Sprayby Harry Edge
Five teenagers enrol in a play assassination game in a fictional city: Shell, a student, with a perky exterior hiding a vulnerable need to prove herself, falls for Mac when required to assassinate him; Mac a student drop out, resentful of his parents' divorce a year before the story starts, what he doesn't know is that his sister Han has joined the game to find… See more details below
Five teenagers enrol in a play assassination game in a fictional city: Shell, a student, with a perky exterior hiding a vulnerable need to prove herself, falls for Mac when required to assassinate him; Mac a student drop out, resentful of his parents' divorce a year before the story starts, what he doesn't know is that his sister Han has joined the game to find him; Green, a computer geek, is overweight and has issues with self-esteem, like Shell he sees the game as a chance to prove himself as well as interact with people his own age; Zed is feisty and attractive and a metal head goth by night, by day a student nurse - Zed is a chameleon and pretty ruthless, the most competitive of all perhaps, but does she know who she really is? The buzz in this 'street war' is that you feel like a player in a real action movie with all of the adrenalin and the strategy and the pace, without the danger The game is organised online by the elusive 'gamekeeper' and all players meet him once, to collect the details of their first target on a laminated card ... Meanwhile their name is also down as a target, for whom, they don't know...all they know is that they have to be on their guard, always looking over their shoulder, ready to dodge their 'assailant'. These five teens have their own stories to tell, their own relationships unresolved, for some the game and the end result is more important than others. But what becomes clear, as the plot and the game unravels, is that the danger is more real than they thought, and that the Gamekeeper has a shady agenda of his own.
A group of British teens join a shooter alternate-reality game (ARG) in which assassins pursue their prey with super-soaker water guns. Edge's story twists between five to six major characters, including Green, an information-technology university student, Han, a 15-year-old girl bent on victory, and Mac, a 17-year-old boy who works in a burger bar. The author obviously knows the ins and outs of alternate-reality gaming, and he pens fast-paced action sequences that should have readers pounding through the more exciting portions of the novel. However, he also introduces and pursues too many side characters, which, although truthful to the ARG experience, distracts from the work's central arc. What's more, the novel's authentic-feeling, ARG-based framework may excite readers at first, but it eventually loses momentum as page after page builds upon one character's pursuit by another and the resulting soaking. Also important to note is that readers may be taken aback by the lack of any real consequences other than said soaking. What results is a fast-paced, one-trick pony of an action novel.(Thriller. 12 & up)
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By Harry Edge
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2008 Harry Edge
All rights reserved.
Saturday 11:14 P.M.
Someone was after him already. The game didn't start until midnight tomorrow. There should be no immediate danger. Most likely, the assassin planned to follow Mac to his rented apartment, where he would lay in wait. But that wasn't where Mac was heading.
Mac stopped suddenly. No footsteps behind him. Was he mistaken? Mac got to the bus stop and put his hood up. It wasn't raining, but the air felt muggy enough for there to be a storm. The buses only ran for another hour. He wouldn't be able to get one back.
If the prospect was promising enough, Mac would find a hiding place. He didn't have to be back at work until two on Monday. By then, he meant to be at least two targets down.
The number 5 bus appeared at the far end of the street. Just then, the first drops of rain began to fall. First rain in weeks. It was warm, yet refreshing. As the bus came to a halt, a guy arrived from out of nowhere. Middle aged, bald, he paid his fare and sat three seats back from Mac. Was he the assassin? Mostly, it was young people who played the game, but there was no upper age limit. The rules only stated that you had to be over fifteen.
The light on the bus flickered on and off. A faulty bulb, nothing more. Raindrops glistened on the window, backlit by street lamps. When Mac got off the bus, the balding guy didn't follow. Outside, the rain had stopped almost as soon as it began. The evening had become even more humid, unseasonably sticky.
Mac examined his laminate. A scruffy guy with thick glasses had given it to him in the waiting room of a derelict bus station. For no good reason, Mac had been expecting a guy as his first target. Instead, the guy had given him a grown woman. Jal, aged twenty-four, worked in an elementary school and lived in a shared house on the east side of the city. Her name wasn't her real name, any more than Mac's was. Many Spray players chose three- or four-letter names or silly nicknames as their player ID. Jal was pretty, if the photo was anything to go by. Mac wondered what she did on Saturday nights.
He had checked the phone book. Her house was around the next corner. It felt a little evil, arriving at a stranger's house after midnight, staking her out. What if someone called the police? The authorities knew about the game. They had tried to ban it, but there was no law against people using water pistols. To stop himself from being arrested Mac only had to show his laminate. By giving their details, targets gave you permission to enter their house, as long as it was to spray, not steal. And as long as you didn't actually break in.
The house was a nondescript two story with red paint flaking off its brick walls. There was a light on inside. The curtains were half open. Mac ducked beneath the fence at the front and waited. After a while, he used his binoculars. That was her all right: Jal, with two guys and another girl. It looked like they were watching a movie.
Mac had confirmed his target. Now he needed a place to hide. He walked around the perimeter of the house until he found a back gate with no lock. He let himself in, hood up, hands thrust in pockets. The best thing to do would be to sneak inside the shared house, be ready to do her as soon as midnight struck tomorrow. But twenty-three hours would be a long wait, and he had just pulled a long shift. To play Spray, you had to be patient. The game was three weeks long and it hadn't started yet.
Mac would return tomorrow.
Saturday 11:52 P.M.
"Where did you meet him?" Cliff asked Shell.
"A rundown garage near the mini-mart. He was wearing a Yankees cap and this disgusting old raincoat. Yours?"
"He had a false beard and glasses when we met, really obvious fake, like he didn't care who knew. About my height."
"Mine wasn't as tall as you. Maybe there's more than one."
"Who cares? Want to compare targets?"
Cliff gave her one of his easy, cheeky smiles. Shell and Cliff had rooms in the same dorm building but this was the longest conversation they'd ever had. Cliff usually gave the impression he was looking down his nose at her. His attitude made Shell come over all perky and girly, a side of herself she didn't like. Yet, recently, Cliff seemed to be interested in her. Earlier in the day, when they'd been testing out their water pistols at the city park, he'd followed her around until he'd given her a good soaking. Tonight, he kept flirting with her.
"I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours," he went on.
Shell was crap at saying no. But no, she decided.
"Maybe later," she said. Several boarders at the City Academy had paid their money and tried to register for the game. There was a limit of two hundred players. So far, only the two of them had been accepted. At some point, they might be up against each other. Secrecy, as Shell saw it, was essential.
Cliff put his arm around Shell. He was very touchy-feely with other girls but never, before, with her.
"Come on, Shell. You know you want to share."
Before Shell could reply, Maiko knocked on her door. Shy Maiko had also applied to join the game. She seemed an unlikely assassin, but Shell suspected she had ulterior motives.
"Hey, Maiko! Did you hear yet?" Maiko tossed back her long, dark hair and shook her head.
"Look at this." Cliff handed Maiko his card. She read it out loud:
"Prak. Works in a bank, lives on the other side of town. That sounds like a high-rise building, Cliff. Could be a tough one."
"We've got twenty-four hours before the game begins. By Monday, I'll know his routine, get him on the way to work maybe."
"It's weird," Shell said, "knowing someone out there has my location and my e-mail and they're coming to get me."
"Not if somebody else gets them first," Maiko pointed out. There was a loud ping from her laptop. Maiko opened it. Cliff looked over her shoulder.
"Too late to back out now," he said. "That's your contact e-mail from the gamekeeper."
The Game Is On! read the subject line. Maiko opened it:
Thank you for your contribution. You have been registered in the game that begins at midnight tomorrow. Please read the following carefully.
You must be available to meet the gamekeeper at any time during the week before the game begins. He will e-mail you a time and a location where you must meet him the next day. At the meeting, he will give you a manila envelope containing a laminated card that displays the following:
Your first target's game name and a recent photograph
Your intended target's home address
Your intended target's work address
Your intended target's real name and contact details
Keep this card with you at all times. Your mission is to find and spray (by water gun, water balloon, or Super Soaker) the target.
You can hunt your target down however you see fit; you can pose as a delivery person and spray them when they open the door. You may disguise yourself and soak them in the street, etc. You may not hunt them down at work (or within a block of their work), at their place of study, or on public transportation (including waiting areas). Breaking and entering is also forbidden. Any infraction will result in disqualification and your target's reinstatement. You may work with other players, but there can be only one assassin, and only one winner.
Further refinements to these rules will be given to you with your target card. Rules may change or be added to. You must inform the gamekeeper of all successful soakings within four hours. Cooperation is mandatory. When you are assassinated you must surrender your target card to your assailant. If you are successful in your assassination attempt, the person you sprayed will give you their laminate. The person they were supposed to spray next becomes your new target. This continues until you have worked through all remaining players and retrieve the laminate with your name on it. At this point, you may claim your prize.
"It's so exciting," Maiko said. "Now all three of us are playing!"
"But only one of us can win," Cliff pointed out. "Let's make a deal. Whoever lasts the longest, the other two will help them. Deal?"
"Deal!" the other two agreed.
They began to discuss game strategy. It was just after midnight when Maiko's email pinged again. The new mail was from the gamekeeper.
You are to meet me this evening on the third floor of the multistory parking garage at 216 City Road. I will be by the pay machine at 6:15 precisely. Do not be late or your place will be forfeited.
Her computer gave another loud ping. The three of them read the e-mail highlighted on the screen. The sender was anonymous. You are my first target, it said. I shall take you out on Monday, at 12:01.
Sunday 9:04 A.M.
Two men stood outside the dorm building.
"Spray surveillance?" The dude talking had wiry hair and a thin mustache. Age: thirty at most. "Maybe we can help each other."
"Sure," Green said. He held out his laminate. This dude wasn't his target. "Let's see yours."
He looked at Mustache's laminate. Her Spray name was Maiko. She lived in the same mixed dorm as Green's target, on a girls' wing. She had no part-time job, unlike most students. Mustache wasn't allowed to break into her room or attack her in buildings where she studied, so she might be tricky to spray in the short term.
"I want to hit her at 12:01. Are you a student?"
Green shook his head. "I'm IT support all over the Academy campus."
"Nice. Means you can't be sprayed here. I have a plan."
Green listened. He had a few plans of his own. He was going to win this game. But you had to use other players. He was happy to steal their ideas. That was how you got on.
The plan was a good one.
"Okay," Mustache finished. "All we have to do is swap cards."
Sunday 11:28 A.M.
"Are you the gamekeeper?" Han asked the clean-shaven man wearing thick, dark glasses.
"No. I'm his assistant. How old are you?"
"Nearly sixteen," Han lied. "Do you want a birth certificate?"
"No," the gamekeeper's assistant said. "I'm aware that you sent in proof of age and identity, but, in person, you look very young."
"I'm trying to," Han said. "That way, my targets won't notice me coming. I thought I might wear a school uniform some of the time."
"Most high schools have spring break soon," the assistant said. "A uniform would make you conspicuous."
"Thanks for the advice."
He handed her the card containing the name and details of her first target. Han glanced at the contents. It wasn't who she wanted.
"Thanks," she said to the man, whose shape and face were largely concealed by his coat and the woolen ski mask he wore.
"Good luck," the gamekeeper's assistant said. "I'm sorry to give you the information so late. We're short staffed. Please wait here for two minutes before leaving."
Han stood at the door, watching him go. He had sensed that she was too young but didn't seem to care. Not much, anyway. Behind her, in the musty, derelict church, a rat darted between the pews. Less than a minute had passed, but it was long enough. She hated waiting.
Sunday 4:17 P.M.
Shell opened the door to a plump guy with dark, curly hair. She didn't recognize him. At first, she thought he was another student. She could usually tell students and civilians apart. The guy wore no-brand sneakers, a plain T-shirt, and baggy jeans. A screwdriver handle poked out of a front pocket. Not a student, Shell decided.
"I'm here to help with Maiko's computer," he said.
"Tech support on a Sunday?" This had to be part of the game.
"I was called in."
"Can you show me some ID?"
He showed her a staff card that looked genuine, with a photo ID. As he was putting it away, Shell glimpsed another card beneath it, a credit card–sized laminate like the one the gamekeeper had given her.
"Can I take a closer look?"
She snatched the guy's wallet and, before he could object, had lifted the laminate high enough to read Maiko's name.
"Maiko's not in," she told him. "She's meeting the gamekeeper, getting her target details. So I'm afraid you're a little early." She turned around and yelled down the corridor. "Cliff!"
Cliff stumbled out of his room. "What is it?"
"You ought to meet this guy. He's Maiko's assassin."
"Really?" Cliff reached into his pocket. There was a whirring noise. The big guy seemed not to hear it, for he didn't hurry off. He had a sheepish smile on his face, like he'd been caught out but didn't mind. A real loser.
"It's only a game, right?" he said. "Spray and be sprayed. You playing, too?"
Cliff nodded. Before the fake tech guy could turn around, Cliff whipped out his phone and took a photo.
"Neat," the big guy said. "Let's see."
He leaned over and looked at the picture. "Not a bad likeness. See you later, dude."
"I hope they're all as stupid as him," Cliff told Shell when the big guy was gone. "One of us might have a chance of winning."
Sunday 10:39 P.M.
It was warm enough to be in shirt sleeves, but Mac wore an old gray windbreaker with big pockets. He had been home for sleep, a shower, a shave, and something to eat. The game started in eighty minutes. Jal — if she was here — would be on her guard. There were no lights on in the house. Mac guessed she was away, staking out her own target. Or she and her housemates might have gone out.
He tried the back door. Locked. He had two options. One was to sneak into the house when one or all of the residents returned from wherever they were. The other was to hide out. Jal didn't drive. He'd checked her route to work. A bus would drop her off within a block of her school, so he had to get her before she got on the bus.
He heard footsteps. One set. Was this her coming back? No. Too heavy. Mac crouched behind the garbage cans at the rear of the house. The back gate had been left open, not by him. He had a narrow view of the street. A silhouette passed. It could be, almost certainly was, the bald guy from the night before. Luckily, Baldy didn't pause, or look around, but kept walking.
Okay, so Baldy must live around here. No need to be paranoid. No, take that back; there was a need to be paranoid, but the guy hadn't spotted him. If he was playing the game, he was probably on his way to Mac's home, staking him out there. Mac had left a light on in his first-floor apartment. Let Baldy watch as long as he wanted. Mac had no intention of returning tonight.
The street was quiet again. Time to find a hiding place.
Sunday 11:58 P.M.
"Why aren't you out stalking your targets?" Shell asked Cliff and Maiko.
"I've taken a look at mine," Cliff said. "There's no hurry. Everyone's going to be on their guard at first, running around like crazy. I plan to lull mine into a sense of false security."
"If your assassin doesn't get you first," Shell pointed out.
"We'll be fine if we stick together," Cliff said. "And we already know what Maiko's looks like."
"You could hardly miss him!" Shell said.
"He's there now!" Maiko said, pointing out of the window. "He said he'd get me at 12:01 and there he is, waiting to come in!"
Something felt wrong. Nobody would be so brazen, Shell thought, no matter how stupid they were.
"Let's go and scare him off!" Cliff said.
"I'll stay here with Maiko and watch," Shell told him. Cliff shot off down the corridor, yelling. Doors opened. Other students hurried out after Cliff, wanting to know what the fuss was all about.
"This is exciting, isn't it?" Maiko said. "I'm glad I let Cliff persuade me to join."
"You like Cliff, don't you?" Shell said.
"Everyone likes Cliff," Maiko said with a shrug. "Isn't he why you joined the game?"
"No!" Shell said as a crowd of students clattered onto the concourse outside the dorm. No campus security yet. The Academy authorities said the game was irresponsible. Bystanders could be frightened. But the Academy hadn't banned it.
Excerpted from Spray by Harry Edge. Copyright © 2008 Harry Edge. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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