His vision was filled with the projections produced by his A.R.C. Visor. Chaos surrounded him. Above him, paratroopers soared through the air, raining bullets down around him. He felt the air shift near his face as the projectiles whizzed by. His ears were bombarded by the sound of war, his nose breathed in the smell of fire and smoke. The visor assaulted all five senses. Designed to interact with the soldier’s combat gear, it functioned flawlessly, without hesitation or buffering. The moment a trigger was pulled, a bullet took flight. Everything felt so real it was hard to believe that none of it actually was.
“I need cover fire, “ Tristaine shouted, unsure if anyone could hear him. The Augmented Reality Competition Visor was outfitted with a radcom to communicate with five teammates. The six-on-six battles took place three times a day, one before each meal. The battles were challenging—even more so because of the hunger each of them faced.
When no one responded to his cry for assistance he grabbed a kinetic grenade from his vest, pulled the pin and tossed it over the wall and into the street ahead. The moment he heard detonation he took off for the next bit of cover he could find. Where was everyone?
Within the A.R.C. simulation module, Solovot soldiers were able to experience a myriad of conditions without the risk of serious harm–although each batch of newborns had its fair share of injuries and occasionally, real deaths. Even though the ammunition was controlled and non-lethal, the environments remained very real. The A.R.C. visor took what existed in reality and overlaid the desired terrain. Each class of recruits–dubbed newborns since you are born again into a new life when you enter the Solovot army–was lead by a Breaker. The officer’s sole purpose was to break the newborns, to push them to their breaking point in order to produce the most hardened soldiers possible.
Today, Tristaine found himself in an off-world village. Its colorful vegetation and smog filled skies were disorienting. The overly sweet fragrance of the flowers mixed with the smog from nearby factories caused sensory overload–precisely what the Breakers desired.
“Hello?” Tristaine stepped out into the open, hands in the air, taunting his opponents. No one responded.
“Bloody—camping—” Tristaine said out loud.
In the distance, Tristaine could hear the screams of a young girl and took off in her direction. It was unclear at the start of each battle what the objective was. The application was designed to shift and alter based on the decisions each team made. It was a living program and stood as one of Solovot’s proudest accomplishments.
As the soldier kicked up dirt, running hard down the path, he saw a creature step out from between two buildings. The A.R.C. altered the appearance of the enemy team, making them look anything but Solovot. Luckily for Tristaine, its back was turned and it hadn’t seen him coming. Two quick bursts from Tristaine’s blaster and the creature was down. Its projection dropped to the ground, momentarily resolving to its Solovot form—Fitzin VanDour—and, then pixel-by-pixel, it disappeared. Tristaine smiled, glad to see it was VanDour. Of all the members of the squad, Tristaine liked VanDour the least. The man seemed to possess every unpleasant trait a person could possibly have.
“Bugger luck, friend,” whispered Tristaine into his radcom to the fallen enemy. For three seconds after a kill, the victim and the victor were allowed to exchange words. The Breakers believed that producing anger would fuel the newborns to become better soldiers.
“Shut your mouth,” VanDour responded. “You shot me in the back, not exactly–” the radcoms went silent, three seconds was up. The channel reverted back to team chat.
Tristaine kept running, following the sound of the young girl screaming. He was well aware that he could be running directly into a trap, but he had no other ideas. When the match had begun the only instructions were to complete objective. His visor had yet to display this round’s objective and none of the enemy team seemed to be around. So until otherwise directed, he let his instincts take over and ran toward her cries, knowing that if a child was in trouble he had to help.
As he rounded a corner he saw the girl for the first time. She was tied up around the midsection, hanging from a pole connected to the side of a three story building. She was struggling to break free, which wasn’t the smartest idea that high above the ground. Her voice rang out unhindered for miles. No one else was there, but he figured someone had to have heard her. Without anything else to go on for an objective, they’d all be drawn to the screaming girl. If he was going to save her, he’d have to act fast.
Tristaine thought through all the possible options. He was confident enough in his shooting that he could hit the rope holding her without shooting her. But, he was afraid that the sound would attract the enemy. More that than, he didn’t know how he would ensure that she landed safely. Falling from three stories high, while tied at the arms, did not follow safety protocols.
Knowing that time was short, he figured he had to make a move. The soldier ran to the entrance of the building. He tried the door—locked. He gave it a couple of swift kicks, but the door didn’t budge. He took a few steps back, holstered his sidearm and charged, lowing his shoulder to receive the impact. The door came down without protest and Tristaine went down with it. Picking himself up from the floor he re-drew his pistol and turned in a slow circle, surveying to room before moving on.
He carefully ascended the staircase to his immediate right. Normally, he’d have taken time to clear the whole first level before moving on but time was short and he felt reasonably confident that he was alone. Eye focused down the sight of his gun he climbed—stopping briefly as he came eye-level with the next floor. He waited for a moment to watch for movement. After seeing none, he continued. Floor two looked good and empty.
A thought occurred to him and he got off the stairs on the second floor, making his way toward the front of the building. If he could reach her from this level, he might be able to pull her through the window. He got to the front room and entered cautiously. It was completely empty without windows of any kind.
“So much for that idea,” he said.
Suddenly, gunfire rang out. Tristaine dove to his left, barely dodging the slew of slugs flying his direction. He came up in a tight roll and aimed around the room. He couldn’t see anyone.
“Who’s there?” Tristaine demanded. “Show yourself!”
The only response he got was the sound of a gun being reloaded. He looked around, but still saw no enemy. It was impossible to hide himself since he had no idea where the shots were coming from. They weren’t in the room with him, but they were somewhere. Bullets didn’t just appear out of thin air. He ducked behind an overturned table. He wasn’t sure the soft wood of the table would do much to keep the bullets from tearing through him, but he had to do something. The onslaught of gunfire began again. He felt a searing pain in his left calf. Looking down, the A.R.C. displayed a bloody wound where the pain was. This was the first time Tristaine had been shot.
“That smarts!” He shouted. The A.R.C. was a bit more lifelike than the soldier might have desired.
He reached up over the table and let a few shots go. He didn’t expect to connect with anything, but he needed to instill a bit of fear in the enemy. In return another couple of shots came back toward him, followed by a click—click.
They were out of ammo. Tristaine finally had the upper hand against the unseen enemy. He came out from behind the table, bellowing and shouting as he charged the doorway. As he exited, he saw the little girl curled up against the wall, rocking back and forth. He stopped shouting and lowered his gun. He went to her as quickly as his one good leg could bring him.
Sliding down to one knee, he reached out—placing his hand on her shoulder.
“Are you oka—”
Suddenly Tristaine felt a hot pain in his abdomen. He looked down to see that the little girl was holding a knife. Her hand, arm and dress was covered in blood—Tristaine’s blood.
He’d let his guard down and saw exactly what the ARC visor wanted him to see. He felt foolish, realizing now that the little girl was a member of the rival squad. Without hesitation, Tristaine pulled out his pistol and shot the little girl in the head before she could stab him again. Momentarily, the little girl turned into a full grown soldier revealing the true form beneath the visor’s projection—Trent Moss to be specific.
“You’re stuck now, scab. The building is full of us. There’s no wa—”
Three seconds was up, but Tristaine understood. He had walked into a trap. The whole team was here and he was badly injured. Thinking fast, he removed a plasma charge from his pack and placed it at the top of the staircase. If someone was downstairs coming up for him this would make quick work of them. It wouldn’t be easy getting down without a staircase in the condition he was in, but then again, he wasn’t sure he’d make it out of here in one piece anyway.
He set the charge to proximity and crawled quickly back toward the room without windows. He figured it was a fairly safe bet to bunker down in a room with only one way in. He rounded the corner not a moment too soon. A high-pitched squeal told him that the plasma charge was about to detonate. The explosion rocked the building to its foundation. A split second later the entire level was covered in debris. At the center of destruction was a giant hole looking down to the floor below. He peered over the edge and was met by gunfire. There were at least two little girls below. Combined with the one he’d shot in the head, the unlucky wretch that stepped on the plasma charge and the one hanging out front that meant there could be another upstairs. Plus he had to consider that VanDour had respawned long enough ago that he might be back in the area by now as well.
Tristaine reached for a long stick of wood that sat amongst the pile of debris. He used it to help him to stand to his feet. The wood was splintered and cut into his underarm, but he needed a crutch and this was as good as he was going to find. Tristaine’s eyes went wide as he heard the distinct sound of a pin being pulled. He turned around just in time to see a timed grenade soaring up through the hole in the ground. Using the crutch he hit the grenade straight back toward the thrower. The explosion sent him airborne. He landed with a hard crash right on the wound in his side. He cried out, certain that he was badly injured. Looking down at himself he saw several grievous wounds, but running his hands across his body he found none. The visor really was top notch. But even if his wounds weren’t as severe as they looked, he was definitely hurt, and as he laid there breathless he didn’t know how he would continue. But he had to.
Using the nearby wall, he found his feet. He knew he had to get to the roof. He hobbled toward the staircase. Seeing no one, he began the ascent. He cautiously stopped at the top. He saw a shadow moving in the first room at the top. He fired off a warning shot. Now they both knew where the other stood and there was no surprise to be had. Tristaine waited, and soon his enemy moved just slightly, exposing their leg. He fired again and caught them in the ankle. The enemy bent over to grab their wounded ankle. It was a fatal mistake. Tristaine didn’t miss. A bullet went right through the little-girl-soldier’s head.
He didn’t bother to slow down as he hobbled past the downed soldier.
“What was it Speakman said about cleaning toilets?” Tristaine asked with a laugh as he passed.
Their reply was cut off just as they began to speak.
After taking one more flight of stairs, he made it to the rooftop. The sun was beginning to wane but there was still plenty of light. He moved toward the edge of the building where he had seen the little girl hanging. She was still there. No longer screaming in mock terror, it was real this time. They’d been used as bait, but none of their squad-mates had survived long enough to come help them back off the pole.
“How’s it hanging?” Tristaine asked as he took aim.
Tristaine shot the rope first, allowing the soldier to fall three stories while tied up. Soon after she hit the ground, Tristaine fired again and landed the killing blow. The soldier appeared and Tristaine heard his three seconds of banter. He was impressed by how many curse words they were able to use in such a short period of time.
“Alright, boys,” Tristaine shouted from the rooftop. “I just killed every last one of you. I hear it’s meatloaf tonight. I’m starving. Call it a night?”
“You talk way too much, man,” replied one of his teammates. “Just shut up and focus.”
Tristaine mumbled under his breath. He’d just singlehandedly won the battle and they were telling him to focus?
“couldn’t be more focused–”
Something hit him from behind.
You’ve been hit. Relocation imminent.
“Hah, hah. I told you before to shut your mouth, kid,” cackled VanDour.
Thank you for reading chapter two of Tristaine Glass: The Elect. Stay tuned for following chapters coming very soon. To be notified immediately when a new chapter becomes available, sign up for our mailing list. We don’t email a lot so don’t worry about spam! If you have comments, please feel free to share them below. We want to know what you think. After all, we are writing for you!