Chapter 62

“Customers of the 15th and Neimuth Securemarket™,” Alan began. The mic near his mouth picked up his voice and amplified it over the PA system. Alan’s calm, clear announcement reached every corner of the store, drowning out the confused babble of the crowd.

“Mayfield Limited has declared a state of Official Opposition against Better Living Limited, our precinct’s current municipal corporation,” Alan began. He had unslung the shotgun from his back and held it one hand, rested against his shoulder. The customers near him stared, alarmed. “Please remain calm and follow my instructions to ensure the safest Securemarket™ experience.”

The nearby employees bustled about, moving customers out of the aisles. Steve paced the front of the store with Alan’s tabletshell, issuing commands to the store’s defense mechanisms. Clear HD-Plastic shutters emerged from the ground just in front of the shelves, protecting the products but leaving them on display.

“My employees are already enabling the Securemarket™’s built-in defenses, designed to convert the Securemarket™ building to a C-Class Defense Structure. Should you choose to remain in this building, you may be asked to aid in the defense of the building and our municipality. All current Securemarket™ guests are welcome here, as are any other residents of the precinct who should wish to take shelter here.”

Small, clear barriers, not unlike those that covered the shelves but only slightly above waist-height, rose between the aisles, providing a bulletproof plastic ‘bunker’. Sections of the aisles lowered into the ground and left gaps through which the employees could travel.

“If you cannot or will not abide by these conditions, Securemarket™ Incorporated must ask that you leave the store at this time,” Alan intoned. “We strongly suggest that you proceed to the next secure location available to you, whether it be your home or the nearest Rail station.”

There was relative silence for a moment. The vestiges of Alan’s announcement echoed off the walls of the store. Alan closed his eyes and sighed, then spoke again.

“Some of you may be aware of Mayfield Limited’s Opposition tactics,” he said in a less official voice. “To those who aren’t: please understand that being outside when Mayfield’s forces arrive is not safe. If you feel unsafe taking refuge with the Rail employees and your home is not nearby, you should consider staying here. But please make your decision now.”

Some of the customers left, murmuring about family members and friends.

“Okay,” Alan said. “All employees and customers to the front! I need everyone who has a weapon proficiency of B or better to stand in front of checkout device five!”

Only a few minutes later, the customers had been successfully sorted. To’mas ushered those who were not physically capable of combat or had insufficient certification to the back of the store. Steve and Alan placed the employees in support positions, leaving places for themselves in the front lines. Matt walked to the control booth to man the stun turret. As the preparations were being made, Click turned quickly, his eyes alert. “Listen!” he barked.

Everyone went silent for a few moments. The sound of gunfire floated by.

“They’re here,” Steve said. “It’s good to know we actually have some militia forces around.”

“What’s the strategic point?” Zap mused.

“It could be us,” Alan replied. “It wouldn’t be the first time that an occupational force tried to take a Securemarket™ as a base of operations.”

“What happened last time?” Zap asked.

“Let’s get in place!” Alan barked. “If they break through the line, we need to be ready for them before they get here!”

The employees shouted orders to the customers who had been assigned to them and they all bustled into their places. Zap stayed behind.

“So,” he murmured, “what happened last time?”

“What do you think?” Alan replied in a low voice. “They took it.”

Zap frowned. The moment was broken when someone screamed from outside. The sound of gunfire came from outside, very close now.

“All right!” Alan said, pushing Zap. The two of them started jogging toward their positions behind one of the folded checkout kiosks.

They were halfway there when a familiar voice cried for help outside. Alan froze.

“Help! Somebody!” the voice called from outside.

“Nalley!” Michelle-Bear shouted.

Zap turned back and faced Alan, who stood stock-still in indecision.

Alan’s gaze swept over the gathered forces; people he was sworn and expected to lead as store manager. Breaking his position and going outside would be abandoning his post, yet someone he loved was outside. The battle hadn’t even begun, but…

The sound of automatic fire and Nalley’s shriek from outside broke Alan’s reverie. He turned to run toward the door, his instincts taking control.

“Stay where you are, Morganstern!” a familiar voice—not Nalley’s—crackled to life in his ear. Alan stopped.

“Your beloved is coming to you,” the voice said.

There were shouts from outside and the gunfire stopped. Moments later, a dumpy-looking woman in dirty gym clothes bounded into view with superhuman agility. Tucked under the figure’s arm was Nalley; in her other hand was a beautifully-crafted elven sabre. The woman ducked into the Securemarket™ as the gunfire resumed, bullets caroming off the polyglass of the store’s front window. The woman set Nalley on the ground; Nalley ran at top speed to Alan and threw her arms around him.

“Aggie?” Steve asked, eyes wide.

Alan looked up from Nalley, whom he held tightly. “…that’s Raimi’s sword…”

“Correct,” Aggie said, then reached up to her face. “…and correct.” She wrapped her hand around her face. With a sucking motion, it pulled away like a mask, drawing all of the woman’s ‘old’ features along with it. The face’s features gradually simplified into those of a plain theatre mask: ‘tragedy’. The woman moved the mask away; it was Raimi And The Soft Winds Blow.

“…you?” Steve said.

“Get into place, Morganstern,” Raimi said. She grasped the hem of the hooded sweatshirt and pulled it off, revealing that she was already wearing her mythril armor underneath. “That’s the last order I’m going to give you. You’re commanding me now.”

Alan blinked a few times, then shook his head. He locked eyes with Nalley and pointed to one of the groups. She nodded and jogged toward it.

Alan took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He looked outside and saw that Mayfield soldiers were gathering outside. They were clad in black, complete with masks and gloves; they looked far more like a pack of assassins than militia members. Easily two dozen of Mayfield’s finest positioned themselves just outside of the bottleneck of the front entrance door of the Securemarket™, which Steve had sealed just after Aggie and Nalley’s entrance.

One of the soldiers began to place sonic resonators on the store’s door. Alan turned to the gathered forces. “Get ready!” he shouted. “We will hold this store!”

The soldier placed the final resonator. The employees and recruited customers hunkered behind their barriers, their weapons pointed directly at the door. The soldier tapped a military shell at his side and the resonators activated.

The door shattered, Mayfield’s soldiers poured through and the battle was joined.