Chapter seven: P is for pheromone.

What had happened was this;

The staff supervising the drone deployment had reasoned, about half an hour before, that using the advanced military A.I Tactical control system against a bunch of untrained, Ill equipped youths with no coordination was overkill. "and" they thought "When will we ever have another chance to have a go controlling a few hundred million dollars of military equipment."

So Rather than being two squads of sleek, precision death; they were being remotely piloted by essentially, office workers.
The editor's message, finally arriving in the tactical supervision room was immediately obeyed. The ground below the sedated Ben's gear dropped away, its hydraulics humming. Another gear, having been sprinting toward Ben, reached the hole.
It hesitated and then rolled in.

Moments later, the ground rose. It was empty, but for dust and ash.

The editor (Junior) was rejoicing, the world had turned for him. His selection of candidates had earned him a commendation, especially when the male one earned himself the ovation of male viewers and the adoration females by single-handedly obliterating a force many times stronger than his own.
The Proactive editing department was having a time of it, complaining and trying to make the pilot look handsome; but that wasn't his problem.

The female… Kally had successfully been directed to the boy's side. Now that would later look like she was concerned, the video feed from Ben's cockpit contained no trace of anesthesia. Everyone watching him, knew, a coolant pipe burst and flung his head against the console, knocking him out.
Who else but a 'Friend' nudge nudge, would come and help when there was a chance their head would be blown off by going out in the open. Leaning back the editor(junior) looked over his work, All that was left now was to force the two together.

After a few back to back battles and a couple of bottles of pheromones, they'd be blushing whenever their eye's met; And yelling whenever any intimation of a relationship was brought up in interviews due to their past history and personalities. Yes-sir-ee, nothing like a good old dollop of romantic tension to bring up the ratings.


Kally was irritated. She'd been told that to leave the arena she had to get to the person who'd just destroyed, quite impossibly, an entire team of mystery mechanical attackers. Two in fact.

Then wham, she wasn't on the platform anymore, she was in a small room with two bunks; with a splitting headache. And if she wasn't mistaken the person in the bunk across from her… Briefly, she wondered what the penalty for strangulation would be.

The boy began waking up. He had the nerve to just yawn and sit there as though he didn't know.

In a far off control room a button was pressed, cameras rolled and a canister in the accommodations closed ventilation hissed.

He was rubbing his eye's now, as if he hadn't noticed. Leaning forward like that, with unkempt black locks falling down in cascade around the clear lines of the pale face.

Kally mentally backtracked. She hated this person, he was the one who'd used her as a shield in the very first match, and she hated those sparkling emerald eyes.

The boy spoke, finally noticing her. "Where am I… This time?"

A slight flush appeared in his pale cheek's and he looked away, as though embarrassed.
Was it regret? Guilt… Something else.

Kally shook her head and tried to clear the rouge thoughts from her mind, why the hell did her enemy have to be him?

(In that same control room, a man punched his fist in the air in triumph.)

"Who are you?" The boy asked, breaking into her reverie.

She caught her breath indignant. "You don't know."
"No clue."

Well she guessed it was too much to hope for that he'd have brainpower to match physical features. Although before now, she'd always preferred brown eyes, but…

"Although the number on your jumpsuit appears to be a numerical version of my former place of education's title. I'd say that it probably indicates therefore that we were plucked from the same location. Since that implies that I probably shot at you during the course of my first match I apologize."

"How can you tell that and yet not recall the initial pre-match rules briefing?"

"I was late." He said it as though he was talking about a dentist's appointment.

"How exactly could you be late when we were dumped in the room at least a day beforehand?"

"Long story. I wasn't dropped in the same room or at the same time-"

The conversation began to wind down, as each began taking long glances when they thought the other wasn't looking. It was deemed that that was about enough and a slot on the door opened, delivering a rather archaic but bulky slip of paper.

Kally unfolded it and when it remained the same shook it slightly.

"It's not electronic, It's paper, dried and pressed wood pulp. I guess they don't want us to have anything to affect an escape with." Ben felt he was adjusting admirably to a situation where he'd just woken up in a strange room with a female who he may have possibly shot at the day before and was incidentally quite quite gorgeous.

The girl Kally (He could tell it was Kally. Nametag.), looked over the sheet's of paper.

Her expression flicked between surprise, doubt and consternation. Almost absent mindedly she asked "What was that about escaping?"
"Well If they'd given us digital sheet's we might've been able to contact…" Ben shook himself as he realized what he'd almost revealed. The pause did not go unnoticed.

The girl raised an eyebrow. "Someone." He finished lamely, eye's flickeing up to the ceiling.

He really hoped that he'd just silently said I can't say who could help us to escape right now because of the finks upstairs who are probably watching Rather than, alternatively, looking like an idiot.

Kally made no further comment, sitting down on the bunk beside him. She brandished the papers as he quite self consciously realized his blush was deepening; her presence was intoxicating. He was acutely self aware of the last time he washed while she talked.

She finished and he had a panicked moment where he had to catch up with events and focus on what she was saying rather than who was saying it.

Kally tried to focus on the issue at hand rather than on her newly acquired teammate.

He seemed like he was going to say something but then was stopped by the situation; And he was right to do so seeing as they were probably being monitored. For a television show. That last fact had put a damper on any kindling romantic ideas that had begun to form at the back of her mind.

"So, pretty much I'm your teammate and this will be our battlefield and conditions for tomorrow; only fourteen teams is good and better yet only half need to be eliminated."
The boy, who's eye's had glazed over, snapped out of it. Surely he didn't think her boring, but then the blush… Did she smell or something?
"What about this?" He pointed at the sheet. She looked, it was the summary.
She was about to ask him if he could read when his eye's flickered back and forth.
"Not sure… it could be a typo." She pretended to look closer. He was pointing at a word. Look. She pointed at one earlier. See.
He began pointing at words while talking idly and animatedly about tactics.
She mentally pieced them together A.N.N.I Will Help Us on the Field.
Her reply G.i.r.l.-friend? She hoped not.
His reply, shorter, just two letters A.I.
What?
Long- S.t.o.r.y

Tell later.
Will, Know
?
Fortunately.
When get's d.a.r.k will t.a.p it out.
Why not now?
Because we've been doing this for five m.i.n.s will get suspicious, not that much to read.
O.K.

Now real t.a.c.t.i.c.s

Ben smoothly transitioned from waffle to intelligent deduction. He was glad that he hadn't looked like a complete idiot earlier.
"-Anyway, 5000 threat seems relatively high; however I think despite that we should be conservative with points."

"Spotter and shooter, One fire control and targeting, the other armored and armed."

"Possibly. I was thinking about a slightly different setup. Armed, mobile, with lasers and mortars, the latter laser guided. Missile racks in general seemed to be of a low level of accuracy and furthermore are not convenient when prone. The back mounted laser guided mortar however can both be used when prone and allows you to actively track a target even if they have ECM's."

"What do we do when they're used against us?" If they were that good then it would be a certainty.

"Stick around foliage or highly irregular terrain, their disadvantage is their advantage; they are useless for tracking targets behind cover."

"Ah I see, they could also be fired with a conventional fire control system though…"

"Exactly, which means we have a decent shot at people in cover and we can avoid getting smooshed ourselves by activating ECM'S and Ducking and diving."

"Kay, And against conventional weapons?"

"I don't like to argue with guns, they always win."

"Therefore long distance bombardment?"

"Mmm…possibly, we may not have that opportunity. I think we should travel light and possibly take jump jets with us. Get up high, good firing position."

"Also insanely exposed. Look at the back of this, topographic map, our drop spot drawn in yellow. This is a valley, the only places low enough to jump are here and here, but we'd be fighting to get to them."

"Didn't see that… I've just been using jump jet's to get out of spot's in the last two fights."

"Yeah, I noticed." She recalled the way he'd jumped over her own blocky K-Bot in the first fight, and the missiles that had slammed into her subsequently. Strange though, everyone had ignored her after that. In a way he'd saved her considering he'd killed just about everyone else.

Strange but, she was here talking after killing so many other's just like her… talking about how to kill more people. She inhaled and the concern faded a little more.

The emerald eyed guy was getting slower and less animated. The lights dimmed. Ben slumped over first, being slighter than the older kally.
Kally was dimly puzzled by her partner's sudden sombulence.
She reached out and with a sigh, fell sideway's.

Ben awoke to an alien beeping sound.
Alien because it should not have been there.

He refused to open his eye's as his last few moments looped through his memory over and over.

Oh Crap! Did I fall asleep next to the only girl who I might ever have had a chance with in this stupid tournament?

Submitting to defeat, he opened them. He was not in a cockpit…. No F*ck he was. Wait was Kally real? Yeah, they couldn't have made something quite so- End that thought there Benjamin! You have a job to do; figure out what you're in and where the hell you are.

He couldn't see his arms and legs by looking down. There was a faint pressure on his spine. He wasn't so much inside a cockpit piloting through switches, joysticks and controls as encysted inside the vehicle. His arm's and legs were immobile as though locked in bonds of steel.

Which they probably were, not steel but something stronger- Easy there Ben, Focus, Learn to drive; Kill the opponents, save the princess.

Kal--Forget about her for now. Look there's the source of the beeping, those amber numbers on the black thing which is probably a visor. See them counting down? Yes. Well my dear self when they get to zero we will probably have this thing turn on of its own accord. So what now, we have a minute? Relax and think about the map. We could be right next to our teammate- Kally!- Easy there romeao, or the map could be a complete fabrication. We may not even be on the same team. I'd let her win.- No no I wouldn't, think for a moment; be logical, You're better than her. You have AnnI on your side. Therefore it is better for you to triumph and avenge later. -Whatever I don't think I'd be able to kill her though.- Don't worry myself about it, you can pipe down for now and I'll run the show.- Why are we even discussing this, this used to be a single occupancy space.- Things change, people adaptToo right- Hang on who are you?—A manifestation of your fragmented persona due to lack of sleep and stress-
If that's me then how do you know that when I don't—I do know it, I'm mere better at elucidating it.- Okay okay, let's all just calm down now and take things slowly 'cause this is a small head. Both of me just shut up while I kill things. –Yessir---Whatever I say.*

The counter ticked to zero.

The suit booted. Light washed over his face. The world appeared, he looked and knew he was approximately six meters off the ground, around three point five times his normal height.

The map handed out beforehand had been a fabrication. Rather than being situated on his own, he was part of a circle. His subconscious, apparently more on the ball than he was; was already raising up both his hands on the assumption that at least one would be holding a gun. Across the field an enemy was doing the same, He did have a gun, a particularly fierce and surprisingly solid looking one.

He wasn't fast enough, he'd be aimed properly over a second after Ben had and although his opponent might not realize… They were already dead.
For the first time Ben apologized for the act he was about to commit. "Sorry mate."

"Kally doesn't miss." Came through the speakers at exactly the same time.

"Right and left Kal" Both pilot's recovered admirably, aiming at the hostiles next to their counterparts.

"Gotcha."

Ben and Kally Fired, or at least they tried to. The other suits began to move as they pumped the triggers in vain. "Bugger" he heard Kally curse "Ditto, move."

Kally began to back away from the disorientated group as did Ben.

Both still covered their fellow contestant's but now they were advancing away from any potential firefight, reducing the chances they'd be caught in close quarters chaos.

They were stopped in their tracks by the Announcement. It deserved the capital letters as each syllable resounded with a teeth grinding echo.

"Welcome to justice! No doubt you were apprised of the rules before you arrived."

It wasn't a question, it was a statement. "Boy." Kally's voice crackled over the comm's.

Hang on crackled?

"I do believe that there has been either a gigantic cockup, orrrr they are deliberately screwing with us. The latter is more likely."

"Knowing them it's certain." She punctuated the sentence with a fierce swearword.

"Pardon?" "Weren't you just listening?" She sounded exasperated.

"Honestly I'd rather listen to you and than to him." The sentence came blurting out completely unintentional. Mentally Ben let loose with a barrage of language so strong that it could've won an Olympic weightlifting title.

In her own suit Kally blushed.

Admittedly her feeling's were somewhat augmented by an unknown additive to the cabins atmosphere. Two in fact. One to keep both boy and girl in a state of emotional receptiveness to one another, the other to prevent them from prioritizing the external aspects of their situation over a fledgling relationship.

The concentration of the latter in Ben's cockpit had to be increased after his mind proved more un-malleable and unreceptive to pheromone therapy than anticipated; the split he'd experienced earlier was his reasoned and logical aspect's attempting to suppress latent urges.

No matter what a story book hero might be able to do though, fighting chemicals within your own body is impossible, eventually his reasoned thoughts were shut out of the loop.

At the moment however Kally quickly explained the jist of what was being spurted by the announcer. Fact one, their guns were remotely operated. Fact two, there would be no rounds put in the chamber until you had put the gun to your head and Russian roulette style, pulled the trigger. Fact three; Fact two's first assumption may not be true for all guns. Fact four; of the eight there, at least three needed to be incapacitated.

Fact five; In one minute thirty seconds exactly a round will be chambered if the trigger of your gun is pulled while it is pointed at a head. The penalty for being too early is no round. Too late and you are down a head.

The moment Ben heard the last announcement, he twigged.

"I know what to do. They expect some to get rounds, others to wait and see if people eliminate themselves. What we do is attack now."

"How? No bullets."

"Exactly, point your gun at your head and pull, I'll do the same. Fun fact five is a trick. We point at other peoples head's." Ben put his gun under the armored 'chin'.

"… I am really Frikken glad I'm on your team." Kally did the same.

Both pull their triggers.

Both watch as the other's head exploded.

In the second's following Ben let loose with a series of unprintable words.

Kally's jaw dropped, and then hardened in silent anger.

Ben, his logical mindset having already been chemically inhibited, Roared.

His voice echoed out the cockpit speakers. In the back of his mind a voice told him that someone had anticipated his actions. It went unheeded.
He charged.

Kally sighted as the timer went down approaching Zero. Ben had spotted the first of the second statements tricks; she had just worked out the second. How can a round be fired if you'd just pressed the trigger when it shouldn't have been chambered?

It would be chambered by pointing your gun at someone else's head after one minute and thirty seconds. The third trick struck her and killed Ben; In One minute and thirty seconds after what?... The guns worked now!

A candidate quite ironically posed with his rifle to his chin, suddenly fell with a gaping hole in the plated head of the suit. The person next to him had less than a third of a second to react before he too exploded. In slow motion, the world moved.

Kally watched as the other black robotic humanoids all began a slow pirouette, her rifle moving inexorably towards its next target.

Ben was merciless. Unremmiting. Bloodthirsty. Like some ancient god of rage and pain, the giant black suit made a running leap into the midst of its opponents; tackling the furthest one to the ground.
The other people were quick to react; they had survived similar battles to Ben's… But they lacked rage, pain and the already heady throb of adrenaline that coursed through the small berserkers body.
Flipping up from the tackle, he crouched on the downed opponent's chest for a moment, like a demented robotic gargoyle.

Springing forward into the next person in the now loose circular formation, he brought one palm onto his chest and the other into the metallic mans crotch. His feet found the ground and bringing his momentum to bear, Ben lifted the person's feet off the ground as he pushed him full force Into the suit Behind him!

The countdown ticked the last few seconds to zero and the opponent who'd sneaked up behind Ben brought his gun to bear at the back of his head. Ben sensed it. One arm snaked out and caught the gunbarrel, pushing it up.

The opponent resisted. Ben pirouetted and landed him a kick on the kneecap. His opponent stumbled. The timer was past zero but Ben didn't notice. With both hand's he grasped the gun and with his opponent still holding it, forced it under the assailants chin.

In normal circumstances he would have pulled the trigger. He was not in normal circumstances. He snapped the gun barrel. Thus armed he drew his arm back and thrust the broken piece of barrel through the exposed articulation point in the neck. Hydrolic fluid, steam and sparks shot out as he drove his weapon further and further. His opponent stopped struggling.

Kally calmly dispatched the last opponent. Her battle was over. For the first time did she survey her surroundings. The fight had been set in what looked like an over inflated football pitch. Quite suddenly there was a tone.

A tooth achiningly earsplittingly loud attention grabbing tone. On one side of the arena a screen stood. It showed a playback of what at first glance appeared to be a recording of her own match; as it progressed it proved to be different. She winced as a screaming and yelling psychotic individual practically tore everybody on the field apart.

She suddenly realized she was only supposed to have neutralized three opponents.

Ah well. The fight was progressing. None of the other fighters could touch the furious fanatic; each moment another punch, kick or gouge dented and occasionally penetrated the armored worriers. All had begun to use their rifle as clubs, or reverted to hand combat stances as they fought together against the one. It was a losing battle. One managed to strike a blow, but it was a feint; as the rifle butt bounced off ineffectually, the beserker slipped under his guard.

He clasped the head of the unfortunate opponent in both hands and twisted and twisted. It came off sickeningly. The last man was stunned as the head was hurled forward like a large black irregular cricket ball, the speed bowling him off his feet.

He tried to get up but the other black Bot was there instantly, and ghoulishly began to tear away the chest coverings and eventually the suits innards.
The dying assailant silently convulsed on screen.

The last man standing, arched his back and threw arms up into the sky. They landed a moment later.

He remained though reaching upwards, a fierce figure of defiance, battle and unshakable berserk rage. He turned to see something out of focus. A minute later he fell to his knees and slumped as if suddenly drained of emotion. What had he seen? She suddenly realized. On this video, there was only a difference in who was attacking and the victor. Before then, it had looked just the same, including the way one person prematurely bit the dust.
She knew then, that the person on stage so very brutal and reckless in his attack, the berserker, was Ben.
With its usual regularity, anesthesia set in. She resisted longer this time, but eventually her head lolled against the display.

On screen above her, the figure fell over. The right hand of the suit had its middle finger raised in defiance of the situation.

With an unshakable feeling of Déjà-vu, Kally and Ben opened their eyes.

Ceiling. Good start. Mattress, better. Door to corner refresher; Best.

Both emerged a few minutes later, having had little time for hygiene in the last few days it was a relief to feel relatively human again. Neither spoke nor argued about taking turns.

Thus far, they had come to realize that they could be sent to sleepy land and wake up in combat at any moment, so enjoy any amenities while they last. Between the two beds a table had been erected so that the room's occupants could eat while sitting facing each-other.
Breakfast delivered with the table constituted a veritable feast.

To the victor the spoils seemed to be the message. As he sat down Ben realized that it was actual food rather than synth, pretty lavish. Most didn't bother with the business of traditional chef's and cooking anymore; something that comes of artificial real-time production becoming a staple system for a household.

However, without any lingering misgivings, they both dug in. Kally knew, although in a different way than Ben, that the food was safe since there was no entertainment value poisoning and that self imposed starvation would impair her performance.

Ben knew it was safe because he doubted anyone would waste people prepared produce to deliver chemicals for ingestion.

The human body has a number of chemicals which upon waking up, it ideally should release.

However, the chemical aerosols which together were being used to give a relationship between the two not so much a kick start as an electromagnetic Gaussian catapult in the right direction (Despite myriad unknown observers) reacted rather violently with what a healthy body makes to get itself up and fed each morning.

Hitherto that hadn't been a problem. However with enough footage to edit and spice into a presentable 'live' series, the Very High Frequency broadcasters preventing their body clocks from adjusting had been disabled to allow them to properly rest.

A lifetime of waking up at a standardized time didn't disappear for a few days of disrupted sleep; so in short, for about sixty minutes after they woke up they were their usual selves. A fact that had most of the real time editors and psycho-choreographers* biting their nails up in the control room.

*A profession invented by the reality television industry; Psychologists specializing in manipulating people to perform certain actions without the awareness or consent of the subject.

Kally looked Ben over critically. What had she seen in him?

Oh-kay, not bad. But not good either. Un-augmented, impressive considering he'd got this far. He also was bone pale. Not pasty or bleached, just the unique look produced by years of balanced diet, little sun and physical exercise; leaving his features perfect and unblemished but also just a little too unnaturally tinted.

His face was reserved, but each little twitch of thought seemed to send the ghost of an expression through his features.

While she performed her critical examination of him, she was acutely aware that he was probably thinking on the same lines. Or at the very least intersecting curves or tangents.

Quite correct as it turned, Ben having reached an identical conclusion some minutes earlier.

His though had been slightly colder:

Kally, why have I been smitten with her? Physical attributes?

Currently she appears to be 'handsome' of face, features defined but not overly striking hair seems to be crimson rather than orange. Indeterminate and immaterial as to if color or shade is natural. So not something I'd likely die over.

Her mental capacity seems to be of a high order. Estimate six eighths of my own although in some areas she seems to surpass me in ability either natural or learned.

Lower body as seen in the refresher (Although I can add the single shower and lavatory to my list of grievances I will recount when I find who put me in this fix and have them plead for mercy) can be concluded to contain sheet's of poly-molecular stable nanotubes.

Thus through electrical impulses her musculature will be augmented in strength; Power? Likely a micro alternator with a pickup for thermal charge.

Any other augmentations are indeterminable and immaterial as non-passive would have by this stage been detected and disabled.

Still reflex enhancing implants or neura-selective pathway reinforcement therapy would likely give her an edge in terms of reaction time.

Although the latter would be more likely for a young person attempting to rapidly improve an aspect of physical coordination, Perfect balance or gymnastic maneuvers might be advantageous depending on the type of Exo-suit we're given in future.

In conclusion, if we're partnered up as seems to be the case then her assistance will be invaluable in ensuring an increased chance in overall survival probability.

A scant few minutes passed after they'd finished off the meal laid out for them, before they received their next notification. The wall between the bunks was illuminated by an internal stereovision. Map giving directions, presumably to where they were supposed to be. Supporting this assumption, the door unlocked and slid away.

Outside the floor had the same light odor and sound based path's most complexes used for navigation as well as instrument measurement.
Their door was marked with an orange glow, C-sharp and citrus. The odor and sound was disabled since the building wasn't crowded enough to warrant it. In fact it appeared empty. No Security.

Of course both knew that the absence of eyes and ears just meant they were better hidden. Neither had any doubts that the moment they deviated from the set path, they would learn the wonders of modern security.

As they strolled along, Ben frowned and decided to hang subtlety and make inquiries while he could.

"I'm not going to dance around this; until this morning I was unreasonably smitten with you. For reasons which were neither logical nor emotionally in keeping with my character."

Kally looked down, saw no trace of irony in his solemn expression and nodded.

"I was falling head over heels for you. However, now I haven't the foggiest idea why."

Ben smiled. "What's so funny?" Kally queried, wondering if it had been the wrong thing to admit.

"If both you and I were until a very short while ago experiencing identical and inexplicable bouts of infatuation." He stopped and his grin suddenly turned mischievous "Well I guess we shouldn't fight it."

Kally was about to open her mouth to berate him when she hear the low irregular tapping of Ben's fingers on the wall. She listened as he communicated in morse, covering up the silent communication with her own waffle "Maybe when we aren't being shot at. Anyway, I have no desire to be locked up in a relationship when my five minutes of fame comes round."

-They want us to come together, gone to a lot of trouble. Act the part of awkward relationship, they keep us alive nyet?

"If that's the case. Forget it… never-mind. Forget I said anything. It's pretty ridiculous anyway- I mean, this is a combat show. " he muttered.

Ben walked on ahead stormily with Kally fallowing behind at a distance of about a meter.

She realized what he meant in his message; The organizers are drugging us. A possible romantic angle makes us more likely to be kept in the field. Just stay alive until A.n.n.I comes calling and we can escape.

Ben opened his mouth to speak, almost absentmindedly:

" 'secrecy is the keystone of tyranny. Not force, but secrecy... censorship. When any government, or any chuch for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not reed, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything - you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.' Robert Heinlein was right about that"

Kally leaned over "Who was Robert Heinlein?"

Ben paused "You haven't heard of him?" "Not a clue." "Old science fiction writer, millennia and a half ago. Scan his 'The Door Into Summer' when you're able."

"That might not be for while." Kally commented dryly. "I wouldn't have though something quite so ancient would even be remotely interesting."

"I memorized it. Anyways, the last good book was written in 2109 everything since then has just been remakes, reality T.V. and re-Imagining's of the same tired old concepts."

"Aren't you the pragmatist. Cute."

"I plead the fifth. Secondarily, why are they just letting us walk around here? Surely it would have been better just to leave us next to our destination without getting a good look at the facility."

Kally looked round. He was right, their conversation had taken them a long way.

"I think they just want stock footage of us walking round corridors." Kally postulated with a nod to the cameras.

"Very possibly." Ben agreed.

"Say, something I've been thinking about. What is happening to all the people who well… wash out." Ben frowned at Kallys very pertinent question.

"I suspect death, but that many cadavers… It's hard to say who's running this."

Kally could see what he meant; the Vitro-vision networks, as prolific and powerful as they were, simply couldn't commit mass murder and expect to not be taking account for it.

There were too many questions, too many illogical observations and contradictions about this entire affair. Such large battles, they couldn't be just for entertainment when a well produce one on one might get you about the same amount of people tuning in. Hell, they already had a monopoly! They could run whatever they wanted and people would have to watch.

"We're here." Ben slid open the door. He was about fifteen centimeters shorter than Kally, who looked over the top of his head to observe the room.

It had people. Specifically pre and post pubescent adolescents.
"Hmm. Kally, it would seem that we are to meet the competition." Ben observed quietly.

"Correction. Meet the team. You're the last ones here. Therefore, you're going to be the lowest on our ladder."

"… With logic like that who needs a battle-plan?" Ben commented brightly.

Kally fought the urge to giggle; Ben had sounded utterly sincere.

"On the battlefield, being late costs lives." The speaker un-propped himself from where he'd been leaning against the door-frame, looking cool.
Kally mustered wit, until she'd met her new roommate she'd thought herself quite good at verbal sparring. Now she saw there was a lot to learn about insinuating insults. Still, it didn't mean she couldn't.

"Better never than late. Being first into combat is more often than not, fatal."

"Tardiness costs lives. We've already chosen all our team positions. The only ones left to be filled are the ammo-mules."
Kally and Ben exchanged glances.

"That sound's okay to me. Give me a pack and call me Eeor."

"If your okay with it, then I am." He seems more on-top of things than I am.

The leader frowned. His plastic waistcoat and pants along with his spiky hair made him appear imposing and dramatic.
I wondered how the heck he'd survived three heats.

Kally sat in the corner, hugging her knees to her chest. I squatted beside her.

I didn't like this situation. Quite a few of the people in the room gave me the impression of being more than just the ordinary dross and cannon-fodder.

Secondarily, our leader was in fact an actor. He might not realize it, but by wearing only a waistcoat without a shirt he'd exposed his diaphragm. Professional singers and actors are required to use their voices a lot;
Those without implants learn to stiffen the muscles of their diaphragm to ensure that when they speak or sing they can maintain their tone with accuracy and without wavering.
There are other clues of manner and unconscious reflex, but that one was a definite sign that he was in fact a professional player. Not a person who'd pulled himself up by his bootstraps with tactics and reflexes and panicked split second decisions.

He was meant to look pretty and die dramatically. Possibly faked death. Provide a bit of oomph in this new team.
In short, stay the hell away from him, lest you become part of the script and get taken down as well.

The meeting went, on, and on and on.
The newly appointed ammo-mules sat and squatted in the corner, listening and keeping up a steady stream of quiet insults at their team-mates and each-other.
"I think that he could only raise his IQ if he added more gel to that mohawk." "Oh, Snap. Although I'm surprised that you're talking about IQ, mister berserk barbarian." "Worrisome Wench, I've got friend's I have.... and look, they're arguing about who get's the biggest gun. What part of 'battle royal' don't they understand?"

Kally shrugged. There was a while between now and her next battle. She could relax.


Would anyone like some-more?

*By the way, here each type of text formatting indicates a different voice inside his mind induced by his psyches unsuccessful efforts to counteract the chemicals he's breathing.

Although I'm doing my Na-no novel at the moment.

And you know there's something very very interesting about this chapter. Namely it has six six six six words in it. Isn't that totally fascinating? Counting this bit down here at the bottom of course.