It’s well past midnight when I come to, sprawled across the ground. I’m pretty sure the only reason I wake when I do is because of how cold and wet the grass is. I don’t even remember falling asleep, but a glance at my watch tells me it was nearly seven hours ago. Apparently, I needed it.
At first, I wonder why nobody messed with the random woman spread out on the damp grass in front of a business, but nobody would mess with me when I was homeless and asleep. Nicer clothes weren’t going to change that.
Even this late at night, the building labeled “CB Moving Limited” is alive with activity. Another cloudship is unloading on the dock up top, and lights are spilling from windows onto the cobblestone sidewalk outside. Whatever they’re really doing at CB Moving Limited, it has a third shift.
Or the third shift is the sneaky, illegal shift.
Wouldn’t surprise me any.
“Well, I suppose it’s time I scout the place and sneak in,” I say, my voice reaching no one’s ears. Why I felt the need to say it, I’ll never understand.
Above me, in the sky, the moon is big and beautiful. It’s just under full and waning into third quarter, or however you say it. My sole audience member for the insane break-in I’m preparing to attempt.
My first move is to tiptoe around the perimeter of the building. I spot a rear-entrance door that opens to an alley, but other than that, there’s a whole lot of nothing that can help me.
So, like a normal person, I squat at the end of the alley opposite the door and stare at it, waiting for someone to emerge. When nothing happens for thirty minutes, I decide it’s time to get moving.
The door creaks slightly as I open it, but nobody comes to check the noise, so I keep moving forward. I eventually slip into the building, which is a lot warmer than the chilly nighttime air, and close the door as delicately as it was opened.
“Now, onto hunting for the big man.”
I take one step on the tile flooring of the storage room I’m in, and my shoes squeak from the water they collected outside. The noise is a lot louder than the door was, and I immediately go to duck behind one of the metal shelves holding large, unmarked cardboard boxes.
Once again, nobody comes to investigate, and I use the time to wipe my shoes off as best as I can with my sleeve. It’s not perfect, but a few test steps prove much quieter.
Can’t have a little rain getting me in trouble.
I go to leave the room, but a nagging feeling in my gut tells me to check a few of the boxes and their contents, so I run my knife across the tops of a few of them, slicing the tape. Three contain nothing but packing peanuts and small metal parts that look like they belong to machinery, but the fourth box contains gears and pipes, all a brassy-coppery color.
There’s not a lot of pocket space left in my jacket, but I grab one of the larger gears and stash it away. Whether it’s because it’s shiny or because I want to find out more about the strange box of stuff is up for debate.
I open the next door, which leads into the main lobby of CB Moving Limited. The ceiling hangs high, meaning the second floor is a lot smaller, but seeing as the building is four stories total, there’s still plenty of ground to cover.
A patrol of three armed guards near the front entrance comes into view, walking along the windows and peering out of each set, almost as if they’re expecting visitors.
There’s no doubt word’s reached them: Luna, the one who destroyed Slaphand’s Plasmarizer twice, escaped the island and is back to causing havoc. They know I’m heading this way. All I’ve gotta do is make it seem like I haven’t already arrived.
It’s almost funny realizing this whole mess is for me. I’ve scared and upset this big grown man an unreasonable amount. This “kid” has his guards on high alert.
Like earlier, I sit and peek through the crack in the doorway, watching the patrol make their rounds and tracing their patterns. Five minutes into scouting, however, a second group of guards arrives, retracing the first group’s path almost exactly the same way. And five minutes after that, a third batch shows up, too.
A total of nine guards are in the main lobby, all patrolling different areas at different times. If I step out, I’m almost definitely gonna be seen. But there are no other doors to this room, and I doubt if there’s a spare outfit stuffed into any of these boxes.
I search for an answer, which comes from above.
For whatever reason, there’s a sort of vent in the wall that leads to the main room, meaning if I unscrew that and slip in, I’ll be high enough that the patrol groups won’t spot me unless they look up. And they’ll have no reason to unless I make too much noise. Then, I’ll walk across the support beams spanning the room to the stairs, and…
Well, something, hopefully. The support beam is too high to make it to the stairs safely, and even if I could, there’s no way they wouldn’t notice me jump. Not to mention, if a fourth patrol group makes their rounds, I’d run right into them.
But, if I can find something to throw all the way to the opposite side of the room, maybe the noise will distract them all, giving me time to make the jump and hide.
It’s better than nothing, I suppose.
The three groups merge into one somewhere near the middle of the room, talking and ignoring their job. Nobody even glances this way as I snake out of sight behind the door.
I climb the metal shelf directly under the vent, which is clear of boxes on top, but it’s less than four feet from the top of the shelf to the ceiling, so I’m stuck crouching. Then, with the blade of one of my knives, I slowly and carefully turn each of the four screws on the gate and gently set it beside me.
There’s plenty of space for me to crawl in, but it’ll be as uncomfortable as my spot on the top shelf. I check on the group of nine one last time, making sure they’re still talking and not paying attention, before stepping through the hole in the wall and onto one of the three support beams.
The black metal beam slopes up a bit near the center of the room, putting me at about fifteen feet above the floor. It’s fairly wide, but still a bit of a tightrope act.
The circus was never really my thing. I prefer watching movies in theaters. Not that I’ve seen one in years.
Heights, coincidentally, are also not my thing.
I get myself as close to the stairs as I safely can and peek below me. They still haven’t noticed, which is strange, considering the amount of dust I’ve displaced.
I fish the gear from my pocket and give it one last look. It’s solid but light, meaning I could toss without a problem.
“So long, good friend,” I whisper, spotting my reflection in the lustrous material. “You were good while you lasted.”
I reel my arm over my shoulder and throw the gear as hard as I can, watching it arc across the room all the way to the other side. It connects with the wall and emits a loud metal scraping noise. As everyone looks in that direction, I dive off the metal beam and onto the stairs. It’s a four- or five-foot drop, but I stick the landing without hurting myself too much.
Hidden from view by the wall protecting the staircase, I quickly claw my way up, avoiding standing in fear of poking my head out and being spotted. I climb the rest of the stairs to the landing, revealing a balcony on the second floor. Multiple rooms line the small walkway.
I slide into one of the rooms, praying it’s empty, and hide away in a corner. A few minutes pass, and I hear footsteps walk by the room, but they’re not alerted to my spot. I allow myself a peek out the room’s window overlooking the balcony and spot the crowd of thirteen guards all staring at the spot where my gear had collided.
It’s still stuck in the wall.
This room, unlike the storage room on the first floor, is connected to another room by an inner door. I get back on the ground and peer through the crack underneath. The lights are off and there’s no sound or movement inside.
Should I move again?
Whether or not I should, I do. This one doesn’t have a window, meaning I have a little more freedom to move around, but it also has an inner door leading to a third room, whenever I’m ready for that.
I use the seclusion time as a chance to breathe, seeing as I have a lot more building to climb at this point. I’m getting good at this sneaking and infiltrating thing. Maybe I should become some sort of espionage agent. I’m sure there are places hiring.
I let a few more minutes pass before walking to the next door and checking it the same way I did the first. This time, the light is on, but there are no signs of life inside. This one has a window similar to the first room, but also stairs to the third floor of the building.
So far, there’s been nothing of interest in any of the rooms. If I had to guess, the first and second floors are part of their “moving company” front end, and the third and fourth floors are part of their “mafia syndicate” back end.
I follow the staircase to the third floor, where the mood drastically changes. The walls are a different color, the floor is carpeted, and everything feels drab and secretive.
“Yeah, the boys are completely confused as to what happened,” a voice says down the hall, accompanied by a set of footsteps. “That’s the second gear to get lodged in that wall in a week, and nobody can find the source. Probably one of the guards playing tricks.”
I hastily roll into one of the open rooms nearby, hoping the man doesn’t come in here.
“No, the cameras still aren’t functional from the outage last month. Boss believes they’ve been sabotaged, but the repairman doesn’t think so. Besides, nobody’s come to steal anything, and that Luna kid certainly didn’t plan any of this. She was still on the island when the first one got stuck.”
The man walks by, totally unaware of me, that Luna kid, on the other side of the wall, and descends the stairs to the second floor. I breathe a short-lived sigh of relief.
I can’t believe I didn’t check if there were cameras again. I’ve been screwed by them twice, and for all I know, it could’ve been three by now if it weren’t for their mysterious outage. Also, the second gear in a week in that wall? What on earth is going on around here?
Those are questions for later. I step back into the hallway, ready to begin my search.
With most of the welcome party on the first and second floors, being spotted isn’t my biggest worry, but I still take every precaution I can. Most of the rooms are offices of some sort, but two catch my interest: the conference and storage rooms.
The conference room has a lot of information about the island and a few of Bijabers’ dealings. There’s a bulletin board detailing some guy in France, as well as a paper at the far end of the table in the center sent from someone calling herself “Cleopatra.” It mentions shipments inside Carmsborough, but not what they’re shipping or to where.
If I wanted any more confirmation that this was one of Slaphand or Bijabers’ dealings, I got it all right here.
As for the storage room, it’s mostly cleaning supplies on the inside, but a second box of gears and pipes, like the one in the storage room, sits on a shelf collecting dust. The words “OLD PROTOTYPE PARTS” are written in sharpie on the side. A prototype for what? The Plasmarizer? A steambot?
Too many questions in this building. All I need is to find Slaphand’s current location. I pocket two more gears from the box and silently fold the top again.
Thirty minutes of searching later, I climb to the fourth floor, which, unlike the third, has guards patrolling the parallel halls. Must be the important area.
For the most part, it’s more of the same boring offices, but this time with the added flair of hostile men threatening to use their pistols on me. More than once I’m forced to step into an empty room to wait for one of them to pass by, and it’s slow moving across the building.
Eventually, I spot a room with barred windows and two guards standing on the outside. Beyond that is a door with a stairway label. The most protected room is right beside the roof access. That’s clearly where I wanna be, but how do I get inside?
“All hands on deck downstairs,” their radios say, crackling to life on their hips. “One of Cleopatra’s men is coming to do the steroid exchange and we need every last guard for safekeeping.”
The two guards sigh and leave the hallway. Like clockwork, I hide inside another room until they’re out of sight and stand in front of the barred room.
That was easy.
I feel like the door should’ve been locked, but it swings open with no resistance. My eyes widen. Lining the walls are expensive-looking paintings and artworks and three statues standing in various spots. Various golden items sit on a bookshelf, joined by a large vase full of gold coins.
In the center of the room is a map on a table which reads “Slaphand’s Stakes.” Next to that is a large metal bat.
A small red X marks the location of his main hideout, under the name of “Hand & Boogie Retail.” There are plenty of additional markings on the map, including a skull over the recently destroyed Blood Moon Island and blue dots for each of the apartment complexes they control.
Hand & Boogie Retail. It’s nestled in between the Commerce and Higher districts. I’ve never had a reason to go that way, but I do now. My first trip to the Higher District will be to find and crush Slaphand.
On my way out, I consider the large vase of gold coins taunting me on the shelf. I go to grab a handful, but hesitate.
“What would you do, Freckles?” I say aloud. “I mean, I always say it’s moral to steal from the bad guys. They’re the bad guys, after all. But you wouldn’t like it in the first place. Something about stealing making me as bad as them, or whatever. It’s too bad you’re not here, I guess.”
My mind is made up. Sorry Freckles, you’ll have to forgive me later.
I grab five or six of the coins, stash them awkwardly in the same pocket as the two gears are in, and turn to leave the room, only to be met with a guard staring at me, confused, terrified, and angry.
“How long were you there?” I ask, as if it matters.
“Long enough. You’re that Luna kid, aren’t you?”
“I thought you were supposed to be helping Cleopatra.”
“Yeah, but something tripped the silent alarm for this room, and that something is you. Put your hands—”
Without hesitation, I reach for the metal bat leaning against the table in the center of the room and swing at the man. It connects loudly and violently with his head, knocking him to the ground, unconscious.
The metal sound reverberates through the hallway. If nobody else knew I was here, they do now.
I swipe the map on the table, which tears at the four corners where it was pinned, and stuff it in my coat before climbing the stairs to the roof. Maybe, if nobody’s there, I can steal the cloudship and get away without being chased.
I reach the top and am met with snow and two guards, as surprised to see me as I am them.
“Well, hello, fellas.”
I scan the roof. There’re two goons in the cloudship. I can either take all four of them on or find a different way to escape.
The building behind me has a roof the same height as this one. If I can jump the distance between the two, I might get a good head start.
They approach me, spreading out a little to have as much peripheral on me as possible. From below, the door swings open, and two more guards charge up the stairs.
Now or never, I suppose.
I lob the bat at one of the nearest guards, which smacks him comically, and make a break for the other rooftop. At this speed, I might make it.
Or, at least, I would’ve, if I hadn’t looked at the ground at the last second. My body fills with terrible anxiety, and my jump ends up barely two feet short of my target. I try to reach for the ledge of the building, but I’m a few inches too far away.
I fall five feet and miraculously land on a metal fire escape, even almost sticking the landing.
I barrel shoulder-first into the brick wall of the building, grinding my teeth in pain. The guards peer at me from the rooftop, not wanting to attempt the same thing.
“You’ve only got one way down,” one says. They all disappear, probably on their way to the bottom of the fire escape. By the time I finish descending the four ladders to the alleyway, they’ll have gotten equally as far, and I’ll be toast.
I stare at the window right in front of me. Every fire escape has a window to escape from. There are actually two ways for me to avoid capture.
I don’t know what this building is, or anything about it, but I know what it’s going to be used for.
Within seconds, one of the stolen gears is in my hands and smashing into the glass. It makes quick work of the windowpane, and I step into the building, which is completely dark on the inside except for the faint lamplights peeking in from the streets.
I weave through the hallways of this new building and find the roof access, climb my way up, and face the roof of CB Moving Limited. The guards all went to hunt for me downstairs, leaving the cloudship unprotected.
These guys are consistently stupid, and honestly, I love it.
I step all the way to the opposite side of this building’s roof, hoping to gain the speed and momentum to get me across. Just don’t look down, Luna. Take the jump, and don’t look down.
I break into a full sprint, charging across the roof as fast as I can, and leap over the ledge. I do end up looking halfway through the air and spot a few of the guards already waiting for me in the alley. It’s a long fall, but I won’t be joining them. My feet land firmly on the roof of CB Moving Limited, and I break my landing with a roll.
No time to relish in that accomplishment. I’ve gotta get the cloudship kicked into motion and get out of here. Luckily for me, the design is the exact same as the first ship I stole, and the key is once again still in the ignition. Hooray for consistency, I suppose.
The cloudship starts moving as soon as two of the guards reappear on the roof. They fire at the balloon, but their pistols aren’t going to do much in stopping me from flying away.
I’m free, I’m safe, I have a map of locations, and I stole another one of their dinky little cloudships. It’s hard not to feel cocky. Freckles will be in my hands in no time.
- 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.