Arthouse Syndicate Fiction Contest Winner—The Art of the Steal

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The Art of the Steal

by Tommy Mains

A zipperwing whirred down the bone-lined cavern. Two short whistles echoed back to Macron. He pulled out a small device from one of his hidden coat pockets. He twisted the chamber—the chink, chink, chink, of the gear was suffocated by a heavy cotton cloth.

Macron took a slow breath through pursed lips. One short whistle preceded the flutter of six zipperwings and the increasingly loud foot-stomps of Oz. The force of the once-stagnant air pushed him back as the explosion burst through the cavernous passageways. The small whirring spheres gathered into Macron Minimus’s bag as he and Oz lept into a mining cart.

With machine synchronicity, they each pulled out their Edgecomb steam hammers and sledged the back of the cart, allowing the hissing steam to propel the wheeled metal basket down the track to a downhill which would coast them to their swap location.

As they approached the crossing, they could hear shouts and the rattling of bones from the previous corridor. Oz clung to the bag strapped around his chest with one hand and used the other to help him leap from the cart, “Now, Mack!”

Macron hurdled out of the cart. He kept one hand gripped to the side of it to stop its motion. When Oz was clear he took one steam-propelled swing of his hammer to knock it on its side. They both crouched behind their metallic cover and pulled out their re-purposed plasma pistols.

“All this for that fuckin’ skin trader. What were we thinking?” Macron peeked one eye out from the side of the cart to peer up the hill that was stitched with minecart tracks.

“This job wasn’t for him, Mack. I—I couldn’t take another assignment from him right now—not even for what he pays,” Oz squeezed the words out between frantic breaths. Pausing, he tried to slow his breaths, ease his heartbeat, and steady his hand.

The shouts they heard turned to screams. A bloody forearm that was missing the rest of its body shot out from the darkness above them, landing on top of their incapacitated cart. 

“Shit!” Oz knocked the arm away with the butt of his pistol. “Fuck. Dregs? It’s got to be those f—”

Sprinting down the cavern was a leashed monstrosity. Its skin was grey except for the red boils that pussed hues of yellow that reminded Macron of the alleyways outside the taverns of the Pits.

“Get ready to run, Oz.”

“Ah, shit.” Oz nodded. “Right then. On your mark.” 

Macron spurred a zipperwing to life—launching it toward the encroaching dreg. The distraction was enough to slow the curr down. He brought his pistol back to his right hand from his left, aimed, and fired. The zipperwing ruptured—spraying dozens of ball bearings throughout the chamber. Macron had dipped back behind the cart just in time to hear the pinging of metal on metal; he holstered the pistol and scooped up his hammer.

The pair activated their accelerators and bounded through the cloistered labyrinth of their new homeland. Steam hissed all around them—the puttering of metallic pipes was coming to a crescendo as Macron grasped Oz’s collar. They each crashed and tumbled to a stop. Macon’s left boot continued trying to launch him further along. Finally, he kicked the boot off and it ricocheted down a segmented, dark cavity.

“I think we’ve called enough attention to ourselves. Oz, any idea where we’re at?”

“I think so. I’ll take a look around in a minute.” 

Macron worked the other accelerator boot off and replaced them with leather boots from his bag. Oz worked on doing the same before walking over to the nearest tunnel. He heard the audible click of a pressure plate and instinctively closed his eyes—attempting to be as still as possible. 

The steam dissipated away and echoes of wet footsteps were echoing everywhere. Macron made careful steps to get behind Oz. He looped a braided rope around his partner’s waist and retraced his steps back.

“Don’t even breathe,” Macron’s voice was at a low whisper. “On three,” he tightened his grip on the rope and with careful precision straightened out the slack between them. “One. T—.” Macron yanked hard folding Oz nearly in half and then he pulled, pulled, pulled, and pulled again bounding Oz across the hard stone floor and dragging him away from the plate.

The mechanism collapsed the floor where Oz had just stood to reveal a bed of upright, broken blades and pikes. Another click came from the ceiling of the shaft. Ghost-green fog emanated from within, creating a cursed cloud that was expanding by the second.

“What the fuck now,” Macron began while helping Oz to his feet.

“Here, take mine and get us out of here.” Oz handed over his gas mask and began tying a loose-fitting scarf tightly around his nose and mouth.

Macron found a recess in the wall behind him that led to a crawl space. On hands and knees, they writhed through the passage pushing or pulling their gear along as they went. They reached a dead end of open space and a 20-meter drop. Oz slithered to the front and hand-wrench a hook above his head before looping a stretch of metallic cable through it and handed over the excess.

Macron worked the cable through his customized crossbow. The serrated bolt pierced into a patch of cave wall. Spreading their hammers across the cable, the pair zipped across the chasm, landed, and exhaled. 

“Think we’re in the clear now, Mack?”

“Who knows. I should have known this job would mean trouble.”

“Eh. We’re better off than that skull with a missing arm.”

“Yeah. What the hell was that about anyway?”

“Fuck if I know. Let’s get this artifact back to the Syndicate and get paid.”

“Artifact, huh?” Macron tapped and prodded delicately through the surface of one of his zipperwings with a small silver cylinder. “Get us to the Syndicate, little guy.”

To be continued.

Inspiration From FAB Cards

Check Out the Official FAB Lore

The lore from The Pits.

Azaela’s lore read by Peranine.

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