Portrait of the Artist
9/11 - again

The Game

This week's FFF challenge was NaNoWriMo related.

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With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, let’s have some scary fun with a few terms from that yearly event.

Prompt: Write a horror story that includes the following: Writer, 50,000, month, goal, winner

Genre: Horror

Word Count: 1,500 or less

Deadline: October 27, 2016

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I combined this challenge with an idea a friend gave me for a novel. It's been done before, but still it could be done differently. There's potential here.

Mine was a little over, at 1700 words.

The Game

 “10,000? No freakin’ way.” He folded his arms and glared at Mrs. Robinson.

“Tyler, there are consequences to your little escapades. Aside from your skills in crime, you’re also a good writer. So, 10,000 words, choose the topic.”

Tyler did like writing. But he also liked leading his little gang on his ‘escapades’: tagging walls, stealing from stores, disabling the mag-buses, hacking the school systems. The last one was how Mrs. Robinson had caught him. She wasn’t as dumb as she looked.

He was just so bored. All his friends had already turned sixteen and were off playing The Game, whatever that was. All very hush-hush, at some sort of camp, all of them living together in a dorm. Learning about life it was said, before they were shipped out on a new career. Boring, even if you were lucky enough for an off planet job, as there was a minimal work week, no sickness, no drugs, and no wars. And he was stuck here, leading his little gang of kids, all handpicked for their skills. Usually they were successful in their ventures, with nobody getting busted.

But, a week later, he was once again sitting in front of Mrs. Robinson. Damn, she was good.

“Have you even started that assignment, Tyler? No? Okay, let’s make it 20,000.”

“Fine, I don’t care,” he said, as he stomped out the door. “What a bitch!”

“What was that? Get your sorry ass back in here.”

Shit, she’d heard him. And she sounded really angry.

“Okay, young man, your new goal is 40,000—no, wait, let me round that up. 50,000, due in a month, starting today. Or you lose all access to the Cloud—no videos, no chats with friends, no nothing.”

Tyler opened his mouth, then shut it. He wouldn’t be winning this one. “But ma’am, tomorrow is my sixteenth birthday.”

“Yes, it is,” she said. “And you get to finally leave school and join you friends in The Game.”

“And then what?” he said.

“Well, it’s sort of a test, to choose your career. Maybe you’ll go off planet. Maybe even out beyond the galaxy. We used to go that far, centuries ago, with colony ships in deep sleep. No more. We’ve lost our sense of adventure, it seems,” She sighed. “Anyway, I’ve heard your initial training—sorry—experience is 30 days long. Perfect for your assignment. I think you’ll find lots of interest to write about. You’re a smart kid. Good luck. Believe it or not, we’ll miss you around here. Now get out.”

As he walked back home Tyler wondered what she meant by training, Was this some kind of fitness camp? Because he was already in pretty good shape, from the sports game he’d downloaded.

Right from Day 1 of The Game Tyler realized that swinging a controller wand around in front of a screen, even if on a treadmill, was not the same as a 10k run with a backpack and heavy boots. He was exhausted but still managed to stay awake in the classroom sessions. Map reading, strategy, weapons, flight dynamics, all stuff he’d seen in games, but this was way more complicated. And fascinating. Every night, he’d sneak some time to work on his story, about a kid in The Game. Probably done before, but so what. His would be different.

Week 2 they found out what this was all for, when they were bused to a nearby forest and handed their weapons. Real weapons. Like those old paintball guns had been, but way better. These fired a SmartRound that hit wherever you were looking, even for a moving target.

“If you can see it, you can hit it,” said their sergeant. “But better.”

So much better. A thumb pad on the grip could steer the charge around things, so even if your opponent ducked behind cover, you could hit them. And disable their weapon for five minutes. Sweet.

The first match they played, Tyler found himself stuck into a squad with everyone, including the team lead, randomly selected. The rest of his team was pretty nervous, including their leader—first to get picked off.

“Screw this,” said Tyler. “Guys—sorry—and girls, quick huddle here.” He’d led enough forays for his gangs to know how to plan, and how to lead; plus, he’d really paid attention in class. In spite of being one man down, they managed to beat their opposing team. The next round, in a random team again, he made himself leader and led them to beat two of the other teams. After that it just got better and better, with victory after victory. They also mixed in flight simulations, but the same strategy lessons held. Tyler’s confidence and knowledge kept growing, as did his novel. Before he knew it, they’d reached Day 30 of training, he’d apparently set some sort of record, and his story was done.

The CO herself called him into her office to congratulate him and offer a choice. Be placed now, based on his aptitudes, or stay for Elite Training. He was having too much fun to leave, so picked Elite.

“Good choice, Tyler,” she said. “Tomorrow at oh-six-hundred you’ll lead a mission. All newbies like you, but all well qualified. Remember to keep the main objective in mind, be aggressive but not fool-hardy. It’s always a matter of balance.

For his first battle he had a bigger squad, 12 in total. And new weapons, bigger, high tech.

The scenario was harder than before, but his team still managed to be the winner, even when down two men. He’d sent those two around a small hill to try to flank, and they never came out. Maybe they sat down, maybe they just extended their five-minute timeout, but either way they were in big trouble.

Tyler stormed around the hill, already yelling. “All right you maggots, get down and give me 50—

But they were already down. And not moving. There was blood everywhere, as well as bits of flesh hanging off the nearby bushes. “Holy shit, what happened? Guys?” He dropped down beside them but there was no pulse in either of his team.

The field commander walked around the corner, took in the scene in a glance, and nodded. “Tyler! Come to attention. Debrief room, now, on the double!”

Tyler reacted automatically and headed back. The room was not nearly as full as it should have been. Everyone looked as stunned as he felt.

“Men, and women,” said the commander. “Welcome to the real world. At this level you will have live ammunition.” He held his hand up as the room erupted. “That’s enough. You will be quiet.”

He explained that although they were a peaceful society, they needed a backup plan. A few decades ago, recon satellites had detected a huge fleet building up out at the edge of the galaxy. They’d ignored all peace overtures, just slowly overrunning all in their path. Earth had started building an army to defend itself, and they, and friends that had gone before them, were a part of that Force.

“But sir!” Tyler couldn’t help himself. “I lost two good people in that fight, I killed them.”

The commander nodded gravely. “Yes, Corporal, you did lose two. Most of the teams in here lost at least twice that. And you didn’t kill them. Maybe they were out-gunned, maybe they were careless, maybe they were just unlucky—their helmet recordings will help us learn. But you didn’t kill them. As a commander, your job is to optimally utilize the skills and training of you and your team to gain the objective. We run simulations here, but also live exercises. There will be losses, but that is part of the balance. Your team are not to be wasted, but neither are they to be coddled.” He showed some videos of this supposed invasion, but Tyler had zoned out. Finally it was over. “That’s it for today, head back to your barracks. There will be another exercise tomorrow. Base is on lock-down until further notice. Dismissed.”

Tyler headed back to the barracks, his mind in a turmoil. All of the other team leads were upset too, but most seemed to have more or less come to terms with it

Not him. He faked sleep until 2 am then hacked the system, to generate a compassionate leave pass. A funeral for his mother, dead these five years, but he was a good hacker. He headed to the city and disappeared.

For two days. He’d covered his tracks well, both physically and in the Cloud, but still, there was Mrs. Robinson, knocking on his door.

“Surprise,” she said. “May I come in? You wouldn’t have a beer, would you?”

Tyler just nodded and indicated a chair.

As she sipped her beer, his former teacher, or whatever she was, expanded on what the commander had said. And showed him the same videos, of planets the invaders had already conquered. Or rather, destroyed.

“Yes, lives will be lost in training,” she said. “And in battle. But you sitting here is not saving any lives. They still will go to fight, with leaders not as good as you. We need you there to lead, and to train, so we can win. Or humanity is doomed.”

Two beers later and she’d convinced him. “So I will lead the battle?” he said.

“That would be silly,” she said. “You’re good, but not that good. Now go back to camp. Your ride is out front.”

Tyler returned, officially after some compassionate leave, and resumed his studies, He fought, and he trained. And he kept adding to his story. Some people still died, but more and more learned and survived.

Finally it was invasion day.

The fleet scrambled, then jumped to within shooting distance of the invaders. Tyler, a battalion commander now, ordered the comms screen activated. It was time to meet the enemy.

As the screens flickered on, everyone gasped. As someone had said, centuries ago, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’ Humanity had returned from the stars, centuries later, fierce, warlike, bloodthirsty, and ready to retake its home. There was some confusion in the ranks as news spread that humanoids faced them. A people somewhat changed over the centuries, but still human.

But they would obviously not show any mercy, so Tyler ordered his battalion to attack. This would make one hell of a sequel.

Comments

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Rose Green

Really interesting vision of humanity's future. Hope there are enough people left for Tyler to find a publisher!

Joyce Juzwik

Amazing story. A society that begins to train 16 year olds to be killers. It was done in preparation for a possible invasion though, but interesting that it was referred to as The Game. This one could really go on and on, and it would be fascinating to find out where this all leads. Great use of the prompt, Mike. Please do post links if you decide to continue this one. This is a terrific beginning to a grand tale.

Ravens

Thanks Rose -I'm thinking this might go even farther.

Ravens

Thanks Joyce
I'm hoping to re-use this idea and/or characters in other Flash Fiction to see how well I might fit it into a longer short story and/or a novel.

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