“This is not going well,” Olivia said.
“No kidding Liv,” answered Helen as she collapsed on the ground.
“Hypnotoads only lost once all season, we knew they would be tough. We haven’t gotten anywhere near their flag, but they haven’t found ours either.” Olivia was their defense, and would know if anyone from the opposing team had gotten close.
Miranda appeared from behind a nearby tree and waved hello at the two already there. “Why are none of our plans working this evening?”
Celia arrived and spat out, “Probably because you gave me bad information Miranda, and I almost got captured.”
Miranda held up a hand to keep some distance between her and her obviously angry friend. “I haven’t seen you since the start of the match.”
“Why else would I have gone deep into their territory unless I was told to be there by our spotter? I know better than to do something that crazy on my own.”
“Hello ladies.” Tanya and Portia immediately sensed the tension in their team. As a group of seniors who had played together for years and honed their roles and strategies they were accustomed to winning easily, and they had been worried about this, the match when it didn’t come easily. Portia sat down with Olivia and Helen and stayed quiet, Tanya stayed on her feet with Celia and Miranda to sort things out.
“What’s going on?” Tanya asked.
Celia was still glaring at Miranda but no one was saying anything. Finally Olivia answered, “Everyone can feel it, right? Maybe because it’s the championship, but it’s just weird tonight.”
“Damn straight it’s weird, Miranda sent me to the Hughes statue where I nearly got caught, as if that were her goal.” Celia folded her arms.
“But why would I do that?” Miranda asked her.
Helen, from her spot by the tree, spoke up. “Actually Miranda, you told me to go to the Hughes statue too. I was in the middle of a different run so I couldn’t at the time.”
Tanya stepped in between Celia and Miranda. “Calm down everyone. We’ll get this figured out. Obviously something is messing up our game tonight; we need to figure out what that is.”
Celia groaned. “It’s not a what, it’s a who.” She pointed at Miranda who was shaking her head no. “Haven’t you heard about the Toads secret weapon that was going to obliterate us? A traitor would do it.”
“You can’t honestly believe that.” Miranda said. Celia shrugged and turned her back on the group.
“If we’re speaking of weird, Celia, you told me to stop haunting the back and make a run,” said Olivia.
“I did not.”
“You did, and didn’t move until I started walking away.”
Celia shouted, “I would not have-“
“Quiet!” Tanya hissed. Everyone looked around to make sure their argument hadn’t attracted any members of the other team. “Re-grouping after the start of the match is risky enough without all this noise. But this is what has worked all semester, we recon for the first hour and then compare notes and figure out the final strategy. We can’t fall apart now. Portia, do you have any ideas?”
Portia was the brains of the team; it was her strategies and reading of the other teams that made them undefeated.
“I have an idea, but it seems ridiculous.” Portia paused and everyone stayed quiet. After a long minute she asked “Liv what time was it when Celia told you to go on a run?”
“That can’t be right, that’s when I was talking to Miranda,” Celia said.
“I checked my watch wondering how long until this meeting so I could ask you what the hell you were doing. I’m sure of the time,” Olivia said.
“At 10:30 I was on my way into enemy territory because Miranda told me she had seen lots of activity around the Hughes statue and thought their flag might be there.”
Miranda sighed. “I haven’t seen anyone since start of the game,” she repeated, “until right now.”
Portia nodded. “I think you’re all correct. Celia, I think you were in two places at once.”
Everyone exclaimed confusedly but stopped when they noticed Tanya’s glare. “Come sit down everyone so we can be quieter, please.” The ladies already sitting under the tree shifted a bit, and then all six were sitting in a small circle.
“Did you know that Hypnotoads are all engineering students? That’s what brought them together. And do you know what Kate’s senior thesis project is?” asked Portia.
“Hell, she built an android,” Miranda said. “I chatted with Kate about it the other day after the demonstration because it was cool. She said that she and some friends were working to make it look like a person but hadn’t decided who to use for a model yet.”
Everyone was quiet.
Tanya asked “You think they have an android?”
“I think they have two, one that looks like Celia and one that looks like Miranda. That’s why each of them did something completely out of character, it wasn’t them. It was bad coordination on someone’s part to have both of them interacting with us at the same time. They’d have been smarter to just have one; the traitor theory would have carried more weight that way.”
“Is this even legal?” Helen asked.
“They must have run it past the rules committee, it would suck to win and then be disqualified. Maybe they have people sitting out or something,” Miranda mused. “The droid is super cool though; I would want to use it if I had one.”
“We don’t need to worry about what they’re doing; we need to worry about us. How do we beat androids?” Tanya went straight to the point, as always. People started talking quickly, not quite over the tops of each other but nearly.
“We need a signal or code, something so that we know we’re talking to each other,” Olivia said.
“If they don’t have the signal then we can give them bad information,” Helen added.
“Once we know who we are, our regular strategies should work like they always do,” Celia said.
“Right, stick to our roles and our plan, and not let them make us crazy,” Miranda nodded as she spoke.
“Perfect.” Tanya grinned as the team pulled itself back together. “Hypnotoads hasn’t changed up their game; their secret weapon was to mess with ours. But now we know –“
“And knowing is half the battle,” the ladies all whispered together.
“I wonder how I haven’t run into myself,” Celia mused and looked at Miranda, all forgiven now. “I hope we get to meet our doubles after we win.”
Tanya nodded at Portia as the team’s confidence returned to its usual levels. This problem, however unusual, wasn’t going to defeat them. “Alright we’re sticking to the strategy we had coming into tonight. If you know you’re talking to a droid use the plan from three weeks ago against Paper Cranes, its similar enough to tonight’s that it will look right and they’ll end up going in circles. Now we just need to figure out how we ID each other.”
Portia smiled. “I know how we do that. It won’t be easy, but this is our last match and I want to win. Is everyone in?” The Band of Sisters smiled and leaned in closer as Portia explained the plan, and they made sure everyone had what they needed to ID each other.
Band of Sisters left their home base to go win the match.
The match ended 45 minutes later, and everyone gathered in the lobby of Hughes hall where there were snacks and sofas.
Mr. Lutz, the faculty advisor, was chatting to Tanya and Julie, the leaders of their respective teams. “It’s very impressive; no team has ever been undefeated for a full semester. Band of Sisters is to be commended.”
“They almost got us,” Tanya said. “But once we figured out they were using Kate’s androids-“
Kate called out from across the room where she was showing Celia her double. “How did you know? We had the droids doing only really simple tasks so they wouldn’t get caught.”
Miranda collapsed onto a couch with a cookie in each hand. “They had everyone fooled until we realized that Celia couldn’t be two places at once.”
“If we hadn’t compared stories to figure that out though, it might have worked,” Olivia said, “we were all confused and not sure who to believe.”
“Then it was having the means to identify each other, and sowing misinformation back at you,” Helen said. “You had no reason to expect that, so we were able to move quickly.”
“But we were monitoring the droids. We never picked up on a repeated code word or phrase or gesture. We were ready for you to figure the droids out, but we were sure we’d know if you did. What did you do?”
Portia took off her glove and held out her palm to the room, which had a half-dozen pinpricks on it, some still oozing. Every member of Band of Sisters rolled up sleeves or pants legs and showed off matching wounds.
Portia said “I came up with an idea that your droids couldn’t do, even if you had figured it out. After all: ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?
***It's time for the infamous Open Topic at LJIdol. Several years ago I was voted out just before the topic "Captcha the Flag" was used, and I've had this story idea in my head ever since. Find other takes at the link.***