28. Mobile Stink Fog

The hostess spoke to the Liberty Corps members, one a red armored spearman, the other a blue clad rifleman. She turned and gestured back toward the Mayhill Market.

Enoa had seen enough. She turned to the water fountain, collected her staff and bags, and walked as fast as she dared to the Hauler Supply.

“Pops and his team are on the Barter Network thing.” Orson’s hands were now totally full. He held the length of pipe under one arm. “I got ahold of the people at his Chicago location, and they set it all up, so we’re totally good to go.”

“Great.” Enoa looked over Orson’s shoulder, looking into the Hauler Supply. She saw no sign of Chuck or anyone else manning the store. She stepped close to Orson. “Liberty Corps is here. We need to leave now.”

“Liberty Corps?” Orson looked toward the vestibule and the window. “They’re asshats, but I don’t think we have a current issue with them, do we?”

“The hostess was talking to them,” Enoa hissed. “The hostess from the buffet. She was out there in the snow and they drove up in one of their hummers. I’ll give that surreal little asshole a kick if I see her again.”

“Wow.” Orson stepped away from her. “That was… surprisingly violent. Yeah, you’re right, better to be sure than run into those pricks. We’ve got everything. Let’s get out of here.”

Enoa knew they should at least pretend to talk. They should try to look casual and not suspicious and deeply paranoid. But neither spoke. Orson managed to plaster a small, contented smile on his face, but she couldn’t suppress her anxiety and glanced from side to side. She saw no one, no watching clerks. They cleared most of the interior stalls. Only the outlets and the empty area by the automatic doors separated them from the hilltop. Only the snowy expanse of the parking lot separated them from the Aesir and safety in the sky. They walked past the outlets and arrived at the automatic doors.

Even from several feet away, Enoa could see the armed and armored figures standing there, waiting beside the hostess. Waiting for them. She wavered, but Orson did not. His arms still full of supplies, he marched up to the automatic doors.

Enoa caught up to him, just as the doors opened. They exited out into the snowy night.

“Have a great night.” Orson waved to the hostess. “Thanks again.” Enoa followed Orson as he trudged right past her and the Liberty Corps men. They cleared the department store’s sidewalk and the thin drive between the store and the first of the line of prefab buildings.

“Captain Gregory?” A male voice called after him. “Captain Orson Gregory? We need to speak with you. You are wanted in connection with goods stolen from the Newtown Liberty Corps Division.” Orson didn’t stop. He kept right on walking. Enoa followed after him too, but she couldn’t keep her heart from pounding in her ears.

Footsteps, running footsteps followed them. Orson didn’t turn around, not until the armored men reached them, until the blue armored hand took him roughly by the shoulder.

“You’re coming with us, Gregory.” The rifleman pulled him around to face them. Orson dropped his baked goods and supplies. His replacement pipe made little sound as it fell into the fresh snow cover. “What did you think will happen, ignoring…”

The man stopped speaking when Orson fought back. The wayfarer had drawn an object from his coat’s pocket, as he dropped his recent purchases. This item was black and gray. Orson pressed his finger to the object, and it released long spindly legs. Then Orson pressed this object to the armored man’s chest.

The spindly legs stretched out and curled around the man’s arms and legs forcing them tight to his body. Immobilized, stiff as a board, the man yelled and fell backward into the snow. His rifle tumbled away, harmless.

Orson pressed a hidden trigger in his left sleeve and the tiny blaster launched down his arm and arrived in his hand. He aimed the weapon at the red armored spearman, who was also approaching.

The hostess let out an incomprehensible shriek, before charging back into the department store building. Orson did not watch her go. His eyes were fixed on the spearman.

“I was conflicted.” Orson kept the blaster aimed at the Liberty Corps man. “I didn’t know whether I should try to convince you of the truth. I’ve never stolen from the Liberty Corps.”

“You did,” the spearman said. “You have films that were stolen from the IHSA and we…”

Orson fired the blaster into the snow, just feet from the spearman. It let out a short metallic slapping sound. Enoa jumped at the noise. The heat from the blast melted the snow all the way down to the parking lot’s macadam.

“Listen up,” Orson pointed his free hand at the restricted rifleman. “The Liberty Corps is heir to nothing. You’re self-appointed thugs. Why should I let you, any of you worthless Corps shits get away with strong-arming anyone? No, you need to learn. Now take your friend and get the hell away from us.”

Enoa heard the other approaching figures before they spoke. She wheeled and saw a contingent of about a dozen townspeople, approaching from their prefab buildings, knives and bats in hand. One old man carried a shotgun.

“Any enemy of our friends in the Liberty Corps,” one of the fort-dwellers called. “Is our enemy. You’re under arrest, mister.”

“We’ve done nothing to harm your people.” Orson kept the blaster trained on the spearman, but let his right arm fall slack to his side. Enoa saw the scuttling metal shape of the Aesir’s keys fall from his fingers and go scurrying through the snow toward the camper, still on the other side of the parking lot. “I’m sorry that our pleasant evening in your town isn’t ending well, but I’m not accepting the authority of the Liberty Corps to apprehend me. I’m sorry.”

“These same men helped us move our town up here when we were pillaged for the third time by wandering scum like yourself.” The old man cocked his shotgun as he spoke. “They have every authority to make arrests here, like you’re about to find out.”

“Even if these men are personally good people.” Enoa let her own groceries fall to the snow. “The Liberty Corps who sent them here tormented my town. They burned down my home. They held about a thousand people hostage. We cannot trust what would be done to us if we were turned over to them. Those films you say we stole are my family heirlooms. They belong to no one but me, but the Liberty Corps is trying to steal them. We can’t accept your arrest. I’m very sorry.”

“You put your shiny gun down, mister.” The old man ignored Enoa and advanced closer, the rest of the local mob following behind.

Enoa listened, wishing and praying she’d hear the distant rev of the Aesir’s engines, but if the keys had started the camper, the sound had not reached her. Was that even what Orson intended anyway? Was the RV going to rescue them or was it just sitting, ready for them? Did they have to fight their way over there? She didn’t see how this would be resolved without someone being hurt.

“You’re making a mistake…” Orson looked at the old man.

“Put. The gun. Down.” The old man advanced.

Orson drew his goggles up to his face and his hood to his head in one fast motion. Then he stepped between himself and Enoa. “If you won’t listen, then shoot me.” The old man did not fire, but he advanced closer and now stood within ten yards of the wayfarers. Enoa wondered whether morality stayed his hand or whether he feared Orson.

Enoa didn’t have time to guess. She tightened her grip on the staff. She breathed deeply, trying to force her mind to reach the same meditative place she’d gone when she’d blasted Maros. If a fight was coming, she needed to do her part. She remembered herself reigning blows on the Liberty Corps Captain. She thought of the burned remains of her home. She tried…

The spearman charged at Orson, blade extended. Enoa reacted and slammed her staff into the armored man’s chest.

A bubble of hot air formed and popped at the end of the staff. The armor was dented like it was hit at pointblank range with a shot from a BB gun. The man stumbled and fell, but was mostly unharmed.

A hologram projected out from Enoa’s bracelet, shining between herself and Orson.

Nice attempt (new user)! Here are some helpful tips: Remember to find the Dreamside Road in your mind. If you don’t achieve an adequate trance, your offensive capabilities will be greatly reduced.
RANK: Advanced Beginner
LEVEL: 2 (estimated)
SHAPE: Anemos
MODE: Training

“What the hell is that?” Orson turned toward the light. The old man shot him, sending a bullet into the shoulder of the coat, through the fabric, where it ricocheted off the armor.

Orson drew something else from his pocket, a tiny round something. He hurled it overhand toward the mob of townsfolk. The ball exploded in a neon green smokescreen, totally obscuring the crowd from view.

Even from that distance, Enoa smelled the worst odor she’d ever encountered, like skunks mating in a volcano. She couldn’t imagine how horrendous it would be, up close.

“Mobile stink fog from my set,” Orson explained. The Mayhill posse screamed. Their frantic footsteps were audible too. Bullets tore out of the stench cloud, flying wildly around the hilltop. At the same time, the spearman rose to his feet, now holding his fallen compatriot’s rifle.

“Shoot him!” The fallen rifleman yelled, still muffled by the snow. Orson raised his blaster toward the spearman, but the newly armed warrior was too preoccupied by the wild bullets from the stink cloud to be able to focus on his own aim.

And before the Liberty Corps or the Mayhill posse could gather their bearings, a great engine roar could be heard across the parking lot. The Aesir blared its horn and barreled through snow piles and would have slammed right into the spearman if he didn’t get out of the way, dragging his compatriot with him.

“Get in!” Orson shouted, as the camper’s door opened. Enoa didn’t need to be told twice. She grabbed her groceries and stumbled up the stairs into the RV. Once she was inside, Orson tossed his own supplies after her. The length of piping let out a nasty scraping sound as it rolled across the floor.

Orson leaped aboard himself and sent out two shots from the blaster, aiming mainly to frighten. He slammed his palm into the switch that shut the side door. Then he ran to the front of the Aesir and slid into the driver’s seat. He took the wheel, sending the camper spinning away from their attackers.

“Get things secured if you can!” He shouted back to her. “But don’t worry about it, if you can’t. I’m launching us when we reach the wall. Make sure you’re buckled in, before then.”

“Which cabinets are unlocked?” Enoa looked around the storage area. All of the cabinet doors were closed. She didn’t have time to test them all.

“Just get buckled in!” He called again. “We’ll get things secured later if we have to. Get up here.”

Enoa grabbed all but one of the bags, as well as her staff. She charged along the camper’s floor. She heard two bullets bounce away from the RV. Orson must have raised the energy shield. She heard shouting, as well, but it was all indistinct and far away. She fell into the passenger seat and stretched the belt across her chest and waist, the supplies now balanced on her legs.

Just in time, Enoa felt the slapping sensation at her feet. The Aesir rocketed away from Fort Mayhill, its residents still shouting and firing at them.

But they were already gone. They’d made it. Enoa got a new grip on the shopping bags and let the air out of her lungs, released the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

“Dammit!” She fell against her shoulder harness. “You weren’t joking about being chased out of towns. That was awful. I thought that you were going to have to really hurt that old guy.”

“I did too.” Orson spoke slowly. “I’m sorry we went there. If I’d known…” A loud beeping interrupted them, an Aesir alarm Enoa hadn’t heard before. The sound repeated without interruption.

“What is that?” Enoa tried to see the source of the noise on the dashboard.

“Unidentified flying object.” Orson read the message that appeared on his windshield. “What…” The Aesir shook, even shielded, as something hit them. It felt like a great fist had slammed into the ship’s roof.

Enoa almost dropped their supplies. She heard something slide across the floor behind them. An uncomfortable groaning came down from above. Enoa looked up just in time to see something fly past them, above them, probably only a few hundred feet away, but visible against the moon.

This other object, this other ship, could be seen by the light and fire it sent at them. The enemy ship wheeled around in the air and bore down on them from above.

“The Liberty Corps has some kind of fighter chasing us.” Orson dialed down the ship’s lights. He grabbed a lever beside him and pulled it back, firing the Aesir’s boosters, sending them rocketing away into the distance. “Hang on.”

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