Chapter 3 - Part 5
It was strange having Kendra over as a guest. He didn't know what to do, what to say. His father usually did the entertaining. Their guest had chosen to sit opposite of them in a solitary seat. He didn't know if she was isolating herself on purpose or if this was a symptom of her extreme shyness. Either way it was getting on his nerves. A woman in her mid-twenties shouldn't be behaving like some shy school girl.
"I can't wait for girls to bring me dinner all of the time," William cooed in a feeble attempt to break the silence. Kendra flushed, her hands gripping the edge of her false skirt.
"I'd watch out for rat poison with the way you treat girls," Astral replied, placing a pitcher of lemonade on the coffee table before retreating to the kitchen to fetch some cups.
"You don't count." William sneered. "I can be nice when I want to be."
"Which is as long as you think you can get something out of it," Astral retorted from the kitchen.
He felt hot around the ears. He didn't understand why she needed to say things like that, especially with company. "Screen on," William ordered the feed viewer. The screen came to life, fading in from clear glass to black as it calibrated itself and adjusted it's display based on the brightness of the room. The words 'user identification: William' appeared.
A list of categories appeared on the screen. News gave them access to government-sanctioned reports on disasters, new laws, and war progress. Justice gave them access to trial feeds going as far back as the past fifty years. William enjoyed hearing the sob stories before the inevitable guilty verdict got dealt out. He'd watch with glee as the judge would decree 'The guilty party is to serve a tour on the war front.' The person would cry and beg and scream that he had been setup as the bailiffs would drag his sorry ass out. A list of simplified law would follow suit, reminding the public of the crimes the guilty party had committed. Justice was blind and didn't care for the circumstances.
Weather was a digitally monitored feed within the local area, but if he so desired, he could access the weather report from anywhere in the nation and compare notes. There usually wasn't much difference between towns degree wise, but the weather could be crazy in the next town over and perfect in Clearwater.
All of the feeds were standard for all users. Where things changed was in education and entertainment feeds. Education feeds were based around William's current academic schedule. His current list had a slew of historical documentaries reflecting on the state of the pre-demon invasion. A number of fitness programs were listed and could be linked with social apps to arrange for local games, assuming his father would ever reinstate his network privileges. Not being one for sports, his list only included basic fitness routines. This list would change if his friends flagged him in a sport they should play together. Another feature of the education node was that he could access a series of tutors in any subject at his current grade level, but that cost credits.
He was surprised to see his school listed as an app. They must have finally gained government approval to air some content. "Select Council's Academy Feed," William ordered the screen.
A list of the schools military games appeared. He couldn't tell how far back they went, but at a glance he'd guess all the games from the past year were available. His heart raced. Was it here? Could he access the championship game? "List squad 7's matches. Finals." William ordered the interface.
A single listing appeared. "Play feed," he ordered.
Astral had taken a seat on the couch in the opposite corner from William, but closest to Kendra. She spoke with Kendra, making sure she was fed and watered. "Quiet!" William snapped. "You're about the watch a Master in action." The feed started with excited students attempting to describe the game they were about the watch. "It was like whoa! I can't believe that worked! And then BAM!" One student claimed, still humming with adrenaline.
"There's no way the arbiters should have let that slide!" One student fumed. "Squad VII totally cheated! There's no way a human could do any of those moves." The screen faded to black. The sound of cheering was the only thing indicating that the vid was in progress.
Introductions to the squads shot across the screen, starting with the Squad VI's player roster. One by one they slid from right to left, names and role clearly displayed. They'd break briefly for an introduction talking about where they came from and why they joined the games. Squad VI's players were clad in red body armour with green stripes running up the length of their bodies. Squad VII's players were geared in white armour with black stripes running up their bodies.
"A total twenty-four players are participating in the season's final championship game! Can you believe it! This is the first time ever that this has happened! EVER! I can't begin to think what went through Squad VII's captain's mind when he agreed to it."
"We can guess what the other guy was thinking, right?" The second commentator chuckled. "Seth Wright single handily demolished the last team. I guess they figured sheer numbers would do in our rising star."
"Can you blame them?" The first commentator laughed. "I guess they didn't expect Seth to lug along his whole team too."
"They should know better. Squad VII's leader is a reputed hard ass. If you can't measure up, you get tossed out. No weak links in his team. He doesn't have time for it."
"It's so true," William laughed. He paused to allow the girls a chance to catch on, but they didn't join in on his joke. Astral was perched her head onto her hand as she fiddled with a palm tablet, checking for messages. Kendra's eyes were riveted to the screen. "This year I'm going to try to get into Squad VII!"He announced to the girls. "I have the moves." He showed off some clumsy version of a karate chop he had learned in his basic defense classes.
Introductions done, the screen split to twenty-four viewpoints. The icon in the corner of the digital display indicated that the feeds could be manipulated to showcase specific views. "List options," William ordered. The views slid over to make space for the options list.
"Single view on Seth Wright," William ordered. The option list faded. The feeds merged into one, the Academy servers calculating optimum viewing experience. "This guy is my hero," William cooed. It was impossible to tell who was who when they wore their helmets. He could tell though who some of the players were. Gemma had a heavier build and was a heavy artillery guy. Regina had a wider hips than the other female players and always had her sniper rifle with her. Erick liked to keep his lucky chain on his belt.
"These events are the highlight of the year! A real opportunity to showcase the teams talents for recruitment opportunities." One commentator noted.
"Not to mention showcasing the leadership potential in the captains," the other added.
"Right! It takes a certain personality type to keep these powerhouses of talent in line and on point."
"I love these events. It's so random. Planning for these events is kept top secret. They can take years to setup. Like every year before this, our finalists were sent out to a super secret locale where they'll duke it out for supremacy."
"Exactly! They have to go in unarmed, find a weapon storage unit and find the key to exit and THEN find the exit. If they find the escape vehicle first, then they have to defend it while searching for the activation key. It's always super intense!"
"Looks like we're about to see the setting for this game." The commentator gasped.
The doors slid open, and the squad piled out into an underground parking lot. The dim lights shone diligently but did little to lift the oppressive darkness.
Astral shifted in her seat; her posture stiffened, her breath caught in her throat. Kendra remained transfixed on the scene unfolding in front of her; the colour in her face paled. She grit her teeth. "They live through this right?" Astral asked, her words sharp and commanding, demanding an immediate answer.
William laughed. "You need to relax. There hasn't been any mortalities since they used live ammunition in the games."
"What are they using!?" Kendra gasped. "They're just kids!"
William's laughter muffled the commentator's narration of events. "Relax!" He managed between breaths. "They all live."
"I saw buildings like those in the war," Kendra told William. "This is no laughing matter. Those car lots can host swarms of demons spawn. See how those lights don't light the room. That's a sign that there's a nest in the area."
"Yeah, like the Council would really send students to a war zone." He wiped a tear from his eye. This was all too much. Girls just didn't have the stomach for this sort of thing.
"Remember folks that this is a recreation of a building in the 21st century, mimicking the conditions of similar buildings found today." One commentator informed the viewers.
"Right, it's just much, much safer."
"Can you imagine a floor caving in? Exciting, sure. Not so cool for them though." They laughed.
Astral eyes narrowed and the makings of a fierce snarl was touching her lips. Kendra gripped the arms of her chair, riveted to the competition.
Seth movements were slow, cautious. He gestured for his unit to stay still. He gestured for the three of squad members to go on ahead. The unit behind him kept an eye on their rear as they moved across the parking lot. Like a chain, each unit remained in sight of one another. A rusted B5 was seen in one sweep of a flashlight.
Kendra shook her head. "That light would get them killed in the field."
William rolled his eyes. "Just wait there's a good part coming up."
"Looks like our first skirmish is coming up," the commentator said gleefully.
Seth turned off his light source; his squad members mimicked his actions. He had seen the enemy unit long before they noticed his. What was he waiting for? "Time to motivate them to move," he told his squad in a whisper. "Keep pushing them to the next floor."
"What if they find the key?" a female squad member asked.
"Then take it from them," he ordered.
The first skirmish cost squad VII one soldier, taken out by sheer luck, but they had managed to eliminate four enemy combatants. "Keep them moving," Seth shouted over the noise of gunfire. "Go. Go. Go!"
They chased after the enemy squad who had failed to extinguish their light source, allowing Squad VII to take out an additional three units before they reached the first floor, where daylight blanketed the ruined entryway. Seth's team stayed far enough behind to avoid being seen. They waited in the darkness. Seth glanced back often, as though he suspected that they were being followed.
"I bet Squad VI is going to kick themselves when they see the replay," the commentators laughed.
"Oh, they were mad," William informed his guests. "Even accused Squad VII of cheating because of it."
"It was a clever use of their environment," Kendra acknowledged.
"A dangerous tactic," Astral added. Her anger was replaced with disdain.
"Like you know anything about what Kendra is talking about," William snapped. "You always have to go around talking like you know about everything."
"She's right," Kendra came to Astral's defence. "If they knew they were in demon territory, that's one thing, they could use the light like bait to drawn in targets. In a situation like this... the players are civilians. If they don't expect what's coming, he would have just gotten his team killed."
"Damned if you do, damned if you don't huh," William smiled.
"In most cases, it's a gamble. My unit got wiped out on what my squad leader thought was a sure thing. There's no such thing." William liked this version of Kendra, but it was proof that they shy girl routine was just and act to win over his dad. "You survived," he acknowledged.
Kendra gripped the arms of her chair again as though struck by lightning. "I...I shouldn't have."
"No, sense in survivor's remorse. Did you kill the thing that killed your unit?" Astral asked with the bluntness of a sledgehammer.
"I did. It wasn't easy."
"What were you called when it died?" Astral asked, a gentle tone wrapping itself around her words.
Astral smirked and nodded.
"Aw come on guys, you missed another good part!" William whined.
- Ever had an experience where this person was all:"You got to watch this show with me!" and all they did was talk though it? What show was it? Did they share trivia, spoilers, other? Or did they just gossiped and use the show as background noise?
- Any sports fans out there? What's your favourite sport to watch? Do you have a ritual around watching the event?
- If you were hosting an impromptu guest, how would you have done things differently from Astral and William?
You can share your answers to these questions over on the Awakening Facebook Group.
If you have questions of your own that you would like other readers to answer feel free to post them to the group.
If you want me to answer your questions directly remember to tag me in the group, or you can email me directly.
Feel free to post your comments about the Awakening in the discussion section of the Awakening Facebook Group.