Monday, July 31, 2017

My Life As A Squirtgun Assassin Pt. 2 - Agent of K.A.O.S.

(Click here for Pt.1 - Hitman High)

It is with a strange balance of both shame and pride I relate to you the pinnacle of my experiences as an imaginary button man during my years at Camrose Lutheran College (later the Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta):

On a cool, dark evening, I sat crouched in the shadows beneath a wooden footbridge, like the troll of myth. My face concealed by a black balaclava, a toy crossbow in my hands, eagerly awaiting the chance to shoot a good friend in the back as he made his way to choir practice. Alas, it was not to be, but, thankfully another target of opportunity chanced across my path later on...

Looking back, it seems strange that it took me until my third year at CLC to unleash The Assassination Game/Killer upon my classmates. My love of games had prompted me to DM a Friday night D&D game with friends attending U of A in Edmonton, and some of them traveled to Camrose the following year for a Traveller 2300 campaign I'd run. We'd played Battletech and Twilight 2000 and Talisman and all manner of tabletop diversions, but it wasn't until third year that somehow the idea of a campus-wide game if Killer was introduced. And once introduced, it took hold like a virus, and became an inevitability.

My co-conspirators were heavily involved with the Residence Life program, and I was the Student Association president that year, so it behooved us to have the clearest of operating instructions for all players, so as not to either become tiresome or perceived as a threat. Calling ourselves the Kamrose Kampus K.A.O.S Klub (Killing As Organized Sport), a manifesto was published, and all players agreed to abide by a code of conduct outlined therein.

Safety and sportsmanship were stressed throughout, clear rules of engagement were outlined and every scenario had a detailed set of operating parameters and observed demilitarized zones, including the library and campus chapel ("Holy ground, Highlander!"). Respect for non-players was likewise paramount, as it was only that their sufferance we could indulge our predatory proclivities, contrived and fictional as they were.

Given that some of the players were roommates or shared a bathroom, we made the residences themselves off-limits as well as rooms where a class was in session, but

We used a badge press to make K.A.O.S. buttons for players, allowing disinterested third parties to give us a wide berth, but strangely, they only seemed to attract people, curious to see what might happen. Since they unknowingly made it considerably more difficult for unmasked competitors to get the drop on us, their presence was not only tolerated, but generally welcomed. Until, you know, it was time to 'go to work'.

Our first outing was a dozen upperclassmen playing an "every man for himself" scenario, just to get everyone's feet wet and comfortable with the idea. It wasn't completely anarchic, as the witness rule made it important to catch your target away from prying eyes. Start time was 1800 on Friday, and the game was scheduled to wind up by noon Sunday.

Almost everyone got capped that first night, and I think we were down to a sole survivor by suppertime the next day.

More scenarios were concocted, and make-believe killers feigned their deaths outside their dormitory rooms, killed by contact poison on their doorknobs, or in the cafeteria after tasting the Tic Tacs surreptitiously slipped into their coffee in lieu of cyanide.

Running back to my residence across the ravine with a pump-action water-shotgun in my hands, I saw my canmate/opponent Jon leave the building but double back upon seeing me. I trotted around to the rear entrance, but hesitated upon coming up  to the l-shaped windbreak made of cinderblocks that obscured the back door. I wouldn't put it past Jon to have popped out the back door and hide around the corner to dry gulch me; hell it was what I would have done. The wall stood about seven foot high on my side, so I saw no way to turn the tables without exposing myself.until I spotted a yellow milk crate tucked up against the side of Solheim itself.

Without breaking stride, I kicked the crate over to the corner of the windbreak, where it obliging rolled into an inverted position. I stepped onto the crate, got my elbow over the wall, pointed the shotgun straight down into the corner and pulled the trigger. Jon's sputtering squawk told me I had hit the mark.

Strolling around the corner, I found him frustratedly wiping water off his forehead, grinning nonetheless. "How did you know?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Lucky guess, I suppose."

By that fall, we felt we had enough of a handle on things to allow freshmen to join in, with mixed results. Most of them grasped the core concepts right away, but I remember one hapless girl in the cafeteria, her hand shaking with nerves as she menacingly pointed a banana at a player seated at my table and loudly declared, "BANG! I got you!"

Several bemused heads turned to view her. One head shook in sad disbelief. "You missed."

Confusion washed across her features, bewildered as she actually held the banana up in front of her face, as if she was checking the sights. I resisted the urge to tell her I had snuck into her room and filled it with blanks.

"There is nothing wrong with your banana," I assured her. "The problem is that you aren't actually allowed to shoot a person in front of three or more people, as clearly stated in both the rulebook and the manifesto. And there are, I dunno..." I took in the lunchtime crowd with my gaze. "..what, 70, 80 people in here?"

Her eyes widened as realization slowly set in.

"If you had worn a mask, you might have gotten away with it, but anyone wearing a mask is fair game for every other player, same as anyone, you know, publicly brandishing a deadly piece of fruit, for instance."

I can't remember who shot her; it might have been me.

But the high water mark was clearly that time under the bridge. I can't remember if we were playing a team scenario or the classic Circle of Death, wherein each player has a single target, and when they eliminate him or her, they take on their victim's target, and so on, until there are only two assassins chasing each other, and finally a sole survivor emerges.

Either way, I was once again gunning for my can-mate, Jon. I want to say that we had mutually declared the shared hallway outside our doors a safe zone, so as not to be gunned down while unlocking our door or some such.

Jon had mentioned singing as part of an event in town, and needing to wear either his choir tux or his suit, so at some point I knew he would need to cross the ravine in order to get to his car in the far parking lot. I didn't know precisely when it would be, but it was already getting fairly dark when I crawled under the steps of the infamous Ole's Crossing, an aged wooden structure with tiered steps at the residence end. This picture shows the view looking across at the big building that housed the gym and cafeteria and Founders Hall, to the left.

I peered out at it from the basement lounge of Solheim, my dorm and the closest one to the bridge, biding my time. Once the combination of darkness and southbound traffic were like Baby Bear's porridge, I grabbed the nylon bag with my gear from behind the sofa and made a break for it.

Running down the grassy slope beside the giant steps, I scuttled underneath and scrambled back uphill a ways until I was peering between the second and third steps before the rise, looking out at about waste level of anyone walking towards the residences.

I was wearing a pair of black jeans and a dark green and black sweater, as well as a black down vest, albeit covered with USCM patches from the movie Aliens. From the nylon bag I pulled a toy crossbow made of plastic, and which shot 8 or 9 inch-long sucker darts with sufficient force and accuracy that they would stick to the screen of the small television in my room, affording me some excellent target practice. The bow portion was white unfortunately, but I had done my best to cover this with a black Magic Marker.

Lastly, I withdrew a black tuque which could be pulled down into a balaclava. There was every likelihood someone could notice me down here, and on the off chance my discoverer was another K.A.O.S. player and not travelling alone, I wanted to make sure I still had a chance to engage them. Besides, it felt warm, looked cool, and concealed my pasty face far better than the shadows did on their own.

And so I say down to wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

It was cool outside and the ground was a bit moist, so after a while my bottom became a bit numb. I shifted position routinely, wishing I had brought a blanker or something to sit on.

On the plus side though, two dozen people had walked past my position in both directions, and no one had spotted me at all. At least, no one had said anything, or drawn a bead on me or anything. Being an incorrigible prankster, there were times when it took all my self control to keep myself from grabbing the ankle of someone I knew, or yelling "Boo!" at a classmate, but somehow I managed to keep my eyes on my prize. And eventually I was rewarded for my patience, but not in any useful fashion.

As I pondered how late Jon's call time must be, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye, perhaps 50-60 yards down the ravine from me. I turned to look, and sure enough, it was Jon, wearing his grubbies, a suit bag over his shoulder, resolutely making his way through the waist high grass, shrubbery and underbrush, as well as a small stream, then clambering up the steep side of the ravine by the auxiliary building.

There was absolutely no chance of my catching him; he was halfway across the ravine before I even saw him. Intercepting him might be possible, but there was no way to do so in a way that caught him unawares, my preferred method of engagement even then.

I shook my head, disappointed at my lost opportunity but feeling profound respect towards a worthy adversary. I don't think Jon knew I was under the bridge - I'd have been an easy catch if he had - but he recognized the bridge as an ideal spot for some manner of ambush and circumvented it brilliantly.

What to do now though? Was it worth waiting for him to return? Would he once again avoid the bridge? If he didn't, would I still be able to feel my bottom when he returned in an hour or two?

As they say though; God never closes a door without opening a window (although it is highly unlikely that he gives any consideration at all to the plans of even imaginary assassins). And someone was stepping through my window unaware of my presence in the room.

Walking across the bridge was another player: Brian, who we called Vlad because of his nocturnal schedule and pale complexion. It was cool enough by this point that he had the collar of his leather jacket up, but not quite cold enough to justify the checked scarf he had up over his nose, not bright enough to explain the sunglasses he was wearing.

Now, like I say, I can't remember what scenario we were playing, but by appearing in a public while wearing a mask, Vlad had left himself open to attack his target regardless of how many witnesses might be about, but he had also painted a bullseye on himself for every other player in the game.

Vlad walked with purpose; he was not strolling across that bridge. I frantically cocked my crossbow, loaded the sucker dart and took a bead on his belt buckle. I immediately regretted not sitting a bit higher up, knowing that the bolt would drop significantly in the intervening distance, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

When he got about 15 feet away, I held by breath and pulled the trigger.

The 'twang' of the twiney string was incredibly loud to my ears,l but Vlad's first clue that he had been engaged was when he saw the bright yellow bolt sail at him from between the steps he was preparing to climb... as it swooshed about two feet to his right, because I hadn't compensated for the breeze blowing down the ravine.

Vlad froze. Even if he hadn't been masked, I couldn't see his face from my vantage point, but he very quickly put things together and bounded up the steps. He passed over my head as I swore and fumbled with another bolt while trying to cock the bowstring. I fell onto my back and rolled down the hill away from my original position, and astonishingly, it seemed to help.

A high-caliber water pistol in his fist, Vlad scrambled down the hill in a crouch. He crabwalked under the overhang of the bridge, and seeing my nylon bag standing where I had been, opened fire on it, his left leg stretched out down the hill to steady himself.

By this time I had managed to reload. I sat up, took aim at his center mass, and pulled the trigger. I was rewarded with a grunt of discomfort as my quarrel hit him square between the legs. He put up his gun, and after we made sure that none of his fire had tagged me, only my bag, we shook hands and called it a night.

I don't remember how that campaign ended, but the exhilaration of my encounter under the bridge trumped any other result, and soon became the stuff of legend around the campus. By the time I graduated, I'm sure the tale involved me waiting for two days without food in a homemade ghillie suit with a compound crossbow outfitted with blunted tips. Still, it is gratifying to know that, until it got pulled down a few years ago and replaced with an earthen walkway close to where Jon had made his clandestine crossing, that there was a population at Camrose who looked at Ole's Crossing and saw a battlefield where others saw only stairs.

We disbanded K.A.O.S. the next semester, after a team game went haywire in the freshmen residence and turned one of the stairwells into a combination warzone and food fight arena. It was the sad end to a fun time that would be difficult (and probably irresponsible) to replicate now.

I still have my button though, just in case.

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