Under pressure

"Well fans, here we are for another edition of the bloodiest sport in the galaxy. A tournament where the winners become gods and the losers pay the ultimate price."

The words ring in my head as the wide elevator platform moves up into the light. The silhouettes of my team mates get blurred and soon all I see is just gleaming white. My eyes adapt only slowly to the brightness. Around me I feel the waves of applause and cheers of the masses.

I know the game, I've stood up here far too many times. And yet, I feel that prickly feeling in my stomach every time. I check my protective vest again. Everything's fine. One cool glance into the crowd, two girls faint. Thank god it's not them up here, they wouldn't stand a chance at all.

The blokes on the railing bawl and cheer. Thin, white-faced guys, they wouldn't be able to even hold a shotgun. But whatever, fans are fans. Apart from that the money is good; which isn't surprising considering what's at stake.

Our opponents march in. Rough guys, no sense for tactics, probably minimal team play. Easy prey for us.

I turn to my own team. A short wordless talk. A quick nod from the others confirms my impression: These opponents aren't a real threat.

"Ares! Ares! Ares!"

The crowd goes wild as our team leader steps forward to announce the arena.

"Compressed."

In the corner of my eye I can see our rivals congratulating each other – they think they've won already.

I hear Phoenix's derisive laughter next to me. She knows just like me that easy opponents always feel more secure in standard arenas and thus become careless.

She winks. "Piece of cake, Coatie."

We all have the names of mystic beings and gods in my team. Some joker suggested naming me after the Aztec god of death and rebirth, Quetzalcoatl. My annoyance with that name naturally made everyone like it even more. And since obviously no one in the team can pronounce it properly, I'm simply Coat.

I sense a buzzing running through my arms. The transport to the map has begun.

I feel my surroundings dissolve and re-form. I look around and search for orientation points. A corridor right in front of me ending in one of the towers, an elevator a couple of meters to my right. Which means behind me ... the other two call in through the com system.

"Phoenix, ready."

"Ares, ready."

A last equipment check. With the transport to the map I also received the default weaponry. I load my gun and take the safety off.

My HUD lights up. The match is about to begin: 3…

Adrenaline rushes in. 2...

My breath quickens. 1...

All senses on alert. "Play!"

The announcer's voice resonates through the arena's corridors.

I spin around. As expected, I find the first weapon right behind me. Already I hear shots fired above me. Damn, we didn't even have time to regroup. I hurry to holster the "water squirt" and grab the Linkgun. I reload it, running.

I sprint into the elevator and get ready for the jump. The platform starts to move. Now.

I jump. The elevator's acceleration doubles the height of my jump and I land in a dark air vent.

Please let it still be there!

I see a violet glow in front of me. Lucky me, it's still there. I pick up the Double Damage and load it into the Link which also starts to glow. I love tactical advantages.

I run to the other end of the vent and peek down the second elevator shaft. No one there. I jump. I just about manage to grab hold of the access connector of the upper floor. A blue figure appears in the adjacent corridor.

"Phoenix?"

"Coat? I got one, but the other two must be in one of the towers."

"'k. Move."

The two of us carry on together. In the meantime Phoenix has swapped her default weapon for the Flak which she's probably taken off the guy she's killed. If this was a training, we'd be calling her "Spammer!" now. I have to grin involuntarily. She notices my side glance and shrugs demonstratively. It's not a train after all.

Carefully and with constant safety glances back over our shoulders we move in the direction of the left tower. After a couple of steps Phoenix turns around: "Shield."

I check her condition on my HUD. "You take it" I whisper. She's already had enemy contact after all and I still have about half a minute of my Double Damage left.

She estimates the run-up and then jumps onto the small lattice hanging in the top part of the tower. The second her feet touch the metal I hear a loud swish coming from my left.

I don't even have time to warn her as the rocket hits.

"You bloody...!"

I raise the Link and open fire on the huge red figure in the left tower access. The big shield still slowly rotates where Phoenix just stood a second ago. I look at my opponent and we both start running at the same time.

My HUD blinks, the amplifier is running out. Another five seconds. Christ, not now! I skid to a stop. Fuck the shield if I'm dead. Another four seconds. I take aim and open fire again. Another three seconds. Another two. My opponent gets ready to jump. Just fucking die already!

One more second. Two more steps to the shield.

The HUD blinks again. The amplifier is out. I don't have time to swear. One more step. The Linkgun clicks. Out of ammo.

My opponent grins, takes the shield and turns around amicably. He raises the rocket launcher and aims. A blue flash of light hits him straight in the head. He immediately collapses.

"Head shot!" the announcer declares enthusiastically.

I heave a sigh of relief and run to Ares. "Thanks, man!"

"Forget it" he replies. "There's one more somewhere in here. Let's get down to the platforms, I need a medipack."

"'k."

We move to the edge of the upper floor and jump down to the platforms with the emergency equipment. I check my chronometer. Another five seconds until the next Double Damage appears. I signal Ares. He nods.

While Ares checks the tower again, I start running and secure the elevator.

Ares returns and counts down to both of us getting onto the elevator platform at the same time.

"Three. Two. One. Go."

We run into the elevator and jump off the acceleration point.

With the certainty of a thousand such jumps we both make it into the air vent but before I get a chance to stand up, a violet figure appears before me. A gigantic blue ball races towards us, followed by a thin ray of energy.

Combo, is my last thought as the ray incinerates the ball.

Then, everything turns black.

"You have lost the match."