No Way Back – Chapter 9 – Updated 31JAN2010

Took two nights to type this up.  When I posted it, I hadn’t re-read it.  I have now.  🙂  It’s been modified slightly, but not exactly a lot. 

With that said and done, on with the chapter!

Chapter 9

After another ten minute drive, we arrive at LaserRunner, the local branch of the laser tag arena franchise that has spread across the country. It looks more or less like a warehouse, except for the bright green sign that advertises the name of the facility. Two stories of winding mazes, bunkers, lighting effects and hidden laser traps to keep you on your toes. The trip from the cellular shop was filled with mostly badgering about how I managed to catch yet another number, while Preston’s own prospects have been rather slim. I tried to explain to him that it might have to do with his greasy hair, or his occasionally abrasive personality, but he shrugged it all off, calling it all “just who he is.” The one thing he said to me that made sense was that he wanted to date Audrey, and that he didn’t mean to imply that he thought she was trashy, but that she has just been single the whole time. I simply replied that, since he likes her so much, why not ask her out. His response? “I didn’t think you’d be okay with it.” So I told him I was. Of course I am… I think…

We climb out of the car, still chatting about his infatuation with Audrey. He reaches into the back and grabs his black case, and bangs it onto the roof of my car. When I glare at him and ask him what he things he’s doing, he only laughs and apologizes, snapping it open quickly, then shut again. He walks around the front of the car, looking around the barely-touched parking lot, then to his watch, and back towards the highway.

“Something wrong, Preston? You look confused. This is the right place, don’t sweat it!” I laugh, trying to emphasize the joke, and look at him again. He’s finally stopped looking at the road, and back to the pavement at his feet.

“Yeah, well, the, uh, guy who usually opens up isn’t here, it looks like.” He gazes at the entrance, then again at his watch, and to the road again. “He usually’s here at least a half-hour before.” No sooner did he finish saying it does a small green pickup pull in from the highway. “Ah, speak of the devil! Maybe he’ll let us in early before the other players get here.”

I snort, doubtfully, as I stop leaning on my car. “Doubtful, hasn’t before,” I assert, stretching my arms straight over my head, then swing my neck back and forth, trying to loosen up. “But, we can always ask.”

The man parks his truck, jumps out, then heads towards the front door. Before I can move, Preston pops his case into my gut and jogs over to him, stopping him as he comes closer, and starts talking quickly. I can see his hands moving as he’s talking, so, whatever he’s saying, he feels it’s very important. As he talks, the guy looks past Preston in my direction, then back to Preston. The guy puts his hand Preston’s shoulder, nods and smiles, saying something back, then heads for the door. Preston jogs back over to me, trying to hide a smile.

“Well, he’s letting us in.”

I feel my eyes widen in response. “What do you mean, he’s letting us in?! What did you say to the guy?”

“I just told him that I needed to set up my gun, and that I’d need to have access to a pad set to do it right,” he says quickly as he snaps his case from my grip. “Now, come on, you big pussy, before he changes his mind!”

Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I quickly pop open the door to my car, hit the lock button, and dash in behind him, letting the door close behind me. I look around as I go in. I’d never seen the place so dark and empty before, but that probably had to do with the fact that nothing had been turned on yet. I see Preston and the manager at the computer station, his case open and a cable from it is attached to the shoulder pads he’d already grabbed. I start walking around the arcade at the entrance, and hear the hum of lighting activation as they bring up the internal systems. Apparently, the entire building was wired for control through the main terminal, and he was bringing up the arena section by section. I see the lights from inside the arena doors kick on, then the black lighting overhead begin to flicker, then warm to their full, yet still dark luminescence. Around the arcade, the video machines each begin humming and whining as their screens all warm and begin displaying their boot sequences. I look back to see them looking over to me, but as I turn, they go back to what they are doing. I pay it no mind as I head towards the pro shop. LaserRunner was one of the few chains that allows customized weapons. They had to pass their energy emissions testing, as to not overload their wireless network. They also had to have the four receptors found on the stock pistol, one on each side, one on the tip, and one on top. They also had to link into the shoulder pads with the supplied cable. I hadn’t spent the money on it, but Preston had. His weapon was lighter, painted gunmetal grey in comparison to the usually metallic blues and greens of the LaserRunner official guns. It also had a longer barrel, which actually was used to re-focus the laser, making it scatter less, and making predictable targeting his main goal. That’s why we called him “Snipes.” Scopes weren’t permitted, but if they were, we’re sure he could score a perfect hit across the building, not that he couldn‘t already at least hit the target. This shop was where you could buy the parts needed to assemble a weapon, or buy your own and reconfigure it. I look over the options as the shelf lights each turn on. Different stocks, barrels, triggers, even foam-covered laser grenades that could be tossed into the bunkers. So many options, colors, shapes. They weren’t overly expensive, but, without a job, I couldn’t do it.

A hand comes down on my shoulder, hard. I snap around, seeing Preston had already linked his weapon with the shoulder pads and suited up, and I punch him in the shoulder. He only laughs, “Come on, he said the arena’s ready to go for the two of us. Since he’s not expecting anyone for at least an hour, he’s giving us the first half-hour free. Get suited up, swipe in, and let’s do it!”

Wow, free? That’s never happened, either. Well, it is going to be a slow day, especially early, and he knows we’re one of the two local teams. The fact that it’s Saturday manages to slip my mind. I think out loud to myself, “He must think we’re getting ready for a meet, or that they’re deciding whether to kick me from the team or not for my extended absence.” I follow behind the quickly-moving Snipes as he heads into the ready room, and then straight through into the prep chamber. Once inside, I don a shoulder pad set with the opposite-color lighting as Snipes, then grab my keyring-mounted identifier and tap it to the weapon. It chirps and displays my name on the face of the weapon’s display, “PndrasBane,” since we could only use ten characters. I look up to find that Preston’s already in, and probably setting up for an ambush as soon as I enter the room. I press up against one of the walls, then push my gun in, then back out quickly. I smile as I hear the sound of his weapon fire at mine, then the subsequent cursing as he misses and the rustle of his pants as he changes position. I duck in, and we begin our little game of cat and mouse.

I’ll never understand how he always seems to know where I’m going before I get there. Head up the ramp, and there he is, already at the top, taking aim. Press into a bunker, and the fires at the entrance traps before I get in , triggering their count-down so I can’t get in. Turn a corner, and I hear and see the laser blast cutting off my path. I even tried doubling-back, and he was ready for it. Dammit, I’ll never be able to beat him at this rate!

We call him Snipes because he rarely misses. Luckily, I’m used to a lot of his tricks. It’s why I manage to avoid a lot of his shots. Not all of them, but a lot of near-misses and blown covers. It gives me a chance to occasionally go on the offensive every now and again as he tries to reposition his longer blaster for a shot. As the lasers fly back and forth, I’m stuck with the feeling that he’s generally kicking my arse, but I’m at least putting up a good fight, even with him tracking and stalking me. I usually lose by worse than two-to-one against him, but this round seems more balanced. The half-hour flies by, between yells, curses, and the occasional high-five for good maneuvers, we hear the “Game Over” tone, and head out of the arena. We laugh about the round, goofing with each other about unusual shots, planned gunning, and basically discuss everything that happened that round in detail. Critiques are common, since we’re trying to make out team stronger.

“You know, this would have been much more fun if the team was here in full,” I suggest, looking at him with a smile. “We probably could use the workout.”

He snorts a short laugh, then hangs his laser gun on his back. “Well, it’s too early for them. But, I did invite someone else. Let’s see if they’ve shown up yet.”

“Sure!” I can feel the anticipation growing as we head out into the lobby. It’s still pretty empty for a Saturday, but there is one person standing near the waiting queue. They shift uncomfortably as they look at us, and I smile. The bright-yellow-clad person just nods, their face hidden by a green mask shaped like a skull.

Preston walks over briskly towards the masked player. Must be someone new, maybe a laser tag fanatic. Not too many people wear masks in the arena, unless it’s part of a team uniform. I hear him say something, and they nod. He waves me closer, and I come in. “Alright,” he grabs their gun and looks at its screen, then hands it back as he continues, “’LayZerGirl,’ let‘s see what you got.”

A girl? On the team? Well, that wouldn’t bother me at all. And, if she’s good, maybe we can get in the next 5-man tournament and try for a title. I look her over carefully, trying to get an idea of her physical conditioning, but her outfit is just baggy enough where I can’t see anything of her body, outside of her being nearly my height, and the yellow glowing from the black light makes it that much harder to guess proportions. “So, you play before?” I ask loudly, making sure she can hear me over the techno beats pounding over the room’s speakers.

She simply nods.

“Okay, how much? You any good?”

Another nod.

“What, you can’t say anything?”

All she does is looks away, and points towards the entrance of the arena. The move is confusing to me, since they hadn’t called for the next round.

We also hadn’t paid for it.

I sigh loudly, shaking my head. How are we going to communicate with each other if she can’t talk? I mean, a team is only as strong as their weakest player, and, right now, her obvious weakness was lack of communication.

Preston looks between us, my obvious concern and her lack of any expression behind the mask, and quickly jumps in. “Hey, it looks like there’s another player here. If we hurry, we can get set up for a two-on-two. What do you say? Try this new girl out?”

I nod, watching the girl in front of me gently leaning back on her right heel, her left foot extended out slightly in front of her, her left hand resting in the pocket that I’m assuming is at her waist. That’s when I finally notice that the gun she‘d been holding was a pro-shop build. She’d had it painted a bright pink, which glows brightly in the black light. Seems she prefers the rifle feel to the usual hand pistol. “Hey, have you had that checked since you came in?”

She looks at me through the dark holes of her mask, then slowly nods.

“Are you really not going to say anything to me? I mean, obviously you talk to Preston.”

The response I get is silence.

“Alright, suit yourself.”

We both head over to the register. The clerk looks at her, then to me. “Uh, guy?. She’s already paid.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. In fact, we’re waiting on you. It’s a 20 minute two versus two match, seven bucks to get in. You game?” The grin on his face isn’t forced, he’s trying not to laugh at me for holding up the game.

I pull out my wallet and pull out a ten, handing it quickly to the man. In a moment, he’s handed me my change and has pulled the microphone to his mouth, calling out the start of the game in five minutes, and guides us all in the ready room. He quickly goes over the rules with us, the abbreviated version, since, so he says, he recognizes us all. We head in, and I grab a set of shoulder pads and get signed in again. The team was obviously planned, Preston’s and my pads glowing green, while “LaZrGirl”’s and “Guest-1” are both red. Instead of the usual main door opening, two side doors open, one green, one red. The teams head for their respective doors and press through. This was to allow fairness in the team round. Once both teams were at their starting points, they both hit an actuator to open into the maze. Once both doors are open, the guns go active, and it’s to the hunt.

Preston and I had done this a hundred times before. We usually worked very well together as a team. Our movements watching each other’s backs as we traveled through the maze. The tactic is very useful against a disorganized team, but making for a low-scoring game if both teams knew what they were doing.

To keep ourselves sharp, we would chat as we moved, feeling his hand pop my shoulder to move forward, giving verbal commands, monitoring motions in the flashes and unusual lighting of the room. “Hey, Rob, remember when we were younger, and you kept telling me that you would know when things were getting over the top?”

I fire at a flash of red, only to see it being one of the many strobes among the traps and lighting here. “Yeah, why?”

“I think you’re making a big mistake with Dannielle. I think letting her go is the worst thing you can do. I think you‘re not seeing how you‘re actually going over-the top in fail.”

“Oh, so this is a serious talk? We usually don’t do that.”

“I know, but this is worth talking about. You’ve been my best friend for, what, ever? Clear!” I feel his shoulder tap, and I snap around a corner, bringing my pistol to bear at nothing, but hearing a shoe scrape. He continues to make his point. “You know why girls like you? Because you’re honest, straight-up, and care about their feelings.”

“Move up. Look, I know that I screwed up with her, I didn’t want to.” I see the tell-tale bright yellow turn a corner, and open fire, catching the shoulder target with one of my quick shots. She quickly dives back around the corner to get clear, and we both fall back around the corner again. “But, why the hell would she believe me? I mean, hell, I think you only believe me about what happened because you know that I wouldn’t make it up. Move back some, she hasn’t come back around, and I haven’t heard her move.”

“How could you, there’s a lot of music here.”

“Good point. I’ll jump up, you get ready.” I take three running steps, snap the corner, and nothing. She’d moved on. Confused, I turn to Preston and shake my head, then feel my chest sensor buzz as I’m hit. I look back, and she’d climbed up the ramp to the upper level and hit me through the grated floor. “HIGH!” I yell, but he’d already aimed up towards her and was firing at her. All three shots missed, mostly because she had already ducked around the barrels.

“That’s part of your problem, Pan, you don’t bother to look around you, just straight ahead. Think about it, had you not waited two, three weeks to call her, and still not call her, she’d still be around.” He starts to step forward, then curses loudly as he’s hit from behind by the unnamed player, who laughs and starts talking trash, not realizing that I was right there, and I returned the favor, hitting him as I went active from my hit.

The round continued, far more frenzied from that point on. He berated me for betraying myself over a game yet again, and I continued to tell him that I knew that I had abandoned a lot, but I was going to fix that now. The conversation seemed to be doing nothing but distracting us, so we changed topics quickly.

“You know, your Cowboys are going to fail, yet again, right?” I quickly snap at him, returning to our usual badgering of the other. We’d used football as an opponent distraction many times, since a lot of players took their teams so very seriously.

He laughs as he shoots up the ramps again, and looks back at me. “Dude, get your Eagles a real coach, and then we’ll see what happens!”

As we regained our rhythm, we seemed to be much more alert and aware of the players throughout the maze. Our scores quickly went up as their lack of cohesion prevented them from splitting us up enough to weaken our defense of each other. By the end of the round, we’d mounted a sizable lead, but the LaZrGirl player seemed able to almost match us and our tactics, popping up quickly when we began to work corners. It worked for her about half the time, but she found herself just as often gunned down. The guest player, thought, spent most of the time whining about how we weren’t playing right. Some people just don’t get tactical play.

The Game Over alarm sounds through the speakers, and we all head towards the main door. I disconnect the lock on the shoulder pads, and offer a “Good game!” to the other team. She simply nods, and his response was lacking civility, typical of his type. Preston and I head out together, chatting as we get to the screen to see the scores. We’d almost doubled their score, with my score being somewhat lower than his. The surprising statistic, though, was her score. While the majority of her team’s score were her hits, they were also almost entirely on my targets. I feel myself swelling with irritation, and it starts to tap into the anger I’d been feeling from the past week. Snipes catches my mood shift, and grabs my shoulder.

“So, if Dannielle was here right now, what would you say to her?”

“Damn, Preston, drop it! She’s gone, what else can I do about it?”

He smiles, looking at me. “Come on, I’m your buddy, who else ya gonna tell?”

My ire already touched, his prodding only forces it on, and I release it in a half-yell. “You want to know what I’d say to her? It’d tell her that she should have let me tell her that I didn’t know. I’d tell her that she’s really just that fucking awesome, and that I really am sorry that I let it go the way it did! I’d tell her that I want a chance to…” I inhale finally, and close my eyes, my shoulders falling, and, with them, my anger and attitude. “… To make it all up to her…”

“Is that how you really feel?” The voice comes from behind me, and I know it, so very well. I snap around, and almost fall backwards into Preston. The mask is gone, and I finally see her face. The blonde hair with the narrow blue streaks. The golden honey eyes. That slender nose on her slightly rounded face. The full lips that I’d been thinking of, randomly either telling me she was done, or pursed for a kiss. It was Dannielle. She’d been the one shooting me. She’d been listening to what I had to say. “What would you tell me that I don’t know? That that stupid game keeps you occupied? That you are desperate for a girl who doesn’t know you exist?”

Preston drops a hand on my shoulder. “I’m going to let you two talk. Go into the lobby and sit, because you got a lot to talk about.” I start to protest, but he turns to Dannielle. “Oh, and, if you two work out, you’re totally in. Just shoot at the whole team next time.” He turns and heads towards the growing group of players showing up for their lunches and for their friendly rematches.

“Who is Chibi?” she finally asks, giving me the opportunity to finally explain what’s going on.

I see that I have one chance to try to explain everything to her, and I decide that I’m going to outright take it and run. “Dannielle, I truly don’t know. I–”

“Why are you going to lie to me!? I’m right here!”

“Dannielle, listen!” My voice is stronger than I meant it to be, but her response startled me. “Look, I don’t know who that person is. You telling me is the first time I’d ever heard of her.”

She resumes the lean that I thought I’d recognized before, but this time her hands, in fists, are pressed into her hips. “Then how do you know it was a she?” she growls at me.

“Because you told me that it was, Dannielle. I was waiting for your calls. I wanted to hear from you again. I’m sorry that I didn’t initiate any of it, but, if you’ll let me, I’ll show you that the usual me is so much more than that. It was stupid of me to let you think that I didn’t care, because I do. You’ve been my friend almost as long as Preston. Hell, we’re all friends that way. You know that I’m not like this.”

“Robert, all I wanted was for you to show me that heart that I know is buried behind your craving for that bitch. I know you don’t want to hear it that way, but she is. She’s been toying with you for years, and it’s gotta stop.” Her voice begins to soften, and she looks to the floor, expecting me to jump to Allessa’s defense. When she doesn’t hear anything, she continues. “Look, I’ve known you through your broken arm when you thought you could fly with paper wings. You do stupid things. You do them with the best intentions, though. I didn’t want to break up with you, Rob, but I want someone who wants me.”

I pull myself together enough to finally respond. “And I do, Danni, that’s why I asked you out in the first place.”

“Yes, you did,” she starts quietly, “you asked me out so you’d forget her. And when you started seeing me, she decided that’s when she was going to pour on the charm. Don’t you see? She doesn’t want you happy. She wants to string you on. And you haven’t even gotten any from her… Have you?”

“No!”

“Then why are you letting her do this to you?”

“I’m not anymore, Danni. I want to be with you. I want to be us again.

She smiles, then looks into my eyes. “So do I.” Her voice hardens somewhat. “But, if you want me, you need to show me.”

This almost catches me by surprise. No man ever gets this easy of a chance to have his girl back. “And what would that be?”

“I want you to stop obsessing over her. I know she’s your neighbor, but you need to. If I call, I want to be the important one to you. I want you to tell her that you’re seeing me, and that we’re a couple. I want you to ignore her when I’m with you. And if you don’t do this for me, we’re done. Forever. If you want to be with me, Rob, then be with me.” She smiles, feeling that she’s covered the important bases. “Can you do this for me?”

I close my eyes, inhaling deeply, and slowly breathe out. I open them to the heaven that is the depths of her eyes, and see that she means every word. She is willing to give us a chance if I give us a chance and ignore Allessa. “Yes. I promise.”

She exhales, and it seems like she’d been holding her breath. “Good. Now, is there a place in here to sit alone for a few minutes?”

“I think there’s an area in the back, why?”

“Because, I want you to myself for a few minutes, and I want it now.”

What man would deny a woman like her that kind of request?

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One Comment on “No Way Back – Chapter 9 – Updated 31JAN2010”

  1. Virginia Says:

    Now i told you i would give you my honest option, and i will. i still love it. i enjoy the end of this chapter it leaves me hanging a bit.. i hate it but love it. now…. gimmes the next chapter!!! im outta books and yours is on my mind!!!!!


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