E is for Express Delivery

E is for Express Delivery

“Out of the way!” Avera announced as she burst out of a small employee hallway into the main floor and vaulted over a bench full of sitting patrons. She landed and checked the shoulder bag so that the book hadn’t fallen out and her chronometer. She had about twenty-five minutes left to make the delivery schedule, and she had to get across the entire Market. A pattern of faint yellow thread materialized under her boots as a weaving stitched itself into existence over several seconds. The taint faded away as the weave completed, giving her boots a bit of spring to them. She bounced and rocketed off down the arcade in long, high strides.

TURN LEFT.

Avera skidded to a stop, her boots crunching up the tile as people leaped out of her way. About two dozen guests shouted at her and demanded to see management for her behavior. Down the hall, she saw a disturbance in the throng of people that was moving towards her. A frown crossed her face. “Complaints can be made at any guest services counter,” she shouted over her shoulder as she took off down the crowded side corridor. With practiced ease, she jumped up onto the top of the safety railing along the hall that guarded the open area to the floors below to run along the beam.

DUCK.

A wood duck waddled out into the middle of the floor. Guests gave it space as it tilted its head from side to side. Avera slid along the rail until she slowed enough to run back the way she came. Out over the open air, hung several banners proclaiming different stores. She leaped out to the sounds of gasps from the crowd to grab hold of the hanging banner for Black Incandescents and Scorpions.

Avera swung manically around in the air while her grip slipped her further down to the end of the banner. The duck padded around quacking quietly to itself as it surveyed the swaying advertisement. By now, a crowd was gathering around watching the spectacle.

“Quack,” said the duck. It waddled across the bridge to the other side of the hall.

Avera and the duck locked eyes as the banner twisted around. The duck cocked its head and made several quacking sounds in a row.

Letting go of the dense fabric, she threw two MgAP Acuity Dampers at the duck as she dropped to the bottom floor.

“Quack,” said the duck, and then shot searing white wave motion speckle from its eyes towards her.

The dampers exploded midair.

Alarms sounded. The crowd cheered in a mad frenzy.

Avera twisted around to watch the approaching floor three stories down. Concentrating on the floor, a half sphere of faint yellow taint stitched itself into existence on the floor below. The weaving finished with Avera about two feet from its edge and slammed into with enough force to crush a circle into the reinforced floor. The weave held her for a moment in the air before it buckled, splitting along its seams and unraveled.

Avera landed with a thud against the floor and laughed. She laid there a few moments to catch her breath before sitting back up.

She wiped the sweat from her brow, fixed her green hair and looked up. High above, almost a dozen ducks flew around in circles as smoke and dust wafted down through the air. People on all floors had crowded up against the railings looking up and down to see what had happened. She gave a small wave to the ones looking directly at her and smiled. They quickly turned away.

YOU GET A SIX OUT OF TEN. KYLE LANDS BETTER.

“I still don’t know how.”

FIVE OUT OF TEN FOR DESTRUCTION.

“I’ve got a doormat on me, yet.”

IS IT ARMED?

“Care to find out?”

THERE ARE MORE DUCKS.

Avera weighed those odds for a moment, “you win.” She stood up to dust off and looked around. “Have I been here before?”

TWICE. BUT NOT SINCE THE REMODEL. YOU SHOULD SEE THE DRAPES.

“Hrrmmm… maybe next time I’m almost out of time,” Avera said as she rechecked her chronometer.

THE MOBILE FUN SQUAD IS ALMOST HERE. THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW.

“I thought you were helping!” Avera took off running again.

AFFIRMATIVE. THEY HAVE VERY GOOD HEARING.

An air vent came into view. She had the cover off and slipped inside and replaced the cover as the ground began to shake. The thunder of the six-armed steamers stomped down the hallway past her hiding spot. She held her breath.

Cold air flowed up around her giving her a bit of sound cover. Moving with deliberate slowness, she slid down the ductwork until her feet hit a junction point. After rounding the corner and out of the line of sight she heaved a quiet sigh of relief into the faint growl of the arctic chillers further down the vent.

Avera sniffed flowing air from either side of the junction before deciding the side she was on was where she wanted to be and headed off into the maze of ducts. She smiled, this was the easy part.

Several duct crawls, junctions and two ladders later she arrived back onto the correct floor and across from the shop she wanted. Torches and Books.

“Easy,” Avera side with a smile, before turning into a scowl as she surveyed her final run. The steamers had beaten her back and milled about in the hallway below. She had been sure she had been extra quiet the entire time. Avera checked her chronometer; crawling through the vents took longer than anticipated.

As fast and quiet as possible, she crawled across the ceiling towards her destination. Once on the other side, she just needed to enter the air duct there and crawl through the wall into the shop. They couldn’t touch her there. One of the ceiling panels warped loudly as it buckled under her weight and echoed around the near quiet hallway.

All six steamers turned in unison to the source of the sound and raised their Velker Triple Phase Beam Suppressors.

“Halt, Thief. You are under arrest for theft from the restricted section,” all of the voice boxes squawked out in out of sync stereo sound.

“You have to catch me first,” Avera shouted as she kicked out the offending panel and fell through the hole. Brilliant orange pulses filled the air from the weapons. Guests nearby dropped to the floor or ran.

Avera landed into a backward roll towards the open doors of Torches and Books. She gave her door mat a twirl back towards the hulking metal constructs as they adjusted for her movement.

“Stanley, blast doors! Now!” as she rolled across the threshold.

Stanley, who had been standing by the door watching, jumped and fumbled for the large red button behind the counter. Immediately the entire storefront was enclosed by metal panels that hit the floor with a loud thunk.

From the other side came a muffled whump.

THERE YOU ARE. AND IT WAS ARMED.

Avera picked herself up, straightened her work uniform and dusted herself off walking behind the sales counter.

A man stood impassively in a cloud gray rain cloak that had bright pink highlights. On the man’s shoulder sat a raccoon with the same bright pink color spattered throughout her fur coat.

Avera pulled the book out of her shoulder bag and placed it gently on the counter. She rang up the order on the cash register.

“Mr. Gravelai, ‘Advanced Weavings for Temporal Control,’ from the restricted library in 30 minutes or less. That will be $423.”

Mr. Gravelai smiled. Avera smiled.

He pulled out a wallet from inside his coat and began counting out the bills, “Thank you, Ms. Avera, it’s always a pleasure doing business here.”

IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE TO SHOOT YOU AGAIN.

“It is quite a lot of fun denying you this pleasure.”

YOUR NEXT BREAK ATTEMPT IN WILL BE LOVELY.

“Indeed it will,” Mr. Gravelai said as he turned to leave.

The blast panels secreted themselves back into the ceiling. Outside, a black crater had formed in the floor, surrounded by pieces of one of the security steamers. The other five stood as a perimeter holding back the curious.

“Enjoy your purchase, sir,” one of the steamers’ voice box chirped as “Thank you; I will,” Mr. Gravelai stepped past the machines and into the crowd, vanishing.

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