Glee was written across Leah’s face as she watched Chris fly through the air sideways. The shortest of the boys charged her from behind, while David was failing to parry her attacks. She dipped low and spun her left leg out in 360 degrees, upending the short boy. In maybe the smoothest motion ever, she scooped him mid-air into a tree with her right foot. The boy landed spread across two branches with a loud “Ouof!”.
Chris had recovered and was aiming for Leah’s grounded foot, but she hopped up and swung her right foot back with enough force to send him sprawling again. “What was your plan?” She grabbed David by his elbow and slung him hard over her shoulder. The boy went rolling and crashed into Chris, “How will you find your thief if you get on my bad side?”
“Now Mitch!” David shouted as he pushed himself onto his knees.
Turning toward the one stuck in the tree, Leah saw him aiming something that looked like a tube at her. Instinctually, she jumped away, but too late, because a small device suddenly hit her on the shoulder. A pain like a thousand needles rushed through her body in waves. As the electricity coursed through her, Leah’s body stiffened and she fell to the ground paralyzed.
Her sensory augments seemed to flicker on and off as Leah tried to make sense of what was happening. At once she could hear nothing, then all the sounds of the surrounding night seemed to boom in her ears instantaneously, then silence again. Then sound! Then silence. Then a quieter sound. Then a muted noise…
Her eyes slowly focused on two muscular objects approaching her. They were saying something but Leah couldn’t make any sense of it. Her senses were quickly returning to normal when she realized she was thrashing limply on the ground. Dormant Mannah jumped off the ground and crashed against her body in response to her movements. The two boys drew closer warily as Leah began to make out what they were saying…
“…we expected to find people with augments. I mean, we described our thief to you.” David said as he reached her side, “Oh, wow. Green eyes.” The shock had thrown Leah’s systems into default, and she could no longer keep up the ruse of having brown eyes. Looking back at his boys, David mused, “Red-haired, green eyes, augments, and a quattour? I think this might be our girl.” Chris was smiling with relieved wonder. Turning to Leah David said, “Just tell us who you sold it to or where it is. We just need the stone.”
“I… tried to help… you!” Despite her breathless panting, Leah made her voice rich with indignance, “So I have red hair, what makes you–”
“You claim a spot on a high roof in the poorest district, you have all the physical qualities, and you certainly have the augments…” Chris interrupted.
“You kicked me into a tree!” The boy apparently known as “Mitch” was letting himself down.
David smirked briefly at Mitch, then opened his arms toward Leah in an appealing gesture. “Come on, Pal. Why hide your eye color if you didn’t know who we were? After everything that’s happened today you can’t really believe we’d think you were just a random thief.”
“You kicked me into a FREAKING. TREE!!” At Mitch’s outburst, Chris and David glanced at him and began to chuckle.
Feeling was returning to her limbs, and Leah began to wriggle. Mitch pressed a button, and her body was frozen again with the shock of electricity. “We were prepared for you,” David said, “Now, where is that stone?!”
Mitch was suddenly thrown forward and fell face-first into the dirt. David suddenly went sprawling back towards Chris, who tried to catch him when they both tumbled over. Leah saw the falling device Mitch had been holding hit the ground. If only I could…, she thought. A robotic paw came down hard on the device, and it broke into pieces. Gizmo! Her wide, purple eyes were focused on the three thugs, who were now bunched together on the ground. Gizmo put herself between Leah and the boys while Leah tried desperately to flex her muscles.
Though Leah was the last of all of them to recover, none of the others moved as Gizmo kept watch on them. The quattour stood with its back arched; purple eyes glaring at the three teens. Fortunately for Leah, the boys seemed much more terrified by Gizmo’s strange behavior than they were of Leah. She looks like the big, wild cats from the books, Leah thought, …like some kind of ferocious predator. Was this the “Gizmo” she knew?
Standing to her feet, “I won’t be watching my back because of you jerks! Who do you work for?”
As usual, David spoke for the group, “We want our stone, and we’ll be on our w–”
“What would you even know about some stone if someone hadn’t hired you to get it?!” Leah snapped, “What house are you working for?”
The boys all glanced at each other for a moment before David continued, “We don’t live in this city. We don’t serve any houses.” His voice growing in a crescendo of exasperation, “That stone could mean life or death for us. We need it!”
“Need it? Is someone blackmailing you?” Instead of an audible response, all Leah got were concerned looks. “Come with me!” and Leah decided to take them to Beathen. Gizmo moved to their opposite side and a strange growling sound emitted from her exoskeleton. The three seemed to take Gizmo’s meaning, and started into a trot behind Leah.
. . . . .
At one point, Mitch tried to dash away, but Leah quickly caught him as Gizmo pinned the other two to the ground. She was tempted to give Mitch a hard slap to the face, but his eyes told her that he would be compliant. Throughout the journey back to Beathen’s, Chris’ face showed no emotion while David seemed as calm as if this was his plan all along. His quiet demeanor almost seemed to be masking some sort of excitement.
Entering the shop, Leah was happy to find a light still on upstairs. She led the group to the lift and, when they were upstairs, saluted Beathen with a friendly gesture. As soon as the slim mechanic noticed the strangers, his face snapped towards Leah, “What do they know?”
Beathen visibly relaxed a little before, “It’s nearin’ on first hour of the morning, Lass. I’d like to get some sleep at some point.”
“I hope you have something that can hold these guys for a few hours. I need to do some investigating and I can’t have them roaming around.”
“Yep, I have something just for that.” Beathen pressed a button on his hanging remote, and a cage began to lower in the far corner of the shop. A single door allowed access to the caged area, and Beathen unlocked it electronically. “We used this to cage our goods before we installed the bay doors.” he said, “I haven’t used these things in some time. Still, I kept the joints oiled just in case.” Standing up, he motioned at the three bandits, “In ya go!”
At that, Gizmo nudged David hard in the direction of the gate. Beathen gave a sideways glance to Leah. The three boys made their way into the caged area, and Beathen hit the button for the door to lock. “That will hold them, Leah, but what’s this all about? Do they have augments?”
“Not physical ones, at least. I was mopping the forest with them earlier. They’re in town looking for some sort of glowing brown stone.”
Beathen was walking to his desk, but stopped hard when he heard mention of the stone, “Brown you say? …With a glowing light?”
Hesitantly, “Yeees. Do you know about it, Beathen?”
“Have you seen it?”
“I… I might have found it…”
“Leah! you hafta bring it here.”
“Why? what’s so special about this st–”
“If it’s what I think it is, I need to see it now. Can you get it tonight?
“Get it. Bring it here now. I’ll wait up for you.” The intensity in the mechanic’s voice had grown tremendously. He practically pushed her out the window to get it, “Take Gizmo with you. Hurry! I’ll keep an eye on them.” He said that last part while motioning to the three caged strangers.
. . . . .
With Gizmo beneath her, Leah was able to make it back to her apartment within 15 minutes. Tuning her augments, she listened for anyone nearby before entering through her window. Retrieving the sack holding the stone as quickly as she could, she went back out and up her favorite route atop the ruined buildings. Preparing to slide down the Zellwood hill to the industrial district, she goaded Gizmo into a monstrous leap to the highest building.
Their momentum was stopped short when they saw what blocked their way. A large, bat-like quattour with a lizard-like tail and tyrannosaurus-like arms. It was perched atop the far edge of the building with its wings fully extended; in front of it was Lamia. Leaning against the chest of the quattour and flipping a coin in his hand.
“Hello little sister,” he grinned wickedly, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
. . . . .
Special Author’s Note
It’s probably not hard to guess that this was a fun chapter to write. This is also the first time we get to see Leah with a smile on her face. As always, my favorite pieces are writing in Gizmo’s uniqueness. Also, for the careful reader, my hope is that they noticed that David never unsheathed Jaspeada.
We may finally be about to get some real information from a trusted source. Beathen’s excitement is certainly telling, if not entirely ambiguous. What in Heaven’s name is the deal with this shiny brown rock?