Mary Gold and her team stood at the gladiators’ entrance to the arena. Here, underneath the stadium, the roar of the crowd was reduced to a dull drone.
“Four left on the second team that entered,” Mary announced to her teammates, using the device on her wrist to check the captains’ scoreboards. “Check your weapons, safeties off everyone. Keep your heads and don’t get shot. Let’s make this quick.”
The remainder of the six man team assented via shouts and cheers. One of them shouted, “Take it off!” Either Ricard or Johnny, but revenge wasn’t worth the attention. They all moved, back and forth. Janet jumped up and down, unable to contain her energy. Mary thought of a writhing snake that reared its head before the attack.
“We go in through the hallways first,” Mary said. The judges of the match had provided her with a map of the arena’s setup for this battle a few minutes prior. She now displayed the map to her team in a holographic model that the device on her wrist projected. “The staircase is to the north, five hundred meters. We make it there in two minutes, got it?” Her team nodded their assent. “From there, we’ll have a time of it getting to the hold. They have one of—”
The arena doors opened. The noise of the crowd was louder, and light flooded the tunnels.
“Move in, let’s go,” Mary commanded. “Don’t wait!”
Enemy fire began the moment that they crossed into the arena. Mary and her team found cover behind short concrete barriers. Bullets struck the walls, their impacts creating bits of concrete shards and dust.
The next few moments were a hellfire of bullets, as Mary’s team returned fire against the enemy. “Bastards were waiting for us,” Jamaal said, raising his voice over the din of the battle.
“Cut the chatter,” Mary ordered. “Ricard, go. Everyone else, cover him!” She sighted an enemy and fired on the low end of a deep breath, sending a few rounds to hit their cover.
Ricard dashed out from his position. The enemy fired on him at once. Mary and the rest of her team took advantage of this diversion of fire to take better aim.
A bullet struck one of the enemy gladiators in the shoulder and he fell back onto the floor. Mary saw on the scoreboards that he was auto-disqualified for dropping his weapon. “Five left,” she called out.
Ricard sprinted toward the enemy position. He unpinned his sole grenade and threw it toward his target with expert aim before rolling toward cover. The explosive detonated just as Ricard ducked behind a new, smaller concrete barrier.
“One incapacitated, one dead,” Mary said. Each gladiator’s vital stats were displayed on the scoreboards and were updated automatically via the biometric monitor that was a part of their armor. “That’s three. Let’s move out before the next team enters.”
“Nice one, Ric,” Jamaal called out. He left his cover and rushed to his teammate. Ric accepted Jamaal’s hand and stood, somewhat shaky on his feet. “Whoa, now.”
“You get to have all the fun,” Johnny said, punching Ric in the chest as he passed him.
“I can’t feel my legs,” Ric said. He walked a few steps, but lost his balance and fell down.
“They’re just asleep,” Mary said. She nodded at Jamaal and they each placed one of Ricard’s arms over their shoulders. “Keep flexing them.”
To everyone, Mary said, “Ninety seconds until the new team enters. Let’s move fast here, you lazy, inaccurate bastards.” Before Mary could move, a hand grabbed her ankle. She aimed down with a ready weapon. The arm belonged to a man whose face she recognized. He lay wounded under his fallen comrade.
“Gold, listen to me,” Andre Strong said, as the blood seeped from the left corner of his mouth. His voice was strong. “I tried to help. Listen to me, I wouldn’t harm you, not Mary Gold, with an unfair tactic such as this. I was after your teammates. Listen, you don’t know what you are up against, for the other team, it is the King Dragon’s.”
“Don’t try to protect me,” Mary said. Her trigger finger twitched.
“I wasn’t trying to protect you,” Andre said. “I was trying to protect the king.”
“Andre, let go or I will stomp you,” Mary said, her breath coming fast through her nostrils. Andre let go. Mary continued the jog toward the stairs with Jamaal, hauling Ric along with them.
“The fire in those eyes!” Andre exclaimed. “I can feel it burning within me as well now, giving me the strength I need.”
Mary turned her head and saw Andre push the corpse off his body, revealing the large wound that made his chest look like a charred slice of steak. He said, “That’s better, I can breathe much better now.”
Her face twisted, Mary shouted, “You jumped the grenade? You throw a newbie down for that! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“Mary, come on,” Janet said. She was the only one brave enough to give Mary orders. “Let’s go.”
Mary nodded and ran after her team. They had taken two turns through the maze of hallways and had made it about a third of the way to the stairs when the new team entered the arena. “They’re fresh,” Mary prompted her team. “Let’s keep moving.”
Ricard was now in condition enough to keep his balance and ran along with everyone else. Mary hoped they could outrun their competitors to the stairs. She knew that the first team to enter must have almost cleared the automatic defenses that initially guarded the hold.
The King Dragon’s team, she thought. He owns five buildings in Friendship City, each one housing millions of people. The wealth is incredible. Why the hell is he fighting in this match? May be best not to think about it.
“Team Wes Lively has captured the hold,” the arena’s speakers announced. Above the basement level, the crowd cheered with enthusiasm and excitement. “The countdown has started at fifteen minutes.”
“Damn” Argus said. “We’ve got to get up there.” The rest of the team looked at him with malicious intent. Argus was the prospective retailer who had paid Mary and her team to represent him in the arena. The prospect whose team that won this match would own the right to lease a small storefront on one of the middle levels of the building.
Mary had needed a sixth gladiator for the match. While it wasn’t unheard of for prospects to fight in the arena, the practice was rare. Many of the fighters frowned upon it, because they had worked hard to earn their spot. Mary had decided that Argus’ experience in the military meant that he was able to follow orders. That ability was all that she needed from him, and for him to stay alive.
“After fifteen minutes,” Mary said. “We lose. Sprint, let’s go!”
Jamaal felt the tripwire before he saw it, and tumbled onto the ground.
Johnny shouted, “Trap!”
Ricard helped Jamaal stand just as the ceiling began to crumble and fall apart. Bits and blocks of concrete and iron mesh crashed down onto the floor. A cavity formed above them, and concrete dust billowed out from the structural wound.
Mary felt the vibrations and heard the whirr of a death bot. A ball of steel that rolled, found its targets by their heat, and attacked its prey with various blades. Two of them, and the dust made vision unreliable.
A gun fired on her right. The death bot made a correction, its engines letting off for a moment. Time enough for Mary to take aim, into the fog to her right and a little south. She fired, tap-tap-tap, gently and with little movement.
The death bot slid into her vision, and she fired a few more rounds into its core. It managed to extract a blade, aiming for Mary’s right arm. She emptied the contents of her magazine into the machine, refusing to give ground.
Another weapon joined in chorus with Mary’s to drive the death bot back. The force of the bullets pushed the machine back, interrupting its charge and damaging it beyond repair.
“Good job,” Mary said to Argus. “Keep it up.”
“Right,” Argus said. “Thanks.” The dust cleared, and Ric and Jamaal dispatched the second death bot.
“Two, up ahead,” Janet called back. Small and easily concealed, she was consistently the perfect candidate to scout. “They’re guarding the stairs around the corner. These aren’t our typical mercs, boss. They fired at me.”
“It’s the King Dragon’s team,” Mary said. “They’re trained well, but we have an advantage in that they’re not used to facing an honest fight.”
“I like the way you think, boss,” Janet said. Her grin was almost too large for her face to contain.
“Are we just gonna stand here?” Johnny said. He was a five foot six brick of muscle, almost as wide as he was tall. His fearlessness intimated the calmest fighters, and his ugly, twisted face only added to the effect.“I’m gettin twitchy.”
“Your turn, Johnny,” Mary said.
“I’m gonna enjoy this.” The rest of the team sprinted after him. They all dashed around the corner and came under immediate fire.