Listen up! We’ve been getting our asses handed to us out there, and there’s no end in sight. I’m the best shot we’ve had at taking opposing bases down and reclaiming the map—until you showed up. Maybe we’ll stand a fighting chance. But that’s up to you and how well you handle that phaser.
Pros like me know to grip it from the top, thumb over the heat sensor rather than cupping your palm below (no homo), that way you can shoot from around corners while remaining covered. But every noob like you needs reminding. Make sure you keep both hands on the phaser or else it won’t fire. Lift your vest so the targets on your shoulders aren’t directly facing a phaser’s line of sight. You know the rest of the rules: no running, crawling, climbing, and swearing while in the arena; no physical contact between players; no aiming lasers at other kids’ eyeballs; cry out for the Game Master if you get lost, hurt, or need a diaper change.
But now that we know what we’re up against, and what we’re playing for, you should know the rules don’t matter anymore. The Game Master is nowhere to be found. He’s lurking somewhere in the dark watching us with cameras feeding the control room. If you do spot him, make sure to aim for the tiny sensor, the size of a penny, right between his eyes. I’ve probably seen him twice now and missed each time. Maybe you’re the one who’ll get lucky and help us score big.
It’s all-out war, and the only way out is to win, so get your head in the game and rack up some points, goddamnit. I can’t be the only one carrying this team. At first me and the other Korean church kids came to Ultrazone thinking our parents booked a reservation for a private game, and we’d be playing against each other for my tenth birthday. As you know already, Ultrazone is located at the bottom of the Ilikai hotel, where some of our family members work concierge, the kitchen, or room service. There must’ve been a mistake, since the front desk told us another party would join. They assured us it would be more fun that way. Not sure why we were surprised to see so many tourists and kids from military families in the mix. What else can you expect from Waikīkī?
That was only the start of our problems. Time passes differently in the Ultrazone. We’ve spent years navigating the same maze, stuck in the same war. We’ve tried to exit our designated yellow team arsenal room, where we’re supposed to return our vests and phasers after a match, but our door remains locked while winning teams are free to leave. We’re directed back into the loading dock, already full of the next batch of players having chosen their teams. Fitting how red is always stacked with the sunburnt white kids dominating the map. You’d think we’d have an easier time spotting them in the arena covered in blacklight, but it’s their numbers and sheer aggression for the game that gets the best of us, your leading player included. Their daddy fought in the war. Granddaddy fought in the war. Greatgranddaddy fought in the war. We come from a line of recruits, friendlies, suspects, and enemies depending on which side of the line you’re on. Where we come from, we fight against ourselves.
After so many losses, it’s hard not to wonder if this game is rigged against us—whether we’re just target practice.
Our families are still waiting for us to return. They’ve got like five boxes of pizza we haven’t dug into yet. We’ve calculated that a match, which feels like an hour, is a second outside the Ultrazone. Michael Park theorizes that we’re caught in a pocket dimension, there being multiple entry points to the Ultrazone across all the Waikīkī hotels. We’ve played the game long enough to know that our losing is by design.
No one joins yellow team. The cooler lasers come from everyone else’s phasers. Green and blue teams fare well on the scoreboard, considering we all have a mob of red team targets, but they can also reap points off us when we get stunned by red. We’re piss in the dark.
We’re the live bots, enemies spawning across the arena until we’re shot and taken out of the fight for a moment. Getting blasted on the shoulder or your phaser stuns you for five seconds, but a hit to the chest or back takes you out for ten.
Any time lost without a player in the fight is too long, especially when you get shot back-to-back and front and all over. The vest buzzes and groans as it depowers while your phaser jams up. I swear, getting unloaded on, as many times as we’ve had, you start feeling like Swiss cheese when the lasers pierce right through you.
If you don’t seek cover or retreat to your home base, you can get hit so much that the buzzing doesn’t stop. The more its triggered, the buzzing stuns you to the core, stops your heart, turns your brain into mush. Then it’s like you’re stuck in time. The life gets zapped out of your eyes, and you’re left there bumbling with drool coming down your chin. Playing long as I have—three hours in real world time, or four hundred and fifty days in the Ultrazone—you want to think you stand a chance when you can take out most of green and blue team, working your way through red, until you find all your teammates glitching.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to collect my sitting ducks and drag their asses back before they can even reboot and return to life sooner rather than later.
It’s a helpless situation when most of your team, the ones you hope to count on like Samuel and Noah Kim are both taken out. You’d think as brothers they’d have a better grasp of how to protect one another. I don’t care to admit how in urgent situations I’ve used them as shields when they were already down for the count.
Isaac Pae fared better, even went after an enemy base solo and fired into the sensor on the ceiling until he got swarmed by red.
Daniel Chun kept forgetting to hold his phaser correctly, while Simon Lee lost the base I had just taken back from green team after I told him to stand guard.
The worst was finding Jacob Cho out for the whole match, after we’d already lost, his eyes glazed over like he’d seen a ghost. It was the same guy from red team who kept following and tagging him, this creepy fucker who shows up to games wearing a hockey mask.
You’d think we’d all know how to fight and survive, something we carry in our bones when our families lived through war, even though they never talked about it. Jacob Cho’s grandpa is a veteran, has probably seen a thing or two, but that background never served Jacob well. We heard stories about the war when our family members gave testimony to the whole church on special Sunday services. Even though they never mentioned the war and talked around it, by the way they cried God’s praises and prayed, we knew we were all going to church because, I guess, it’s a miracle that we didn’t all end up dead, that the US didn’t drop another atomic bomb to wipe the peninsula clean.
Most of us don’t have that killer instinct at this age. It’s the kind of thing you grow into after playing enough Call of Duty. The kind of backbone that leads a nation to win at all costs. But I wonder what God had to do with saving us Koreans when you could chalk it up to right time and place—whether you had a gun or didn’t.
Or in our case, a phaser that doesn’t jam all the time.
Here we are swapping places, carrying teammates and ourselves. It’s easy to find someone who’s down when they usually let one rip. You ever hear that thing about people shitting themselves when they die? Like that. But the longer they’re down for the count, the stronger the stench, and the harder it is to carry that comatose fart bomb anywhere—and sometimes we’re lucky when they haven’t gone off, and sometimes it takes a lot of us to carry just one teammate somewhere safer before they do. At least this deters the other teams from approaching depending on the stench radius.
We’re running around here like ants placing our dead in a pile. But here we come back, eventually. We’re endless, as we flash with each kill and suffer the same death, the same slow return to a losing fight thus far.
My team is tired of being stuck in the same war. It’s up to us if we want to escape, before our sisters eat all the pepperoni and cheese pizzas outside and leave us to eat with the adults, their Super Supreme and Hawaiian Pizzas. I fucking hate pineapples. I see them all the time on red team’s clothes. They’re not even native to Hawaiʻi, like most of us playing in the Ultrazone. But our parents are obsessed with pineapple and always buy them on sale to cut up for us. They love taking us to Dole Plantation for pineapple ice cream. Picking pineapple stretches in P.E. class. We can’t escape pineapple, and I’ll have to pick them off my pizza if it’s left to that. One kid from green team, during our truce to take out red team, he was telling us how lots of families grew up working at the cannery. We like green team since they’re mostly public-school kids, who only come around for celebrations like us, unlike blue which is made up of private school and homeschooled kids, who have frequent staycations at hotels with their families to “get out of town for a while.”
And I know, as you can see these clowns laughing behind me, there are jokes going around about my hair, how much gel I use, and the kind of fruit it resembles.
We were foolish to think we’d have the whole place to ourselves. To think we were going to have fun instead of getting crushed out there. Are you seeing this? You don’t get this swole without putting in the work.
All I do is lift dead weight and carry this team.
These guys stink, but this guy here’s the worst. Don’t wave, Noah. Come on. It’s nothing to be proud about. Yours smell like a porta-potty had a baby with a dumpster full of diapers and old food.
I’m not pressed by our unfortunate circumstances. I’ve still got a full tank and I’m ready to piss on these fools and light them up.
Are you just going to stand there?
Have you been hit already? Us Koreans, we need to stick together. Let me guess, your family brought you to Hawaiʻi so you could become an American. Get an American education. Scarf down some big English words like you’ve joined the hot dog eating competition. Now you’re stuck on an island in the middle of the ocean. Well guess what, this isn’t America, at least not what your family expected. Don’t you get it? This land belongs to the Hawaiian people, who once maintained a complex agricultural system and subdivision, from the mountains to the shore, called ahupua’a. Ever heard of it? I’m not just brawn, I paid attention in school and got brains too and. You didn’t move to an island paradise. Life here’s not all rainbow shave ice. You’ve stepped into a warzone. A giant military base. People don’t eat off the land anymore unless they want a mouthful of unexploded ordnance.
This is playtime at daycare compared to the wargames going on outside. Everywhere you step, it’s the scene of a crime, the theft of a nation by Navy guns and bayonets. This game began long before we started playing.
Don’t tell me you’re scared when you don’t even know the half of it.
Ultrazone is way bigger than any of us imagined. For the most part, the arena is a shadow world of the one above, adding a flair of beachside-nightclub mixed with warzone, grounds and structures painted black, hallways lined with funhouse mirrors and walls covered with glow-in-the-dark symbols meant to look like alien language. You think you’ve walked across the entire map until you end up back where you started, as impossible as it might seem. Having fought my way through each zone, my best guess is that we’re dealing with the size of four Aloha Stadiums, parking lot included. The main thing is you keep moving.
Take note: the arena is divided by zones belonging to each team, the lights overhead changing zone colors depending on the number of bases still under control. Some bases look like straw huts in the green zone, meant to replicate jungle and valley conditions lined with fake palm trees, bamboo stalks, and tall grass. There are speakers throughout the green zone that chirp, hiss, and screech while misty smoke hangs in the air. The smoke is humid and heavy in your throat. Sometimes you get smacked with a burst of air and water. You start slapping at your neck, arms, and legs believing you’re getting bit. Blue zone resembles Normandy in one area, covered in sand and crossed steel beams made of Styrofoam. You’ll find abandoned fishing boats littering the dock, where you can take a ramp up to the area resembling the inside of a naval ship. Sirens alert us to the sound of fighter planes shooting above and exploding in the air. If you get caught in an airstrike, a burst of lasers from the ceiling, you’re out for the whole round like that.
Other bases look like bunkers and pillboxes, a long strip of runway and an air force base where you’ll find the alien spacecraft, the heart of the Ultrazone, which is all under red zone’s control. Past the alien spacecraft most of red team sits cozy in their quad of barracks where they toggle between equipment they have that we don’t.
There isn’t much cover in the yellow zone. It’s mostly rubble, a giant pit that’s difficult to navigate when we must kick around foam bricks to get through, our base an abandoned building in the ruins of a leveled city. When red team racks up enough points, they can launch attacks anywhere on the map. Of course, yellow zone takes the brunt of it. Only yellow zone is mechanized to make the floor shake and walls rumble when they drop their payloads. The whole place lights up. After the strike, the vents along the floor release more smoke, an opportunity for other teams to advance, so we can never see them coming as our zone burns a fiery orange that hurts to look at, it’s so bright. The hell our grandmothers warn us about. The arena turns up the heat as the fires rage, as we stay covered and sweat through the worst of it, wondering when it will all end. Some of us start gathering to pray.
But Ultrazone is a godless place.
Now you understand what we’re up against. You’ll see how the beach and dock have become a purple zone, a result of blue’s collaborating with red team. We could storm the beach easy with some help from green team, but we’ve been seeing less green team players these days. If we want to take out the naval ship, that means passing through the jet fuel facility and navigating a hallway of pipes that are constantly leaking and spewing black goo, which will lead us to the tanks we can decommission by firing at their sensors—on the way to shutting down the naval ship. If you get sprayed by the jet fuel, which we now know is made of part molasses, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb under the black light, while stepping in it means leaving behind a trail.
So here’s the plan: we’ll let Daniel Chun take the hit and make him the diversion. Once you take down the naval base, the rest of them will fall.
The more progress we make, they start bringing out the big guns. Red team has access to all kinds of phasers stored in their barracks. Stun grenades. Long range sniper rifles. Mostly M4 carbines like the ones their daddies like to carry. Getting hit once is more like taking three laser rounds to the vest. Getting sprayed for a minute, that’s up to eight hundred rounds taking you out for this match and the next four. But if you see their big boy on red team carrying the bazooka, a beam that cuts across the whole arena like a searchlight into the night sky, you best believe it’s every man for themselves.
But the bigger the guns, the more sensors they have exposed. If we’re fast and coordinated enough, you can disarm red team and keep them frozen. We’ll cover our noses and store them in a base, fire on them before they wake up.
Look at us, taking no prisoners and the entire map by storm! You are a bar above the rest, even though you showed up late to the party. Heck, you might even beat my best score the way you’re mowing down these pasty chumps. So, you’ve had practice with shooters at arcades? That explains it. These guys are used to twiddling their thumbs with Game Boys, but you’ve inspired something in yellow team unlike anything I’ve ever seen, more than I could’ve hoped for. Acting like they’re the goddamn cavalry for once.
Maybe we were destined for this line of work. Imagine if we’d have stayed in Korea, the government would make us all serve in the ROK army. I have a cousin who climbed rank until he became a Black Beret. I heard he jumps out of planes. Our dads never really talked about their military service, except to say we’re lucky we don’t have to go through it. But I think we’ve always had it in us. It’s our rite of passage. As you can see, my guys are bloodthirsty, taking out all their frustration on the poor souls who dare cross our path to revenge.
Mostly, we’re hella hungry. And we’re going to win this time.
GAMING THE SYSTEM
Now that we’ve gotten as far as the alien spacecraft, we’re reaching the end of the line: Ultrazone basking in yellow, like we’ve torn open the sky to let the fake sun bear down on us, until we know again what it’s like back outside.
Curious how no one from red team is guarding the alien spacecraft, how easy it was for us to barge in. Maybe we’ve taken them all out. Maybe they’re too busy trying to reclaim the bases we’ve already taken. Maybe they’ve already accepted defeat. Up on the screen, there’s a database listing their team rank and names:
MCCARTHY NICHOLS DILLINGHAM DOLE
HACKFIELD CASTLE NIMITZ ALEXANDER
COOKE SCHOFIELD BALDWIN DAVIES
RHEE BREWER BURNS WILDER
JUDD SINCLAIR INOUYE SCHATZ
GREEN HIRONO IGE ……….
The list goes on. Can’t you see how stacked they are against us? These are the accomplices and descendants of the business and military elite! Don’t you recognize the streets and places named after them? McCarthy must’ve been the one ordering the airstrikes. I swear there was someone on blue team named Dole, some kid from Punahou. Must be the great grandson of the pineapple king himself.
As if on cue, the hockey masked freak himself has shown up waving a white flag.
Everyone can stand down. Before we let him speak, let’s unmask this asshole once and for all, shall we?
Don’t tell me you guys know this fool.
What’s a Korean kid named Elijah Rhee doing on the white kids’ team? A descendant of South Korea’s first president, and a bootlicker by blood I assume.
It’s obvious that we’ve finally won. Just look at the work we’ve done. But why doesn’t it feel that way? Look at where we are. The red team finally at our feet. And red team has it all. More firepower. The perks. More fun. You, there, hand me that bazooka. Actually, why don’t you take this baby for a spin?
Aim it right there at Elijah’s chest. Doesn’t he deserve it?
I’ll let you in on a secret, one that I’ve learned during all my time here.
We’re not only playing laser tag for shits and giggles. Think of the arena, and our system of play, as one giant generator.
Isn’t it obvious? We’re the hamsters running on wheels. We power the whole operation above ground.
Stop shaking. I’d have given anything to use this bad boy a hundred rounds ago. Give me that thing and let me show you how it’s done.
Ka-plow! Look at him go! That’s one blast for man, and one giant blast for mankind. At this rate, he’ll be stuck in here for years.
Don’t tell me to stop. It’s not over.
It’s never over.
They need us to keep playing. War makes these vacations and games possible. War is good for business and keeps the lights on in Waikīkī. Our recurring deaths are collateral, the cost of doing business.
Finally, here comes the Game Master to escort us out of the arena. As you may have guessed, the Game Master is part of the machine. The Ultrazone’s shadow lord. Some kid who grew old in the Ultrazone and never left. The Game Master will get in your head if you’re not careful. He’ll make you doubt whether you have what it takes to survive, both inside the Ultrazone and out.
Watch me blast him in the head and get the highest score possible.
We’ve lost too many times for me to believe this win is enough. Winning one round won’t cut it. Look at this map on the screen. The Ultrazone is a training ground. Like a flight or racing simulator. The Game Master only recruits the best, and maybe one day you can become a Game Master of your very own Ultrazone.
Next thing you know, I’ll be running this joint.
Look, there are Ultrazones across the world that we’ve yet to explore. There are Game Masters in Hawaiʻi, Puerto Rico, Okinawa, Guam, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. There are red zones everywhere, and the game, like war, goes on forever even when they’re over. As long as there are people like us willing to play—those who deserve to lose.
You think it’s impossible. That there’s no way we can keep winning, and this one round was a fluke?
That’s where you’re wrong.
You know what they say, if you can’t beat them…
Well, will you look at that. Come to think of it, I look pretty good in red—these phasers to match!
I think I’ll stick around, but the rest of you are free to leave.
If you’re going to make it to the yellow team arsenal room across the map to exit, to finally eat that slice of pizza, the next round is about to begin any minute now—
You better hurry unless you want find yourself blasted to kingdom come.
I’ll give you a head start.