Sunday, September 6, 2009
War, Part II
"Okay, everyone loaded?", I said.
"Check", said T-Bone.
"Everyone put the anti-fog stuff on their mask?"
"Everyone ready for action?"
"Good", I said. "We'll make a plan once we get up there".
Ten minutes later, we were up on the first course. It was rough terrain: ravines, hills, lots of trees and fallen timber, shaped like an elongated-diamond, with a tower at each point. The objective was to capture the flag hanging from the enemy team's tower, before your enemy got yours.
The five of us, along with the other twenty or so guys on our team, crowded around our tower, waiting for the horn to sound. The five of us decided to head up the right side. The pressure - all of it self-imposed, of course - was huge. The world is depending on us. We have to get the flag.
The horn sounded and we ran as fast as we could up the heavily treed trail, down the ravine, to the halfway point, along the far right perimeter.
"Hold up", I shouted. We all hid behind trees for a minute to look for snipers. Nothing. Through the trees, we could see the rest of the paintballers 35 or 40 metres away converging on each other in the middle of the course. "Let's move up".
We began to leapfrog each other up the right perimeter, James and A-Rock sticking together in a pair, T-Bone, E, and I moving up about five metres from each other, hiding behind stumps, trees, and rocks. Within about eight minutes of the game starting, we had moved to within fifteen metres of the tower. Three or four of their soldiers were inside. T-Bone and I crouched behind a corrugated tin panel, E behind a tree, A-Rock and James behind a boulder. The tower guards spotted us and began firing out the windows. We tried to pick them off, but it was impossible.
There is a strange phenomenon which has happened to me now many times playing paintball, and which I might as well pause here to describe. The first couple of times it happened, I thought I was imagining things. But it has happened so often now, and has been so unfailingly reliable, that now I am not sure what to make of it at all. It is eerie.
When a game begins, there is an initial rush of adrenaline as you run to get into position. You don't know where your enemies are, or what their plans are, and often you don't even know what your teammates are going to do. So you run and try to get as far as you can, and then take cover, and try to get some idea of what is happening as you try to plan your next move. Often seeing what is happening is impossible. You get pinned down so you can't look around, or even if you can, you can't make out where anyone is. But something has happened to me now a bunch of times, as I really focus, and then focus harder, and then focus even harder: at some point in the battle, a sudden silence will descend upon my mind, so that I can no longer hear the shooting or shouts, or even my own thoughts anymore. It is just a sudden, pure, total silence, which comes unexpectedly, and then...
Some voice tells me exactly what to do. Like, "run behind the far left trees and then straight for the base. GO NOW", or "the last defender just left the tower while you were hiding; GO NOW".
I know it sounds crazy, but everytime I've heard it, I've immediately obeyed it, even when it seemed like the command was suicidal; and every time, I've gotten the flag (or otherwise achieved my objective, e.g., secure the tower).
So, back to the game. I was stuck behind the corrugated tin. There was no way to approach the tower; the people inside were still scanning and shooting at everything. I dashed five metres to my left and hid behind a boulder, got a peek, and saw the flag. It was fifteen metres away, and probably six feet out from the tower on a pole. E, A-Rock, T-Bone, James and I were all within five or six metres of each other, all trying to pick off the tower guards, with no progress being made.
And then it happened again; amidst all the shooting and shouting, suddenly everything went stone silent in my head, and the voice came back, the one I hadn't heard since the last time I went paintballing, and it said, "GO IN FIVE SECONDS: five, four, three, two, one, GO NOW AND KEEP SHOOTING". I obeyed it; I leaped out from behind the boulder; to my amazement, just as I emerged, the shooting from the tower lulled unexpectedly. My right hand veered out and I began spraying the tower (which was at about my 2:30) as I ran, leaping over the rocks and logs...and before I knew it, I had the flag.
The boys were thrilled. The Overlords still had Lord Wotan's magical mojo!
"We're going to dominate", said T-Bone. If it is not obvious, it is particularly important to T-Bone, player of many heroic military video games, that we do well in these games.
T-Bone was right. In every one of the first four games, even though there were almost fifty people playing, our small pod of elite commandos captured the flag. E and T-Bone got the next two, and I got the fourth. The referee - obviously not realizing that no matter he did, the Overlords would come out on top and save the universe - shifted the teams around to try to make us more even.
Not being informed of this, we were caught unaware during Game Five and our team lost.
"No excuses. Unacceptable" was our verdict. "Let them have as many as they want...it's like Agincourt! We must redouble our efforts, men!".
The Overlords charged out in Game Six, and once again, one of us (E) captured the flag. Game Seven was the same. We were on a course featuring four linked towers; in between each pair of towers hung the flag; the object was to capture the flag and touch it to the opponent's base camp. At the sound of the horn, I ran immediately up the ramp, through the first tower, through the second, and grabbed the flag; the enemy unleashed a volley, but none hit me. I got back to base and gave the bag to T-Bone. We then ran into the woods along the left perimeter along with eight or nine teammates, me covering him. And there, we all got pinned down. Our opponents captured the middle of the course, and then came up behind. Unfortunately, we couldn't run forward toward their camp because there were three guys there shooting back at us. One by one, our teammates were getting picked off, and we were getting squeezed. It is hard to describe the feeling of being behind a barricade with three other people, and then over the course of just a minute or two, they all get nailed...and most of the time, you can't even figure out where the paintballs came from.
T-Bone finally got hit. That left E, me, two girls, and as I found out later, A-Rock. The two girls got hit. Six or seven enemies were trying to come from behind; somehow Ashton managed to hold them off all by himself, about twenty feet behind us. I shouted at E to grab the backpack and get down. We were in deep trouble. Then E said, "I'm out of paintballs".
Oh no. We had to do something...we were getting bombarded and there were only three of us left, against at least fifteen of them. I peeked out and saw I had an open shot at someone in the fort underneath the tower. Two shots, direct hits, and he was down...and then, with only a minute or two to go in the game...it happened again.
The voice said, "RIGHT NOW is your only chance. The men just left the base. GO NOW".
It was hard to believe they had left the base - they had been there the whole game - but I jumped out anyway and yelled "RUN BEHIND ME" to E. Just to make sure, I pulled him as I ran past him. And eerie as it may sound, it happened again; just as we made our break, there was a sudden lull in the firing, as if all of our enemies had ducked down at the same time. That was fortunate, because we had to run half the length of the entire course to make it to base. And if you can believe it, after enduring all that bombardment for the previous thirteen minutes, we made it to base I think without a single shot being fired at us. We'd caught everyone unawares...and no one could believe we'd ended up winning that one.
The day ended around 4 PM. We had played ten games. Our teams won eight of the ten. In seven out of the eight, though there had been 45 or 50 guys playing, many of whom were competitive paintball players, it had been one of us who had won the game.
"Dad! We completely dominated!" said T-Bone, over and over again.
"We won almost every game", said E. "It's like we're magic!"
And the whole way home, we talked and recounted episodes from the battles, and gave ourselves permission to imagine that we really were elite soldiers of preternatural intuition, smarts, and courage, and that we really would have dominated in real battle a hundred, or a thousand, or seven thousand years ago. And I have to admit - it felt pretty good. The Overlords had saved the world again...