“Thank you for your purchase,” Vicky said from behind the counter as Hemlock the Vast trundled off out of the store.
He had several components which she was sure he would use in such ways as to immediately void all their warranties. A ray gun was the obvious choice, she decided. She thought up four different potential designs with the pieces he bought. All of them extra deadly.
Vicky did a quick check to ensure the rest of Power and Canisters was empty. It helped to be a little paranoid in the Market. She reached over her head and stretched, then leaned back on the counter. She smiled, her shift was almost over, and she’d be free for the weekend, just another forty minutes to go. It had been a quiet day, no crazy customers, no Avera and no-
Vicky’s smile slid off her face into a scowl. “NO.”
IT WILL BE FUN.
“No! And your definition of ‘fun’ is severely broken.”
YOUR ASSISTANCE IS REQUIRED.
Vicky heaved a sigh and rolled her eyes. “I have,” she checked her pocket chronometer, “Thirty-eight minutes and twenty seconds left for today. Get Avera. She likes doing your jobs.”
SHE IS ALREADY ON ONE.
Outside in the arcade, the light fixtures flickered and dimmed for several before returning to acceptable luminance values.
Vicky’s eyes narrowed, she couldn’t prove that was Avera’s fault.
Power and Canisters darkened as the lamps lost power and faded out. Only light streaming in through the front windows of the store was left. Next, one of the security blast panels slammed down and locked, further cutting off the light. One by one, sections fell into place on either side of the entrance.
That wasn’t Avera.
“Alright, fine! I’m coming. What is this assistance required of me?.” Vicky stalked out onto the walk as the security panel slammed down behind her, sealing Power and Canisters. The store’s sign blinked off.
EXCELLENT. I KNEW YOU WOULD AGREE.
“There wasn’t much of a choice,” Vicky muttered and leaned up against the window. She rechecked her chronometer. “35 minutes and 40 seconds.”
YOUR ASSISTANCE IS REQUIRED IN THE BASEMENT. TAKE YOUR BOOTS AND SPECIAL OUTFIT. MAYBE THAT NICE LITTLE NUMBER YOU KEEP HIDDEN IN LOCKER #1045.
Vicky groaned into the palm of her hand, “Is there flooding?”
“Why can’t you ever make things easy? No, don’t answer that.” A threshold rumbled open between Power and Canisters and Wickerworks. Vicky glared at the opening, then stepped through into the tiny hallway. The opposite side opened into her small personal locker and changing room. All employees had one. She just had no idea where it happened to be inside of MacSweeny’s.
Vicky opened up one of the lockers and pulled out the ‘little number.’ It was a Ravenholt Mark VIII Harpoon Rifle Repeater. She gave the large weapon a quick inspection to ensure all parts were clean and clear of debris. Once she was satisfied, she filled the small boiler with water and focused a small steady stream of Thread into the chamber. The two pressure gauge needles started their slow climb to max pressure.
Next, she put on hip waders and a storm jacket. “I get paid overtime you know,” Vicky said as she picked up a quiver of harpoon bolts.
The only door out of the locker room was the way she came in. Several steps through the short hall and a doorway later, she was standing in the stairwell that led to the basement.
Lights flickered, illuminating the steps in a dull ominous light as it descended into the dark abyss below. “If you are doing this on purpose, I’m going to bolt you instead.” She hefted the rifle towards one of the myriads of security cameras that dotted the interior of the building. The lights flared up as bright as the noonday sun, revealing the entire stairwell and as far as the underground hallways and mazes allowed her to see. Vicky smiled wryly, “that’s what I thought.”
At the bottom of the stairs stood about three feet of water. Boxes, crates and a horde of other unidentifiable items from the submerged shelving floated everywhere.
DEAR ME. A CLEANUP CREW IS REQUIRED DOWN HERE.
“It’s not going to be me.”
OF COURSE NOT. YOU HAVE THE FUN PART.
“I regret every day I work here.” Vicky groused. She slogged through the debris-filled water, following gushing sounds until at last, she located a floodgate that was open. She had to climb over several racks, run along the top, scale down the other side and jump from pallet to pallet until she had reached the gate control room. It took her several minutes to crank the big metal wheel that managed the gate lock. The roar of the egressing water faded away.
She sloshed her way into an adjacent maintenance room that housed the controls for the sump pumps and switched them on. The basement hummed as the submerged engines rumbled to life.
“The water is draining. I’m done,” Vicky announced over the din.
A large, thick and slimy thing wrapped itself up her leg and yanked her underwater. Her scream turned into gurgling bubbles. While being towed along, she lined the Mark VIII alongside her leg and fired. The thing on her leg recoiled in pain, letting her go and vanished. A purple substance swirled about and mixed with the floodwaters. Vicky sputtered as she hauled herself up out of the water and back up onto the racks. “You could have warned me!” She got rid of the waders, now that they were full of water.
I DID. I TOLD YOU TO TAKE YOUR SPECIAL NUMBER.
Vicky rolled her eyes and groaned. She reloaded the Repeater while scanning the water’s surface. With so much flotsam bobbing around in the swirling waters, she had a hard time deciding if anything was moving with a purpose instead of randomly in the current.
One piece of flotsam shot off against the current down an auxiliary hallway. “Found you,” Vicky whispered as she jumped back into the water and headed down the side passage. She flipped on the second and third compressors and let the rifle overcharge.
Several turns later the hallway emptied out into the top another large room full of submerged storage racks. Deep in the center of the flooded room emanated a glow.
Dark long shadows passed Vicky on either side in the water and vanished into the depths. A few moments later, they glow rose from the depths.
A massive squid floated up out of the water and hovered. Its metal lined tentacles whipped around everywhere, knocking more boxes off the tops of the racks.
“I am FKNsRKEKKN! Demi-God of the Deeps. I have claimed this as my domain as my father did before me. Bow down before me, mortal.” FKNsRKEEN said.
“Of course it’s squids. It’s always squids,” Vicky yelled. “Why do you always give me the squid missions? I hate squids!”
YOU ARE SUCH A GOOD NEGOTIATOR.
“Silence, mortal! Or I shall rip your limbs from your body and feast on your organs! You are in the presence of FKNsRKEKKN.”
Vicky pinched her brow. “FKNsRKEKKN, you are trespassing on private property owned by the MacSweeny Inc. Corporation, I will give you one minute to get yourself and all your minions out of her.”
“You have been warned, human. Minions, bring the female to me. I have uses for her.” FKNsRKEKKN waved several tentacles in Vicky’s direction. The water thrashed and bubbled as several squids swam over and wrapped themselves around Vicky’s legs to drag her under again. “This domain is claimed by me, FKNsRKEKKN, son of KBRKsKEKKN.”
Vicky closed her eyes in concentration and activated one of her emergency patterns. The water danced with small green electric arcs until the squids around her legs floated to the surface, charred. She leaned against the wall as her vision refocused and caught her breath. “That was more draining than expected,” she wheezed as she returned a glare at FKNsRKEKKN.
“I remember KBRKsKEKKN, he tried to take over the basement two months ago,” Vicky said in a calm voice.
“Fiend! What happened to my father!” The squid swam wildly through the air towards Vicky and put its single massive eye up against her head. Its tentacles flailed wildly around the room, working their way towards Vicky.
“He didn’t listen either.” Vicky backed up three steps, trailing squids and hefted the harpoon rifle and leveled it at FKNsRKEKKN’s eye. “Last chance, leave now,” her voice was ice.
“Murderer! I will avenge my father!” FKNsRKEKKN surged forward.
Vicky fired all three barrels at once. The recoil threw her into the water. She came up sputtering clutching her shoulder, “ow, ow, ow, ow.” She raised the rifle again, aimed and fired.
The squid thudded against the far wall, pinned through its massive eye. Purple ichor colored the water around it. FKNsRKEKKN’s limbs continued to writhe around as it screeched in pain, “You may have bested me, villain, but my brothers shall avenge me!” Then it went limp.
“Great,” Vicky grunted, “there’s going to be more.” She dropped the Ravenholt Mark VII into the water, exhausted and unable to bear the weight any longer.
OH GOODY, WE CAN OPEN THE SUSHI BAR AGAIN. SEE, THIS IS WHY YOU ARE THE BEST NEGOTIATOR.
Vicky looked at her chronometer and said wearily, “I’m going home. My shift ended 20 minutes ago.” She turned and sloshed slowly out of the basement, clutching her shoulder.