The reaction on the floor below was instantaneous. Workers frothed like sea foam to the exits, and the catwalk shook with the pounding beat of a soldier running to see who had rung the bell. By the time he got there, Robin had used a controlled fall and WINGS to get down to the factory floor, and was huddled in the shadows of some sort of hideously noisy machine that seemed to be used to push fuel from one vat to another. She watched the soldier peer around the catwalk and, when he found no one, glare suspiciously at the bell. Eventually, he returned to the ground, following the last of the workers out. When it sounded as if the place was mostly empty, Robin stood and looked around.
Shelves of massive, round fuel storage cylinders lined the walls by the loading bay doors. Keeping to the shadows, but moving as swiftly as she was able, Robin went over to study them. There was no way, even with WINGS, that she would be able to take a whole cylinder. It was twice her height, and the same width. The pack would never have enough thrust for her to lift with it, and she wouldn't be strong enough to hold on, even if it did.
Omens, she thought. These are a lot bigger close up. I can't just grab one and go like I thought.
The first shout came from the front of factory just as Robin spotted the cheap metal pot, resting on a thin metal tripod. The lid was held on with clamps that gave when Robin pried at the levers, and it was just big enough that Robin could have curled up and hidden inside—if she didn't have WINGS on. Filled with water, it had a spigot at the bottom that told Robin it was probably used as a refreshment station for the folks who worked back here, where there was little fresh air. Carefully turning over the pot, she poured out the water, dried the inside with the ends of her scarf, made sure the spigot was tightly closed, and then turned to the giant fuel cylinder. Like the fuel vats, the top of the transportation cylinder tapered into a point with a circular valve. From what she had seen, peering through the fence of the Klonn Air Base, there was some sort of hose that was supposed to connect to the valve, and the cylinder was tipped upside down to glug, like a wine bottle tipped on its end, into the tanks in the aeroships.
Robin had no hose, nor the rigging contraption to safely tip over the cylinders.
The shouting and the sounds of footsteps were getting closer—a man on one side of the factory shouted, "Nema!" He was answered by another in the middle, and another on the far side.
They were doing a sweep for fire, Robin realized. And all too soon, they would find something else.
With no other quieter alternative, Robin whispered, "Gods protect me," and gave the nearest cylinder a shove with her shoulder. It wobbled, and then fell. Robin skittered back, fearing the thing might explode. Instead, it merely rolled, knocking into its compatriots and sending them toppling like dominoes. The noise attracted the attention of the Klonn. She was running out of time. She dragged the metal pot over to the cylinder, opened the valve, and jumped back just in time to avoid getting soaked in aircraft fuel. On its side, the majority of the fuel remained in the cylinder, gravity keeping it from being able to flow away—but enough did escape that it filled the metal pot and overflowed into an amber river. The air filled with fumes. Gingerly, Robin picked her way around the puddles, clamped the lid onto the pot, and then ripped the end of her scarf off and used it to wipe the sides clean.
"Loa!" someone shouted in Klonnish, and Robin turned, dipping the end of the swatch of fabric into an amber puddle. A man stood behind a complex machine, pointing at her through the workings. It would take him a few seconds to scramble under it to reach her, and Robin used that time to pull the metal pot well away from the fuel on the floor. Then she bent down and started the burn on WINGS's exhaust.
"Get out of here!" she shouted at the man, then added, "Nema, nema!" In her clumsy Klonnish, she said: "I am make fire!"
The man froze, eyes going wide, face going white when he caught sight of the fuel all over the floor, and the gently smoking exhaust of WINGS.
"Nema!" he cried too, but by then, it was too late.
Robin dangled the end of her fuel-soaked scarf scrap under WINGS, and it flared into hot, noxious flames. They licked at her gloves, and she quickly threw it at the nearest puddle.
It ignited with a soft fwoosh.
Fire crawled across the floor. The man screamed and fled. Robin slammed her hand down on the ignition, and, clutching the pot tightly, shot into the air. She ducked around the catwalk and burst out of the roof hatch just as the first warning rumble echoed through the factory. Robin slapped the button on the control box for the stabilizing blades with her chin, and they sprang outward with their signature whistle. The musical chord was followed mere seconds later by a resounding boom that shook the sky and threw Robin off course.
The space between the factory and the slums was barren. But it also wasn't that wide. Especially when someone had the force of an entire factory exploding behind them, radiating out in ripples as the fire consumed each vat in turn, pushing them along like carefully timed detonations of a blasting stick. As the shockwave she was surfing reached the first row of houses, Robin was absurdly glad that none of them seemed to have glass in their windows—no unfortunate bystander would be blinded tonight, at least. That was something.
She tumbled through the air until, swinging the pot around as a counterbalance, she managed to find her equilibrium—and not a second too late. She pulled up and just barely kept from smashing into the ledge of a roof. Kicking out, she used her toes to push forward over the lip of the gutter, missing a collision with a crumbled window gable.
What she didn't manage to avoid, however, were the laundry lines.
WINGS caught on the thick cording, and Robin was unceremoniously whipped around. She dropped the metal pot and frantically swiped at the control box, cutting the thrust and detracting the blades so they wouldn't bend if she fell on them. The pot rolled across the flat roof, but the clamps on the lid held. It came to a stop against the lip of the gable. Robin's prize was safe.
Robin herself, though . . . she was tangled upside down, one foot thrust up in the air like a bird in a net. The ragged end of her braid tickled her nose. The rest of her hair was trapped in the line, tugging painfully at her scalp, and she could feel the end of the ivory hairpin poking against her nape where the fabric covering her hair had come free. Cording clinched around her ankle—the bad one, godsdammit—and pinned the arm with the control box behind the small of her back, her other wrist aloft and her elbow turned painfully. She'd lost one of her gloves somewhere along the way, and the night air nipped at her exposed fingers.
She felt, all told, utterly ridiculous.
"Omens," she snarled. "Rudding, frozen coal-bags—"
She tried wriggling, but it only seemed to make the tangle squeeze tighter, pinning her more thoroughly. In the distance, the factory belched great fireballs into the air, lighting up the night like a Gods' Day celebration and spewing great clouds of smoke and ash. Her worry was temporarily muted by a surge of fierce joy at the sight.
I did it! she thought. Robin Arianhod had successfully flown WINGS and sabotaged a whole munitions factory, destroying a stockpile of fuel, and yet stealing enough for herself at the same time. Her first mission was a complete and perfect success. Except for the part where I'm stuck like a pheasant in a snare.
Robin sighed, craning her head around, trying to figure out how to get out of this ignoble predicament. She was about to try to jam the control box against her own arse in the hopes of activating the switch that deployed the wing blades when a voice in the darkness said, "Impressive."
"The Skylark's Sacrifice" is available in eBook and Paperback at www.jmfrey.net/books
Art by Archia
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EXCERPT - The Skylark's SacrificeAdventure
Robin Arianhod is on the run. Trapped behind enemy lines, her only choice is to lose herself in the sprawling capital of Klonn. But hiding in the shadows is a disservice to the rocket pack she escaped with, and to the man she once considered foe. In...