UNIVERSE

Shock and awe - A Sparks short story


“Come on in!” bellowed the beaver from inside his workshop.

The shop’s garage door screamed to a halt three quarters of the way up. The skinny gecko was convinced it would drop on him if he tried to duck under it.

“Needs a bit of oil,” the beaver mused, lifting his welding mask and looking up at the diagonal garage door. He gripped the straps of his overalls and flashed his ample front teeth at the gecko in an easy grin. “It’ll hold, though, bud. Don’t be shy.”

Spottie (so named for the dark spots on his yellow scales) wrung his hands, eyeing up the giant chunk of metal above him. He took a deep breath before scampering under the garage door over to the beaver. Somehow he didn’t get squished.

Unfortunately, the workshop’s interior was far more dangerous.

Auto-turrets from every corner and the tops of every workbench swiveled to face him. Their long barrels knocked over piles of scrap and chunks of wood and the occasional gleaming power crystal. Spottie licked his eyes to clean them, making sure he was seeing this right.

“Oh, don’t worry ‘bout the turrets,” the beaver said. “They sure are friendly, eh?” He waved his arm and the wood-and-metal turrets followed his movement. It was then that Spottie noticed the beaver’s left arm was made of metal.

This was a mistake, Spottie thought. The turrets may have looked warped and rickety, but they could follow movement to a T. He just wanted to finish his business and get out.

“You’re looking for a mercenary, is that right?” the beaver asked.

“Y-yes, that’s right,” said Spottie, trying not to look at all the dangerous weaponry. “I’m traveling to Valoria soon with some goods I need protected.”

“Lot of pirates and thieves along the western coast,” the beaver said, nodding. “They like to pray on those traveling through Everia, so protection is a good idea. Sparks’s the name.”

The beaver took off his oil-stained leather work glove and extended a paw. Spottie reluctantly reached out to shake it, but a sharp SNAP of static turned his hand instantly numb.

He recoiled and cried out in surprise. Sparks let out a deep belly laugh.

“Get’s ‘em every time!” he chortled. “Sorry, bud. Couldn’t resist. Got a bit of a Sparks to me, eh?”

Spottie thought he could see cords of electricity zipping between Sparks’s whiskers. The beaver’s fur stood completely on end, too. Were the rumors that he was electrified by Telos true after all?

“The test lab’s in the basement,” Sparks said, stomping with heavy boots over to a workbench to grab a spare hard hat. He tossed it to Spottie, who grabbed it with sticky fingers.

“W-will this really protect me?” he asked.

“Hey, can’t hurt,” Sparks said. “I’m all about safety, don’t’cha know.” He raised his mechanical arm again and smirked. “Accidents happen.”

This wasn’t making Spottie feel better. The beaver chuckled and turned around, waving for Spottie to follow.

They descended the workshop stairs and reached a large underground room with metal plates crudely grafted to the walls. The plates had all kinds of dents, bullet holes, and black powdery stains. Standing in the middle of the room was a target dummy made of wood, with a bull’s-eye painted on its “torso.” It was charred and dented, but in one piece, unlike the pile of dummy parts lying in splinters in the corner.

“All right, bud,” said Sparks as he strolled through the room. “You’re gonna wanna stand behind the observation station for this.”

Spottie was reluctant to stand in the room at all, but he needed to see this through if he was going to get out safely.

The “observation station” was little more than a standing shield of metal with a visor cut into it to observe the test dummy. There was nothing stopping a bullet or shard of shrapnel from getting through the visor. Spottie wrung his hands some more, moving behind the metal plate and nervously looking through the visor with squinting eyes.

“First,” Sparks said, lifting a strange-looking device like a glowing metal eggplant from a nearby workbench, “I’ll show you my Ticking Bomb. Shove over, would ya, boss?”

Sparks joined Spottie in the “observation station,” leaving little room for Spottie to stay behind the metal shield. His wide eyes watched the Ticking Bomb nervously.

“Now, I just give it a little boost…” said Sparks, gritting his teeth and somehow willing a static shock to jolt the bomb. The little red light on the bomb started flashing, and Sparks hurled the device at the dummy. To his credit, the bomb landed right at the dummy’s feet.

Spottie winced and waited for the explosion.

But it never came.

After a few more seconds, Sparks whistled. “Well I’ll be danged. Either I made a mistake in my design or I didn’t give it enough juice. Well, I can assure you—they usually work.”

“Uh huh,” said Spottie.

Sparks cleared his throat. “Sorry, boss. But I got something else to show you, anyway.”

He walked over to his workbench and lifted another device. This one looked like a miniature handheld turret, except it didn’t have an arcane crystal powering it.

“This is my Static Charge Gun. You won’t find this baby in the paws of any other mercenary in the business. Have a look.”

Sparks marched up to a few feet from the dummy and lifted the Static Charge Gun with his mechanical arm. Spottie worried the bomb under the dummy would go off, but it had stopped blinking. When Sparks aimed the gun, flashes of electricity crackled along his fur, pulsing down to his metal arm.

“Static Charge commencing in three… two…”

When Sparks shouted, “One!” Spottie heard a buzz and a series of snaps and pops, but the gun didn’t do anything but briefly flash with power. The gecko let out an uneasy sigh.

“Huh,” Sparks grunted. “Must be humid out today. I promise, my tech always works when it counts. Let me just…”

He rubbed his fur vigorously like he was trying to build static. Of course, he still had his leather gloves on, which probably didn’t help. Spottie thought this would be a good time to leave.

“Thanks for your time,” the gecko said, “but my goods are very valuable, and, um… I need a mercenary I can rely on. So…”

He scurried over to the stairs, taking care to give the dud bomb wide berth. He didn’t stop to gauge Sparks’s reaction, either. He just wanted to get out of this death trap of a workshop.

The garage door was still open, still lodged at an awkward angle. As Spottie hurried for the exit (but not so quickly as to look like he was running away), the numerous auto turrets in the room swiveled to target him.

They probably didn’t even have ammo in them, Spottie thought. Or they would miss him by a mile. The beaver didn’t seem half as brilliant as everyone made him sound.

But before Spottie could reach his freedom, the garage door rolled to an immediate close.

He yelped and looked around for another exit, but all he could see were turret barrels everywhere. They were locked on his position, adjusting for every slight movement. He didn’t know where to go.

Sparks came stomping up the stairs a second later. He still had his Static Charge Gun in his metal hand, except this time he wasn’t wearing gloves. He was smiling, as always, though there was something sly in his expression.

“Aren’t you forgetting something, boss?” he asked.

Spottie wrung his hands. “I-I don’t know what you mean,” he squeaked.

Sparks tapped himself on the top of the head with his free hand. “I’ll be needing my hard hat back.”

There must be an exit in the back, Spottie thought. If he ran he might be able to—

The instant he made a motion to break for it, Sparks pulled the trigger of his Static Charge Gun and a lightning bolt of electricity leapt forth to zap Spottie in place. The gecko shook violently, his muscles tensing so much he couldn’t even scream.

“Now,” said Sparks when the gun stopped firing, “the hat, please.”

Spottie was still too stunned to move, but he didn’t need to. Sparks whistled, and with a loud POP, one of his turrets blasted the hard hat right off Spottie’s head.

And there, sitting on the gecko’s spotted scalp, sat a glowing power crystal.

“Expensive little rocks, eh?” Sparks said, strolling up to Spottie and swiping the crystal. “No doubt they’d fetch you a good price with the Thieves’ Guild.”

With another flurry of whistles, Sparks made the workshop’s auto turrets stop aiming at Spottie, and the garage door rolled open—all the way this time.

“I told you,” Sparks said, lifting the stunned gecko over his shoulder, “my tech works when it counts.”

To Spottie’s surprise, the beaver didn’t finish him off. He just carried Spottie outside the workshop and put him down. The gecko’s muscles were still rigid enough that he could stay standing.

Sparks grinned up at him. “Tell your friends in the Guild that if they want a mercenary they can rely on, they know where to find me.”

At last Spottie stopped shaking. He hobbled away as fast as his buzzing limbs could carry him.

Sparks patted his Static Charge Gun and carried it back into his workshop. He had a lot more tinkering to do.


-Written by Kyle Hubbard

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