Left, left, up, up…
Up, up, down, down, right, left, select, start, down…
Left, left, down, down, start, select…
Left, left, up, down, select, start, A, B, left, right, left…
Up, up, down, down, right, up…
I leave the gun on the table and focus on my half-drawn poster. It’s not bad, so far. Blood’s a little pink, but not enough to infantilise it. And the building looks good. Imposing. Strong. No one would guess it’s meant to be Ljubljana. At least, I don’t think they would.
Slavoj might’ve, I suppose…if he’d seen the marking on the side of the…on the side of the building.
I get up and walk around the room, looking at the four hundred odd other posters pinned next to and on top of each other. Some are so old the colours have faded, others so new they look like cartoons. None are distinctive enough to stay in my head.
I finish a lap then do another.
I think of the planet below.
It’s been almost five hours.
Eight and a half is the record, and that was…when?
Six months ago?
I look over at Gaspar’s calendar poster. The lines are still blurry. Far as I can tell, the month says June and the year says 2824. Wasn’t June gone already?
I start walking over to get a closer look.
The siren sounds.
I look at the gun sitting next to the crayons on the other side of the room, but there’s no time.
It’s coming with me whether I’m holding it or not.
I straighten up.
The room deletes and sky grows in.
Just like up there.
I shake my arms, my nerves.
I’m on the cliff edge, suit on, gun in hand.
Same as ever.
No sign of anyone else.
No sign of Gaspar.
Probably for the best.
The guy’s been a little out of sorts lately.
Not updating the calendar.
Hiding in his room.
Better if he sits a few out.
I look around, even though I know this place like the back of my blue leather glove.
Green wedge that could be grass, box down and left hiding a turret, red vipe running my way…
I shoot without thinking.
Vipe dies in one shot, just like us.
Now he can go back to wherever it is he goes.
Other side of the planet?
Wherever it is, they don’t seem to want him gone long.
The guy runs, doesn’t shoot…every goddamn time.
Is that the orders he gets?
Run but don’t kill.
The fallen vipe starts to flicker, his suit and all the messy shit inside beaming off the green.
Second vipe spawns in, same strategy as the first.
I send four “persuaders” his way.
He falls back like a rag doll.
Only chance he’s got is if I’m taking a shit.
Or spawning in drunk.
If I were drunk, I’d shoot even faster.
Who cares? There’s up, there’s down, there’s thirty yards ahead. There’s diagonal down for those fuckers trying to clip my feet. There’s diagonal up for those make believe pigeons in the sky. There’s backwards too, if I can face turning round.
I never miss.
The third vipe spawns in.
I shoot him, Eagle reflex, and go back to what ifs.
Shit, I’ve been standing here for…how long?
Good job there’s no time limit.
I look up and see the four mountains floating in the sky, purple mist cutting off their bases, and…what’s that?
It’s dark, so it’s tough to make out, but…
There’s a monitor.
245 seconds left.
I re-tribulate my scanner and look forward, as far as I can.
Yeah, I know this place.
It’s not so hard.
245 seconds is enough.
I look for the reload button on my huge fucking gun then realise there is none.
I run a bit and shoot a bit.
I shoot real fast, faster than the vipes.
Faster than the turrets too.
Things stop coming.
Things fall quiet.
I scan forward.
The alien base is a hundred metres ahead, politely not firing until I’m staring up its nose.
It’s quiet now and I like it.
I want to sit down and read.
Sit down and drink maybe.
I don’t want to go inside the base.
I look up.
Plenty of time.
I rub the side of my gun.
I check my suit for pockets even though I know there are none.
I wave at the guards advertising the base.
They don’t wave back.
I look at the four mountains
They don’t do anything.
Gods, I’m bored.
I shoot upwards like a cowboy.
It’s okay, the bullets don’t come back.
I glance up again, towards the monitor.
I’ve never run out of time before.
Does it hurt?
Nah, probably not.
No worse than getting shot anyway.
I look up again.
68 seconds left.
I run forward slow enough not to sweat.
Sweat makes the suit itch.
Don’t want that again.
I shoot at the turrets and the guards who are too professional to wave back.
Some of them shoot white dots my way, slowly, badly.
I lie flat on the ground and dodge when I have to.
One of those little white dots will hit me soon enough, but…
But I’m not supposed to think about that.
Even though it doesn’t really hurt, I’m not supposed to think about it.
Not while I’m active.
Not with whatshisface still out there…plotting to take the planet and the station and…whatever the rest of his plan is.
I’m not supposed to think about that either.
It’s not productive.
That’s what Slavoj always said.
It’s not productive so just get down there, blow up the base and get back. Keep dying to a minimum.
Ha, a minimum.
Slavoj was a funny guy.
I’ve been here six, seven, eight months already and I must’ve died a thousand…
One of the white dots hits me in the chest.
I re-spawn, back on the cliff edge.
You’re putting me back here?
I was at the base. I was at the fucking door of the…
‘You never hear of checkpoints?’
‘I was at the base…why am I here?’
I shoot at the four mountains, annoyed.
I shoot at the green.
I try jumping onto the platform a few feet to the left, but the suit won’t let me.
I try dropping my gun, but I can’t do that either.
I lie down and point my gun at nothing.
I discreetly rub my cock against the ground and think of the bikini warrior from the end of Metroid.
No feeling at all, not even pain.
Gods, back at the fucking start.
The starting place.
Every single time.
But it’s not the start, is it? I wasn’t born on a cliff edge. I didn’t begin my life on this fucking planet. Or that station. It feels like it, but I didn’t. I had other missions before this. I had training with Gaspar and Klemen and Jame. I had a childhood. I had parent soldiers and grandparent soldiers and possibly other people who loved me but weren’t soldiers. I can’t remember any of them, but I had them, I know I did.
Ah fuck it, I’m done for today.
Someone else can halt the advance.
I get up and wait for the first vipe to shoot me.
It takes a while, but he co-operates.
It doesn’t hurt.
I respawn in the same place and wait for him to do it again.
Don’t know if he’s surprised or not.
Don’t really care.
I re-spawn back in the poster-making room.
The gun is right where I left it, next to the crayons.
They usually put it back in my quarters.
Why is it here?
Maybe there’s a glitch?
Or no iso-patch to my quarters?
I walk over to the window and look at the planet below.
It’s green and blue and peaceful, just like Bled.
No one would ever think there was a war going on down there.
If you can call this thing a war.
We die, they die, we re-spawn, they re-spawn.
I know why we do it, I understand, but…
It’s like back home.
No matter how bad things got, no one ever took a bomb to Bled.
Some things are sacred, y’know?
Yeah, Slavoj, you’re right.
Some things are.
I stare at the metal walls covered in mindless scribbles. Four…five hundred of them, a mix of slogans, pics and abuse.
‘VIPES DON’T BLEED…ENOUGH’
‘THIS PLANET DONT SERVE VIPE’
‘THE ONLY GOOD VIPE IS A KILLED BY ME VIPE’
‘BLUE EAGLES 4 EVER’
At least seven of them are mine.
All done when I first got here.
When I was fresh.
When I walked everywhere holding my gun.
‘Vipes don’t waste time scribbling on walls,’ I mutter, staring down at my poster-in-the-making. ‘Vipes don’t…’
I pick up the poster, scrunch it into a ball and throw it at the window.
‘Vipes don’t do anything.’
I leave the poster-making room and head down the corridor with the Natalie Verbeke Mark 7 poster.
I pass the room with the tools and the automatic engine.
Engineering, Gaspar calls it.
He’s not a bad guy, even if he is a sulk.
And he wasn’t always.
Only the last month or so…or the last month and a half…the last seven weeks…
Nah, he’s okay.
Wonder if he’s in…
Or if he’s up to talking yet…
I head down a few more corridors, ignoring the volleyball posters, and knock on Gaspar’s door.
‘You in there, man?’
‘Thought you might be planet-side.’
‘What you doing?’
‘Cleaning my gun.’
‘Err…is it okay if I come in?’
‘No time to talk.’
‘I won’t stay for…’
‘Okay, if you’re sure…’
‘I’ll see you on the field, mate.’
‘Okay. Right. On the field.’
I head back to the other quarters, taking off my gloves as I go.
My hands are cold. Not as ice, but still cold.
I take a shower, fast, dry myself and watch some old TV.
There’s not much on.
No Country for Old Eagles.
Eagles in the Mist.
I’m not really liking any of…
Ah, Eagle Beach.
I sit down and grab a cushion.
Eagle Seven is in the kitchen, suitless, putting her hair in a clip.
She seems distracted.
I know why.
It’s cos she’s pregnant.
She’s pregnant with the sixteen cells that were transferred from Eagle Nine ten cycles ago.
Eagle Fourteen doesn’t have a clue.
He’s making breakfast, suit on.
Bacon [4 pixels], fried egg [5 pixels] and coffee [2 pixels].
That’s a small coffee, Eagle Fourteen.
No wonder she’s fucking other guys.
I hear the siren.
I’m on the cliff edge again.
Gaspar is there, hands on barrel.
‘Bout time I got some action.’
‘I run first, you mop up.’
Can’t be bothered with this.
I raise my gun.
The first vipe somehow gets past Gaspar and rushes me. I stand still and let his tiny white dot hit me in the gut.
‘Sila, what the…?’
I re-spawn, a few yards back.
I jump down into the water.
‘Mate, what are you doing?’
The turret adjusts and fires at my head.
I don’t do a damn thing.
When I rematerialize, he’s staring at me.
‘Are you fried or something?’
I drop off the ledge and into the water again.
He follows me down.
‘Look, you’re fucking with my strategy, mate. What’s going on?’
‘I told you, man. I’m tired.’
‘What, you’d rather be back in that prison cell?’
‘You fight on without me, okay?’
‘Don’t be dumb, we’re still…’
I charge into the next turret and take a dot in the chest.
Death times three = vacation.
Last thing I see is Gaspar looking at me like I’m Chairman Mao.
‘You fucking nut.’
I shoot at him but it’s too late.
I jump up onto the platform and wipe my gun.
One of those red bastards is running my way.
I pull out the knife, ready.
Could use the gun, but I wanna feel this one.
The vipe gets close and my knife disappears.
Did Sila do that?
He’s been acting funny lately.
Like he doesn’t like this anymore.
Maybe he doesn’t.
Maybe he’s gone soft.
Maybe he’s planning something.
Maybe I should lock my door from now on.
I realise the gun is raised again.
I fire into the vipe’s legs and then his face.
But it’s not enough.
Where’s the rest of those bastards?
I’ve been locked up for days.
Why aren’t there more of them?
I run ahead and three more appear.
I shoot fast and regret it almost straight away.
I run back and let them spawn in again.
I jump around and dodge their pathetic little dots then run in close and try to get my hands on those motherfuckers but the suit won’t let me, it won’t fucking let me.
I die and spawn back in and I’m angry.
I look around for something to rip to pieces but there’s only the turret and all I can use is this goddamned gun and it’s not enough, it’s not enough.
I wanna feel it.
I wanna get my hands on these red bastards and…
I go back home and Eagle Beach is still playing.
It’s way far ahead though.
There’s a factory site.
Some metal containers.
A few turrets.
Eagle Fourteen is standing in the mud, holding a grenade.
He’s asking Eagle Seven if she still loves him.
She says yes then looks away, guilty.
It’s a complicated thing, life.
Easier when you’re shooting and being shot at.
Even if you do die a few times.
Not that it matters.
Dying doesn’t hurt much.
It’s dot on suit and you know you’re always coming back.
What was it Gaspar said?
Tax is permanent, death is twenty times a day.
I wonder how far he’s got.
I hear an explosion, electronic.
I look at the screen.
Eagle Fourteen pulled the pin.
He blew them all up.
Even the kid.
Even the unborn kid.
I stop then laugh again.
I feel shocked at my lack of shock.
My lack of schlock.
I laugh again.
None of it matters, does it?
They die every cycle.
Then re-spawn, have a different problem and die again.
That’s serialised drama.
And it’s never a bad death anyway.
Never a frustrating death.
Not like some of mine down there.
Eagle Fourteen’s never gonna know what it’s like to get shot by a turret.
One fucking turret.
One fucking turret that can’t even move.
Stupid, stupido way to die.
I think I hear a beep but it’s just the TV.
I grab a beer from the fridge and wonder if I’ll have time to drink it.
It’s already been twenty three minutes.
Maybe I can take it to the cliff edge with me.
Share it with Gaspar.
Nah, not Gaspar.
He’s too hyper.
Always charging ahead before I’ve even raised my gun.
Ha, I know.
I’ll share it with that poor bastard who can’t shoot fast enough.
Yeah, why not?
Me and the first vipe.
The second vipe too.
All three of us.
Sit down on the cliff edge and have our own Xmas Day 1914.
Toast to the future.
See what we’ve got in common.
Talk about things that aren’t killing.
Ah, that’d be nice.
I smile for real.
I drink more beer.
I watch TV.
I hear the sound of a door sliding open and a knife unsheathing, but that’s not what’s on the TV.
I sit up.
A breeze comes from somewhere.
Feels like it’s going through my chest.
I slouch and look at my jacket.
It’s half blue, half red.
I look up.
Gaspar is standing behind me, suit on.
‘Look at the TV.’
‘You stabbed my jacket…’
I can’t see his hand but I’m pretty sure it’s on the knife.
‘TV, mate, not me.’
‘Gaspar, I’m bleeding…’
I rub some of the blood off the right side of my jacket.
It doesn’t get any cleaner.
I try rubbing harder but my hand feels weak.
‘Don’t do that.’
‘I can’t stop it, man.’
‘I feel tired.’
‘Go to sleep then.’
‘Don’t want to…can’t…’
‘Just sleep, mate.’
The cushion goes over my face.
I don’t struggle.
‘Sleep, you red bastard.’