It takes everything in me to not crumple to the floor and ugly cry.
It’s him. I found him. My best friend in the whole wide world is here and unscathed. Untouched, even. Still locked in the same cage Slaphand had stuffed him in.
“Freckles, oh my God! I’ve missed you so much, dude! We’re gonna figure out how to free you now. Ike, it’s him!”
Ike glances back. “Alright. Grab him, and we’ll bounce. There’s no telling how many people are waiting for us.”
“Right. Umm, something to open the cage with…”
“Yeah, but I don’t see a crowbar or anything.”
I look at my waist. “Well, what do we have here? At least one of us is thinking with our brain.”
I pull my knife from its sheathe and place the tip between the cage and its door before using my pistol to wedge the blade in. It takes a hot moment, but the knife eventually reaches a point where it doesn’t slip, so I pull on its handle with as little force as I can to prevent hurting myself. The cage opens slightly, and Freckles slips one of his paws in the gap.
Together, the two of us pop the cage door off, launching it close to the room’s entryway. Ike turns his head again, worried.
“Oh, my sweet baby!”
I offer him a head bump, but he moves to jump onto my shoulders.
“Hold on, Freckles. I’ve got a broken rib, and I’d rather not suffer any more than I have to.”
“You’re telling me. You would not believe my life the past few days. I’ve been working nonstop to make sure Slaphand pays for separating us.”
“Luna, c’mon,” Ike says, a little nervous.
“Yeah, sorry. Let’s go, bud.” We do a soft headbutt and follow Ike out of the room.
“Hey, Ike,” Agent Jake says through the communicator again, “I’ve got bad news.”
“Let’s hear it, Jake.” His face grows decades older with just those four words.
“Nobody’s gonna be able to make it your way for the next few hours. We’re held up with everything else happening, and a round of Nazi ships are harassing our men off the coast.”
“Of course they are. Okay, we’ll find some other way out of this.”
“We can run to the Constellation,” I suggest.
“She probably has her men crawling all over it. We’ve gotta think of something else. Maybe hijacking this ship? It wouldn’t take us very far since we’ll be a crew of two and a cat, but we’d be gone.”
“I could call my boss and see if he can save us.”
“Alright. But unless that happens, we’re stealing the Crowned Jewel.”
I power my watch on. “Hey boss, you there? I realize it’s pretty early in the morning, but this is sort of important.”
The three of us wait in silence for a minute, but he doesn’t answer. I shrug my shoulders but wince when my ribs flare. “Alright, time for my third airship hijacking this week.”
“That’s the spirit.”
We climb the stairs cautiously, weapons in hand. Two henchmen are waiting at the landing and get a few shots in before we do. Ike and I duck to avoid getting hit.
Freckles bounds up the rest of the stairs and attacks the two men. A few gunshots ring out, and one ricochets off of something metal, but the sounds end quickly. We peek again and are met with Freckles standing on top of one of them, claiming his throne.
My smile returns. “Have I ever told you I love you, Freckles?”
“Come in, Luna,” the boss’ voice says, emanating from my watch. “What’s so important this early?”
Ike stares, wide-eyed.
“So, Freckles is rescued and Slaphand is dead, but we’re stranded at Candlewood Docks in the Upper Agriculture District. Do you think you could have someone come get us?”
“Well, lucky for you, we’re reasonably close. I’ll have my men redirect course. Stay safe.”
“Thanks, boss. Peace.”
I look at Ike, who is standing slack jawed.
“He’s your boss, Luna?”
“Yeah. Why? Who is he?”
“He’s Syndra. The man who tried to kill Orion, steal the Clockwork, and take control of Carmsborough last year.”
“You’re working for Syndra, and you didn’t even know?!”
“I mean, how could I have? It’s not like he introduced himself as Syndra, the big bad guy who tried to overthrow the government or something!”
“Jesus Christ, Luna. How’d you get yourself into this situation?”
Oh, God. Oh, man. Am I pawn to another bad guy with bad plans? Am I as bad as the goons doing Slaphand’s bidding?
“That’s a question I’d like to ask both of you,” a woman’s voice says from above us, at the top of the next flight of stairs. Ike stiffens and Freckles gets into a pouncing position.
“Cleopatra,” Ike says, motioning to me with his finger to be quiet. “I was wondering when we might run into you.”
“Please, come join me on the main deck. I’d like to offer a civil conversation to the two of you.”
“I’m sure you would,” he replies, creeping up the staircase. Freckles and I follow his lead, hugging the wall along the way.
We reach the deck and are met by our second crime boss of the day. The three things that are immediately noticeable about her are her long, bright-blonde hair, her leopard print shirt that has a seventy percent chance of being real, and how tall she is. Certainly taller than average, and maybe an inch or two taller than Ike. Her physical posture, crossed arms and a wide stance, screams power and attention.
“Well, aren’t you cute?” she says.
“He’s off limits,” I say, moving to stand in front of Freckles.
“I was talking to you, dear. I assume you’re the Luna who’s been giving Slaphand hell?”
“Gave Slaphand hell. Past tense.”
“Bijabers will be upset to hear that, but it was a tad overdue. Men like him get cocky, and for as long as he was in the game, a lot of us were betting against him for you.”
“I’m flattered. If you’ll excuse us, we have a ship to catch.”
“Not so fast,” she says, raising her left arm and snapping. Ten of her troops climb the airship’s ramp, carrying all sorts of melee weapons.
“Why wouldn’t you bring any guns?” I yell. “You know for a fact we have some.”
To prove my point, Ike pulls his own out and pulls the trigger, aiming at Cleopatra with lightning speed.
His gun clicks. There’s no ammo.
“Oh, performance issues are nothing to be embarrassed of, Special Agent Ike,” she says, smiling.
I reveal mine and aim it at her as well, but as soon as I’ve got it leveled in front of me, a chain smacks my hand and wrenches it away. Cleopatra smiles, wielding a claw on a long metal chain, and whips the pistol off the side of the ship.
“What on earth was that?”
“This, dear, is my chain claw. It’s how I’m going to finish the three of you off.”
She swings it wide, cutting the air in front of us with a whistle. I reverse a bit, looking for another way to get to her without breaking any more bones.
Freckles, on the other hand, bounds after her, ready to fight. He gets about halfway to her before she swings the claw again, smacking him on his side. He rolls across the deck but gets up, his eyes glowing intensely.
The goons around us spring into action, five moving to Ike and five to me.
There’s no way I’m taking five of them on at once. At best, I’d lose a few more ribs. At worst, this whole trip was for nothing.
Freckles glances back and decides to join us, plowing into one of my five. Two of the four still standing decide to move to Freckles, leaving me with two.
A little more fair, I suppose.
I retrieve my knife and lunge for the closer of the two. I feel the pain in my chest burn stronger, but it’s not stopping me. The man dodges, stepping dangerously close to the edge of the ship. I reach again, slicing horizontally, and he leans away. With him off balance, I kick, sending him plummeting off the side of the ship to the ground.
Now that I’m the one that’s too close to the edge, I run at the other man with an angry yell. He tries to step to the side, but my knife sinks straight into his chest. The force rattles my bones. I pull it out. It’s covered in blood.
He falls to his knees, clutching at the wound, but the light leaves his eyes instantly.
I’ve just killed two more men. And I didn’t even flinch.
Ike and his entourage are in front of me, duking it out. He’s put away two of the men as well, but the rest are giving him a run for his money. Time to even the odds again.
I push forward, catching one of them by surprise with a knife to the back. He screams, flailing his arms behind him to reach me. Ike kicks him in the face, and he flops over. I retrieve my knife, and together, we clean up the remaining two.
“You’ve taken killing in stride,” Ike comments.
“A wise man once told me, ‘it’s us or them,’ and I’ve made my choice.”
We look to see Freckles being carried by the three men that went after him, each holding him by a paw upside down. They move to the side of the ship, hoping to toss him off the side.
“I don’t think so!” Despite the pain it causes, I dash full speed into one of the three men, and Ike knocks another one to the floor. Freckles, now mostly free, pushes against his captor and sends him butt-first to the grass below. We subdue the last two men and turn to face Cleopatra.
“I see how you’ve managed to get this far,” she smiles. “Too bad brute force isn’t going to cut it.”
She reveals a second chain, this one with a blade at the end, and cracks it like a whip. The tip lashes at Ike, nicking his suit and giving him a fresh wound.
“What is that thing?” I ask.
“A chain knife,” Ike answers, wiping some of the blood.
“Well, that’s awful creative naming.”
“Listen, I don’t decide these things.”
She swings her long-range weapon, nearly shaving off one of my buns. There’s no easy way to get close to her.
“That’s pretty risky, Freckles. I’m not sure I’d try it if I were you.”
“What’s he saying?” Ike asks, ducking under the chain knife as it whizzes by.
Freckles darts off towards Cleopatra, but as she goes in to swing at him, he adjusts course by a sharp ninety degrees, running slightly ahead of the deadly blade. He runs a circle around her, the knife following close behind, but she realizes what’s happening a little too late.
Powerless to stop it, the chain binds her upper arms tightly, providing us with a makeshift rope to keep her in check. I rush over and kick her to the floor, hooking the blade into the chain so it doesn’t unravel.
A swooshing noise fills the air, accompanied by the sound of scattered gunfire. A squad of S-emblazoned ships is approaching.
“You’re right on time,” I say into my watch, sitting on top of Cleopatra. “With Slaphand dead, I figured I might as well try to capture at least one mob boss alive tonight. We’re on the fancy ship, if you’d be so willing as to not blow us up.”
“Didn’t plan on it,” Syndra’s voice replies, crackling with static ever so slightly.
“What will you do, Ike?” I turn to face him.
Or, rather, where he was standing a minute ago.
I step into the belly of the ship. He’s disappeared entirely.
An airship lands next to the Crowned Jewel, and Syndra emerges from the top deck. Ten guards join him, all pointed and ready. “It’s good to see you again, Luna,” he yells.
∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙
A few of Syndra’s ships stayed to clean the area, but I joined the head honcho himself on a trip back to base. An onboard medical team strapped me down and did what they could for my rib, including forcing me to wear a brace. They told me it was “only half-cracked,” as if that were somehow a better situation.
After, I walked into the cockpit, Freckles by my side. When we arrive, Syndra turns to face me, smiling. “I’m glad you’ve completed the mission without falling apart too much.”
“When were you gonna tell me your real name, Syndra?”
His smile falters.
“As you can imagine, my name hasn’t been popular in Carmsborough ever since Orion and the Clockwork defeated me and ran their propaganda. They had me arrested and sent to jail, but some freedom fighters interested in my cause freed me.
“I had to restart and rebrand, in a sense. My goals are just as I told you. I want the best for our people. But Orion and the Clockwork would never let me do it again if they knew it was me, so I had to use codenames and anonymity. Please forgive me for keeping it a secret from you.”
“But… but you’re a bad guy…”
“I believe that’s what you’ve been told, but think about what I’ve done for you, and the opportunities I’ve given. What I still plan to give. Who I’ve targeted. Slaphand was a bad guy. Bijabers is a bad guy. Orion isn’t necessarily bad, but is a complicated person who wants something different than I do. If you decide I’m a bad person, then so be it. I’ll let you walk and I won’t contact you again. But if you have any doubt, stick it out. I’ll prove my worth to you.”
What he says makes sense, and I almost believe him. But why wouldn’t Ike trust him if he really wasn’t a good person?
Either way, he’s right. He’s going for the truly bad guys. Is it so bad that I help him see it out, even if he does have a darker side?
I nod my head. “Whatever you say, boss.”
He smiles again. “I say off to the base for a bit of rest. You must be exhausted.”
“You could say that.”
∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙
My chest has healed exponentially in the time since the battle, so I’ve started physical therapy and some very basic training. It’s a taxing process, and I’m tired of it, but a promise is a promise, and it really does seem to be helping.
Halfway through today’s session, Syndra walks in, forcing everyone to drop what they’re doing and stand at attention.
“Calm down, everyone. I’m here for Luna. As is.”
“What’s up, boss?” I ask, standing.
“Luna, I’ve told you from the beginning that you would be free to go until I needed you again. I intend to stay true to my word. Therefore, I’ve found the old apartment you lived in and bought the complex. You’ll never have to pay rent so long as you live there.”
“Thank you, sir. I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. As of right now, you are free to leave and go live whatever life you want to live. Keep your transmitter handy, and try not to be more than a day’s notice away from home base, but I will call you when I require your help.”
He hands me a set of keys. I look at Freckles, who has his head tilted. “We’re going home, bud.”
I salute at Syndra and walk off, but stop in the doorway of the practice tent. “Oh, I have one more favor. Do you know of any places that sell motorcycles?”
With Freckles in a cute little sidecar, I ride across the countryside, the rocky road no match for my new all-black motorcycle. The wind feels good on my face. Eventually, we reach the inner city, and even though traffic is slow, I’m as relaxed as ever.
Well, almost. There’s a little twang in my chest.
We arrive at our destination, a place I’m all too familiar with. I park the motorcycle in a small little lot, and together, we walk past the wrought-iron gate.
The dirt under our feet is pretty compact. The path is winding, but I have the destination memorized. It’s a five-minute walk through the graveyard. We stop in front of two markers, one beside the other.
On my left, a deep obsidian headstone reads my mom’s name. On the right is Mary’s. I knew nothing but her first name and the day she died, so a good portion of the stone remains empty. At the bottom, I had the maker engrave “There when nobody else was.”
I sit in front of their graves. Even Freckles seems somber, despite never having met either of them. After half an hour, I decide it’s time to bounce. My hand brushes the tops of each, clearing the dust off.
“We’ve got things to do,” I say, turning the motorcycle on again. “I’ve felt like something’s been missing, and I think I just figured out what it is.”
“Yeah, it might have a little something to do with him.”
An hour later, we’re back on board the Constellation, with the motorcycle parked inside, and making our way to the Commerce District. I have an old friend to visit.
My ship hovers slightly above the crusty scrapyard, which is still busy with work. I push a button on the dashboard for a loudspeaker, catching the attention of the workers.
“Is Chad at work today?” I ask on the speaker. Down below, a figure walks out of his little office. It’s all the confirmation I need.
“Luna, is that you? By God, I thought you were dead!”
“Well, if it isn’t Cheapskate Chad! The man who, for years, paid me under the legal limit, all while working for a ruthless criminal.”
“It was nothing personal, kid.”
“It was everything personal. But that’s not why we’re here. Today, you have the honor of being the first victim of Luna Wells, the blood moon pirate. May Carmsborough be healed of people like you.”
My new crescent moon mask slides down over the left side of my face. As I aim my cannon in his direction, I can’t help but grin.
“Yes, sir. I’m well aware of what it looks like.”
Ike was pacing the floor of his private jet, running his hands through his hair. A headset covered his ears, blocking most of the loud noises of the jet and the air surrounding it. Attached to that was a microphone.
“Tell me how that happens, Ike.”
“Well, Mr. President, I’m not entirely sure. She had no training, but still bested me.”
“Twice, might I mention.”
“Yes, sir, twice. But I’ve searched all our files. She doesn’t appear once. I’ve been trying my best to hunt down and persuade as many of these kids to our side as possible. Cog and her friends, Orion, even that kid exploring the Hindenburg. But none of them are as conniving and irrational as her, and she’s not going to be the last.”
“The last of what? What do we even do in this situation, Ike? They’re only kids.”
“Yeah, they’re kids. But they’re also some of our best assets, and they’ve all partnered with steambots. The Clockwork, the dove, the rabbit, and the cat. Whenever one of these steambots partners with a kid, things happen, and we need to get ahead of it.”
“Does this have anything to do with the war?”
“I think this is bigger than the war, Mr. President. Syndra picked up on it, and I think Bijabers has, too. They’ll be bursting through the doors of every steambot owner in the world soon. I just can’t comprehend why Bijabers and his entourage were moving out of Carmsborough. What do they know is going to happen that we don’t?”
“We’ll figure this thing out, Ike. Where’s the girl now?”
“Still hovering around Carmsborough. She’s calling herself the ‘blood moon pirate.’ It won’t be long before the kids clash, so I’m keeping my eye out.”
“Why don’t you find and catch her?”
“Well, speaking from experience, sir, nobody’s been able to catch Luna on the run.”
- 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.