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Casualties
by Hallan Mirayas
Hallan Mirayas -- all rights reserved
 

I peered through my scope, sweeping the crosshairs of my sniper rifle across the area surrounding the rooftop I'd taken up position on. "Come to papa," I murmured to myself as I watched for motion, keeping one ear tuned to the sounds of David rumbling around downstairs. He'd keep them off me, his machine guns covering the stairs that led to my hideaway. Flipping my tailtuft up to the wind, I felt a slight tug to westward. Hmmmm... that bush is swaying into the wind, I thought suspiciously. I filled my scope with that bush and smiled. "Fool. When hiding, make sure you've got your entire body hidden." I snapped off a shot, and was rewarded with a splatter of red. One shot, one kill. Next target.

"Hmmm... three at once, hmm?" I mused to myself as three figures in camouflage burst from the treeline and charged toward my building. I picked the one in the lead. "Up you come..." I squeezed the trigger. "And down you go." A hail of fire from David's guns at the window below me took care of the other two. I dipped below the ledge around the roof and slunk over to a different spot, half-hidden by a tree, and took up vantage there. Two more targets met their fate by my rifle within as many minutes. "All too easy," I said, laughing softly as I moved across the flat roof to a spot just over the door.

My ears perked up when I heard weapons fire below, single shots mixed with the stuttering burr of David's machine guns, all blended with shouts, yells, and growls. He must have surprised them for them to be yelling so much. I brushed my mane, bound back in a ponytail, off my shoulder, and kept sweeping the area before me, making sure nobody approached while he was tied up with targets.

The firing stopped, and I pulled my pistol from its holster at my waist. Either David's down, or he ran out of targets. I kept the pistol pointed toward the stairs, but my attention snapped back forward when a camouflage-clad figure came running out the door. I grinned. David must have driven them off. I drew a bead on the runner's back and- "AAAAOOOWWW!!!" I whirled, clapping a hand to my rear end.

Behind me, in the tree, my masked assailant laughed as he trained his gun on me. "You're out, Hallan," he said as my hand came away blue with paint.

Tail lashing as I tried to wipe away the offense to my dignity, I replied, "You didn't have to shoot me point-blank, Matt!" The referee's whistle sounded the end of the match, and I reholstered my paint pistol with my free hand. "That hurt!"

He snickered. "Your fault for turning your back to a tree with nice, low climbing branches. Besides, your butt needed a bit of color."

David clumped his way up the broad stairs to the rooftop, sporting a big blue splash down his left side. "And what are you looking at his butt for, Matt? By the way, I'm going to get you for that paint grenade." David's twin machine guns were mounted on his helmet, with the CO2 canisters and paintball magazines strapped in a harness across his back, feeding through separate tubes to the twin firing chambers. At the moment, the business end of the assembly was pointed squarely at Matt's faceplate.

"Hey, now, easy there, Grizzly Tank," Matt wisecracked, though I noticed he edged a little behind a thick branch. Not that he needed to: the pressure trigger that David would normally squeeze between his teeth to fire was dangling free. It was a custom design. David's father owned the paintball range we were playing on, and had come up with the harness and trigger when SCABS shuffled his son's thumbs out of the picture. The tube-feed method was old paintball tech, tried and true over 30 years of gameplay. David had even had a cross hairs added to his facemask so he could aim better. And with his size and power, he could carry an unholy amount of ammunition...

Matt looked over the ledge around the roof and whistled. "I saw you drill that poor guy in the bush out there. Your aim's improved, Hall. Used to be you couldn't hit something that far out. Even if he was wearing white shoes that scream 'I'm here, shoot me now!'" He chuckled.

"Comes with not having thick glasses to screw with your depth perception and fog up in the middle of a match," I replied. Plucking a yellowing leaf from the branch he was sitting on, I remarked, "A few more weeks, and that tree won't give you much cover, Matt."

"True, but it'll make your rooftop tactics pretty chilly, too." He grinned. "And we all know how much you love cold weather."

"Ugh... don't remind me," I said as I headed for the stairs. "Well, we'd better get moving if we're going to make the next round. C'mon."

David rumbled, "Planning to be on our team this time around, or are you going to stick with 'helping out the newbies'?"

Jumping from the tree to the roof, Matt replied, "Well, somebody's got to do it, or they get all depressed about losing and don't want to come back. Besides, against you two, I have a challenge. Against them, it's just a slaughter."

As we walked back to the staging area, I thought about suggesting a challenge for Matt, involving Jubatus, two six-shot paintball pistols, and thirty minutes of one-on-one. I decided against it. Knowing Matt, he'd think of some way to pull it off, probably involving something like pre-planted paint mines. I snorted at the mental image. Yeah, right. If Jube ever got on the field, I'd personally pull a paintball from my own magazine and eliminate myself. Save myself the humiliation of the ensuing massacre. Still, not for nothing was he planning to go into the Army Rangers once he got out of high school. He was our best at stealthy fighting. Hopefully, the military would squeeze some of that ego out of him.

"Don't forget your barrel plugs!" Mr. Kent, David's dad, could be heard hollering to a group heading out.

"And don't forget to shake your balls!" I added as I walked past them, then stopped, mortified, as David and Matt both broke out laughing. "Your PAINTballs, I mean..." I corrected sheepishly, trying to get my foot out of my mouth. "It spreads the paint around, so they fly straight."

More than a few of the customers still gave me dirty looks, but most just flashed a smile or rolled their eyes. Rather than stand there and combust from embarrassment, I chose the better part of valor and ran to catch up with my two friends. "A fat lot of help you two were," I grumbled.

They promptly broke out laughing again. "Oh, priceless!" Matt exclaimed, leaning against a tree and holding his sides. David chuffed in what I'd come to know as his version of laughter, the sun glinting off his angled faceplate as he shook his head side to side. I gave them both a scowl and stalked off to the ammo tables to reload, tail twitching, but they caught up and cut me off. "Aw, c'mon, Hall... you know I love you more than my luggage," Matt quipped as he tried to put me in a headlock. "Tell you what, I'll swap onto your team for a game or two, spare your rear end some blue spots for a while."

David nudged us both with his shoulder, neatly tipping Matt off my back. "It sounds like a good idea to me. After I get rid of some of this paint."

"Here, David," I said as I grabbed Matt around the chest and held him in front of me, laughing. "Here's a towel for you."

"You traitor!" Matt yelled as David promptly smeared blue paint all over his camo pants. "I spent all day keeping those clean!"

David's dad, watching from the ammunition stand, laughed. "This is paintball, son. You're not supposed to keep clean." Matt grumbled a reply and wedged his way out of my bearhug.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kent glanced at the clock and at the next group waiting to go out on the fields. "If you hurry, you can share that lesson with this next group."

We looked at each other and grinned. "Casualties waiting to happen," Matt said as he gleefully rubbed his hands together and we ran for the ammo tables.

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