Copyright 2016 Robert A. Van Buskirk
Published by Robert A. Van Buskirk
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For Locals Only
Paul toggled the controls. A blinder built into the plastic cowling slid gradually over the shark’s right eye. The beast responded by swerving gently to the left. He slid the blinder again, uncovering the right eye while at the same time moving the other blinder to obscure the field of vision on the left side. The twelve foot long mako curved back the other way, carrying him through the water in a serpentine maneuver.
The rider exulted in the sheer joy of the day. Rich oxygen from his artificial gill enhanced the euphoria, but he’d be having a great time even with canned air. The sharks moved fast enough that the shoulder length hair of the men astride them streamed out like blonde banners. The ocean bottom could be seen below; coral outcroppings interspersed with narrow sandy gullies. It was easy to imagine they were flying. Glimpses of fish and other sea life stoked a sense of wonder.
Forty feet away to the right, one of his buddies glided along straight and level. Paul clucked in sympathy, the tiny sound distorted and lost in the water. Tim couldn’t afford to revel in the scenery. He needed to focus all his attention on the big blue shark he rode. Blues were infamous for turning sharply along their length, shedding careless riders. They weren’t popular mounts, but a dude couldn’t be choosy about what kind of fish his chum lured.
On Paul’s left, his best friend Billy also ignored the view. But instead of stressing over being shaken off, he focused on the paint applicator gripped in his right hand. Graffiti dappled the big hammerhead’s length. It bore tag signs of wetgangs from up and down the coast. Stylized letters UW denoted Paul’s own gang; the Undertow Warlords.
UW didn’t amount to much as gangs went. They didn’t have lucrative connections to drugs, prostitution or counterfeit credit. Paul’s beer money came from a part-time job as a fry cook; work that no real gang-banger would stoop to. Of course they all made the occasional foray into petty theft. But their idea of a major score was finding a few dollars in loose change and designer sunglasses in some tourist’s unlocked car. UW’s members didn’t regard taking from outsiders as stealing though. People from other hoods had no business on their beach.
Billy’s graffiti summed up the gang’s sentiments perfectly. “LOCALS ONLY” stood out in freshly applied water proof fluorescent paint on the hammerhead’s side. Billy looked up to see Paul watching, and flipped him off. Paul couldn’t see Billy’s mouth because of the mask and gill, but he knew from the familiar way his friend’s eyes crinkled at the corners that his buddy wore a huge grin.
Paul almost told Billy what a douche he was, but remembered just in time that they were on gang business. Instead, he winked and raised his own middle finger.
The gang could talk to each other if they wanted. Subdermal com implants were cheap and available. But good encryption cost more than any of them could afford. That meant when they were trying to avoid attention they kept their mouths shut. Right now was a good time to go unnoticed.
UW might be small, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t defend its turf. Rumor had it that cartel smugglers planned to use their beach to deliver contraband. Paul didn’t know which cartel, or what sort of contraband, but that wasn’t the point. Outsiders had to be taught they couldn’t cross UW coast without paying a toll. He peered alertly at the surrounding waters for any sign of intruders.
His vigilance didn’t last very long though. An eighteen year old high school dropout, he had all the self-discipline of a rooster on a weather vane. His attention span changed direction at every figurative breeze. Within minutes his thoughts turned from the patrol to other things. Bored now, he anticipated their return to dry land. First, the three of them would grab a bite to eat and maybe down some brews. Then he would go see Vicki.
Remembering how her naked body felt against him warmed his blood. Eager to be with her, he unconsciously increased the pressure of his heels against the mako’s hide. The molded plastic spurs on his dive fins prompted the shark forward. Paul gradually pulled ahead of his friends until they were barely visible through over a hundred feet of clear water.
The two cartel riders appeared from directly behind.
Pure luck let Billy see them before they closed the distance. Twisted around to paint a skull on the hammerhead’s dorsal fin, he looked up in time to activate his comm. Paul’s own implant, set to vibrate, buzzed behind his ear as the call went out on Billy’s “Friends” list. Before anybody could answer, massive jaws clamped around the graffiti artist’s neck. Plastic chainmail worn over his wetsuit protected him from the sawing action of the triangular teeth. But the pressure of the huge animal’s grip snapped his spine. The shark whipped its head back and forth, shaking the body like a rag. When it released the corpse, poor Billy’s head flopped nose-first against the space between his shoulder blades.
Tim’s mount sensed danger and tried to evade. Its sudden dash to the left caused the second cartel rider’s harpoon to miss Tim. But the enemy’s shark caught the blue in its mouth and bit it in half. The dying animal’s upper half thrashed violently, pumping its blood into the surrounding water.
Tim kicked clear and twisted around to bring his double-barreled dart gun to bear. Both of the foot long projectiles struck their target, but to no effect. The barbed steel points deflected harmlessly from the slick contours of the enemy’s glazed clamshell armor. Tim disappeared in the expanding cloud of blood.
Paul took one look and knew they were outclassed. These cartel riders represented big money. It showed in their gear. The enormous sharks were clearly products of genetic manipulation. The absence of blinders on their cowlings gave away that the big fish were controlled by neural interfaces. He figured the dirty sons of bitches were coordinating their attack on encrypted com, too.
One of the cartel men looked at the other while pointing at Paul. Their mounts turned in his direction and their tails lashed as they accelerated towards their next target.
“Bring it on, assholes!” Paul spurred his own mount. The big mako bolted through the water and he clung close to its back, sheltering behind the cowling to cut down on water resistance. Manipulating the blinders caused the shark to swerve behind a patch of loose kelp, briefly hiding him from their view.
This fight wasn’t over. He thumbed his implant and took Billy’s call. It was a conference call, and several gang members who weren’t on patrol were also picking up. Their unsuspecting queries and greetings were just beginning to fill the channel.
“We found the cartel! We’re in a fight with two of them now!” Paul shouted. The water garbled his words, but his subdermal transmitted the vibrations before they passed his lips. People listening through their own implants heard his voice almost the same as it registered to his own senses.
“Way to go!”
“Kick some ass!”
“We need help!” Paul cut through their chatter. “I’ll stay on the line as long as I can.”
“Hang in there baby!”
“We are coming…”
Paul dropped the connection. Most of the gang would continue on the conference call, talking nonsense to keep the attention of anybody who might be monitoring. It was a low budget tactic used in big cities everywhere. Law enforcement or rival gangs could beat cheap commercial encryption easily. Knowing which calls mattered and interpreting them on a tactical level was a lot harder.
Behind him the cartel riders drew nearer. The powerful genetic hybrids swam even faster than the superb mako. For all his bluster Paul was scared. He’d started out with over a hundred foot head start, but they’d catch up to him within the next fifteen minutes.
The new call came from Tony. “Talk to me.”
Paul felt a wave of relief. Tony was thirty five. He’d been in the marines, done some time in the state penitentiary and used to belong to a biker gang. Tony had experience. He would know what to do.
“I’m alone. They’re chasing. Going to lead them to the ‘M.’” Ignorant thugs though they were, the wetgangers knew better than to talk names or numbers. As much as possible they would avoid giving away locations, too. UW’s riders all knew the sunken fishing boat named Marmalade as the ‘M’ but outsiders wouldn’t understand.
“I hear you dude.” Tony paused to get his bearings. “We’re coming from the south. We’ll be there in about five minutes.”
“That’s perfect.” Paul was coming from the opposite direction. If they didn’t reach the ‘M’ at the same time, their paths should still intersect.
The cartel riders had cut his lead to less than sixty feet. One of them fired a harpoon gun, and the arrow came within two feet. The projectile passed so slowly that Paul could have snatched it with his hand. He restrained himself from shooting back until the range was shorter.
“YEEEE HAW!” Tony and two more Undertow Warlords appeared out of the murk. The torpedo shapes of their mounts blurred by so swiftly as to defy identification, but none of the sharks measured less than nine feet long.
Fingers twitched on triggers and spearguns spat their missiles. A UW shark thrashed convulsively, the rider barely hanging on as a barbed point buried itself in the animal’s belly. The cartel sharks were also struck, one in the back, the other in the side. But the rider’s neural interfaces blocked out any pain the creatures might feel.
The wetgangers flashed past and split off in three different directions. The smugglers drove their sharks into tight turns to follow their slowest foe; the wounded shark. Forgotten, Paul wheeled the mako, spurring it in his haste to get into the fight. Now he was chasing the enemy. When they swerved left, he cut inside the angle of their turn and brought himself within twenty feet of his quarry.
The nearest cartel rider shot first. Paul ducked reflexively. The bolt struck the sloped plexiglass windshield of his cowling at an angle. The plastic cracked, but deflected the missile harmlessly into empty water.
Paul straightened and coolly took aim. He’d already seen how effective the men’s armor was, so he put his harpoon through the shark’s gills. A neural interface might block pain but it would do nothing to help an animal breathe. The big hybrid immediately slowed down, unable to swim as fast as it could a moment ago. Paul spurred the mako past. His sphincter tightened at the thought of leaving an enemy behind him. However, Tony and the third UW fighter would soon make things hot for this opponent. He reloaded his speargun and forged ahead.
The other smuggler focused on overtaking their target. Paul recognized the wetganger on the wounded shark. Mike brandished an old fashioned bangstick; a 12-gauge shell mounted on a custom aluminum rod. But before he could jab it into the cartel shark’s snout, the rider impaled him through the shoulder with a dart launched from less than six feet away. The shark scooped the bleeding man into its mouth.
Mike got his arms up before the shark engulfed him though. Like Billy, all the wetgangers wore plastic chainmail. The bones in both of Mike’s arms snapped from the force of the bite. His scream of pain rang out over his gang’s com implants. He was out of the fight but he would live.
The brief tussle let Paul catch up. His opponent hadn’t reloaded his speargun. The man dropped the useless weapon and clawed at the taser gun holstered on his belt. He wore an insulated dry suit, and no doubt planned to electrocute everything around him. Paul shot him in the face. The barbed point shattered the dive mask and buried itself a hands length deep in the cartel rider’s eye socket.
Without input from a conscious mind, safety protocols activated in the neural interface which controlled the dead man’s mount. Brain on autopilot, the lab grown shark swam slow and level, in a wide circle. The body of its former master sank to ocean floor.
“Yeah! We got him!” Tony’s voice exulted over the com. Hampered by a dying, gill-shot mount, the remaining cartel rider had no chance. The wetgangers overtook him as he reloaded. Tony passed close and leapt from behind his cowling to grapple the other man. The expensive clamshell armor couldn’t prevent the wearer’s arms from being pinned. Nor did it keep the artificial gill from being ripped from his face.
The fight was over. Paul felt numb inside as they looted the bodies and treated their injured. He missed Billy. The sun set when he finally steered the mako towards land. Paul waded ashore in the dark. Onto a beach reserved for locals only.
About the Author
Robert A. Van Buskirk is a tall, athletically handsome and brilliant young writer. But he just might be a liar.
Books by this author
The Wakening Cycle
Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague