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Author: Mark Shepherd
Publisher: Baen, 1999
Series: SERRAted Edge: Book 7
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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When the Lazerwarz arena came to town, Dobie discovered both laser tag and a warrior's soul he never knew he possessed. Then the goddess Morrigan picked him up in her shiny red Corvette, and made him her champion -- and then the fireworks really started. The Foevorian ruler is kidnapping the best Lazerwarz players for an army to conquer Underhill. Special Agent Samantha McDaris uncovers the plan and enlists her brother, the Elven King, in infiltrating the Lazerwarz arenas. She expected to find dark magic, but didn't expect the King himself to be abducted while on recon!



Only five seconds into the game, and Joystik had reached his favorite position, a large barred window on the second level. From here he covered the arena's main alley, a vulnerable zigzag of partitions where the inexperienced usually wandered through. The position gave his vest targets good cover, while allowing him to watch the activity below. Sniping was always good here.

From this position he also covered the ramps leading to this level, and for a time he could enjoy a monopoly on the blue-yellow-red targets moving aimlessly below. As usual the prey didn't seem to notice the game had started, and from his window Joystik quickly picked off four players, favoring the ten-point chest and back targets over the easier five-point ones on the shoulders. The packs now temporarily down, he pulled back, counted to five, and resumed his position. As expected, they hadn't moved; in fact, they didn't even seem to notice they had been tagged.

I know I was never that stupid, Joystik thought, tagging the same four again. He had cupped his hand over the small metal speaker on top of the weapon to protect his position, a legit move as long as he didn't cover his lighted targets. The loud sci-fi sounds these guns made could betray one's location as surely as the flashing lights. He repeated the process, methodically taking their packs down and adding to his score three more times before one of them bothered to look up.

"There he is! Up there," the kid shouted, shooting in his general direction. The beams danced harmlessly on the walls and ceiling behind him. The four were moving towards him, and didn't seem to be firing at each other. They were obviously teaming up, an infraction in a solo game where everyone was against everyone, or was supposed to be. He could notify a judge and turn them in, but that took too long, and every second counted. And unless the judge caught them red-handed he probably wouldn't take them out of the game. Instead he kept one eye on the ramps while scanning the arena for more targets.

On the opposite side of the arena was the other upper level, slightly lower than his own. A lively exchange was taking place over there, orchestrated by Irishman, another member and this month's top player. Joystik sent one of his ten rapid fire rounds into the middle of the melee, heard the unmistakable groan of a pack or two going down. Directly below, another target walked into view, but he left that one alone. If he gave away his position to that player he would be an easy target through the metal grate he stood on, and this was too good a place to forfeit just yet. The other level was returning fire now, but just moving an inch or two to the left completely concealed him. Soon they tired of shooting at nothing and returned to their more immediate threat, Irishman.

Joystik glanced at the tiny computer screen on the back of his gun, where his rank in the game appeared. He was number one, but with Irishman in the game it was probably close. Better start looking for more points.

Irishman is still blasting away over there...

The points came looking for him. The four clueless ones from down below had found the ramp and were tromping loudly up it, announcing their presence before he saw them. A few paces away was another window, giving him a clear shot of their back targets.

"He's tagged me again! There's the bastard up there!" one yelled, sounding rather indignant at being tagged in a game of laser tag. While their packs were down they continued up the ramp, but Joystik was inwardly chanting the five second mantra, and resumed his previous position when their packs came back up... and took them all down, again. He was ranked number one, with 780 points. Not bad.

But the game was quickly becoming a matter of principle, not points. These four morons were teaming up against him, disregarding the rules and the code of ethics which Joystik embraced and honored. They even had the build of football players, a particular subspecies of high school critter that Joystik found repulsive. Maintaining a 4.0 didn't endear one to one's classmates, and when one blew the test curve in chemistry one could become downright unpopular, especially when the star quarterback ended up flunking the class, resulting in an automatic suspension from the team... a week before the Big Game. Life is not good for overachievers, and the fallout can reach into the next school year. Meanwhile, it was summer vacation, and in the arena Joystik could forget reality and be exceptional at something other than academics.

No physical contact was allowed in the game, but when he finally saw the four players he wondered briefly if they would disregard this rule and beat the crap out of him anyway. They certainly weren't pleased. One of them was the star quarterback. It didn't look like they'd recognized him. Yet.

In the upper level was a smaller maze, and Joystik could traverse every inch of it with his eyes closed. Another player came up the ramp, then another, distracting the original four, giving Joystik time to disappear in a hidden hallway along the back.

But he didn't leave the upper level, just waited a few seconds, then reappeared. The four had taken his sniper position, and were firing at targets below. With his speaker covered, he took out their back targets, and ducked back quietly. The plan worked; they thought they were getting tagged from below, not behind. They were too stupid to look at their screens, which showed which targets got tagged. All the better for Joystik, who continued the ruse for another few cycles, relishing their anguished moans of defeat.

This easy scoring might have continued for the remainder of the game, but one of them realized the fire was coming from behind, not below. In seconds they had him surrounded, and were firing mercilessly at him.

When Joystik had first started playing, being surrounded unfairly like this had enraged him to no end, sometimes to the brink of tears. It was completely unfair and prevented any kind of retribution... until he discovered the secret of dodging, a crude form of tai chi learned on the fly in situations like these. Being small and underweight gave him the advantage. He twisted and wriggled away from the crisscrossing beams until he got his pack back, and started returning fire. In their confusion he stepped away from the trap, and proceeded to thump them, one by one. Thumping was a particularly useful form of revenge which rendered the opponent defenseless, and required intensive recitation of the five-second mantra, times four. As he backed away he re-tagged each one of them a half second before their guns came up. One could effectively thump a group like this only when their pack cycles were spaced enough apart... and they were. It was precisely the tactic they had tried using against him, only now it was one against four.

Just when he thought they were going to give up on the game and come after him with fists, lights came on in the arena. On the back of the guns flashed the message, "Game Over."

Hoo rah. Let's hear it for the team.

He ducked out at the other end of the upper level, and chose a long circuitous route towards the exit. The other players would stumble about for several minutes looking for the exit anyway, and this gave him a chance to refresh his mental map of parts of the maze he usually didn't use. Under the upper level, south side, Joystik found himself in a tight maze of narrow hallways and no wall openings, a strategically unimportant part of the arena, but good for some one-on-one with another experienced member.

Leading off to the right, however, was a tunnel he'd never seen before. It went directly into what he had thought was the solid south wall of the arena. Puzzling. A service hall of some kind?

He went into it.

Long and dark, the tunnel narrowed, with tubular black lights illuminating it. Probably not a service hall, but a part of the maze, maybe a new wing not opened yet? It probably wouldn't get him to the exit, but he had a few minutes to explore. Besides, he didn't look forward to confronting the football players in full daylight. His treatment would be bad enough when he returned to school the following semester.

The tunnel curved into pitch blackness. With a penlight he kept handy for special lights-out games, he shone it ahead of him, revealing only more tunnel.

This didn't feel right, Joystik decided, and turned to go back. Just then, his vest winked back to life, as if another game was starting. Was the computer malfunctioning? If so he was looking forward to a free game.

On the gun's screen flashed the message, "You have been selected."

For what? This was the kind of message you saw during special team games and role-playing stuff they did on members' nights. Intrigued, he waited for the screen to tell him more.

A thick mist began to fill the tunnel, similar to the water based fog they filled the arena with, but that had a metallic, unpleasant smell to it. Time to get out. Something's going wrong here, he thought, now afraid the stuff might poison him. But his feet wouldn't move, or his body... The floor rushed up to catch him as he fell over.

He figured intoxication must feel like this, but having never done alcohol or drugs, he had nothing to measure the experience by. Whatever it was had immobilized him, and a scream rose from his throat.

Someone grabbed his arm, then the other, and two someones, dark and unidentifiable in the fog, were carrying him deeper into the tunnel, away from the exit he now wished he had gone straight to, football players be damned.

Copyright © 1999 by Mark Shepherd


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