If you missed the initial installments, you can read Chapter 1 here, or you can catch up with Chapter 2 right here.
The waitress returned with the drinks, passing Riley hers before setting the other by IceMan. Funny thing about gamer conventions, everyone used their character’s names as their own and no one thought anything of it. Riley slammed back the tequila, sucked on the slice of lemon, and Ice gestured for the girl to return.
“Give her another, and something lighter to slow her down?”
“Dr. Pepper and another tequila double,” Riley clarified.
“Lemon. Got it.” She shook her head as she left again.
“This means you’re entering the Tournament?” IceMan asked.
Riley nodded. “I’d like the contract, but I’m not sure that will happen.”
“Void and Dreadknot are here. It’s a rush for third place, first and second are already taken.”
“I haven’t fought Dreadknot. What’s his style?”
“Heavy weapons, hard hitting, and he likes to stand his ground. If you can knock him out of the hole he digs, you’re good. But good luck with that.”
“Void’s just fast,” she said, thinking about it. “His reactions are nearly inhuman.”
“Rumor has it he’s been gaming since he was five. Dreadknot’s about the same. Guess he owns a computer store or some shit and spends all day flipping between FPSes.”
“Would be nice,” Riley said.
“No kidding,” Ice agreed.
That was when someone spotted him. From across the bar, a group of guys called out, “Ice!” and began pushing their way through the throng of people.
“My outfit,” he groaned, shoving his head into his hands.
“Oh, you found something pretty.” A younger guy shoved Ice over to sit beside him.
“Care, meet Knock, Swish, and Ryno.”
“You play?” Knock asked excitedly from his place beside Ice.
Ryno jerked his chin at her. “What game?”
“All of them.”
“Eternal Combat?” Ryno’s tone made it clear he expected her to say no.
“Yeah. East Coast Server. I play the blue team usually.”
“Nice,” Swish said, finally speaking up. “Come hang with us.”
Riley shook her head. “Maybe tomorrow. It’s been a long day for me, and the first round is at eight in the morning.”
“Oh!” Ryno exclaimed. “If you’ve entered that then you do play serious. What kinda K/D you running in EC?”
“Kills to deaths in Eternal Combat,” Knock clarified.
“I know what it means,” Riley assured him. “I’m at a 3.2 on the blue.”
Ryno’s eyes widened. “So you play red and yellow too?”
That was the game with the persistent world. While she did have a character on each team, she wouldn’t tell them the name of her main – or her real stats. EC players were a slightly different type of gamer, as serious as FPSers, but as social as those who preferred MMOs.
When the waitress returned with the drinks, they pulled up chairs and made themselves at home. It wasn’t long before Ice was telling them about their earlier battle.
“And I thought I had her, when she just pitched a grenade through the door. Butt pucker, lemme tell ya.” They all laughed, understanding completely.
“C’mon, Care. Thirty minutes,” Ryno pleaded. “The rest of our outfit is online, even if they couldn’t make it. Come make us look like important men, finding a real gamer in all this mess.”
“Fine,” she said. “Thirty minutes, then I have got to get some sleep.”
Tossing back the last of their drinks, the group cajoled her back to the computer tables, finding their places around the room. Ice, sitting beside her, gave her the log-in information for their TeamSpeak voice server and she clicked “ok”, wondering just what she’d gotten herself into.
A chorus of men’s voices greeted her, not even pausing to acknowledge the new arrival. They were calling orders, sounding rather organized while doing it. When a break in the chatter finally came, Riley recognized Ryno’s voice.
“We’ve already started making friends in Dallas,” he said. “Guys, say hi to… what’s your character’s name?”
She held up a finger, waiting for the log in screen to finish loading. Clicking on an alt before anyone could look at her monitor, she spoke up. “Salacious.”
“Oh!” came back from at least ten voices. It wasn’t her name, it was simply that she had a woman’s voice.
“Guys,” Ryno begged. “Be cool. She kicked Ice’s ass.”
“Damn,” one of them said. “Honey, I think I’m a little bit in love.”
“Try coming on to me, and I’ll shove a tank so far up your ass you’ll forget you ever had a dick. We playing, or we flirting?” she snapped.
The men laughed, picking on the target of her ire and carrying on with her threats.
Ryno cut in, “Second continent, we have a battle at the bio-station. I need a mech suit, two healers, and heavy. Salacious, what role are you playing?”
“I can fill any,” she said into her mic.
“Grab the mech?”
It didn’t take long before she was clearing the halls, one man glued to her ass, keeping her suit repaired, leaving the rest of their group to sweep the sides. When they secured the cap point, she hunkered down, facing the spawns.
“We holding, or we running?” she asked Ryno, who appeared to be the leader.
“Can you hold it?”
“Watch me.” She glanced across the table at him.
“Then we hold. Who’s on her repairs.”
“Me,” a voice said. Riley glanced at her screen to find his name. Fizz.
“Shit,” Ice said suddenly. “Executive Pain’s dropping in from the south. They’re going to tear our asses up.” He paused and she could see him smacking at his keys frantically beside her. “Void’s here! Shit, shit, shit. He killed me.”
“You still think you can hold this?” Ryno asked her.
“I can only try,” Riley said honestly.
“Then get her another repairman and two more healers.”
“Grenades and heavy weapons. They’ll be coming at us from the back. Keep your eyes up, boys,” she added. “Void likes his jets.”
“What she said.” Ryno’s words gave power to her ideas.
They weren’t a big outfit, but they seemed to be well coordinated and pretty laid back about the whole thing. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Riley was actually enjoying playing with a group. Too often, outfits were little more than a reason to screw around and not take gaming seriously. Unfortunately, Riley couldn’t do that. It took away everything she found fun about playing.
Then the world around her got just a little too still. Enemies had been running in, one at a time, to throw themselves at her mech, but it just stopped.
“They’re here,” she said softly. “If someone has sensors, I suggest you lay them out.”
A tingy noise rang out in the game, and a small circle appeared on the map, pulsing. When she glanced down, she gasped. Dozens of red dots swarmed behind the building. “This is going to be bad.”
“That’s Executive Pain for ya,” Ice said. “Overkill for the win.”
“Then let’s make them pay.” She glanced at him and found him smiling back.
“Leeroy Jenkins, mothafucka,” he said softly just before the explosions started going off behind the wall.
In the top left of her screen, a list of names started scrolling by, all of them killed by IceMan. “Damn!” she laughed. “How many did you get?”
“Dunno.” He cackled, barely able to speak he was laughing so hard. “It’s still scrolling!”
“What’d you do, man?” Knock asked.
“Tossed out four prox mines and a block of C4. Suicided, but I got twenty-three!”
A deep voice interrupted. “Salacious, we have incoming.” He was one of those assigned to hold the point with her: Synjd.
It started with nothing more than the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun, but quickly grew. Back to back, the five of them held off hoards of enemies, bodies stacking up at their feet before they vanished to spawn again. The whole time, the capture timer in the corner kept slowly ticking away.
“I need ammo!” Riley begged.
The words were barely out of her mouth before a pack was tossed beside her and her weapons began to fill. She aimed and fired, turned and fired, then fired again, always keeping her mech suit between the enemy and her repairman. The line of opponents started to thin, then she saw Void’s name.
“Void, over bravo building,” she reported to the team.
“Can’t get a shot,” someone replied.
“He’s got C4, watch your back, Salacious.”
“Watching.” Her eye tracked him as she continued fighting against over whelming odds.
That’s why she saw him sweep in. Using a jet pack, hovering just above the normal field of view, he would have killed them all if she hadn’t been looking in the right place at the right time.
“C4 on point!” Swinging back, she aimed at the sky. It took three shots, but he fell, re-spawning before his body hit the ground. “He’ll be back. Watch the explosives.”
“Clear point,” another said, and they all pushed as far out as they could, giving him space to blow it.
With only forty seconds left on the countdown, Void appeared again. This time, he was in heavy armor and came at her head on. The first shot was at her repairman, taking him down to half health, but Riley moved her mech suit into the line of fire, absorbing the next hit and trading him one back. He dodged, trying to hit Synjd from the other side, but she was ready for that. What she didn’t expect was his partner.
The second man took out her repairman from the back, who called out his death over TeamSpeak. With a glance, she realized her team was down. Ryno was calling a wipe, suggesting a re-spawn point.
“I’m still up,” she said, barely toggling the button before she was back at it.
The second man was the easier target, so she focused on him first, watching her armor and health drop quickly while Void took advantage of her distraction. When he was dead, it was only the two of them left.
He strafed. She led her shot, tagging him, but it was a body hit, not the head shot she’d wanted. She fired with the other arm, just missing as he found cover behind the box. The unmistakable sound of a medical pack rang out, and she cursed softly. Mech suits didn’t get that option. She may have twice as much armor, but she was half as fast and needed a second person for repairs.
“I spawned a repper,” Ice said, meaning another repairman. “Hold on and I’ll make it there, damn it. Just kick his ass, girl.”
Lumbering around the control point, waiting for the timer to count down, that’s exactly what she intended. Each time she got the upper hand, he ducked and healed but unless he resupplied, he could only do that four times. When the last med-pack was used, that’s when Riley pressed her advantage.
Slowly, step by step, she herded him into a corner, taking nicks off any part of his character she could. He’d stand up and shoot, but she still had enough life, and a repairman on the way, or so Ice had said. She could afford to play a bit reckless.
When he had no other options, Void decided it was finally time to fight. He moved, trying to slip around beside her, but she tossed out two shots and a mech hit in the back. He pulled his pistol and popped off two rounds as the timer ran out and the station flipped to their side.
“Spawn in! Spawn in! Give Salacious a hand, she’s got him on the run,” Ryno bellowed into the mic.
Strafing as she moved, never making a straight line, she tried to dodge, but the damned mech was just too slow. He got off another round, leaving her only three small bars of health, but he’d finally made the mistake she’d been waiting for.
She fired, just a simple click of the left mouse button, and hit him at point blank, right in the face. Void fell. In the top right corner, the kill notice flashed: Void < Salacious. Riley sighed and leaned back, taking her hands from the mouse and keyboard to stretch. Who cared if someone killed her now? She’d done the impossible. So, when the ding of a private message rang in her ears, she was expecting it. What she didn’t expect, was what he said.
[VOID] Nice job, QQ. Your friends know who you are, yet?
She looked up, aware that the guys she’d been playing with were still celebrating.
They weren’t the only ones around the table. Plenty were engrossed in other games, some playing together, but most playing against each other. More faces were glued to their screens than aware that a handful of guys were cheering on an impressive victory. She’d seen Void on a few streams, so thought she’d be able to pick him out of a crowd, but she was wrong.
[SALACIOUS] No. I’d rather they didn’t know.
[VOID] Then they won’t hear it from me. No one else has the balls to chase me down. I’m impressed.
[VOID] I’m also glad to see you came to the convention. Nice dreads.
Riley sat up and looked across the table, but no one had an ironic smile. The only people watching her were the men she’d just been gaming with. There were maybe twenty others in the room and any of them could have been Void. Problem was, he’d figured her out.
[VOID] Relax. You’re making me nervous with all the glaring.
[VOID] Just like you are. Fair’s fair, right?
[SALACIOUS] Evidently. It was a good fight.
[VOID] 🙂 Yes, that was a damned good one. It’s a good group of guys you’re playing with tonight. Didn’t think you did outfits.
[SALACIOUS] Not usually. They tend to get too distracted when I use voice chat.
[VOID] That explains so much! Thought I’d heard you were a man.
[SALACIOUS] How’d you figure it out.
[VOID] Heard you call for ammo, then saw them drop it at your feet.
[SALACIOUS] I didn’t say it that loud.
[VOID] I know. That’s your hint.
“Ok, guys,” she said to the group she’d been playing with. “That’s it for me. Early morning and all that.”
“Aww!” one of them transmitted, sounding truly disappointed. “It was fun, Salacious. Come kick some ass with us again sometime.”
Riley couldn’t help it, she grinned. “Ok. Maybe tomorrow night, if I’m invited back.”
“Open invitation,” Ryno said, looking up at her. “You’re always welcome. Didn’t really expect you to hold your own, let alone show us up.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Good luck tomorrow.”
With that, she signed out, closed her game, and powered down her machine. The convention had security, allowing them to leave their computers out so they didn’t have to be set up over and over, but she wasn’t completely sure she trusted it. With one last glance at her rig and a wave to IceMan, she left, heading up to her room on the third floor.
She saw the line for the elevator and had just pulled open the door to the stairs when she heard someone call her name. Well, one of her names.
“Salacious?” He didn’t yell, but it was meant for her to hear.
Looking over her shoulder, a tall, attractive man jogged to catch up, but she didn’t wait. Riley let go of the door and took the stairs at a jog. She wasn’t sure who he was but had a good guess. So Void had figured her out. That gave him the upper hand. She hated not having the upper hand.
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