An airborne timer blared out its thirty-minute warning over a barren dirt wasteland which had a single twenty foot wall dividing the arena cleanly in half. The sky was a dark overcast grey with thick fog above the trenches which zig-zagged and crossed reaching every corner of the massive desolate field. War cries echoed all across the arena and Alan Green lay in a muddy trench clutching his side as blood poured out from between his fingers. His assailant was just three feet away from him upside down feet against the trench wall and head in the mud. Both men were dazed from the concussion burst Alan released from his kit. Alan slid back further and worked to stand while releasing his grip on the sword slice to his side.
He rose his left arm towards his attacker and kept his hand open as a dagger materialized in his hand. Alan hesitated for a moment staring at this unconscious person partially afraid of what he had to do next; he never liked blade weapons, he always felt they were too personal. The dazed man twitched, and Alan lunged straight for his heart plunging the dagger deep in his chest. As it stuck he heard a great shlucking sound and felt weak resistance while the blade pierced flesh, then muscle, then bone, finally finding its home deep in the man’s chest cavity. The man violently awoke with a hiss of air leaving his body, he grabbed at Alan’s arms feebly trying to release the pressure forced upon him. His eyes bulged out of his head as he fought to remain alive, then, suddenly the man went limp and all of his muscles relaxed. Alan finally opened his eyes and jumped back from the man. He looked at him for a second before the man erupted into a burst of light and pixels, his body instantly gone and the information it carried flying away from him.
Alan sat back into the mud dropping his dagger and taking a deep breath. As he inhaled he felt a sharp pain to his side and instinctively reached for his sword wound, but when his hand finally touched it the bleeding had stopped and the wound was closing up. Alan took a moment to thank his nanomachines for working properly. He turned his left palm up and had his kit generate a map. A dull orange grid appeared hovering above his hand, in the top left corner were the specs of the terrain. He was in a 10 square acre dirt field with forty different trench networks to slog through; in the direct center was a large muddy cylinder which sat waiting to unleash whatever horrors were packaged inside it at the five minute mark. It was known for effectively wiping out every soldier on the battlefield…no one ever survived, even the “victors”, Alan grimaced. He scanned the map for platoon mates only four blue dots out of twenty-three remained, that left him and three others, Captain Franklin, Weapons Specialist Leary, and Corporal Davis. Alan activated the enemy filter to see how many his group was up against and his heart sank, they still had eleven units left, six preparing to engage the Captain, two on Leary, and another two had Davis on the run Alan had a decision to make.
He considered his options logically, even though deep down he knew he had already decided the instant he saw the map. Davis was a better war-fighter than him but then again so was most of his platoon, Leary had access to all the traps and extra firepower on this map, and the Captain…well the Captain taught him everything he knew about fighting, close quarters, how to use the kit as more than a weapon, and above all stealth combat. The Captain wasn’t just his platoon leader, he was a mentor. Alan was already moving towards the Captains’s dot on the map before he even formally decided.
Alan was sprinting through the trenches, mud splashing up with each stride he took. He looked like some laboratory abomination that might emerge from the endgame cylinder. Alan flew through the corners running down the passageways like a madman. The mud attempted to steal his boots from under him and he struggled to maintain balance as he waded through flooded trenches, but finally he arrived just forty yards away from the Captain’s signal. From here on Alan knew stealth is what was going to save him and the Captain. He took a few steadying breaths and readied himself to become a shadow one with the mud and grime that filled these trenches. He took a quick look at himself to make sure his camouflage fit his surroundings, he like the eight foot high earth walls all around him all shared the same deep red-brown color. Alan closed his eyes and applied a fresh handful of mud to his face and when he reopened them he was ready focused and deadly.
He proceeded slowly and with caution to the next intersection that was 10 feet ahead of him. Alan crouched low and quickly stuck his head around the corner, first left, all clear, then right, all clear. Straight ahead lay an 8 foot tall wall at the top of which were the killing fields where he planned to execute an attack from. He stood and walked right into the corridor he had just cleared and pressed his back against the wall in front of him. He pulled up the map and read it, right on the other side of this wall was the Captain standing directly in the center of what was meant to be a staging area for assaults, it was a circle with a fifty foot diameter. Leading into this circle were six trenches, four of which were occupied by the enemy all of them slowly closing in like wolves sauntering up to a wounded animal.
Alan had to act now, he took a few steps away from the wall, and used his kit to generate a hook and rope system to help climb the muddy surface, one toss up and it sunk in. Alan gave the rope a test pull and it stuck. He ran and jumped to give himself a head start, before he knew it his shoulders were already at the top of the wall. He pulled as hard as he could on the rope and dug his feet into the wall as he heaved himself up and out of the trench, it was more difficult than he had hoped but he was up and out. He allowed his rope system to disintegrate. Alan looked around on his belly, this field really was desolate, save for a massive twenty foot all-encompassing wall off in the distance, he started to crawl towards the Captain’s signal. On his map the enemies were closing in on the Captain. As of now they all were fifteen feet away from him, and Alan was ten feet away from the ledge of the wall that overlooked the whole thing.
Alan still wasn’t sure on his plan of attack maybe just a distraction? Maybe try that crazy airborne attack his assailant had tried? None of his ideas seemed appealing, but he couldn’t think now he had to act. Alan began to slow his crawl at three feet from the edge. The Captain was right in the middle of the circle and the enemy just ten feet away forming another circle right around him. From his vantage point Alan saw everything and his course of action was clear. All four enemies rose their swords in unison ready to dispose of the Captain, who just stood there unflinching waiting for his opening as they closed in. Alan stood and jumped as far as he could towards the mass of predators, a sword generated in his left hand as he came down. Alan sent two concussion bursts straight into the air and that was all the opening the Captain needed. By the time Alan had dispatched one enemy the Captain had already cut down four. The final soldier charged towards Alan sword pointing straight for his heart. Alan parried the thrust and moved to counter, but the enemy had recovered quickly and kicked Alan in the chest. Alan fell back into the mud dropping his sword.
The enemy soldier slowly approached the winded Alan and rose his sword for the final blow. Alan looked toward the Captain wondering why he hadn’t helped at all. The Captain simply stared coldly back at Alan saying something he couldn’t quite hear. As the blade came down Alan understood the mouthed word, “Move!” Alan rolled to the right and the enemy’s sword just grazed his left shoulder. The attacker disintegrated his sword forming a knife and charged at Alan with a stab. Alan generated his own knife and parried his enemies away from his body. Alan reacted with a haymaker to the left temple of his foe. The enemy soldier dropped like a ton of bricks and lay there motionless.
Alan looked towards the Captain who sternly nodded him on without saying a word. Alan fell to his knees and rose his knife high in the air yelling in frustration as he brought it down. Just as Alan’s knife made contact with the enemy soldier, so too did the enemy soldier perforate Alan’s heart with a knife he had hidden. Life left both men, and Alan fell backwards in the mud. The Captain slowly walked up to Alan and stood over him looking down. The Captain generated a countdown timer from his wrist kit and looked at it. The last thing Alan saw before he closed his eyes was his mentor disapprovingly shaking his head at him as the timer read twenty minutes remaining. Alan’s body disintegrated and the Captain took a quick assessment of who was still alive in the platoon. Leary was gone, but he managed to take out an enemy with him, all that remained was Davis and two enemies. One was on Davis’s tail, the other prepared to ambush him, and they were all headed straight for the Captain. He couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
Captain Franklin set up a trip wire at the entrance where all the men would come through, he then sat a few feet back, sword in hand and waited. Sure enough Davis rounded the corner and came barreling for Franklin. The Captain motioned Davis to jump and he did, the soldier fresh on his heels did not and fell face first in the mud. Davis spun and drove his sword into the body of the fallen man killing him. The second soldier flew from atop the trench planning to land his sword right in Davis’s skull but the Captain swatted him away knocking him into the ground. The remaining soldier backed into a corner as Davis and the Captain approached him. The man batted at the two victors like a frenzied wounded animal but the Captain and Davis did not yield. They both pulled back their swords in unison and skewered the man. The arena let out its ten minute warning chime and suddenly the entire field vaporized in a bright intense light.
Alan opened his eyes and looked around his liquid stasis tank, his body was hooked up to various electronic sensors, he inhaled through a breathing mask his body suspended in a conductive fluid. Alan watched as the rest of his platoon began to awaken in their own tanks. One by one the body stasis tanks opened and the men came pouring out on the floor in a wave of their suspension fluid. Captain Franklin began to assemble his men.
“On your feet!” He barked.
The Captain as always didn’t hesitate for a second, thought Alan. All the men rose immediately and stood at attention as Franklin began his routine post combat portal breakdown.
“Clean-up and rendezvous in the de-brief room in twenty minutes.” ordered the Captain.
Alan smirked to himself as he exited the room. It never failed after every single mission the Captain would always address the company in the same manner. He bet the Captain even replicated the same pitch every time he gave those orders, practically robotic. By the time Alan was suiting up in his uniform the haranguing of his field conduct by his comrades had already started up. Classic locker room bullshit, he thought.
“Woaaahhh Alan, big man rookie, with his, what is it, third portal kill?” said Davis.
“No no no, I believe this may be his fourth!” replied Leary snarkily
“Hey Hey, how about last mission where he tied up those retards in the desert?” laughed Ramirez
“Yeah I killed people, so what I’m good punks!” retorted Alan. “You apes better hurry up if you want to make it to debrief on time” he added.
Ugh that was horrible, what the hell was I thinking?! Punks apes, goddamn it those were terrible comebacks! Why am I so stupid in front of them? Alan skulked as he walked to the debrief room.
Alan enjoyed the company of the men in his platoon regardless of the insults they could come up with. They really were just a bunch of goons when it boiled down to it. They could never truly understand why Alan avoided killing so much. After all, yes he was in the military, but he was leadership caste through and through. He was just serving his time waiting to earn his spot on the national council. I’ll finally shine there, no machismo to work through, all diplomacy, I can make some change for the betterment of all nations maybe even unify them, that’ll be the day, he beamed.
Alan’s position in the unit was unique, unlike the rest of his comrades who would fight for the rest of their lives he only had a small sentence to serve. A four year portal combat minimum before he could begin to transition into the leadership caste. The Captain was a stern reminder to Alan to be grateful for his early retirement from service. Alan estimated the Captain to be somewhere in his 60’s. An age unknowable from looks alone because Captain Franklin simply did not look a day over 20. Alan could see it in his eyes though; a grizzled knowing look that had seen years of killing.
The Captain’s remarkable appearance was not due to his austere lifestyle. All children of Lazora were injected with an anti-aging hormone during their state education making age irrelevant. This hormone was able to slow the body’s metabolism just enough to greatly prolong life. Unfortunately, the biggest issue accompanying extended mobile living was the mental capacity of those who reached the later stages in their lives. Eventually these people just couldn’t retain any more information. As they approached their mental limit they would start to live in their own world, one made exclusively of memories. These people who could serve no purpose to better the nation were promptly decommissioned once identified and shipped off to a retirement zone. A “garden of paradise” Alan thought.
Alan doubted the Captain would get any of the proper recognition he deserved. He would fight until he couldn’t anymore, slowly descend into madness, be identified, decommissioned, and forgotten by history, an old dog of war, nothing more. Alan wouldn’t let himself be forgotten by history he’d serve his time and make a name for himself among the leadership caste. He vowed to be one of the few who would be remembered. Alan snapped out of his thoughts as he entered the debriefing room. A neat large bright cold gray room with a high vaulted ceiling and a circular desk in the middle for the whole platoon to sit at… everyone in the platoon was already seated and they looked on in ridicule as Alan found an empty space.
“Who’s late now bitch?” Snapped Ramirez.
“Nobody.” Interrupted the Captain entering the room
A formidable man, five foot, eleven, but built like a tank, with crisp silver-blue eyes which took you in and enveloped you all while piercing straight through you. He was everything you might imagine an elite commander to look like. One punch from him would easily break ribs
“Listen, today was not how I expected this combat scenario to play out, WE have trained SO hard for this day and I’m not comfortable with a victory of this caliber. Have you forgotten this nation’s tenants?” He plainly stated
“FORTITUDE, ENTERPRISE, SOLIDARITY!” erupted private Jones immediately followed by his fellow privates.
The entire room turned to face the private, Captain Franklin allowed a smile to come across his face.
“Right you are Jones, you and the rest of the Privates are dismissed.”
The privates exited the room.
“The Fuck? We worked damn hard out there.” Complained Ramirez
Franklin snapped, he was waiting for this, a little dose of fire and brimstone to strike professionalism back into this platoon, his eyes narrowed as he stared straight at Ramirez.
“THAT IS IT! NONE OF YOU HAVE BEHAVED LIKE WARFIGHTERS I’VE TRAINED. I’M ASHAMED OF EVERY ONE OF YOU. THERE WILL BE GREAT REPERCUSSIONS FOR TODAY!” Screamed the Captain
The Captain pulled up a quick film breakdown of the battle as he continued.
“THE FIRST, of many issues we encountered today was a lack of self-preservation, too many of you recklessly charged in, this battle was a stark difference from what we’ve encountered during normal entertainment skirmishes! I’ve told you this so many times before, we were fighting against Quaria today! There was a lot at stake on this fight! Even though we were in the portal the enemy team has died, executed by their countrymen as part of the agreed upon terms for this battle. That could have easily been our platoon if we didn’t get lucky. The resources that were wagered on this battle between Quaria and our nation are invaluable to our survival, and you are all damn well lucky the rules for today’s engagement only allowed for concussive bursts and swords!”
The entire platoon kept their gaze fixed on the Captain unflinching. A quick image of Alan glancing at his combat map appeared on the screen.
“SECONDLY some of us allowed emotion to influence our tactical decisions, this is unacceptable. We’re all professionals here and if I see any one of you making an emotional decision in combat again I will personally put you down.”
Again the platoon remained stone faced, Alan however had a look of distress across his face as he felt his cheeks ignite with embarrassment.
“Battle reports will be sent to your drives, Sergeants make sure they all know their shit before the next encounter. I want you to think about what happened today, enjoy the “party” our nation is throwing for you” he said with a false overbearing grin” because procedures will be changing and I will ensure that we perform at the level we are capable of…DISMISSED!”
The soldiers still remained uneasy and dispersed each heading towards their respective quarters to prepare for their victory party, Alan as usual lingered behind.
“Captain I’m so sorry about today, I just couldn’t stop, you’ve taught me everything I know. If anyone could’ve pulled us out of that mess it was you, I knew that you had the tactical and combat skill to-“
“ENOUGH GREEN! You do this after every match and I’m sick of it, you’re better than this and I won’t tell you anymore, sentimentality will bring you down! You need to be out for blood but you just can’t get your damn conscience out of the way. You think about the enemy too much what you need to do is use your will to survive! You always show this pathetic regret when you purge someone from the portal. Do you want to go back on the wall?! Because I can put you there! This is a reward, the portal is where the best go and if you’re not cut out for portal combat then I will be damned sure to send you where you belong, do you understand me lieutenant?!”
“Yes sir.” Alan said monotone
“Get out of my sight.” Snapped The Captain
Alan returned to his quarters, deflated, scared, reliving the battle and thinking back to his time on the wall. He remembered the smell of fresh dirt… a barbaric place where your enemies didn’t explode into a bright pixelated mass, but just sat there, bloodied, decomposing bruised mutilated, it was too much, too real, he could never go back there. He tried to wash the memories away, cleanse his mind. He went to the bathroom and washed off whatever stasis fluid remained then stood staring at his reflection in the mirror. He was still quite formidable looking despite his reduced exercise regimen standing a solid 6 feet with a dense and cut muscle structure. Alan found himself wondering why his comrades didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved. He really looked at himself in the mirror staring into his own piercing blue eyes and temporarily lost himself… he was there again, at the wall.
Outside the wall was an expansive wild land with forest as far as the eye could see. On the immediate exterior of the wall there was about a mile of buffer region where no trees grew. The buffer zone was littered with the corpses of enemy and comrades alike. Punctuating the field was wreckage from numerous primitive vehicles. Flimsy looking transports on large rubber wheels, and more formidable turtle-esque type weaponry with a single large cannon on them equipped with auxiliary turrets. On the far end near the tree line sat numerous mortar pits, and metal barricades were strewn around the wall’s buffer region providing cover and preventing the enemy vehicles from advancing. Then there was Alan, who stood amid the chaos perplexed by his first victim. All sounds trailed off, he could only hear the muffled sounds of gunfire and artillery. Screams of agony loudly cried out from all around. The victim Alan stared at was some scraggly kid who by no means could be past 16 years old. His eyes were sunken in, and he was emaciated to the point where his ribs and spine were blatantly visible.
The rifle which this skeleton child clutched appeared larger than him. Shoeless and frail, the people fighting Lazora on the wall were nowhere near in appearace to their newsreel portrayal. Those people were massive, standing at 8 feet tall, stronger than any Lazoran warfighter could ever hope to be… but these people they were nothing like that. These people, they were starving, feral even, they must’ve been driven completely mad by the radiation out on the wastes beyond Lazora’s great borders. Why else would they attack us? thought Alan.
Suddenly, another feral popped up and ran at him firing off a rifle sporadically. Alan flew backwards to the ground brandishing a pistol and firing as he fell with each shot hitting center mass of his attacker. The feral crumpled to the ground. Alan got on his knee synthesizing a sniper rifle and started picking off combatants he saw in the distance. He had racked up seven more kills when another feral tried to choke Alan from behind with a wire. Alan rolled down and lunged forward flinging the feral over his shoulders. It got up quickly and wildly charged at Alan, but before it could close the distance to land a punch Alan had already stepped forward and threw a punch of his own making contact with ribs. He felt the body give under his strike, he heard and felt ribs cracking, the feral hit the ground hard and Alan beat it mercilessly until it remained a motionless bloody pulp. Alan began to feel a strange satisfaction staring at this new mass of blood and bone. He thought about how quickly those first nine kills went and began to crave more. He was looking towards the tree line now with new-found resolve and he let out a guttural roar as he charged in synthesizing a large machine gun from his kit.