Karmie sucked a quick breath, steeling herself. Then she was glancing around the corner. Damn it. A squad of giants were advancing down the street, hissing and clanking as they examined the buildings around them with almost casual disregard. There was no way she'd make it to the coal bins at Firth and Kingsley now. Not without getting seen. Unless, . .
"Hey Sprite," a cheerful voice whispered as a slender shadow slipped into her hiding place. "Miss me?"
Karmie fought off the urge to first take a swing at the shadow, then pull it into a hug.
"Karse, your timing is horrible," she hissed in reply, "as per usual. I could've used you a half hour ago." Karmie looked back round the corner. "Now I've got a full squad of giants between us and the Firth coal bins."
Karse, a slender, handsome young man with flashing blue eyes and a shock of white hair, smiled brilliantly. Covered as he was in coal dust, his teeth shone that much more brightly in the dim light seeping through the heavy clouds overhead, his hair now an echoing shade of gray. An understandable state since he had just spent the last hour crawling through coal chutes to slip unseen into the various factories in the Gray Cloud District, scavenging for boiler parts.
"Knowing you, and knowing what you want that coal for, you now want me to take care of those giants for you," he finished for her, his smile becoming smug as if he had known the answer all along. And yet again Karmie fought the urge to punch the young man in the face. An urge not dampened by the fact that he was her twin brother.
Ignoring the hard look that had appeared on his sister's dirt-smudged face, Karse blithely continued.
"I could probably sort out a couple of those clankers for you. Maybe even three, if you promise to make your poppy seed lemon squares for tea tomorrow."
Karmie stared at her brother and his roguish grin for a moment before abruptly sighing.
"Fine. But you'll have to fetch me the lemons. There's none in the pantry and I haven't the time to visit the market meself."
Karse's grin grew.
"At your service, milady," he said, tugging a dirty forelock of hair with an even dirtier hand. "If there's anything I do even better than fight giants, it's fetch for you." And then he was scrambling out of the hiding spot before Karmie could give him a well-deserved punch.
Of course, as soon as her twin was out from cover and walking casually towards the giants, Karmie felt her annoyance quickly be replaced by anxiety and concern. And for good reason: the giants were formidable foes even for seasoned soldiers.
They first appeared on Lantis a hundred years ago, marching in precise lines out of the Eastern Breakers and up onto the gray shale beaches of Nessex County, in Deaconshire. They were oddities to be stared at and whispered about even as their fifteen foot tall shapes began to clank onto the cobblestone roads of East Gamling and Caemlyn-on-Avin.
Metal cylinders capped with glass domes where the pilots sat formed the bodies. Arms were set into great metal shoulders just below the dome, moving at shoulder, elbow and wrist by a clever system of steam-powered pistons, cables and pulleys. The legs were in a rotating waist, using ball joints, pistons and cables for movement at the proper points as well, well made enough to give the giants an almost natural gait as they walked.
The steam was provided by a boiler somewhere in the giant's belly, the fire fed via a front loading chute for coal or, in a pinch, wood. The water refilled in a similar fashion via spout. Metal-plated monstrosities in vast numbers, they moved faster than a horse at a gallop and quickly spread over the countryside.
Yet it wasn't until a handful of the king's cavalry attempted to stop and question a company of giants at Fordrun's Crossing that the reason for their arrival was revealed. A confrontation insued and the entire squad was slaughtered by steam-driven weapons that appeared out of recessed compartments in the giants' arms and body.
The king's reaction was swift, sending his army against the invaders. And their defeat was equally swift, lances and pikes no match against steel plating and weapons using steam and black powder to fire deadly projectiles.
Karmie shifted further out of the shadows so she could keep an eye on her brother, who was whistling as he strolled unconcerned towards the squad of giants, who had come to a halt to watch his approach. Having seen those weapons in action she certainly didn't want her brother killed by them. Especially in carrying out one of her crazy requests.
If Karse had similar concerns, he wasn't letting it show on his face, whistling merrily as he approached the squad of giants.
"Halt," a hard voice rumbled from the lead giant. "State your purpose."
Karse smiled lazily as he slowed.
"My purpose, old son?" he asked rather airily. Time to see how gullible these giants were. "Why, to enjoy every day as if it was my last."
The giants shifted, arms lifting as they prepared their hidden weapons.
"If you don't stop, boy, this day will be your last," the leader threatened and Karse slowly shook his head, a look of sorrow on his face.
"Ah, such hostility. And I know why. I'd be hostile too, if I had to spend my time sealed up in a big metal can all day." He stopped, hands behind his back, to look up at the giant looming over him. "It has to be hot in there, under all that thick glass. Why don't you take a break? You know, slip out of the can, find a good public house with a fine local brew on tap and a busty tavern wench to dandle on your knee. Have a good meal, enjoy the ale and the wench, . . ."
"What would you know about taverns, boy?" another giant growled. "You don't even shave!."
Karse's smile grew roguish.
"You don't need hair on your face to appreciate a woman's curves, my friend. Or a good meal. In fact, the best of both can be found at the Pig and Whistle, down on Brythion Lane. Red haired Maeve, who has a bosom out to here, and legs up to here," he said, his hands illustrating her measurements, "will serve you a leg of lamb with mint sauce that's truly out of this world. Come! Let me show you, . . " He went a handful of steps through their surprised legs before turning, his grin broad.
"Well? What are you lads waiting for? Permission? Surely Lord Cormoran will acquiesce to a bite and a bit, yes?"
"His Lordship doesn't have to know, sergeant," one of the giants pointed out. "A break would be nice and I am hungry." The other giants murmured in agreement, punctuated by a hiss from one of their steam valves. "Besides, we all need to tank up and bring on a load of coal to finish the patrol. We could eat and do that right after."
"Very well," the lead giant rumbled. "A bite to eat, then back to the bins at Firth to coal and tank." The massive metal shape twisted to face a grinning Karse.
"Lead on, boy. And this tavern best be as good as you say. Or I'll see you hanged by your own entrails."
"Hoi, you're in for a treat, my friends," Karse chortled and turned to gleefully lead the way down the street, the giants clumping noisily after him and leaving the way clear for Karmie. She hesitated only long enough for the giants to be far enough down the road that they wouldn't catch sight of her. Then she was scampering through the shadows, intent on the great coal bins at Firth.
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Dark Energy Supernova - An Anthology of SF SD ShortsScience Fiction
A collection of short stories aimed at entertaining, electrifying and illustrating the various types of sci-fi genres as entries in the Pub's Sci-Fi Smackdown, ver 6.0