I tucked the Vortex back in my satchel and got out of the car. The Triple Shot was still in the bag, and I dragged the Vanquisher out of the passenger seat. Both were a little light on water. Hopefully, there’d be a refill barrel or two nearby.
I crossed the street, pumping as I went. There was a wide, wide courtyard area in front of the curved glass front of the building. Statues of football players rose from the concrete, and here and there, a few benches were strategically placed for passersby.
No one contested my approach, but I kept the Vanquisher up to my shoulder anyway. I approached the doors, and it didn’t look like there was anyone in the lower level. I slipped in and looked around.
Lots of white. White paint on the walls, white tiles, a white shutter closing off the white tiled concession bar ahead, white pillars supporting the next level.
Blue buckets next to black doors to the left and right of the concession bar. I walked over and filled both guns, and tried the doors. Locked. The windows looked down a long cinder-block corridor into the stadium. Large HESCO barriers dominated the wide-open floor.
Don’t see that every day.
Unless you’re in Afghanistan.
I chose “left” and set off metal detectors as I walked through a deserted ticket-taking checkpoint. I smiled grimly at the irony.
The ceiling rose beyond the checkpoint, rising several stories to arch above the balcony far above. A wide set of stairs divided by a banister climbed to the next level. As I watched, a woman ran up to the railing above and fired down at me. The stream of water jetting down at me galvanized me into movement. I sprinted for the stairs as she tracked the blast towards me. She let go of the trigger and what was already in the air snapped hard off the tile, erupting in a cloud of mist right behind me.
I button-hooked the railing and pounded up the steps, Vanquisher held tight to my shoulder, eyes tracking right and ahead, then back again. Movement at the railing looking down, and my rifle tracked with my eyes and I snapped two shots into the chest of a man aiming down at me.
A few more steps and I turned right, bent over the back of the Vanquisher, my footwork steady, my eyes perfectly forward and on target. Click click and two gray comets connected me with the woman who’d shot at me. She had a massive soaker connected to a backpack (CPS3200?), and if I hadn’t been on my game, she would’ve unleashed some massive soaking on me at the close range between us. Water shot past me, a hail of it, and I stepped into her angle as I crossed the few yards between us. “Wha – “
I didn’t let her complete the thought, and she was so shocked at my movements that she didn’t put up a fight at all when I let my Vanquisher fall to hang from its sling and ripped the watergun from her hands and stepped to the side, nearly yanking her over as the line from the gun to the pack stretched.
I held down the trigger, playing a nickel-sized beam over the wide, arched hallway. Two took stripes across their chest and more retreated into doorways, behind pillars, into little glass cubicles that lined the outside glass walls.
I think that – for a moment – the fact that there was a new player on the scene and she wasn’t screwing around took all the different teams by surprise.
Everyone was expecting me to go right, into the hornet’s nest I’d stirred up. I tossed the now empty rifle at her and ran left.
This hallway was mostly empty. It curved gently around the outside edge of the bowl of the stadium, and as soon as I saw a door leading inwards, I took it.
The stadium was pretty massive. If I had the time to range it with my Vortex, I guessed it would say at least three hundred feet wide and deep and five hundred long. I was on the top level of seating, and the grade dropped in steps steeply down probably eighty or a hundred feet to the basketball court sized floor. About thirty feet above the top level of seating were luxury seats, cut long into three of the four walls.
Below on the floor, HESCO barriers formed a battlefield maze. There was an open-topped rectangle, a cut-out in one side allowing access to the room it formed. If I had to put money on it, the guy I was hunting was probably inside. Two rows of barriers were spaced out, notched to allow access through, and were placed about thirty feet apart from the rectangle on all sides, creating an insanely dangerous courtyard area. Below I could see dozens of players shooting at each other, all of them engaged in their own private, furious fight for survival in this game.
All of this fed into my mind in less than a second, and I’d barely paused before I was moving again. Someone in the second row was ducked behind one of the plastic chairs, rising intermittently to shoot at another player on the floor, right up next to the six foot high fence that separated the floor from the seating around the bowl. The hider rose as I hammered down the steps, and both of us shot him as he stood to aim at me. One step past him, and I drilled a beam of water into his dueling partner, the change in aim and target taking less thought than breathing.
I kept my left hand supporting the Vanquisher’s pump and grabbed the top edge of the fence, vaulting over without ever breaking stride. I dropped the six feet to the floor, and my leg gave out as I hit the concrete. It’d been aching with every step, but the shock of slamming into the hard sent pain spiking through me. I gritted my teeth, pushed to my feet, and started running again.
I wasn’t running through the crazy HESCO killzone though. I’d seen a guy in a red cap following two people up the opposite side of the bowl, and I figured rather than fight through the trench warfare below to find out if possibly my target was in the room, I’d just try and intercept. Made sense that if people were leaving, they had a reason to, and the game’s organizer was known to be in possession of a red hat occasionally.
I wondered if he was a Linux fan.
I arced wide around the HESCO battlefield, and jumped as I approached the fence. My fingers caught the top, and I pulled myself up in one smooth, teeth-gritted motion. That did NOT feel good. I dropped to the other side and started sprinting up the aisle.
My foot caught on one of the steps, and I stumbled, rose and kept running. I pushed through the heavy black curtain blocking the doorway at the top and emerged into the second level hallway wrapping around the outside of the stadium. Glass walls ahead sectioned off small conference rooms and cubicles complete with designer furniture. Weird.
Left. My target would be to the left.
They heard my feet pounding behind them, and the advance warning did them no good. I shot one in the back, and seeing as the target was to the remaining soldier’s left, he was probably going to turn right. While strafing left, I fired three short bursts of water to the right that he obligingly ran into.
When they’d stepped away, I walked up to the event’s organizer. I made sure to stand with him between me and the hall, and extended my hand. “Samantha. Which way do we go?”
He shook my hand. Still wearing those sunglasses, which made it hard to tell where he was looking. Which was…unnerving.
“Behind you. I’ve got to retrieve some keys from the boxseats above us. There’s an elevator at the end of the hall.”
I set a killer pace, but it still wasn’t enough to get us out of the warzone without difficulty. Water sliced past my arm and I whirled, strafing left, shooting as I ducked into the cover of a doorway. I posted up next to the cinderblock wall and leaned out just enough to take a look at the situation.
A man and two women, in the center of the hall. The man advanced on the game organizer – who was apparently completely unfazed by being handed off again – with the two women providing cover back down the hall.
I edged around the wall and snapped long stream of water into the man’s sternum, then shifted my aim and fired three short blasts at the nearest woman. One hit her in the shoulder blades, and she turned to meet the other two with her neck. I ran forward as her companion turned to face me, just a hair too slow. A shot to the right temple, and then I was heading farther down the hallway towards the elevator, the game’s organizer in tow.
We waited at a dead end for the elevator to descend. The fact that it was “up” indicated bad things to me.
“What’s your name?” I asked, trying to make conversation.
“I’m kind of a private guy, but you call me ‘Bob’. ”
“Nice.” Who calls themselves, ‘Bob’. Likely some alias for something else.
“You’re Samantha Calloway though, right?”
My curtsey was as sarcastic as I could make it. “In the flesh.”
He smirked. “You have no idea how many calls I’ve gotten about you.”
The elevator dinged open, and we stepped inside. I pushed the button for the third floor, and it started upwards with eternal slowness.
“I’m just that popular,” I said with a winning smile.
He counted off on his fingers. “You started the games by shooting a man before he’d even had a chance to fill. Nearly blinded another three players with some kind of miniature spot light. You…and I’m not sure I have this completely straight…ran on top of bookcases at the University – they were not happy about that, by the way. The Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary called me to complain about insurance rates because someone matching your description climbed up and down a four-story observation tower on THE OUTSIDE. Bay Beach Amusement park called to tell me that someone matching your description stole a free turn on their slides, and then did a striptease on a pier. I’ve got multiple complaints of property damage from Saint Vincent Hospital, and trespassing at Saint Norbert College. You pretty much ruined the night for everyone at Ashwaubenon Lanes, and then I get a complaint – and this is just hilarious irony, from Allison Frank of all people, who’s got just as many complaints against her – that you shattered a church window by jumping out of it, and then beat her up when she tried to call for an ambulance.”
I spread my arms like I was welcoming the charges. “And yet…here I am.”
“If we’d gotten a hold of you earlier, you probably would’ve been kicked out. Now…what’s the point?”
The doors clanked open and I stepped through with authority, aiming down the hallway. No one ahead.
“You’ve got a lot to account for too,” I told him. “That photographer you hired to follow me around threw a little girl off a bridge about an hour ago. Perhaps you should be screening your employees a little more carefully.”
He reached out and grabbed me by the arm. “Hold up. What did you say?”
“The photographer you hired to get pictures of me fighting, for promotional material or something…he tried to drown a kid around two thirty.”
“We never hired a photographer to follow you – or anyone else – around. Did he tell you he worked for uSoak?”
“Did you see a company ID? Get his name?”
“No ID, but he was at a couple of the matches taking pictures. Said his name was Keith Slate.”
“Keith Slate, where do I know tha…” Hey-You’s voice trailed off as, apparently, connections were made in his brain. “Oh my.”
“I also run a water warfare website not affiliated with this game. Someone uploaded a war story describing their experiences in a similar contest down south, it kinda inspired me to put this game together. Keith Slate…uh…figured prominently.”
Despite the warm air, a chill rode up my arms and neck. “In what way?”
“Umm…apparently he thinks he’s some kind of prophet, weird as that sounds. Plus…he died. In two thousand and ten, during Hurricane Corrie.”
This was too creepy. I’d let some freakshow ride around with me tonight for hours and take my picture. “Jared was right,” I muttered.
“The little girl,” Bob said as we kept walking. “What happened to her?”
“I dove in after her. Got her back to her mom.”
“That’s good. You gonna file a police report?”
I snorted. “Why bother? I’m the only one that saw it. He moved so fast the kid thought she fell. Nah, I see him again, I’m gonna kill him. Make sure he stays dead this time.”
Bob grabbed my arm again, stared me in the eyes.
I think he was trying to figure out if I was joking.
I didn’t give him anything to go on.
He shook his head and we kept walking. The hall opened into a wide deck cut into the side of the building, glass fence overlooking the bowl below. Barstools stood next to a wide bar, soda and beer signs along the back wall. Behind the bar were taps for the various drinks, refrigerators, all the paraphernalia of the perfect boxseats. There were also two refill barrels, thank goodness.
There was also a guy with a monster-sized Super Soaker sitting on the railing on a bipod. He turned at my approach, and the huge watergun was too large to swing towards me quickly. I splashed a long blast of water off his collarbone and moved looked over at Bob. “You said there were keys up here?”
While I refilled, he walked behind the bar and rummaged through a cabinet, came up with a set of keys on a chain. “Good to go.”
“Why did we have to come all the way up here?”
“To get the keys,” he said, puzzled.
There was nowhere to run in the hallway, no way to get out of the way when the elevator door opened and a guy stepped out with two pistols leveled at us. He pulled both triggers at once, and one of those nozzles seemed to be looking me right in the eye as it spit water.
I dropped to a crouch in an instant, balanced on the toes of my boots, shooting upwards, drawing a wet stripe from his left thigh to his left pectoral.
Bob looked particularly annoyed at the blast he took in the shoulder.
I was particularly annoyed by the elevator. An elevator was a shooting gallery. We were fish in a metal barrel.
I charged out of that barrel as soon as the door opened just enough to let me slide by.
Water sprayed against the walls, and I ran forward, the storm somehow parted around me. I tracked my targets, shooting quickly, starting on the left, pulling through the trigger three times. I couldn’t very well stand in the middle of the battlefield and not get shot…I ran left, ducking inside the doorway of the glass cubicle. It offered cover AND visibility. Through the walls I could see the one woman I’d shot retreating, while the two guys that remained attempted to find positions where they could shoot me, but were out of the angle of my return fire.
I backed up a few feet from edge of the door, and edged just far enough out that I had an angle on the closest shooter. Always get back from cover – you get new angles and cut down on splash damage. Water hissed between us, exploding with a splash on his shirt, and while his companion was looking over at this new attack, I edged right even further and shot the last assailant twice in the stomach.
Stepping out of the cubicle, I motioned Bob out of the elevator. He looked even more annoyed now, and there were several wet patches on his shirt. I shrugged.
We took the first staircase down, and I made sure to hug the outside railing, tracking inwards with the Vanquisher, Bob following behind me. Two people below and I tapped each of them out with a quick scatter of shots.
At the bottom of the stairs, I opened the glass exit door and held it for Bob. Before leaving, he pulled a walkie-talkie out of his pocket.
“What’s that for?”
He checked his watch. “Eh, just about time.” As an explanation to me, he held it to his mouth and spoke. “I’ll be heading over to Lambeau Field now if anyone wants to try and catch up.”
I just stared at him, shocked. “What the hell?”
“You didn’t think this was going to be that easy to win, did you?”
Back out in the warm night air, I looked down the road at the stadium, lit up like a runway. “So, Lambeau Field.”
“Yeah. The very top, to be specific.”
“We might as well start running now.”