“I need you to do some serious explaining.”
“There’s no time, kid. We have to get to the ship.”
“I suggest you make time, pal.” I level my stolen pistol with his chest, holding it in both hands, choosing to ignore the fact that I am heavily outgunned at the moment. “And I’m incredibly tired of being called ‘kid.’”
His expression hardly changes as he sighs.
“I am part of the S-Platoon, a secret militia that has been preparing for today’s events for a very long time. My boss had heard of you through the grapevine, specifically regarding your skills and talents, and wants to recruit you.”
“Wait, your boss wants to hire me? Who’s your boss? Who are these other guys? What exactly is happening right now?”
“World War III, essentially,” he replies, taking aim at a cluster of the brown-coated men. “Those are a skilled group of Hitler’s Nazis, here because they wanted the tech that was on this island. It’s also half of the reason we’re here as well.”
“Tech like the Plasmarizer?”
“Precisely like the Plasmarizer. Our sources say you disposed of it, but rumor was they were working on building a second one.”
“I disposed of that one too, actually,” I say. “Let’s just say I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of these guys having weapons that powerful.”
The man stares at me for a good long time, and I can’t tell if he’s upset or shocked. With any luck, it’s the latter.
“Well, I guess that means the rest of the mission is called off, then,” he says, relaying the information with his communication device. “I guess you do have some gusto to you. The name’s Alexander Cho. I’m the S-Platoon’s leader and your personal chauffer to the boss.”
“You never told me who the boss is.”
“Not really my place to tell, but he is simply referred to as ‘S.’ It’s a sort of branding push from what I can tell, but I’m not sure who he’s trying to brand himself to, seeing as we stay secret for a reason. Now, tell me, Luna, is that enough for you? Are you ready to get away from this godforsaken battlefield?”
The thought lingered in my head. In a few short days, I’ve gone from homeless girl earning pennies a day to slave for an authoritarian meathead to being offered a job somewhere else with absolutely no guarantee as to how survivable it will be. I guess beggars can eventually be choosers if they’re thrown into one of the worst situations possible.
A few bullets land in the grass nearby, kicking dirt onto my already disastrously messy outfit. “Yeah, I think I’m ready to go.”
“Solid choice, I’d say.”
He says a few words into his wrist device beckons me forward, clearing a way through the muddy, bloody battlefield. The battle hadn’t started that long ago, but it’s wrapping up here on the ground. Some airships are still in the air, but none of the Slaphand-Bijabers floating machines are going to last much longer.
“Will your boss be able to help me get my friend back?”
“Is that the cat?”
“Wait, how do you know about Freckles?”
“No doubt, that is something that you will have to mention to S. He is very excited to add you to the team.”
“Well, that’s good, I guess.”
For being the head of the S-Platoon, whatever that is, Alexander sure doesn’t seem to have a grasp on what’s going on in his boss’ brain. Maybe that will come in handy later if I ever have to pitch the two against each other.
I can’t believe I’m already plotting and planning an escape, just in case these people are as awful as those who were exploiting me for their own selfish desires. The S-Platoon is the group killing the Nazis and slavers. Surely, that makes them the good guys. Or, at least, better than the bad guys. Then again, there are very few men in charge who don’t exploit those below them for their own selfish desires. Maybe they’re gonna be different.
I keep saying that. It never happens.
A ship in front of us lowers, offering an escape. The bad guys on the ground catch wind of the situation and search for their newest target. To our left, the fascist brigade locks on, and to our right, the mob boss’ goons use the break in fighting to recuperate and try to catch an upper hand.
Here, in the middle, is Alexander Cho, a dozen or so S-Platoon fighters, and me, struggling to fight back growing panic.
All focus is directed to the landing ship when loud mechanisms creak and whir, opening six spots along the hull about as wide as a soccer ball, three on either side of a slowly descending drawbridge-like door. Then, without warning, rockets and bullets spray outward into the two opposing crowds, blasting and hammering them to smithereens.
To say it’s gruesome would be putting it lightly. It’s more than I can bear to stand.
On cue, I feel my knees get weak, and my stomach flips. The semi-edible slop I’d had for dinner gets thrown up, and I can feel my whole body burning. The S-Platoon finishes off what’s left of the opposing parties while I stay on the ground, getting it all out of my system.
This is so far from what I imagined tonight was going to be like.
“Come on, Luna, it’s time to go,” Alexander says, offering me a hand. After making sure there’s no threat of another round, I take it and hoist myself to my feet.
“No shame in a weak stomach at the sight of something like that,” he says in a poor attempt to reassure me. I’m not sure why he feels obligated.
“I don’t think that counts as a weak stomach. I think that counts as a normal stomach.”
He laughs, which is slightly off-putting, given the scenario. “I suppose that’s fair. Let’s get onto the ship.”
The violent leader of the S-Platoon, trying as hard as he can to be cordial, motions to the large airship again. I can tell his movements and courtesies are forced. Why is he going through all the trouble to make it seem like he’s being genuine? What am I getting myself into?
Brushing the suspicion away, I follow him into the hull of the mechanical beast. I can’t even comprehend how massive it is at first. The ceiling is maybe twelve feet high, but still somehow leaves space in the ship for two or three more inner levels. The walls and floors consist almost entirely of some sort of coated wood, likely meant to make it fire resistant.
“Welcome aboard the Lateral, Luna. This is one of the best ships my boss has. It will be transporting us to our base. Please make yourself at home in a boardroom. The trip won’t be too long.”
“Where’s the base?” I ask, eyes still taking in the marvel of technology.
“At an undisclosed location in Carmsborough, which will be revealed if you accept his job offer.”
“What happens if I don’t accept the job offer?”
He stops and appears to think for a moment. “I’m not entirely sure. I think the boss is all in on you accepting the offer, though. After all, you want to get your friend back. The cat.”
The idea of rescuing him resonates with me, and I walk into the nearest boardroom in the hallway. Inside is a simple bed and dresser, with no other extra decorations or furniture items.
The bed, all too alluring, grabs my attention, and I go to sit.
I remember the last time I had the chance to sleep in a bed. It was the last night before I was kicked evicted from my apartment. I was none the wiser. Back then, there was no wondering where I would find my next meal and no worrying about being attacked in alleys.
Exhaustion catches up to me almost as soon as I enter the room, and with the prospect of an honest-to-God bed right in front of me, there’s no twisting my arm to get some rest. I hit the bed, and I’m down for the count.
∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙
I wake an undetermined amount of time later to the sound of knocking on the door. Like earlier this morning, my fight-or-flight response kicks in, and I bolt upright, only to ease from the sudden burst of adrenaline. I didn’t even think it was possible to run out of adrenaline, but here I am.
I’m safe, and I just slept on a mattress for the first time in years. The things we take for granted. I slowly slump off of the bed and to the door.
“Who is it?”
“This is Leader Cho again, Luna. We’ve arrived at the base, and will be deboarding in a few minutes. I’ve had my men prepare you an outfit, which they’ve placed in the lounge down the hall. Feel free to change, mostly for your own safety.”
“For my own safety? Are you guys gonna shoot me?”
“Not if we know it’s you,” he replies, walking away from the door.
With that, I leave the room and head to the hall in search of the lounge. It’s a large room, and impressively decorated, but there’s no time to look at all the chairs and tables or the piano in the corner. I spot the clothes on a couch, grab them, and retreat to the boardroom again. Like the others on the ship, the outfit laid out for me is a crisp, clean white.
I get dressed and make my way to where we entered the ship earlier.
“Ready to see the big man himself?” Alexander Cho asks, having changed from his battle suit. His current apparel is more akin to a military general’s garb, fitting with the rest of the aura he gives off.
With a light shining directly on us, it’s easier to describe him better. He has to be at least fifty years old, if his deep, onset wrinkles have anything to say. His beard is short and scruffy and mostly white, and his tanned hands tell years of stories, including one of marriage.
“Hello? Earth to Luna?”
“Yeah, sorry, spaced it for a second.”
“I get it. Observing and detailing everything you can. No doubt a survival mechanism you’ve picked up from years of being on the move. It’s an admirable trait.”
“Never really thought of it that way.”
“We all discover ways to cope and stay alive. Sometimes, we don’t even notice we do it. We’re going straight to see the boss, and then we’ll get some lunch and, depending on your answer, determine what the next steps are.”
“Wait, lunch? How long was I asleep?”
“It’s nearly half-past-ten now, so six hours. I’m honestly surprised you slept through the skirmish we had a couple of hours ago with a Nazi airship.”
A voice on the speakers announces our landing, and the two of us stand in front of the opening hatch in the ship’s hull.
“There was a fight with a Nazi airship?”
“Trust me, we had it all under control. They were vastly outgunned. The boss made sure that we wouldn’t be caught off guard.”
“You sure are hyping bossman up big time,” I say, as we walk down the sloped exit. The ground is rocky, and a look at the horizon provides me the reasoning. In the near distance, the tall range of the Golem Mountains that runs directly through the heart of Carmsborough looms above us. Seeing as the country’s not sitting on the intersection of two tectonic plates, you could say scientists are more than baffled at their formation.
I just think they look neat. Who cares where they came from?
“Majestic, aren’t they?” Cho comments, staring off at the tallest in the range. “The tallest, Mount Dovi, is over there. She stands at barely above twenty-five thousand feet, although I’m not exactly sure how they’ve measured that. It’s not like you can take one big tape measure.”
“Do you think anyone’s ever tried climbing it?”
“Oh, for sure, but nobody’s succeeded without the use of an airship. It’s far too difficult to even reach, surrounded by all of its sibling mountains like it is. Some claim it holds some sort of treasure in its core, but personally, I doubt it. Anyway, the boss is in the short building directly in front of us. I’ll leave you to have a conversation with him.”
For being the base of such a strangely well-equipped militia as the S-Platoon, it’s oddly… backwards. The roads are all gravelly and uneven, the buildings seem like they would blow away with one bad windstorm, and people are wandering around almost aimlessly. It’s obvious the boss’ building has the most upkeep in the area.
I walk to the building, small rocks crunching under my new white sneakers gotten from the couch. The ground has already made them slightly dusty. Before I get the chance to knock, the door swings wide open, and I’m met by a man only slightly taller than me.
“It’s about time I meet the woman of the year!” he bellows, grabbing onto my shoulder. “Oh, the things I’ve seen and heard. Destroying Bijabers’ Plasmarizer not once, but twice? The audacity! The guffaw!”
“You wouldn’t happen to be the boss by any chance, would you?” I ask the overzealous man, leading me somewhere deeper into the structure.
“Oh, quick to catch on, too! You would make a fantastic addition to my team, if you so choose. I am S, but you may call me ‘the boss’ if it’s easier. Then again, one is a one-syllable letter, and the other is a title, but I’m certainly not to judge. Please, Luna, have a seat.”
The boss extends his arm and motions to a seat in front of an official-looking desk. Sitting on the desk is a globe, a topographic map of Carmsborough, and three different stacks of paper. The man’s busy, to say the least.
I take the seat, and he sits opposite me on his side of the desk.
“I hope Platoon Leader Cho wasn’t too rough in trying to acquire you for our cause. The man’s not really a people-person, and his decades of military experience are usually his only character trait.”
“He tried his best, I think,” I say, managing an uncomfortable smile. Like Alexander Cho before, the man in front of me is overexcited. To his credit, though, he seems genuine. Despite this, there’s a forcefulness to his nature. He has a commanding voice and stature, and is no doubt fearsome when needed.
“I love to hear that. Well, Luna, I know more about you than you are probably comfortable with, so I think it’s time to tell you a bit about me. I am the boss of this militia group. We are a secret organization hidden within Carmsborough looking to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all we can.”
“Secret organization? Why do you need to be secret?”
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot happening right now, and we have quite a few enemies. You’ve met Bijabers and Slaphand, the two heads of an international crime syndicate bent on turning Carmsborough into their home. You’ve also had a run-in with the Nazis, it seems, which isn’t necessarily a new development, but we were shocked to find out they’ve started World War III as of last night. Not a fun group of people, that lot.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“For sure. Now, unlike most, we are also against Orion and the Clockwork. It would be fair for you to be shocked or repulsed by that information, but please implore me in telling you why.”
“I think I have a good idea why,” I say. “I’ve never seen them help a single soul that genuinely needs saving. Why hadn’t they ever tried helping at whatever slave island I was at?”
“There’s a strange bias that Orion and the Clockwork appear to operate off of. You see, they tend to solely help those in power or who have money, rather than those that actually need saving. Those like you, who were homeless for years, struggling to get by on your own. Or, like you recently had the displeasure of experiencing, those that suffer at the hands of Bijabers and his crew. Is it possible they are working together? Perhaps, but that’s a theory for another day.”
“So, you’re essentially a political figure trying to clean things up?”
“In a way, I suppose, although politics is corrupt and moves too slowly for real change to help real people like you. We take direct action. This is why I’ve brought you here, Luna. You’re not afraid of direct action. It’s all you’ve ever dealt with, and you’ve become exceptionally effective in getting what you need. Therefore, I would like to offer you a job.”
“You want me to be part of your S-Platoon?” I’m not even sure I could entertain the idea. Being told what to do isn’t exactly my style.
“Absolutely not. That group of ruffians would bore you, I fear, and it would get you no closer to your inevitable goal of getting Freckles back safe and sound.”
My heart skips a beat. “I’m listening.”
“If you were to join my team, you would have a special mission: hunting down and killing Slaphand, and retrieving your pet.”
“You’re lying. What’s the catch?”
“The only catch is that when you’ve completed the mission, you’re free to do your own thing until I call you for another mission. It could be a week, or it could be a year. There’s no telling when I’ll require your expertise, and if you do well, you’ll be compensated well.”
I almost can’t believe it. A chance at revenge, a chance at real compensation, a chance at freedom, and, most importantly, a chance to get Freckles back. All with the agreement to occasionally work for him again when he needs.
My brain is desperately attempting to rattle off a list of the red flags that have popped up since being rescued on the island, but my heart’s not listening. My heart knows what it wants.
“I understand how hard this is to take in all at once, so if you’d like time to sit and—”
“I accept.” I level my hand in front of me, ready to shake his. He smiles as if he expected my answer, and takes it.
It’s time I got my best friend back.
- 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.