Into the Arena

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Ted looked at his watch. It was almost time to leave the fresh spring sunshine of the Plaza, and get ready for the first game of the new season. "Time to get Going", he told Jami and Ryan, looking across at the frontage of the Sequoia Arena, just as Sarge walked up, the fourth member of the Twisters team, accompanied by the stocky, cheerful figure of Wes of the Gators. Sarge gave Ted her best smile. "Good luck, Ted - Wes here is in your heat, too."

"A familiar face is always welcome", Ted said, and grasped the Gators strongman's hand. "We see you in our own arena so often, you are practically an honorary Twister, it seems to me. We all appreciate the chance to get in extra practise with people from the pro circuit."

Wes beamed as they shook hands, careful not to squeeze too hard. "Hey, I like the company", he told the group. "And it can be good to escape the weather for a while. Besides, your carpets are easy on the feet, you know?"

"The Sequoia Ballblast heat is now open", came the announcer's mellow voice. "Will the following players please now enter the arena: Mary of the Orbiteers, Little Tree of the Tribe, Wes of the Gators, Justin of the Tycoons, and Ted of the Twisters." All over the Plaza, groups of people were breaking up, and the named players heading in one direction.

Wes put his arm around Ted's shoulders encouragingly. "A difficult heat, my friend. Come on!" They walked over to the Sequoia doorway, and followed O'Malley through, then watched him disappear into the transmat. "One second here - the next, a thousand clicks away", Wes said. "I don't think that I will ever really get used to going through these things."

"I know what you mean", Ted replied. "But we couldn't play the game without them." He smiled. "The wonders of C-23 technology."

"With all that tech power, you'd think they could tweak the programme, and... tidy up some of the messier players", Justin commented from just behind him. "Make them come out the far end just a bit better-tailored - or even a bit thinner, perhaps."

"I could come out as three people your size", Wes commented cheerfully.

"And each a seventh as bright", Justin said, slightly more than a hint of malice in his perfect-toothed smile. He pushed ahead of them into the swirling lights.

Now fully kitted up and holding their "Secret Shot II" pistols ready, the six players marched out into the Sequoia Arena. A cooling breeze, warm sunshine, a clean pine-needle smell from the forests around, sounds of birdsong...and a low hum of anticipation from the capacity crowd. Wes ambled away to his starting point, and gave a big, slow wave to a section of the crowd sporting banners saying "Go Gators!" Ted looked round. He had played friendly matches here, and practised with Wes and his team, but this was his first Tournament game, and that made it very different - a whole new ballblast game. He grinned at the thought, but the grin faded when he couldn't see anybody he recognised in the stands, or any Twister banners. He decided that it was time to concentrate on the Arena. They must just be in a part of the crowd he couldn't see... His own starting point was by the upper pool, with its awkwardly-placed scoring point; he heard the release of the coloured pointballs, but none of them were visible from his position.

"Ten seconds to game start", he heard. "Nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one..." And then the buzzer sounded, so loud that he was startled by it, as if it hadn't been what he had been waiting so anxiously for.

Ted sighted on the distant point-target, and fired, just ahead of somebody firing up at it from ground level. 250 points. He ran forward towards the triple strike, and felt the impact of nerf darts from behind, heard the warning of his suit as energy levels began to drop. He jumped forward, snatched up the rocket-gun, and left the upper walkway, landing heavily on the grass below.

Breath knocked out of him, he spotted Mary holding the wildfire, aiming at him, managed to jink right and left, aimed at her, fired - but she managed to avoid his single rocket, and fired a full spread of ten darts at almost point blank range, smiling. His last view, as he began to fade, was of her dashing in to grab the points-lozenge...

He was in the wood-lined room near to the main scoring point, with the fire crackling, a smell of woodsmoke in the air. The wall's point-target was a deep purple. He began to turn as the ballzooka splattered him with goo, and he was frozen in place, unable to move, as Justin smiled broadly and fired the goo again and again. The grey glop sounded, felt and smelled disgusting... he tried to move, to bring his own pistol to bear, but Justin sidestepped, and kept firing as Ted's health points drained away. It was a relief when at last he found himself fading out again... his last view was of Justin nimbly darting in, and scooping up the points that he was leaving behind.

As the game continued, details began to blur, one event into the next, and afterwards Ted could never remember it all. A frantic jump over a flight of three rockets, and firing the hypershot to blow Mary away - and just being beaten to the 750 points by Justin! Wes standing, pumping the balls through the hoop until Ted stopped him and scooped up the points and the one remaining ball, only to be disintegrated by O'Malley and a well-aimed nerf cannonball. Finding the yellow and orange balls in the water under the little footbridge, and getting them both safely into touch... A desperate run for a power-up, only to be brought down only inches from safety by a hail of darts. Standing trading shots with Little Tree in a corridor, hardly able to dodge, hoping he was giving out more damage than he was taking, hearing the bleep of the health warning - and winning in the end by one single health point, then being able to dash for a power-up...

"Gold ball is now in play", the announcer said at last. Ted glanced at the scores - it was close, the 5000 points that the final ball was worth would decide the winner. Not long to go now, and he was 2000 behind O'Malley, who was close behind Justin. And Little Tree was just behind Ted - and past him! Ted backed up, fired at a target, and was rewarded by third place again. Where would the gold ball be? It was never easy to find. He decided to head for the high ground, and hurried up the ramp, past the hoop, and into the warren of passageways. He ran on out into the open, just in time to see Little Tree scoop up the triple strike, turn to aim at the 250-point target, and see him.

Frantically Ted ran forward, and dived behind the pillar, as rockets roared past close over his head. Little Tree hadn't actually had a moment to hit the point-target, having seen him, so now Ted was able to turn and quickly bag it for himself...his last dart. He dropped the wildfire, grabbed the secret shot, and fired blindly, coming out from cover to see Little Tree running for the upper pool. He must be low on suit power, Ted decided, and heading for the power-up in the water there. Ted aimed carefully as Little Tree ran, dodging and jumping for all he was worth... he squeezed the trigger gently, then pumped it as fast as he could, and was rewarded by the sight of the Tribe player falling to his knees in frustration, fists raised, and then fading from sight, beamed out as the 250-point lozenge was transmatted in.

Ted ran through the points, picking up the 'strike without slowing, and almost at once reached the pool. The power-up got him healthy again, and the orange ball was there. Water streaming off his suit, he came out like a missile - only to run into the blast of the scattershot, held by a grinning Justin. "1500 points for the ball, and 500 for you", he heard as he began to fade. "Who says you amateurs don't have your uses?"

Did Justin have to work at being obnoxious, or did it come naturally? Ted decided that it was the latter, while he came out in the back of beyond, picking up the ballzooka. Scout around, or go for the scoring area? And then he looked into the water. In the deepest spot, that wasn't a "mighty mo" nerf ball! He dived in, it gleamed invitingly...it was the yellow, worth 1250 points. It could have been better - but it wasn't bad! He thought for a moment, then began to swim along the stream, smoothly and confidently, towards the main stretch. A splash above him - it was the orange ball, and Ted grabbed it gratefully, picking up a pack of ballzooka ammo at the same time. He leapt from the water like a young dolphin, and saw Little Tree ahead, running for the hoop, getting the pointball-gun up and ready to launch. Clicking the ballzooka to 'alt', Ted shot low, and again, and the Tribe's red-haired hotshot froze. Ted's ballzooka made its "splurt" noise twice more and Little Tree sank to the ground in frustration before fading away, leaving his 500 points for Ted to snatch - and the gold ball! Ted hugged it to him, and scurried for the ramp... A rocket howled past his ear, and instinctively he leapt and rolled frantically.

He was hit, his health score was down to 12 - Ted ducked off to the left, to get under cover, and almost fell into the fire there. Still off balance he turned, saw the point-target on the wall - and then saw Justin. "A bit low on health, my amateur friend?" He grinned at Ted, and made a throat-slitting gesture, using the sidewinder he now held so casually. "Good old Justin has just the cure for you!"

The suit was bleeping frantically, as Ted made a desperate leap into the air, over a stream of yellow mini-discs. They bounced off the far wall, and Ted dived sideways, almost across the fire itself, trying to bring the ballzooka to bear on his opponent. Justin himself was hit by a couple of the wildly-bouncing discs, then another - finally he dropped the empty sidewinder, and the pulsator was in his hands. Ted didn't have time to select alt fire; he managed to hit Justin three times with his ballzooka balls before a bolo caught him on the wrist, and he dropped his weapon to the ground, where it clattered out of reach, sliding into the fire. "Well, I guess this is good - as disasters go..." Justin began to fade, an astonished look on his face. Ted couldn't hear him now, but he looked as if he was screaming with rage, and looking down on the 1000-point lozenge, the dropped pulsator, and the blue pointball. He shook his fists violently, and vanished from sight, as Ted got to his feet, and shakily stumbled forward to claim the booty...only then seeing a massive figure silhouetted in the doorway. "He talks too much, that Justin", Wes said mildly, the hypershot dangling loosely from one massive hand. And then he smiled, and jogged off down the passageway, leaving Ted feeling just a little stunned.

Ted knew there was little time left. He ran out onto the decking, ran past the hoop to pick up the power-up, then back to a firing position, thumbing the selector to "1" on the way. Without pausing to look round, he aimed at the hoop, and squeezed the trigger - not gently enough, as the blue ball bounced off the edge of the circle, and away, but the yellow ball sailed smoothly through, and the orange ball. He felt the impact of darts on his back, and his suit began to beep, but he fired once more, and the gold ball soared across, safely into the hoop, before his health could reach zero again.

"Gold ball - We have a Winner!" Ted was panting so hard, now, he could only just hear the announcer's smooth tones. "Ted - of the Twisters!"

Being on the podium, on the top of the great big podium, was a wonderful feeling, Ted decided, as he waved and fancy-kicked, looking down on the top of Justin's expensively-styled blond head. He had been lucky, both in playing and in his friends; would his luck hold out next time, in the second round? He held both hands high, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd. He supposed he would just have to wait and see!

And that is the end of this particular story. Do let me know if you enjoyed it, and would like to see a further adventure! We do have two slightly different stories available for you to read now, though - just click one of the buttons below! Not the one on the left, though, unless you want to re-read this tale...