Chapter 59 of Lead Heart is ready for your enjoyment!
Twilight was brief and early over the city of Gungrave. The mountain range that divided the continent ran straight North for hundreds of miles before branching West. It was a little nook of that split in which the city was founded. It made for an ideal defense position, but sacrificed some daylight to achieve. A bird’s eye view of the wall showed it for the pentagram that it was, with the fifth point being closest to the only pass through for hundreds of miles in either direction.
“Trust me, as long as we have a wrench and clipboard we’re invisible,” Teena reassured her companions.
This fifth point was the section of wall Teena was trying to get into, leading the trio through a maze of dark, twisting sidewalks. There were plenty of street lamps glowing merrily across most of the city, but they were much less prevalent in this military section.
“I can’t see a thing,” Karina complained, “how do you even know we’re going the right way?” She glanced at the sky, but the stagnant air allowed the smog to blot the sky, obscuring the moon most of the time.
“I memorized it on the tour of course. Weren’t you paying attention?” Teena marched in her springy sprinters, head held high and a large pipe wrench slung over one shoulder. The other two followed slowly, constantly looking over a shoulder or jumping at shadows.
“I don’t think it works like that in the real world…” Leliana said. “We should probably find a section of wall to bounce outside and skirt around, don’t you think?”
“I think that would be an excellent way to meet the literal army sitting outside the South wall, madam.”
The checkpoint came into view as they rounded a corner, and Teena shushed them with a wave. The two manning the gate eyed them up and down, but didn’t draw their weapons. “Evenin’ fellas,” Teena’s bored, deep-throated accent came out of nowhere, and Leliana nearly giggled. Teena whipped out a purposefully-illegible scroll and tossed it to the men, “routine maintenance on the S-13 matrix tonight, seeya in a couple’a hours gents.”
“Wait a second,” the shorter guard stopped her with a glare. “Ain’t never seen you before, shorty. And maintenance don’t happen at night.” His hand dropped to a heavy baton in his belt.
“New policy, thought they’d warned you o’course.” Teena waved the wrench to punctuate her sentences. “Supposed to cut out the civvi’s picking up on the wall’s inner workings or some such nonsense. Never listen to the guy out here working the blasted thing o’course. Can’t see a blasted thing in all this darkness and besides, you ever wondered how you’d go about rerouting an L-joint at fifteen-hundred PSI without coming out of it like a cooked chicken? COURSE you ain’t! But bosses are bosses and I need to get straight through here, lads.” The wrench wagged back and forth and the guards parted reluctantly, allowing her to clank noisily through the narrow gate. Karina and Leliana, doing their very best to look as though Teena were completely normal, hurried through on her heels.
“We’re going to verify this with HQ,” called one of the men, almost as an afterthought.
“Course, course! Tell ‘em Netty sends her best!” Teena waved back, not bothering to turn around. The three marched in silence for another five minutes until Karina couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“I have got to give you some lessons,” she patted Teena’s head affectionately, earning a swat on the wrist.
“That was amazing.” Leliana laughed. “But what do we do when they send someone to check the story out?”
Teena laughed it off. “They won’t, he just needed to feel macho. You never put a thinking man this close to top-secret technology anyway, he might write some stuff down and make a fortune selling it to your enemies. You have to get the dumb ones who don’t ask questions, or send for verification.” She stopped several times as they walked, checking gauges set on top of a thick pipe running alongside the walkway. It was mirrored on the other side, forming a sort of frame for them to walk through. “Ah, I think this is it!” They turned down a nondescript ‘tunnel,’ where thick, coated wires and pipes twisted impossibly into the darkness. The moon peeked at them for a moment, and Teena’s eyes sparkled as she drank in the view.
“How can you tell?” Leliana had been looking around for any signs or markings, but had seen nothing but the forest of tubes and the occasional squat bunker. Teena screwed up her face while they delved deeper into the darkness.
“Hmmm. I don’t know for sure that we’re here, but I have an educated guess based on some tertiary factors that I think will point us to the right place. We’ll be somewhere, at least.”
They spent a couple of minutes getting their bearings, and so Teena could describe, at length, some landmarks to the other two. The huge, twin pair of steel pipes just under the top level of the wall? That was the main steam-line that was kept pressurized by boilers elsewhere in the line. “Never stick your furnace where you’re expecting to get shot,” she nodded wisely. She dove into the black cavern under those pipes without hesitation, providing the others a continuous stream of technical jargon to follow. Time and distance lost all meaning in that pitch black maze, nothing but small glow-sticks to see by.
Finally, Teena stopped.
“This is it!” She squeaked. “We saw this one on the tour yesterday!”
“So what do we do?” Leliana hesitated.
“We don’t do anything, I’m afraid. I wasn’t kidding when I laughed about looking like a cooked chicken earlier, one wrong move and any cracks in the pipe will cook you like a hot dog!” She hopped out of the sprinters and climbed in and out of sight for the next hour, disappearing into the steel labyrinth for extended periods at a time.
Leliana spotted the moon through the gap in the pipes above them every once in a while. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get a sense of time, at least. She heard Karina keeping track of the watch schedule under her breath. The clang of boots on the walkway overhead receded into the distance for the fifth time before Teena popped out next to them. “I’ve got it!”
“You rigged it already?” Leliana asked.
“What!?” Teena Gaped. “No way, this thing is gonna take hours, they really leaned into the function over form mentality on this one,” she clucked her tongue.
“It is taking hours!” Leliana replied.
“Oh.” Teena said. “Still, I think I figured it out! If I reroute these command lines to the panels in my backpack, the remote operators won’t be able to shut us down before we get a chance to cause a ruckus! I’ll need to find the manual shutoffs for the hydraulic fluids too so we can isolate the guns from outside interference and then all they can really do is shut off the steam boilers, and that’ll take a good chunk of the wall out of commission until they can get down here and unscramble my genius handiwork.”
“Ah, nice…” Leliana nodded, unsure if she were brave enough to ask for a simpler explanation.
“The tour guide said these things could be rigged to fire continuously remotely. This,” she tapped a couple of buttons on the face of the cage hiding the enormous cannon, “is the manual operation interface. If you guys help me rip off some of these panels, I think we should be in business!” The moon had almost sunk the mountains by now, and the sky was beginning to brighten in the East.
“How long is this going to take?” Leliana asked, ripping a thin sheet of metal from the panel.
“Oh hours and hours,” Teena replied. “They’re sloppy, but they’re not stupid. Help me get to as many as we can and we’ll signal the others at noon!”
“Are you sure we have that kind of time?” Karina was looking anxiously up and down the street, listening for signs of life.
“Nope!” Teena giggled. “You run lookout sis! If you see anyone, scream like an eagle!”
“Eagles don’t scream,” Karina said flatly.
“Shriek like a sky eater!”
“Oh fine, just come tell us then okay?”
Karina grumbled, but paused before stalking into the shadows. “Teena. You’re not going to k…kill all those people out there. Are you?”
“WHAT!? No way, are you crazy? I said ruckus, not slaughter!”
Karina slipped out into the night, leaving Leliana with one energetic engineer. Teena rubbed her hands together and yanked a blue wire from the panel. “Alright Gungrave, show me what you got!”
The grinding of the elevator was loud. Embarrassingly loud. It also liked to jerk back and forth randomly, a nauseating dance nobody asked for.
Is this really the best they have? Lilith scowled. It was true that thing they found a few years ago had propelled them decades, centuries into the future of technology. But she’d put more than enough of it to market by now for them to have reverse engineered an elevator, at the very least.
She sighed, stepping into the empty top floor of the hotel. The quelling of the riots had been inconvenient, but smart…for Gungrave. She paused at a South-facing window to admire the moon as it sunk beneath The Watchers. “You’re out there somewhere, girl. Make your move…”