An old rocket
by agardenchair

1

Sarge was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing his breakfast of raw egg yolks, pineapple juice and granola with a pinch of cinnamon, when it hit him.

"Ooh", he moaned. The everyday drudgery of his life away from the arenas finally got to him. His job at the army store was as dull as anything on this planet, but the agony of that sunday morning was just too heavy to take. Plus, the occasional dates with Mynx were not working out. It became obvious she was not the one he needed at this time. Sure, those legs, her touch of a wildcat and willingness to be ready when he wanted her, had been thrilling first. And flattering. He was fourty-nine now and had started to feel his bones long ago. But the scent of Mynx's skin lingering on his hemp pillow began to make him sick.

"I feel like shit. Something has got to change", Sarge thought. He took his leather coat, lit a cigar and left his apartment in Willits Avenue. He headed towards the building that housed his second-favorite place in the whole world, next to his tank-style toilet. When he arrived, a group of technicians were working on the big bright letters at the entrance. He looked up and shook his head.

"T e amp rounds - you guys better get those neon letters back up quick!", he mumbled to the men, who did not seem to notice him.

The guys were already hanging out in the lobby. As he checked out the scene, Sarge's legs felt heavy and a tiny teardrop made its way out of his left eye. Everything was different. And he knew, it was just him, who had changed.

"A good morning to you, Master Sarge", Xaero said, smiling a very honest smile, "I believe it is going to be a good day at the arenas today."

"Hey, Sarge, sup? Coming for a strafe or two? Let's kick some Orbb butt, shall we?", Visor said and put down his beer in front of Xaero's cup of tea. The two men had jotted down some tactical hieroglyphs on a piece of paper for the next 2-on-2 against Ranger and Orbb later that day.

"Nah, guys, I'll just sip on my espresso at the 'Cafť du camp' and let you do the action today", Sarge replied wearily.

"Hah! Hah! Hah! Good one. Come on. Gotta show you a nifty rail move on the ole' Campgrounds."

"No. Seriously. I need to relax a little and ... uhm ... some time for me, myself and Mr. Cigar here. Hope you don't mind, fellows."

"Oh...well. Alright, Sarge. Whatever you say, man, whatever you say."

"Visor-San. Let Master Sarge polish his shotgun for a while. He will join us enlightened soon afterwards, I am one hundred percent sure", Xaero said, smiling brightly, bowing slightly. Orbb came trotting by crying.

"My eyeball hurts. Ranger?"

"I ain't touching your creepy eyeball again!", Ranger replied as he was putting on his boots.

"Ouh. Touchy..."

Ranger stood up and headed towards the hallways to the arena. As he passed Sarge, he whispered:

"Mynx asked for you and she did not look exactly satisfied, if you catch my drift, old friend." Sarge sighed.

"Days like this should be erased from space-time. Big time. Boom. With a BFG or something. Or two BFGs. Yeah."

A constant breeze came from the hallways to "DM6". Huge turbines secured the airflow within the map room. A metallic scent was in the air, the acidic smell of high-tec gun lubricants danced under his nostrils. As Sarge stood there watching Ranger getting ready to enter the heavily secured map-area, he began to feel weak again and rememberd the first time he stood here in '99. It was around Christmas time and everybody was happy. The distant sound of a rocket was audible and carried Sarge away into a state of dreaminess.
"Scuse me, Sarge", Orbb said in his high-pitch voice, as he went by to follow Ranger. Sarge awoke from his daydreams, turned away and headed towards the cafe.

Sarge had not set foot into the cafe for ages. In fact, he never had. The European flair of the place was not to his liking. Mostly map designers (that called themselves "arena architects"), electricians, weapon mechanics and a couple of lost souls and former hardy types, idled in the Cafe du Camp. Sarge sat in a bistro chair, leaned back and went for another cigar.
"No smoking", said a servile Crash, pulled the cigar from Sarge's mouth and placed it into his lap.
"Can I take your order now?", she continued and snatched a notepad and a pen from her apron.
"A cafe au lait and a croissant, please", he whispered.
Two men in overalls at a nearby table looked over, then they turned to their coffees and picked up their conversation again.
"Did you hear there was a massive power outage on T4 last night?", one of them said.
"Yeah, and the lava-heating-system went crazy the other night on DM13 as well. I heard one of the players, I think his name was 'Grunt', fell into it and just got stuck", the other one answered.
"Hilarity!"
"It's been almost ten years, the old stuff is starting to fall apart, man. Either we're getting a massive makeover or the maps will all be dumps in no time."
'I could use a makeover', Sarge thought. He grabbed the "Quake Observer" from another chair and checked the headlines.

Anarki put on probation for overriding the weapon-security-system and spawning a BFG on DM17. Orbb and Hunter to be appointed chief-editors of the Quake Observer. TankJr pulled a Sr - Tank Jr Jr is alive and kicking. Lucy customer of the month at the Cafe du Camp.

'My retirement would make the headlines for sure', Sarge thought.

"Hi, Sssarge", a hissing voice said. Sarge looked up and recognized his friend. His hood had seen better times as well; the stains of dried blood looked like little islands and the burn marks and bullet holes gave its owner an aura of vulnerability. The creature Sarge had admired for being the ultimate Quake warrior for most of his life now looked tired and almost ready to give in. Perhaps that was a side to him Sarge had never allowed himself to see.
"Hey, Uriel, how are you?"
"Ssssame ole nonsense. Have been trying to put sssome money away for the holidays. You?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"Oh no.."
"What?"
"I know what'ssss going on. You're going all sentimental because you will hit the 50-mark soon. When I turned 50, I was as miserable as you are now."
"You've been there, huh?"
"I'm telling you, it's hell. That'sss what it is."
"What did you do?"
"It's a time you have to go through. You do nothing, you just let it passss. And of course, make out with lotssss of girlsssss and..."
"Uhm. How old are you now?"
"142."
"Right. Sooo we're really talking about puberty here."
"Yes, of course. Watch those hormones, you little rassscal. Hey I've got to run. Ranger is getting cocky with that rail gun. Can't do the bridge-to-rail jump, but acts like The Carmack himself. Uriel needsss to teach him a lesson. See you! Wish me luck and a good spawn!"
"Wait a minute, please"
Uriel froze and looked at Sarge with an uneasy gaze.
"Uriel, do you remember when we met?"
"Hm, Uriel's memory isss not very good."
"Rubbish. You just told me what happened almost 100 years ago!"
"Yes, but I remember only vaguely what happened 100 years ago."
"You said something to me in '99, do you remember at all?"
"I think I said 'Hi, Champ''?"
"You said, that there was something in my eyes, that you called 'Ghalash' or something like that. I remember it very vividly, because you looked terrified that moment. Since then I have often asked myself what it was about me that made you so nervous?"
Uriel looked away.
"What is 'Ghalash', Uriel?"
Uriel took off the hood, sat down next to Sarge, and said:
"When The Carmack created the Quake universe, so the legend goes, he gave ssssome creatures a certain extra power which is referred to as 'Ghalash' in my mother tongue."
"And what it is? In my mother tongue preferably."
"It is hard to explain. Have you ever had the sensation that something wasn't right?"
"Yes, often. I usually drink a beer or two and it's gone."
"No, duriing a match. A feeling so fundamental, that you had the sensation that time stopped or 'lagged' for a second?"
"Hmmm, now that you mention it. Yes! What is it?"
"We don't know. I cannot feel it, none of your friends can. It is the sensation that is said to be linked to 'Ghalash'. And it is told, that the person who has it, will be the most powerful in the history of the Quake universe."
"Are we talking about wallhacking or aimbots?"
"No. Those are clever little gadgets, Anarki would use and has used, I know for a fact, but 'Ghalash' is much more powerful than that. Imagine you had the power to control time."
"Whoah."
"Yeah!"
"Whoah."
"Yeasss!"
"Control time...."
"I gotssss to run, friend. Take care."
"T-t-take care. Happy fragging."
Sarge stared at the croissant. Then he devoured it and thought:
"I must find out more about 'lagging'."

2

"Well, it looks like we're in a rut."
"Yeah, well, I can see that. But what are we going to do about it?"

The two elictricians sat hunch-backed over a squiare hole in the floor of "Vertical Vengeance". A few red LEDs were visible and some loose wire, spitting out sparks every now and then with loud crackling sounds.

"This voltage reading can't be right. It's much too high. Without the main power that we shut off, there is supposed to be only power from the maintenance batteries."
"Hey. What is that?"

A yellow substance emerged from the circuits and rose to floor level.

"What is that? Slime?"
"Don't touch that."

It was too late.