The noise started off quiet, unheard over the din of the shoppers as they milled in and out of shops, down vast arcade halls with a multitude of stalls, and marveled at the displays. In moments the sound became a low guttural grumble as the massive steam fed engines cranked out of idle. A small handful of people turned their heads towards the growing noise but continued their business. As the engines thundered to life, the rumbling pitched itself into a furious wail that held steady for a half minute before the turbines dropped back down idle. Thirty seconds later, the engines began their crescendo once again. Now, the sirens placed strategically around MacSweeny’s Maniacal Material Market had everyone’s attention. Yellow floor lights blinked on leading panicked shoppers towards emergency bunker doors that slide into existence between every other shop’s walls.
“Avera! Wake up!” Vicky burst into the back room of Tires and Wings while shouting above the sound of the sirens dying agony. She might as well have been whispering.
Avera rolled over on the tire pile and pulled one up over her face. “No. Nap time,” she muttered. With her free hand, she fumbled for the snooze on an imaginary alarm clock. The siren began its wind up for another deafening run. “What is that infernal racket,” she demanded, sitting upright.
“The air raid sirens. How are you not deaf yet?” Vicky sported a pair of ear muffs and held a second pair out towards Avera.
Kyle appeared in the entranceway armed to the teeth, a wild look in his eyes until he spotted Avera standing in the room “Oh, you are awake!”
“No, I had to wake her. My point.” Vicky said.
Kyle shook a mock fist at Vicky.
“What’s happening?” Avera interjected.
“You are not deaf.”
Save for the three of them, Tires and Wings and the rest of the Market was empty as far as they could see. The final dying wail of the sirens clung to the air for an eternity as the engine rotors spun freely before stopping.
THERE IS A TEN-FORTY EIGHT INCOMING. YOU HAVE EIGHT MINUTES TO PREPARE.
“Is this a jo…” Avera was cut off.
IT IS NOT A JOKE.
“But a ten-forty eight isn’t an air raid though,” Kyle said.
IT IS CLOSE ENOUGH.
“Then it is wise that you have only woken me in such an emergency.” Avera crossed her arms and nodded in approval at her two companions. Her too broad toothy smile put them on edge. Vicky hit her upside the head with a rolled up newspaper of yesterday’s sales. Both unconsciously took two steps backward.
SEVEN MINUTES AND A HALF MINUTES.
Avera rummaged through the tire pile and pulled out a 52mm Springer Blast-lock that was slightly taller than her own 5’ 11” frame. The weapon towered over Vicky as she stared up the barrel of the rifle. Avera handed it to Vicky.
“Seriously?” Vicky took the weapon in two hands.
“You might want to butt it up against a wall,” Avera said with another smile. “Let’s go!” She jumped behind the wheel of a nearby golf cart.
“I’m driving.” Kyle shoved Avera over to to the passenger seat. “You can’t drive….”
“Yes, I can,” Avera said hotly.
“…without killing us.”
“That’s less fun.” Avera grumped.
YOU SHOULD LET HER DRIVE.
“NO,” Vicky and Kyle shouted in unison.
“New clones aren’t available again until next week, and we had to use them last week in Gravestones and Chinaware!” Kyle shouted.
“That was fun,” Avera said.
Kyle groaned and gunned the engine. Soon they were racing through the rarely deserted hallways at nearly 75 miles an hour. Vicky snatched a men’s suit jacket off a passing rack outside of Jackets and Armor and slid into it.
“It’s rated for high-velocity impacts and doesn’t wrinkle,” she answered Avera’s curious gaze. She loaded another glowing castor into the magazine chamber for the Springer.
They sailed through Doors and Sabers and drove up the down escalator to the fifth floor. They stopped at Desks and Grenades and piled out. Avera ran towards the wall and punched a large red button that said ‘Do Not Push.’ The ceiling rumbled and split down the middle. Pulling back, it revealed sky full of low dense clouds.
Vicky set up the rifle, blocking it with a sack of grenades on one of the living oak desks. Small twigs grew up and around the bag and gun stock, anchoring it in place.
“Hand me the glass.”
Kyle picked up a champagne glass and began pouring out the drinks.
“No, no, no. The other glass.” Avera pointed at the small spyglass that decorated a glass desk in the corner of the room.
“Oh.” Kyle retrieved it.
Avera extended the telescope to its full length and scowled.
“Right. Two degrees up. Five degrees port. Angle down and adjust for curvature. The wind is 97 miles per hour straight down and climbing.
Kyle and Vicky stared at her with a blank expression. They looked at each other and shrugged.
“Vicky, clear the sky,” Avera announced.
Vicky fired. There was the familiar sharp pull on her Thread as the castor broke and activated the Weave contained inside.
The brilliant blue shock wave shattered nearby desks to either side as her own slid backward across the store floor. Branches grew from the sides of the desk attempting to arrest its movement.
Kyle stumbled a step as the force slammed into him.
Avera crashed into a pile of broken desks, cushioning her fall. She grunted under the pain.
The castor left a trail of glowing blue streaks of energy straight into the sky before the prevailing winds dispersed it as fast as it formed. It vanished into the clouds just before a silent explosion that forced all the clouds out of the sky.
A massive mechanical humanoid form appeared off in the distance, no longer hidden by the low cloud cover. Lightning filled clouds billowed out of the titanic machine, enveloping it once again.
“Who even owns a Storm Walker anymore?” Avera turned to the other two, “Why would you own a Storm Walker? It’s a walking target.”
Kyle and Vicky shrugged.
Small dots of light pin pricked the machine. The sound of staccato explosions followed several seconds later.
“My turn!” Kyle shouted as he sat down in a gunner’s chair. Several mounted GAU-8 Avengers emerged around the roof of MacSweeny’s Maniacal Material Market. They swiveled to onto targets, letting out a loud BRRRAAAAPP as Kyle brought them to bear. The building shuttered under the collective recoil of the guns.
The sky lit up brighter than the noonday sun from the explosions as the curtain of bullets hit the incoming missiles.
“Who did you piss off this time?” Avera said.
CERTAINLY NO ONE WITH A STORM WALKER.
“Well, obviously that no one owns a Storm Walker,” Kyle said
Avera keyed into the external announcement system and spoke, “Attention unknown persons bringing a Class S Storm Walker into the property of MacSweeny’s Inc. Such implements of destruction are forbidden within property lines. Retreat at once, or we will be forced to take the offensive.”
The Storm Walker paused, considered the idea, then moved forward again as another wave of missile trails headed their way.
“Negotiations have failed us,” Avera danced with glee.
“You didn’t negotiate anything,” Vicky said as she finished adjusting the Blast-lock after her last shot.
“You made someone really mad,” Kyle retargeted the incoming projectiles and laid down another curtain of heavy metal.
A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE BEEN MAD.
“That’s an understatement,” Vicky said.
“Load a number five and aim for the core.” Avera jumped up onto another desk to get a better view of the targeting fields.
“We’ve only got two fives left, are you sure?”
“This calls for a number five.”
“I’m pretty it doesn’t. In fact, I know it doesn’t.”
Avera swiveled towards Vicky with a confused expression, “How does this not?”
Vicky thought about it, then hefted the number five castor and chambered the round.
“The wind is 106 straight down. Core angle up 4 degrees, starboard 2.”
“It would help if you would actually make sense,” Vicky shouted while aiming.
“Fire,” Avera shouted with a flair of her arms.
Vicky pulled the trigger after a breath. A black dot appeared on the metal skin of the Storm Walker a moment later. The surrounding trees visibly tilted towards the growing sphere. They slid forward as the wind gently tugged at their clothing towards the explosion of a black void. An eternity later, the explosion shrank back to a pinpoint and vanished, leaving a gaping hole through the center of the Storm Walker.
The massive machine could no longer bear its upper half and crashed towards the ground in a twisted pile of metal, burning smoke and the remains of generated clouds. Lightning danced around as its capacitors discharged or ruptured.
Avera smiled and clapped her hands in the ensuing silence, “Good job team, this will look good in our reports. Time to send out the salvage crews and get everyone out of the bunkers.”