Whew, that was close. Three, four. . . just one more left. Ah, there he is! Would be him, damn it! As if I wasn't having a bad enough day. Try and remember the stats for that car he's driving. Think, think!
"Yes, ma'am, that's right. I'd like to compete in an amateur stock-car event. You have an opening tonight? Uh, yes, I'm interested, but . . . That door? Thank you." I restated my desire to the guard outside the door.
The atmosphere of the halls did little to help my nervous state. Gray walls and bright lights, spaced at even intervals along the ceiling, giving an effect that almost perfectly aggravated the eyes.
He must have an extra load for that rocket launcher. I don't remember that in the specs. Lighter armor on that car, if I recall correctly That sound of shells striking my armor is going to drive me crazy I never should have said anything to him. Too late now for regrets.
"Just fill out these forms? All of them?" I took the one-inch stack of papers and went to a small cluster of desks and flopped down in one. They weren't desks, really; they looked as if someone had ripped the left arm off the chair and used the extra wood to build a small extension on the right arm.
Despite the fact that it was impossible to get comfortable in the chair in any position, I started to fill out the forms.
Lot of "In case of death .. ." questions. That helped my mood tremendously.
The maddening phweee-CRACK! of rockets slamming into my rear quarter is getting me worried. How much more can it take? Damage control sensors only tell you when it's breached. Too late at that point Have to keep calm, don't lose it now. Try to get away from him.
"Duel number 23? That green door? just hand her this form here or... oh, this one. Is it always this ....... yes, the green door. I'm going." Someone should change her batteries. Why did they all act so mechanical? Behind the green door was a high vaulted ceiling. Taking up the majority of the space in the room were six cars, one of which was mine. Also occupying the room were five almost identical-looking security guards and a rather plain appearing woman holding a clipboard. I judged the woman as the best bet.
"Hello, I . . .," I started.
"Form, please," she interrupted, with a voice so dry and cold I could almost see the frost from her breath as she spoke. She took the form from my hand and instructed me to examine my car for the duel tonight.
He's good. Can't be a true amateur. He's obviously had experience somewhere; BLUD, the highway, other aliases in other amateur nights, somewhere. Great. How is one class at offensive driving school going to help me take out a salted duellist? If only he would miss and that rain of shells would stop so I could concentrate. I have to become detached, it is so hard with that constant pounding in my head.
I don't know how long I sat in that waiting room, nor how many times I paced its length before someone walked in. He was young, very young. He couldn't have been over 19, probably lied about his age. He looked as frightened as I felt.
We sat in silence at opposite ends of the room, but I was thankful for the company anyway.
The incessant echoing of rocket fire fills me with terror beyond belief. Keep calm. Think. Use your head. No reason you can't pull this off. Who are you trying to kid? Bad attitude. Improve that self-image before it's too late. Make your move, start to set him up. He has you pegged as a scared kid.
Prove him wrong.
Several other competitors had entered and taken positions around the room. A track official entered and began calling off names. When he completed checking off his list he glanced at his watch and stood in the middle of the room. just standing there, how could he act so calm, almost bored?
"Sir, how long till it starts?" I asked quietly. For some odd reason I felt like a fifth grader asking permission to use the washroom.
A quick glance at his watch and he answered my question. Not once looking at my face, it was just as if I had pressed a button.
That's it make a plan. No one is perfect Force him to make a mistake. He has to be just as afraid of death as I am. Think back to class, what were the best techniques against a superior foe? Think! Do you want to die?
There will be no second chance - make it count, make it count!
All I did was accidently knock this guy's helmet off the bench while struggling with my combat boots. Suddenly I had this six-foot behemoth in my face trying to start a fight. I apologized, for the 30th time, and for the 30th time he shoved his finger into my chest and started another stream of obscenities.
Through the whole encounter not one other duellist moved to break us up. I don't think I saw one move at all. I was saved by the entrance of two track officials into the locker room. Though the action cooled down, I knew his temper hadn't. That's all I needed, a personal enemy out there in the arena.
What else could go wrong?
Remember what you were taught Tap the down shift, turn the wheel one quarter-turn right. Spikes on automatic. That's it, keep cooL Do everything mechanically Maybe that explains the way all the arena personnel act, it may be the only way to survive in this environment Not only stay cool, but become cold. No feeling. If it wasn't for the perpetual beat of that weapon of his!
Force it out of your mind, ignore it, but don't forget it.
Slowly checking each strap and clip on my body armor, my mind insisted on drifting back to the threats received in the locker room after the officials had left. I tried to su~ merge myself in the laborious task of searching my rebuilt Indra's armor for any signs of structural weakness. Each weapon was opened and examined. I rethreaded the ammunition belt twice. My heart kicked at my ribs, trying to escape this lunacy. I backed away from the car and looked it over, trying to slow myself down. A five had been painted on my doors and hood. Hope it's my lucky number.
Doesn't he ever miss? Too close to die now. Only one winner. Look! Find a way A controlled skid around a former competitor to break his line of sight, yeah, that should work. God, help me. Touch the brakes, jerk the wheel left, now right Accelerate! Hal Thought I was going to be an easy kill, huh?! got news for you! At least! won't be easy
I found the nearest track official and asked how long till staging. As he turned I realized, with more than a little embarrassment, that he was the same official I had asked earlier. With no hint of emotion or recognition he told me. Are they all robots? I went back to the chore of checking my car. I slowed my breathing down. Picturing the checklist shown to me in class, I checked all the instruments. I kept telling myself, "miss one, just one, and you may not live to check it later." Keeping myself sober with that thought, I went through the checklist a second time.
Spikes empty. Bring the left flamethrower to bear. Keep your head. Don't get anxious, make it count No telling how many shots you'll get. Fire! That's funny - fire. Keep focused on the duel or you will die! A hit. The smoke should keep that recoilless off me for a biL Have to keep the good armor facing him.
There he is again. Eat napalm, buddy
Putting the car in gear, I followed the dark blue line that was assigned to me. The lines were the only color in the place. It was all so dismal, like a concrete tomb, which I guess it was. I slipped the car out of gear as I sat in front of Gate Three. The light tree was red. Well, at least it was color.
Methodically, I put on my helmet and double checked all the straps. Set on survival, I tugged the six-point harness, pressing me even tighter against the seat. I then remembered to breathe again.
Analyze and compensate, just like the instructor said. Two solid hits from my flamer must have weakened that side's armor. With all that ammunition he can't have thick armor. Thank the high powers that metal isn't allowed.
He pulls around, smoking, and rocket fire fills my ears. My front armor is still solid, it looks grim. Only one real chance left. One is better than none.
My stomach tightened as a buzzer went off and the light turned yellow. Time for the last system checks. A track official rapped on my window. If it wasn't for the harness holding me down they would have peeled me off the roof of my car. I gave him the thumbs up and he walked off, presumably to check the other drivers. I tried to ease my nerves; there would be hell to pay if I tried to duel in this condition. Everything checked out fine, it was time to focus on what I was here for.
Let's see him follow me through this mess. Interesting. That car isn't handling very well at all. Now there is a useful bit of information. Now work around the bunker … good. Got him! Click on the machine gun - every little bit helps, and floor iL Nowhere to go, my friend. lust tag his smoking side and it should be all over. Don't let him get away The Indra's wheel suddenly struggles with me, my right corner dives for the asphalt. Where did that come from? Damn, forgot all about that six-shooter! He nailed my tire!
Can't be too much longer now. Unless there is a bad wreck to clean up. Then again, how many good wrecks are there? Don't think about it. No fear, no fear, no fear.
Get control! Damn, what a stupid mistake to make. Out of sight, out of mind. I knew the blow-through patch was there, I knew it! Where is he? Well at least I am going to hit that son-of-a-
Another buzzer sounded and the light turned green. I shifted the car into gear and started forward towards the opening gates. No backing now. I kept accelerating as I moved past the already closing gates. Show time.