Bristol scooted Teena behind him for some weak measure of protection, heavy drags of sulfur tainting the air as he tried to catch his breath. Twenty-two rifles threatened them from the only exit to the small alleyway. Steel plates thrummed beneath his feet as the city itself continued its autonomous chores.
He smiled, the exasperated cursing coming their way telling him exactly who’d saved them. Temporarily.
“You sniveling, stupid, asinine…IDIOTS.” Tao’s clean demeanor had apparently blasted away with most of her hair, leaving a smoking ruin where her hat once sat. “You have to be the stupidest…I…you…AHH!” She him in the shoulder. “To think I almost asked the Overseer for leniency on your behalf! Did you really even fix the southern battery?”
“Well-” Bristol began.
“SHUT UP!” Tao stalked close enough for the soot on her head to tickle his nose. “You’re nothing but scat-faced little twats who think they can talk down to me without consequence. ME! You’ve made your last mistake.” She turned on a heel and stomped between her waiting men.
“Sir,” The lead man shouldered his rifle, “should we just…”
“At ease, captain,” Tao growled, loud enough to be heard. “Someone needs to take the fall for all this shite and they need to be alive to be sentenced.” She flicked her eyes back to Bristol and Teena before stalking away. “Return them to the Overseer, waste of my gods damned time I swear.”
Palpable silence settled over the two sides. At this rate, they were doomed. Bristol’s gaze shifted to the low walls surrounding them, more bundle-of-hardware spewing haphazardly across the street at industrial levels than walls really.
“Teena!” He scooped up the small engineer, eliciting a cry of alarm and no small reaction from the armed onlookers. “Chief Engineer Tao is absolutely right, you know.”
“No talking!” He was ordered. “Put the girl down, hands on your heads.” Teena dutifully grasped her pigtails.
“Aye gents, when you’re right o’ course you’re right.”
“They are?” Teena cocked her head.
He stepped behind her, grabbing both shoulders to move her forward a few steps. “O’ course! Methinks you owe these men an apology, lass.”
“I do?” Teena looked back and forth. She was confused and a little hurt, if he were to guess.
“I…I’m sorRYYYYYYYYYY!” Teena’s apology pitched into unintelligible garble as she was flung up and over the 10-foot fixture behind them.
The men at arms charged, stopping suddenly as Bristol stepped forward. “AH HA HA. I gotchya lads, you should see your faces right now. C’mon, c’mon, let’s get going – can’t keep the Overseer himself, can we?”
“You stupid jerk!” Teena faded into the distance with a curse. Bristol accepted the heavy steel handcuffs with a smile.
A scant mile away, squinting into the fading sunset, a redheaded woman lay still next to a 5 gallon bucket. Her hair was plastered to the cold, silvery foot of the metal giant she was trying to nap on. I’m gonna kill her, she promised herself. I’m gonna wait, and when she shows up-
Luckily the water source had only been a scant mile away, so she’d only had to run forty miles to get this stupid thing filled up.
“Dammit Teena you’d better feed me wine and bacon the next time we’re someplace sane.”
Gun shots in the distance, to the South.
“That better not be…” She started, before remembering who she was related to. Then sighed. “Thank the gods I found the ladder.”
Karina started the long trek to the cockpit nearly twenty meters up, using the oblong rungs she’d found inset into the shin of the metallic monster. She’d made it a few steps when her sister materialized out of the darkness at a dead sprint.
Karina sighed again. “I knew it. What did you goofs do this-”
“Less talking more climbing, go go go!” Teena scurried up the ladder, brushing her sister aside when she blew passed.
“Wha-! What’s the hurry?”
To punctuate her sisters’ point, a troop of military police whipped around the same corner, taking potshots that pelted the surface of the giant. Karina’s muscles screamed in protest as she took the rest of the ladder two rungs two at a time, hauling herself over the platform as bullets continued to ping off the metallic shell. Teena was already in the center of the disaster zone that used to be her toolbox. The shrill screech of metal-on-metal set Karina’s head ringing as Teena hurled handfuls of wrenches aside until she found what she was looking for.
“SIS! You still have the firebombs you bought? What about the rope?” Teena made demands and wildly hacked at a section of the giant with a diamond chisel. The thrum of the ladder told her their pursuers weren’t far behind.
“Yes…” Karina emptied her pockets. “What’s this about? Why are they after us again?”
“No time for that!” A growing handful of soft white flakes filled Teena’s hand, still sawing at the metal. “Wrap the bomb in that gel stuff you bought – BE CAREFUL! Don’t pull the pin!”
Karina gingerly pulled and molded the thick gel around the grenade. It was cold and a little squishy, she couldn’t tell if it amused or disgusted her.
Teena sniped the bomb and smashed the metal flakes all around the outside. She pulled the small metal sphere from the cockpit, and from it, a translucent, green stone. Karina could feel the heat radiating from it at once. Teena yanked the pin from the grenade and hurled both items into the water reservoir just as the men reached the bottom of the platform. The lid rang like a church bell when it slammed shut until Teena spun the lock into place.
“Look out!” Teena cried.
Karina dove, lashing out with a kick as the first man gained purchase on the ledge. He stumbled back, tipping over the edge. A knife appeared in each hand, and the second man to grab the ledge lost a finger.
That slowed their approach.
“Stall those guys!” Teena called over her shoulder, hurtling into the cockpit.
“For how long?!”
“I don’t KNOW!”
Karina played a game of musical fingers with the next one trying to gain ground on her, severing the web between his thumb and his forefinger just as a long barrel snuck around behind her and took a shot. It missed, but left a good sized dent in the water reservoir. “Oh no you don’t!” Karina yanked on the gun, unbalancing the man and gaining a weapon. If these steam pipes were pierced before they left town, she had a pretty good hunch that they’d all be doomed.
Suddenly the metal giant whirred and hissed to life, the grinding gears and spinning belts giving the climbers pause. The entire thing started vibrating concerningly beneath her feet.
Then the whole world swung to the right, leaving her stomach behind, as the giant lurched sickeningly and dislodged no small number of attackers.
The platform tipped forward until its violent stop, tools, rifle and Karina all skittering unsteadily to the edge.
“AH hahahahaha!” The mad scientist in the cockpit was delighted.
The monster lurched left this time, the wind blowing the hair from her eyes so Karina could watch an entire building pass by in a single footstep.
At least she was already laying down this time.
Karina encouraged the few men hanging onto the leg to let go, raining a few of her last knives onto them. Once they were clear, she stumbled into the cramped cockpit where her sister was wrapped head to toe in wires and straps. She was squinting through the wide window at the front. “Quick! Chuck a flare out so I can see! We have to find Bristol before they get him locked up!”
Karina rummaged until she found what she was looking for, tossing a bright-white flare to illuminate the streets.
Teena stomped through Gungrave, kicking military vehicles aside like toys. Flocks of civilians returning home from a late night and the armed forces on the ground alike trembled before her very step. The tings and zings pinging off the armored shell gave clear indication that they were still very much under fire.
Karina retreated into the sheltered cockpit, passenger compartments apparently never having been a priority.
“THIS IS AMAZING!” Teena was manic with excitement while she stomped through the city.
Karina was happy for her sister… She really was.
She always harbored just a tiny wish in the back of her mind that her sister’s hobbies were a little bit safer. “Yeah it’s…It’s really something.” She coughed. The burning lubricant and smothering heat of the boiler were stifling.
Twisting metal and tiny screams marked the giant’s rampage until Karina eventually spotted the lone figure standing amid the chaos, hands cuffed behind him. “There he is,” she reported, “stop the…thing, I’ll be right back.”
She didn’t wait for confirmation. Karina slid down the ladder all the way to the ground, tucking into a roll at the bottom and coming up behind Bristol.
“Hurry lass,” Bristol cautioned, they ran for explosives and airships. We’ve got to get out of here.”
She’d sprung the lock before he’d even finished. “I know I know, hurry up!”
Sparing his freed wrists a puzzled glance, he followed her up the leg and jammed into the cockpit.
“He says they’re bringing the birds, better hurry up out of here.” Karina struggled to breathe with all three of them crammed into the small space, but it was better than being shot at.
“Aye, straight ahead then, right through yon South gate,” Bristol pointed.
The war machine stomped through Gungrave’s street-level defenses like an angry child, finding the South gate already open and waiting.
“Looks like they’re finally learning,” Teena said.
The giant pounded out of town and into the waiting darkness, enveloping them like a shroud.