The Circuit Breaker depot sat in the industrial district near the train tracks. The walls of the dark office were hit by softly sparking light, showing three computer terminals and desks, dirty ashtrays, and a motivational poster with a green frog.
Sparks flared from the squared server strapped to the back of a man with many roles. He was an Urban Archivist; a Street Scribe.
His black gloves flew over the custom electronic tablet with the sturdy metal frame he’d placed on one of the desks. The underside of his backpack had a spray can Velcro’d at the center and an elastic data cable on the right. The jumper was stretched out, its connector tapped into the first of the three terminals that stored the warehouse’s reports.
He had black athletic pants that fastened around the ankle and black high-tops. He had a black soccer jersey with a white stripe across his shoulders, and black knee and elbow pads. Slim wrist guards protected his forearms.
As far as anyone could possibly know him, he was a hooligan.
The Hooligan’s gloves continued over the tablet, a progress bar filling until a large ‘SUBMIT’ button popped on the screen and lasted only until his thumb gave it a tender smack.
The square backpack started to whir and was soon shooting sparks out the vents on the side. When it generated enough power, the terminal he was tethered to popped smoke. The Hooligan unplugged the jumper from the port and let it zip back into place under his pack.
Now that the data retrieval was underway, the Hooligan went about collecting photographic documentation of the site, and though the small office was excruciatingly ordinary, he diligently documented the general layout. Aiming his camera shots, he snapped three pics and moved on. No sooner had he stepped away from the window than a hooded young woman darted over the gate in its view and booked it to the wall below.
Alex hugged the side of the building as she ran to the edge. With another train passing by, she cautiously peered around the corner; she found two trucks backed up to the receiving dock at the opposite end, a pair of men travelling back and forth down their extended ramps. She searched for a pattern in their routine. It didn’t take long, as two of them passed each other going in opposite directions, the closer wheeling a stack from the warehouse into the container.
The thug dropped the box on the ground halfway in. Turning to leave, he got the full end of a long metal canister straight to the gut. The blow knocked the wind from his lungs and him to his knees.
In his incapacitated state, Alex was able to step around him so their backs touched, reach past her ears, and interlock her fingers over his mouth. Pulling his weight onto her back, she walked him into the shadow as a second thug made it up the neighboring truck’s ramp, right on schedule.
When her captive’s legs stopped twitching and he went limp, Alex propped him upright against the inside wall. She could hear the second thug as he trudged down the metal ramp next door.
After sliding the canister back over her shoulder, Alex pried open the unconscious man’s box and removed a fist-full of Circuit Breaker 9000 phones. She was at the right place.
“What the hell?!” a voice said from behind.
Startled, Alex found a third thug staring at her from the outside ramp, holding a bulky box in his hands. Alex vaulted from the back of the truck as he dropped his haul and pulled a pistol from his jacket.
But before he could raise it at Alex, she’d rerouted his hand to smash him in the nose, forcing his finger down on the trigger. The guard’s face was badly scalded by the cartridge’s exhaust and his ears rang from the loud bang. Desperate to relieve his burning skin, the thug put his hands to his face, a move that offered it some protection from Alex’s strong punch but managed to knock him out anyway and give him a life-long case of crippling arthritis.
Knowing she’d already started a ruckus, Alex raced into the back of the warehouse. She maneuvered a hallway corner and found the remaining two guards just outside the office door. Closing on them, the top of the .357 popped and Alex reached to its black rubber grip. The look on her face scared both men.
Back in the flashing office, the black gloves continued to fly over the face of the tablet, the sparking light reflecting off its screen. The Hooligan had moved to the second terminal and was more than ready to get out of there. A screen popped on his log, a directory that listed a location.
It said ‘Lorelai’s Field’.
He didn’t recognize the location from any of his maps but he’d have more time to investigate it on the drive home than he did now. His tablet finished ripping the terminal’s drives. He swiped the log away and a large ‘EXECUTE’ button appeared. He smacked it with his thumb.
On the hit, the two thugs crashed through the door and landed on top of each other in the center of floor. The Hooligan turned as the long shaft of a metal baseball bat sprayed with ‘.357’ introduced Alex before she coolly strode over the threshold.
She wasn’t expecting the person she found.
His face was covered by a large black handkerchief over a balaclava, a flat-billed black ball cap, and squared black ski goggles. She looked him over from head to toe, but didn’t see any skin. She saw that he was completely anonymous. She knew that he was a Crypto.
Puzzled by her appearance and the two men on the floor, but intuitively knowing it was significant, the Hooligan reached up and squeezed the top and bottom corners on the right side of his goggles with his index finger and thumb. A mechanism clicked together like a camera shutter pinching closed.
The four figures remained there in silence until the computer zapped and smoke puffed out the top.
“Waddup, playa?” the Hooligan asked with verbal flourish.
“Your mask,” Alex said, studying his style. “You’re from Animos City, aren’t you?”
“Have you been there?” the Hooligan asked, pulling the jumper out of the terminal. “The air really carries the light this time of year.”
“Didn’t care for it,” she said flippantly. “Felt vacant despite the crowds. Are you destroying the data or stealing it?”
“Yeah,” he said and nodded at an angle.
“I won’t let you.”
The Hooligan rubbed the jumper tip between his fingers.
“You can’t stop me.”
“Look, I’ll be frank because I’ve done this a lot recently,” Alex said pointedly. “Not even your men can help you out of here.”
“I know you have,” the Hooligan said sympathetically. “But they’re not my men.”
Finishing the line, he darted to the last computer. Jamming the jumper into the port on the front, he started furiously typing on his tablet.
The thugs got to their feet and lunged, but Alex reached out and grabbed the closer of the two by the collar of his shirt, and jerked him back to her.
With no hands to spare, the Hooligan turned to the second thug just as he got to him, catching his chest with the underside of his foot.
The Hooligan looked at the determination in his opponent’s face and realized he needed to step things up. “Gotta put this into overdrive,” he said and pushed the man away forcefully.
The thug landed on the floor a few feet from where Alex had the other’s head in a lock and was mercilessly beating the back of it.
The Hooligan jabbed his right thumb into a mechanical green button on his backpack’s left strap three times. The server pack flared up with each, producing a vroooo, vroo, vroooooo rhythm so powerful Alex imagined a muscle car’s V8 engine kicking asphalt, an illusion made real by the sparks shooting out the vents on the side.
“No,” she said caught in a daze. Shaking it off, she ran her opponent head first into the wall.
Getting to the Crypto, she swung the .357, but the Hooligan’s padded arm braced the blow, knocking the tablet from his hands and along the floor. Alex snagged it and looked at the front. Her eyes immediately scrunched in confusion.
The screen was blank.
The Hooligan grabbed her by the collar and threw her against the wall. He looked at his tablet in her hands. As his vision passed down the screen, his goggles revealed the hidden information contained on it, including the large ‘EXECUTE’ icon. He rapped the back of his knuckle on the virtual button.
His backpack whipped up and the terminal coughed out a smoky rattle. He tugged on the cable and the jumper hopped out of the computer and zipped back into his server.
“That means our fun is over,” he said as he slid the tablet into the holster-like pouch on his left thigh.
Alex corrected him. “It means you’re now my only target.”
She pulled both her legs up and kicked him in the gut. Without anything to support her weight, she crashed violently to the ground. The Hooligan staggered back, and Alex saw her opening to attack. Unfortunately, her haste caused her feet to slip out from under her, and so was off balance when she swung, putting so little power behind the bat that the Hooligan’s thuggish opponent was able to catch it midair.
The fight was descending into disarray, with fighters now defending their enemies.
The Hooligan poked his head up, looking first at the bat then Alex.
“You can’t tell but I’ve got a grin clear across my face,” he said gaily.
The fabric on the Hooligan’s face mask hadn’t even settled from the words when the man Alex had been fighting sprang up and let a jab fly over her back, cracking the Hooligan right in the mouth.
Alex smiled broadly. “Did it look like this?”
Rather than getting in a tug of war over possession of the .357, Alex dropped low and gave the thug who had caught it a quick left-right-left to the stomach.
“Why not just show me?” she said, grabbing the bat and putting her foot to her opponent’s shoulder. She pushed her leg out as she pulled her arms in, forcing the bat from the thug’s hands.
At the same time, the Hooligan spun his new foe around and punched him backwards. The two men collided into each other in the center of the room.
It was then Alex realized that she and the Hooligan had completely swapped positions from where they’d started. Frustrated by the situation, she swung the .357 out beside her, smashing the nearby terminal’s screen and sending glass to the floor.
“Take off your mask,” she said seriously through a smile.
“You got it,” the Hooligan said obediently. “Just give me one second.” He grabbed the open door’s handle and yanked it closed, with him safely on the other side.
Stunned at the silly turn of events, the three people still in the room all looked at each other dumbly.
Alex sighed. “Hey, uh…” she said with a hanging ellipsis, “he’s getting away.”
The second thug yanked the door open and dashed down the hall in pursuit of the Hooligan, leaving the fourth to rush Alex. She stepped her left leg forward and smoothly bunted him in the face, using his own speed to knock him into a cold heap on the floor. She flew through the open door and rushed down the hall.
In the loading dock, the first thug Alex choked out stepped off the back of the cargo truck in a stupor. Trying to shake the dizziness away, he slapped his head once…then again…then a completely different fist punched him across the face from the other direction. He went down. The Hooligan dropped alongside the body and pulled a pair of keys from his pocket.
Glad to have an auto for the trip back home, he quickly ran to the dark side of the building. The V8 engine kicked again in the shadow. The burly revving rose until the Hooligan coasted back into the light on a black six-speed bicycle with chrome rims that he’d stashed there, its spokes splinking as they turned. His pack shooting sparks as it compiled a new file based on the Circuit Breaker data, he steered towards the extended ramp to the back of the trailer.
He jumped off the bike and let it ghost ride up, where it crashed inside the container and rang the bell on the handlebars. Following that, he slid the ramp back under the bed of the truck, stepped to its back fender, pulled the rollup door down, and locked it into place. Sensing something behind him, he found the second thug training a pistol on his chest.
But before the man could pull the trigger, Alex slammed her shoulder into him from a full sprint and ejected his body from the ground. The Hooligan took a step to the side and the thug crashed head-first into the back of the door, falling unconscious to the pavement.
Alex and the Hooligan were alone at last.
But Alex was tired, and breathing hard to prove it.
“Give me the data,” she ordered, wearily pointing the bat his way. It visibly wobbled under the strain.
“You look beat,” the Hooligan noted sympathetically. “You should rest, let this go.”
Alex charged forward, swinging.
“Give it to me!” she commanded again.
The Hooligan ducked the corner as the bat buried into the back of the truck. Gunshot. She pulled it out and swung it the other way, but he casually pivoted so he was looking at it when it buried into the driver’s side. Gunshot.
Before Alex could pull it out, the Hooligan punched her across the face one way, then the other, then straight on so she fell to her back.
The Hooligan stood over Alex, his backpack sparking excitedly into the night sky.
“You Cryptos are cowards,” Alex said through her exhaustion. “No courage to put your face to your actions.”
“Your father had courage,” the Hooligan said. “Do you remember the last face he made? If you let your enemies know who you are they will exploit your weaknesses.”
“Whatever your plan is for my kingdom, you’ll have to kill me first.”
At the young royal’s words, the Hooligan hesitated, and his server’s sparking settled into a low, uncertain grind.
Out of nowhere, a spray of bullets hit the passenger side of the truck and swept towards the Hooligan. Diving behind the driver’s side, he threw the door open and climbed inside the cab.
Alex spun around in the trail’s direction. Her protector was wearing a large, light brown wool poncho with a small semi auto machine gun pointed out the slit on the right side, steadied by a hand with a large circular scar between thumb and index finger. He flipped the safety off to a click and let the gun go. An elastic strap swung it back under cover. He had a rugged face and stiff hair brushed back and to the left, above shaved sides.
“Carmichael!” she exclaimed at seeing the captain of the Royal Guard under her father.
The truck’s large engine kicked awake and coughed exhaust. Regaining her composure, Alex sat up to see the truck gain speed. She was staring at it when Carmichael sprinted past, a small sawed-off shotgun gripped tightly in his hands. He skidded to a stop within view of the driver’s side mirror and destroyed the metal and glass that reflected the Hooligan’s ski goggles looking back. Carmichael pumped the shotgun and sent another burst out its short barrel, but the truck had gained too much distance to be effective. The truck took a corner at the far end.
Alex got to her feet. “He took the data!” she said frantically. “Did you see him? Do you know where he’s from?” Alex let the full realization lift the .357 over her head. “How are we supposed to find a shadow in a city with no lights?” Her anger pulled the trigger.
Channeling the last of her strength, she slammed the .357 on the ground with the force of a rocket, successfully producing a burly gunshot that cracked the night in two while failing to properly express the full depth of her fury.
As if an alarm clock rang to get them up for work, the three bodies nearby stirred, one moaning in pain.
“We go to Animos and figure it out,” Carmichael said unflinchingly. “I failed your father, Princess, I won’t fail you.”
Alex looked to the gun across his hands. “That standard issue for the Royal Guards?” she asked and looked into his eyes.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said honestly, “I’m not a Royal Guard anymore.” His Diamond Badge was gone to prove it. “But believe me,” he said with hazel eyes blazing, “I’m a better archer than a knight.”
Alex stared at him for a beat too long, trying to decide whether or not she fully trusted his sword. Realizing she didn’t have any other options, she walked over to one of the thugs regaining consciousness, leaned down, and punched him out again. Pulling the man’s truck keys from his right pants’ pocket, she threw them at Carmichael, who snagged them from the air.
“Get in the truck,” she ordered.
© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016
Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen