“You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into this time, kid.”

I stay silent, refusing to give Slaphand any more satisfaction. Not that it matters at this point. We’re in his room now, behind large metal bars that restrict us to the corner.

According to Slaphand’s taunts, as well as the otherwise empty space, Freckles hadn’t been here for a few hours. Not long after Mary and I saw him while scouting earlier, he’d been loaded on an airship to be sent somewhere else in Carmsborough. A deep rage inside me threatens to pop the blood vessels in my head.

“By the way,” he continues, “I’ve seen your handiwork. You’re talented, I’ll give you that. Not everyone can incapacitate five guards, not to mention the machine you’ve recklessly destroyed again. Now that we’ve lost progress a second time, I need to make an example of the two of you.”

“An example how?” Mary asks him, speaking for the first time since our capture. Like mine, her mood immediately flipped when we were confronted by guns, and I can’t tell if she’s upset with me specifically or just in general.

“In all my years doing what I do, I’ve never been more frustrated with someone than I am with you two. Well, less you than the kid, Mary. I’ve taken the liberty to read your file a bit. It’s honestly shocking you decided to help her out when your sentence was set to end in a month.”

“Mary, you only had a month left?” I ask, incredulous.

“I did not do this for me,” she replied.

“You, on the other hand, are a mystery to me, kid,” Slaphand continues. “You’ve stepped in between me and my plans two too many times, and I don’t even know your name.”

“My name is Luna, and you’re gonna learn to fear it.”

“Oh, I’m sure I won’t.” He moves towards his desk, hovering one of his massive fingers over a red button beside a speaker, and daintily taps it.

“Attention all workers, I have a midnight announcement for you: two of your own have been apprehended sneaking around in the Administration building and wreaking havoc. In doing so, they’ve destroyed the machine we’ve been collecting parts and raw materials for. This means that we are even less likely to reach our goal on time, and therefore, must add another two hours to the workday.”

“Another two hours?” Mary blurts. “We were only on ten a day for three days!”

“You may recall that we had moved to ten to meet our deadline a few days ago. That was because the first version of the machine had been sabotaged as well. Remarkably, you can blame the same person for both incidents: Luna, the new Overseer. If you have any qualms, please speak to her. Thank you, and enjoy your twelve-hour shifts.”

Mary looks at me in disbelief. “Did I hear this man correctly?”

“You didn’t want to hear why I was here, so I didn’t tell you,” I say, sheepishly. “I suspected it was the case when Renet mentioned it, but you were so sure it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t bring it up again.”

She gives me a long stare before saying, “Well, I guess everything really is about you, Luna. You have proven this old woman wrong.”

“Look, I’m sorry, Mary. I never should’ve dragged you into this mess, and now I’ve extended your workdays twice.”

“I am not hurt, Luna. You have done what you thought was right. I am simply at a loss for what to do.”

“There is nothing for you to do,” Slaphand says, walking back to us. “You two will be stuck in here until I decide you’re done causing damage to my people and property. Good night, trouble. Oh, and Merry Christmas.”

He leaves the room and turns the light off, drowning us in complete darkness. I sit against the wall, defeated.

“What now?” Mary asks.

“Next chance I get, that man is going down.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

“I’m not sure yet, but I’ve gotta do something. Returning to work as an Overseer is a death sentence, but so is trying to escape. I’m surprised he even kept us alive.”

“He wants to torture you, most likely. You have significantly wronged him twice. He has killed his own guards for less.”

And what better torture than being put on a pedestal with a target painted on your head?

It takes a long time, but eventually, Mary drifts to sleep. I’m kept awake by the realization that there was a zero percent chance of rescuing Freckles tonight. Hopefully my little guy is okay. I need him now more than ever.

∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙


We wake a few hours later to an alarm blaring. I guess I could manage some sleep after all. We’re still under the cover of near-complete blackness. There’s not even red flashing lights paired with the ear-splitting noise. What little I can see from the faint moon glow is closed off when a heavy metal blinder slowly closes over the glass window, sealing us in Slaphand’s office.

“What is happening?” Mary yells, clutching her chest.

“I’m not sure! I think they’re being attacked!”

Our answer comes a minute or two later with the sound of a loud blast rocking the ground.

“Do you think it’s Orion and the Clockwork?”

“That is probably our best option,” Mary answers. Another explosion sounds off, spraying dust and small chunks of ceiling to the floor. “Although, I am not sure if Orion would use explosions to free people.”

“That’s a good point. Maybe the government?”

A third blast cracks the wall behind us, letting a little light spill in from the hallway. Armed guards run past, all in various stages of panic. Whatever it is, they’re clearly worried.

Slaphand’s voice calls from outside the door, yelling something unintelligible at his guards, before he barges in and flips the light on. Without so much as glancing at us, he opens a drawer, grabs some strange-looking gun and a keyring, and leaves just as quickly as he arrived, slamming the door shut.

With the force behind his action, the crack in the wall shoots all the way to and across the ceiling, arcs to our containment, and stops at the heavy metal keeping us in.

“Did you see that?” Mary says, mouth open in surprise, staring at the crumbling wall.

“The man is strong enough to split concrete on accident. It’s a good thing I didn’t attack him.” I walk up to the now-weakened spot of our makeshift jail and grab onto the bars. “I’m gonna see if we can wiggle this loose and escape. The last thing we need is for the ceiling to collapse on us.”

Mary joins me, and together, we repeatedly throw ourselves against the metal bars, trying desperately to get them to budge. The bar frame squeaks and scratches against whatever is keeping it lodged in the concrete ceiling, but otherwise doesn’t move.

“No dice,” I say, giving up. As soon as we both turn away from the weakened spot, however, a fourth explosion rocks the building, cracking the ceiling even further and sending the cage falling.

We both stare at the debris. A good portion of the room’s ceiling is now on the floor, revealing the cold and cloudy night sky. Snowflakes and ash trickle in, already coating Slaphand’s desk.

“We weakened it,” Mary says, smiling.

“Yeah, something like that,” I smile back. “Quick, let’s bounce. No point in waiting for the rest of the building to collapse.”

I search Slaphand’s desk for anything useful, but there are no more weapons or keys to be found, and something tells me going to the basement is an incredibly awful idea. I scoot away from the desk, and not a moment later, yet another blast sends the rest of the ceiling falling, absolutely crushing the wood underneath it.

If I weren’t severely panicking, the timing of these explosions would be almost comedic.

The two of us, still in guard uniforms, slip away from the room and join a flock exiting the building. If they realize who we are, they don’t show any signs. Whatever attack is happening right now is more important than the two of us wandering amuck.

“To the mechanics shop we go,” I say, planning on snagging an extra makeshift weapon, or even a four-wheeler. We enter in, only to find the center of the ceiling collapsed in. Any vehicle that might’ve been left in the shop is currently a pancake.

I grab a new wrench off of a workbench and peek out the window of the overhead door. Flashes of light appear from the ends of guns across the field, illuminating the snow now coming down in full force. Off in the distance, I see a disproportionate man running to a grounded airship.

“He’s escaping! We have to go get him!”

I reach to open the normal-sized door, but recoil as a spray of bullets dents the metal inward. My hand is frozen on the doorknob. Suddenly, opening it doesn’t seem like such a great idea.

“What if we go back through the Housing building?” Mary suggests.

“Good idea.”

The two of us run into the main Administration building and hurry down the long hallway into the equally long median hallway that connects the two buildings. Then, jumping over and shoving some of the other prisoners, we make our way to the main exit door.

Right at the exit, a blast rocks our world. Loud cracking and a flash of fiery light consume our senses, and it takes me a moment to regain my footing.

I stare at the field. Slaphand is but a dot now, still retreating towards the airship, which has been spraying bullets into the sky. If we wait any longer, he’s going to get away, and I really might never reunite with Freckles again.

“Luna, help me!” Mary calls from behind me. I turn to see her under a pile of concrete and rebar, no doubt from the walls and ceiling crumbling. It’s a wonder I didn’t get hit.

I look at her, panicked, and then at the ever-receding figure of Slaphand.

Oh God, what do I do?

“Luna, please,” she cries, clearly suffering. “This hurts. I think I might have broken something.”

What would Freckles say? What would I say?

I can’t know what Freckles would say without him being here.

“Stay still, Mary, I’m gonna go find help.” I give her one last glance before running onto the open battleground.

I’m sorry, Mary. Freckles has to come first.

Part of me almost feels guilty. She’s been nothing but kind and helpful to me. She risked everything for me because I gave her hope that we could be free. And now, in the middle of a bloody, dangerous ambush, I’m leaving her crushed underneath a heavy pile of rubble.

But she’ll be okay, right?

I convince myself not to glance back at her. I have to get to Slaphand somehow. Unfortunately, the most direct path is between the two factions of people fighting across the island. The guards, though vastly outnumbered, are somehow holding their own against the other group, who, from what I can tell, is sporting brown suits and a red band of some sort around their arm.

Up in the air is a completely different story. There are three different kinds of airships. I recognize the ones from the shipyard, which are launching volleys at both of the other types of ships. A second group, in a fleet of about fifteen or twenty, has a red and white flag with a black symbol on it, and the last simply sports a white flag with a lavender “S” emblazoned in the middle.

All three factions are trading shots, but it seems like Slaphand’s men aren’t going to last much longer up there. Good riddance, honestly. That still leaves the problem of the other two: who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys?

I initially decide to hug the sides of the buildings, hoping nobody will notice the five-foot-one girl sneaking away from the battlefield, and make it all the way to the mechanics shop without being noticed. On arrival, a guard and brown-suited man notice me, momentarily putting their differences aside to stare.

“Hey, boys,” I say, wearing an anxious smile. The brown-coated one raises their gun to me. Instinctively, I raise my wrench, for some reason using it as a shield against a bullet.

Two shots ring out. The first, from the gun of the man in brown, miraculously connects with the wrench, reflecting the bullet and forcing it deep into the ground. The other comes from the guard’s gun, dropping the brown-coated man in an instant.

“Thanks for that,” I say, looking at the wrench. Thank God I decided to grab it. Without thinking, I reach for the dead man’s pistol and hold it in my left hand.

Can I kill? I’ve never tried, but if push comes to shove, I think I could do it in a situation like this. Second question: can I shoot a gun?

I point at the ground and pull the trigger. It aims roughly where I wanted it to. Works for me.

Ahead of me, I can see Slaphand’s ship gearing up to fly away. I’m far away from the center of attention now, but still nowhere near safe enough to run blindly across the field.

Above me, a bullet burrows itself in the concrete wall of the mechanics shop.

I’m not safe anywhere on this battlefield. It’s now or never, Luna. Let’s make it now.

I break into a full sprint towards the airship, doing my best to watch for stray bullets and enemies. Should I have taken the time to change into one of the yellow jumpsuits again? The yellow would be a brighter target, but it’d also mean I’m less of a target, right?

The brown-coated men are the good guys, right? They wouldn’t shoot a prisoner, right?

Too late for that thought. The only thing to worry about is the man ahead of me, who thinks he’s safe aboard his ship.

Halfway to it, an incredibly loud shrieking noise rips through the air. The battle on the ground stops as everyone turns to find the source. A missile streaks from one of the S ships to one of Slaphand’s, creating an awesome bloom of fire, ashes, wood, and metal in the air.

Or, at least, it would be awesome, if it weren’t directly above me.

Debris of all sizes comes raining down, landing gracelessly in the snow-covered grass. I keep my eyes facing up, attempting to dodge the serious pieces, but there’s nothing I can do to avoid the smaller splinters of wood and metal threatening to tear me open.

Slaphand’s escape ship lets out a roar and starts to slowly lift off the ground. A deep-violet shimmer highlights the entirety of its hull, giving it an enchanting range of hues. Upset by the new development, a few of the ships in the air send a wave of bullets and cannon fire to his ship. It all connects with the newly hued ship but stops short of creating any damage.

Is that some sort of airship shield?

The dizzying speed of everything happening is too much for me. I feel a piece of still-falling debris collide with my shoulder, and I tumble to the ground. Sharp pain ripples through my body, but I can still move my arm, meaning nothing’s broken or damaged too badly.

Finally, Slaphand’s ship lurches forward, taking itself hastily away from the messy battle on the field and in the air.

I’m too late. He’s going to get away.

A feeling of despair courses over me. Everything I’ve done to get my cat has tumbled apart because of some spontaneous battle in middle of the night. And the worst part is, Orion and the Clockwork aren’t even here to save us.

The more I ponder it, the less it all makes sense. Who are these different groups of people, and why did they all suddenly converge on the island on Christmas morning before the sun has even come up? What on earth is even worth fighting for here?

The Plasmarizer. The Plasmarizer is worth fighting for.

And with that destroyed, all of this will be for nothing, too. Sounds like everyone ruined everyone else’s plans for the day.

With the debris from the exploded airship done falling, I get off the ground and wipe the dust, snow and ash off of myself. I need to go rescue Mary now. Maybe she won’t be too upset with me leaving her to go get my best friend.

I rush back to the buildings, still actively avoiding creating attention for anyone looking for their next target. Continued blasts have rendered a significant portion of the Administration building entirely unsafe, but a fair bit of the Housing building is still intact, including the front section where I left Mary.

With no safe way to sneak inside, away from the fighting, I decide to hug the buildings again, until a group of three brown-suited men spot me and point their guns in my direction. Their weapons are much bigger than the pistol I’ve looted, though it’s not like I could shoot them faster than they could me, anyway.

This is the end. I guarantee it.

I squeeze my eyes shut, bracing for my inevitable death. I hope it’s quick and painless. After everything I’ve endured, I’m owed that.

Gunshots ring out.

But I don’t feel anything other than the stiff wind and snow battering my body.

I let myself open my eyes and see a man wearing all white standing where the brown-coated men once were. A magenta “S” is worn proudly on his chest.

A mental sigh escapes me, if only for a moment. The man, not lowering his gun, starts moving closer to me.

“Hey, bud, maybe we can talk about this,” I say, trying to slowly move for my pistol. “I mean, you did just save my life. I’m not even actually a guard here. I stole this suit yesterday while sneaking around. I hate these guys.”

“Are you Luna?” the man asks, ignoring my rambling and getting even closer to me. For some reason, the fact that he says my name, or is at least looking for me, makes me stop reaching for my gun.

“Wait, what?”

“Are you Luna?”

“How do you know my name? Why do you know my name?”

“So, you are Luna?” He sounds impatient.

“Yeah, I am. What’s going on?”

The man lifts his free arm to his mouth and speaks into a device on his wrist. “Sir, we found her. Requesting confirmation to escort. We may have a chance at success after all.”


About the author


Bio: 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.

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