I spun, aiming the Vanquisher back towards the island. Someone stood right at the edge of the planks observing me quietly through the lens of a camera, his face obscured by the body of the device. He was wearing boots, cargos, and a gray t-shirt, and I had a feeling that if he looked out from behind the camera, he’d have a beard and long hair.
The flash on the camera went off, flare-blinding me. I narrowed my eyes at him, switched the Triple Shot to my left hand, and pulled the DWK Sandshark from the inside of my bag. The arrow-arrow shaped blade jumped out with a snap. “You stalking me, freak?”
He laughed. “Are you kidding?”
“Two places I’ve been in two hours, you’ve been at both. You are taking pictures of me. Is there another logical conclusion for me to draw?”
Again, the man laughed. “I’m a photographer for You-Soak. I’ve been hired to document the fight for the website’s promotional pages. Apparently I’m working the same circuit of sites you’re on. Let me guess, Clark’s gas station or that abandoned mall off University? You came here by way of Bay Beach I bet, first the sanctuary, then the park?”
“Yeah, how do you – “
He cut me off with a wave. “Each path leads somewhere, but it always leads to somewhere on that path, never off it. We’re walking the same one.”
He let the camera hang from the strap around his neck and walked over, extended his hand. “I feel we got off on the wrong foot.”
I snicked the blade of the Sandshark back in and stowed it in my bag, then shook his hand. Powerful grip. “Samantha Calloway,” I said.
“Keith Slate,” was his introduction. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. Your reputation precedes you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Orr-lee?”
With a straight face he said “Yarly.”
“There are lots of players calling us up saying they’re really pissed at woman in an unpainted rice-burner. They’re saying she’s rather…disruptive of the environment, uses extremely unconventional tactics, and doesn’t play fair. Management’s looking for you.”
I suppressed my stomach lurching shock. This couldn’t be over, I’d just started. I clamped down on my surprise and disappointment and kept my look of cocky invulnerability on my face. “They know where to find me.”
“And eventually they will catch up to you.”
“Ain’t done nothing wrong, but the attention is flattering. Last time someone paid me that much attention, I dated them for a year and a half. Should I be buying the boss dinner and flowers or something?”
Keith snorted. “You’re much funnier than I thought you’d be. And no, management is just going to want to have a few words with you about showing restraint. Nothing drastic. And speaking of drastic, there’s a boat approaching from about thirty-five feet away. You might want to see to that.”
I turned to look at the black water, reflecting the few shore lights with an oily gloss, the darkness of the coast, and the luminously black night sky above. “I don’t see anybo – “
Water cut through the humid air, sailing completely over the dock, and I scrambled to a crouch behind one of the water barrels. The Twenty Five Hundred was in reach, and I ignored the slung Vanquisher to pick it up. It felt more like a sniper rifle than anything I’d held today.
It was also like hefting a sniper rifle around. Damn thing was longer than the barrels were tall. Gave away my position. I leaned out from behind the barrel, aiming towards where the water had come from. About twenty feet away two guys worked on tying the boat to the bollards lining the edge of the dock. I depressed the heavy trigger, and the massive output jolted me slightly. A thick stream of water slammed through the air and into one’s chest, completely soaking his shirt.
Had to be like getting hit with a firehose.
I shifted aim, but the second opponent had dropped to the bottom of their boat. After waiting a second, I proned out, using the ground to support the heavy rifle. The rough boards of the dock were inches from my ear, and between them I could hear the waves lapping peacefully at the supports. Overriding that though was the sound of my heart pounding blood through my circulatory system, a constant thunder.
A glance back showed Keith standing at the edge of the dock, camera raised, lining up a picture of me. “He’s going for the shore!” Keith announced, then snapped the photo as I looked up, surprised.
I had no reason to disbelieve him.
I stood as the last remaining enemy from the boat jumped for the crumbled concrete retaining wall. He nailed the jump, scrambled to solid ground, and I snapped a long beam off his chest. It exploded into mist that wafted brightly through the acidic halogen spotlights.
He approached, hands up. “Mind if I use the dock instead of jumping again?”
I nodded. “I’m not too much of a jerk.”
Keith said “Six more incoming” as those two rowed away.
I jerked my head around. “Six more players?”
“Boats.” He looked almost gleeful. Emotionless, yet gleeful. Whereas I see the value of using emotion, this guy just didn’t have any.
I strained to see into the darkness. Outside of the spotlights, nothing was really visible. “How can you tell?”
Keith held up the camera. “IR lens. Couldn’t shoot at night without it.”
“Ah.” I grabbed both of the Super Soakers and moved out to crouch next to the phone booth, tried to formulate some sort of battle plan. With luck, everyone would be too busy attacking each other to worry about attacking me. Not likely, but I could count on at least a few taking out each other. They were all at war, not just at war with me.
The first boat pulled alongside the front of the dock, three occupants total, two rowing, one gunner. I simply stood and set myself in a wide shooting stance, played the Twenty Five Hundred over the boat until I was sure no one onboard was dry.
As they rowed away, I could hear sounds of shooting beyond the spread of light, and someone shouted “We’re out already, dammit!”
I reamed the tracked pump back and forth as fast as I could. At least one more boat coming. I moved to post up at the back of the phonebooth, and waited. Swishing sounds came to me, the noise of oars in the water. Then a shout of “There they are, don’t let them get there first!”
Shooting, shouting, swearing, at least one loud splash. I rotated around the right corner, and shot, nozzle dancing up and over, lingering just long enough to confirm the “kill” then jumping to the next person. Three in a rowboat along the front edge of the pier, and I tapped each one in less than three seconds. Two were aiming back into the bay, only one even half concerned with what was going on here on the pier.
Back behind the cover of the phonebooth – seriously, had the uSoak people imported and transported a Doctor Who prop to the middle of Lake Michigan? – I pumped furiously, feeling that the large red tank was running dry.
Turning around the left corner, I moved back from the edge – best way to keep from getting shot, move back from your cover – and started pulsing the trigger, angling the ancient soaker up to forty five degrees to get the maximum range. Try and land in a rainstorm now!
I could see them drifting at the edge of the light, well beyond the range of any of my guns. Dropping to one knee, I let up on the rain. C’mon guys, think I’m out…
The paddling started up again, and the little boat moved closer. And closer. And…squeeze on the trigger…
I felt pretty proud of the shot. Antique watergun, no sights, aiming into the dark. It took the guy sitting into the bow of the boat squarely in the back, and the stream dropped off, adding clean water to the bay.
That was not good. My only sniper rifle was empty.
I dropped it on the dock and quickly moved over to the pug-nosed Twelve Thousand. Sure looked smaller than a Twenty Five Hundred…
Water reached for me, and I scrabbled from behind the gun rack to cover behind the right side of the telephone box. The long streamers of liquid dropped to the deck, splashing into wet trails. A peek around the corner earned me and eye full of mist, and I stepped around the other side, aiming for the edge of the dock.
I’d thought the previous gun had recoil – a surprising amount for just shooting water. This doubled the recoil, minimum. It wasn’t “Grandpa’s Deer Rifle jumping out of your arms” recoil, but it let you know it wasn’t your average watergun. The stream hissed out, thick and angry, and I tucked the purple tank into my shoulder and angled it up from the planks to slam into the chest of the guy who’d just shot at me. He sputtered as the backblast blew into his face, and I angled further out, adjusted my stance, and shot his friend in the neck. That had to sting. This thing was like a pressure washer.
I kept the heavy Super Soaker trained on the boat until they’d rowed out of range, then turned back to where Keith had been. He was now crouched in the weeds, and his camera flashed twice as I walked towards him, pumping.
“Three down. Not bad, if I do say so myself, and I do.”
“Three to go,” he commented, looking left down the length of the island through his IR lens. “They appear to be working as a team, all attempting a landing along the rocks.”
“I’ll wait ‘em out here.”
I didn’t have to wait long. With seven minutes left in the hour, they moved in as a staggered team, coming from the west side of the island. Behind the phonebooth, I took a breath to compose myself and listened to the rustle of their legs through the tall weeds, the creak of plastic imposing itself over the crickets and the lap of water against wood and rock.
I rotated out and kenned the situation in a glance. They’d ignored Keith completely. All of them that I could see – four – were strung out linearly coming from the left side of the dock.
I paid a little extra attention to my footwork. Placing one foot in front of the other while shooting was habit by now, but I made sure I was correctly rolling my feet back to front, getting good steps. Purple tank tugged into my shoulder, I advanced in a slow sprint. The first guy saw me as I was across from him behind the gun rack, and I hit the trigger before he could even lift his soaker, an explosion of mist erupting from the number on his Packer jersey. I shifted my footwork left, running straight ahead, and twisted to tap out the next in line, a middle aged woman in a similar jersey. The middle-aged bald man behind her shot at me and I juked to the left of the stream, shot him from a crouch, and then exploded forward, running forward and shooting – what I assumed was – his son in passing, a wide stripe on his jersey as well.
Outside of the halo of halogen lights, the island was just shadows and shapes, black on black. I had to guess if two weren’t with the main crowd, they were guarding the boat. I sprinted along the rock retaining wall, covering the edge of the island in wide steps. I didn’t have to go very far. The boat was moored only a few dozen yards from the pier, one shadowy person on the island itself, one in the boat. Neither were looking my way, and I set myself into a wide firing stance, tapped two quick streams of high-velocity water into the chest of the one on the shore, and then turned fractionally to pound out another storm of water into the boat. I didn’t even confirm the “kill,” just sprinted back along the rocky beach to the pier.
I passed the four I’d shot walking back to their boat. I didn’t catch what they were saying, but they were talking, and it was animated. Apparently they’d had fun. A family outing.
I wished my family did stuff like this.
I wished I had a family all in one place.
Keith nodded approvingly as I walked onto the dock. “VERY nicely done. I can see why people think you’re a force to be reckoned with.”
“No seriously. You’re in the top five of the fighters I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some people who were very good.”
“You want me to kick the ground, say ‘aw shucks?’”
He half-smiled. “I’d like to offer you a job.”
“Being my subject.”
Yeah, here was a creeper. Suspicions confirmed. I casually rotated the Twelve Thousand on its sling to hang at my left side, and hooked my thumb in my satchel. The Sandshark called to my hand as it had before. “And let me guess, you want me sashay around, maybe tease the camera a little bit before starting the main event?”
Keith snorted. “Hardly.”
“I had a friend got suckered into a ‘modeling’ gig. I went with her a few times to see what’s up. Didn’t end well. I know what a guy with a camera usually wants.” I left out the part about how I’d mace’d the photographer after he got surprisingly uncouth.
“Like I said, I’m working for You Soak,” Keith told me. “I want to follow the star player around, shoot you hard at work in a variety of environments. You’re damn good, the best we have, and…yes…you’re photogenic. You’re the sort of thing You Soak advertisers want to see, as well as customers. I’d just follow you, that’s all.”
“You’ve been following me,” I said pointedly.
“In a more official capacity.”
“And what do I get out of this?”
I shrugged the Twelve Thousand off and set it on the deck. “When you say it like that…”
“I can’t pay you, there’s no advertising contract, but I can be your spotter. You let me follow you around…like I’m going to try to do anyway…and photograph you, and I’ll give you clues, let you know when trouble’s coming, that sort of thing.”
The phone in the box started ringing.
“You’re great,” Keith said. “But you’d better be the best ever to last the next, what, eight hours? You need backup. Even Jack Bauer had people spotting for him. Had Edmunds and Walker running with him for a while.”
I smirked at the pop culture reference. “And let me guess, you’re my Renee Walker? If you’ll excuse me, I think that call’s for me.”