Chapter 109:

Chapter 109 - All Aboard


Beretta goggled around at the high walls and vaulted ceilings of Trigger City Station, trailing behind Mimi and Luca as they strode toward the building’s northern end. A host of large, intricate chandeliers with big glass bulbs lit their path, illuminating the storefronts of countless businesses huddled at the foot of the right-hand wall–newstands, barbers, coffee shops–all built to serve travelers on their way to and from the continent’s bustling capital.

…But from the looks of things, every one was locked and shuttered, and had been for some time.

Already they had passed a dozen train platforms or more, and more than half of them were in a similar state of disuse. Beretta couldn’t understand it; the place was huge! It had obviously been built to accommodate crowds of people, but apart from her two adult companions, the only people they’d come across so far were security guards and the occasional group of workmen.

There was something very sad about it all. She was just about to put her finger on why when she caught sight of something unusual: one of the station’s high, decorative windows sliding open a crack. It was happening right ahead of them, a few hundred feet distant, but Mimi and Luca were too deep in conversation to notice.

She decided not to even mention it, figuring that Mimi would just get annoyed with her. But then she saw a shadowy, uncoordinated-looking figure wriggle through the opening and plummet a good ten feet to the ground, falling out of sight behind a long line of benches.

“Mimi! Mimi!” she cried, running up to tug on the older girl’s shorts, “Did you see that? Did you see that person fall in through the window?”

Mimi looked in the direction she was pointing and squinted. Unfortunately, by then, the window had banged shut again, and the strange trespasser was nowhere to be seen.

“You know, Berry, I’ve been trying to be nice, but you’re really starting to get on my nerves!” she fumed. “Next you’re going to tell me it’s your uncle Diallo breaking in to try and blow up our train, or something.”

“Well, it could be!”

“Beretta, enough! We’ve got too much actual, important stuff to worry about without you inventing new problems for fun.”

“It is NOT for fun!” Beretta shouted, balling her little hands up into fists. “I am telling the truth!”

“Oh, really? The truth? Like when you told Mr. Montrevi he smelled like mothballs?”

“He did!”

“He does not! Mr. Montrevi is a man of culture, who smells like pine needles after a light morning rain! More importantly, he’s the only reason we’re going to be able to get to Roulette and your father in time to help, so you should really consider speaking well of him instead of behaving like an awful little goblin.”

In that moment, Beretta wanted nothing more than to give into her frustration and start pounding on Mimi’s long, stupid legs. SInce their talk aboard the Skywind, she had fooled herself into thinking that the haughty, stuck-up Gunsmith was on her side–that she cared for her the way a big sister would.

But, no. All Mimi really cared about was expensive things and boys.

“Haha, wow. You guys sure do fight a lot,” Luca remarked, smiling uncomfortably. “Anybody want to pet Sniffer? Settle down a bit, maybe?”

“No,” they replied in concert, stubbornly refusing to look at eachother–or him. They carried on the rest of the way in silence, plodding past another half-dozen abandoned platforms before arriving at the station’s northernmost edge. Here, the rails were actually occupied; the bright, overdesigned steam engines of Trigger City’s wealthiest stood to their left, filling Beretta with a sense of mingled awe and melancholy.

“The Armature Express is the last one on the left,” Mimi explained, guiding them toward the very end of the row. “I want you–both of you–to behave yourselves once we’re on board, okay? Once we’re done with Gunn, Mr. Montrevi could be a powerful ally to us… Provided we don’t make any trouble for him or his staff.”

Beretta scowled and stuck out her tongue. Why should I listen to anything she tells me? she thought sullenly. If I agree, she will probably just think I’m lying anyway. As they rounded the caboose of Montrevi’s gaudy red train, she felt a sudden tug of longing for her father. He would never have treated her that way. For as long as she could remember, he had always listened and encouraged her to speak her mind.

Even if he disagreed, he always listened.

“Hello!” called an oddly-dressed man from a ways down the platform, waving for their attention. As they drew closer to him, Beretta noticed that his smart red uniform looked strangely ruffled, and that his free hand kept smoothing the corner of his mustache as if he expected it to grow legs and scuttle away. “Would one of you fine folks happen to be a Ms. Mimi Villeneuve?”

“That’s me,” Mimi replied. “Mr. Montrevi promised us the use of his steam engine for our trip out west.”

“Indeedubitably he has!” the man said, bowing low. “I’m here to receive you. You can call me Hardin. Hardin, uh… De…Vipersmuth. Yeah.”

Mimi cocked an eyebrow. “Hardin DeVipersmuth? That’s your name?”

“Sure. No, yeah, definitely!” he stammered. “Why do you ask? Are you saying it sounds fake or something?”

“Not at all, Mr… DeVipersmuth. So sorry if I offended you! My fellow travelers and I are just so dreadfully tired, and it’s obviously beginning to affect our manners,” she simpered, leaning back to elbow a chuckling Luca right in the ribs. “If it isn’t too much trouble, we’d be ever so appreciative if you could show us to our seats–it’s been a long day.”

“Of course, of course!” the man answered, stepping aside and gesturing toward the open door of the passenger car to his right. “Right this way, Ms. Villeneuve and friends!”

They shuffled past him one by one and mounted the steps, making their way into the train’s dimly-lit interior. Beretta took up the rear, wracked by a growing sense of foreboding. Who was this man, and why did he look and act so strange? And what had happened to the person she’d seen tumble in through the window earlier?

The answers would have to wait. Already, her head felt heavy, and her eyelids were beginning to droop. Whatever mysteries awaited them aboard the Armature Express could be solved in the morning.

…Assuming nothing bad happened to them before then.


After escorting the sleepy trio to their private compartment and assuring them that they’d be off soon, Viper stepped back down to the platform to wait. His lungs still burned from the exertion of running all the way to the station following Diallo’s demonstration, and his face still hurt after the tumble he’d taken through the station’s high window… But, nonetheless, his deception had been a success.

As always, he had nailed it.

He whistled to himself, pulling down his pantleg to obscure the edge of his leopard print bodysuit. Thanks to his cunning ploy, the targets had allowed themselves to be brought aboard like lambs to the slaughter; now, all that remained was to wait for his colleagues. They had hung back at the GGE to change and prepare, sending him on ahead to meet the stuck-up blonde and her loser friends at the station. They’d said it was because he could run the fastest, but Viper knew the real reason:

It was because nobody else among them was as skilled in the art of espionage as he was.

He perked up at the sight of two figures striding down the platform toward him, dressed in the same red-and-gold getup he’d donned himself. He wrinkled his nose upon recognizing which of his associates had been chosen for this all-important mission.

It was the kid and the new guy. For whatever reason, Gio–their second-most competent operative after him–was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Gio?” he asked. “We could use him if things get messy.”

“Until the votes are tallied, the boss needs protection, so Gio is staying behind,” the kid replied. “We shouldn’t need him, though. All we’re doing is guarding three morons until they lead us to the rebels.”

“And when we finally find them,” Diallo began, patting the butt of his newly-acquired weapon, “My ability will be more than enough to bury them.”

The kid gave a grudging nod. “Just be sure to stay out of sight until we’ve arrived, Diallo. The young one is your niece, right?”

“Yes, yes,” Diallo sneered. “Montrevi was very clear about that. I am to stay at the fore of the train, working the controls, while you two keep our passengers distracted.”

“Then we all know our tasks. Let’s get to it,” the kid commanded. Viper followed them onto the train without a word, chewing at the inside of his cheek. Just where did this kid get off, acting so high and mighty? After all his years of service, was this his reward–to answer to a literal child?

No way. Not him. By the end of this operation, it was the great Hard Viper who would get all the praise. All the glory.

All the authority.

He just had to figure out how to make it happen.

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