Part One

I received a flyer in the mail. One of those “You have been chosen!” outfits. Naturally, I dropped it into the recycle pile, went through the rest of my mail.
Bill... junk... junk... junk... junk... someone I don’t want to hear from... junk... coupons! Oh, nevermind, I don’t shop there... magazine... junk. I flipped through the magazine, stopping at anything that caught my eye, reading until I reached the end or lost interest, eventually putting it down for further scrutiny later.
The flyer caught my eye again. I picked it up, purely out of curiosity and entirely suspicious of its motive.
“Do you remember playing Capture the Flag as a child? Were you the strategist who spotted all the mistakes your teammates made? Ever wanted to play it again, with more advanced rules, superior challenges, and greater rewards?”
I went through and counted the question marks and exclamation points. Too many; really rather sad. Only periods I could find were in the disclaimer, web address, and e-mail. Sighing, I flipped it over, back onto the recycle pile, so it wouldn’t catch my eye again.
There was something small and apparently handwritten in one of the corners. I picked it up again and peered closely.
“Hi, Ace! I don’t know if you remember me, but well, I thought you’d be interested in this. Technically I’m not supposed to send one of these to anybody I know, being on the Board of Supervisors, but since we’ve been out of touch for so long, I figured it wouldn’t hurt.
“I look forward to seeing you. -JP”
I couldn’t remember a JP.
Below the note was a serial number, so I visited the webpage.
This upcoming game would be the first outside of the research and testing period, the first open to public entries. It laid out a few simple guidelines and rules, that would be fleshed out during the preliminary round, provided I was an accepted applicant.
“Bring your own tools. You will be responsible for any fuel they require.
“No vehicles, automobiles, bicycles, etc. The game takes place in a moderate- to densely forested preserve with few man-made trails.
“Equipment is limited to what you and your teammate(s), if applicable, can carry, drag, pull, or push.
“The game contains 3 stages – Building and Preliminary, Elimination Round, and Championship Round.
“Accepted applicants will be provided a simple geographic survey of the land, and may request additional specific surveys at their discretion.
“Team sizes are limited to a maximum of seven. A minimum of two is recommended, though teams of one may be approved by a supervisory judge.”
“Wow,” I whispered to myself. The website and program appeared fully legitimate, so I signed up.
Name, address, phone number, e-mail address, emergency contact, date of birth (game targeted at ages 16 to 25), the whole nine yards. A decent length disclaimer followed, most of which I didn’t read – just skimmed, knowing it was primarily a formality – and then there was a space for an initiation code. I entered in the serial number that the mysterious JP had sent me, then submitted the form.
I didn’t expect anything to come of it, as nothing I’d entered into before had ever come to fruition. Naturally, I went on with my life, and quickly forgot about the incident.

Two weeks later:
Junk... junk... junk... bill... paycheck! I ripped it open, delighting at the numbers on the check – any money was good money – and set it carefully aside, away from the junk pile.
Junk... magazine... junk... donation request... Fortress Race acceptance card... more junk... another bill... wait, what?
I flipped back through the junk pile, and snatched out the card.
“Your application has been accepted for participation in the preliminary round of Fortress Race, our advanced version of your old favorite, Capture the Flag. The quality of your decisions in this preliminary round will determine your qualification in the game.”
The card also provided a URL for the geographical survey, an email address from which I could request further information, and transportation information. The game would begin in two months time.
I signed on, found the survey, and further rules. Tools, capturing, surrendering, fortress regulations, weapons... Weapons? I scrolled back. In short, no guns or knives, cannot cause intentional injury to other players, and must be built during the game from materials found and available on the game property.
So slingshot was good, catapult and trebuchet were possible, traps were allowed.
I grabbed a notepad and started making a list.
1. Rope and rope making
2. Construction
3. Catapult and trebuchet
I glanced over at the map and survey. Mostly woods, a few small fields. People would probably go for tree houses, and maybe a large group would try a traditional fortress.
4. Tree house
I’d signed up without a team, so a standard fortress wouldn’t work for me. Was there another option I could come up with?
5. Tunnels
I sent a request for elevation, water tables, and soil types, then sat back and pondered my list and the map.
Scattered patches of redwoods, three of them, about an acre apiece, stood out on the survey.
6. Tree-hollowing techniques
Lower slopes of a nearby mountain in one corner, and a snowmelt creek flowing out and along one border of the property.
7. Aqueduct/water transport (for offensive and defensive possibilities)

The additional surveys arrived within the hour. There was a note attached from the survey team.
“You must be JP’s friend. Don’t worry, your connection is safe. If you’re thinking tunnels, you might want to check out the mountain slopes. Just a guess from your request. Good luck.”
Indeed, there was a lot of potential in the mountain slopes. Large limestone deposits. They’d sounded for caverns, and had found them, but no large entrances. There once had been a mining town on the other side, but the information on their tunnels was unavailable. The barricaded entrances were off game property, and I could get disqualified if I was caught leaving. If I could find a way in, it would be excellent for a base, but was a little distant for what I had in mind.
8. Drills
The water table for the property was depressed this year – not enough rain and too much well usage had caused some damage – but the trees had deep, intricate root systems, and were holding up.
Hmm... this just might work.
The main camp was separated from the woods by a large field. Transporting anything across that during the second or third round would be potentially hazardous, I’d have to find a way around that; and having very visible tools could entirely give myself away.

So I worried and wondered, researched and reviewed, and studied, studied, studied. Finally, the day to leave arrived.
A van with a trailer would come to pick me up, then onto a train filled only with Fortress Race applicants. The depot was very nearly at the entrance to the property. 

The End

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