Decker?
More like Drekker;
A pile of festering filth in the night,
That’s rotted and writhing just out of sight,
from a neural-shocked matrix dump made out of light.

Corporate stooges, suits and wage-slaves,
all for creds from the brazen and brave,
he who’s in shadows runs to their grave
but is never en-chained nor known to be knave.

A ballad of futures where fortunes forgot,
those on the bottom that secured them their spot.
Is it a vision, a feature, a nightmare, or not?
Or is it our future on our heels that is hot?

The anarchic flux of states and of coin,
all at the mercy of the soft corporate loin.
For the common man it’s little but a kick to the groin,
a star-hot, bright visage, they’re never to join.

Magic bejeweled an eclipse of two worlds,
that joined at both tops and bottoms unfurled,
enmeshed to give birth to a sixth now hurled,
through death and destruction, the fire it curled.

If you’ve a long hallowed late-night to run,
beneath sewers and brewers, the setting sun,
don’t forget to keep your wits out for some fun,
‘neath the corporate pants of an blinded old nun.

For the night never tires,
nor ends before dawn,
but the sun it is setting,
and you’ve shadows to run.