Forest of Fun

Claire's Personal Ramblings & Experiments

Pickle on the Nightmare Wall - Part 2

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Leave it all Behind

Pickle approached Platform 13 with a smile and a confident step only to find a great deal of motion had ensued in her minutes in the office of the scribe. She paused to see Gunther locked in a shouting match with a small man who was wielding a stack of papers like a furious baton of authority. Meanwhile, a flurry of activity was happening on the platform behind them, the folding metal table now packed away.

Pausing to take in the tableau of sudden change, she halted in her step only to feel the cold black air of Malcolm sauntering past her into the chaos. He nodded at Gunther ruffling his hair with one hand before leaping up to the train catching the hand railing and pulling himself up. Malcolm vanished behind some crates out of her line of sight. With the mysterious dark figure gone from her vision her mind cleared and she was able to once again focus on the farcical scene before her.

A small figure and a large one were handing off crates and boxes to each other onto the train. While a third figure moved around checking boxes. It seemed fast but organised.

Gunther stood tall his tan khaki jacket unbuttoned and hanging loose on his frame still dusty from travel. His combat shorts were adorned with pockets and attachments. His tall socks and well worn laced boots giving the air of authority of one who spent little time among civilisation or hot showers. His left arm ending in a crude metal pincer of his prosthetic waving madly as he argued down towards the smaller man.

The man was of average hat wearing a suit and pants. Not formal black-tie like she sometimes saw in the clubs or fancy tailored attire. This was a plain but well-made cotton jacket of power blue over a white collard shirt buttoned to the top complete with a small dark blue bowtie with white polka dots. The immaculate white pants with their freshly pressed creases had barely a dusting of dirt. The round-faced man with his small wireframe glasses sitting on his nose as two circles of gold-rimmed glass emphasised the clean-shaven moisturised skin and immaculate self-care routine. The dark hair styled and cut in a short practical fashion but with enough length to show the shine of expensive and perfumed products. Matching the dark gloss of freshly cared for pointed shoes. The man had the manicured tones of Queen's English she rarely heard in this part of the world.

"Captain, if you consult our agreement, my employer clearly stated that I would be bringing equipment necessary for my survey of the wall."
Gunther's brow creased as he fired back, "We are a low emission tower, zero if I could manage it. I will not have you killing my men."
"I assure you the equipment is perfectly shielded and of the highest calibre."
"No, you are not bringing anything on that train Scraps or Fred ain't cleared. If Scraps can smell it, so can they."
"I was merely checking the equipment before deployment. I assure you it will not require a satellite link in normal operation. The contract clearly outlines the technical specifications of your engineer..."

It was at that point that Pickle lost interest in the conversation. She knew some about beasties and plasma. None in the south didn't know the night stories told to children.

Night night child take a candle to bed
Blow out all flame before resting your dead
Turn off put out and wrap it all in lead

For most of her short life, she had been under the city lights. Sure she had travelled from place to place. You were safer south of the wall, but all knew a tale of a horror or two getting through the net. Or some homegrown nightmare stalking the alleys and sewers mixed in with the monsters on two legs, calling themselves civilised most of the time.

Looking at the chaos round back, the arguing pair now dissecting clauses and terms, she walked past them. She wondered where Malcolm had gone?

"Hey Pickle, over here!" The eager hail came from a pile of boxes in a voice too energetic and feminine for the tall miscreant. Moments later, a colourful teenage girl stood up from behind a crate lifting up a small toolbox.

The girl's hair was a disaster zone of colour swirled rainbow pixie cut that didn't look like it had been dyed but assaulted by a clown car of paintball gun-wielding hairdressers with eclectic tastes. She wore a loose-fitting white shirt stained with dirt and grease. Tall block lettering picked out in a brutish font.

ROCK SMASH LOVE

The shirt was tucked into black cargo pants with a large carabiner hanging off a cloth belt weighed down with more keys and tools than Pickle could make out. The loud jangle and clash of her movement with the bright colours was a shocking and immediate contrast to the practical crates and canvas all around. The girl gleefully extended her hand past the toolbox now resting on the crate.

"Name's Sam. Though you can call me Scraps, the rest of the crew does. Gunther mentioned you were signing up with old tall, dark and sleepy. Welcome to the Gun Show best tower on the wall."

Momentarily stunned by the barrage of joyous cheer from this young girl she found herself without a response. Falling back on acknowledgement, she nodded. This seemed to be enough for the girl to launch full steam back into her routine. Scraps grabbed her hand and shook it with vigour.

"Hear, let me take that bag of yours. I'm cargo master, or mistress, well cargo queen, let's call it. Nothing goes on the train without me checking it over, and I run supplies over to you all every lunar cycle, bout once a month. Bossman likes to move with moon when we can or close as schedule allows. Oooh, nice pants, they metamaterial? Going to have to leave em here. I'm sad to say too much backwash from the weave. Smells funny to me. We try to go only for natural fabrics, now I'm not say strip here, but you got another pair o pants?"

Pickle confused for a moment, shook her head, she had other pairs but none good for the wall. She had some dresses for the club, but she had left them along with her rags behind. These pants were kinda the bee's knees of fashion with all their self-cleaning and all she thought they would be perfect. Did she have time to go buy pants? Weren't they shipping out soon? "Um, I thought these would be okay?"

"Oh for most towers, sure but the old man just don't like risk. Like I said they smell funny to me. No benefit to bringing em so he will want you out of them. No worries he mentioned you had shinies on I yanked some threads from the locker. You are about my size might be a bit short in the leg but should fit ya. Now I got to see the bag."

Slinging the small khaki pack onto the crate lid, she loosened the drawstring on the top of the bag pulling it open wide. Together they went through her personal items, not that there were many. The changes of clothes were broadly acceptable through a few of her more excellent pieces got put aside. Some garments for containing wearable tech, others for synthetic fabrics. Nothing crazy Hitech but the deoder pads or the micro AC units were all no go. Her bathroom bag was another matter. The nail box, electric toothbrush, sonic sponge, buzzer and even hairbrush were deemed too high tech to take. The brush just had an anti-frizz module, but even that low power usage was too much for Scraps.

"Don't worry I can give you dumb alts for most of that stuff no bother. He won't question this lot or me and the Doc would kill him." Scraps winked at her moving some personal items back into the bag. "Now these though we will need more of a talk."

Left on the box top were her personal pad, folding knife, a small needle pistol and stun ring. The pistol was large for her but not overly so. The handle could hold around 300 needles which could be fired at varying velocities. The gun could, in theory, sort the needles into 5 distinct chambers for different loads but she had only ever used the cheapest lead load. A small plasma cell powered the weapon and charged the magnets, which catapulted the needles in a silent flurry. It was without question a killing weapon for someone who didn't want to be noticed. She had used it, more recently than she would like to admit to.

She had heard needle guns weren't legal in most places, but no one batted an eye at anything short of a tank in Anzania. It was a place of dangerous game, and well, the wall protected everything the mining consortiums kept a strict hold. She had heard nowhere outside a secure base would you find a denser concentration of military force as you would in the streets she grew up on.

The stun ring was a more everyday affair, sized for her index finger on either hand. It could deliver a concussive or electrical force depending on if you used the inner or outer nib. Practically this made it a punching or slapping weapon. Safe enough that even a child could use them, and they did. It was the preferred tool of club girls and delivery rats who could afford them. The small ring had a plasma cell that could hold maybe three charges on a good day though it should have kept closer to ten. She had got it off one of the gents at the club on her first week. The first time she had to slap a saucy clubgoer, she was surprised at how quickly he had fallen limp. The man had been a creep and a drunk not much meat, or she never would have the courage to try it though she was encouraged by its effectiveness. She had never used the ring to punch a person, but Bruno had encouraged her to try it on a melon one time. Queenie had made them both mop up the kitchen and clean the ceiling.

"Look, Pickles, the gun is just no go. Wouldn't be much use 'gainst most of what you will see on the wall. And it's plasma. Complete no-go in personal stock. Cap carries some but only for the most dire oh shit we going to die need. So likewise, I need to nix the ring. Can put both in lockup with a receipt for you or sell em. You call?"
She paused, thinking it over, "Won't I need some weapon on the wall?"
"Feck yeah, but boss man train you up on the clankers and whizzers. Big and small give you the whole run through when you get there. You ever fire an air cannon? Weee those things pack punch like a bull on bass. Not 'ike these squirt guns."
"Yeah. Sell em both," the sooner she was rid of that particular needle gun, the better. "What about my pad?"
"Keep it. I'll yank the plasma cell later, but you can plug it into the mains in the bunker to use it. No comms mind. I will dc the ribbon so ware don't glitch. Course cutter be no bother, everyone carries a blade. Just be sure to report any cuts. No blood on air, speaking of which I should grab you some clothes to replace what we pulled out. Be right back. In meantime help Ka out with the loading." She turned round yelling at the large Orc lifting a crate onto the flatbed. "Ka, show Pickle the stack. I'm going to go nip to the lock."

And without a further word, the little girl wrapped her gun, pad and ring up in the synth clothes and dropped them in a small cardboard box before skipping away. Yup, she literally skipped and sung a happy tune to a small set of stairs leading to the underground discretely out of the way of the concourse set between platforms 13 and 14. Pickle found herself looking up and seeing the tall Orc figure with its pale green skin.

The seven-foot-tall figure was triangular in build, his broad shoulders spreading the leather waistcoat over a bulging chest coloured in tribal tattoos. Detailed tattoo sleeve work showed an ink depiction of a kudu leaping from a bush fire towards a sun golden on the back of his right hand. Horns twisting to the tips on either side of the wrist. The tattoo flames covered his shoulder and part of his chest. On his waist, hanging from a heavy belt, was a silver knife the length of her forearm, looking normal sized to the brute's bulk. The pants also from hide looked crudely made at first until she realised the savage beauty in presenting a garment with as few cuts as possibles preserving the buck's pattern as close as cured leather could. Slim silver lines glinted as complex embroidery of metal cord picked out water symbols down the leg. To the soft wrapped feet, not in shoes but instead the four toe feet had a shoe-like item she had seen Orcs were before, though only tribal. The corp or civies tended to go for human-style shoes. This tribal warrior wore the more traditional wrapping style. Rawhide wrapping around the arch and ankle, leaving toe and heel bare. Similar to a soft leather boot or a fancy metamaterial parkour slipper but bare in front and heel letting the toes grip and heel feel out the ground. The goal was clear, direct contact with the terrain without the sole barrier between skin and turf. She wondered what they did about broken bottles and discarded needles, tough it out or were their feet already that tough.

She was still taken aback by her strange encounters. She found her eyes travelling back to the Orc's deep-set dark eyes, pausing at his mid rift. A slight glint of metal showed bolts in a pouch in the small of his back. Metal tips reflected sharp edges of light, calling them out crossbox bolts. Finding herself loose jawed in realisation, she looked up again at the Orc's face gaping as she glared at the grinning warrior. This was the knuckle-dragging idiot with the duffel bag and crossbox this morning who had almost run over her. Did she confront him, or...

"You remember me, little one? I expected a dancer's grace and light step from thee. The sunrise found your feet slow and stuck in the flow of humanity this morning. I apologise for my rudeness. I must admit to being something of a cloud head myself this daybreak." His voice was musical with a beating rhythm. Like every other syllable was seeking a drumbeat or a harmonic cadence. Nothing like the crude street patter she heard from city brutes like her friend Bruno. It was more akin to stage performer or bard.
"Huh, I know you?"
"Perhaps not, but I recognise your delicate form and sharp features, and not just from our bump this morning though I did not think of it till after our paths crossed briefly in the flow of souls in and out of this dispatch."
Wary, she glanced to her side, wishing she still had her weapons. Or just company. Crude brutes she could deal with and slimy rats with silver tongues but never before had she met a bruiser who let words dance as a street shine boy aiming for your pocket. Gunther was still loudly discussing matters behind her. She must be safe. She asked cautiously, "Where do you know me from?"
"Why, your dancing, of course. I thought that was clear in my speech. Maybe a week ago turned back at night haunt called Queenies. Never expected a dancing girl equipped for war on the wall? Silly, I know from one of my line, mayhaps I should say I never expected a dancing warrior from a human girl. Are you hoping to dance with the nightmare horrors, little lady?"
"You must be mistaken. I don't dance. My name is Pickle. I paid my stake." She defiantly flashed her metal on the wrist.

Hands upraised in a calming gesture, the imposing figure said in his soft booming tones, "Easy warrior, I meant no offence. I'm usually good at telling the soft features of humans apart. In this case, I beg you forgive the eyes of one long worn down by candlelight and night watch awash in the Lethe waters of entertainment this small hamlet offers to such as us who wish to dangle our fates on the edge. I was with friends in fine spirits, mourning the passing of a brave soul. Allow me to introduce myself," taking a slow bow, he placed his sun blazoned right hand over the middle of his chest with his left arm pulled back and outstretched to the sky. The bow almost completely folded him at ninety degrees before straightening back up to his impressive seven-foot height. His left arm coming to rest in the small of his back, with his right fist still centre between his two hearts in a formal pose. She had seen the vids of it but never witnessed a formal Tapola in real life, let alone been the honoured recipient. His voice rolled out in a formal march.
"I welcome you sister with my blood. I am Ka'Shek Patoresh of Keras bonded to Gunther's Guns. I welcome your drum."

Unsure how to respond to the fancy greeting so out of place from the rough street slang or slick shine of night talk in which she was fluent. Aggression, slang or sarcasm all seemed useless here. She reached for her most respectful voice used for honoured guests at Queenies. "Your attention shames my humble presentation, sir." Her tongue twisted on the next line realising she may have sunk her previous denials. "Um thanks, I guess. Scraps mentioned you needed help to move stuff?"

"Oh yes, delightful Samantha is always practical in her concerns. Forthwith let us transport the freight from the platform up to the boards of the train. We can stack and organise as we go. The load must be secured and fastened. Be not afraid to ask for help." He pointed to several small boxes and tarps as they organised their efforts. She saw most of the supplies were perishables. Foodstuffs, some medical supplies and the like. There were some chemical rounds and other munitions, but there still seemed to be less ammo than she saw on most platforms.

Also lacking from their platform was a grav trolley or simple lifter. Typically the helpful tools would have made moving the heavy objects a breeze. Instead, there was a crude mechanical loading crane for the heavier objects when Ka was too occupied. Thankfully it was electric. It made the work light and fast. In truth, Ka could lift most things, and much of her time was spent lashing and stacking.

Most of the cargo didn't make sense to her as Ka directed her to load up many barrels, flasks and canisters of strange fluids and compressed gas. How would they fight the nightmares of the wilderness with these? Surely, they would need bullets, explosives munitions or plasma power cannons.

These questions and more ran through her mind as Ka directed her to load with a musical rhythm. She found herself moving to an invisible beat as they hefted heavy and strange cargo aboard the train. Commands and grunts became a baseline beat with hands slapping and crates clanking on the counter beat. She even heard Ka humming a clear melody under his breath as he worked.

There were many large metal drums wrapped in cloth and padding. Not tall metal barrels instead, rather squat short cylinders about an arm's length across and hand's width deep. It was strange to see something so extremely heavy and study in construction be treated like fragile glass. Ka gave extra attention and care to them.

Finally, as they began strapping things down and securing the top load with a tarpaulin thrown across the load to keep dust and wind off. They tied the wrap with tight flat bands cranked tight. The argument between Gunther and the strange man appeared to have reached a conclusion. Neither seemed too happy, but she would wager from the smug grin the suited stranger had gotten the better half of it.

Gunther circled the train inspecting it from all angles before jumping up and grabbing the railing. His inspection covered the buckles and fastenings, but he paid careful attention to the canisters and drums. Gunther seemed, if not happy, at least satisfied with the job. He gave Ka a small smile before approaching him and thumping the centre of his broad chest with his right hand. Reaching up to hug the tall Orc. In the happiest voice Pickle had heard him use so far, he greeted the Orc.

"Brother Ka, good to see you. Apologies I couldn't greet you properly earlier. Inkwell ran dry?"
"There are still words on my quill, but I heard from our embattled brethren you were short-handed this rotation. I thought an early season to my liking."
"Glad to hear it. Scraps?"
"Off to get the girl new garments, I believe, though she should be back by now."
"Agg bloody hell. Minutes left. Give me a hand with the drive?"
"Sure, Captain. It would be an honour to speed our journey on steel wings."

Pickle was taken back by the exchange but, feeling thoroughly ignored and useless. She offered up her help, "Can I do anything, sir?"
"You know Spin Drives or have engineering girl?" Gunther's reply was brisk and without humour.
"No sir."
"Then stay out the way."

As the two burly figures went to work around the large drum and two bicycles without wheels, she glanced over at the other end of the loaded train to see Malcolm snoring while draped over some crates in the shadow of the loaded cargo of which he moved not a gram. Repelled from both ends, she sat in the middle looking up at the station clock suspended in the middle of the dome. It's one side facing them. Clearly showing only a quarter-hour standard before they needed to be clear of the platform. She leant on the railing, looking out across at the next platform. A busy squad was bustling, pushing trolleys and the like.

"Eh hem, a hand, please." A small and quiet voice came from below.
Looking over the railing, she saw the small clerk-like man holding up a small travel suitcase with tiny wheels. She had seen the sort by the fancy hotels or shuttle ports but it was such an absurd carry all with wheels so small only the smooth surfaces of hotels and ports could give any aid. She hefted up the bag surprised how light it was after the heavy cargo. It was made of fine leather with brass trim and zips. Delicate brass letters picked out the initials VN on the case.

After loading up the bag, she saw the man reach up a manicured and moistured hand while holding a metal briefcase in his left. She noticed his face was rather pinched while at the same time rounded. She wagered he never missed a meal nor a hot shower often. Judging by his clothes and manner, he was from England or some similar posh royal holding. Silver spoon, privilege and everything she despised and admired in one package. She offered up her hand and pulled the man up onto the train.

"Good day Ms Pickles. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mr Northcott Esquire. Thank you for your assistance. Now, if you pardon me, madam. I must make myself ready to travel."

Without waiting for her response or acknowledgement, he shuffled off near Malcolm. He seemed momentarily baffled by the lack of seating. Holding his briefcase to his chest, he glanced at the mage, boxes and canisters. Deeming the area insufficient for his needs, he moved back a bit further, trying to move some cargo to make a seat. Though it was all securely fastened, Ka had been fastidious in his instructions to her, making certain everything was down tight. The little man made a seat of his travel bag against a crate and used his briefcase to make a laptop desk. He then started working on a small pad.

Little twit. She eyed the train seeing the massive pile near the centre. She climbed up atop the cargo pile, making a perch on the highest point. Looking out at the station from her lookout now out of the way. It was nearing midday, the commotion in the station was gearing up. Near noon was a popular departure time at the station. She knew that from watching trains but in truth, there was a trickle most of the day. She looked across at the station clock and saw the minute hand dropping down to half past the hour, only minutes left till their departure.

She saw a long sleek five carriage affair, all aerodynamic and manufactured, starting to pull out of platform 11. It was a creation from a corporate design team that had been stress tested in sims and then fabbed with the latest parts maybe in Europe, the Free Cities or almost certainly some chip fabs in orbit. Assembled in a clean room and then sent via connecting tracks to the station. It had barely any mileage on it, the smooth shape cleanly coated with corporate colour and logo hiding the nature of the materials or any seams in the creation.

The smiling anime chibi-style characters of the Power Solutions smiling, holding up a cartoon blue plasma cell radiating golden power lines. The blue gold emblem centred on that cell, a capital P with a stylised sun in the negative space of the letter. The company's main and most profitable product in the design with the gold lines radiating and wrapping the entire train. She watched as the train silently glided out on well-oiled wheels. Not even one of the arrogant big seven would send men to the wall on grav. Everyone went on rails. She heard some towers restocked by glider or emergy halo, and of course, the vid fics always had brave drop troopers landing in on exploding clouds of gel bravely to firing as the rescued and overwhelmed tower.

Watching one of the most powerful entities in the world send men to the wall on the same old metal path as her small company would be using gave her a sense of satisfaction she couldn't quite contain. Tic tac, always, it was tinged with that tiny tic tac spider of creeping horror in the back of her mind that even the mighty walk small to the wall. What had she got herself into?

From her perch, she could see a division of polished church armour division receiving a smoky blessing. Tribal drums beat a rhythm as dancers spun a circle around splashed blood. Were they crazy? Some smaller but more organised contractors board their multi carriage trains. Most electric with plasma batteries or steam, none she could see had spin drives, though she knew there were others she had heard them before.

That moment her watch was broken by the sight of a running Scraps hauling ass across the centre of the concourse with a strange-looking young redhead. The bouncing flaming curls drew most her attention but she noticed the two were laughing their heads off with joy as they ran towards the platform. They were shouting and waving towards the train. Gunther leaned out over the rail seeing the two running. Pickle, staring out to get a better look, perched on the edge. Who was Scraps bringing along with her? A loud roar from below made her jump, almost falling off her perch as Gunther yelled from below.

"MOVE IT, YOU DAMN BRATS!"

Gunther's bellow was loud and without apparent anger but left no room for doubt. They laughed even harder before both jumping up onto the back of the train and waving to him. Pulling themselves up the back of the train as Gunther blasted out instructions to Ka in the front, who was now standing firm holding a large lever.

"SPIN IT!"

Curious, she watched Ka pull on the lever, gripping tight the handle, which had a large clasp on it like an upright bike grip with a brake. The large lever made a clunking sound as it was drawn. Then she noticed that besides the firm stance, Ka was also secured by a belt and carabiner to a small rope leading to mounting rail along the rim of the protruding large vertical drum, which was half exposed at the front of the train.

It was during this moment of clarity she realised she was perched atop the cargo with no handhold. The train lurched with a loud screech and scream of metal as an explosive force like a pinball spring let loose unfolded from the drive. She slipped and scrabbled for a handhold finding none on the tarp held down tight by wide straps smoothly holding the load. Assisted by the platform release, the small train pulled itself out, screaming from the station. The unnerving scream of a spin drive in full release.

She found herself falling between the gap of the middle pile and the back pile. She had a choice between landing on a collection of secured metal canisters with metal nozzles and high-pressure contents or a sleeping mage unperturbed by his bed accelerating noisily out of the station. Kicking off the box, she directed her fall towards the softer and perhaps less deadly mage.

Moments later, she felt a hard impact hit the back of her head as she collided with something square. A flare of pain shooting up her leg before darkness and screaming took away the last moment of consciousness as she headed off on her bold adventure.

Yay adventure.

Afterword

This is an ongoing web novel updated every Thursday. I really hope you enjoy it, this is my first attempt but I've spent a lot of time in this world, over two decades. Running roleplaying campaigns, writing comics and creating stories so it feels really natural to tell a story in this world.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3