Today’s Tuesday Serial is the sixth and final chapter of David Donachie’s novella Ekranoplan, based on the A|State RPG setting, as Janie’s saga in the strange streets of the City reaches its climax!
David (not the David Donachie who writes naval fiction) is a long-time gamer and would-be author who lives in Edinburgh with his wife, junk, and a vast number of exotic pets, including more cats than a sane person would put in one small flat. David is the author of the Solipsist RPG, the owner of grophland.com (the world’s best slug-based virtual pet site), and a web developer. In what remains of his spare time he likes to run roleplaying games and enjoy the bracing Scottish beach-side weather.
by David Donachie
After that, things with Sheldrake went easily enough. For me at least. I guess it wasn’t so good for Shiftry, but at least she wasn’t hurt—badly.
Once Sheldrake realised that the package was being delivered he lost all interest in Shiftry and her stuff. They left her house to burn, but there were people willing to help her put it out once the threat of bloody violence was out of the way.
I had words with Sheldrake. Which is to say, he told me exactly how much of my deal he was willing to accept, and how much he wasn’t. “Tense” would be a good word for it.
I counted myself lucky. If he’d realised that the controller was there in my bag the whole time, I wouldn’t have gotten a thing.
After the fire was out and Sheldrake and his men had gone, I made my way home again, one package lighter and no richer than when I started. Shiftry didn’t seem as grateful as she could have been, which I put down to the beating and the fire and all. Isn’t that just the way?
The fog was closing in again when I lugged myself back over to Leadenhall Alley. It swirled down the streets and clogged the doorways, chill enough that I wished for a heavier coat. I was dog tired from the running, cold and hungry, dismal for having let my father’s dream slip through my fingers.
There were no corporate thugs watching the alley this time. It was as if even they had caught wind of my failure. I pushed myself through the courtyard gate, ducking under the hanging nets and winding my way through the crates and barrels towards the sheltering tarpaulins of my workshop. The Beast was a shadow in the fog to one side, the windows of my basement flat black holes on the other.
I just had time to take in the ransacked scatter of tools and boxes where my workshop had been before I felt the cold muzzle of a gun on the back of my neck.
I didn’t move.
“The controller. Give it to me now.” The voice was a guttural rumble with a Hirplakker accent and a hyped-up quaver that made me jumpy. I risked a glance and got a forceful prod with the gun for my trouble. It was the brown haired man from the Long Pond. This was the second time in as many days that someone had held a gun to my back. I reckoned I was more likely to get shot this time, than when Rook had been holding the gun.
“I don’t have it.”
Rough hands patted me down. One of the other corporates tugged the satchel off my shoulder and my gun from its holster. So much for that. There was a clatter as the contents of my satchel spilled onto the rain-slick concrete in front of me, and one of the blond-haired goons followed, pushing through my stuff with his foot. He looked up at the man behind me with a stricken expression. They had already searched my alley; the satchel had been the last place where the controller might have been.
Without warning Brown Hair hit me with the gun and I went sprawling to the ground. Hot agony lanced up my neck and my head span. I tried to push myself up but my battered body wouldn’t co-operate; I found myself focussing on the incongruous sight of Brown Hair’s dress shoes approaching across the dirty concrete of the dock . I felt a detached sense of certainty: he was going to kill me.
That was when my cavalry showed up.
Gunfire rang out behind me, sending a hail of bullets up the alley. The blond-haired man who’d been rifling my belongings went down, his gun skittering across the dock. Brown Hair was just a little faster, diving into cover behind the concrete-filled barrels I use as mooring posts.
See, this was my side of the deal with Sheldrake. He got his stolen technology, and I got his help getting its rightful owners off my back. We’d left Potter’s Lane separately, but he’d circled around to follow me through the fog. He’d said he’d take care of the Corporates when they showed up. He’d taken his time about it.
A full scale gunfight was breaking out behind me. Third Syndicate specials against Hirplakker SMGs. The two remaining blond-haired men were distracted by the firepower, leaving me on my own with Brown Hair.
I made a dive for the fallen gun. Brown Hair was faster. I’d just got my hand on it when he caught my arm in a clinch, making sure the only place I could shoot was behind him. One twist and he knocked the gun from my grasp. Just my luck to get the one with combat training.
I made a frantic attempt to land a blow somewhere vital, but he brought his own gun round again. There was a bang and a flash, stunningly loud, as it went off, but the shot was wide. I lost my footing again, pulling out of his grip as I slipped on the oily ground. This time I rolled with it, right off the edge of the dock.
I landed on the front wings of the Beast with a thump that set the whole plane rocking. Then I was on my feet, running down the side of the engine block to the open cockpit. On the way I hit every switch, control, and lever I could reach. The engine sputtered to life with a roar, flickers of static lighting up the fog, and the turbines began to whine.
The Beast lurched, straining against the guy ropes, but I still felt the tremor as Brown Hair leapt aboard.
“Give me the controller!” His voice was desperate, shouting over the howl of the turbine fans.
“For the last time, I don’t have it!”
“Then I’m a dead man!”
I expected him to come round the same way I had, but he must have run over the top of the engine housing, because a moment later he dropped into the cockpit well from my blind side. This time his shot didn’t go wild, but clipped my arm and spanged off the rear housing before smacking into the regulator. I screamed and kicked against the throttle, hoping to shake him off.
The damaged regulator blew its top, spraying super-heated steam into Brown Hair’s face. Shocked, I killed the engine, but the damage was done. He fell to his knees, clutching at his scalded face and making a horrible whining noise.
He was still there when Sheldrake showed up, his white coat still pristine despite the rain and the gunfight. He nodded at me silently as his goons dragged Brown Hair dragged away. I never saw him again. I guess he’d been right about being a dead man.
And that was that.
In two days I’d killed four men, crossed half the TCMA, acquired a piece of Macrocorp tech any mechanic in Folly Hills would kill for—and given it away again. I hadn’t even got paid. Well, not really…
Shiftry offered me what she could, but it didn’t seem right when I thought of what she’d given up. Anyway, she had a house to rebuild. I told myself it wasn’t really a freebie, more an investment for the future. At least she gave me dinner.
Which is when the idea that I’m some sort of Lostfinder really came about, I guess. You do just one job for free—and, no, I’m still not counting that thing with the tailor’s daughter—and everyone thinks you’re a good Samaritan. But it wasn’t like that. I’ve told you the story. You know the truth.
Still don’t believe me? I guess you wouldn’t, seeing as that’s why you’re here.
Thank you for reading our first Tuesday Serial at the RPG Fiction Blog – EKRANOPLAN by David Donachie. We’re now looking for a second Tuesday Serial – send your submissions to RPGFictionBlog@gmail.com!