Game Time

By Butch

I’ve never been one for sports. I have vague memories of my dad cheering for the Seahawks, back when we had to pretend the players weren’t augmented. As if a straight-off-the-street humie could tackle a 300-kilo Troll without some serious cyberware.


But when I heard our next Exit Vector mission was delivering Arvi Gunter… yes, that fragging Arvi Gunter… Gunny, linebiker for the Tacoma Timberwolves!… I could hardly contain my fangirl excitement!


“Didn’t he retire or something?” Suzaku asked, the Troll’s deep voice a rumble.


“He’s been holding out for a better deal,” Rabbit explained. Even in meatspace, the Decker’s voice sounded like it was at 2x speed. “He fired his agent and he’s trying his own strategy: The fragger is just going to show up at the Tacoma Dome and let the crowd negotiate for him. He rides into the Dome just before game time, the crowd goes wild, the suits cave and sign the contract.”


“If that works, there will be a lot of unhappy agents,” I said.


“What-EV-er, Hocus. All I know is if he’s there before game time, we get paid. Half now and the other half to be paid automatically if he’s in the starting lineup tonight. And it’s a nice pay-day.”


Rabbit’s ears — long even for an Elf — twitched like they always did whenever he talked about nuyen.


Flywheel had questions, as Riggers always do, and Rabbit had answers, as Deckers always do. I let them haggle over the details, my mind already wandering to how I’d spend the money. I could use a Spirit Focus. Or maybe season tickets to the Timberwolves…


Fifteen minutes later I was still pondering the possibilities as we loaded up the cargo into our Ares Venture. It was a short manifest: one passenger, one bike.


“Cutting it close,” Flywheel shouted over the comm as Suzaku and Rabbit secured Gunny’s bike in the cargo hold. The bike he was riding when he scored the winning goal against the Shuriken! “We needed to be in the air 30 seconds ago!”


“Take your time with it,” Gunny said, the first words he’d spoken. “It ain’t a piece of luggage.”


He was shorter in person than on the trid. Wearing his Tacoma Timberwolves home armor, pistol strapped to his hip, helmet under his arm, he looked just like he did on the wallpaper adorning a million homescreens in the Seattle Metroplex.


Gunny didn’t say another word, not even when we were circling high above the Tacoma Dome, thousands of his fans choking the parking lots and thousands more already inside. Word had gotten out that he was playing tonight, and it was the first sold-out crowd in weeks.


I unstrapped from my seat to get a better look, squeezing in next to Suzaku… who, too big for a seat, was already standing. 


“The empty parking lot the next block over,” Rabbit intoned over the comms. He’d jacked in, his meatbody limp in his chair. “They want him riding in, not flying in.”


Suzaku grunted, their cybereyes glinting from the glow of the Venture’s interior lights. “Who’s that?” they said, pointing a thick finger at someone crouching in the parking lot. 


I couldn’t see anything, but my eyes didn’t cost 10,000¥.


“A fan trying to sneak in, I guess?” I shrugged, then looked at Gunny in his seat. “Or maybe your agent tipped off some influencer to get a shot of you riding off our ramp.” 


A shadowy figure stood up, and at last I could spot her. 


“Ooh, she’s got an old-school hand-held camera! So swag!”


Suzaku’s eyes narrowed, and I saw their pupils spin as the cybereyes switched to magnification mode. “That’s not a –“


“Missile lock!” Flywheel hollered at the same instant alarms started wailing. As fast as thought the Venture banked, then shot up into a vertical climb. Everyone was strapped in except for me and Suzaku, and it was only dumb luck that it was the Troll pinned to the wall and me crashing into them instead of the other way around, ’cause that would have been really messy.


Flywheel flipped us over onto the other wing, sending me crashing back into my seat, and thankfully Suzaku was quick enough to grab the weapons mount and strong enough to hang on. 


I saw the smoke plume from the parking lot, and another from a nearby rooftop. Above us were a pair of roto-drones, whirling like sparrows chasing a hawk. 


Sparrows armed with HK-227’s.


“My fragging agent didn’t hire you to get me to the game,” Gunny snarled. “She hired you to get me into a kill zone!”


“So technically we fulfilled the terms of the contract –“


“Shut up, Rabbit!” I yelled over the whuff whuff of chaff launching as Flywheel rolled again and then dove, hoping to lose the missiles in the cloud of fibers. The roto-drones easily kept up with us though, SMG bullets hammering at the hull. The armor could take it… I hoped.


“Hoke! An air spirit would be really useful right now!” Flywheel hollered. “And what the frag, Rabbit, ice those drones!”


“Uh, I’m a little busy keeping us alive,” Rabbit’s disembodied voice intoned. It was incongruous to see his body as peaceful as if he were asleep in his seat while hearing the desperate panic in his voice. “This ‘mancer is trying really hard to brick the cockpit.”


I buckled my straps and closed my eyes, trying to ignore all of it… the streaking missiles, the pinging bullets, the dizzying vertigo every time Flywheel made Newton roll over in his grave with another physics-breaking maneuver.


I breathed deep and slow, imagining myself soaring through the sky, a sky that wasn’t tinged with acidic smog and smudged by swarms of nano-drones. I imagined the biggest, puffiest, whitest cloud and, arms spread, eased myself into it.


Inside the climate-controlled Venture, a gentle breeze lifted my hair. Eyes still closed, smiling, I lifted my face skyward… or what I thought was the sky, as we were quite likely flying upside down at the moment.


Noble spirit of the sky, I whispered, I beseech you, answer my plea, do me these favors and I will repay you with offerings of smoke, mist, and the sweetest helium…


I felt sweat on my forehead and down my back as my concentration focused and then…




I should have bought that Spirit Focus on credit.


Flywheel hit the vertical thrusters and we shot straight up. A quick burst took down one of the roto-drones, but the other nimbly dodged and got back behind us.


Suzaku was at the gun port, Ingram Valiant blasting the fragger in the parking lot before she could get off a second missile. As for the drekhead hiding on the roof, I’d never see him… on this plane, anyway. In Astral, his cyber-loaded body glowed faintly but glowed all the same.


An orange mushroom blossomed on the rooftop as my Fireball took him out, the dark parking lot momentarily illuminated to reveal two black Ares Roadmasters racing across the parking lot.


The ground team.


“Wow, your agent really took this personally,” I said.


One missile bit hard on the chaff and spiraled away after the dissipating cloud of fibers, but the other had re-acquired and was circling back toward us. Flywheel was quick enough to juke at the last moment and it missed. But detonated close enough.


Alarms were wailing, smoke was everywhere. There was a Troll-sized hole in the hull where I’d last seen Suzaku.


“Rabbit!” Flywheel was shouting over the comms. No answer. I looked over at his body and saw the blood trickling from his nose and ears, eyes wide open but seeing nothing. Dumpshock.


“Four minutes to game time,” Flywheel said. “Go big or go home?”


It was a question, not a rallying cry. Deliver the package or make a run for it?


I looked at Gunny, who looked back at me, grinding his jaw. I know that look. He’d been cargo all this time, a helpless bystander. He wanted to get into the game, to make these bastards pay. I’d hate to be on the opposing team tonight.


“Dome!” I shouted. “Go go go! And we’re gonna bet everything we have on Tacoma to win tonight!”


Trailing smoke from one engine, we roared low over the crowd, a sea of face-painted metahumanity looking up in astonishment. I could only imagine their faces if they knew who we had on board! 


“I can’t land here… too many fragging people!”


“There!” I said, pointing at the ancient ribbon of concrete that ran through Tacoma. “The I-5!” The exit off-ramp heading into the Dome was still bumper to bumper… but the on-ramp from the Dome to the freeway was empty.


Flywheel started to set down the Venture, and then… that damn Technomancer. With Rabbit offline, our defense was toast. Without warning the Venture inverted and then the vertical thrusters redlined, pancaking us upside-down onto the freeway asphalt.


The sound of a boot crunching on shattered plastic got me to open my eyes. But it wasn’t one of our pursuers come to finish us off. Not yet, anyway.


It was Gunny, miraculously uninjured, walking on what had been the ceiling of the now upside-down Venture. 


Face illuminated by flashing warning lights, he looked up at me where I was hanging upside down, still strapped into the chair. 


Don’t bother, I tried to say, but nothing came out.


It didn’t matter. His hand went right past me, fishing out his game helmet from the wreckage of Rabbit’s cyberdeck. He must have already checked on his bike. Mag-clamped in the cargo area, it was upside-down but likely still intact.


He gave the helmet a shake. A few plastic shards and I think one of Rabbit’s teeth rained down around his boots.  


He crouched down to look through the hole in the hull to see outside. I couldn’t see what he was looking at, but I could imagine. The ground team coming to finish us off. 


I watched Gunny’s eyes. The way they bounced from goon to goon, and then to the on-ramp. Estimating the height of the chain link fence, the distance to the parking lot beyond, picking out a path through the tailgating crowd, and then right into the Dome… if he could get past those gun bunnies.  


“Five of them,” he muttered to himself. “In the same formation they used against me in the finals in ’67.” Then he snorted dismissively. “Except they had bikes.” 


He strapped on the helmet, and cocked his head back as he took in the info on the HUD.


“Three minutes to game time,” he said. “I’ll be early.”


I must have blacked out for a moment, because when I opened my eyes again, I could hear the roar of a bike, the frantic shouting over distant comms, the sporadic rattling of wildly aimed automatic fire, and then… 


The full-throated roar of twenty thousand adoring fans.


My head slumped back and despite it all, I had to smile.


Another satisfied customer.

Game Time

error: Content is protected !!