Arena 5, p.1

Arena 5, page 1

 part  #5 of  Arena Series


Arena 5

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Arena 5

  Chapter One

  “Welcome, welcome, champions,” Chi-Cheshire’s feline voice boomed out across the dark, cloud covered night, “to the skies over Normandy, France for one of the most important battles in the planet Earth’s history - The D-Day invasion. We’ve split our champions into two opposing teams - on one side there is the Axis forces of Nazi Germany who will be defending the beachhead. On the other, we have the Allied Expeditionary Force who will be attacking from the air and sea. It’s a deadly game of capture the flag. Who shall be victorious? Let’s watch and see!”

  “Two minutes to drop zone!” PoLarr shouted from the cockpit of the C-47 Skytrain troop transport plane. The small dome light above the open fuselage door blazed brilliant red and bathed the cylindrical interior of the aircraft in light the color of hell.

  “Copy that!” I yelled back almost at the top of my lungs. The roar from the twin Pratt & Whitney prop engines was deafening, like being inside the throat of a growling grizzly bear. “Stand up!”

  The troops sitting along either side of the plane stood up and formed a single line down the center.

  “Hook up!” I yelled and curled my finger into a hook shape and made a motion to put it on the head high metal cable that ran down the middle of the plane from the tail to the cockpit. The twenty-five or so tan and green clad soldiers grabbed the metal hooks attached to long straps coming from the back of tightly packed parachutes on their backs and clipped them onto the cable.

  “Hold on!” PoLarr shouted back. From what I could see in the dim light provided by the glow of the instruments she had on a thick, dark brown leather jacket, and her normally spikey blond sharkfin hair do was covered in a pilots cap and radio gear. “It’s about to get bumpy!”

  To punctuate her sentence the air around the plane erupted in dark clouds of anti-aircraft fire. The staccato boom of explosions filled the inside of the plane in a double bass drumbeat of death.

  I looked across the grim, determined faces of the alien soldiers in front of me. There was no real fear among them, just the sour sweat of anticipation. These were all battle hardened combat troops, not some greenhorn pukes who’d never been shot at. As Chi-Cheshire had pointed out, we were basically LARPing one of the most decisive battles in World War Two, only with real bullets. My alliance mates, Aurora and Nova, were position two and three in the stack of soldiers lined up in front of me. It was weird seeing all the various alien creatures, male, female and everything in between, geared up like US 101st Airborne paratroopers circa nineteen forty-four, like Band of Brothers cast with the characters of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was also kinda freaking cool.

  “Okay!” I yelled. “Meet up at rendezvous delta when you hit the ground. Remember your assignments. If we don’t do our job, our allies on the beach head are walking into a slaughterhouse. So, put aside whatever bullshit you’re carrying about the guy next to you and let’s get this done. For today, we’re all on the same side. Hooah!”

  “HOOAH!” The line of soldiers yelled back. Their voices full of ferocity.

  Just then an anti-aircraft flak exploded next to the plane and shrapnel ripped through the fuselage as if it were tissue paper. Several of the alien troops near the end of the stack caught the flying bit of flaming hot metal and screamed.

  The plane rocked from side to side as PoLarr got it back under control. Through the open door I saw streaks of tracer machine gun fire begin to crisscross the sky, and the ack-ack bursts seemed to double.

  I glanced at my watch. We were still a minute from the drop zone.

  “You bastards better jump before there ain’t a plane to jump out of!” PoLarr flipped a switch on the console above her head, and the light over the open door turned from red to green.

  Nova and Aurora were the first two in the stack, and I gave them a nod.

  “Mind the gap, sugar,” Aurora shouted and jumped out of the plane. I waited and watched as her shoot bloomed below me while the slip stream carried her away from the plane.

  “This shoot better hold me,” Nova growled, and then she too disappeared into the night. Nova’s molecules were three to four times as dense as a normal human’s, so while she looked like an incredibly fit, muscular, yet still sexy, five foot nine inch tall woman, she actually weighed over three hundred pounds. I thought the shoots were rated for up to five hundred pounds and hoped to hell I was right. The light green canopy popped open and floated like a flower blossom in a lazy river to join all the others.

  I took a second to glance around. Our C-47 was one of a flying fleet of troop carriers hurtling through the destruction filled night toward destiny. I watched as a line of tracer fire stitched across the side of another plane until it hit the starboard engine which exploded in a ball of bright orange flame. The plane flew on for a few seconds and then began to lose altitude. A few alien troops jumped from the open door but then the plane began to list and went into an inverted roll. It then sliced another aircraft that had been below it in half. Parts of planes and aliens tumbled through the dark sky. Then the plane crashed into the ground in a smear of fire.

  “Go! Go! Go!” I screamed to the remaining aliens inside the aircraft and began to shove them out the door as the plane bounced and rocked. Finally the last of them was out the door, and I was just about to jump out into the chaos when another explosion hit near the side of the plane, and I was thrown to the ground.

  “Marc!” PoLarr yelled. She wrestled with the yoke of the plane as she attempted to avoid the ack-ack blasts exploding all around us. “Get out of my aircraft before I kick your ass!”

  I pulled myself up as best as I could. Instead of my normal lightweight body armor I was clad head to toe in US Army Paratrooper gear, and it was heavy and bulky as fuck.

  “Give’em hell!” I shouted and winked at the gorgeous Val’Keerye warrior turned combat pilot as I fell backwards out of the fuselage door.

  For a moment I was caught in the slipstream. It roared in my ears under my helmet like a violent scream as I tumbled, a human meteor falling through the embattled sky. Then my chute opened, and I was yanked up by my harness straps as if by the hand of God and began to float across the dark blue-black night like a lazy river at some war torn water park. The silence after the angry wail of the slipstream was disorienting.

  I looked up, trying to find the plane I’d just jumped out of to see if PoLarr had been able to get to a safe altitude but all that filled my vision was the dark green silk of my parachute. I just had to trust that her piloting abilities got her to safety.

  All around me were the blooms of other parachutes as we all floated toward the shadowy landscape below us. I reached up and grabbed two of the harness straps and attempted to control my decent. It was strange dealing with antiquated equipment. It was practically eighty years old by Earth technological standards not to mention light years behind what I’d become used to as champion over the last few months.

  I yanked hard on my left strap to avoid careening into a parachute canopy below me. I sailed by it and saw that the alien under it was slumped in his harness. Fluorescent yellow blood poured from half a dozen gaping bullet holes in his body. Even Though this may have seemed like ancient warfare compared to what we were used to, it was still one of the bloodiest battles in Earth’s history and was no less deadly because we had been transported to the nineteen forties.

  The ground began to rush up toward me faster and faster as I tried to steer. I managed to avoid a copse of thick tree tops but then splashed down into the glass like surface of a small pond. Unfortunately, I sank like a rock. Between my shoot pack, haversack, ammo pouch belt, and various other equipment I was like a lead weight. Thankfully the pond wasn’t that deep, and I soon hit the bottom. I struggled to stand, but I had no leverage. My lungs began to burn from the lack of
oxygen and a blast of panic shot through my brain before my combat senses kicked in. I closed my eyes and stilled my racing mind. Panic killed faster than any bullet. My right hand reached over as if it had a mind of its own, operating on muscle memory and battle instinct, to grab the hard, leather handle of the Ka-Bar knife strapped to my web-belt harness. I flipped open the metal snap that held the knife in place and drew the razor-sharp blade. With a quick slash I cut through the straps of my parachute pack and kicked off the murky bottom of the pond.

  My head burst through the surface, and I gasped in a lungful of air. Then I swam as best I could and after a few strong strokes crawled through the mud and thin reeds of grass on the edge of the pond. I didn’t have time to relax. The sharp cracks of small arms fire rang out in the night like angry gunpowder crickets.

  Before I knew it, my right hand was full of the reassuring weight of the government issued Colt 1911A1 .45 pistol that had been holstered on my right hip. I racked the slide and clicked the thumb mounted safety off as I crouched near the edge of the pond and looked around.

  A small farmhouse stood on the edge of the pond to my right. To my left was a treeline. I had no idea where the fuck I was. Our landing zone was supposed to have been a field ten clicks inside the beach head.

  Just like in history, that plan had gotten fubared real quick.

  I needed to find the rendezvous and meet up with Nova and Aurora. While alliances had kinda sorta been suspended for this match, they were still my teammates, and I was damned if we weren’t going to keep it that way.

  I reached around for the Thompson submachine gun that had been slung over my right shoulder but there was nothing there. I patted myself down fast and realized that I’d left most of my equipment, rations, ammo, and my main weapon on the bottom of the pond.

  “Typical,” I muttered and shrugged. I still had the Colt, four extra clips in pouches on my belt, as well as six magazines for my nonexistent Thompson. I was just going to have to find a replacement.

  A rustling came from the bank of trees, and I moved behind the trunk of a half-submerged log on the edge of the pond. Then I reached into my left pocket and pulled out the little, rectangular, brass clicker that had been in there. I pressed it once, and a sharp CLICK rang out. A second later two identical CLICKS returned.

  I pushed out from behind the log and jogged over to the tree line. Once inside the cover of the trees I saw a young looking bi-pedal, green skinned alien with small bone like knobs all over his body. He clutched his M1 Garand rifle tightly as he scanned the horizon. There were Corporal bars stitched on his shoulder.

  Before my alliance mates and I had matter transported into the skies above Normandy, France on June sixth, nineteen forty-four, we’d gotten a short mission brief. Our ranks would be dependent on our experience level in the Crucible of Carnage. I’d been given the rank of First Lieutenant. Nova was a Gunnery Sergeant and Aurora filling out the command rank as a First Sergeant.

  The Corporal in front of me must have been fairly new to the Crucible of Carnage. He held his gun too tight, and his eyes darted quickly at every sound.

  “What’s your name, Corporal?” I asked him in a strong but reassuring voice.

  “Blooey,” he said nervously.

  “How long you been a champion, Blooey?” I asked. I wanted to keep him talking to get his mind off the fact that we were pretty seriously fucked. I was used to the situation.

  “Um, huh, this is, ah, my second match, I think,” he stammered.

  “That’s…” I started to say, “great, Blooey. Stick with me, buddy. We’ll get through this, okay?”

  “Yes, sir, Lieutenant Havak,” he eked out. He knew who I was. Which I guess wasn’t surprising. I’d made a bit of a name for myself since my first match in what seemed like a lifetime ago and yesterday all at the same time. I knew how this alien kid felt. It wasn’t that long ago I’d been in his shoes. A stranger in a strange land where everyone was trying to kill me.

  “Come on, let’s go,” I motioned for him to follow. I had to find a landmark so that I could get my bearings. I’d always thought that I’d been born in the wrong generation, that I should have come of age in either the Nineteen Forties, like my great Uncle Joe, and gotten to be part of the generation that loved hard-boiled detectives, filterless cigarettes, and saving the world or the swinging Seventies. I was a man of extremes, what can I say. But at this exact moment, being stuck with Nineteen Forties Earth technology sucked. I would have given a digit or two for our comm-links system, my Occuhancers to be online with the interactive map overlay, or hell, just a freaking radio that wasn’t the size of a hiking backpack.

  Right now, all I had on my body were a set of olive drab, M1943 Army issue fatigues, jump boots, a web-harness that held my ammo and canteen, the K-Bar knife that had saved my bacon from drowning, the steel “pot” helmet on my head, and the .45 clutched in my right hand. I also had a field compass in a pouch on my combat harness but I had no map. It sat at the bottom of the pond with the rest of my gear. So, as per usual, I was winging it.

  Blooey and I ducked into the sparse cover provided by the trees. It was dark as hell. Normally my Occuhancer, the small contact lense like devices melded to my eyes, would adjust the ambient light and allow me to see, but they had been taken off line. I took the compass out of the pouch and flipped it open. I could just barely make out the arrow like tip of the needle in the pale, intermittent moonlight so that I could at least get a directional bearing. It pointed right through me. So, north was to my back. The beach head was going to be to the west. Magellan I was not, but at least it was a start.

  I motioned for Blooey to keep his weapon ready, and we started to make our way through the trees heading roughly westward.

  The drop had clearly gotten completely fucked, and I needed to hook up with some more Allied troops at the least, and with Aurora and Nova if I was lucky. Hopefully they had fared a little better than I had.

  The small copse of trees Blooey and I made our way through ended, and several farm fields stretched out ahead of us. There was a line of hedges that acted as de facto fences outlining the edges of the fields. Blooey and I stayed close to those as we continued our slow trek west.

  As we approached a hard packed dirt lane on the edge of the field, I heard the telltale rustle of footsteps and the clank of guns and gear as a group of soldiers walked toward us from around the corner of some hedges. I motioned for Blooey to get down as I pulled the “cricket” out of my pocket and clicked it once. I waited a long few seconds and then clicked it again. There was no two click answer, just the continued rustle of clothes and footsteps. As it got closer I also heard the gutteral sounds of whispered German and had to smile. LARPers back on Earth would have creamed their pants to have something this realistic. The Aetherons, the mysterious aliens who had created the Crucible of Carnage, had really made this authentic. Normally, the small nano-chip attached to my cerebral cortex translated just about any alien language into English, and vice versa, I assumed, and acted as a universal translator. They must have altered it so that the Allied troops all spoke and understood English, and the Axis troops were all German.

  Blooey and I had a pretty good concealed cover as we pushed back into the hedges. A second later four aliens decked out in Nazi soldier uniforms passed by. Again, the juxtaposition of weird looking aliens, one of them had tiny tentacles for a chin, wearing Nazi uniforms was surreal. I shook off the odd anachronistic vibe as I tried to remember what little German I knew. Which wasn’t much.

  “Achtung, baby,” I commanded. I’d hoped that the four aliens would maybe think that there was a platoon of us who all had the drop on them and surrender. This match was a real death trial, in that if you got shot and died, you were dead, but if you were captured, you’d survive. You’d have some of your upgrades taken away when the match was over, but you’d live to fight another day. My hope was short lived as the four of them spun and started to bring their guns up.

  I didn’t give the
m the chance.

  “Fire, Blooey!” I yelled as my .45 came up, and I squeezed off four quick shots. The gun bucked in my hand as if alive, the heavy caliber round powerful and unwieldy. I heard the frantic crack-crack-crack of Blooey’s M1 as he pulled the trigger frantically. He didn’t have the benefit of Ar’Gwyn, a gun based martial arts that coursed through my veins like oxygen. PoLarr and I had shared a Soul Gaze the first time we met, and I got her years of skill with the alien “way of the gun” fighting technique. It allowed me to “run” just about any firearm I could get my hands on like it was an extension of my body and my will like some kind of Shaolin gunslinger.

  The Nazi alien’s bodies jerked as our bullets tore into them. Most of Blooey’s went wild, but a few of them found their marks and dropped one of the soldiers. My four .45 caliber rounds flew true and smacked into the center of mass of the other three enemy soldiers.

  Before the last of them crumpled in a heap, I had run over to the bodies and started to rifle through their belongings. They didn’t have much, but I did find a battered lighter, and a folded map in the pack of what I guessed was an officer. As the alien’s purple blood pooled under him, I relieved him of his P-38 pistol, a pouch of stick magazines, and his distinctive, almost iconic, MP-40 “Schmeisser” submachine gun. I quickly engaged the safety on my .45, holstered it, shoved the German pistol into my belt, and picked up the MP-40. I racked the bolt to make sure it wasn’t damaged and that there was a round in the chamber. Satisfied that I was ready to rock’n’roll when the time came, I jogged back to the cover of the hedges.

  Blooey struggled to reload his rifle.

  “Good job, Corporal,” I reassured him in a stern but calm voice. “Come on, we need to move. Those shots are going to bring company.”

  My words managed to quell the shaking in his hands, and he finally got the bullets in his gun.

  There was a small farm cottage across the road, and we run over toward it. Its thatched straw roof had large holes in it, and the door hung mostly off the crude iron hinges and I figured it was abandoned.

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