Chapter 88:

Chapter 88 - Berry Follows a Lead


Beretta awoke to the sight of sunlight streaming in her cabin window. She had been waiting for this moment since they landed–an opportunity to see the city in all its glory! Their cliffside corner of the airshipyard provided a lovely view of the skyline, but they’d arrived too late to make out much more than a sea of faint lights glowing in the windows of some big, shadowy structures.

That had been impressive in its own way, but she still felt as if she had no idea what Trigger City actually looked like. According to Mimi, though, her home never looked better than it did in the light of a new day.

So, naturally, Beretta was prepared to be blown away.

As soon as she’d finished dressing, she exploded from her quarters and rushed up toward the deck, taking the steps two at a time. It was early; she could tell by the pinkish-orange hue of the sky and the sun-drenched state of the deck. Mimi wouldn’t be up yet, but that hardly mattered. She’d probably seen the sun rise on Trigger City a hundred times, and Beretta wanted some time to herself anyway.

She skipped over to the airship’s railing and clamored atop it with reckless abandon, leaving her legs to dangle over the edge while she wiggled her way into a comfortable sitting position. Beretta knew for a fact that her father would disapprove of such daring behavior… But he wasn’t here right now, was he? The thought of it was intoxicating; the girl inhaled briskly, basking in the realization of her own freedom as she settled in to enjoy the stunning sight before her.

Structures much, much taller than any she’d seen before dominated the landscape, reaching up toward the candy-colored sky like grasping fingers. It might have seemed ominous if not for the glint of their numerous windows and the calm, luminous waters of the harbor, both of which did much to sweeten her impression of the city’s innately industrial appearance.

Still, some things gave her ample cause to wince. Here and there, smokestacks dotted the scene, belching black, sooty clouds into being, and long lines of automobiles–far more than she’d ever seen in her life–crowded the streets. Everything, everywhere, was paved; from her place in the airshipyard, Beretta couldn’t see a single tree!

It was like looking at the surface of another planet. At first, she wasn’t sure how she felt about it… But the longer she lingered there, watching the city wake from its nightly slumber, the more awestruck she became. Who built all of this? How long must it have taken? What did people do in those behemoth buildings of stone and glass all day? Didn’t they miss the trees?

Didn’t they feel trapped?

Beretta squeezed her eyes shut and gave her head a shake. The city was impressive. It was. But it wasn’t beautiful like she’d imagined. She was used to squat, colorful buildings and wide open spaces; trees, flowers, and crystal-clear water. Trigger City seemed like the death of all those things. Yet, somehow, it was still vibrantly and indisputably alive. Even Sebastopol, the most modern-looking city in Truvelo, seemed modest by comparison!

She opened her eyes to get another look at the skyline, but as she did, the girl became aware of a familiar noise issuing from somewhere below–a persistent pattern of sniffing and snuffing, the likes of which could only be produced by the nostrils of one creature:

A dog!!!

Forget the city. If there was a dog around, Beretta wanted to pet it! She spun in place and hopped off the railing, her feet pattering across the deck as she made for the gangplank on the other side. Mimi had extended it, in part, the night before; the airshipyard they’d landed in was one of the fancy ones, with a tall scaffold standing to the side of each lot, so she’d only had to use a bit of its maximum length to bridge the gap.

Beretta bounced her way across the narrow bridge, delighting in the way it wobbled beneath her feet, and rushed down the scaffold’s stairs. It was nice and shady at the bottom, with the Skywind itself standing between her and the rays of the morning sun, but there was no time to linger; not when a friend was sniffing around on the other side of the hull! She rounded the aft side of the airship and peered around the corner, seeking some sign of the furry little visitor…

…And glimpsed a sliver of red material slipping out of sight behind the bow.

The girl felt her heart skip a beat. Dogs didn’t wear clothes–at least, no dog that she’d ever met. That flash of red material she saw must belong to the dog’s owner, then… But if that was the case, why were they being so elusive? Why did they duck out of view the second she appeared?

She only wanted to give their pet a pat on the head!

Maybe it’s a bad person, she realized, reaching back to pull Drizzle from its place in her waistband. She knew the gun was worthless in a fight, but of course the stranger wouldn’t know that. Father and Mimi would want me to run back up to the deck and yell for help, she predicted, but I will never get strong enough to fight with everyone if I am always running away!

I have to do this on my own!

Without further deliberation, Beretta stalked around the corner with her water pistol drawn. She ran along the edge of the cliff toward the other end of the Skywind’s hull, determined to get a look at whoever was sneaking around. They must be a bad person, she decided, upon peeking behind the bow to find nobody there. Who would take their dog for a walk around here?

Suddenly, she caught another flash of red out of the corner of her eye. It was back the way she’d just come, toward the aft end of the Skywind! Someone is playing with me! she fumed, turning back toward her point of origin. It was tempting to chase after the red-clad phantom, but Beretta had the feeling that they’d only try to bamboozle her again. That left her with only one appealing option:

Bamboozle them first!

She chased them halfway toward the other end of the hull, then doubled back, intending to surprise them by the bow… But, to her surprise, nobody came around the corner to find her there. Either they hadn’t taken the bait, or they’d gone off in another direction entirely! She stamped her foot in frustration, at a total loss as to what to do next. Whoever this dog owner was, they were good. Beretta was beginning to doubt whether she actually had the skills necessary to apprehend them.

That’s when she heard it: the sound of footfalls on wood. The stairs! she thought in a panic, rushing over to look up at the scaffold. Sure enough, somebody was moving around up there–she arrived just in time to see a pair of scuffed brown boots ascending the last of the steps, putting them level with the gangplank.

They were trying to board the Skywind!

Oh no you don’t! the girl seethed, tearing off after them with newfound vigor. If they managed to get up on deck, it wouldn’t be hard for them to go after Mimi while she slept, and that was an eventuality that Beretta would do anything to prevent. She raced up the steps and sprinted across the gangplank to find a man in a red leather trench coat squatting on the deck with his back turned, poring over a patch of floor adjacent to the very railing she’d been sitting on mere moments ago.

“Stop right there!” she shrieked. “I have a gun!” The man rose to his feet like a shot, both hands extended toward the sky. In his right hand, he was holding a weapon unlike any she’d ever seen before. It was small and furry–a handgun, she assumed–but it had a wet little nose where the barrel should be, and a mouth below it with a great, pink tongue lolling out! As she drew closer to the man’s back it even yelped, as if it were actually worried over the fate of its… Wielder? Master?

…Just what was going on here?

“Sorry, sorry!” the man crooned, “Silly me! I didn’t know this airship was taken! I thought it was open for interested buyers to tour–you know, like an open house-type situation? Or, uh, an open airship-type situation, I guess? If it’s not for sale just let me know, and I’ll be off on my merry wa–”

“Who are you?!” Beretta interjected, pressing the tip of her gun right to his back.

“Oh! Of course, where are my manners?” he replied, laughing nervously. “I’m the great Luca Benelli, the best tracker in Trigger City! And this here’s my bosom companion, Sniffer! Say hello, Sniffer!”

With that, he paused, and his gun issued a friendly bark.

“I work for the GGE–the Grand Gun Exchange–and I’m always on the lookout for new Gunslingers,” he explained. “In fact, I do believe you’re the one I’ve been looking for all morning! What do you say we ratchet things down a touch, let bygones be bygones…

“...And you give me a little look-see at that water gun of yours?”

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