F is for Fire Alarm

F is for Fire Alarm

The alarms were sounding, again. Not local specialized alarms, but the alarms for the entire market complex. Glaring bursts of ear-bleeding noise that forced all employees and customers to stop what they were doing so that they could cover their ears. In Tires and Wings, Avera reached for the snooze button but only succeeded in knocking away one of her tires. It rolled to the far wall before coming to a stop.

The alarms continued to blare.

“Alright! I’m up!” Avera sat up, confused that she couldn’t find the alarm clock.

THERE IS A FIRE.

Avera sagged, “are you going to tell me where?”

NO.

Avera stared up at the ceiling for lack of anywhere else to stare.

“Avera! There’s a fire in the building!” Kyle slide through the doorway, panting hard.

“I know,” Avera jumped off her tires and shrugged into a thick winter coat over her uniform. “Is Halo and Wings locked down? I don’t want it exploding again.”

“It’s locked down,” Kyle said catching his breath. “Vicky is…”  he gave up as she ran out of the door. Kyle sighed and took after her.

Emergency illumination stripes outlined the walkways to the nearest exit or bunker for the guests. Many paths lead directly into corners or walls and a few dead ends, only for an access panel to appear as they approached. The store’s patrons had started out orderly and calm, but chaos was quickly engulfing the rest as storefronts and stalls were left abandoned with fewer fellow employees to direct guests.

Avera and Kyle ignored most of the guests until she skittered to a halt on the floor and backed up several feet to examine one of the blast panels protecting a storefront. She stepped gingerly back and forth staring at the inscrutable metal panel for several moments before announcing, “two people in there.”

“How can you tell?” Kyle tried to follow her gaze to see what she saw, though nothing presented itself.

“Right there,” she pointed at a blank spot on the metal panel as a matter of fact, “that’s how. You’ll need to open it.”

Kyle gave his co-worker girl a long stare. Then bent down and heaved his shoulder into the door. Straining, he got his fingers under the metal panel and pulled it up an inch, the gearing in the walls squealed in protest. “You could help you know,” he grunted at her.

He watched as her familiar yellow taint stitched itself together up the window frame, the first part of the weave already fading when the top had finished. Kyle relaxed his grip on the panel and let go. The blast panel stuck fast without slamming back down. He repositioned and hauled the metal up hard, gears and pistons breaking their cotter pins and shear rods. The section held fast as he let go again and peered into the unlit store.

“Anyone in here?” he called out into the darkness.

A group of three wild-eyed teens ran out of the store. “Thank you, we thought we were going to die,” one said before they took off, following one of the illuminated paths. Once they were gone, the blast panel fell back into place, slightly ajar.

Kyle turned to Avera with a smug grin, “you said were two.”

“One of them was a twin,” Avera said between pants. She leaned against the wall and wiped her forehead with her sleeve. After a moment, she straightened and regained her composure then turned her attention to several looters closer to one of the atria. “Looters will…”

A blast threw the would-be thieves to the ground. “Looters will be shot on sight!” Vicky’s voice boomed from around a corner over the settling dust, smoke, and rubble. “This is your only warning!”

The looters dropped anything else they had managed to hold onto and ran for the exit.

“Vicky! Yay!” Avera jumped up and down and clapped her hands. “That was an impressive explosion.” She ran over and gave the much shorter girl a big hug. “But you missed them.”

“If I hit them then I have to heal them. And I didn’t want to heal them,” Vicky said through gritted teeth as she bore the hug. “Sections A and B are empty all guests. There’s also no fire if you were wondering.”

YOU ARE GETTING COLDER.

“Actually, the place is warming up quite nicely,” Kyle said.

“Yes, that is the problem.” Avera dropped Vicky from the hug.  “Wait.” Avera tilted her head to one side then another before tore off down the hallway at inhuman speeds.

“She’s going to drop isn’t she?” Vicky said, picking herself back up.

“Probably. She held up a blast panel.” Kyle said.

Vicky holstered her discharged Winters Special. “We should stop her then, shouldn’t we?

“Yep.”

They chased after her.

“Help! She’s trying to kill us!” a muffled voice shouted at them as they caught up with Avera.

“Oh, good, she got distracted,” Vicky said.

“We’re evacuating the building, look I’m trying to save you here,” Avera shouted through a door.

Kyle picked up Avera and held her at arm’s length as he walked her several paces away from the door.

“Put me down! I’m helpful!” Avera spat and twisted around like a large, angry cat.

Kyle put her down. “Sit.”

Avera sat.

“Stay.”

Avera shot ice daggers at him. He dodged them as they stuck to the ceiling.

Vicky forced the door open and found two children on the other side, “where are your parents?” She looked around but didn’t see anyone else in the store.

“Today, they said we could come by ourselves!” the older one said proudly. “We were on our way to Torches and Books.”

“Unfortunately, your adventure will have to continue another time, could you please follow one of the paths to the exit for me?” They both nodded after a moment, “good, now get going.”

“Does she really work here?” The younger one whispered to Vicky.

“Yes, she really works here.” Vicky led them around the corner and showed them off.

“I was helping!” Avera said.

SHE WAS DOING FINE.

“No, you were being terrifying again. And you are no help either! Where is the fire?” Vicky shouted.

GETTING COLDER.

“Not helpful,” Vicky replied.

“No, it’s really hot,” Avera said.

“You could take off that winter coat,” Kyle said.

“But then the heat would get me.”

THE MARKET HAS REACHED ZERO.

“We’re still here, that’s at least three,” Vicky shouted

COUNTERMEASURES ONLINE IN THREE.

“Wait!”

TWO.

“I hate this part.”

ONE.

Loose rubble on the mezzanine vibrated, then danced violently as a rumble grew louder in the walls. Vents along the ceiling and walls slammed open with a metallic bang. Stale air rushed past them out of all the open vents. The three backed up against the wall and huddled close together.

Water blasted out of every open vent with staggering force. In just moments, torrents of water flooded through every hallway, flowing over the mezzanines to the ground four floors below in massive angry waterfalls.

The water roared around the trio as they stood their ground. The water shut off leaving the water to drain off each floor. The flood crested at the top balcony, lapping just onto the tiled floor.

Immediately the place began to drain.

“I’ve never managed to stay dry through one of those,” Kyle said, noting that none of them were even wet.

YOU CAN BE SOAKED YET. A vent opened directly above them.

“No!” The three shouted. The vent vanished back into the ceiling.

THE FIRE IS NOW OUT. REPAIR OPERATIONS ARE NOW UNDERWAY.

“I would hope so,” Vicky said.

The three sat down against the safety railing, feet dangling over the edge to wait as the water drained out of the market.

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