‘The Heist, Part I’
Joule’s got a plan…
“And we are gonna steal it.” Like it ain’t in a military hangar behind all kindsa guards and cameras and firepower, that’s how Joule says it. She has a plan for that, too. Joule always has a plan for everything. Outta her stocking she yanks out another paper, this one her own creation, a map of the compound, and all our instructions. “We get a buncha smoke bombs. I know Gator is hoarding a bunch. Some flashbangs for distracting. And I know Petey has that anchor he borrowed from the docks. We’ll totally use that like a grappling hook.”
By now, all the hungry kids are milling around Joule’s corner of the floor, rubbing their snotty noses on their knuckles and hoo-hooing at the blueprints. Clover doesn’t like it when we congregate, but none of us are tattlers.
“You can’t pull that off. Ain’t any way.”
“We can. Remember that time I hotwired the flamewalker? This can’t be all that different.”
Nobody’s dumb enough to believe her, but nobody wants to be the one who chickens out. Once volunteers start raising hands, Joule has herself a gang.
‘The Heist, Part II’
Everything’s going according to plan, no matter how it seems …
“We all know the meeting spot yeah?”
Just like that, we’re running, maybe just ‘cause she didn’t give us time to think about it. We’re running with red puffy cheeks through the dark yard, running like we’d stole from the Carnies. Can’t see anything in the moonless night, but we know the spot, and we land there at the door marked HEAD in an unruly pile, kicking and grunting trying to get inside first.
Joule’s standing on a toilet, wiggling at the grate to the air ducts with a screwdriver when Chester grunts. “Where’s Chatter?”
We all peek out the door just in time to see the floodlights snap on, and Chatter right in the middle of all that light, yanking at the knob to the wrong door. It’s not even seconds before she’s got guards all over her, barking in her taped-up face.
“She’s gonna squeal,” whines SBD.
“Sure she is,” whispers Joule. “And I told her we were going a whole other direction, so that oughta buy us a few minutes. Boost me up!”
Sure enough, one guard holds onto Chatter while the rest of them go racing off away in the other direction.
“Hurry!” whispers Bell, stuffing her weapon in her pants, and Petey boosts her into the duct.
Only Joule’s pockets make noise. We all know how to be silent, ‘cept for Chatter, but she’s gone and Chester ran off after her. Whatever; he wouldna fit in the ducts anyways.
Bell goes straight toward the security room. SBD, Petey, and Gator head for the distraction points, moving slow with all their stuff. Joule and Bell stop over the security room grate and get busy, Joule with her screwdriver, Bell with a makeshift blow dart she fashioned for the occasion. The hollow reed fits through the grate, but aiming ain’t easy. Joule loosens the grate screws just enough to keep it in place. Nobody’s breathing. Bell gets a clear shot on the guard inside and tap-tap-taps on the duct wall with her fingernails.
One tap, faint from around the corner, answers. The boys ain’t ready.
Bell looks down, and the guard is looking back up at ‘er. Bell curses and exhales, the dart flying with a glob of spittle. But the aim’s all wrong, so Joule stomps her foot into the grate and lets it fall, bam! right on toppa the guard’s melon. Bell bashes her fist three times on the duct wall, ‘cause it’s on now like it or not, and the girls jump down into the security room.
The outer halls fill with the boys’ stink bombs. Guards are shouting and coughing; they grab Petey and haul him outta the duct howling. Bell gets nabbed too, but Joule’s already sprinting toward the hangar door with the KO’d guard’s key card in her fist and a screwdriver in her teeth.
‘The Heist, Part III’
When the smoke clears, Joule’s in front of the mechs in the middle of the hangar, waving a little corked vial around. SBD’s leaning on her, breathing hard. Guards flood in, including the ones holding our friends. Two of ‘em tackle Gator, anchor and all. Echoing in the back we hear Chatter wailing. “It’s ooooover! We’re deeeeead!” Soldiers pour in through the choke point, some of ‘em holding us while we struggle, some of ‘em pointing guns right at Joule, who laughs all crazy.
“We’ll never surrender! We’ll die first!” she howls, and yanks the cork outta that vial so hard her elbow bashes into SBD’s belly.
With an “Oooooof,” SBD doubles over and a familiar silent but deadly stink fills the room.
Bell collapses in a guard’s arms, her eyes rolling up. Petey groans, Gator foams at the mouth, Chester chokes. Joule spins and drops, tongue lolled out. Soldiers flee the hangar in a panic, gagging and gasping for air in the massive stench. All around the compound doors slam, sirens wail and a calm female voice on the speakers announces full lockdown due to biological weaponry.
“Eeny meeny,” mutters Joule, wiggling her finger between the two closest mechs. Bypassing a slick black one, she climbs up into the one with the sweet yellow stripes. Bashing on buttons and poking the key card in random spots makes it roar to life. “Look at this thing! Look how cool this is!”
“There’s no way out, dummy!” Bell kicks at the mech’s leg. “How’re we supposed to…”
With loud whirring and a clunk of machine joints, the mech lurches forward. Joule nearly falls outta the thing, rights herself and takes another clunky step forward. The huge machine’s fists open and close. There’s zapping sounds from inside the guns. We’re all running for cover while she spins the sword around, whooping like all of us aren’t about to get dead. “One ‘a these things should…” she mutters, then pushes the big red button…
Everything goes silent. The sirens and announcing lady voice stop. We scream without sound, and when the mech starts walking again, we can’t hear it. Whatever button Joule pushed left us all deaf, and a big freaking hole in the opposite wall of the hangar.
We all bail, running like mad for that hole, jumping out and fleeing toward the fence. Joule comes last, Chatter held in one ‘a the big mech fists. There’s no point in opening the fence anymore; she slams it flat under those big metal feet. Ringing starts up in our ears, then we start to hear each other shouting. Slam, slam, slam go the mech’s footsteps as we all trip and sprint toward our meeting spot outside town, where the jungle grows up on the city walls.
“Toldja we could do it,” says Joule, powering it down. She hops off and hides it under thick vines and weeds.
“Yeah sure,” says Bell, “but what’re you gonna do with it?”
Joule stops, looking up at the lumpy, camouflaged shape of her new toy. “Um…”