2300: Fight Or Hide

Posted: September 8, 2011 by Kelly in deathmatching, league, stories

Down a hole, up a rope
Down some pills, up some hope
This karma machine only takes quarters
New age soldier, new age soldier

– Matthew Good Band, “Everything is automatic”

Moon stole a glance at the assortment of pills that was sitting next to her on the concrete floor. Another hour had passed, and still nothing had happened. She remained in her crouching position, surveying the area below her window like a hawk, but there was nothing. Kwon was not showing himself; he was refusing to seek her out. /Still/ refusing, even – this had been going on for the better part of eight hours. She could understand that he was unwilling to lose his cover position. By now she had wasted four of their fellow competitors for even trying to come up to her. They had all gotten bored or ambitious, and they had all perished equally under her sniper rifle. So yes, she could understand his hesitation.

It was just that she was getting tired by now. The Tournament had started at 8 in the morning, and midnight had passed a long time ago. She had gotten up at 4, so she’d been awake and high-strung for pretty much a full 24 hours by now. As a sniper, she was used to stakeouts, but how long ago since she’d last eaten, or relieved herself without fear of being shot? Or even talked to another live human being? It felt like forever. Even the announcer had gone quiet hours ago.

Next on the ground sat a vial of pills that were supposed to keep her awake, but she hated to be on stimulants. Sometimes, when she had not eaten enough, her hands would start trembling with the abrupt adrenaline burst that would jolt her awake. For a sniper, trembling hands were a disaster. So she didn’t take them and instead fought her sleep the old fashioned way: her trusty old math sums. Nothing like a little math to keep her mind going. It was intensive enough to keep her brain working so she wouldn’t immediately fall asleep, while she would still have enough brainpower to survey the concrete below. By now she knew every blade of grass of every bit of weed that grew between the cracks in the concrete down there. She knew exactly what patterns the spatters of blood made that discoloured the gray concrete where the bodies had fallen. In the past hours nothing down there had changed. If she would close her eyes, she could paint a perfect picture of the view.

That came with the territory, of course. Moon had always known that the boredom and the waiting game was part of it. She was a patient woman. She had never said no to a good stakeout, but this was starting to border on the ridiculous. It was just her and Kwon now, it had been for hours. All the other competitors had fallen. Some of them had turned on one another. Most of them had fallen under her rifle: she was the most accomplished killer in the field.

Announcer Khan had gone out of his way to compliment her on this earlier on in the Game. He had reminded her of the extra prize money she would receive once she would survive the game. With every kill, that amount stacked up. It was quite exciting to see how much money she would win tonight. Just participation money was already substantial enough to make sure she would live comfortable for a decade, but if you added the extra money she would earn on kills alone… yes, that was really nice.

Kwon only had one kill on his name, if Khan could be believed. About three hours in the game he had apparently gored a guy named Mai. Khan had not offered any further details, but he hadn’t complimented Kwon on the kill, either. He had been too busy commenting on other things: Kwon’s kill had happened at simultaneously with another showdown, which had involved an exciting shootout.

Since Kwon fought with a rocket launcher, Moon thought that any of his killings should be pretty spectacular for the viewers at home. Well, she wouldn’t get to see it until she got home anyway, so there was little point wondering about it. /If/ she hadn’t died of boredom by then. She knew better than to take the silence at face value. She had fortified herself here admirably, so there was no way he could get to her without exposing himself first. The problem was that he had probably done the same. No doubt Kwon was plotting her demise down there somewhere. And he had a reasonably long-range weapon as well, so losing her cover probably meant that she would go down. She wasn’t planning on doing so.

A couple of hours ago Khan had offered to double the prize money of whoever would leave their cover now, but neither of them had taken the bait.

So the impasse continued. The quiet continued. Nothing happened.

Perhaps the Corporation didn’t know what to make of it anymore, either. Perhaps the world had forgotten about the two of them by now, flicking to other channels. They would have gone to sleep, muttering to one another that they’d check the feed downloads by the time they would wake up… /if/ something would have happened. The world would have moved on, while here in the Arena the last two survivors in the Asian League would wait each other out until eventually they would succumb to starvation. After months the world would suddenly remember the two contestants and find two dead bodies. /Now there’s an amusing thought./

Moon stifled another yawn and blinked a couple of times to compose herself. Her heart skipped a beat with the jolt of adrenaline it produced /Have I missed something?/ but it remained quiet.

Still nothing happened.

***

“He has some balls to snooze in the middle of an Arena,” Lon Singh said, entering the room where Khan was taking care of the broadcast. “Looks all peaceful too,” she added resentfully, peering at the screens that showed Kwon fast asleep in the bushes.

His colleague had a cup of coffee in her hands and was wearing an oversized sweater and faded jeans. Her dark hair was tied in a messy bun and she was hardly wearing any make-up, which indicated that when he had called her half an hour ago, she had been completely off-guard.

“Didn’t you sleep enough, then?” Khan drawled. It was 3 in the morning; most likely she had been sleeping. She would’ve had the morning shift to talk the audience through the aftermath of the Game, if he had not called her in earlier. He would have felt sorrier for her if he hadn’t known the mundane reason why she was running on sleep shortages, whereas he had been working for sixteen hours straight at this point.

She yawned. “I was well on my way, until you called me.” She raked a hand through her hair and yawned once more. /Obviously a fast sleeper,/ Khan observed.

“Did you inform Stender already?”

“Yeah. Stender should arrive any moment now. He was at the Compound when I called him.”

“What about Weisz?”

“She was the one who insisted I should call Stender.” He’d been talking to Weisz for most of the evening, since she was his liaison on polls, viewer ratings, and whatever happened in the betting stations. As the hour grew late, she had become increasingly irritated. She had been pushing all night to do something and liven up the Game. /We are losing audience here, idiot. People are going to bed!/ she’d hissed at him from the screens.

At first, Khan didn’t think it would be that much of a big deal. Weisz was just a pessimist, and she’d always been that way. It was Friday, the weekend was starting. People would hang around with a beer and watch the whole Game – that was what people did on the weekends. The Asian League Final was something that people would stay up for, however long it took. That was also what he said to Stender earlier tonight in a vid chat. But then Weisz had come in with the polls an hour ago, and he learned that as of midnight the viewer ratings had tumbled down. She’d been right, as always. So he had made another call, and Stender had left the Compound.

Khan had done his damndest to work his magic behind the scenes to give the audience a more riveting thing to look at. In any other circumstance, he would have been proud of the combination of clips, flashbacks, backgrounds and frequent commercial breaks. He’d done his thing to spice up the competition, but he didn’t have the authorisation to threaten with disqualifications or anything. Disqualifications were the ultimate last resort, and until now they’d never had to use one. He wondered if Stender’s presence would indicate that this time it was.

“Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime?” Lon asked, popping some high end stimm capsules. She smiled her beautiful smile at him, and waved her empty cup of coffee to indicate she could get him some as well.

He nodded. “A cup of coffee would be heavenly.” He would drink it with some extra stimms, too. God knew he needed to stay alert. If anything would happen now, it would be violent.

***

Moon couldn’t concentrate on her math sums anymore. Somewhere in her head her calculations had gone wrong and she forgot what she was trying to calculate anyway. She was out of adrenaline, she needed to pee, she was terribly hungry, and her canister of water – which she had rationed out very carefully – was nearly empty.

Her eyes were burning. How long before she would have to give in and take stimms on an empty stomach?

***

In the bushes, somewhere to the south of his enemy, Mike Kwon woke up with a start. He immediately checked his watch and saw that he had snoozed for the better part of an hour. /Looks like that gambit paid off,/ he thought with satisfaction. He had slept lightly enough to trust that he would have noticed if she had left her cover and gotten anywhere near him. His resting place had been sufficiently hidden that she would have had to enter the thick bushes. There was no way she would have seen him, or gotten to him, without knowing.

And he /had/ to sleep. The stimms he’d taken early in the morning had ran out around dinnertime, and he had crashed dangerously. He had nearly felt his sugar and energy levels dropping to the point where he had problems remaining conscious. He’d been in no state to take on a sniper, so he had gambled. If he would take on Moon, he would die. If he would try to sleep, she would maybe take him out while he slept. Well, there were worse ways to die. It would be a bit of an embarrassment for his family, but they would understand. The world that was watching him would understand: he needed his strength.

And now, an hour later he /did/ feel better. Did he feel good enough to take on a frigging sniper that had fortified herself so intensely that he had no way of getting to her? Mike didn’t know. He needed a miracle, but he decided that he was feeling lucky.

He took the last two of his stims and washed them away with the last mouthful of water from his canister. Time to try something.

***

“We need to wake them up, we need to engage the audience,” Stender said. He was sitting on one of the consoles, facing the screens that showed the face of Irina Weisz. His back was facing to Khan, who knew in his gut that his boss was very unhappy with the current situation. He hoped Stender didn’t hold him responsible. Fuck knew that he’d done all he could to liven things up.

“Agreed,” Weisz said on the screen. She was wearing her perpetual scowl, only deepened with her current irritation. “I ran some rating projections and they’re taking a nose dive off a cliff in the next few hours. Nobody’s interested anymore. I suppose that if our deathmatchers hold out the night till 8 in the morning people will take their breakfast watching the game again – but if anything happens in the meantime, the viewers just don’t give a shit.”

Khan sighed to stifle a yawn. “If anyone has any bright ideas or perhaps some authorisation to do shit, I’m all ears. I’m too tired to think straight.”

“We need something to keep the audience to hang on until morning. We need to give them something to do- a promised payoff,” Weisz mused. She was pale-faced with fatigue, which made the scars stand out even more.

“Involvement,” Stender said suddenly. “We need to ask the viewers what /they/ want. If they choose for the option they want, they’ll be more inclined to hang on.”

“What options can we offer them?” Khan thought, thinking of ways to break the impasse that Moon and Kwon had gotten themselves in. Low on resources, high-strung and exhausted, they would not want to move from their fortified positions. “Options to get the participants moving?”

“Exactly,” his boss said. “We offer to firebomb the fortress that Moon’s holed up in, disqualification for the one who moves last, survival supplies on other places in the arena that they need to get to…” He paused for a moment, lost in thought. “Anyone any other ideas?”

“We could always threaten to kill their loved ones,” Weisz offered. “That should get them moving.”

It earned her a smile from Stender. “Sweet Irina, always so gentle,” he said ironically. “No way we could sell that to the crowd. Let’s not do that yet. But good on you for out-of-the-box thinking, Weisz.”

Of course that was an underhanded criticism to Khan’s rule-following in the League so far. Apparently Stender wanted him to show more initiative. He had always been pushed towards rule-breaking. It was wat his boss wanted in the Corporation. Creative thinking, problem-solving and hands-on attitudes, that was he was hired for. Lon Singh was mostly hired for her pretty face and her media background. She was his junior, his backup. He was supposed to have things completely under control. Stender had not wanted to come here – he had not wanted to take action. Yet, would he have been okay with Khan taking the decision to disqualify by himself? Khan didn’t think so. Damn, he resented his job sometimes!

“Khan, make it happen,” Stender said after a couple more minutes of brainstorming. “Think of some other options together, contact the agencies, make the announcement. Make it engaging. Tell the contestants to hold out a little longer. I don’t want them facing off before the morning news.”

“Sure.” He could do that. That was one of the things he was /good/ at, at least. He could make it pretty.

***

The announcement came out of the blue, somewhere after 4.30 am. It startled Moon out of her sleep-deprived anxiety, enough so she nearly fell over. Khan’s voice was close, as if he was sitting next to her. He spoke in her ear piece, not over the loudspeakers, which made it creepier than it should be.

“Moon, this is a private message. Give no indication to the cameras that you’ve heard this message. We need you and Mike to hold out until the morning news, since our viewers are going to sleep. At 8 am there will be food and water distributed at a location that will be determined later. I suggest you make a run for it by then, your supplies are running low.”

Moon blinked and stole another look at the pills and her nigh-empty canister of water.

/This will be a long night./

***

Mike was sitting in a tree, spying on Moon’s fortress from an unseen position. He was surveying the area for what seemed like the hundredth time since he had killed Mai. The Fortress lay quiet under the light of the large stadium-sized lamps. The handful of windows that faced him gleamed emptily. If he could only see what room Moon was hiding in, then he could take her out from a distance. The frustration and the stims were coursing through his system, filling him with a nervous energy that felt synthetic even to himself.

When the announcement came, he happened to he holding on to one of the branches, otherwise he might have fallen. “Kwon, this is a private message. Give no indication to the camera’s that you’ve heard this message. We need you and Moon to hold out until the morning news, since our viewers are going to sleep. I know you’re checking out her defenses, but do not take action before 8 am. At that time there will be food and water distributed at a location that will be determined later. I suggest you grab her when she runs for it by then.”

Mike checked his watch. 4.30 am. Maybe he would have time for another nap.

***

In the hours that followed, Mike Kwon found himself unable to sleep because he was wired on stims, and Len Moon was battling fatigue with the exhausted desperation of someone who is clinging onto consciousness by pure willpower alone.

It didn’t make for great television, but most of the action was happening in the virtual world anyway. The polls went online a little before 5 am and the audience response was good. So far it seemed that the viewers were pleased that their opinion was asked, and they were all too happy to give their thoughts on the various media outlets available.

Stender and Lon were immersing themselves in the community contacts. Lon’s fingers flew over the plasma screen, writing posts, sending out status updates, and discussing with media and a few chosen high-profile fans. Stender was doing the same work, but outside the broadcast rooms. Ever since the polls went online, he had been constantly calling important people, so he had hardly been in the room at all.

Khan busied himself with the recording of announcements and the editing of video clips. He’d also been in touch with their medical advisor to inform the audience about the effects of fatigue and stimulant overdoses that the competitors were battling at the moment. It was not very out of the box like Stender wanted, but he had made himself useful at least. Before things would start happening again, they would be able to inform the audience what the stakes would be.

The next time Weisz called, it was after 6 am and she was /smiling/. A genuine smile, one that was so dazzling that it would almost make you forget about the scars on her face. She looked almost pretty. “The ratings came in,” she announced.

“Good tidings?” Lon asked, not looking up from whatever community work she was doing. She was all awake and full-on in business now. Khan had not seen her yawn anymore in the past hour, which led him to believe that she was as high on stimms as he was.

“Very good tidings. The viewer ratings have gone up; it looks like the audience is waking up. Stender’s polls have the desired effect. If we make sure that we have a spectacular finale, then we might end up with a successful League finale after all.”

***

The only thing that kept Moon going was the promise of refreshments in an hour. In an hour, she would be able to get something to drink, something to eat. Once she’d done that, she could take her stims and then finish Kwon and this thrice-damned game forever.

She was trying to come up with a way to leave her cover, but it became increasingly hard to think. Would she gamble on staying here anyway, and hoping Kwon would leave before she did?

Rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, Moon tried to look for a way out of her fortified position. How would she know that Kwon wouldn’t just take her out the moment she would leave cover? She was almost to the point where she didn’t care about that anymore. Her world had narrowed down to this second, this torturous moment. Her parched lips, her fatigue, her low blood sugar, the spells of dizziness.

Next to her, the stimm pills were still sitting on the floor. Would trembling hands be better than this fatigued hell of existence?

/Fuck everything about this,/ Moon thought vehemently. /I just want to go home./

***

Mike’s hands were trembling, but that was okay. His weapon was not made for precision. The rocket launcher was dangerous over a large area. It was most accurate when he aimed precisely, but his trembling hands shouldn’t matter too much.

The crippling headaches and the thirst were much more of a nuisance. /A drink, a drink, my kingdom for a drink./

He had liked Moon when he met her at the formal dinner last night. She had this quiet toughness about her that he felt comfortable with. Her shyness was almost alluring. Of all the contestants, he’d liked her best. As things stood right now, he just wanted to kill her and go home. He would have killed the President himself if that was what it took.

/A drink, a drink, my kill for a drink./

He nearly laughed out loud.

***

7.55 am.

She had held out this long, but she had to give in now. Her exhaustion was kicking her ass worse than any stim-induced trembling hands ever could.

/Here’s to hoping that the trembling is not that bad,/ Moon thought, sending a silent prayer to whatever deity that watched over League contestants.

One last swallow of water. Two pills.

/Here goes nothing./

***

8.00 am.

Morning sunlight is filtering through the foliage of the tree where Mike has taken position. It is gleaming at the windows where Moon has taken refuge. It renders the Arena golden, as if it is some sort of paradise, tranquil and perfect.

A voice cuts through the silence, booming through the strategically placed loudspeakers.

“Good morning, competitors! We’ve asked our audience what we could do to motivate your stubborn asses to get out of this mexican standoff you’ve got yourselves in,” Khan announces cheerfully. “The audience voted on the options we gave them, and it looks like we’ve got a winner.”

Behind her windows, Moon sits up. She covers her mouth with her hand, as if she cannot believe what he is saying. Mike lips his cracked lips and stares at Moon’s fortress as if he’s trying to burn holes in it. Neither of the competitors responds.

“So we lied about the refreshments,” Khan continues. “It’s your own damn fault for staking out long after your supplies have run out. There are no refreshments. Instead, the area where you are is going to be firebombed in the next five minutes. The audience figured that this should get you moving, even if nothing else does.”

Moon bites her knuckles. She looks like she’s going to be sick.

Mike smiles, then frowns at his trembling hands.

“So you better get your butts moving. The clock starts ticking…. NOW.” Khan laughs softly. His chuckle echoes through the morning air. “Have fun, guys. I’ll see one of you later.”

***

Moon closed her eyes for a moment. She was hidden behind the windowsill and out of range of Kwon’s rocket launcher, so she could afford herself the precious seconds. What to do? Fight or hide? Wait for the possibility of firebombs? She could feel the stimms coursing through her system. It wouldn’t be long before she would get her rush of energy and the possibility of impairment to her precision.

She couldn’t hope for lies. She couldn’t afford to stay much longer. /I’m running out of time either way. Either the fire gets me, or Kwon does. Time to move./

***

The viewers at home get a good eyeful of Moon’s desperation contrasting with Kwon’s smirk.

***

After all those hours of waiting, Mike was more than ready to give into the ‘come at me bro’ feelings that were clouding his judgment. He had woken up yesterday morning knowing fairly sure that he wouldn’t see the sunset – but instead he had lived through sunset and sunrise both. He was already alive for much longer than he thought he would. /Borrowed time,/ he thought. /Let’s make it count./

Billion of hungry eyes were watching him, all over the world. He would give them a show. /Let it not be said that it was me who was the coward in the end. Let them say I ended it. Let them say that Moon died because of my rocket launcher, dammit. Let them say I was patient,/ he told himself, weaving his way through the foliage on the edge of the clearing. /I was patient, and in the end I persevered. I didn’t hole up like a coward. I’ll take her out. Just watch me, hungry eyes./

He had a straight line of sight upwards from the entrance of the building. He knew his timing. He needed to make sure she had really left that window where she could shoot him and then when she would emerge, he would off her, just like that. As if she were running right into his deadly embrace. It would be grand.

She could emerge any moment now.

***

Moon hesitated near the bottom of the stairs. The entrance of her fortress – the /only/ entrance – was just around the corner. She felt nauseated and trembly. /Dammit,/ she cursed silently, pressing her back against the wall and holding her rifle at the ready. No windows to check out the clearing before the building. No way of knowing he lay in waiting (of course he did). There was no way she could bank on Mike having fled to safety. He would be there, he and his rocket launcher.

Seconds ticked away with her heartbeat. Still she waited.

She hoped to break his concentration, hoped he would get bored and wouldn’t want to risk it anymore. If he would flee before she did, then she could make a run for it. Right now though, she was a sitting duck. If she would come out, she would die. /Dammit, dammit, dammit…/

She blinked against the dusty twilight of the entrance. Perhaps… Would he be crazy enough to come inside, though? Inside, she could get him to run into her line of fire instead of the other way around. It would still be dangerous, but if she could surprise him… if she could convince him that she would be harmless, maybe he would be reckless. Kwon was known to be reckless and impatient at times. The recklessness had saved him a couple of times. Could it be his undoing?

Moon looked at her footprints in the dusty concrete below and shrugged. Then she tossed her rifle down the stairs, and herself after it.

***

“What the hell is she doing?!” Lon nearly shrieked.

Khan gave an impatient wave in her direction to shut her up, while he informed the audience. “Looks like Len Moon is getting desperate,” he said in his microphone, adjusting his camera view to get a good look at his contestant. “She’s showing some balls: throwing herself down some concrete stairs to try and get him to enter the building. Here’s to hoping she won’t break her neck.”

Lon was biting her knuckles; something he had seen her do before when she was nervous. He wondered how attached his colleague /really/ was to Kwon, after last night. “She’s getting up,” she said. “She’s bleeding, though.”

He flicked to the camera’s that were outside, watching Kwon. They showed him in the bushes, surprise showing on his usually either expressionless or smirking face. There was doubt flickering in his eyes as he heard the ruckus that his competitor made.

“You can see him figuring it out. Moon has fallen; is she dead? Can he take her out? Oh, the tension is so thick here – you could cut it with a knife!” He checked the countdown. “Three minutes until the bombs fall. They better make their decisions quickly…”

***

Moon stood on knees that felt like water and wiped the blood from her eyes. She had shouted, somewhere on the way down. She had no idea what – a curse, a yell – something. She couldn’t have planned it any better: now she had a great view on the entrance, she had her rifle in her hands, and Mike could enter any moment.

If only she wasn’t trembling so much. She groaned, hoping that she would appear in pain and harmless. /Come in, Kwon. You know you want to./

He damn well better. There were still bombs on the way.

***

“We are in position. Awaiting orders,” the pilot said.

“Thank you. T minus two minutes, thirty seconds,” Khan said. His gaze flicked to Stender as he cut off communications. “Are we really going through with this?” he asked his boss. “There’s a chance we kill them both, and they /have/ moved.”

Stender shrugged, but there was some amusement sparking in his blue eyes. “It’s your call, Khan. It’s your league.”

/He’s pushing me again,/ Khan realized. /He’s trying to see what I’ll do./ He looked at the split screens. Moon was standing in the shadows, holding her rifle ready for anything that might happen. Kwon stood motionless. Did they know that their lives were in his hands? He’d seen more deaths in the League in the past few years than he cared to admit. He’d announced their death with a practiced glee in his voice – just enough to ignite the audience. Sometimes he’d felt sorry when they died gory, horrible deaths. Usually he hadn’t, it was just the Game to him. But now he had to say the word: on his decision they would perhaps both die. At the very least, the way things were going, they would get severely injured. Why the fuck wouldn’t they just leave the Fortress already like he told them to? /God, I’m so sick and tired of these headgames! I just want to go to my fucking bed./

Seconds ticked away while Khan stared at the screens as if he wanted to burn a hole in them. Stender watched him quietly. The control room was silent.

“They signed up for this. I warned them,” Khan heard himself say suddenly. He opened the microphone to the pilots. “T minus one minute,” he told them. “Get ready.”

Stender nodded.

***

Inside the building, Moon was groaning – obviously she had taken quite the tumble down the stairs.

/Exhaustion is a bitch, isn’t it?/ Mike thought, and took a tighter grip on his rocket launcher. He looked up, where his satellite was located.

Suddenly it all became clear what he had to do. Moon wouldn’t leave the building with him lying in wait. She was drawing him in, hoping to take him out. So she would wait until the very last moment to come out, and the bombs were on their way. All he had to do was make sure she stayed there… helpless, while the building exploded. The bombs would do her in. /A fine ending,/ Mike decided. He began to move over the clearing, closer towards the entrance.

Not too close, or he might risk getting fried, himself. But close enough. How long did he have left anyway? He thought he heard jets in the distance. /Fuck, better hurry./

He didn’t need that much accuracy. He just needed to pull the trigger and run.

So he did.

The weapon bucked in his hands, but he held on. His aim was true; the rocket buried itself in the wall only a couple of inches above the entrance. And the concrete crumbled first, exploded second.

***

The entrance exploded in dust and rubble, effectively blocking the exit. There were only seconds left before the jets would arrive and here she was, trapped in the very building they said they would blow up.

“Fuck!” she shouted, and grabbed pieces of stone and contrete to dig herself out.

***

Several things happen at once for the viewers at home. In the control room, Khan and his colleagues are working feverishly to show it all: the realisation and horror on Moon’s face, Kwon’s maniacal grin as he turns and runs to get out of the line of fire, and the jets arriving.

They never break formation, they never brake. They just lose their bombs and fly on, as if it is just an afterthought. The two bombs hit at almost exactly the same time.

The viewers at home don’t see anything for a while, as their television and computer screens filled with the bright light of the explosions. Violet first, then red and yellow and black. And then static for a moment, as four of the five cameras cease to function.

***

Len Moon has only just started to remove the rubble by the time bombs fall. She never has any chance. The last thing she knows is the explosion, and a sensation of heat. That is all.

***

While running, Mike feels the shockwave pick him up and throw him to the ground like a rag doll. In an expression of futility, he tries to assume the fetal position to cover his vulnerable head, but the lamp post is suddenly there.

He connects with it in a another flash of white light. Then nothing.

***

Khan leaned back in his chair. “Thank fuck that is over,” he said, watching the flat line on Len Moon’s vital signs.

“The explosion killed her,” he announced to the viewers at home. “As of 8.15 am, Len Moon has flatlined, she has died in explosion.” He wondered how many people had lost money on this bet today. How many of them were watching? He continued to shoot footage of Ground Zero with his one remaining camera on site, remotely directing the feed to create the most intense images for the audience to drink in. “Mike Kwon is still alive, but incapacitated. League rules state, however, that he is the winner of the Asian League of 2300.” He smirked. “Provided that he lives to the inauguration, that is.”

Behind him, Lon was sitting at her desk, calling up images of Kwon’s girlfriend and the footage of his exploits in the Fortress, smiling a soft smile of relief the whole time. /She must be really happy that he lives, happier than she wants to admit./

Stender stood next to her, quietly supporting and directing her work. At the same time, Khan could see how his boss was sending out requests to the standby medical teams to retrieve Kwon’s unconscious body before he would get more seriously hurt. His injuries were nothing to scoff at. They needed a champion, and they needed him soon. Once this was over, they could all go to bed.

It took half an hour before they had Kwon in a regen tank and watched as golden light washed over him, healing him of his injuries – even the head wound.

They had their champion. All they needed was for Kwon to open his eyes and quickly recover for the press conference at noon. /Then/ they could all home and forget about this marathon of a League.

“Hey Stender?” Khan said. He rubbed a hand over his burning eyes. “Let’s never do it this way again.”

“Agreed,” his boss said, watching as the medical orderlies fussed over the champion of the Asia League. “Time for some reforms. Even though we managed to save the ratings, this wasn’t a good game. I /hate/ bad games.”

“We did what we could,” Khan said quietly.

“Yes, you did,” Stender said, not unkindly. Of course his boss knew what he thought – Stender had an uncanny way of looking into people’s brains sometimes. “Keep up the good work. Next time, I’ll make sure you have real backup. You deserve it. We /all/ deserve it.”

“What are you thinking of?”

“Nothing too definite yet. But I think I am going to visit a man named Young.”

“After you slept, I suppose?”

Stender grinned. “After we’ve /all/ slept. Go to bed, Khan. Lon and I can cover from here. You’ve deserved it.”

“Thank you,” Khan whispered. He smiled weakly at his boss and took one last look at Mike Kwon’s unconscious body, before he exited the room and went to find his bed.

Finally.

He slept before his head touched the pillow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s