Despite driving a moving truck, the two men never open their back storage area. Instead, they leave the vehicle running and make a beeline straight for the apartment complex. Neither are in a rush, talking and walking casually. I stay behind, waiting for them to disappear inside so they don’t notice me.

Now’s as good a time as any to update the boss, I suppose.

“Good news, sir,” I say, speaking into my watch. “I followed a box truck for a company called B Realty, and I’m almost certain they work for Bijabers. I’m gonna go interrogate the two men that left the truck.”

“That’s fantastic, Luna. You’re outperforming my expectations, and it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours. Or, at least, you will outperform them, as long as you actually get information.”

“I have my methods.”

Our connection ends, and I look at the entrance of the apartment complex. They’ve already gone inside.

I approach the door and try the handle, but it doesn’t budge. To my right, there’s a speaker device with a button. I press it and stand back, waiting for a response on the other end.

“Who is it?” A voice asks, deep and surly.

“Hey, I’m with the two that walked in a few moments ago. I was a little bit behind, but I’m here now.”

The voice stays silent for an uncomfortable amount of time, but eventually, the man asks, “You’re with Tim and John?”

“I don’t remember their names. The bossman only put me on B Realty duty today, so this is my first stop. I’m really sorry about this.”

“And who’s the bossman?”

“Slaphand. Wants me to do some field training.”

Another long silence passes before the door unlocks with a loud click. “Come on in, rookie. Next time, don’t be late.”

“Of course. Thanks, man.”

With as naturally as the lies came, it makes me wonder how practiced I’ve gotten at making things up to get what I need. Cho was right: we don’t even notice the ways we adapt to survive.

Once inside, the first thing I notice is the dramatic disparity from the outside of the building, which makes the place appear pretty and upkept. The inside, however, is in a considerably more dismal state. It shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does, seeing as it’s run by a mob boss with no disregard for normal people, but the place needs more than a repainting. The walls and stair railings look like they’re one bad day away from crumbling.

My hunt for the two men continues, but it’s not a long one. Above me, on a higher floor, the scream of an old lady is followed by an expensive-sounding smashing noise. I bolt up the stairs to the third floor as quick as my legs can take me, where I find a door left ajar.

A second scream emanates from the open apartment, and without another thought, I jump in through the doorway, fists drawn and ready.

“Come on, you geriatric flumpnugget, it’s eviction day.” The two men approach her aggressively, hands poised to grab her. She gives me a brief look, and in that moment, I realize I have to make my presence clear to her assailants.

“Why don’t you pick on someone in your own diaper category, you brainless goons?”

Yeah. That’s right. I can dish the meaningless insults, too.

They turn, confused by the person trespassing during their hostile housekeeping.

“Who the hell are you?” one asks, ignoring the lady and squaring up to face me.

“Hey, isn’t this that Luna kid the boss was talking about?” the other asks, unsheathing a knife. “Says she destroyed the Plasmarizer.”

“And knocked out five of our boys on the island.”

“He said you wouldn’t survive the battle.”

“Yeah, he and the guys in your little operation do have a tendency to underestimate me,” I say, leaning against the wooden doorframe. “So, let’s be smart. If you leave this woman alone, I won’t knock your heads together and torture information out of you.”

They trade a knowing stare, and the empty-handed one reveals his own knife.

“That’s alright, I was lying. I wasn’t gonna let either of you walk away. Oh, and for one thing, don’t call me a kid.”

We charge at the same time, but for now, I don’t grab any of my weapons. If I can keep them on their toes without having to use them, they might start making mistakes, and I’ll have the element of surprise when I do grab them.

The one to my left, who was the first to reveal his blade, is a smaller and easier target, so I focus my plan on him. I fake right towards the larger goon and dive into the smaller one’s legs, sending him crashing to the floor. He drops his knife in shocked response, which clatters to the ground below us.

That was easy.

Behind me, the other flips his knife to a better stabbing angle, but I roll forwards off of the other man, all of my weight pressing against his head. It’s not pleasant for either of us, but I don’t envy his position.

Utilizing the momentum of my roll, I launch to my feet and immediately spin to face the still-standing opponent. He clumsily rushes at me, forcing me to dodge to the side, and he goes gut-first into the poor woman’s table. I give her a sympathetic look. She stares at the scene in shock, hardly paying me any attention.

With any luck, the table’s not that expensive.

Both men are back on their feet and ready to fight, and this time, I’m in between them. They lunge at me, and I duck underneath at the last second. Then, while still holding the stolen knife, I slash at the closest legs I can, sending the bigger man into a howl.

“You guys are helpless,” I taunt, sweeping the second man’s legs out from under him. With them both distracted, I motion for the woman to open the window facing the front of the building. She does so, and I lob the knife through, which clatters against the cement sidewalk below.

The bigger one clenches his fists in a fit. “You’re gonna pay for that. I’ll make sure of it.”

“You’ve gotta catch me first.”

I leave the room and run down the hallway, pivoting sharply around the corner as if I’m going to descend the stairs. The railing closing off the staircase is looking especially flimsy.

This plan better work.

I hear one of the two men stomping this way, and right as they round the corner, I stick my leg out like a cartoon character. They smash into my shin and topple into the railway, which creaks dangerously under the strain.

Ironic that the crummy conditions inside of their own apartment complex are their undoing. The railing gives way, sending the larger man, whose legs are already cut, plummeting to the second-floor stairway. He hits the steps with a loud thud, and his smaller friend looks over the broken railing at him.

He turns to me, angry, but loses all color in his face when he spots the gun in my hand.

“Like I said, don’t underestimate me, and don’t call me a kid.”

∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙


Ten minutes later, I have both of them tied in the woman’s kitchen chairs. She’s cowering in the corner of her dining room. Her frail little heart probably hasn’t seen this much action in years.

“I’m sorry about all this, by the way,” I say. “But these are the bad guys, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“I’m very conflicted right now.”

“I’m sure. All I’m doing is getting a little information out of them, and then we’ll call the cops and make sure they’re dealt with properly.”

“Yeah, you ain’t getting anywhere with the cops, kid.” The bigger one, fairing far worse than his smaller counterpart, still has a lot of gusto to him, despite being slashed and thrown down a flight of stairs. To prove that I’m in control, I wind up my fist and forcefully place it against the side of his mouth.

“Alright, goony boys, I need to know where Slaphand’s base of operations here in mainland Carmsborough is. I highly recommend you cooperate. I have plenty of fun toys to use if you don’t.”

“We won’t tell you anything.”

For what it’s worth, the larger man is defiant to the end.

His buddy, however, is not. “Please don’t do anything to us. I got a family at home. I gotta provide for them.”

“Well, isn’t that awful cute. Maybe you should’ve chosen a better career path, pal. One that doesn’t involve a crime organization and evicting helpless old ladies from their homes. Give me an address. Now.”

“Don’t do it, Josh,” the bigger one says.

Josh seems to weigh his options. “You have to promise to let me go if I answer,” he says.

“Not a chance, Josh. You’ve done bad, and you’re gonna pay the legal price.”

“Hold on a little longer, Josh!”

“What’s that mean, big boy?” I level one of my guns at the man’s head. Hopefully he doesn’t notice my shaking.

I’m not sure I could shoot someone. Even now, I was shocked I found the strength to slash at his legs. It’s not like he didn’t deserve it, and they came at me with knives beforehand, but still.

“It means you’re in trouble, kid. There are cameras in the hallway. As soon as you moved the fight from in here, you alerted the base. At this point, they’re almost here.”

I walk backwards into the hallway, not removing my eyes from the two tied-up men, and glance at the ceiling.

A camera is pointing directly at me.

Foiled by another camera.

I reenter the room and peer out the window. If the big man’s not bluffing, they haven’t come yet.

“Fine, I’ll let you go, Josh. Give me the address. Now.”

“Josh, don’t you dare!”

A bead of sweat runs down his temple. He’s seriously considering it, but he needs to seriously consider it faster.

“She’s on the third floor!” a voice calls from below us in the building. Sounds like the person who rang me in through the front door. I look out the window again, but there still aren’t any cars. They must be talking to some in-building guard.

Throwing all caution to the wind, I point my gun at Josh instead. “You have three seconds, Josh, or I’ll pull the trigger.”

His eyes widen, and he takes a big gulp.


“Josh, if you tell her, I’ll pull the trigger on you myself.”


“Okay!” Josh yells. “1481 Magnolia Street in the Commerce District! They don’t tell us any locations, but he comes to work and visits us at our hub every now and then! It’s a big gray building with a cloudship loading dock hanging off the side!”

“Good decision, Josh,” I say, quickly pocketing the gun. I peek my head out of the apartment doorway and spot two guards coming down the hall, guns drawn.

“Right there!” one of them shouts, stating the obvious.

I’m not risking a gunfight against two people with an innocent bystander in the room. I need to escape somehow.

I peer out the still-open window. Just below the frame is a gutter, jutting off the side of the building. If I could get to it, I might be able to crawl away. It’s not a solid plan, but it’s a better alternative. At least it beats jumping three stories.

With careful steps, I get on top of the windowsill and slowly lower myself off the edge, clutching the gutter. It shakes and creaks under my weight, but otherwise seems to be able to hold me. Above me in the apartment, I hear the yelling and voices of the men not tied to chairs.

On top of that, a welcoming party below me shows up in three unmarked black vans, two people each. I shimmy my way along the gutter, hoping to loop out of sight, but there’s no way I’ll be able to escape. There has to be a safer way.

To my left, someone’s balcony hangs about eight feet below. It’s not very large, but I could land on without breaking a sweat. Or bones. I grapple my way over, hanging on to the rickety gutter for dear life. I can feel the metal threatening to cut into my knuckles, but I can’t let it stop me.

Two gunshots fire off, and the bullets land somewhere in my vicinity. I look at the ground and see the six men have left their cars and are pointing pistols at me. From above, the two guards in the building are aiming out the window, though they won’t have as good of an angle to shoot at me so long as I keep moving.

Wincing and jumping with every blast of a gun, I continue my way to the balcony, and get close enough that I decide to leap towards it. When I let go of the gutter, I realize I vastly miscalculated how far away it is. My arms flail, and my right hand grabs on to the metal railing of the balcony at the last second.

Another volley of gunshots is unleashed, and I can feel a massive percussive force hit my left foot. Or shoe. I’m not sure which. Either way, it sends my lower body careening forward, forcing my grip on the balcony to loosen. I plummet eight feet, landing square on my back. Somewhat luckily for me, it’s mostly cushioned by a series of smaller, softer bushes, but it doesn’t stop the pain.

Now in the mulch and hiding behind the shrubbery, I realize how bad of a situation this is. I’m surrounded by six to eight men with guns, depending on how you define the word “surrounded.” There’s no way out of this without using my own gun.

“Come on, kid!” one of them calls, clearly inching closer to my hiding spot.

“And what if I don’t?”

“I won’t hesitate to shoot.”

“You drive a hard bargain, sir.”

I slowly reach for the guns in my pockets, coming to terms with my predicament, when I hear the whistle of something flying through the sky towards us.

“Retreat, men! It’s Orion and the Clockwork!”

“What?!” one of them calls out. I pop my eyes above the bush, and sure as day, the brass mass is soaring in our direction.

While they distract themselves by running to their own cars, I use the opportunity to bound out of the shrubbery and towards the still-idling B Realty box truck I’d followed to the complex. Thank goodness for other people’s irresponsibility.

I switch the truck into gear and drive away as best I can, seeing as I’ve never learned how to drive. It’s certainly a jerky experience. The unmarked cars follow suit, and behind them are Orion and the Clockwork, rapidly closing their distance between them and the cars.

If I have to fight Orion and the Clockwork, it’s the end of the line for me. Or, even worse, if I have to thank Orion and the Clockwork, I think I’ll end the line myself.

I step on the gas, giving myself a small head start on the posse of black sedans threatening to run me over. There’s a four-way stop sign dead ahead of me, but since I don’t see any cars waiting, I barrel right past it. The other cars do the same, but split off in opposite directions. One continues following me, but the other two turn left and right, probably trying to split Orion and the Clockwork’s attention.

Unbothered, the duo presses forward, directly behind the car currently tailing me.

The car takes a few pointless shots at Orion and the Clockwork, missing every time, before returning focus on me. They shoot dents into the back of the truck, but with the thick cargo hold between me and them, they don’t stand a chance of hurting me.

We blow through a second stop sign, as unpopulated as the last one, when I realize the next intersection is a stoplight with a busier street. I hit the brakes a little harder than I mean to, and I feel the black car bump into me. Then, a loud metal scraping fills the air, and when I look back, the Clockwork has landed directly on top of the sedan, weighing it down so much it grinds against the ground and eventually comes to a stop.

Using the distraction, I prepare for the worst at this intersection, but the light turns green for me right at the perfect time. I make a hard right, sending the box truck swerving and swinging left and right. Maybe this way I can disappear into the traffic without having to worry about the other two cars or Orion and the Clockwork.

On either side of me, the black cars pulls up to my section of the truck, pointing pistols at the window.

Spoke too soon on that front.

I hit the gas a little harder, lightly bumping the car in front of me. They honk before realizing what’s happening. The two cars unload on the box truck, spraying bullets into the cab, shattering the glass of both doors, but miraculously missing me.

The whistle of the Clockwork screams through the air again and they connect with the car on my right, smashing it into the ground without hesitation. Its wheels pop under the pressure, and sparks illuminate the road.

My heart is pounding. This is like a horror movie where the monster picks the characters off one by one. And I could be next.

In yet another rash decision, I hit a hard left at a nearby street, sending random cars screeching to a stop and dodging out of the way. My stolen box truck funnels straight into a tight alleyway, scraping against the sides of the buildings and taking my mirrors clean off. I have no way of seeing if the other car is still following until I emerge from the alley. A brief glance shows they are, but it also shows Orion and the Clockwork hovering slightly above us.

I don’t know exactly where we are, but we’ve definitely hit the Commerce District, and that’s enough for me. I swerve sharply into this road’s flow of traffic, and at the nearest light, go into another alleyway. This one’s a tad wider than the last, allowing me space to open the door and hop out of the truck.

Behind me, the last sedan rushes into the alley and smashes into the back of the box truck. They both lurch forward a bit, and I duck into an offshoot alley. Two doors slam shut, and I hear the men load their pistols.

“We’re in so much trouble, dude. Orion and the Clockwork are onto us, and we can’t even tie up this loose end. If the boss ever sees us again, he’ll kill us.”

I hide behind a dumpster, shakily grabbing one of my guns. This time, I’m fully prepared to go down swinging.

A loud engine sound roars through the alley, and the two men yell and fire their weapons. The bullets make a metal pinging noise against what I assume is the Clockwork, who smacks them both against the sides of the buildings.

“I’m only going to ask once,” Orion says to the two men. “Who do you work for?”

“As if we’d tell a kid like you.”

“This kid has a lot more manpower and resources than you do. If you simply tell me, this’ll go a lot easier for you. Who are you, and who were you chasing across the city?”

“Just some kid,” they reply. “She’s been giving the boss some trouble.”

“And who’s your boss?”

“We ain’t spilling.”

I manage a small glance at Orion from behind the dumpster. He looks average height and build, if not a little scrawny. His hair is brown and messy, and he’s wearing all black. His partner, the feared and respected Clockwork, is a large brass beast with powerful arms and legs and a furnace with eyes for a head.

It’s hard to believe the Gearmaster could create something like this and also something like Freckles. I guess you could say he’s a creative mind, if not a little abstract.

While Orion tries to interrogate the two goons, I slowly and quietly sneak away out the alleyway exit. Then, once I hit the sidewalk, I run in every direction I can. The last thing I want is for those two to hunt for me. Hopefully they’ll stay busy long enough to let me get a good lead on them.

After fifteen minutes of running and adrenaline pumping, I decide I can stop worrying about the protectorate duo of Carmsborough. They have bigger fish to fry with Slaphand’s goons, as long as they don’t get to him before I do.

With the sun getting lower in the sky, I begin my hunt for the building Josh the goon mentioned, wandering the streets and intersections of the Commerce District. In an unfortunate turn of events, I find it two streets over from the tent city Shady Shane lives in. The box truck must’ve been coming from their base here.

I walk the sidewalks, which are now emptier than earlier, and finally spot the big gray building. Off the left side of the building is a small cloudship loading dock, currently in use. I head to the front, looking to put a name to the fake company Slaphand’s using to terrorize Carmsborough.

The sign next to it reads “CB Moving Limited.” I drop my jaw in shock. All the strings in my heart snap like the bow of a violin being pressed too hard. My knees turn to jelly.

CB Moving Limited. The same company that evicted me from my apartment when my mom died.


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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