Arnett sighed as he stared ahead. Between a rocky hill and pile of discarded Gangue and Tailings was the small sign. He said small. It was roughly the size of a small shack’s side. It was painted to be bright and inviting, but it has faded with age.
Arnett debated how he would enter, but time was wasting. He would soon be out of time. So, he grabbed his controls and nudged the Scorpios II into town. It wasn’t as wide open as other parts of Antiford, but the area surrounding Sorditudo was rocky and rough for a reason. It only took a moment or two more of travel to see why.
The large, mining equipment loomed ahead, and Arnett sneered as he looked upon them again. A massive machine twice the size of a small building was twisting a massive drill deep into Orr. Dust and refuse was tossed up in its wake and its seven massive engines slowly worked and chugged to push it every inch deeper. Two more machines were hard at work, picking up the massive amounts of droppings and bringing the material to the sorters for processing.
It wasn’t long until this machine loomed over the Scorpios II and Arnett began to lead the landship into the descent of the town. Small homes and shops began to appear as he worked his way deeper in. He could now spot the sorters. They were long conveyors that shook, smashed, crushed, and separated a large amount of ore and refuse and turned the massive amount of mining debris into ore and commercialized product and Trailings (the unwanted waste).
Arnett was surprised to see a mixture of new machines walking around the mining area. A few carts, both chanka drawn and pulled by Carriage engine dragged dirt and ore from the smaller and large mines with the aid of many miners. Arnett was surprised to see new walkers overseeing everything and sometimes helping. These machines were repurposed war machines now being used to aid and direct the miners and they stomped around.
One of these hastily approached the Landship, a larger man with mutton chops and a miner’s helmet waving down the landship. Arnett slowed the pace before coming to halt and rushed to meet them on the deck. The legs were close enough so he could speak to the man, who turned out to be one of the foremen.
“Good lord, You the Arnett boy?” he said, “What the hell is all this?”
“I need to dock it somewhere, sir,” said Arnett, “Tell me you lugs have some sort of Landship port?”
“You can use fancy words for it, but it’s just where we keep the mining machines when not in use,” said the man, pointing behind him, “Right before you hit town. It’ll cost ya some coin but it’s cheap out here, and they have plenty of room. Stay clear of the blast zone and please watch its step! Men at work all around here.”
“I could use a spotter to get through,” said Arnett.
“I don’t have a man or woman free, boy,” said the foreman.
“I’ll take it slow,” said Arnett, tipping his hat to the foreman.
“You’ll have to check in with the Sheriff,” said the foreman, yelling to Arnett as he walked away, “We chronicle the comings and goings of ships of this type, now.”
“Perfect,” spat Arnett, climbing in the bulkhead.
Arnett guided his Landship further into the town. Shifts of miners came and went out of various mine shafts and structures. Arnett notices many with pick axes and shovels, but a few were wheeling large drill machines that were the size of a vendor cart. These machines would work better in the smaller shafts and when the large drill have reached its limit and could be operated more precisely by a two man team. Arnett knew it was from these drilling machines his Scorpios inherited its own drill.
Arnett found his way to the depot and was directed into a space and allowed to rest there. He went around shutting down his landship’s boilers and systems. Like it or not, he was probably going to be here for at least a day.
Paying another foreman a small fee for the space, Arnett made his way into town. He left the area where heavy machinery would rest and the warehouse there and headed into more of a residential area. Here were the boarding houses.
The boarding houses were side by side three story buildings where many miners and their families lived cheaply. With small areas cordoned off inside, usually just beds and a trunk. There were seven or eight of them on either side of what could be considered a main road. Arnett knew just beyond these were the companies “utility stores” where local businesses won contracts to supply the mining companies. Here were tailors for company uniforms and mining gear, blacksmiths and gadgeteers for the repair and upkeep of minor gadgets and tools, and even cooks and small restaurants to give the illusion of choice for miners and to cater special events.
Arnett passed them quickly without making eye contact with the playing children rushing to see the new landship docked nearby or the women trying desperately to clean and dry clothes before the soot in the air dirtied them on the line.
Further down was what could be considered a commercial hub of Sorditudo. Arnett could spot the Barbershop where the only two barbers in the town and their apprentice were. There was a general store, trying to provide the town with as much as they could. Arnett just remembered that’s the only store in town that sold sweets. They chopped them up into even smaller pieces so that the kids have a shot of affording them. Arnett shook his head, counting three bars in the distance, one new one taking the place of the Chanka grooming store. Arnett could see the Veterinarian down farther and, almost comically, across the street was the town butcher.
Arnett didn’t get to note anything further as he was halted abruptly and was spun around. Arnett instinctively reached for his pistol before the same hand grabbed his wrist and held it away. Arnett wrenched his hand back, taking a step back. He wanted to reach for his gun but he had already seen the flash of steel from his assailant.
Arnett found himself looking down the barrel of a black powder revolver. The man holding it was pointing it straight at his face, but off a little. He wore sooty clothes, but they weren’t stained from the mine, just dirtied from the dust in the air. He had a stern look on his face. He wore a short beard, speckled grey in his advanced age. His bushy eyebrows were furrowed over his eye. He wore a bowler hat. The man sighed before putting the pistol away.
“Go for the gun? Not very polite to greet someone like that.”
“You never know who’s yanking you around in the street,” said Arnett, “Can’t be too careful.”
“What kind of life you live where you can’t walk down the damn street?” said the man, giving Arnett a hard look, “You being safe?”
Arnett gave a small sigh, “I can take care of myself, Pa.”
“I’m not your Pa, son,” said the man, raising his voice slightly, “I paid for that education, didn’t I? Use it.”
“I’m safe, father,” spat Arnett, his own brows furrowing in anger.
They didn’t say anything for a little while. Standing in the street, they both looked each other up and down, glaring into each other's eyes. The man shifted his weight from foot to foot.
“You look older,” said the man.
Arnett said nothing. He put his hands on his waist and looked around the street, seeing if anyone else was watching them.
“So you carry a gun now?” the man tried again, “What kind of work you need a gun for, son?”
“The kind of work that takes me far from home, father,” said Arnett, looking back at the man, “You carry a gun for your job.”
“I’m an arm of the law,” said the man, “I don’t see your badge.”
“Not every hero wears a badge.”
“That what you are now, boy? A hero?” the man smiled, shaking his head, “And is that thing your steed? The hell you got a walking death trap like that for?”
“My work, father,” said Arnett, “It’s my ship.”
“Your ship? You think I’m a fool, boy?” said the man, “You ain’t gone and got rich in the city. I’m not a fool. You steal it?”
“Built it,” said Arnett.
“Ha!” said the man, “Shoot. You really are something.”
“Arnett,” shouted a voice from behind.
“What?” came the call from Arnett and the man, both turning around.
The man looked at Arnett and backhanded his shoulder. An even older gentleman with the largest, whitest walrus mustache Arnett had ever seen walked up to him. He wore a large duster with a Bowler hat with a large brim. He barely concealed two large six shooter in holsters at his side. On his chest was one of the biggest, Copper police badges Arnett had ever seen. The man seemed familiar with his father.
“Arnett, is this the gentleman with that landship?” Asked the man.
“Sheriff, this is Joel,” said the older man, turning back to Arnett, “Joel Arnett.”
“Yeah, I’m Lieutenant Joel Arnett,” said Arnett, “That Landship is mine. The Scorpios II.”
The sheriff smiled, patting the older man on the back, “Manfred, this your boy? A ‘Lieutenant’ eh? You in the army, son?”
“No, sir,” said Arnett, “It’s kind of… symbolic. It was passed down to me.”
“You using a rank as a symbol?” said Arnett’s father, rolling his eyes, “Lords, help ,me. Yes sir, that thing is apparently my son’s.”
“Well it’s a delight to see you all grown up, son,” said the sheriff, “Look, after dark that thing will be locked down till dawn. We don’t need anyone or anything snooping around our equipment. So that’s just our rule.”
“Thanks, Sheriff,” said Arnett.
“Oh, and I’m going to need to see your registration,” said Manfred, holding out his hand to Arnett.
“Registration?” said Arnett.
“Yes, for your Landship,” said Manfred, “That contraption is registered, isn’t it?”
“Why on Orr do you need to see a registration?” asked Arnett, getting defensive.
“Because you should have it,” said Manfred, “And If you don’t, we’ll have a problem.”
Another stand off ensued of both of them looking at each other. Arnett’s father with his hand out. The sheriff looked from Arnett back to his father, a pained look in his eye.
“Look, Joel,” said the sheriff, “It’s just how we have to do things now. Do you, or do you not, have a registration for that ship?”
Reaching into his pocket, an act that set both of the older gentlemen off, Arnett pulled out a registration and handed it to the sheriff. Manfred Arnett clenched his fist before dropping it down to his side. Opening the paper, the sheriff looked it over and nodded.
“It’s all in order, Manfred,” said the Sheriff, “Built it yourself? No kidding. That’s impressive for a lad your age. Looking back, however, I do remember you having a knack for taking things apart.”
“If only that knack was to then put them back together,” said Manfred.
The sheriff looked down at the registration, before handing it off to Arnett’s father. Arnett reached out to accept it before pulling back his hand, shaking his head.
“Enjoy your stay back home, Joel,” said the sheriff, smiling, “Well, Mr. Lieutenant Arnett, You behave yourself.”
“He will, Sheriff,” said Manfred Arnett, smiling at his boss, “I’ll catch you later, Carl.”
The sheriff began walking back down the road. Arnett’s father instantly glared at his son, opening the registration and reading it over.
“Lieutenant… boy,” Manfred shook his head, “Your mother is going to be worried sick.”
“How is she?” asked Arnett.
“Oh, no,” said Manfred, folding up the registration and pocketing it, “There isn’t a way in hell I’m giving you an excuse to skip out without seeing her. You walk your ass down the road and go visit your mother. Come on.”
“I was on my way for just that,” said Arnett.
“Go!” said Manfred, “No questions.”
The upper part of town (which was actually the more North West corner) was almost entirely residential houses. Instead of the tightly packed boarding houses and apartments of the rest of the town, here shacks and small houses were crammed tightly together. In fact, further to the north a great gated community could be seen, where the few who would be considered ‘wealthy’ as well as a few smaller, higher quality shacks (like the one the Sheriff resided in) were located. However they didn’t head that far.
Standing in front of it Arnett could see his old house. A two bedroom house made of bricks and steel sheets. Two small stove chimneys stuck out of the roof, a small trail of smoke leaving one of them. The door was a sturdy wood but it had steel sheeting lashed onto it. Arnett knew it was to protect the house. Just one of the perks of being the deputy sheriff of the town. A few steps lead up to the door. The house wasn’t raised per say, but there was more too the foundation to help stabilize the structure from the grumbled and ground tremors of the mines.
Arnett and his father stood outside looking up at it. Arnett took a deep breath before stepping forward. Manfred’s arm shot out, stopping him almost immediately.
“The gun, boy,” he said, holding out his hand, “That ain’t a thing for the house.”
“You are wearing your gun,” scowled Arnett.
“You’ll upset your mother,” said Manfred, wiggling his fingers on his outstretched hand, “Best I hold onto it.”
“Give me my registration back,” said Arnett.
“The registration,” said Arnett, “Hand it over.”
“Why do you need it?” said Manfred.
“That was my point earlier,” said Arnett, almost through clenched teeth.
In the resulting silence, Arnett turned and walked up to the door. Manfred sighed behind him.
Opening the door, Arnett cleared his throat loudly as he stepped in.
The room was just as he remembered it. An open room with a large wooden table and a few chairs. Next to it was a kitchen area with some stoves and a small coal oven. Cabinets and a wash bin helped round out the area of the room. Across from there a small sitting area with two simple chairs and two wingback chairs. A carpet was on the ground before the fireplace with a cooking cauldron sitting next to the flames. Doors leading into the other rooms could be spotted from here.
“AH!” came a surprised yell from across the room.
Rising from her chair, a middle aged woman rose and headed across the room. She was slightly shorter than Arnett, but had a thin build. She had bright brown eyes, almost amber in color. Her hair was a long brown with streaks of grey making their presence known. She wore a simple dress, stained, as every bit of clothing was, with a small amount of mining debris. She had Arnett’s nose and hair, and she rushed forward to hug him tightly, almost crying.
“My baby! Oh, my boy,” she cried out, “You’ve come home. I’m so thankful!”
“Thanks, Mom,” said Arnett, “It’s good to see you too.”
“Mother,” said Manfred, walking through the door and walking past them to the table.
“Oh, hush now,” said the woman, stepping back and looking Arnett up and down, “Look at my man. He’s gone off and grown up without his mother! The eagle must leave the nest or risk never growing his wings. And what wings you’ve grown! I bet the ladies are blushing at your every step!”
“Come on, Mom,” said Arnett, “They aren’t exactly blushing. My mouth gets in the way.”
“You disrespectful?” said Manfred, “The mouth will always get a man into trouble. No reason for you to be talkin’ to any ladies. Only Gentlemen can talk with ladies.”
“Hush now, Manny,” said the woman, “Don’t you listen to him. Your father was such a rogue in his own day. He’d cat-call all the young women and say just the raunchiest things!”
“Belle,” warned Manfred.
“Why would you ever be with someone like that?” asked Arnett, sitting down at the table across his father.
“Because one day, he only cat called me,” said his mother, also sitting down and reaching out her hand for Manfred’s, “And all his attention was mine, despite what pretty thing walked down the road. There’s something to that.”
“I was young and a fool,” said Manfred, “But I didn’t raise you to make my mistakes, boy. I raised you to be a fine man. Maybe even a gentleman.”
“And where has my gentleman been?” asked his mother, smiling, “How was the big city!”
“No,” said Manfred, cutting her off, “This isn’t storytime about how the big city is better than our home. You have some serious explaining to do.”
Manfred pulled out a wrinkled and frayed piece of paper. Opening it carefully and placing it on the table. Sliding it across, Arnett could barely make out the words, but he still tried.
It read: ‘It’s been a long time since I have left home. Mother, I miss your…’
Arnett looked away. He saw the pained way his mother stared at the note, and the stern look his father was giving him over it. It was a telegram. A Telegram Arnett had sent more than a year prior. Arnett gave a half hearted smile at his father and mother.
“Look. Everything’s ok,” he said, raising his hands as if to cheer, “Yay.”
“We don’t hear from you for ages and then this is what we get?” said Manfred, “The hell am I supposed to do with this? And I couldn’t even keep it from your mother. She got to it first!”
“We were worried sick,” said his mother.
“Off galavanting around with some guy who is suddenly your whole world!”
“Woah, it wasn’t like that,” said Arnett, holding up his hands, “I had everything under control.”
“Who was he?” asked Manfred.
“A traveler,” said Arnett, “And he was in some trouble. I helped him out of it.”
“A traveler? Like a merchant?” asked his father before his eyes got big, “Or you mean one of them sick ones? You didn’t-”
“Is that why you need a gun?” asked his mother.
“No, mom,” said Arnett, “I work in the Istoki. I need guns for things like protection. There’s ‘kovy and foxes and Goblins out there.”
“Goblins! Oh my,” said his mother.
“Joel, you’re not getting out of this,” said Manfred, “This is your idea of making it right? What are we supposed to think of this?”
“That I’m alright.”
“Alright? You’re practically saying goodbye!” said Manfred.
Their voices had been steadily increasing.
“I’m here now, aren’t I?”
“And we’re thankful-”
“Yeah,” said Manfred, leaning back in his chair, “Because something brought you here. Some job with that walking machine of yours.”
“Walking machine?” asked the Mother, “Oh, that sounds thrilling.”
“It’s a Landship,” said Arnett, sighing.
“So what do you do in a Landship,” asked his mother, “Shipping?”
“I do lots of things,” said Arnett, “Odd jobs, some escorting.”
“You fight,” said Manfred, almost laughing, “He’s a mercenary! An Armored escort. A Hired thug to keep travelers safe.”
“It’s more than that.”
“No it’s not,” said Manfred, “You sit around, awaiting someone to pay you to be tough. So you can afford enough fuel and ammunition for your next fight.”
“I ain’t your pa, I’m your father,” said Manfred.
“Manfred, please!” shouted Mother, catching the attention of both men, “I just want to… hear about how wonderful and exciting my son’s life is and no more about the danger!”
They sat in silence for a second. Arnett looked across at his father. Manfred’s eyes caught Arnett’s before he looked away as well.
Suddenly the table shook. The house trembled. A small puff could be heard. Manfred and Arnett shared a worried glance. Screams and hollers could be heard outside, slowly building. Suddenly a fog horn blasted out, ringing out throughout the whole town. Everyone stood up at the table.
“The mines,” said Arnett’s Mother.
“Cave in,” said Manfred and Arnett together.
Arnett and his father ran to the door, yanking it open.
“Stay here,” yelled Manfred.
The streets were filled with screaming people. Arnett rushed past as much of them as possible, running towards the mines. He managed to get behind an old emergency cart pulled by two chanka, its amber lamps on in the dusk sky. However, the crowds were slowing it down, and Arnett soon ran around it, fighting the crowd.
Dirty, soot covered miners were running away, some carried their friends and others carried their bloody heads in their dirty hands. Arnett scanned the area for a foreman, but he couldn’t. He kept running, eyeing one of the massive mining drills that had stopped turning and was in the process of being pulled from the mine shaft.
He heard some people screaming through the crowd.
“Is anybody hurt?”
“It was such a small cave in. We didn’t even hear it coming!”
“The seismic detectors were shot!”
“Delila! Delila, where are you!”
“That was a blast! I was there. That was no cave in!”
Arnett hurried onward. Dodging the miners and the worried people left and right. Suddenly he happened upon a line of miners holding up their hands. Behind them, a foreman tried to clean out the mining area. Arnett was almost stopped, but he ducked and rolled under one of the miners and ran towards the foreman.
“Hey, what happened?” said Arnett.
“Beat it, kid,” said the foreman, “We need to make way for emergency crews.”
“I demand to know,” came the booming order of Manfred Arnett as he stopped his jog beside Arnett.
“Manfred,” said the foreman, before answering, “Cave in. Came from no where. We don’t know who’s still alive but we can’t get any machines over fast enough without risk of killing any survivors. We’re awaiting emergency crews now and we’re attempting to dig them out.”
“By hand?” said Manfred, “That could take days. That’s terrible! No, We got to ask fast.”
“We could use some help if you’re so worried,” said the foreman, “Grab a shovel and a pick and head over there. That’s the cave in there.”
Arnett looked around. The only machine near the problem area seemed to be a conveyor belt, which would take excess dirt and rubble away quickly, but otherwise the area was pretty small for the bigger machines. Arnett furrowed his brow.
“I can help,” said Arnett.
“Of course you can, come with me,” said Manfred, “We’ll grab anyone not bleedin’ and we’ll shovel em’ out until they can-”
“No! I can help,” said Arnett, “Father, come with me. I got an idea.”
“Absolutely not! Now isn’t the time,” said Manfred, “We’re not arguing. Follow me and grab a pick!”
Arnett turned around, an upset look on his face, “I can do this!”
Arnett looked in the crowd. Running from the blast, a ragged looking guy Arnett’s age was stumbling toward them, a look of determination to help on his face.
“Hey you, wanna help” asked Arnett, “You in good physical shape?”
“I can help,” said the man.
Arnett turned to the foreman, “I need that conveyor on full blast, asap! Keep it behind my ship, alright? You’re gonna see something a little weird.”
“Joel, absolutely not!” ordered Manfred, “Don’t you dare, boy!”
Arnett already slapped the man’s shoulders and started running for his ship. To his surprise, the guy was keeping pace, running behind him too. As they reached the yard it was held at, he watched as four guys struggle to get one of the mid sized drills onto a cart. He shook his head before vaulting on the leg of his ship, using some rungs there like a ladder to quickly scale it. On the deck of his ship, he worked to open the bulkhead.
A panting figure leaned against the ship next to him, waiting.
“This ship yours?” said the man.
“Yehp,” said Arnett, throwing open the bulkhead, “Close this behind you…. You.”
“Joseph,” said the man, “Joseph Abbot.”
Arnett was already in the landship, making for the engine room, “Lieutenant Joel Arnett. Over there, cockpit!”
Abbot stood in the landship, turning and allowing his eyes to adjust, “Cockpit?”
Arnett was already back from the engine room, running past him, “Come with me. You know anything about ships? Cranes? Mining equipment?”
“I’m from here, of course I do,” said Abbot.
“Good, same principal.”
Arnett sat down in the pilot’s seat. Igniting the Scorpios II into action, he yanked back on the throttle and the ship took its first steps forward. Quickly he made it over the awed workers and miners, he b-lined it for the cave in. Arriving at the scene, Arnett saw the workers trying to dig out the cave in.
“Why are we going to do?” asked Abbot.
“See those controls? They’re for the main gun, in the back-”
“I don’t agree with this-”
“Listen, point it backward. Turn it up, light it up, keep it steady behind us, got it? Just like a drill, only it moves with that stick in front of you!”
Abbot looked around him in the gunner’s seat, before he turned some knobs, built preassure in the gun, and flipped three levers. The ship began to hum, and he looked up in the windshield in awe. With a flick of his wrist, he controlled the massive two-pronged gun behind them in the back deck, which swiveled with him movements.
“What kind of gun did you say this was?”
“I didn’t,” said Arnett, “Behind us, now!”
The gun swiveled, aiming directly behind them. A foreman was waving at Arnett from the ground, waving them away. Arnett waved them away, grabbing the drill controls and lifting them in a motion to show they what was gonna happen.
“What’s your plan?”
“This,” answered Arnett.
He raised the drill controls. Pressing the triggers, he sent steam to the drills, and they began to spin. The foreman’s eyes widened. Grabbing a whistle, he gave it four powerful blasts, waving everyone away. The workers scattered.
Arnett pushed the drills forward. The slammed into the caved in rubble, digging and tearing into the rock and dirt. After several jabs at the debris, Arnett released the driller triggers and wrapped his fingers through, spreading them and pushing out on a new trigger. The Drills broke apart, still spinning but, opening into two pieces. A giant vacuum system kicked on, and they began to suck up the debris and rubble that had been broken up. The dirt and debris disappeared into the machine. Distant rumbling could be heard and felt inside the landship.
“Where’s it all going?” asked Abbot.
“Behind us, out through that gun,” said Arnett, looking back at Abbot.
His brows furrowed and he stood up, leaning back on his chair and flipped a switch above Abbot’s head. He slunked back down into his chair.
“Now, it’s going through the gun.”
“To… where?” said Abbot.
Arnett shrugged, “Behind us. For now. Until they understand what’s going on and that conveyer is moved in behind us.”
Several minutes later, the Landship was making major progress, He already started to burrow into the ground. The sunlight of dusk began to disappear and a tunnel was beginning to form.
Soon, they were covered in darkness and digging through the mess. Abbot sighed, peering into the darkness.
“So… Lieutenant… what do you do for work?”
“Oh… stuff,” said Arnett, “This is my ship. I… use it.”
“Unbury a few miners before?”
“Not exactly,” said Arnett, “Usually there’s a lot more… shooting.”
A flash of light in the darkness. Arnett lit a small lamp next to him, casting the room in light. Arnett grabbed the controls again, slowly digging into the rubble.
Suddenly they broke through, they could see some lights outside, the lamps of the mine shaft. Arnett shut off the drills and pulled it back.
“We’re here, you did it!” said Abbot.
“Get out, quick,” said Arnett, pushing back the controls and stepping the Scorpios II back.
Arnett leapt from his seat, running back into the ship. Abbot followed closely. Arnett made a sharp turn, desperately attempting to throw open the balcony. The door opened, but slightly. Arnett had to squeeze out. Arnett couldn’t quite fit on the deck of his ship, the tunnel wall was still too low on top of the landship. Arnett crawled, making his way to the front of the ship. As he crawled over the windshield to the bow, he turned and dropped down, onto the mine floor to the rubble below.
He had found a pocket that had survived the cave in. The lanterns still burned, one every so often further, deeper into the mine. The wall around this area appeared to have been hastily reinforced. A few steel beams had been erected as well as a mine cart had been stacked on another, carrying some weight of the cave in. It appears these two steps had done wonders. However, Arnett frowned. Bodies were strewn around everywhere, and he couldn’t find any survivors.
Abbot dropped down behind him, also taking in the area before giving off a large sigh. He examined a body close by as Arnett walked around and over the casualties.
“They’re dead,” said Abbot, before he gasped, his hand covered in blood.
“Murdered,” said Arnett, his eyes narrowing in on the corpses.
He could seen them. Gunshot wounds. Almost on every body. Some were exit wounds, clean through. One had an obvious shotgun blast to the stomach. They died of these wounds. A few had bullet holes in their heads. Executed.
“Gunshot wounds,” whispered Arnett, who pulled his revolver out.
“Who did this?” said Abbot.
“Whoever made that hole.”
Arnett walked toward an out of place, gaping hole in the side of the shaft. They had weakened the support wall to make the hole, and it looked too small to have been planned. He looked around, noting the dirt on the bodies closest. This was a fresh hole. On the tracks, he saw an empty card with a harness for one of the medium level drills.
“Someone planned this,” said Arnett, “Stay quiet.”
Abbot picked up a pick from the ground, falling in behind Arnett. Arnett nodded at him, heading into the opening. They were almost immediately cast into darkness. Arnett felt with his arms, slowly walking ahead every step of the way. Abbot could be heard behind him, trudging along.
“Where do you think this is going?” asked Abbot.
“Shush,” whispered Arnett, “Stay close and try to be silent.”
They felt as if they were crouch-walking along forever, but sooner, noises could be heard up ahead. They sounded like angry shouts and commands. Arnett kept going, but was more aware of the noise he was making.
Then, up ahead, was an opening, with a small amount of light peeking through. Arnett slowed down, not taking great care in the noise he was making. He crept to the opening, his eyes adjusting to the light.
At the opening, Arnett stopped and observed. The light was coming from two, dirty mining lamps in the room. One was place on top of the stolen mining drill, the other sat on a crate not far off. Arnett’s eyes widened when he observed the room.
The room was a rough box, like a basement. Only it was lined in steel. The drill had not only ripped through the dirt, but through the very steel of the wall, and crashed into a large crate full of coins. In fact, in the dim light of the room, coins were everywhere. Crates with Ciam symbols littered the room. The crate the drill had crashed into had thrown the Ciam and Simo coins everywhere. The bags inside had burst and they littered the floor.
In the far corner, a set of stairs led up above, where angry voices could be clearly heard. However, Arnett’s attention was drawn to a single figure hunched down picking through the coins. He wore dirty overalls and what looked to be miner’s equipment but he had tossed his helmet aside. His hair was shaved and left a single streak in the middle of his head. No soot had stained his skin.
Bandits, Arnett guest. His guesses were confirmed when he caught sight of a sawed off double-barreled shotgun resting across the bandit’s knee. The bandit hummed and filled a small bag he had with Ciam coins.
Arnett turned to Abbot, placing a finger on his lips. Very carefully, he made his way down from the opening, careful to not let his holster jangle or to land on a pile of coins. His eyes never left the bandit, his revolver aimed, poised to shoot at a moments notice. Suddenly he had an idea.
Replacing his revolver in the holster, carefully, he reached up to Abbot, signaling for the pick Abbot carried. Silently they handed it off, And Arnett began to creep out from behind a crate to the bandit. He timed each foot fall to coincide with the bandit rustling through coins, or tossing coins aside. He was very careful.
However, a rustle of coins behind him was too much to ignore. The bandit turned around, spotting Abbot where he had landed. However he was too slow to contend with Arnett, who had taken the final two steps, swinging the pick.
The pick axe slammed into his face with the blunt side, taking him completely by surprise. His neck was jerked back, and his body went limp. His nose was instantly broken. The shotgun fell from his grip.
The body and gun fell to the ground in coins. Arnett quickly motioned for Abbot to stay silent, drawing his revolver once more and staring at the ceiling. After a moment of listening to the hushed conversations above, they realized they had not been found out.
“You know how to use this?” asked Arnett, holding out his revolver.
Abbot said nothing as he stepped forward, grabbing the revolver. Arnett knelt down to pick up the shotgun, checking to ensure it still had both shots.
“Listen, we’ll sneak up there carefully,” whispered Arnett, “We’ll see how many of them there are. Don’t let them shoot you first. Listen carefully: in case of a shootout, I need you to shoot right to left, ok? I am going left to right. We are limited in rounds and I don’t want to waste them shooting the same person.”
“You’ve done this before.”
“The pistol ain’t for looks,” said Arnett, “Now be silent. When I give the cue, waste ‘em.”
Arnett quietly began to ascend the stairs. He was careful with each steps. The staircase went up into another room. The room was the same, lined with steel and reinforced with a cage of rebar. Here, shelves and carts littered this area. There were bags of coins, stacks of paper money and blank cheques, and boxes, baskets, and drawers of personal deposit boxes. Six robbers littered the room. They were stuffing jewels, paper bank notes, and whatever else they could into bags.
Arnett scanned the room. Only two of them had weapons at the ready. One with a small pump-shotgun hovered over two others, talking. A second had a hunting rifle held in one arm as he read a bank cheque in the other hand. The others showed signs of pistols and knives, but they seemed enthralled in their looting.
Abbot was close behind Arnett, and he wasted no time aiming his pistol at the man to the farthest right. Arnett mouthed the words ‘Bank Vault’ to him, where he nodded. Arnett turned and ascended the rest of the stairs, coming fully into the vault. He listened to their chattering.
“Quickly now, I need it all.”
“This is a huge haul, good thing we did this close to payday.”
“This is our payday, haha!”
“Shut up you two. Get those cart’s hooked up and get Dipper to prepare the drill. We need to be ready to make a quick escape!”
“They won’t know what hit ‘em!”
“Riley, go help Dipper, now. We got to be ready to hustle as soon as we can!”
The one holding the shotgun nodded before turning around to walk briskly back to the stairs. His eyes met Arnett’s quickly, but Arnett’s shot to his shotgun. Not wasting time, Arnett raised his shotgun and fired off one of his shots, hitting the thug square in the chest. He was knocked back, landing ontop of the two he was standing over.
“Alright, hands up!” yelled Arnett, his ears ringing from the shot in the enclosed space, “I want to see them hands!”
He was glad to see Abbot hadn’t taken his shot as a cue to start shooting himself. He was quick to make his presence known to the two thugs to the right who were confused and raised their hands. All eyes were now turned around on Arnett and Abbot, who were keeping a bead on the remaining five robbers.
“Are you out of your mind?” said one of the robbers, standing to his full height.
“Your hand touches metal and I’ll blast you,” threatened Arnett with his shotgun.
“You just shot Riley!” yelled the man.
“Who the hell are you two?” said another, “You got here mighty quick to be the law.”
“Riley and Dipper are out of the picture,” said Arnett, “And it won’t be long for you thugs to join him. Rifleman, drop it!”
“Drop it he said,” demanded Abbot, who could train his revolver on the man.
The man with the rifle looked to the others, who looked back to him. He eyed Arnett. Another robber smiled a large smile, stepping forward, he started to laugh.
“You’re surrounded, boys,” he said, “Five against two. You only got one barrel left at most, hot-shot. And your friend there doesn’t seems a little shabby with a gun. You really think you’ll survive this?”
“Don’t have to,” said Arnett, pointing his shotgun squarely at this guy, “Now that I know you’re the leader, I just have to guarantee you don’t make it out with enough men to work your drill and get away with enough loot to make it worth it.”
“Besides, you can’t kill us,” said Abbot, “You stole that drill, we busted it.”
The robbers face twisted in anger. The other goons looked to one another in surprise, worry now spreading across their face. Arnett resisted looking at Abbot, but Abbot stood a little straighter.
“None of you know how to fix it,” Abbot continued, “But me and my friend here do. So if you kill us, you’re doomed. If we live, you’re doomed. Your only chance is to surrender.”
The one Arnett had called the leader spit. His face showed he was enraged. He pointed at Arnett.
“You’re bluffing. We would’ve heard anything like that.”
“Like you heard us shoot Dipper, right?” smiled Arnett.
The leader’s eyes narrowed, “You didn’t shoot Dipper!”
“No, but we’ll shoot you if you move a muscle, boy!”
Arnett froze. However, he was put at ease as the robbers all quickly put up their hands in defeat. The one holding the rifle dropped it and raised his high. The one Arnett had been talking to rolled his eyes in disgust.
Up the stairs came Arnett’s father, pistol drawn, with another miner behind him, a shotgun in his hand. Giving two large knocks on the large vault door, the mechanisms began to turn and spin. Arnett had to fight not to look at the spectacle as the door slowly opened, swinging aside. Outside, a worried bank could be seen, but three more bobbies in helmets and all and the Sheriff stood poised to strike.
“Reach fer the sky, Hopper,” spat the Sheriff, “I have been waiting for this day too long to not punch more holes in you then a sponge!”
The one Arnett labeled as the leader glared angrily, but his hands began to raise up. The Sheriff playfully spun both his revolvers in a show of victory. Manfred holstered his gun, grabbing two pairs of handcuffs and cuffing the one named Hopper and one of the Robbers beside him. Two Bobbies lowered the rifles they had held, leaning them against the teller’s tables and running in with more shackles to cuff the rest. Arnett and Abbot smiled to each other, lowering their own guns. The Sheriff spun his pistols into his holster expertly and approached Arnett.
“You got your Dad in you after all, Lieutenant,” said the Sheriff, “Never have a seen a more stupid act of gallantry. WRONG! There was this…. Bounty Hunter once.”
“Thanks, Sheriff,” said Arnett, nodding to his dad, “I learn from the best.”
“Really? I don’t remember teaching you that,” said the Sheriff, before breaking into a hearty laugh.
The robbers were lead out of the bank in shackles, and Arnett and Abbot followed them out too. Abbot was smiling, watching them go proudly.
“That was a thrill,” said Abbot, “How did you know what to do?”
“You don’t know. You just do,” said Arnett, taking his revolver from Abbot expertly.
Manfred was quick to run up, “Joel, that was stupid of you. Very stupid. However, that was very brave. Quick thinking and good control of the room. I’m proud of you.”
He nodded at Arnett, before rushing away to follow the group of shackled men to the jailhouse.
“That’s your dad?” said Abbot.
“Joseph, was it?” asked Arnett.
“You weren’t half bad today. What do you do, Joseph?”
“I’m a miner engineer,” said Abbot, “Which is fancy speak for I’m a miner and I know how to fix the equipment when it breaks.”
“Doesn’t pay well,” sighed Arnett.
“You’re a natural with the ship,” said Arnett, “Right now, in this country, you’re the third best Scorpios II Gunner there is, and I like that. Come with me, let’s talk.”
“Where we going?”
“My ship is still on and left in a hole over here,” said Arnett, pointing vaguely with the shotgun, “And I may have taken some Ciams lying on the ground so we’re moving quickly in this direction.”
Abbot chuckled, lifting his hand from his pocket he showed a few simos he had swiped as well. Arnett also smiled at the sight.
“Abbot, this will be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.”
Back on the Road
“Isabella, please,” whined Manfred, pulling Arnett’s mother from Arnett, “Let the boy breathe before you smother him to death.
“My boy, a hero,” smiled Arnett’s mother, “I’m just so worried!”
“We both are,” said Manfred, pointing at Arnett, “Gun slinging and fighting ain’t no work for a good man.”
“Be careful, father,” said Arnett, “You might confuse me for a good man some day.”
“I’ll hold my breath,” said Manfred dryly.
“You will write more, won’t you?” asked his mother, “Visit more, won’t you?”
“I’ll try, ma,” said Arnett, before he shrugged and said, “I can do a better job of writing at least.”
“Good, I want to hear all the stories,” said his mother, smiling while holding back tears, “Young men need to see more than their small home to grow into their destiny.”
“Just keep your head down,” said Manfred, “If I ever get word you end up behind bars I’ll be sore, boy.”
“All set to go, Lieutenant!” came a cry from above.
Looking up at the Landship that stood, waiting to go, Abbot waved from the deck. He was grinning from ear to ear and standing with his hands on his shoulders.
Manfred’s smile disappeared and he gave Arnett a stern look.
“Don’t you go ruining that young man, Joel,” said Manfred, sternly, before he looked up and yelled up to Abbot, “And knock that off! He’s Joel. Just Joel. Non of the ‘Lieutenant’ business.”
“Dad, I can pay him more then he makes here and it’s better work, honestly,” said Arnett, “And we’ll be fine. I’ve been talking with him and he isn’t so bad a guy.”
“Alright, this has to end,” announced Manfred, who stretched in place, “I got work to do. Get on out of here if you’re leaving. Get to where you’re going fast.”
“Fine,” sighed Arnett, turning to leave, “I love you. Bye!”
“Oh, I love you, Joel,” shouted his mother, “Be careful!”
“Don’t get shot!” shouted Manfred behind him.
“You know,” said Arnett, shouting over his shoulder as he climbed the rungs of one of the legs up to the landship, “I’m pretty good at this. I got a knack for it.”
“I highly doubt that,” said Manfred.
Arnett ignored the small crowd who had come to see off the heroes of the week. Arnett’s little landship had saved the miners days of work to clear out the mess, but even though he couldn’t save the miners, word spread fast of the bank robbers.
Even as he made his way into the ship, some still hollered and cheered from the streets below. Abbot was already waiting inside, he surveyed the ship.
Arnett took his spot in the driver’s seat and Abbot behind him in the gunner’s seat. With a quick adjustment of some dials, Arnett grabbed the controls, and steered the Landship out of Sorditudo.
“So,” asked Abbot, “What is it that we do?”