A little before noon Sasha and Brandon wandered into the long tent that covered the food area. A dozen vendors of fast food had set up ad hoc shop on one of the two long sides. Long fold-up tables covered the sawdust-covered remainder of the shade. At regular intervals on the other long side large green plastic garbage cans stood, their interiors covered by huge black plastic garbage bags.
Waving arms from one table in the middle of the room turned out to belong to their two friends. Sasha and Brandon left their gun carry cases with them and separated to get the food of their choice. Hers was a huge pizza covered in every condiment available and two large fruit drinks. His was an equally large bowl of beef bourguignon stew with rolls and a pitcher of ice water.
Martha eyed Sasha’s pizza, then her trim muscled waist. “Are you eating for two, baby girl?” She was nibbling on a salad.
Sasha sat and laid out her food and drink, using it as cover for thought.
Too many of the changes in herself after her resurrection were visible. She had to have some explanation. And one that suggested the changes had begun long many months ago.
“You’re pregnant? Who’s the unlucky guy?” Brandon’s face took on a look of wide-eyed innocence.
Sasha turned toward him and used her free hand to punch him none-too-lightly in his closest bicep. She turned back to Martha.
“I’ve had another growth spurt. Starting maybe a year ago. Then a few months ago I had an accident and went into a coma. That’s where I got this.” She bit into a slice of pizza, tapping the hair on a side of her head and the skin on one of her cheeks with two fingers of her free hand.
“The growth came with extra speed and strength, but I have to eat more.”
“What are you now?” said Linda. She was finishing a burrito and Pepsi and had finished several more burritos earlier to judge by the debris on her plate.
“Little over five ten.”
“Good thing you switched out of gymnastics.” Tiny Linda knew all about the square-cube law and how it affected agility.
“Yeah. At five six I could have still competed, but even then it was getting hard to do the spins and rotations. But enough about me. It’s getting boring.”
“You can say that again,” her always supportive older brother volunteered.
She gave him The Look. He managed heroically not to shudder.
Martha, it turned out, had gone into event planning several years ago. Sasha knew this, but not Brandon nor, apparently, Linda.
“I’ve got three people working for me full-time and a couple dozen temps I can call on. For bigger events –” She gave an all-inclusive gesture at the tent. “– I can subcontract.”
“With good results,” Brandon said, lifting his nearly empty bowl of beef bourguignon. “How did you get to know Martha?” he asked his sister.
“She was my first skeet and trap instructor. Helped me pick my first shotgun.”
Martha said, “How’s your game now?”
Sasha polished the first of her two quart soft drinks. “No one even comes close to me.”
Martha raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Come to the Tactical Shotgun free-for-all and see for yourself. I signed up for it online and talked to the lead organizer over the phone to get a waiver for the safety meeting. It turned out they knew me from the World Cup competitions.”
Brandon turned to Linda. “Sasha placed several seconds and thirds and one first.”
Linda nodded. She had said little but listened with great interest to Martha and Linda.
Martha looked closely at her. “You feeling all right, baby girl?”
“Never better, luv. Don’t fuss.”
Martha looked at Sasha and Brandon. “Linda had chemotherapy last year, and has boosters every few months. They think they got it all.”
Sasha had detected Linda’s cancer earlier and commanded the woman’s body to become perfectly healthy. Now she laid a hand on Linda’s wrist and leaned toward her with a concerned look as she used this action as a cover to check underneath.
The last of the cancer had been dealt with and would never recur. Nor would any other illness. The scourging of the cancer had left Linda a weak and a little euphoric.
Sasha released her friend’s wrist and leaned back. She healed mostly by commanding the body of her “patient” to heal itself using its natural resources. In emergencies some of her shapechanging ability seems to go inside their body and take over command of the healing. But she could not, at least yet, control well how fast the healing happened.
“Honest,” Linda said. “I feel really good. I think I just went a little too long between eating.
“Now, shouldn’t we get back to the tent? We always have more people in the afternoons.”
Brandon had his own gun enthusiasms. He especially liked the old “cowboy guns” like the single-action Colts Peacemaker and the Smith and Wesson Russian Model. They looked at several at some vendor tables. One held a small flat screen TV showing loops of men and a woman drawing and firing long-barreled black-powder cavalry revolvers.
Brandon was impressed at the huge bloom of smoke that attended each shot. “I’ll bet they couldn’t even see each other in bar shootouts after a few shots.”
Sasha nodded. “Very likely.”
At the Cowboy Fast Draw exhibition no one was firing real bullets downrange, only electronic ones. There was too much chance that an amateur would shoot themselves (or someone else!) in the leg. Brandon did pretty well at point and shoot at close ranges. Few others did. It was much harder than it looked.
He said, “I’ll bet in those old gunfights they only hit each other if they were lucky.”
The older grey-bearded “cowboy” helping them said, “Yeah. They came at each other with guns already drawn. And shot two-handed aimed fire. Or shot from ambush. Or with a rifle.
“Little lady, you want to try?”
She shook her head.
“You sure? For you it would be free. Give you just a taste.”
Suddenly both Sasha’s pistols were in her hands, pointing down-range. Brandon and the man blinked. It had seemed like magic.
“Ah, little lady. Are those empty?”
“Yes. You can double-check if you want.”
“Uh, yeah. If you don’t mind. Better to be safe than sorry.”
She surrendered her pistols while he checked. While he did so Brandon told him she was a competitive shooter.
“Pretty good, are you?”
She agreed with the man that she was indeed pretty good.
As they walked away Brandon prodded her in the ribs with an elbow.
“Don’t do stuff like that. You almost made me shit my pants.”
Sasha especially wanted to see sniper rifles. They could hit targets more than a mile away, which might be a real challenge to her. Most sports had become so easy that they were no longer fun.
There was a section of the long firing line dedicated to those rifles. Trailing off for over a mile were two lines of yellow flags delineating the path bullets should follow. At the base of a set of tall hills a half-dozen yellow man-sized targets were flanked by targets with the outline of a military vehicle of some kind.
The tables for the sniper rifles were tended by a half-dozen men and one woman in pale grey and brown desert camouflage. A long sign on a high framework a few yards back framed a marquee view of the downrange area. The sign read in olive colors against a cream background A FEW GOOD MEN. Between the “good” and the “men” had been crammed a bold black WO to correct the “men” to “women.” It was part of a new Marine Corps recruitment campaign.
Brandon stepped up to a middle table and spoke to a young sergeant there who was about his size.
“You’re up from Camp Pendleton?” The northern border of that huge Marine military base was a dozen miles to the south.
“Yes, sir, we are.”
Sasha’s attention were all for the guns, most lying pointing downrange on a set of firing tables further in from the first line of tables, which contained mostly recruiting pamphlets. But one of them lay, magazineless and its action locked open to show it was empty, on the table they had walked to.
“Can I shoot one?”
The boyish sergeant glanced between the two siblings before him, eyed Sasha’s two holstered pistols, and examined the tall athletic figure so well-displayed by her brief clothing. The exam was professional with a liberal dose of personal. Sasha had always been pretty but since her death had become almost shockingly beautiful. She tried to tone it down, but had indifferent success.
“Yes, ma’am, you can. If you’ll step this way?”
She and then Brandon followed him to a firing table. “Have you had some experience with rifles?”
“I compete in Olympic-style shooting. It’s not very practical, but I know the basics.”
“Well, I’ll skip most of the basics.” He then gave her a brief intro to the weapon on the table and how to fire it.
“May I pick it up?”
“It’s a bit heavy.”
Brandon grinned. “Sergeant, she can pick up a dinner table one handed and hold it at arms length.”
The sergeant looked over at an older man with several stripes on his lapel. Before he could say anything his superior glanced at him and spoke.
“You’re doing fine, Sergeant Wilson. Carry on.” With that he turned back to another civilian to whom he was speaking about the advantages of signing up for the Corps.
Sasha picked up the gun. It was quite long, almost four feet, much of it barrel, had a simple spring-loaded recoil butt, and a flash suppressor on the tip. The shot magazine could hold ten cartridges, each about five inches long.
She looked through the scope, slid one hand back to the weapon’s center point to support it single-handed, and reached up to adjust the scope. The previous handler had misadjusted it.
She sensed a motion to one side and turned her head to see the boyish sergeant abort a grab. He had been worried that she could not hold the heavy weapon. She looked calmly in his eyes. He stared back, shifted his gaze to look at her single-handed grip on the balance point of the weapon. Watched a few seconds while her grip wavered not at all. Nodded.
Sasha placed one hand on the pistol grip of the weapon, trigger finger alongside not in the trigger guard. She shifted her other hand forward so that she held the weapon in a secure firing grip.
“May I fire a ranging shot?”
“Not standing up, miss. That thing really kicks.”
“Just one shot, standing.”
“No, miss, I can’t allow it.”
Damn it, was she going to have to buy one of these things to play properly with it?
The master sergeant came to stand nearby. “I think we can allow it, Sergeant Wilson. Very carefully.”
He came forward and the other sergeant stepped aside. He picked up a fat magazine, clicked it into place in another sniper rifle, chambered a cartridge and laid it down.
“Now, I’m going to fire a round the way you want to. Put on your ear protectors and stand over here to the side. Watch my body as I fire.”
He glanced around. Sergeant Wilson had been talking to the other people nearby. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and donned hearing protectors, or were standing at least twenty feet away poised to stick their fingers in their ears.
The woman sergeant picked up a microphone.
“One shot. Ranging. Ready on the right? Ready on the left?”
She glanced both ways, eased her ear pads on, and spoke.
“Fire when ready.”
The master sergeant sighted, breathed in then slowly out. Sasha saw the instant when the trigger “broke” and the gun fired. The sturdy sergeant’s body rocked back maybe a foot.
A Marine corporal standing off to one side had been looking through a long fat spotting scope mounted on a tripod. He lowered his ear protectors to his neck.
“Number one man, head shot, about two inches right of center.”
The master sergeant adjusted the scope. “We have a strong cross-wind downrange. It seems to have moderated. It’s been pretty steady all day, but nearing sundown it would begin to gust. You could not get consistent shots. This is a pretty heavy bullet, though, so you might still be able to make your target.”
He lifted the heavy rifle. He had not taken his ear cups off, so he’d been speaking loudly.
“One ranging shot.”
The female sergeant went through the same routine as before.
This time Sasha watched downrange. She saw the bullet disappear, a bright line in the air for a few seconds that wiggled, wiggled worse, and disappeared.
Apparently her body had decided it was time for her to begin seeing heat waves, or so she guessed that was what she was seeing.
She also saw a slight wavering brightness in the air below the targets. There was an area of bare rock there, and the heat from it was imitating a fire causing an updraft.
“I imagine you also get updrafts from all the hot rock out there,” she said.
The master sergeant nodded.
“Man one, head shot, center.”
“OK, it’s your turn,” the sergeant said. He extracted the magazine and automatically fed into it two cartridges to make up for the fired ones. He also loaded a single cartridge into an empty magazine and loaded the magazine into the weapon he had been using.
He lead her through positioning it against her shoulder and supporting its weight with her shoulder and forward hand while she released the slide to chamber the cartridge.
Sasha felt her nipples tighten. They tingled. So did something in her vagina. His odor and touch had triggered it.
Damn! What a fine time for her hormones finally to kick in and bring her to full maturity. It didn’t happen to some female athletes until they reached twenty.
She repressed the urge and another urge for her body to release pheromones, or something like that, to turn on the sergeant. Though his scent told her he was already slightly aroused. She was used to that in men.
She sighted on the head of the human-shaped target to the right of Man One, breathed in and let her breath ooze out as she squ-e-e-e-zed the trigger.
Her body rocked back slightly at the recoil.
“Man two, head shot, center.”
She set the gun down, carefully. Her whole body had seemed to wake up to 150 percent aliveness. She loved this!
“How much do you weigh?” the sergeant asked.
Her body supplied the answer, based she idly realized upon the feel of her soles pressing down against her shoes. “I’m 74 kilograms.”
Then the significance penetrated. She whirled to look at Brandon. That worthy had moved closer to the female sergeant, and she had moved closer to him.
“I’m a half heavyweight now! I won’t have to fight Saya!”
Happiness bloomed in her chest. She had been prepared to let Saya beat her at the Olympics. It wasn’t fair for a superhuman to compete with a human. Once she had fulfilled her obligations to her Olympic supporters she could quit sports competition.
“Who’s Saya?” said Sergeant Wilson.
The corporal who had been spotting said excitedly, “World Judo silver medallist. And this is Sasha Canaro. Crime-Buster Canaro!”
The master sergeant did not seem surprised. “Corporal Liggett, now that you’ve made your little announcement, maybe you could resume your duties. Later I will make very clear to you why you have outdone yourself.”
The corporal glanced down at his hands, chastened. But he immediately looked back up at Sasha with a happy expression.
The sergeant said, “So you’re 160-something pounds. I wouldn’t have guessed it, looking at you. But I suppose you’re pretty much all muscle and just a tad of fat.
“Did you lean into the shot? You recoiled only an inch or two.”
“No. I just took the shot and let my body adjust to the recoil.”
He digested that. “You still want to try a standing shot?”
Coaxingly she said, “Three shots? Heart shots?”
He loaded nine of the cigar-sized cartridges into a magazine and swapped it with the empty one in her weapon.
“Better. Shoot three on each of the three targets on the left. Take your time and do it right.”
Sasha hefted the sniper rifle into battery. It felt light as a feather to her. Then she slowed the world to her limit. She felt fully alive!
Three shots on man one. Three on man two. Three on man three.
She let time catch up to her. Set the gun down.
“Damn, that was fast, Sash’. Bet you missed the targets.”
She grinned at her brother. He and the female sergeant stood together now. “You know better than to bet against me.”
“Man one heart shots. Man two heart shots. Man three heart shots.”
She favored Brandon with an exaggeratedly smug look, then turned her public face to the master sergeant. He had taken the spotting scope from the corporal and was looking through. Now he handed it back.
“Impressive shooting, Miss. Very good clustering. In fact the last three were so close I almost thought you had missed a shot.
“But you rushed yourself. You might want to work on that.”
“Sorry to disagree. But I never rush. And I never miss.”
She considered. “Two years ago I did. It was a misfire.”
He thought, nodded so slightly he might not even have realized he’d done it.
“It was a pleasure working with you, Miss. You’d make a good addition to the Corps. What are your plans for the next few years?”
“I’m going to the Olympics, if they pick me. Then it’s college, probably. Then?” She shrugged.
“If you completed a tour in the Corps and serve as well as I think you would you could count on the Corps to put you through college. Anyway, think about it. Here’s my card. If you want to talk, about anything, you call me. Any time. Any day.”
He turned away and approached someone looking over a recruiting booklet.
I’d like to call you and tell you to meet me at a motel.
Damn it! Her biology was acting up again! She suppressed her sex drive, again.
Then she had to autograph the corporal’s booklet and those of two of the sergeant’s. Though not the female one. She was more interested in Brandon’s autograph, or phone number, Sasha was sure. And Brandon was equally interested in getting her phone number.
Then she had to go outside the sniper rifle area to give autographs to a couple dozen civilians. As she did so she considered the possible liaison between her brother and the sergeant. She was a few years older and a tough lady. Her bro’ might just be getting a LITTLE over his head with that one.
She smiled. He was smug bastard with women. He might be getting just what he deserved.