Freckles and I descend to the docks in our hijacked ship. A horde of people surrounds the damage I caused with the laser beam. The ships behind us are a stone’s toss away, but clearly letting us land instead of tearing us apart with bullets.
“I think I messed up, Freckles.” Fear pricks at the corners of my eyes, and my arms are permanently tensed. Adrenaline’s coursed through my body too many times today, and I can already feel myself winding down again.
Freckles doesn’t even spare the energy to reply. We both understand how bad of a situation this is.
And, unlike every other situation I’ve been in, I can’t just run away. Even if I do manage to escape the scene somehow, there’ll be cops and mobsters looking to hunt for me on every street in Carmsborough. It wouldn’t be long before I’d be caught.
How do you explain that to the cops? “A mob boss was chasing me, so I stole one of his airships and tried a technology I didn’t understand as a last-ditch effort to avoid death, only to find it would vaporize an entire portion of the Commerce District?”
For that matter, how would I explain this to the mob boss? ‘I wanted to exploit you for money, and when that didn’t work, I took the nuclear option?’
I’d get off easier with the cops.
I shakily land the ship, barely making it to one of the cloudship docks. There’s no way for me to tell if anyone’s waiting for us outside, but I can almost guarantee there is. I look at Freckles. Even though he has no way to show emotion, I can tell he has the same somber weight looming over him as I do.
“Let’s go, bud. If it’s the mob that meets us at the dock, we have to go out swinging. If it’s the police, I want you to find yourself another best friend. Maybe next time, meet someone who isn’t getting into trouble every day.”
I offer my hands again, and he leaps onto my shoulders. Friends ‘til the very end. If we weren’t about to walk into certain doom, I’d probably cry.
We climb the stairs and brace ourselves for whoever’s waiting for us on the dock. By now, the enemy ships should’ve also had a chance to dock, so we’ll for sure get visitors at some point.
“I realize that. I’m not looking forward to it, either.”
I peer off the deck of the ship for a split second. There’s… only one person, standing in anticipation. He’s wearing a bright red business suit with fuzzy white accents, a red tie, a white button-up shirt, and a Santa Hat to top it all off. His left arm is resting on a cane, which he’s pivoting back and forth in front of him in a wide motion.
“Hello?” I call, staring at the man.
“Well, I don’t have all day,” he says, his accent different. Australian, or maybe New Zealand. I don’t know the difference.
I cautiously step off the ship and to the dock, Freckles as suspicious and attentive as I am. The stranger has a smile on his face, with no sign of hostility.
This is confusing.
“Who are you?”
“I am your ticket out of this mess, young girl. Please, come walk with me, and we’ll talk.”
I have no reason to trust this guy. Actually, I have negative reasons to trust this guy, with my number one reason being the fact that none of the mob boss goons have made their appearance yet, even though I can clearly see that their ships landed.
“Fair enough,” he says, noticing my lack of movement. “I understand that trust is a difficult thing, especially to those who have to fend for themselves. Let me tell ya, kid, you’ve made some pretty powerful enemies today, you realize that?”
I glance at the hijacked ship, which is still smoldering from the mess I made earlier. “I’m well aware.”
“You’ve made a mob boss very pissed today. Please, come walk with me. I insist. If you’re worried about those numbskull henchmen, they won’t do a thing with me nearby.”
Without waiting for me, he walks down the dock, using his cane like some old-timey rich-guy flair item. He doesn’t even seem to need to use it. I take slow steps behind him, increasingly curious to see where this is going.
Just who is this man, so confident we won’t be attacked? Surely, he’s not the mob boss, right? That was the big-handed dude from the alleyway, not this jovial man dressed like a holly jolly entrepreneur.
“What’s your name, kiddo?”
“And your cat’s?”
“Ah. Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Luna and Freckles. My name is Bijabers. I’m what you might call the owner of the ship you so haphazardly weaponized against a peaceful civilization.”
Oh, God. He is the mob boss.
“Look, sir. I’m incredibly sorry for what happened back there. I had no clue what that machine did, and your men were chasing me, and I was trying to—”
“Please, spare yourself the breath, Luna. I’d be a hypocrite if I was mad at you for attempting to make a quick buck, even if it did go south like that. For that reason, I’m not upset.”
“You’re not upset?”
He turns to face the two of us. His smile is gone.
“Oh, no. I am. I’m fuming, actually. That technology was way too expensive to be wasted like that. As fun as it was to see the dock get shredded, the materials that went into creating that device are incredibly rare, and I cannot let a transgression like this slide.”
He snaps, and his henchmen flood out from the ships and swarm the surrounding dock. The disproportionate man from the alley also appears, and stands right behind Bijabers. He looks as disgruntled as his boss.
“Your sole saving grace right now, Luna, is that I am in desperate need of people to work my mineral resources mine. The device must be recreated within the next couple of weeks, and so there’s going to be a lot of overtime work for those poor workers. Luckily for you, it just so happens a free excavation overseer position opened up.”
“Let me guess, your idea of ‘working’ is a step above slavery?”
“A step above?” He gives me a twisted but genuine-sounding laugh. “Men, get the girl.”
The horde of bad guys closes in on us, and the large-handed man stares at us intently.
“I want the cat, boss,” he says, smiling. “Consider it my trophy.”
“Alright, Slaphand, you can have the cat. Please, don’t make too much of a mess.”
There’s only one way we’re escaping this one.
I flip the knife out again, and Freckles rolls off of my shoulders. We both get ready to attack Slaphand, who honestly couldn’t have picked a more suitable mob name for himself. He cracks his hot-dog fingers and charges at us.
I throw the knife at him as he runs, which surprisingly goes blade-first into his shoulder. He winces a little, but doesn’t lose momentum until Freckles pounces at him, smashing the knife further in. Then he stops, grabs the knife from his shoulder, and kicks Freckles, who does a flip midair and lands on his paws. Before Freckles can go in for another attack, Slaphand’s already reached me. He aggressively picks me up with both hands.
I squirm, but it’s no use. His massive hands keep a tight grip on my arms and stomach, and I’m at his mercy. He furrows his brow, lifts me above his uninjured shoulder, and launches me high into the air.
I scream as I fly off the side of the dock. The water below is awake and ready for me. Somehow, out of everything that’s happened today so far, being thrown off the dock is the scariest. I try to take a quick breath, but lose all of my stored air on impact.
The water is deep and dark, and I can feel its cold pressure pushing against my chest. Panic swells in my lungs, but I do my best to not breathe instinctively. At some point, the inertia of being thrown wears off, and I stop sinking as fast. All I have to do is make it to the surface before it’s too late.
How deep was I thrown? I desperately swing my arms towards the surface, but I can feel the ebbing and flowing of the water fighting against my every move. The faint lights of incandescent bulbs hover above me, but no matter how hard I move my arms and legs, I can’t seem to reach them.
I’m gonna drown.
No, please… this can’t be how I go.
There’s so much still to do. Find a job, get new clothes, have a life, and maybe even start a family. I can’t lose it all because of one lousy day and one big accident.
Focus, Luna. You’ve got this. Just swim to the top and get some air. That’s all you’ve gotta do.
I throw my hands up even harder, scooping at the water with as much exertion as my drained body can muster. The surface of the water is more visible, and so close. My brain is pounding from lack of oxygen, but I keep going. I have to.
Finally, lightheaded and losing sight, my head emerges, and I take the biggest breath of air in my life. And then the second-biggest one.
Surrounding me from on the docks is the crowd of henchmen, watching and waiting for me to climb up. There’s a ladder not too far away, but I can’t just walk back into this mess, right?
In front of me, Bijabers and Slaphand appear, the latter carrying Freckles in a large metal cage. He’s hissing from inside, but he almost sounds scared or sad.
“It’s over, kid,” Bijabers says, echoing my thoughts. “Might as well join the rest of the party.”
“You’ll never get away with this, Bijabers. Orion and the Clockwork will stop you, and you’ll go to jail, just like Syndra did.”
He lets out another equally twisted laugh. I hate the sound.
“Sweetheart, Orion and the Clockwork have no clue we exist. Your precious little boy wonder is on the complete opposite side of town, having dinner with his father and sister. You’ve lost.”
I make the climb of shame up to the dock, where a group of them immediately handcuff me and push me away from Freckles, Slaphand, Bijabers, and the wreck of a ship that I’d steered moments ago. I strain my neck, trying to look back at my caged cat, but Slaphand has already disappeared with my best friend.
Along with some other apparent victims of Bijabers and his goons, I’m loaded onto a normal-sized airship a little further down the docks. They line us up and chain us to a wall in what appears to be an old armory or living quarters. Thugs armed with guns and batons pace the room, even though there’s only four of us and I’m the only one who looks anywhere close to physically capable.
But I am exhausted. My legs are jelly and it’s hard for me to stand, but my handcuffs are way too high on the wall for me to sit. It’s the second-worst mental torture they’re putting me through. The first is not knowing where Freckles is or where I’m headed.
“Why’d they pick you up?” the man closest to me asks. He’s severely beaten, with bruises and cuts blanketing his visible skin.
“I used some super-valuable technology of theirs to accidentally blow up a commerce dock. You?”
“The loan I took with them was too much, and I couldn’t pay it on time, so I decided to go out with a bang.” He points to his very obvious damages. “You should see the other guy.”
That’s so… mundane. You mean to tell me I’m going to the same slave island as a guy who couldn’t pay a loan he took irresponsibly? I did infinitely more damage to Bijabers than this random schmuck, and yet we’re both gonna end up getting black lung and dying in a mineshaft for whatever “precious minerals” the psychopath wants.
“What’d you two do?” I ask, looking at the two others chained on the opposite wall.
“The same. We couldn’t pay our debt.”
“So I’m stuck on a slaver ship with three people, whose only crimes are poor money management?”
“That’s most of the people he gets,” the guy beside me says. “Poor chumps trying to make it to the next paycheck that can’t afford his rate but take the loan, anyway. He also snags people who oppose him before they make too much of a scene. That way, he stays undetected to the police and Orion.”
“Do you think Orion will save us?” one of them asks.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” I answer.
∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙
Even though I’m stuck standing against the hard wooden wall, I manage to doze off until the ship comes to a stop an undetermined amount of time and Bijabers’ goons drag us off the ship. The moon sits high in the sky above us as we walk to shore, attached to each other single-file with one long chain.
“Where are we going?” I ask, hoping one of the goons or prisoners will have an answer.
“You will be going to the sleeping hall for the night,” a henchman answers. “Find a room and get some rest before your supervisors give you your jobs. You will wake up at six o’clock sharp, just like the rest of the workers, and start your day with breakfast at the mess hall.”
“Sounds like a life of luxury.”
“Keep yapping, and I’ll make sure your life of luxury doesn’t involve a tongue.”
He makes a pretty convincing argument.
We walk for another five minutes before finally arriving at a building. A clock on the side reveals that midnight is only twenty minutes away.
But how? How long was our flight? Are we on the south side of Carmsborough, near the Agriculture District?
“Get inside and find a room,” the man says, opening the door for us and unlocking our chains. I subconsciously feel my wrist where the cuff has rubbed it raw, wandering around the inside of the unlit building. Outlines of sleeping people litter the floor, and we have to step over someone almost every time we move our feet.
Eventually, the four of us branch off, and I locate a little offshoot room with enough space for me to curl up on the floor. It’s no different from what I’m used to, if not a little more cramped and a lot stuffier.
I spend the rest of my waking moments thinking about Freckles and how alone he must be in his cage, but despite my worrying and the nap on board the slaver ship, I fall asleep quickly.
- United States
- Michael Heckman
Michael has always had a love for writing that stems from writing a short story about turtles on his family computer in second grade. From there, he never stopped writing, and wrote his first ten-thousand-word book in the third grade, igniting his passion for storytelling.
Now, the only thing stopping Michael from writing more is his schedule. Ideas like LUNA ON THE RUN and THE GHOST OF THE HINDENBURG keep him up at night, plotting his creative path forward.