***If you are just joining us, be sure to check out Part 1. Or you can read them out of order because you’re a rebel that won’t be constrained by things like “narrative cohesion.”.
There I was sprinting. The sun has pushed the temperature in Chino, California well past 100 degrees fahrenheit. 50 pounds of equipment was weighing me down and calling the roots underfoot treacherous would be an insult to traitors everywhere, but I was sprinting anyway. Most of the time this would a terrible idea except that in this case a dozen or so Blue Banded UNA troopers were doing their absolute best to paint me like a canvas. All around me shots ricocheted off of tree branches, bushes, and thankfully – not me. I had no idea where the UNA troops are shooting, and not sure how far they would go to pursue me. The way I saw it, if they were smart, they’ll send a couple of soldiers to deal with the Suicide Squad reporter that has been harassing their flank and making their life hell. If they weren’t, they’d focus instead on the regrouped Red Team unit that was mounting a ferocious new counterattack.
I baseball slid next to a tree and got my gun ready. I hoped, really hoped that they’re not smart. I could feel the sweat drip halfway down my neck before it gave up the evaporative ghost and just abandoned me. Even the air I was raggedly sucking into my lungs burned, and I tried to quiet myself down, calm myself even, so I could hear. I strained to listen for footsteps, or talking, or the telltale sounds of paintballs tumbling around the inside of a hopper. Really, I was trying hard to find a sound of anything that would let me know what was going on. I pulled out my radio, turning the volume as low as it could go and still be audible.
“Hey,” I whisper, “Ghost, where are you?”
After a moment came Ghost’s reply: “Shh. Busy now. Ambushing blue guys,” It turned out that he too was scattered after the initial Red Team assault, only to find himself inside a small copse of trees and surrounded on all sides by UNA goons. Luckily for Ghost, the combination of camouflage and his preternatural ability to stay unseen was keeping him unshot. Until he decided to push his luck that is.
Camouflage is not magic. Let me start by saying that right up top. Some people who don’t know seem to have this idea that if you are wearing camo and it matches your surroundings you are as invisible as that Potter boy in his cloak. The trick to it actually has more to do with how people actually see. Humans, in case you didn’t know, are predators. Eyes in the front give us a more limited, but very acute sense of sight. We can see colors well, and are reasonably good in the dark. But the two big ways we actually see are shapes and movement. For shapes, well, that’s why camo patterns look like this:
This sort of thing breaks up the outline of whomever is wearing it. Without it, it is easy to see the silhouette of a person who’s standing still and, if you are playing paintball, shoot them. This is the only thing that camo actually does – it breaks up your outline. The other thing you need to make it work is to stay still. Seriously, don’t move and don’t make yourself obvious. So as Ghost was hiding in a copse of trees, he was stone still and letting the camo do the work. As I learned later, it worked so well that he got half a dozen people out before they realized he was there, and then another 5 afterwards. Like I said before, members of the Suicide Squad are pretty good in a fight.
I slid my radio back into belt, with shaking hands. In the distance I could hear the sounds of a ferocious firefight. It seemed that the Blue Troops that had been shooting at me decided I wasn’t worth chasing. I’m not going to lie, that they didn’t consider me a threat hurt my feelings just a little bit. The mild rejection rattled around in my chest for a moment as I pulled a paintball pod and refilled by hopper, deciding to make them regret that mistake.
Keeping low and trying to stay quiet, I moved up and saw a rear guard. It warmed my heart to discover that Blue thought enough about me to send someone. But then again, they only sent the one guy and he wasn’t really paying attention. Soon I’d gotten within 20 feet and had the drop on him. It was then that I was struck with a conundrum. On the one hand, I try to shoot people in the goggles when I can since it hurts less. But, we were pretty far from anything and if I’d painted his goggles I’d leave him blind and stumbling about in the woods. On the other, at this distance paint can sting a bit, and he was not expecting it. Shrugging, I fired a half dozen shots at his torso and hoped for the best.
“Ah! God Dammit! I’m out!” he bellowed and threw his hands up. I rose up from the bushes and shushed him as he walked away towards his own distant respawn. I stalked forward and soon found a band of troops huddled together in a small island of shade. Beyond them I could hear the massed melee of the Red assault on our water tent and a shorter distance away the confused firefight that would turn out to be Ghost’s doing. Blue it seemed, had totally forgotten about me and thankfully, their attention was aimed in the direction of all the noise.
Paintball, as I said, is a game of incomplete information. Whomever has more complete information is usually in a good spot, and as I crouched next to a fallen log with a good overwatch I felt pretty confident that my information was pretty complete. With a quick look around, seeing nobody else, I opened fire hoping to teach the players hiding in the shade that you don’t just forget about the Suicide Squad.
Only, no shots came out. Worse, I have one of these. What I like about it is that it’s big, it has a stock, and it’s really loud. Like, seriously loud. It’s so loud that the very act of me firing it will sometimes cause newbies to hide. It makes so much noise when it fires it’s been confused for a real rifle instead of a paintball gun. It’s so loud that Ghost and Ginger tell me that’s how they know where I am. It’s that third feature that causes me trouble, and I threw myself behind the log while the previously screwed group of UNA troopers looked around in confusion. I recocked my gun and slapped my hopper to get paint running into the breach. I tried my best to be silent, but my heart pounded in my throat, and my hands were shaking.
I was pretty sure the fact that my paintball gun doesn’t sound anything like a paintball gun saved me at that moment, because soon my blue opponents went back to looking towards what they felt was the real fight. My muscles all screamed at me and tried to cramp, but I ignored them. Instead I peeked, and slowly brought my gun back up, and I grinned like a voodoo death totem. The first 2 didn’t know what hit them. Well, they knew it was paint, but they had no idea of how it got there. The third got a little further along in the thought process before I blinded him and the rest skipped the whole thinking part entirely and went right ahead to the hide step.
Watching them all scamper made me smile so big it hurt my face, and then I did the smart thing, and quickly moved somewhere else. Here’s a paintball tip if you’re outnumbered – don’t keep shooting from the same place. Instead keep moving to different places, even behind the same cover. Like I keep saying, paintball is a game of incomplete information, and this is a good opportunity to give your opponent bogus information. If you keep moving it makes your opponent think that there are more of you than there actually are. Then they treat the situation as if this is true, and sometimes do something silly.
Other times, it’s that incomplete information that gets you. Remember Mr. Guard from before? The one that I lit up like a cigarette? It turned out that on his merry way back to wherever it is all those blue people come from, he came across a big group of blue soldiers, and wouldn’t you know it – he thought that there were a lot more of me than there actually was. I had apparently made enough of an impression that Team Blue mounted a counter assault against me. My first sign that something was terribly awry was the whiz of paintballs flying by my head and the quick crack of them splattering against my tree stump. I flailed and looked for an exit, before rushing up towards the front line. Past it, I figured was Red Team. But then incomplete information reared its ugly head and presented me with another Blue group that was really unhappy to see me. I did my best Han Solo impression, fired like a maniac and ran the other way – back into that other assault and the group I had formerly been ambushing.
Surrounded on three sides, I ran from tree to tree and my shots rang out in the still air. Where I had been was hosed down by enough paint to cover me in 2 coats, but instead I leapt over tree trunks, dashing and attacking from angles unseen and unexpected. Even though there was just the one of me, I did my absolute best to make it seem like I was an army – nothing but a phantom with an AK-47. In that moment, as I shot and dodged and tagged out members of the Blue Team I forgot about the insipid lines, and the pep rally, and the scorching heat, and the rank nonsense that seemed to permeate every other part of the day. I felt the adrenaline flow through me, my shots were unerring and my nerve was flawless. In all my years of playing paintball I had rarely felt so good. In those few precious moments I was a transcendent paintball God of War.
When the first shot hit me dead in the chest I stumbled back, slapped out of my berserker revelry. A bright blue stain spread out on my jersey and then the next dozen or so ripped into me like I was Clyde missing a Bonnie. I could feel the newborn bruises sprouting underneath my shirt like little pain mushrooms. Getting shot by a single paintball doesn’t hurt. Getting fuggin wasted by a dozen sucks.
I threw my hand up, “I’m hit! I’m HIT!” I stood there, next to a tree slick with paint and used it for support. My hands shook and I felt heavy. After 4 hours, too heavy. A break in the canopy above cast a sharp sunbeam onto my back and I felt myself waver. Suddenly, like most of the water in my body, the adrenaline evaporated too, and I collapsed to one knee as if my strings had been cut by some sadistic Gepetto.