56. Bait

Orson had to act. The smoldering corner where he hid would soon burst fully aflame. He was running out of time.

One-on-one, Orson could outmaneuver any of the armored Sabres, but their weaponry and numbers presented a unique problem. Just the force of the repeating blasters would keep him off of his feet, even if it didn’t puncture his armor. Could he boost his repulsor enough to reach them anyway?

“Do you know what the damn shame is?” Nalrik had magnified his voice so it echoed through the fake patch of jungle. “When I kill you and collect your armor, I won’t even get a full set of repulsors. All this fighting for one?”

Orson watched the armored bodies in his HUD. He heard the roar from their jetpacks. All five flew over the fake forest. None could be attacked without the others being immediately aware of it.

“Hi Orson,” Enoa spoke in his comm, at his ear. “Jaleel wants to know how you feel about being bait. He says if Nalrik tries to shoot you with the arm cannon his arrow will work better.”

“And what happens if all five of them shoot at me at the same time?” Orson whispered into his comm.

“After you tried to fight us at the crawler, I was looking forward to this,” Nalrik said. “But you’re just hiding now. Really sad, Gregory.”

“Let’s do it,” Orson whispered. “What do you need from me?”

“He says you should run toward the lobby,” Enoa said. “Get as close as you can, and try to get Nalrik to shoot at you.”

“That part won’t be a problem.” Orson stood. “I’ve got an idea that should make things easier. It’s something I’ve tried in other fights, but no guarantees. Play along.” Orson didn’t wait for a response.

“Y’know, Brett.” Orson activated his voice-distorting microphone. “You really don’t know how to use your cannon, do you?” He walked away from his smoldering corner and into the center of the fake forest path. The four repeating blasters opened fire on him from above. Only one of the streams of fire came near him, but he anchored himself with his boot and blocked the energy strikes with the fire sword.

“Gregory,” Nalrik said. “I don’t know what you think this is, but now is when we gun you down. You’re in last words territory. This dumbass voice won’t help you.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Orson ran back through the trees. The maze was designed to be a full experience, and it presented winding paths through the building. Orson retraced his steps, following the route his HUD mapped for him. “But I always knew I’d die in a weird tourist trap so we’re on the same page there, but I feel let down that you’re having your boys kill me, for you. I deserve the arm cannon and only the cannon, unless you can’t control it indoors.”

Another volley of repeating fire burned down into the forest. The paint singed and melted away, revealing the gray floor beneath. Orson raised his sword. The bursts of energy were close enough together for his HUD to predict the stream’s trajectory. The bolts that reached him were absorbed into the fire sword.

The sprinklers switched on. The water added surprising realism to the fake trees with their plastic leaves, like a heavy downpour in some nameless primeval jungle, long vanished. The water pinged as it struck the flying armored men. It sizzled as it hit Orson’s sword.

“My cannon would cut you into two goddamn pieces, you stupid son of a bitch,” Nalrik said. “If you keep playing games with me, I’ll keep you alive and use you for target practice.”

“No games,” Orson said. “Just facts. Fight me, one-on-one. Let me face the cannon. I know you’re tempted. Your boys already stopped shooting at me.”  

“Let me guess,” Nalrik said. “You want me to fly down there and get close enough so you can try to cut me with your sword, right? Not gonna happen, but I will kill you with the arm cannon, if that’s what you want.”

Orson heard a lone jetpack peel away from the rest of the formation. He raised his sword, sure he was entirely visible to his attackers.

“Stand still,” Nalrik said. “I need to aim this just right so your repulsor isn’t damaged when I vaporize you.” He flew over Orson. He raised the arm cannon.

HEAD SHOT – 100%

With a hollow thud, something thin and glowing slammed onto the end of Nalrik’s arm. A gush of steam left the weapon.

Orson blasted from the floor, angling straight for Nalrik. The other man didn’t speak. He flew backward away from the fight, fleeing Orson and further attack.

All four of Nalrik’s followers swarmed Orson. Two streams of energy projectiles converged on him. Orson dodged one volley and blocked the other with his sword. Two of the Sabres flew right past him. They hadn’t fired at him.

They were headed toward the lobby and the source of the ‘fire extinguisher’ arrow.

“Two fliers headed your way!” Orson said into his comm. “Find cover. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”

If Enoa responded, he didn’t hear her. The two Sabres who still blocked his path both opened fire. Orson flew towards the ceiling, away from their attacks, but they stayed level with him, and their full jetpacks offered much greater thrust than his lone boot.

Orson couldn’t outrun the Sabres together or even outmaneuver them. He feinted to his right, as if he planned to pursue Nalrik. One of the Sabres blocked him with another repeating volley. Orson let himself take a blast in the shoulder armor. Finally close enough, he sliced the repeating blaster in two.

The disarmed Sabre flew back toward his leader, but the last opened fire on Orson again.

Orson had no time for nonviolent solutions. He flew headlong at the firing Sabre. Four energy bolts struck him as he bore down on the man, the fabric of his coat igniting around him.

When Orson reached the Sabre, the sword of fire met the weak cover beneath the man’s helmet. The jetpack deactivated. The Sabre’s helmeted head fell away, as the armored body tumbled to the floor.

Orson blasted back toward the entryway. He didn’t see his friends or their attackers. He switched on his infrared view, looking for heat, for people. There, he saw three shapes – probably Enoa, Jaleel, and Kash – all together in the crew breakroom. He wasn’t too late.

But he saw no sign of the Sabres in their bulky Strateren armor. Where were they?

“I see you three in my HUD, but no visual on the Sabers,” he said. “Any news? What…”

When Orson passed into the lobby, an energy field went over him. His repulsor shorted out. He didn’t have time to think or question, and he yelled as he fell the final few feet to the floor.

Orson landed on his booted foot. His single repulsor flight-setup forced him to move at an odd angle, mostly upright. His knee held him without protest – even without the repulsor, something in the boot was working.

He sprinted, uncontrolled, trying to keep up with the inertia of his flight and fall. He couldn’t.

Orson slammed into the nearest wall, shielding his face with his left arm. He knew his armor would absorb the worst of the collision, transferring the force of the strike across its exterior. He sagged against the wall, careful to hold the sword of fire away from himself.

Nalrik’s men could hide from infrared! They had something that shut off other Strateren tech. He’d never heard of that before…

The two Sabres fired on Orson before he could regain his footing. He fought against the strikes, fabric peeling away from his coat. The armor would stay around him. The metal could withstand their barrage. But he didn’t know whether the force of the energy bolts could tear the metal sheets away from the connecting fibers.

If it did, the barrage could kill him in instants, burn away his flesh in fist-sized pieces until nothing remained.

Orson raised his sword in front of his face, letting the blade absorb the potentially lethal barrage. He saw very little other than his own flickering blue blade and the bursts of neon color the energy bolts became when they met the sword. But he could feel the force of the strikes against his armor and his sword. That was enough to go on the offensive, to find and advance toward his attackers.

He heard two jetpacks ignite. Without his repulsor, they were unreachable. And if he didn’t deal with the Sabres quickly, Brett Nalrik might gain access to his cannon.


Orson knew that sound. But he didn’t know the sounds that followed, a straining whine and an immense crash.

The barrage of energy bolts ceased. Orson looked around his sword to find one of the two Sabres lying on the floor in a contorted heap, a trail of smoke weeping from his jetpack.

Jaleel stood on the opposite side of the concession stand, a long tube in his right hand. He aimed this weapon at the last Sabre. The fourth man had landed. He let his repeating blaster drop to the floor and raised his hands.

“Is that…?” Orson asked.

“Yeah,” Jaleel said. Enoa stood beside him. “I stole the spraystick off the dead assassin on the crawler. I thought it might come in handy, and it did! The drills this thing shoots went right through that guy’s jetpack.”

“And into my wall!” Kash emerged from the breakroom, a stun gun in his rubber-gloved hands. “All of you weirdos are going to owe me so much money.”

Orson advanced on the last Sabre, sword outward. “Keep your hands up. On the ground you’re no match for this sword, and in the air, my friend will get you with his new toy.”

The Sabre’s gauntlets began to glow. Orson ran at him, but before he reached the Sabre, the man brought his fists together. A wave of light emerged from the armor, right at Orson. The blast reflected off the sword and ricocheted into the fake jungle. A clap of thunder exploded out of the larger room.

“Take cover!” Orson yelled. The Sabre launched into the air and flew toward the concessions area. Orson raced after their attacker.

Jaleel sent another drill at the armored form. Wamp – it bounced away from the man’s chestplate.

The Sabre hovered ten feet from the concessions area. He raised his fists again. The gauntlets began to glow. Orson sprinted for the counter. Jaleel, Enoa, and Kash ducked down, covering their heads.

Orson jumped onto the counter, just as the Sabre brought his glowing fists together. The discharge launched down toward Orson. It reflected off of the sword again, bursting in a shockwave that raced even along the sword of fire. Orson’s right hand had gone partially numb.

A roar boomed out of the fake jungle. One of the dinosaurs had turned on! Everyone looked toward the sound. Orson shook his right hand, his fingers still prickling. The Sabre spun back toward them, but he did not launch a third attack.

The man convulsed in the air.

Orson saw wires trailing from the Sabre’s groin to the stun gun in Kash’s hands. The man’s jetpack sparked and shut off, and he fell back to the floor, still shaking.

“He went right for the dick shot!” Jaleel yelled. “Brutal!”

“I am both financially and pridefully tied to this establishment,” Kash said. “It’s in my best interest to help you catch these bastards, so I can sue them.”

“Great idea distracting everyone with the dinosaurs, Kash,” Orson said.

“That wasn’t me,” Kash said. “It must have been that prick’s zap ray. They could damage themselves starting now, and Earl is going to talk my damn ear off about the energy usage.”

“Are you alright?” Orson watched Enoa brush off her cloak.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Let’s just finish this, please.”

“I’m with her,” Jaleel said. “Fighting with you guys is way zanier than I imagined. I didn’t expect this much flailing around.”

“Yeah, I never do.” Orson pressed his hand to his repulsor. It had limited power, enough that it wasn’t dead weight, but the stabilizing field wouldn’t activate. The startup command issued a weak, dejected honk, each time Orson tried to restart.

Another series of cries emerged from the forest. Enormous shapes rustled through the trees, the jungle alive with motion. Orson had seen the fake forest on fire, but the illusion was no less primal or immediate. The theme park creatures seemed real.

One of the remaining Sabres apparently thought so too. Scattered blaster fire echoed out of the forest.

“How long do you think it’ll be before Nalrik gets his cannon back?” Orson asked.

“If he’s still even here,” Enoa said. “Why would he stay while his men are beaten up, one after another?”

“He’s still here.” Jaleel sounded certain. “I don’t know how long the ‘fire extinguisher’ will work, but we better hurry. If he gets free and you can’t fly anymore…”

“Yeah.” Orson triggered his own blaster to arrive in his left hand. “Let’s end this.”

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