“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Seven Stars score attack tournament!” Fran’s voice echoed through the PA system and outward into the surrounding streets. Spectating students, teachers and parents had all lined the perimeter of the campus. The security camera feeds were relayed through a series of wide angle projectors for the crowd, while a separate set of feeds were streaming over the net. In all, close to six thousand people were watching at this very moment.
“I shall be your master of ceremonies for this evening, September the twentieth, 2107! Please allow me to introduce myself! Senior class Francesca Descartes reporting from the Building Two lobby! At this very moment, in the cafeteria behind me, one of our competing teams is preparing their all-out conquest of Hemlock Secondary Academy! The six rival teams have also taken up points in their respective buildings, so please give all of the participants a resounding row for good luck!”
The clamor of hundreds of cheers saturated the air of the campus, carrying into the A/V feed. She waited for it to die down before continuing. “The challenge is simple: whichever team of five has the most points at the end of the night will be the winner! Teams have two attackers, two defenders, and one medic. Attackers earn points by securing enemy territory, while defenders secure points for holding existing ones. Medics earn points for each time they revitalize a teammate and lose points each time they are hit.
“Spectators chip into a two tiered wager system: thirty Galacticoin to the team of choice, of which eighteen forms the MVP wager. If your winning team’s pick is crowned MVP, you walk away with an even sixty! Not bad, right? Choose wrong, however, and you go home empty handed! You might be asking, ‘So what do the players get!?’ Well, I’ll tell you right now!
“The twelve coin left over in each bet will form the team’s club purse. The winning team will receive fifty percent of each losing team’s club purse and the whole of their own, split across clubs in that department effective immediately after the closing ceremony! With teams having no clear advantage, most all of them have around 200 bets apiece, meaning the team that takes tonight’s match will give unto their clubs…” She took a breath before screaming, “NINE AND A HALF THOUSAND COIN!”
The roar which followed was absolutely deafening. I watched all of this through the terminals in the Building Two security office. Also on screen were the cumulative funds being dropped into a dummy account Carmella gave access to the day before. Pre-programmed algorithms sifted through the percentages as the total approached thirty-six thousand. It’s almost that time… I adjusted the earpiece which had become tangled in my hair. “This is Central System Admin. Sound off, everyone.”
“Team Languages, Captain Duval, ready in Building One.”
“Team Vocational Skills, Captain Porter, ready in Building Two.”
“Team Humanities, Captain Olivier, ready in Building Three.”
“Team Historical Sciences, Captain Megaera, ready in Building Four.”
“Team Technologies, Captain Snow, ready in Building Five.”
“Team Athletics, Captain Harlan, ready in Building Six.”
“Team Natural Sciences, Captain Parks, ready in Building Seven.”
Then we are all-systems-go. I waited for Francesca to finish her explanation of the events and then pressed a key on my terminal. The sound of a twentieth-century air horn rang out across the seven buildings. “Oh, shit!” exclaimed Francesca into the microphone. “It would appear we’ve started already! Attackers and defenders are fanning out to secure the neutral zones first; then the real fight will surely begin!”
Prior to the event, we had been given permission to set up little hexagonal waypoints along the walkways and quads of the campus. Illustrated by portable laser lights, they made perfect linkages between the seven buildings. The rooms in each building could be waypoints as well, but teams were limited to five per building prior to the match start. If a team’s five building waypoints were seized by any of the other teams, they would be eliminated.
This added a serious degree of strategy depending on building layout. Building Two was the smallest; the main offices and faculty areas were off limits, leaving only six classrooms and the cafeteria. Building Seven, meanwhile, had three floors and nearly twenty-five classrooms total. Perhaps the strangest layout was that of Building Six. Its ground floor contained a large gymnasium with two weight rooms, while the second boasted three classrooms and seven training rooms.
On the digital map, neutral zones began to light up in all colors. The ID tags of each player were represented by brisk-moving dots, their vitals accessible through a separate telemetry display. The map was even able to show vectors of bullets fired, which was a major blessing as the wave pulses didn’t quite show up well in video footage.
“Team Vocational Skills takes first blood! They’ve opted not to seize territories and instead are circling their own building in a hornet pattern!” Francesca’s commentary made me chuckle a little. I could see one of the defenders running past my window, then another. Sure enough, they were using the walkway struggle as a feint to lure in and pick off the other teams’ attackers.
“What’s this, Captain Megaera of Team Historical Sciences is making a move on Vo’s medic! Medic Escobar is hit! Team Vo gets a penalty and can’t use their medic for thirty seconds!”
Raiden could be heard shouting, “All teams advance now!” The hornet pattern was disrupted, and attackers from the six teams flooded into the lobby of Building Two. Once in the cafeteria, all hell broke loose.
Francesca was quick to comment. “I don’t believe this! The members of Team Vo have all been gunned down and their medic has been hit for another thirty second delay and penalty! Like a game of musical chairs, the rivals have swept in and begun capturing the building waypoints! It looks like a fight between Team History and Team Nat Sci has resulted in Captain Megaera being gunned down! Team Nat Sci takes the final waypoint, meaning Team Vo has been eliminated!”
More cheers erupted from the crowds outside. I rang the siren again, and the words Round Over appeared on the campus displays. Plastering a silhouette of my visage on the stream, I changed to an open channel. “Good evening; I am Senior Class Jade Cassia. I must say I never expected such an unorthodox play this early in the game. Team Vocational Skills, please evacuate the field effective immediately. All other teams, return to your original positions. Play shall resume in two minutes.”
Next, I changed to Francesca’s private channel. “Here’s what’s going to happen…”
Fran was quick to oblige. “I just received word from Facilitator Cassia that Building Two is now closed for the remainder of the match! The five teams which captured waypoints will be given a fixed bonus of fifty points each! Captain Megaera’s valor in battle shall be rewarded with a more modest twenty points for Team History! The game shall resume in five! Four! Three! Two!”
The siren wailed and the attackers were off again. “Attacker Ross of Team Athletics has infiltrated Building Three! Her teammate, Attacker Bellerose, is currently securing the outside territories closest to the building! Meanwhile, Building Four is currently under attack by three other teams! Medic Breaux of Team History can be seen moving double time from room to room, scoring many points as she revitalizes her falling teammates!”
Thanks to Felicity, Team Historical Sciences had moved from fifth place into third. While she didn’t normally partake in school activities, Raiden and I had doctored her application into the Religious Studies club. This prevented any wayward questions, not to mention how fitting it was, given her affiliation with a certain Greek goddess.
It was rather amazing to watch. Her hair was braided to keep it away from her face as she bounded up and down the halls. When she reached a teammate, she would have them lay on their back, using the available desks and tables for cover. Keeping the fallen comrade perfectly flat allowed her to administer the recovery program faster than if they were standing or sitting, as the near field communication was dependent on a very delicate array of sensors.
Granted, I didn’t actually tell Felicity any of this. I didn’t need to, as her understanding of the anatomical model and standard positioning naturally adapted her to this task. At this rate, she might just be MVP over Raiden… provided that team can hold out. I let out a small yawn as I pressed the button for the air siren. “All territories of Building Three have been captured by Team Athletics. Team Humanities, please evacuate the field while the remaining teams return to their original posts.”
Francesca’s commentary resumed following my instructions. “As we head into the third round, the third building of Hemlock Secondary is now closed off! However, the immediate territories outside of the building will remain the control of Team Athletics! A one hundred point bonus for total annihilation will also be awarded!” The crowd outside was absolutely hysterical now. It would only get crazier as the evening wore on.
The siren roared. “Here we go! Facilitator Cassia has announced that a time limit of fifteen minutes will take place during this round! The three teams with the highest scores at the end of the round will advance to the final match!”
The players had all congregated outside on the walkways and in the quad. Shots rang out in all directions, defender against defender, and attacker against attacker. Captain Snow, the Team Technologies medic, started putting other medics in holds so one of his defenders could take them out more easily, artificially lowering the other teams’ scores. While the audience booed such activity, it was certainly a valid play.
Ten minutes passed in the blink of an eye, and the scores of the four groups continued to fluctuate madly. Captain Snow made a grab for Felicity, but right as she was about to be hit, Raiden jumped in the way, taking the blow full force and getting a shot off against the Humanities attacker.
“Amazing!” shouted Francesca in the microphone. “Through subtle communication and teamwork, Team History has managed to pull off an amazing counter and protect their point count! Will it be enough to carry them into the finals!?” The air siren range out once more, and Captain Snow let go of Felicity, extending his hand with an apology. She smiled, shook her head, and gave the man a forgiving hug instead. Such a moving scene elicited deafening applause from the crowd.
Guess we know who the MVPs would be. “The three teams which shall advance to the finals are Team Athletics in first place, Team Historical Sciences in second, and Team Technologies now in third. Team Languages, in fourth place, has been eliminated. Team Natural Sciences, in fifth place, has been eliminated. Please move to your designated locations. Play will resume in ten minutes.”
I leaned back in my chair with a loud sigh. I didn’t think this would be so taxing, but at least we managed to script this just right. People are such fools not to realize that even random chance can be manipulated like this.
“Hey, Jade? We have a problem.”
“What is it, Fran?”
“I have reports of unruly spectators dressed in ski masks scattered across the outer campus. They’re refusing to identify themselves, and some of them are armed.”
Gritting my teeth, I tapped the fingers of one hand against the table, my other navigating cameras on a monitor to my left. I counted at least two dozen figures matching that description, and certainly more were crawling about. “Francesca, try to play it off as best you can. Do not allow the public to become afraid for their safety. I’ll do what I can on my end.”
“Roger that.” I pulled the earpiece from my ear and took out my phone. “Call Lieutenant Johnathan Webster at his office.”
[“Dialing.”] It only took two rings. “I had a feeling you’d call, honey. Yes, I see them on my end.”
“Are you… Are you intercepting my frequencies, dad?”
“Please don’t be mad,” was his reply. “Your principal told me about the event and asked that I monitor the back end channels. It isn’t that we don’t trust you, but we have been at this much longer than you, Jade.”
“Gee, thanks for the words of encouragement. Look, I have seven minutes before I need to resume the game. Do you know who these guys are affiliated with?”
“You know that information is classified.”
There was a grumble on the other end of the line, until finally, after nearly a minute,
“They are a new gang which formed back in June of this year. It looks like they’re mainly students from your school, with a bit of college population thrown in.”
“Okay, but do they have an MO or something? Nobody at school has even hinted at something like this happening.”
“This group tends to fly under the radar. They’re told never to bring up the group in public, and they don’t talk about it online either. Instead, they keep RedWave enabled on their phones, and an applet broadcasts data files to other members who walk past. They can constantly change their meetup spots and members know about the change in minutes. Outsiders have no way to intercept the data.”
“So you have no idea what they’re planning tonight?” I was growing more irritated by the second.
“Sadly, I don’t. All we can do is wait and watch.”
“Alright; I’ll be on my guard. Thanks, father.” The call ended and I watched the timer slip below two minutes. “Dammit, dammit…”
“You know, such foul language is unbecoming of a lady.” The voice came from behind me, followed by the cocking of a handgun. It wasn’t difficult to deduce that this weapon was no mere imitation.
Outside, the final round commenced unabated. “Our three teams – representing technologies, athletics and historical sciences – must now race to get a score of one thousand points, or seize the crown through a domination victory! Team Athletics has over seven hundred points, with a score increase of twenty every minute! Can the runners up seize enough territories to close the gap? Or is domination the only option left to them!?”
Rally cries from the crowd hinted that the excitement was reaching its fever pitch, but it immediately came to a crashing halt as the door to Building Two opened and I stepped out, the assailant’s gun at my back. All players dropped their weapons. Francesca could only stare in shock. In the crowd, the masked intruders pulled out weapons of their own, shouting for no one to move a muscle. On the monitors, the caricature of a man appeared, his voice beginning to boom over the loudspeakers.
“Stay as you are, ladies and gentlemen. Would be a pity if my associates were to get off prematurely! Ahahaha!” Nobody else was laughing. The police had arrived but couldn’t get close enough due to the thickness of the frozen crowds. “Now then, I couldn’t help but take up an objection to this little charade the school has agreed to sanction. Let us do a bit of math and see where we end up, shall we?”
The dummy account status was displayed on the monitors. In it was 37,880GTC. “If we look at the teams that have lost, about eight thousand coin is waiting to be added to whoever team wins. Another five and a half thousand will likely go out for MVP bets. At the most, eighteen thousand coin of this sum is going to go back to the people. What about the other half?
“It just so happens that our dear facilitator had a plan specifically for that. By lining the pockets of our school’s faculty, she’d be allowed a cut once her investment… matured, in a sense. Now, that doesn’t seem really fair, does it? Why shouldn’t she, and the administrators who profited off her scheme, have to get their hands dirty? Who died and made them the ruling class?
“I simply cannot allow it, for it threatens to compromise the integrity of this fair society. This very moment, I could give the order and Jade Cassia would cease to be. Regrettably, that would not solve the matter of the money, which has already been protected by an encryption, likely on its way to the administrators and teachers of this school.
“No, we are going to have to let her live, and take that money fair and square. Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on this! “The projection screens changed, showing full scale maps of the Navaro District, with hexagons for every building and landmark in the city of Hemlock. Some of the hexagons were already colored, depicting the populations of four gangs. The rest were neutral. In the very center was the school, bearing a color of its own.
“Many in the audience; whether student, parent or otherwise, already have a flag and a creed. Many of you have yet to step foot in such a world, while some have thought of stepping into a new one. Come the first of October, a new game will present itself. The stakes will be higher than anything this satellite has ever seen. Non-participation will, of course, have consequences.
“I suppose that’s enough of a hint for now. Expanding and consuming all obstacles in our path, we are… Marabunta. Submit!” Without warning, large balloons which were hovering on tethers exploded, showering the area in a thick fire and smoke. The city had become filled with screams of terror, people pushing and trampling each other to escape. I stood my ground, but before I could act, the assailant behind me grabbed my waist and legs. Lifting me off the ground, he twisted me through the air and let go, sending my body straight into one of the windows of Building Two.
There was a series of loud cracks; at least a few of them were from my own body. I fell to the floor, curling up in pure agony, blood pouring down my hair and face. All around me the bedlam grew, yet it felt far away to my fading consciousness. I could vaguely make out the uniforms of police who had finally forced their way to the inner campus. It appeared that some of the spectators were helping them to restore order, though it seemed rather futile at the same time. I guess it doesn’t matter, I thought to myself, closing my eyes one more time.
When I next opened them, all I could see was the color blue. I was lying on what felt like foam, and there was a faint beeping. A medical drone? Medical drones were one-person quadcopters which could be deployed remotely to the scene of an emergency. Patients would be loaded into the passenger pods, then the drones would fly to the nearest available medical center. A hologram map above me showed my arrival time at less than two minutes.
I reached my hand down to my hip, only to realize my cell phone holder was missing. They must have taken it. Dammit, this hurts like hell… Soon the copter had landed on the hospital’s helipad. As the hatch opened up, a pair of nurses transferred me to a gurney, wheeling me toward Emergency. Two more copters were about to land, likely additional casualties. I wondered at just how many trips the copters had made that evening, and how many more would result.
One of the nurses, a man in his early thirties, was speaking into a transceiver. “Patient is Jade Cassia, seventeen year old female, and a student at Hemlock Secondary School. She is being admitted with lacerations to the rear of the skull, the right scapula and along the thoracic column. These are consistent with collision between subject and a tempered glass window. Penetration is minor; bleeding was controlled at the scene with injectable sterile foam. Patient requires a vascular ferrofluid contrast, internal flush-and-scaffold, followed by a periosteal map.”
“This is Operating Room Nine. We are configured for the flush-and-scaffold and may proceed once the contrast is set.”
“Roger that.” The nurse returned the transceiver to his lapel and checked the vitals on my electronic wristband. “My name is Dr. Tobias Lawrence. What is your pain level right now, Miss Cassia?”
“About a seven,” I answered through gritted teeth. “My right shoulder feels broken and my head is throbbing…”
“We’ll be running some tests to check for bleeding in your brain. Your father gave consent while you were unconscious, but I want to confirm with you now that you’re awake.”
“Yeah, that’s fine…”
“Can I get you on your side for just a moment?” The two nurses parked the gurney in a pre-op area, and Dr. Lawrence pulled out a large hypodermic needle filled with a black liquid. I winced as the needle pierced my right femoral artery, slowly injecting the contrast material.
“Just a little more and we should be done; try to take deep breaths.” They waited for the contrast to flow throughout my body, ran a few preliminary tests, and then pushed me into the operating room. An anesthesiologist placed a mask over my face and had me count backwards until once more, my world grew dark.