I wake to the uncomfortably loud buzzing sound of the morning alarm reverberating through the building. My whole body feels achy and groggy from all the physical exertion these past couple of days. Surely it can’t be six o’clock already, right?
The noise of rustling in the room confirms my worry.
There goes my naïve hope that this was all some twisted nightmare. Night three without Freckles, and I’m in the denial stage. I need to escape this place–and fast.
First, I need to make sure and see if he’s even on the island, or figure out if he got carried away somewhere else.
“Good to see you are on time today, Luna,” Mary says, holding two bowls in her hands. “I snagged us some breakfast before they closed shop this morning.”
“You’re the best, Mary.” As unappetizing as plain oatmeal normally is, it’s food, and right now, that’s all I need.
Nothing interesting happened after lunch yesterday, other than a bit more patrolling and some yelling between quarries. Quarry three still never got their machinery running, which made me more than a little upset at the time, but I realized during dinner that I honestly don’t care. I’m not gonna be Slaphand’s pet Overseer for a literal slave operation that I am actively being forced to participate in.
I never saw him again yesterday, either. If I had to take an educated guess, I’d say he’s been hiding away in the Administration building this whole time.
After dinner, I took a shower in a disgusting public bathroom and went to sleep on the hard linoleum floor. At least the bathrooms had privacy.
And, of course, I dreamt of Freckles. If I’d recognized how big of an impact that cat would have on me, I would’ve treated him so much better. Maybe I would’ve even listened to what he had to say. He was scarily good at keeping me in line and making sure we didn’t get into trouble. Something tells me I’ll need his wisdom here, too.
Mary and I hastily finish our oatmeal, put the bowls away, and get ready for a fun day of unpaid labor and authoritarian control over our lives. Strange how when I word it that way, it doesn’t sound fun.
“What’s on the agenda for you today, Mary?”
“A little of the same thing as always, I fear.” She sighs dramatically.
“Well, I understand you’re a busy girl, but I’ve got a different job for you, if you’d like.”
“Oh? What are you offering?”
“How does helping me come up with an escape plan sound?”
“You still have those crazy ideas in your head, Luna? It is much too dangerous to be staging an escape, never mind the fact that I am an old woman who could not attempt it if she tried.”
“Fifty-eight’s not that old.” I give her the same smile she gave me my first day. “Besides, you know you wanna. All I’m doing today is gathering some info. I have to find Freckles and figure out the best way off the island, as well as when to put things in motion. It’ll be easy. I won’t even make you fight anyone.”
“That is not as reassuring as you might think it is. Is ‘easy’ really the right word for this situation?”
“Oh, come on, Mary. This could be our sole chance at leaving.”
Mary tosses her head side to side, visually deciding whether or not my idea is worth the risks involved. Realistically, I could try to do it without her, and would probably do better that way, but I want to get her off the island, too. Did I get attached to her too quickly?
“Alright, Luna. You win. But only because of your enthusiasm. Tell me your plan.”
“I knew I could count on you, Mary. So, as I’ve previously mentioned, one of the quarries has broken down machinery, and I had to grab a mechanic to repair it. Their workshop is built into the Administration building, and the hangar door stays open all day. We have easy access to the rest of the building through the shop, as well as any makeshift weapons we need, with wrenches and screwdrivers and other stuff readily available for anyone to snag, so long as they’re not paying attention. The two of us will sneak inside the building, do some recon, see if Freckles is being held there, and gather as much intel as we can before tomorrow’s escape.”
“You want to be gone by tomorrow?”
“Well, the sooner, the better, I’d say. We should get moving.”
“Am I going to regret agreeing to this?”
Instead of going to the shipyard for the day, Mary and I blaze a trail to the workshop as inconspicuously as possible. Inside, two of the three mechanics from yesterday are standing around, messing with the gear shaft of some large, motorized machine.
“Can we help you two?” one of them asks, spotting us in the open garage doorway.
“Yeah,” I start. “I just got back from a talk with boss-man. He’s not happy right now.”
“Well, I came to you the other day asking for repairs to quarry three’s machines, but you haven’t fixed them yet. He says he wants the job done by lunch, or it’s you in the blue jumpsuits.”
“Why don’t you mind your own business, kid?” the second mechanic asks, upset. “We didn’t do nothing to you.”
“I am minding my business, actually. In fact, I could’ve told him about your disgusting little affair with Lana, but I was minding my business pretty hard. So if you want to keep that a secret, I suggest you get moving.”
The two of them sheepishly hurry to get into a four-wheeler and drive away, leaving Mary and I unattended.
“That was some scary next-level manipulation,” she comments. “How did you learn to do that?”
“I’ve had a good few years of practice on it. Now’s our chance to loot what we can and sneak inside.”
I grab a heavy-looking wrench from a workbench and notice a group of three walkie-talkie chargers. Two are empty, but the third is occupied, its radio sitting and soaking in some battery life.
Where’s the third mechanic today? This had better not throw a wrench in my plans.
I have no clue what the channels are, but I snag the walkie-talkie and shove it in one of the jumpsuit’s spacey pockets just in case. Maybe it’ll give us the edge up on when the mechanics are done with their job.
“Are you grabbing anything, Mary?”
“I am not strong enough to carry anything like that wrench, and I do not think I could bring myself to use it as a weapon.”
“Alright then, we’ll get moving. Remember, steal or memorize anything we can use as intel. We can’t afford to be caught off guard tomorrow.”
I turn the handle of the door that leads into the rest of the Administration building and brace myself. It slowly swings open, revealing a clean lounge with a coffee machine, table, fridge, and oven. If it weren’t for all the despair on the outside, you’d think this was a white-collar kitchenette at your garden-variety office complex.
“I shouldn’t be surprised their living conditions are much better than ours.”
“They love to flaunt it in our faces. Keeps us longing for our homes back in Carmsborough.”
“As if I needed more reasons to hate these guys.”
We sneak through the lounge, avoiding a large window taking up most of one of the walls. The doorway leads us to a long hallway, lined by a claustrophobic number of doors.
And we can’t tell whether they’re occupied or not unless we check. There’s no way we can safely enter any of them while searching for Freckles and Slaphand. I pick a door more towards our end and open it, once again prepared for the worst. Mary peeks around the corner, also tense, but relaxes a little after peering inside.
This room is also free of people. Filing cabinets line all four walls, only leaving empty spaces in the corners where you wouldn’t be able to pull out any drawers. As tempting as it is to start digging inside, we don’t have the time to go riffling through them willy-nilly. We don’t even know if they hold anything remotely interesting or useful.
The next room is also person-free, but has a table in the center with papers strewn across it haphazardly. I steal a peek at a couple. All of them mention Orion and the Clockwork in the header of the page.
“This is weird. There’s like a hundred diagrams of the inner workings of the Clockwork and some scarily detailed information on Orion. Do you think they’re going to attack them?”
“Most likely. If they discover this island, there will be no stopping them from destroying all of Slaphand’s hard work.”
“Wait, so Slaphand is the one completely in charge here?”
“He works for another man, but he controls the entire island. His boss has never visited.”
“His name is Bijabers. He wears some pretty exotic clothes and is Australian or something. I met him right before I got sent here. I genuinely think he’s a psychopath.”
“You have to be soulless to hold people as slaves like this. He is more than a psychopath. He is the devil.”
“Yeah, that fits, too. Way to be dramatic, Mary.”
Each diagram of the Clockwork is different. Do they not know what the inside looks like?
They’re not tearing Freckles apart for research, are they?
“It’s a good thing I’m planning on getting us out of here tomorrow,” I say, showing her the diagrams. She nods solemnly.
We work our way through a couple more rooms, all empty, until we reach one with a machine almost exactly like the one on the cloudship I hijacked. This one is missing a few parts, and some of the outer shelling, but it’s clearly the same design.
Bijabers must be moving ahead of schedule. Maybe they really were going back to normal shifts by the end of the week.
“We have to break this,” I say, grabbing my wrench.
“What is it?” Mary asks, justified concern evident on her face.
“This thing has the power to blow a hole through a building. I can’t imagine Bijabers has any good intentions for this machine.”
“Maybe they are using it to destroy the Überall.”
Now it’s my turn to be confused. “What’s the Überall?”
“I am not sure. That is what this wall of paper says.”
She points to a corkboard absolutely covered in documents. In big bold words, the phrase “PLASMARIZER: TO DESTROY THE ÜBERALL” sits directly in the middle.
“Maybe the Überall is a ship or weapon or something. Either way, the enemy of our enemy is our friend, and I don’t think we want our enemy using this weapon.”
I lift the stolen wrench above my head, ready to bring it down upon the machine, when I hear a pair of footsteps in the hall. Two men in uniforms step into the room and close the door.
“You have three seconds to drop that, or we’ll break your arms and make you do it ourselves,” the one on my left says.
“That is very forceful, mister. And right off the bat, too. But if you insist.”
I throw the wrench as hard as I can at him, which smashes into his chest with a crack. While he doubles over to recover, I run to the guy on my right and plow into his stomach. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Mary pick the wrench up to keep it away from my first victim.
I loop behind the man I barreled into and wrap my arm around his neck. All I need is for him to go unconscious so that I can take care of the first guy, too. He swings back at me with his fist, but can’t reach far enough to do any actual damage.
The first guy, probably sporting a cracked rib or two, stands and charges at us. I launch his friend at him, and the two collide loudly before toppling to the ground. I reach to get the wrench from Mary, never letting my eyes lose focus on their jumbled bodies collapsed on the floor, but neither get up.
“Really? That’s all it took to knock two grown men unconscious?”
“You did some serious damage to the first one with that throw,” Mary says, wincing from either the sound, the thought of the pain, or both. “I did not enjoy that.”
“I’m sure he didn’t, either. It’s okay, though. These are the bad guys. If anything, they deserved it.”
“These men are not in charge of anything.”
“Yeah, but they’re also making a conscious decision to work for the men who do, and to me, there’s no difference.”
“Would you not also work for the bad men if they threatened those you love?”
“No, I wouldn’t. I’d do what I’m doing right now, which includes destroying this thing.”
It’s a long process, but I eventually end up mangling and wrecking the innerworkings of the laser machine. The whole time, Mary switches between checking under the door for any shadows, watching my two victims to make sure they stay unconscious, and nervously reading some of the information on the board. Considering this is just a practice run for our actual escape, we’re doing a pretty good job. A power duo for sure.
No more powerful than me and Freckles together, but still pretty powerful.
“That should do it. Now, let’s go find my cat.”
“What do we do with the guards?”
“You’re not gonna like it, but let’s steal their uniforms. That way, we’ll be less suspicious in a building full of people wearing the same garb. After that, I’ll go hide them in a room somewhere. Maybe the room of filing cabinets, so they’re hidden for as long as possible.”
I was right–she didn’t like the idea. Much to her chagrin, we both remove our jumpsuits and switch into one of the guard uniforms, being careful to not somehow wake one of them in the process. Not that I couldn’t just as easily put them to sleep again, but they’re already in for an embarrassing moment when they come to later. The goal is to keep them out of the equation, not to permanently damage them.
I drag their unconscious bodies into the room of filing cabinets and hide them in the corner spaces where cabinets couldn’t fit. Unless you’re looking right at the spot, it’s difficult to tell they’re even there. Then, we hide our old jumpsuits in the now torn-apart machine, and leave the room slightly more confident than we had been walking in.
“Lead the way,” Mary says, gesturing with her hand. We continue down the hall, peeking through each doorway. Sometimes we get confused faces, but for the most part, the room is either empty or those inside aren’t paying attention.
With four doors left, including one at the very end of the hall that seems like it could be Slaphand’s office, we move more slowly and cautiously. I move to open one, but stop when a voice talks inside.
“Great meeting with you, P-Man. I look forward to your comprehensive report by the end of the week. With any luck, we’ll have a little buffer time until they attack us. That way, we can turn the tides much faster.”
Slaphand exits the room, smiling at whoever else was in there with him. Mary and I dive behind the doorway of the neighboring room. It takes all of my willpower to not jump around the corner and start going feral with my stolen wrench.
His footsteps move towards his office at the end of the hallway. I let myself peer past the corner, and watch the abnormally dimensioned man in a white suit walk to his office, carrying Freckles in a cage.
His ears perk up as he notices me staring at him.
“I hear ya, buddy,” I whisper. “Soon.”
“Quiet, machine,” Slaphand says, shaking the cage a little. Freckles looks annoyed, but is otherwise completely untouched. They haven’t torn him to bits to map his innerworkings yet. I’ll have to make sure they never get the chance.
“Let’s bounce,” I say, filled with new hope. “If you’re still willing to help see this all the way to the end, we can talk more tomorrow at the beginning of the day. I’ve got some semblance of a plan, but I’ll need more time to get everything completely put together.”
“We will see. For now, I would much rather be working at the airships to keep them clean.”
We grab our jumpsuits, switch our clothes, and quietly exit the Administration building while still carrying the wrench, walkie-talkie, and guard suits. The mechanics are nowhere in sight, meaning the excavation machinery must be kicking their butts.
“Where do you think we could hide this stuff for later?” I ask, gesturing to our stolen goods.
Mary thinks for a minute and says, “Nobody but me uses the cleaning shed at the shipyard, save for a guard on rare occasions. We could easily hide this stuff for a few days in there.”
“Well, we’ll only need to hide them for tonight, as long as all goes well tomorrow.”
We make our way to the shipyard, do our best to discretely hide our spoils, and part ways for what’s left of the morning.
It’s only been two full days, but seeing Freckles alive and well did a lot for my aching heart. With luck, he’ll be back at my side within the next forty-eight hours.
∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙
For the rest of the day, Mary and I hardly look at or talk to each other, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Even during dinner, we barely make conversation, although my nerves have a bigger part to play in that than anything. Her fellow shipyard workers try asking where she was for the first half of the morning, but she simply smiles and shrugs.
She dozes off long before I even go to curl up in my spot, leaving me alone to think over the day’s events. There’s a lot of information to take in, but I have to focus on what really matters: rescuing Freckles and getting us a safe way off the island.
My eyes wander as I think, first landing on the mirage of bodies surrounding me, all in different stages of winding down for the night, then at the pale walls, discolored from years of neglect, and finally at the camera in the corner of the room.
That’s weird. I can’t believe I didn’t notice the camera. Usually I’m pretty good at spotting details like that.
No matter. Freckles will be perched on my shoulders in less than twenty-four hours. I’m shaking with anticipation. My best friend is alive, and—
I didn’t notice the camera.
There are cameras.
If they haven’t seen the footage of the two of us sneaking around the Administration building yet, they will soon.
Our timetable has moved to tonight.
- 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.