The year is 2064, and the world is in turmoil. Over the past 50 years, rising political tensions and crime rates have created a strong sense of nationalism, and now the major powers of the world wish to start World War 3. The Halcyon Corporation, the leading provider of military equipment, has released a video showing the capabilities of a new system: a powered suit of armor that can take on an entire battalion of troops without receiving a dent.
As countries vy for exclusive rights to this new
As I stood there, the paper began to shake. The letters were distorted and blurry; it was impossible to read. Grabbing the table to steady it, I realized that it wasn’t shaking in the slightest – no, this was all my fault, my trembling knees confirmed. My heart was beating faster as I struggled to make out the next line: “The Halcyon Corporation is not responsible for any personal injury, maiming, disease, death, or other medical issue caused by involvement in the First Annual Battlympics.” They hadn’t described it so… graphically in the pitch they gave back at school. What in the hell am I getting myself into?
“Hey, Scott, you do realize... if you sign that paper, there’s no going back. You’re still welcome to stay at our home if you wish to, we don’t mind.” My foster mother stared at me, my hand resting upon the pen. I could still see it in her eyes, how much she cared. But she knew as well as I did nothing was waiting for me further down the path I was currently travelling. Nothing more than a life of suffering and grief before a short end, the same as my parents before me. I had to do something to escape that cycle, anything – even this.
Closing my eyes, I gripped the pen so hard I thought it might break. When I opened them again, my hand was hovering over the page, knuckles white as snow. I forced myself to sloppily scrawl my name upon it before I could think better of it, the red ink nearly like blood: Scott Harrison Rose, 4/25/2064. There was no going back now, just as Linda had said.
Behind the desk, the fat recruiter stood up quickly, throwing the chair back with a sickening squeal and loudly clapping his hands together. “Excellent, excellent my dear man! I knew you had it in you! Maybe you are on the younger side, but I could just see that FIRE in your eyes from the moment I saw you!” I stared back at him coldly, wondering how this fop of all people had convinced me to sign up for a battle competition. “Oh, don’t worry sonny. Just like I said, they didn’t think those rules out well at all. You just coast on through with no issues at all and you’ll have that nice full ride to our university. Trust me buddy, I wouldn’t lie to ya!” He rudely elbowed and winked at me, before sauntering out of the room. “Don’t worry mama bear, I’ll take great care of him. We’ll have him set up and shipped off in no time at all, so you can show yourself out now, hahaha!”
Turning to Linda, I stuck my hand out towards her. “Thank you very much for the last year, ma’am. I’ll… I’ll be sure to write.” Rather than grasping my hand, she flung her arms around me to embrace my body. Sighing deeply, I reciprocated and patted her on the back. “Don’t worry. Like he said, I’ll be just fine. This is just… one of those things that I have to do.”
“I know dear. I’ll be sure to tell all the boys you’ll miss them. And I’ll pack your stuff up and send it over, once they give me the address.” She rubbed me on the head, before finally letting go. “You know, I really didn’t think they would actually let you in, considering everyone they’ve rejected.”
“Me neither. I-”
“Hey, buddy, you forgetting something? We’re kinda in a rush here, plane leaves in 5, you’d best hurry your bye byes up already!” The rambunctious voice rang from out the door and down the hallway.
“I’m sorry, I’d better go. I’ll be back stateside before you know it, and I’ll be sure to stop by when I do!” I called back and waved as I ran out the door and down the long hallway to catch up the large, boisterous man. “O-okay, where are we going, sir?”
“Ha! Out of breath already? I guess that little physical really isn’t the best test after all. Come on, weren’t you paying any attention? It’s time to get your scrawny butt on that plane and flying off to your big adventure!” As he threw open the door at the end of the hallway, a blast of wind and noise smacked me in the face; the plane was merely a hundred yards away, and it really was ready to take off. “Well, go ahead! Hop on already!” the man gave me a shove, as I began my sprint to get on it.
The plane was nothing sort of impressive, a giant cargo plane with a full, open back hatch. I ran up the ramp to be greeted by a somewhat disappointing sight: the cavernous hold only actually held a few crates and three other people, the sheer emptiness of it rather staggering. Choosing one of the seats lining the walls several spaces from the nearest person, I quickly strapped myself in. As the hatch began to close, I took a better look at my surroundings.
The three other people in the hold were an odd, assorted bunch that would never be sitting together normally: a teenage girl with blonde hair sitting a few seats away, a slightly pudgy man in his twenties sporting a scraggly beard from his chin to his neck, and finally a greasy looking man in a trench coat taking a nap while supported by the boxes in the corner. The two that were awake continued to stare at the newest arrival, while the last just snored blissfully. How could he sleep with the engines blaring right outside, anyway?
As the door locked into its closed position, the noise from outside was cut to a manageable drum, and the twenty year old spoke up. “Thank god, I can finally hear myself think…” However, the awkward silence that followed ended up being the loudest noise of all, cut only by each of us three staring at each other in turn. Finally, he spoke up again. “I certainly hope you two don’t intend to spend the entire flight like this. Fifteen hours is a long time to be awkward.” He sat back, crossing his legs and putting both his hands behind his medium length brown hair. Everything about him screamed ‘haphazard,’ from his old tennis shoes to his half unzipped shorts to his Cowboy Bebop shirt with a mustard stain on it.
What spoke even greater volumes, however, was the disgusted look the blonde was giving, looking him up and down with some sort of crossed emotion between confusion and contempt. “Seriously, you came to sign up for a battle competition dressed like that? You didn’t even shave. You do realize those are the only clothes you get until we settle in, right?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know bullets were attracted to you based on how attractive you are. I’m sure you’d be just ecstatic to die in the first volley then, wouldn’t you?” The man met her cold glare with his own fiery retort.
“If you were really interested in not getting hit, you’d probably lose a few pounds, honey.” The girl muttered under her breath, looking out the window as the plane began to move.
I sighed. Looked like it was up to me to end this petty squabbling. “Okay, that’s enough you two. I’m not gonna sit here and listen to you two argue about who’s getting shot first this entire flight, alright? Why don’t we just start with our names, and go from there? I’m Scott.”
The girl blew on a lock of hair, before brushing it behind her ear. “Sure, might as well. The name’s Kara Clements.” For the first time she smiled, fully turning towards me. “Nice to meet you, Scott.” The text on her t-shirt caught my eye – in bright, multi-colored lettering it read ‘While one may lose much because of avarice, nothing was ever accomplished by abstinence.’ “Hey, my eyes are up here. Don’t tell me you’re like him too.” She gestured her head towards the chubby man.
“Oh, sorry, I was just reading your shirt. Nice quote, by the way.” I quickly explained, somewhat abashed.
“Ah, right. Sorry about that. Anyway, what’s your name?” Turning back to the other man, Kara shot him an amused smile.
“I’m Andrew… Robson, that is. Uh, everyone calls me Andy though, if you prefer that. I don’t mind either way.” Andrew dropped one arm, rubbing the back of his neck with the other. The awkward silence fell once again. “Well… if we’re just gonna sit here and stare at each other now, can we at least talk about what the hell that was back there? I mean, the hardest part of that ‘physical’ was running on a treadmill for ten minutes and spitting in a cup. And, what, hundreds of thousands – no, millions of people have applied to get into it, and the only people around here that get in are greaseslick over here, me, a slightly tubby guy, little teenage princess Kara over there, and tall lanky Scott. I don’t mean to be rude, but shouldn’t there be more… soldiers in here or something?”
Before Kara could get in another offended argument with him, I quickly cut in. “Yeah, I was actually wondering that myself. I mean, a lot of the soldiers that were interested signed up a few weeks ago, but I know they’ve been rejecting a lot of people. Like, that one war hero from Afghanistan… He didn’t even get through the physical, yet we’re let in now?”
“Oh, the answer’s pretty obvious guys. They just weren’t getting enough sign ups, you know? I bet they just dropped the standards when they realized they wouldn’t have enough fodder. Why else would they start advertising free college and all that otherwise?” Kara shrugged it all off, before shooting a glare Andy’s way. “And for your information, I’m rather good at fencing. Bet I could beat your sorry butt.” Andy threw up his arms in surrender.
The plane started to move forwards, and I repositioned myself after the jolt. “I don’t know, even if that were true, wouldn’t a bunch of soldiers that were initially rejected be signing up now? Still seems kinda odd to me. But hey, speaking of the scholarship, is that why you guys are here? It’s certainly the case for me.” I was rather interested in just why these two had enrolled in the competition; like Andy had so subtly pointed out, none of us seemed like serious fighters.
Kara was the first speak up. “Yes, actually. I had always been planning on using a fencing scholarship, since my family could never afford college for me with their meager salaries. But… well, I ended up not earning one. So I had three choices. Get a job – but unskilled labor’s been taken up by robots, so I’d be lucky to work in the oil fields for ten bucks an hour. Or I could go into $250,000 of debt and be a slave for the rest of my life. Or I could potentially get skewered in a death competition. So of course I chose the obvious winner.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “But hey, at least you have fencing experience though. I’ll be honest… The most fighting experience I’ve had was a year of karate classes and a fist fight a few years ago. I’m just hoping to slide underneath the radar, personally.”
Kara shrugged. “Fencing might save me from a couple punks, but if anyone serious challenges me I’m kinda screwed. So I guess my plan’s about the same. Anyway, what about you, Andy?” Kara gave Andy a rather curious glance. Maybe she was finally warming up to him. At least she hadn’t called him fatty.
Andy sat up a bit, almost surprised we were asking him. “It’s, uh, kinda embarrassing actually. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit older than you guys. 22, actually. I never had the money or motivation to actually go to college, so I just ended up living in an apartment.” The plane began to move forward rapidly, and suddenly lifted off the ground, ascending rapidly. Andy braced himself uncomfortably for a few minutes, while I and Kara simply leaned back. Once the worst was over, he continued. “I guess I just decided that it would be best to stop wasting my entire life on 256-chan and try to make something of myself. Heard about the scholarship, so I figured I’d just go ahead and apply. If I was accepted, it was a sign or whatever. So I guess I got that sign.”
Kara stared at him with half-lidded eyes. So much for warming up to him. “Really? You’re a clover boy? Ugh, I guess that figures.”
Andy just scoffed. “Clover boy? Jeez, I haven’t heard that term outside of /b/. Don’t tell me you’re a ‘/b/tard’ Kara. You’re basically the definition of normie I guess, so I wouldn’t be surprised, really.”
Kara frowned strongly, cheeks turning crimson for just a minute. “I might have posted once or twice, whatever. At least I don’t waste my life on – let me guess, either /jp/ or /a/ based on that stupid shirt.”
Andy faked offense, slamming a hand to his chest. “Oh no, she hit me right in the animu memes!” He chuckled and shook his head. “Nah, I actually spend most of my time on weapons, /k/. I’m kind of a gun nut, so I love the gun threads. Get some trigger control, girl.”
I just kept looking back and forth between the two, scratching my head. “I’m sorry, you guys lost me. I don’t even know what that chan thing is, to be honest.”
Andy waved his hand. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it, it’s just a fairly famous forum on the internet. Point is, I was wasting all my time on it and had to do something to get the ball rolling. At least I should be able to use guns if I really have to, you know? Gotta be glad for the little things.” Andy laid back once again, shrugging the possibility of death off like it was nothing.
I hadn’t thought much of it myself; even being accepted still seemed rather unreal. Maybe I would wake up in a minute after all. “Well, sounds like you two have some kind of plan, at least. Guess I’ll have to come up with something, but… I have no idea what.” Seeing the strange architecture of the dilapidated ruins of New York City out the window opposite my seat, I turned to look out the one positioned next to me. “Wow, from this height you can just make out the parts of the Canadian wall.”
Kara turned to look for herself, while Andy snorted. “I’m not surprised. Probably looking quite worse for wear, eh? It’s been, what, 15 years or since most of it was torn down, at least by the highways. Surprised they didn’t get all of it by now.”
Kara laughed. “Hey, did you hear that rumor that like 40 years ago a bunch of our politicians were suggesting we should build walls against the borders to Mexico and Canada? Pretty funny Canada ended up building it instead. Well, I guess it was for a reason.”
I yawned. “Sorry, I’m pretty used to flying, and the engine kinda lulls me off to sleep.”
Kara giggled. “Hey, we have a 17 hour flight ahead of us. The more you sleep the faster you’re there. Greasey over there has the right idea.” Kara shook her heads towards the still snoring man. Even the take-off hadn’t been enough to stir him.
I shrugged. “Well, I guess I’ll go ahead then. Stick to talking about walls, and try not to murder each other while I’m out, would you? I’d hate to be stuck cleaning up the blood while Grease gets to continue snoozing.” The two laughed and nodded, while I sat my head against the headrest, closed my eyes, and let the motor’s noise carry me off to sleep.