Episode 12 – Laughter Is Lethal
Marshall sprinted at full speed down the street in the direction Grandma Grael had pointed him. His first time out he just hoped he made it there in time to make a difference. He did regret having to leave the Hole-Maker and the Scavenger’s Shard, but there simply hadn’t been time to grab all his gear. Besides, he was in a hurry and when you have to deploy rapidly you only grab what is absolutely necessary.
As his feet slammed in a rhythm to pound along the compressed dirt he felt the reassuringly familiar presence of some of his gear. Firmly positioned along his hips, the handles pointed out was both of his Tamel’s. He had practiced with them countless times, honed and perfected their use to the point of nearly surgical precision. Having their weight at his sides was like an old friend their, at once comforting as it was encouraging.
The hilts of heavy gauge blades brushed at his thighs as the reminded him of their presence as well. ‘Claw Breakers,’ he liked to call them, and the humor of the name always made him smile. Their blades were nearly a foot long with handles that were almost that. He had been told they were actually hand-forged unlike most of the automated manufactured garbage most people called a good blade these days. But what had sold him on these little gems was the thickness of the tetrasteel blades themselves. They were easily over half an inch thick and more than capable of cleaving through wood like an axe or turning aside a swung blade. And to think, you could find them in a survivalist shop that catered to explorers and colonists.
Rounding the street corner the sight of a rolling transport still clinging to the ruined rubble of a wall redirected Marshall’s mind in a flash. It was time to focus; it was time for him to get serious and go to work. He tried to take everything in all at once as he assessed the situation. With his back to a small portion of bricks that hadn’t toppled over yet he peered inside carefully.
There were several hostages littered among the ground, most of them unmoving save for the signs of shallow breathing or trembling in fear. No clear sign of a guard or security officer that he could tell, but there were plenty of robbers to deal with. By his count there were at least four in the bank and a fifth moving about in the crashed vehicle. Not the best odds, but then again he didn’t expect to be facing anything remotely resembling a fair contest.
Marshall closed his eyes and took a deep breath before reaching up to tug the brim of his hat down. You only get one chance at an introduction and if this was it, well, he wanted it to be as perfect as possible. “This is going to be your one and only warning,” he stated as solemnly as he could. He kept his tone as firm and final as he issued his ultimatum. “Disarm and surrender yourselves peacefully or else.”
“Is this some kind of sick joke,” Eris asked in spite of herself. She had heard the demands from outside but for the life of her she couldn’t think of anyone foolish enough to make them. “Do you know who you’re dealing with here? Huh, who do you think you are to try and threaten me? Why don’t you just show yourself and explain to me just what you mean by ‘or else.’ Crash, you get out here too, let’s all have a see at what should terrify us so to make us give up this lawless life.”
Marshall cleared his thoughts and emptied himself to keep his senses sharp. Relaxed he let both his arms fall to rest across his waist, each one only just brushing a handle’s grip. Reserved to let the chips fall where they may he decided to test his luck and stepped clear of the clutter to address his foes face to face. “It’s simple, really,” Marshall explained every word a challenge that dared them to test him. “Either you give yourselves up, or you take your chances with me.
So what will it be? You want to give up, or face a Gauntlet that leads to an early grave?” Marshall was hoping to make the most of the dramatic moment and find his foes caught off-guard, perhaps even manage to bluff them down. But instead the reaction awaiting him was somewhat unsettling to his pride. For instead of fear or even serious consideration he found only a chorus of cackles and lively laughter.
“Crash, Bash, Smash; kindly remove our foolish and funny friend here before he makes my sides hurt,” Eris ordered in between howls of humor. All three bot-brothers moved obediently in unison towards Marshall still snickering. He had to consciously push his wounded pride aside to keep it from distracting him. All it would do was strip him of the edge he needed to deal with things, but he couldn’t completely rein it in. It resisted him until he realized it had slipped free from his grasp to demand he respond.
“I warned you,” he declared with deadly determination. And all at once both his hands seized a hold of patient pistol grips and swung out to take aim in a flash of movement. His Tamel’s trained themselves on the trio treading towards him as the first to shots leapt like lightening from the drawn duo he held at his sides. Both blasts barked to life to barrage one of the bots in the chest before he sighted down to send a second series into another.
In quick succession all three thieves were pierced and punctured by Marshall’s projectiles until they fell to the ground. With them went the chuckles and giggles as well. Eris stared in shock as she barely registered that this stranger had just drawn and dealt with three members of her crew in a blink. Who was this Gauntlet character?
“Trap, charge, we need to get clear of this crusading chump,” Eris ordered in a panic. “But I thought you said that badge-bearer promised no resistance,” Trapper asked as she triggered the explosive she had been preparing for the vault. She hadn’t even had the time to wire in more than just a partial charge but it should be enough she figured. “Just do it,” Eris added agitated and Trapper chucked the demolition device.
Marshall barely had time to react, in the split second he watched the devious duo duck into a dive heading for the door. There wasn’t any time to contemplate or consider what to do, so instead of laying chase he rolled his back and angled himself to try and shield the closest civilian. The bomb erupted just overhead with a thunderous concussion that rattled his teeth and threatened to force the air from his lungs. For a few moments all he could feel was a sickening pressure in his belly as if he had been run over by a heavy-hauler.
Once he found his feet again he shook the dust from his hat and tried to look around. As far as he could tell it looked like the blast had only managed to stun most of the people still inside. Only a few folks were still not moving and as his eyes fell on a blood stained uniform he marked one of them who regretfully never would again. Someone had only begun to pay.