Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Saving Freshman Ryan

Capture the Flag. It's an enticing idea. Unfortunately, it is often played over such a small field as to be impractical and essentially random. Tactics become severely limited.

Recently, however, I was given the opportunity to play the game with a couple hundred people over an entire university campus as part of the school's orientation program. It was very nice.

A diagonal line split the campus in two and served as the front. Female territory was on one side, male on the other. I volunteered to guard the captured enemy on the bridge set aside for POWs, but it soon proved evident that the other guards were intent only on chatting up the prettier fresh(wo)men. While I was busy judging the terrain and possible approaches, they were lounging lackadaisically in conversation, unaware of all that surrounded them. Disgusted, I picked a covered niche in the ground with a view to all sides and single-handedly repelled two enemy insertions by running fast and low when they attempted to break the jail. After about half an hour, I gave the other guards a judgmental look before heading off to rescue our own brothers-in-tag. If our prison was this easy to break, the girls couldn't be that much better.

Well, the girls were that much better. A preliminary recon revealed that the girls had actually encapsulated their prison--a clock tower--with vigilant guards. Additionally, they had runners along the length of the front to repel enemy forces. Never underestimate the power of feminine organizational skills. Do we need women in combat? If they get to be officers, I think so.

I watched a few of my comrades attempt to puncture the front line, unsuccessfully. Most of the girls' line runners were relatively short, but soccer-quick on those legs. To begin my attack, I chose a balanced stretch of ground. It was flat and at the central campus area, which allowed an easy view for most of the female forces. This, in turn, meant they weren't particularly worried about it, especially since it was quite a sprint to anything important, including the lock-up. Only one guard was assigned full-time to this hundred and fifty foot stretch of battle line, but she could easily close in behind anyone dumb enough to run this gamut, not mentioning the dozen guards still between this stretch and the POW area.

With the ground for my stand chosen, I walked nonchalantly past the female guard and an enthusiastic male would-be liberator who toyed with each other across the demarcation line. As I passed them I tossed them a bemused grin, slightly condescending, and said "Hi, guys." The guard regarded me for two or three moments before deciding I was obviously not even in the game. I was just too unconcerned, not to mention walking in entirely the wrong direction to be any threat.

With one sentry out of the way, I ambled into the Education building and down a long hall. Behind me, the entrance opened again and closed. One of the sentries must have gotten suspicious. All it would take would be one touch on the arm for insurance and I'd have to march off to imprisonment myself. So I calmly walked into the head. I sat in the stall for about fifty or sixty seconds, flushed, and washed and dried my hands. I walked nonchalantly back out, expecting to be tagged but acting as though I didn't even give notice to another individual's presence.

It worked. She turned and left. Two guards down and a near-battalion to go, I headed to the back way into the library area. Here I found another comrade. He was lying behind a couch, waiting for the right moment to rush out the library doors at the clock tower on a suicidal rescue mission. Suicidal, and doomed to failure. Perhaps one prisoner might make it across the lines before being recaptured, but with the ladies' level of preparedness there would be no chance for a mass escape. I advised my sacrificially-minded colleague that I would make the first attempt and, when and if I failed, it would be up to his brashness to free me and the others. He agreed.

Stoically I exited the library complex, a mere thirty feet from the clock tower. I stuck to the sidewalk that led past the prison. Twenty female eyes followed me distrustfully. "Enjoying the game, guys?" I asked, throwing another playfully condescending smile over. You guys waste time playing? Oh well, have fun! it seemed to be saying to them. I glanced at the prisoners, whose hopeful eyes were also glued to me. My expression was one of mockery at their failure to defeat the opposite sex. The hope disappeared immediately from most of their still-attentive eyes.

Had I turned to my left and crossed the grass, it would have been only ten feet to the victims of this game. But I would never have made it. The guards would have closed immediately in and I would join the ranks of the captured. So I kept to the sidewalk. At the corner, where my stretch joined a slightly offset stretch that doubled back to the tower, I started to continue forward, then--as though reconsidering--reversed down it. I ambled back toward the guards, mouth opening in a smile for friendly conversation. I still wasn't actually moving for my comrades, but I was nearing them. One of the girls, close to me but not the closest, said to another, "Tag him!" I was sure this was the end, but I didn't change course, expression or speed. The girl assigned to tag me had already taken one quick step toward me but, seeing that I wasn't hurried by impending capture, decided she didn't have to be either. Her arm was less than two feet from me already, after all.

The field blurred quickly. Her fingertips were now about an inch from my shoulder. When they touched, I would be resigned to prison. At that moment, a mere inch of freedom left, I dodged to my right and hit the clock tower already running. I circled it, slapping the hands of my prepared fellows and the shoulders of the unprepared to free them. They ran as quickly as they could. Some of the guards took chase unsuccessfully, but the vast majority of the sentries were now entirely focused on getting me. I'd hacked them off. There were only two POWs left, but the guards were too close and I had to break off without freeing them. They'd never have made it, anyway. I ran for friendly lines as quickly as possible, at least ten girls in hot pursuit. Two of the line runners converged on the closest stretch of freedom, causing me to zag left. Another one, blonde, was coming up quickly from a post offset to the others. She was clearly a very sporty little chick, able to outrun most of either sex. She was also in front of me already, giving her a huge advantage. I threw her a curve by jumping over a row of low hedges and crossing an unmanned building's yard. She came in as quickly as possible. The front lines were only about forty feet away now.

Would I have made it? I don't know. It's very hard to say. That was one of those situations where I become certain of a loss (pessimist that I am) but manage to just squeak out of. It didn't matter this time, however, as I blundered badly. In my haste I over extended my legs, placing them too far out to give any good support. I drifted into the ground over about three yards of turf. On the ground, I refused to halt. Using my momentum, I swung my feet up and over my head, getting six feet closer to safety. I still didn't have enough time to stand up, but I now rolled as quickly as possible, end over end. I got about ten feet closer before my pursuer was able to take me prisoner.

I marched back slowly back to prison. The girl who had come within an inch of tagging me out now gave me a redundant slap, just to make absolutely sure and perhaps take some aggression out.

As it turned out, my sacrificial act didn't prove so terrible. Two of those to whom I had granted freedom refused to let me sit out the game in captivity, and double-teamed the guards, sending me across to my own kind. It was a touching gesture.

I continue to gain compliments at my performance. Later that same day, in fact, the runner who tagged me out approached me at a water fountain to say, "You made me so mad, but that was AWESOME!!!"

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