Chapter 9:

It's About Time

Welcome to Hell

April 22, 2036

"Okay. Here's how we're gonna do this shit."

Andy's words resounded in my head while en route to the lava underworld. It was only a few hours ago that he and Malstororo brought Eugene, Henry and myself to some room in our headquarters, with the plan written on a whiteboard as he explained each bit of it.

"All four of us are going in. We'll take out the back seat and fit in one bike for Eugene and Henry to act as our lookouts."

Since traversing the lava was so horribly slow, Andy was fast asleep beside me. The radio was on, playing random American classics, like A Horse With No Name. Truth be told, I was falling asleep as well. I hadn't heard a word from Eugene and Henry in a while, either.

It took roughly an hour to get there previously, and considering our weight, it took an additional half an hour this time to get to the gates. After all, the Jet Streamer held one bike, four different people, and was equipped with a dual-purpose soul and iblis cannon that the gang had previously obtained from an A.S.M. before I arrived — concealed under a roof shield extension. On top of it all, the car had additional armor to withstand more abuse.

I had finally arrived at the gate.

"Welcome aboard the S.S. Noah, lovingly and proudly built by the Gremory District." The familiar robotic voice came through the speakers, once again informing us to stop in the green zone. The rest of the procedures were the same as last time, including the long waits — the very same ones we were going to exploit.

I once again appreciated the genius in hijacking a heavily armored vehicle during its exit out of here. The only solutions were a bigger security detail, or a complete revision of entry and exit. Otherwise the van was, for all intents and purposes, a sitting duck, if not free turkey for Thanksgiving.

With my Streamer finally parked, the next thing on my to-do list was waking all three of those suckers. And maybe potty train them. The last thing we needed was an inopportune bathroom break. I was convinced they let me drive just so they could doze off. First on the list was "Andy!", the guy closest to me. Just spelling out his name broke him out from his spell.

"Huh? April, what's going on... we're here?" His yawning made me want to do a facepalm.

"Yes you sleepyhead." I pouted. "Come on, wake your pals up. We're not on a cruise to Wonderland."

"All right all right all right," he opened his door, "gimme a few seconds, OK?"

"OK." When he left the car, I tapped on my arm to get a quick status on the time. 11:12AM. Good going.

"One van leaves about every two hours or so. Each van has two armed security guards, and now they're followed by two armored cars with soul cannons."

If our Intel was right, the next gold dispatch would be around 11:30AM or 11:40AM. We would find out soon.

I also stepped outside the car, expecting to breathe some fresh air and move my muscles while my body was still trapped in heavy armor. Lo and behold, the air inside Gremory's flagship submarine wasn't just stale, it smelled worse than rotten eggs. It was like someone set some shit on fire. And gosh, I thought the Jet Streamer was hot with its AC on, but the Noah had nothing to make the air cool. It was hotter than Las Vegas on fire.

In a minute, Andy came back with Eugene and Henry. Both of them were barely awake, but hey, it was better than both of them asleep.

Henry took a step towards me, gently pulled my hand, and put something inside it. "April, this my phone. I'll call from Yog's, so ye better not sleep on the wheel."

It was a fancy looking all-black smartphone from a brand called PassionFruit, although the design looked like it came from the late 2010s because of the cutout at the top-screen. This was the perfect opportunity to stick my tongue out. "If I'm not on the wheel, can I sleep like you guys?"

Henry chuckling at my lame comeback was surprising. "Sure, but don't complain if ye miss the gold." He turned and went toward the back. "Come, Yog. We got a date with fate."

"April," Eugene spoke with a small hint of concern, "just, be careful, alright? I know you can do it, you have a way with luck."

"Yeah," I put on a cocky grin, "I'll force Lady Luck to smile."

The two of them pulled the bike out with some mild effort. Eugene got on the front with Henry behind him, then he started the engine and slowly rolled away from me and out of the garage. Andy and I were alone. We still had a few minutes before the vans were due to show up, so I hopped back into the Streamer, and Andy did so as well.

"Come to think about it — you haven't thought about running away, have you?"

Looking at Andy, his expression was more of curiosity than interrogation. He was right to ask that question. "I need to stop running away, for once."

"Is that it? I really thought you'd skip out on your side of the deal."

Restarting the engine, I decided to go for a short cruise inside the Noah, by following the road markings leading inside. "Wasn't it Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results?"

"I don't think he actually said that?" He sounded confused. "But what has that got to do with anything?"

I had left the public garage and was already part of the traffic, headed south. "Do you think I'd be better off if I ran away again? I'm sure you'd be all over Hell for me."

"I... I'm not sure."

I sighed. "Just admit it, Andy. I'm not going anywhere."

Taking a quick glance at him, he looked at me intently. "We weren't actively looking for you. We just saw you, remember?"

"But if I ran away, would you leave me alone?"

"Probably not."

I had reached the submarine's south end, so I turned along with the vehicles to head north. "Would you believe me if I said I'm hopeful for life in Hell?"

I quickly turned my head again. He was genuinely surprised at my remark. "April, we're eternally damned here. What are you talking about?"

I giggled. "You don't see it? I want to live like any normal woman. I could work for a business, find someone to fall in love with, and buy nice things. If I play my cards right, I can have all this stuff here, in Hell. I need to change, Andy. If I don't fix myself here, I'll live forever as the broken mess I've always been, and I think that's the real hell."

He looked straight ahead, unable to come up with anything for a few moments. "Y'know, I never thought about it like this. Every day, I just wake up and do the one thing I've always done. Take care of Eugene and Henry, same way they take care of me. Having them by my side in Hell is good enough for me."

"I've always wanted to stop doing the things I'm doing. I just don't know how else to live." I then asked him. "Don't you want to just go back to work, like you used to?"

His head turned away from me. "If only it were easy."

"I'm sure there's a way." Henry's phone buzzed in my pocket, prompting me to take it out. "I'm sure most of Hell served jail time and had a criminal record before working here." I accepted the call from the conveniently named "Yog" contact.

"April, three vans moving out. Two security, and one transport." Henry's voice came through the speaker, without any of the malice he usually had for me. "Don't hang up on me."

"All right." I turned the loudspeaker on and left the phone in the car compartment, trying to recall the relevant part of the plan in the process.

"The vans' routes are unpredictable but they use, at most, four different exits on any day. For us, there will be two exits close to each other, but the remaining two are much further away. Only one is on the left side of the sub, but the others are on the right. We'll use common sense to get to the correct exit."

I remembered something I had to ask about. "You said something about a left and a right side, Andy?"

"Yeah," he answered quickly, then drew my attention towards the window screen with his index finger. He moved his finger in the shape of a long oval several times. "Imagine this is the S.S. Noah." Then he ran his finger in such a way that it vertically cut the middle of that oval. "Now imagine that it's been split into two sides like that." Finally, he made a short horizontal line in the exact middle of the oval. "Both sides are connected by narrow tunnels. We're on the right side now, and that's where Bank Noah is."

The way he drew the map like this was a little confusing to follow but it helped give me a mental picture of the place.

"Security detail's heading away from the bank," Henry explained, "I reckon it goes to the south exit, but don't sleep yet."

"Yeah, it could go south," Andy explained, "but every other exit is still on the table. We're north, so you should beat them south."

"Got it." I set the speed to 100% instead of 75%, making sure to weave through the traffic without stirring too much suspicion. After a few minutes of driving, I did see the narrow tunnels Andy mentioned on my right side — circular tunnels that either had cars going in or out, with two lanes fitting two cars each.

Despite having a rough idea of where the line of vans was, the traffic density was so high, I couldn't spot them in a sea of cars.

"April, they headed east, could be the east or south exits. Beat it there." On Henry's command, I dropped the speed and gently turned towards the garage floor. I assumed this was the set Andy described as being close to each other.

"Shit! They going to the left side! Hurry yer ass!"

It was as if the vans knew that some nice people were after them. Regardless, I had to scurry out of the garage and back into the traffic area, hoping to weasel my way around to the tunnels.

"Do ye see the tunnels?" Henry asked.

I did see them. "Yeah, what about them?"

"Can ye spot us?"

Trying to look through the traffic, there were so many tunnels, actually. About 40 or 50, with cars both going in and out.

"Yeah." Andy pointed towards their bike, stopped in front of one of the tunnels. "I see you."

"Follow us; this tunnel's empty." They were above us by a few levels. I had to steer gently through traffic, and go up to get closer. I could see Henry and Eugene clearly. Once we were in close proximity, they picked up the pace and went into the tunnel, with us following behind. The tunnel indeed had very few vehicles traversing it.

"Their exit is dead ahead. Ye go past us and we will look out for ye."

"Roger that." I sped past them, emerging on the other side of the Noah. I expected it to look like something completely different from the right side, but for better or worse, the left side looked exactly the same as the right. The major difference was that it was mirrored, and it had different establishments. The garage floor was at the same spot I'd expect it to be on the other side, so it was an easy entry. It took a while to find the exit, but I finally managed to park in front of it. A wall blocked the canal lock, meaning we still had a while until it was time to roll out.

"Yee, they headed yer way. Can I trust ye not to fuck this thing up, April?"

"Heh," I was amused by the idea, "this bitch ain't going down without a fight."

Henry was genuinely amused to the point he actually laughed. "Gotcha. Don't hang up, I'll do me part when ye start yers."

"Oh yeah, the S.S. Noah has its own security forces, which Bank Noah uses. Eugene and Henry can steal another car to get out of the sub, and divert some of the heat away from the bank van by any means necessary."

I hoped they were getting out of this safe and sound. If we escape security, they would succeed even if they were killed, though I preferred having them get out alive.

"Okay," I turned to Andy, "remind me how the plan goes?"

"That's easy." He gave me a weapon which looked exactly like a RPG, supplementing my own shotgun. In fact, I wasn't even sure it was any different from the real deal, short of not firing human munitions. "The Iblis Trigger shoots highly precise rockets of energy. They don't cover a lot of range, but it vaporizes even metal. Takes about 10 seconds to reload. I'll be controlling the Streamer cannon. No matter what happens, avoid getting hit by soul weapons."

"Got it! Want me outside?"

"Yeah, please."

I put my hand on my chest and breathed in all the air I could. Only now I realized It was a habit from way back, since I started down the path that led me to Hell — which was kind of funny. Either I win this shit, or I die and wake up working for the district government, for free. Even though it was my own idea, deep down I was very stressed by the thought of failure. Slowly, I reached for the door handle and opened the door. Just when I was about to exit, Andy put his hand on my shoulder.


I turned around. "Yeah?"

"Please don't mess this up. We're counting on you." He had such a smile, one of trust and encouragement. I was touched by it.

"Thanks." He let go of my shoulder, and I was back on the ground. The unpleasant atmosphere of the S.S. Noah immediately assaulted all my senses, but it wasn't the time or place to nitpick about my lot in life — or rather the afterlife.

It took about five minutes of standing by one of the parking garage's many columns, but the security detail finally arrived — and they were just like Andy described in his plan.

"Each bank van has two armed security guards, and after the lottery results, they're now followed by two armed cars with soul cannons with god knows how many more guards." 

The Bank Noah van was expected; lightly armored but nothing too bad. The real deal were the vans sandwiching the bank transport. They looked closer to SWAT vans, this time all black with a single cannon on top of each of them. Their very sight would strike hearts with fear, as it did mine.

But I was stupid enough to ignore my fears, and gutsy enough to act out the hardest part of our plan yet. It was simple and straightforward. "We'll blow these cannons up and kill all the security guards within the few minutes allowed by the canal lock. Do not shoot the transport van."

I put the back of the Iblis Trigger on my shoulder, and in a split second, emerged from behind the column. I aimed as best as I could at the first van's cannon, and in yet another split-second, pulled the trigger without giving my mind a chance to paralyze me. The shot was a success, turning the cannon into a bunch of splintered, burning metal, with shrapnel littering the ground around the van. All accompanied by a satisfying explosion sound. Several people screamed while running for their lives.

In the next second, Andy fired a blue shot through the roof shield extension, hitting the van in the back. Ultimately I wasn't convinced the van was neutralized to any degree, because the attack just visibly dispersed against it. It was like shooting water at a wall. Seeing that his attempt was in vain, he did the Hell equivalent of flooring it just in time to avoid the counterattack from the intact cannon.

"Bank security will be on your ass, but I have no idea how it will work out from there, so you'll be on your own."

I switched to my shotgun weapon and fired to no avail at the remaining cannon. The line of vans all stopped, but they weren't sitting ducks like I had hoped, since the already well armed occupants opened all their doors and left. Not taking any chances with them, I pressed the gun shield button and kept firing, hitting the yellow demon guards at every opportunity while dodging and taking cover from their machine gun fire. Unlike the incompetent, squishy human Gilded Gang members we shot before, these demons took multiple hits to go down. To make matters worse, a lot of these guards were obviously modded; high jumping, flight, one hand replaced with a minigun, and more. Others I couldn't tell in the melee.

By then, Andy had already lowered the roof shield and started firing iblis shots at the demons. The guards weren't many — about eight or so — but damn, they all packed a punch. One of them straight up caused all our iblis shots to bend mid-flight and divert towards his armor, reducing our weapons' effectiveness. I hadn't anticipated this much resistance, and honestly were it not for our armor we'd have woken up in a hospital by now.

The Iblis Trigger reloaded just in time for me to take out the second cannon, and retreat further away from the pack. Andy had decided that now was the perfect opportunity to gain distance and run over the iblis magnet fucker and another guy in one fell swoop. Moving in the shadow of the other cars, the element of surprise remained on my side, as I was able to emerge and consistently hit 'em from different places.

"Guh!" The armor on my left side started falling apart. Within seconds it was already covered in blood, forcing me to take cover and heal from my wound — and boy it was a fucking awful feeling. I had to resist the sensation of the wound healing at an insanely fast speed. Or the strange but unpleasant feeling of someone tickling me with their icky vaseline-covered fingers, and a noticeable inability to focus on the task at hand. But hey, the silver lining was that my body could heal.

The high jump guy startled me through his shadow appearing over me. Before he could have a chance to land and kill me while I was still in cover, I messed up his descent with a well aimed shotgun blast — so much so that his head violently crashed into the ground. Weird-looking green blood leaked onto the ground while the rest of his body twitched until it stopped moving a few seconds later.

With my body fully healed, I ignored the unbearable feeling of being bathed in vaseline and rolled out of cover, quickly launching a rocket at the flying guy before he could do anything funny to the back of the Jet Streamer. He exploded into gibs, and thankfully I was far away from the fall out. I didn't want to mix vaseline with green blood ooze.

The demons were reduced to four. One of them was tracking me, always shooting in my direction, even when I moved from car to car behind cover. I heard footsteps getting too close to me, so I had to eventually pop out, and I was happy I did it at that moment because any later and I would've been toast, but too early and it would be ineffective. His face was right against my barrel, and in a split second I could see that the left half of it was metal, even the eye. "Get a load of this," was the last thing he heard before his face blew up. Sadly, I learned the hard way that green blood was sticky. Gross.

Only two guards were left, and they were meaner than the rest. They had minigun hands. They. Had. Minigun. Hands. Even though the miniguns were iblis-powered, they easily shredded the cars like they were made out of paper. To top it all off, the guards were better armored than the rest of the baddies, which meant my shotgun felt like a slap on the wrist for them. I reckoned being exposed to their hail of fire was an instant death, especially since they got a better kind of firearms training than the Stormtroopers.

I almost got cornered, were it not for Andy shooting a soul ray at one of the minigun guys. The remaining one, however, had a golden opportunity and he didn't let go. He aimed his hand straight into our Jet Streamer.

The vehicle withstood the abuse for the first few seconds, and then... It just didn't. The rapid fire drilled a hole into the side of the car. This was the same vehicle I escaped those hellish A.S.Ms with!

Andy managed to land one more soul hit on the remaining minigun guy, finally ending this mess.