The desert portion of the campus covered many acres with a few oases dotted about to break up the monotony. The rest of the area was covered in dunes, some much larger than others, but even with that moderate amount of cover, it was going to be nothing like their practice run the night before. The only buildings were tents around the watering holes. Tactics would play a much smaller role here. Fighting prowess would be the larger factor.
They had been informed upon arrival that this game was a simple war. Keep fighting until one team runs out of conscious members. They were given a basic map of the area, told to stay within the boundaries and wished the best of luck. Lethen knew that the games were monitored closely, but it still seemed strange that they weren’t told more. It wasn’t a lot to go on.
The team came in from the south and ran to the nearest oasis. They hoped to find something to work with, but were sadly disappointed. The three tents that wrapped around the small central pond had very little inside them. There were a few rations, but nothing that would help terribly much in a fight.
Lethen eyeballed the food. The box was labeled MRE for Meal Ready to Eat. He had heard about these. They were popular amongst the regular military groups around the world. Glancing through he saw a number of different meals, some actually sounding quite tasty. He noticed a few extras in them, like hot sauce, snack bars or the like. He snatched up a few of them and stuffed them in the small pack he’d brought with him.
“Anyone find anything besides snacks?”
Everyone responded negative.
“Alright, well I would say that this is as good a base as any.” Lethen looked around the tiny oasis. “We should spread out from here and try to find some way to use this desolate landscape to our advantage. We will also keep an eye out for our enemies. If we can take even one of them out early, our chances will be much better for a win.”
“Do you really think we are winning this?” Prolier asked.
“Not with that attitude we won’t,” Lethen answered. “We don’t really know what they’re capable of, but we can assume that they are better than us. They were put into squad 1A for a reason. We have to use any advantages we can get.”
They spread out. Renala stayed at the base to see if she could set some traps. Angel and Marnie took the flanks, skirting the edge of the boundaries that separated the desert from the other zones. Prolier and Lethen went forward, but at an angle. It didn’t take long before his hope of seeing a member of the opposing team came to fruition.
“I’ve spotted Gail moving through the center of the desert.” Lethen said. “I will try to keep eyes on her without giving myself away. She’s headed east.”
“There’s another oasis over there,” Angel said. “It’s probably where she’s going. Are you gonna stick with her?”
Lethen hesitated. It was barely twenty minutes into their prep time and he really didn’t want to stop his recon to follow this girl for close to an hour. “Marnie, this is your target. Do you want to come up here and keep an eye on her?”
“It’ll take me a few minutes to get there,” she said. “Can you keep her in sight until I can meet you?”
“Sure,” Lethen said. “Head toward the eastern oasis. When you get close, we can set something up for her.”
Lethen watched as the girl ran through the sand. She was graceful and delicate looking, with a similar build to Renala. The thought of their diminutive teammate brought him back to the present. “Renala, have you managed to set anything up? I know you don’t have a lot to work with.”
“Nothing major,” she said. “But since they didn’t search us on the way in, I’ll know to bring more equipment the next time. I wasn’t expecting to be fighting somewhere with quite so much nothing.”
“I know. I was shocked by the setting too. We just have to do our best. No one expects us to win this. Let’s surprise them all. Prolier, anything on your end?”
“Prolier, talk to us. We have to work together.”
“Prolier,” Angus’s voice came across the comms. “I put the winning team in charge of this exercise, and you will acknowledge that. If you don’t start acting like a team player, I will take your head even without Lethen’s request.”
“Sorry sir.” Prolier responded. He may not fear Lethen, but he knew that Angus could destroy him if he got the inclination. “I’m just south of the eastern oasis. I can come and support if needed.”
“Actually,” Lethen said, “that would be perfect. I know we have set targets but if we can start out with a few two-on-ones, maybe we can take a couple of them out before the others catch up. If you and Marnie can tag team Gail, it will mean that Marnie will be free to help whoever else needs it. In fact, Angel, come up here too. I want to make sure that she’s down as fast as possible.”
Just then Marnie came up and stood beside him.
“She’s just gone into the main tent over there,” he told her before addressing the team. “I’m gonna do a few circles around our oasis before falling back. I don’t think we should all stick together, but we shouldn’t be alone either. Renala, can you do a quick sweep of the immediate area, then join me back there?”
“Yes, and if the others can take that oasis, I would suggest they stay and hold it. Make our enemies come to us.”
“A sound plan,” Angus added. “Just remember that they are talking to each other too. Once you surprise one, it won’t take long before the others are on you. Prolier, did you poison your blades again?”
For a moment there was nothing. “Yes,” came the sullen answer. “It’s only a sedative this time though. Nothing lethal, just a little something to give them sweet dreams.”
If Prolier was expecting to be reprimanded, he was mistaken.
“Good,” Lethen said. “Don’t hesitate to take down anyone you can get a scratch on.”
The team was silent for some time as they worked toward their individual objectives. Marnie’s group moved closer to the eastern oasis and took up positions so they could move as soon as the game started. Lethen and Renala finished their sweeps and had fallen back to the southern oasis. Renala had used some string from the hems of the tents to make basic trip wires and had attached them to a collection of empty cans she’d discovered in on of the smaller tents. Chances were good that the other team would spot them, but on the off chance they didn’t, she and Lethen would have an early warning system.
“How long do we have left?” Lethen asked.
It was Angus who responded. “Just a few minutes. Is everyone in position?”
All responses came back affirmative.
“Good luck guys.” Angus said. “I’ll be watching to see what happens, but I can’t help more than general advice. I will tell you that you are in for a tough fight. Your enemies have a good strategy. It will take everything you have to overcome it.”
“Everyone get ready,” Lethen said. “Marnie, have your group ready to move as soon as it starts. We want to hit hard and fast, then hunker down and keep an eye out. As soon as you hit Gail, the cavalry is likely to come running. If you see anyone else, let us know and we will be there as soon as we can.” He sat down and starting looking through his pack. The first thing he pulled out was one of the MREs.
Renala watched him empty the contents of the bag with interest. She picked up one of the packs and read the instructions. “Maybe we can stop her radioing for backup.”
“How,” Marnie asked.
“Did any of you grab any food packs from the oasis before you left?”
“I did,” Prolier admitted. “I didn’t know how long this would take.”
“Great,” Renala said. “Take it apart and tell me what you have.”
Shuffling could be heard over the airwaves as Prolier pulled the rations apart. “A bag of food, a bag labeled heater, a small vial of water and a tiny bottle of hot sauce. Nothing useful.”
Renala smiled. “On the contrary, that’s all you need. Now this is what you do.” She outlined a plan that she believed would allow them to disable Gail, before taking her out.
“Are you sure this will work?” Prolier asked.
“No, but the science behind it is sound. As long as you do it exactly as I said, it should be effective.”
No sooner had she finished her sentence when a horn sounded, followed by the same voice that had summoned them. “Prep time is over. Engage the enemy.”
Prolier walked to the side of the tent Gail had disappeared into. He opened up the heating bag from the MRE and poured the hot sauce in, followed by the water. He could feel the thing warming in his hand as he tied the end closed. He shook the expanding bag until it seemed almost ready to burst and threw in into the tent.
“What the –,” was heard from inside before a pop. After a second or so he heard a shriek of pain and coughing. Gail ran out through the flap, gasping and with tears streaming down her face. She pulled out a small canteen and began pouring the water onto her face. Before she could recover, Marnie and Prolier were on her.
She had no chance of defending herself. Before she even knew her enemy was there, she’d been scored by Prolier’s triple blades. Marnie reached down and plucked the communicator from Gail’s ear. She would not be calling for backup today.
“Angel,” Marnie said, “do you see anything coming our way? I’m sure they know where she went and even if she can’t call them, they’ll probably come when they realize she’s not responding.”
“I don’t see anything. I think we’re safe for the moment. Well done on making that quick.”
Marnie looked down at Gail. She hadn’t passed out like Marnie had expected. Instead she was hunched over on her knees and shaking. “Are you sure that poison isn’t fatal?”
Prolier looked at the twitching form. “It shouldn’t be. Then again I suppose she could be allergic to it. We may need a medic over here.”
Marnie stepped a little closer and thought she could hear the girl making noise. Leaning a bit further she could make it out. Gail was laughing. “What the hell?”
Gail threw her head back and laughed openly. Tears were still streaming down her face but now it wasn’t only because of the hot sauce bomb they’d thrown in there.
“Is this a side effect then?” Marnie asked.
“Not one that I’ve ever seen. Usually people just go to sleep after ten to twenty seconds.”
“You really don’t get it do you?” Gail asked.
“I’m just a diversion. A sacrificial lamb to make you feel strong. You were supposed to see and follow me. Including the sniper, you have three people over here to take me out. Three on one makes for some good odds. So does four on two down at the southern oasis. What will you do when your strongest members are gone and it’s four on three? Can you survive those odds?”
“Lethen,” Marnie said, “it was a set up. The others are coming to you.”
“I think they might already be here.”