Duel

June 18, 2004

story by smilebringer

“Fuck”
Brian “Slash” Fowler let out a harsh breath, ghostly white in the cold early-morning air. He was very mad at himself.And for good reason too. He should know better than to use the alt-fire of the flak cannon at point-blank range. He, of all people. They graffiti “Slash 0wnz!” in flourescent red textures on the neighborhood LAN-party deathmatch maps, for crying out aloud.
The price was a straight 50 points off his health level.

Fuck
The pale white walls of his basement room blinked back at him in blank indifference.

He couldn’t help it, though. He never liked using the scroll-mouse to cycle weapons. And a one-on-one, with Damean set to Invincible, needed everything to work perfectly – no room for even a hair-line imperfection. Brian tightened his grip on the mouse, clammy from sweat, and scrambled off to the nearest Medikit drop-point. He couldn’t remember having played Damean before, definitely not at this difficulty setting. He didn’t play all that much with bots anyway. He had the utmost scorn for single-player junkies. Bots are for wimps.

[nextMedDrop] [timeWait] [timeWait] [nextWayPoint] [timeWait] [nextMedDrop] Wimps? What do you know about courage, ‘Brian’?

DM-Eternity was a desolate place. This was one deathmatch map acclaimed for its sprawling ruins of military installations – the remains of a war-torn land. Shredded bomb-shelters, missile silos, ad-hoc graves with hurried eulogies, and grenade shrapnel wherever you dared to hide. There were many, many places for an ex-marine to have nightmares. And to wake up screaming, in the cold darkness. It was a lonely place too, with the wind playing a constant haunting requiem.

Especially so when you had such memories as Damean had.

He sharply hit the reload lever on his Standard Issue Enforcer, biting down on a tendril of white-hot pain that shot up his arm. Most of his left-forearm was charred from shrapnel, and the pain was starting to get through his inhibitors – from numbness to agonizing pain in microseconds. No screams.

His eyes were on the ammo indicator on his side-arm, which had started to flash its red warning light. This will have to do.

Brian knew he had the Bot down to the last of its health. He switched to his all-time favourite FPS weapon, the F9 Sumo Rocket Launcher, aka Widowmaker. A deft Ctrl+R – his Fragmatch-oiled fingers working lightning fast, involuntarily – to reload all twelve rocket slots. A quick look at the health bar. All stats green. Now for the kill.

The beginnings of a smile materialised on his anemic face, when he saw Damean retreat into a narrow dark crevice between an upturned battle-tank and a gun-tower wreck.

“Not so fast, hon”

You don’t scare me, Brian. That part of my brain, at least what remained of it after seven cycles of mind-churning torture by alien machines from the Beyond, is well-suppressed under layers of implants. You amuse me, at best. I need to tell you something. It is my job to stay live. And this is my turf. You can’t count on the odds here, Brian.

In a different time, too long ago for memory, I would have felt the slightest tinge of regret, for doing this.

What shook Brian from the FPS-mindfuck-induced stupor of playing at almost programmed efficiency, was the glint of metal from Damean’s hideaway. He drew in a sharp breath as he realised that Damean was charging him. He had never had a human player go kamikaze on him, let alone a bot.

Too fast for a bot.

Brian felt the air around him shift.

Moving in a blur, one with the light-mapped shrapnel particles exploding around him in randomised paths, Damean dropped his enforcer to the ground, and drew another weapon from his backpack.

The RD-Haxtor “NutCracker”, now a standard issue weapon, was used originally in the Federation’s five-year campaign against invading exos. Marines used these explosive-charged pistons to crack the shells of hordes of EMP-stunned exos – the only way to make sure a Bug is dead.

A scream was taking form in the depths of Brian’s mind. The signals never reached his vocal chords.

Die, bitch.

There was something unstoppably zen about the way his face exploded inwards. The air forming a bludgeon in an instant of blurring reality, and his torso jacknifing in Tai-chi slow-motion, seemingly taking for ever. It was over in a second, though. There was no sound – just a different kind of silence for a split-second, after which the room returned to the squalid quiet of before, with the only unease of tinny music from the headphones now strewn on the floor, and the red reluctantly starting to drip-drip from the furniture.

And in DM-Eternity, Damean loomed silent over the demolished corpse, blood-textured gib-sprites streaming lazily down his expressionless 200-polygon face.

There was never any honour.

Thankyou sb for responding to the call. Hope, other busy-bodies take a note.

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