An earth shattering explosion, even louder than the one Lizzie had set off, shook the sky as Amabelle's grappling hook drew her quickly back to the blimp. She felt the strong pull of the tornado underneath her, but she couldn't bear to look as she held tightly onto her hook. Amabelle crashed into the bottom of the blimp, losing her grip on the handle. She started falling back down toward the tornado spinning just below her, her body being pulled into the funnel cloud. As she started thinking of all the ways she wished she would've lived her life differently, she felt a rope loop over her head and pull tightly around her waist.
Amabelle looked up to see Beau and Lizzie perched atop the blimp, Beau holding tightly onto the rope that was secured around Amabelle and Lizzie grasping the back of Beau's shirt. Beau began pulling up the rope and soon Amabelle was atop the blimp. She sat on her hands and knees on top of the blimp, her whole body quivering as she recounted what had just happened in her mind.
"Are you alright?" Beau asked. Amabelle nodded; she feared if she opened her mouth that she may be sick all over the blimp. She slowly looked up. Her grandfather and several other Minutemen were standing on an island off in the distance. Malaki had disappeared completely.
"Do you feel steady enough to grapple back to land? I don't know how long we'll be able to balance safely on top of this blimp," Lizzie said, her voice soft despite her hardness toward Amabelle earlier. Amabelle nodded again, and the trio quickly grappled back to land.
Amabelle landed in front of her grandfather, not wanting to meet his eyes and see the disappointment there. Before he could open his mouth to speak, whizzing came in from all directions as Malaki and several members of the Cartel landed on the patch of land. Amabelle instinctively stepped closer to Beau, with Lizzie closing in on her left side.
Malaki walked forward, stopping just in front of her grandfather.
"Well, well, well. I never thought I'd see Rusty Cassidy right here on a Cartel island. You come back to fetch your granddaughter?"
Her grandfather snorted. "I mostly came to this god forsaken place to get that weapon, but now that it's been destroyed, I suppose I better take her back with me to her momma. That's if you'll let me take her, but I never knew you to be the sympathetic sort."
Malaki looked over at Amabelle with narrowed eyes, spitting on the ground by her feet. He moseyed on over to her, stopping just a foot in front of her face. She could smell the whiskey seeping out of his skin and had to clamp her mouth shut. "You destroyed something we've been working on for years. Somethin' that could've made us the most powerful clan in the skies. And you just ruined all of our chances. And for what? Dream boy over here sweet talk ya into doing it?" He nodded his head toward Beau.
Amabelle set her shoulders back. She was sick of having these men talk down to her like she didn't know what she was talking about. "I destroyed it because no group of people deserves to have that type of power over the other. No one should be able to murder so many people at the flip of a switch. Why can't we all work together to create a more powerful society in the sky? Think of what we could accomplish if we did that!"
A loud grunt came from behind Malaki. A familiar wheezing voice rang out. "That's a far differn' story than you were sayin' in the jail cell."
Amabelle looked around Malaki. "Garth? Is that you?" Sure enough, it was the drunk she had spent two days trapped in the jail with. "What are you doing here?"
"I came here to see what was goin' on with what I created! Arrived jus' in time to see you destroy it. Migh' not be a bad thing though, coulda killed a bunch of people."
Amabella was floored. "You, you created the weapon?" She remembered the initials she had seen on the sketch...G.M. That must've been Garth.
Beau stepped forward. "It doesn't matter now. What's done is done."
Malaki laughed. "That's where you're wrong, brother. You worked with a Minutemen to destroy Cartel property. You either go with your blue lady friend or go somewhere else, I really don't care."
Amabelle looked at Beau. There was a bit of sadness in his eyes, but mostly triumph. She looked at her grandfather. Amabelle didn't want to go with him, back to that life where she was underappreciated and undeserved. She nudged Beau gently with her shoulder as the other men began milling about, talking amongst themselves.
"I heard that there are these islands, wayyyy up in the sky that are covered in ice," she said. Beau's eyes widened. "Care for an adventure?"
Lizzie leaned in close. "Really? Can I come too? I know I won't be welcome here anymore either."
Amabelle nodded. "What do you think Beau?"
Beau stared off into the distance, the dark sky beginning to lighten as morning approached.
"Let's go make our own adventure," he said, and the trio grappled off into the rising sun.
written by: Shannon McPherson
Amabelle quickly rolled back up the plans, holding them tightly in her hands.
"Grandfather! What are you doing here?"
"You think I didn't hear about my granddaughter trying to break into the Cartel engineering building and failing spectacularly?" Amabelle's stomach clenched with embarrassment. "I heard a few days ago from none other than Malaki Pickett that he had you in custody. Your mother has been beside herself trying to figure out where you've run off to. You can't believe how disappointed she was to hear that you had been captured by these swine."
Beau's lip curled, but he didn't say anything. He stepped back a few steps so he was closer to Amabelle. She could see behind her grandfather in the hallway stood a couple of his men. They were trapped.
"I thought you created these plans, grandfather," she said. Amabelle hoped by asking some questions, she could buy herself and Beau some time to figure out a plan.
"I unfortunately did not create the idea for this weapon myself, even though the Cartel used the Minutemen's own creation of lightning-in-a-bottle to design this. It might as well be ours."
"But, why would you even want it? Did you want to take it from the Cartel so they couldn't use it against us and then destroy it?"
Her grandfather laughed. "You silly girl. If the Minutemen were in possession of this weapon, they would own the skies. There would be nobody that could stop us!"
Amabelle's heart sank. Her grandfather never wanted to use the plans to help anyone. He had lied about them belonging to the Minutemen and he had every intention of using the tornado canister to wipe out countless groups of people.
"But, grandfather --"
"Young lady, that's enough questions for tonight. Just hand over the plans and you there boy, you give us the canister, and we'll all be on our way." Her grandfather held out his hands, his henchmen leering at her from the doorway.
Beau nudged her with his shoulder. "Do you trust me?" he whispered.
Amabelle sighed. "You're Cartel so I should say no, but at this point, do I have a choice?"
Beau shoved the canister into the pouch hanging down Amabelle's side, grabbing the plans out of her hand and shoving them in there too. He shoved the wooden table that stood between them and her grandfather, knocking her grandfather off his feet and into his henchmen behind him. With them distracted, he grabbed Amabelle's hand and rushed to the large window on the other side of the room, throwing it open. Amabelle looked out to see they were several floors up and on the edge of the island. There was nothing below them except for the dark sky speckled with white stars.
"Wrap your arms around me," Beau said.
"I'm sorry, but what?" He couldn't really be planning to jump out the window, could he?
"Just do it!" Amabelle quickly grabbed Beau around the waist, linking her hands together. They stepped onto the edge the window and fell into the abyss as gunshots began pelleting the walls around them.
The wind ripped all around them as Amabelle's stomach rose in her throat as they plummeted past the edge of the island. Beau reached out with his right hand, his grappling hook ready to fire, and shot it at the bottom of the island. It made contact and Amabelle closed her eyes as they swung at a fast speed toward the rocky surface. She could hear yelling coming from the open window, but she was more concerned with Beau missing his mark and them plummeting to Below than she was with getting hit with some blasts of air.
Beau quickly grappled underneath the bottom of the island, obviously straining under the extra weight of Amabelle. Just as her hands were beginning to slip, he landed on a flat surface. Amabelle's legs buckled as she tried to stand and Beau caught her before she could fall. As she steadied herself, she punched Beau in the arm.
"Ow! Why did you do that?"
"You should've told me that you were planning on killing us both!"
"In case you didn't notice, I got us out of the building and onto flat ground. I'd say that's the opposite of getting us both killed."
Amabelle puffed out air, but fought the urge to say a snappy reply. She wiped her sweaty palms on her pants. "What's the plan now?"
Beau pointed off in the distance to a small island. "I'll take the canister and plans there to destroy, and then we'll be done with this mess."
"What do you mean you will do it? I thought we were doing this together?"
"If it backfires or goes wrong, I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Beau Pickett, I am fully capable of taking care of myself. Let me destroy them."
Beau opened his mouth to protest, but the incoming whizzing sound of grappling hooks and popping gunshots stopped him. He held out his hands for the items tucked away in Amabelle's pouch, but she just shook her head. She grabbed her own grappling hook and launched herself toward the island.
Amabelle quickly grappled toward the island, ignoring the yells behind her that continued to grow louder and louder. As she neared the island, she saw a dark figure land on it before her -- Malaki. Amabelle changed course, grappling onto a nearby blimp that was floating unattended in the night sky. Her feet landed unsteadily on the wooden platform atop the blimp.
"Now, don't be stupid," Malaki said, his sneering voice cutting through the darkness. "Just hand over everything to me and I'll let you and your grandfather go home without a scratch." Amabelle crouched low on the blimp, reaching into her pouch for the canister and plans. She quickly pulled them out and used a bit of rope in her pouch to tie both items together.
"Amabelle! You come back here now!" Her grandfather's voice came from behind her. He and his crew had landed on the island she had just grappled from. She didn't see where Beau was. Amabelle knew she only had seconds to come up with a plan. She knew what she had to do. This weapon couldn't get into the hands of the Minutemen or Cartel. She had to destroy it.
Amabelle stood up, the blimp rocking unsteadily at the shift in weight. The men all looked at her, guns drawn. She walked to the edge of the platform, letting the blimp tilt forward and Amabelle slid into the darkness.
Her grandfather cried out for her, either in fear for her life or for the weapon. She held the weapon and plans in her left hand and with her right, she held her grappling hook. Amabelle twisted her body up and shot her grappling hook at the bottom of the blimp. As soon as the hook made contact with the wooden bottom, she pressed the small button on the side of the canister and dropped it.
written by: Shannon McPherson
Amabelle shifted unsteadily, her knees growing more stiff as she sat crouched between two outbuildings. Beau had come back to his house just as dusk was falling to collect her, and they made their slow migration over to the island that housed the engineering building for the Cartel. They had to stop often to hide behind rocks or buildings, so by the time they reached their destination, it was close to midnight.
A surprisingly cool breeze whipped between the buildings, tossling Amabelle's hair and rustling the leaves of nearby trees. She shivered slightly, not knowing if it was the chillness in the air that caused it or the anticipation of what she and Beau were about to do. Amabelle had broken into that same building just days before, but that had been a reckless decision and she had no idea what she was getting into. She wasn't even sure how she managed to sneak in through an open back window without raising the alert of the multiple men milling around the building. Now that Amabelle was back at the building, she had the sinking feeling that they would be discovered yet again.
Out of the corner of her eye, Amabelle could see Beau slowly peeking around the corner of the building. He had told her before they set off that they were meeting up with someone that would assist them, but hadn't mentioned anything further. Anytime Amabelle tried to ask Beau a question or run an idea by him, he quickly shushed her. He may have been meek and submissive around his older brother Malaki, but he certainly wasn't that way with her.
Amabelle stretched out her left leg, letting out a quiet groan as the muscles began to relax. Beau whipped his head around, drawing a finger up to his lips and signaling her to be quiet. She rolled her eyes, debating whispering an insult under her breath, but a soft thump sounded on the other side of the building behind her.
Amabelle reached her hand toward her pistol on her belt, closing her hand around the handle. Beau had his revolver drawn and ready to shoot. A low whistle sounded, two long notes followed by three short bursts and Beau stepped back, repeating the sound. A small girl quickly stepped into the small alleyway. She looked to be a couple years younger than Amabelle, with a long black braid snaking down her back. The girl had multiple grappling hooks, ropes, chains, wires, more things than Amabelle could even identify strapped to a utility belt around her waist.
"Who is this?" Amabelle asked.
"The name is Lizzie and that's all you need to know about me," the girl said, narrowing her eyes in Amabelle's direction.
Beau let out a low laugh. "Lizzie isn't too fond of, well, Minutemen," he said, running his fingers through his hair. "But, I feel like we could all put past judgments aside for our cause here tonight, right ladies?"
Amabelle eyed the red Cartel insignia embroidered onto Lizzie's kerchief. She may have only been in the Cartel stronghold for less than a week, but most of the Cartel members she had encountered had been relatively friendly and good intentioned, with the exception of Malaki. She quickly nodded, managing a small smile in Lizzie's direction. Lizzie's eyes lingered on her for another moment before she gave a tight nod and turned her attention to Beau.
"I've inspected the perimeter of the building and it appears the storage door on the south side of the building has been left unattended. This time of night, most of the guards are focused on the front of the building, but I thought I'd create a distraction on the north side of the building to draw them away anyways."
"What kind of distraction?" Amabelle asked.
Lizzie patted a small pouch hanging by her hip. "Oh just a little pop to get everyone excited." She turned on her heel. "Give me about five minutes and then you'll know." Lizzie disappeared into the night's shadows, her braid whipping around the corner of the building. Her feet didn't make a sound as she moved away, but Amabelle heard the faint whizzing of a grappling hook as Lizzie took flight.
Beau eased back into the tight alleyway, checking the guns on his belt. Amabelle stood up, her knees groaning in protest. She winced as she walked toward Beau.
"What's the plan?" she asked.
"Once we get the signal from Lizzie, we'll make our way to the south side door," he said. "It's right on the other side of this hill, so it won't take long. If it's locked, I have a key to that and then we'll quickly go up to Malaki's office."
"What about his ridiculous locking system?"
Beau patted the front pocket on his vest. "I have those keys as well. He was well into a bottle of whiskey when I left his house earlier this evening and didn't notice when I pilfered them from his pocket." Beau looked awfully pleased with himself for just stealing a set of keys and Amabelle got the impression it wasn't too often Beau was able to pull one over on his older brother.
A low rumble started in the distance. Beau and Amabelle rushed to the edge of the buildings, slowly easing their heads around the corner. She could see some of the guards down by the engineering building starting to leave their posts, looking for the source of the sound. Another rumble began, this time growing louder and louder until it crescendoed into an earth shattering blast, causing the ground to shake and birds to go scattering off nearby trees. The guards rushed around the building, yelling out to one another. Beau pointed at a small door at the back of the building.
"That's where we're headed. Stay low to the ground and move as quickly and quietly as you can." He took off in a slow run, moving quickly between rocks and trees as he made his way down the small hill. Amabelle followed closely behind, beginning to sweat in the night air.
They soon reached the door and Beau quickly unlocked it. Amabelle rushed in behind him, stumbling a bit on the door jam and crashing into the wall. The metal of her grappling hook made a jarring sound in the quiet hallway as it scratched against the concrete wall.
"Shh! What are you trying to do, get us found out before we have a chance to do anything?"
"Let's just move fast and more quietly, please." Beau took off down the hallway and Amabelle had no choice but to follow suit. Countless insults ran through her brain as she followed him around the winding hallways, but she kept her mouth shut. Within minutes, they were in front of Malaki's door with its confounded locks. Beau reached into his pocket, pulling out the set of three keys. He quickly unlocked the door and they stepped into Malaki's office.
Beau moved across the office, lifting a portrait of a large house off of the wall, revealing the safe. He motioned to it.
"I'm assuming you'll know how to open this?"
Amabelle nodded. She reached into her pocket, pulling out the one item she had requested Beau bring her -- a magnet. She pulled her blue Minutemen kerchief off from around her neck and wrapped the magnet with it. Amabelle placed the magnet on the surface of the safe, slowly moving it around as she gently jiggled the safe handle. Within a minute, the safe popped open. Beau looked at her in disbelief.
"Is that really all it takes to open a safe?"
"I could go into the details of why this particular method worked on this particular safe, but I feel like we should focus on why we're here and get the heck out."
Beau nodded and reached into the safe, pulling out a small metal canister and rolled up set of papers. Amabelle took the documents from his hands, quickly unrolling them onto a table. That was them alright, the plans for the death weapon her grandfather had created. She looked closely at the sketches, marveling at the intricacy in the drawing. In the lower right hand corner of the plans, there was a set of initials. Instead of the "R.C." for her grandfather's name, there was "G.M." written in the corner.
"Beau," she said, moving closer to him around the table. "Those aren't my grandfather's initials in the corner. I don't think he created these plans."
Beau leaned down, looking at the sketch. "Why would he say the plans were his if they weren't?"
"And that dear boy, is an excellent question." Amabelle's head snapped back at the sound of her grandfather's voice. Rusty Cassidy, the sharpest shooter in the Floating Frontier, was standing before her in the doorway of Malaki's office. "I think you and my granddaughter better hand over everything before someone gets hurt."
written by: Shannon McPherson
Amabelle landed gingerly on the small island, quickly ducking behind a tree to avoid someone seeing her. The island they had grappled to was only occupied by a small house that belonged to Beau, but it was in very close proximity to the larger Pickett island. There were only a few workers outside getting started on their daily chores, not anyone that would recognize Amabelle, but she had made sure to tuck away her blue bandana as to not draw attention to herself.
Beau stood on his front porch, motioning to Amabelle to follow him inside. Once inside, Beau quickly closed all of the curtains and ushered her into the kitchen in the back of the small house. The kitchen was decorated sparsely, with only the necessary objects,and a square, wooden table in the center of the room.
"Do you live here alone?" Amabelle asked.
Beau nodded, placing a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water on the table. He motioned again for her to take a seat.
Well, doesn't seem like he's a chatty one, Amabelle thought to herself. Beau slid into the chair across from her as she dug into the bread. It was a bit dry, but considering she had only meager crumbs of stale bread to eat for the previous few days, it tasted delicious to her.
Beau continued to stare at her while she ate her breakfast. After a few silent moments, Amabelle couldn't take it anymore.
"So, are you going to tell me why you helped me escape?"
"I have a few questions for you first. Considering I was the one who helped you, you can answer those first before I answer yours." Apparently even though Beau followed Malaki around like a puppy, he wasn't the submissive lap dog as he first appeared. Amabelle motioned for him to continue.
"You attempted to break into my brother's office in the engineering building. Judging by the scratch marks on the locks of his door, you were not successful at even getting into his office. What I want to know is, why were you trying to get in there in the first place?"
Amabelle looked down at the table, crumbling the remaining piece of bread between her fingers. Beau may be a member of the ruthless Cartel, but he did take a huge risk in breaking her out of jail. Maybe she could trust him after all, just a tiny bit.
"I was going there to retrieve something that belongs to the Minutemen."
Beau leaned back in his chair. "And what exactly was that?"
"Just some small items, nothing major." She didn't want to let on to Beau just yet that she didn't know exactly what she was searching for in the warehouse and how reckless her plan to come here was.
Beau shook his head. "Well now, I don't really believe that one bit. I know what's in Malaki's safe and believe me, it is something quite major."
Amabelle leaned onto the table, rested her elbows on its surface. "Have you seen it?"
"Yes, I've seen it. If you truly believe that it's nothing major, then this situation is far worse than I thought."
"All I know is that the plans and prototype that Malaki has belongs to the Minutemen and it was my job to return it to my grandfather."
Beau slammed his fist down on the table, rattling the dishes. "You Minutemen always think everything belongs to you! That's not what's important right now! If you get the plans and prototype and give it to the Minutemen, you would be helping start a catastrophic war!"
Amabelle's stomach sank. "What are you talking about?"
Beau stood up, walking over to the window. He leaned on the frame, staring out into the clouds. "The plans are for a... well, an enhanced lightning-in-a-bottle."
"Do you mean it would make our weapons even more powerful?" Amabelle had a lot of experience with the gun booster, as her grandfather had been one of the men who helped designed it. Since metal was so rare up in the sky, using super-compressed air bursts as "bullets" would hit anyone with enough force to send them flying off the islands to the rocky ground below.
"This is so much more than just a weapon booster. This is a game changer." Beau walked back over to the table, sitting back down across from Amabelle.
Frustration began to set in with Amabelle.
"Could you please just stop beating around the bush and tell me what it is?" Amabelle was tired and beginning to grow hot, not just with the heat of the day, but with the growing fear that was starting to brew in her stomach.
"Fine. It's a prototype for an all new weapon. When activated, it'll create a man-made tornado on whatever surface it touches, taking out everything in its path."
Amabelle let the words sink in. "So does Malaki intend to use this on the Minutemen?"
Beau nodded. "I believe so. The weapon isn't ready yet and it hasn't been mass produced, but I believe that's his intention."
"But how did he get it from my grandfather? And why would my grandfather had created such a thing?"
"Amabelle, I have no idea, but we need to get back into the warehouse and steal the plans and prototype so no one can use it."
Amabelle eyed Beau suspiciously. "Why don't you want Malaki to use it against the Minutemen? Shouldn't you want the Cartel to be the supreme leaders of the floating frontier?"
Beau shook his head sadly. "No one should have that type of power to take so many lives. It's not morally right and trust me, Malaki is not a moral man. I want to steal the plans and prototype so we can destroy them."
Amabelle sat back in her chair. She couldn't wrap her mind around why the Minutemen would have originally had that weapon in their position to start with. Her grandfather may have been ruthless in some of his actions, but there's no way he could've wanted to destroy so many people. She decided that she would help Beau steal the plans and prototype, but she would still take them back to her grandfather. Amabelle knew that he must have good intentions when it comes to the weapon.
"What do you need me to do?" Amabelle asked.
"I can get us into the office, but I don't know how to break into Malaki's safe. More importantly, I wouldn't know how to deactivate it. Would you?"
Amabelle nodded. She learned at a young age how to pick locks and get into safes, but the multiple locks on Malaki's door had slowed her down. Since Amabelle didn't plan on deactivating the prototype, pretending that she knew how to wasn't really an issue.
"Good," said Beau. "I'll work on the remaining pieces to our plan and we'll break in tonight. Just stay in the house and out of sight while I'm gone."
Amabelle watched Beau walk out the back door, wondering what on earth she had just gotten herself into.
Why did Amabelle's grandfather create such a horrible weapon? Will Beau and Amabelle get caught trying to break into the engineering warehouse? And will Amabelle succeed in betraying Beau once they steal the plans and prototype?
Find out in upcoming episodes!
written by: Shannon McPherson
*Two Days Earlier*
Beau followed Malaki out of the jail, nearly getting smashed in the face by the swinging door as his brother shoved his way through. Beau could hear Malaki mumbling under his breath, but he didn't need to hear the words to know what he was saying. The minute Malaki heard that a Minutemen girl, Rusty Cassidy's granddaughter no less, had broken into one of the most heavily protected buildings in the Cartel islands, he had erupted into a fit of rage. Malaki's men had been so frightened of Malaki's reaction to Amabelle breaking into the building, that they hadn't told him for three days, thinking it would be better. It in fact, was not.
Malaki stood on the edge of the island, staring out down into the open sky with his hands on his hips. The floating island that housed the jail was far from most of the other Cartel islands and it was one of the smallest ones. There was barely a twenty foot radius of earth around the jail before the sudden drop-off into the clouds. Beau had spent his whole life up in the clouds, but standing on the edge of the island always made his throat close up.
"Well," said Malaki, his hand reaching toward his grappling hook. "Let's head over to the warehouse and see what kind of mess that girl made." Malaki pulled the trigger on his grappling hook, latching himself onto a far off rock formation and swinging himself off the jail island. Beau had barely reached for his own grappling hook on his left hip before Malaki was well on his way to the island that housed the engineering warehouse. He quickly aimed for the closest floating island and pulled the trigger, gripping tightly onto the handle as it dug into the rock.
Beau was immediately propelled forward as soon as the hook grappled onto the island. As the Beau zoomed at an exponential speed toward the rock, he released the trigger on the grappling hook. The sudden loss of forward momentum always caused Beau's stomach to flip, but he quickly shot his hook toward another island before he continued his plummet into the sky. Beau grappled from island to island, making his way around the edge of the Cartel stronghold to reach the engineering warehouse quickly. It took Beau many years to master the graceful waltz of grappling around the Cartel islands and even now, he sometimes felt like he was one misshot from grappling onto the edge of an island and plummeting to his death. Even so, as he sailed from island to island, barely hanging on by a thread, he enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness.
There were floating blimps that travelled around the islands, but they were mostly for carrying cargo and small children. Some of the more bold Cartel women would strap their children to their back as they grappled around, but it seemed that most women preferred to take their broods of kids around in a blimp. The progress around the islands was slow, but far safer. In the beginning of life amongst the clouds, there had been many unfortunate incidents with grappling hooks failing to fire off, but over the years the technology had been honed to be nearly foolproof. Even so, most people wore a pair of jet boots as they travelled around, providing additional security in case something happened. Unfortunately, the jet boots are only good for quick bursts back onto an island, not for frequent flying.
Soon enough, the engineering warehouse loomed in the distance, the bright red Cartel flag branded with the Cartel's helmet insignia flapping in the breeze. As Beau swung up onto the island, he spotted his brother already heading toward the front of the building. People scattered out of Malaki's way as he stormed through door. Some of the men made eye contact with Beau, but he shook his head slightly to let them know this wasn't a good time for questions. Beau trailed Malaki up the stairs and through twisting hallways until they arrived at the door of Malaki's office. Malaki's office door was unlike any other one in the engineering warehouse, as it came equipped with three locks instead of the typical one.
The locks had visible scratch marks, as Amabelle had clearly tried but failed to pick her way into Malaki's office. Malaki swore under his breath and Beau had no doubt that he would be ordered to polish and buff the scuff marks off of the metal. Malaki pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket, sifting through them until he landed on a long and worn brass key. He inserted that in the top lock, turning it swiftly to unlock. He went back to the keyring, this time selecting a dark metal ring to unlock the second lock with. Malaki unlocked the third and final lock with a shiny, very small, silver key.
Malaki strode into his office, clearly at home amongst the messy papers and overturned ink bottles. While Malaki was a gruff and feared individual amongst the Cartel, Beau couldn't deny that Malaki didn't have a sharp mind and a knack for creating beneficial technology for life in the sky. Beau could see several sketches for various projects Malaki was in the process of creating for the Cartel scattered on the main table.
"So," said Beau, cutting to the chase. "What do you think Amabelle Cassidy was after?"
Malaki sighed, turning to face Beau. "I'm not quite sure if I should tell you."
"Why not? I am your brother. You can trust me."
Malaki let out a low laugh. "That may be true, my brother, but you are weak. I could see how you acted back in the jail cell. You feel sorry for that Minutemen girl."
"Well, she's been kept in that hot jail cell for a few days now with little to drink or eat. Why shouldn't I feel sorry for her?"
Malaki slammed his fists down onto the table. "Because she is the enemy! You should never show weakness in the face of the enemy!"
"She's just a girl, Malaki! What harm could she do?"
"Just a girl," Malaki said, shaking his head. "No granddaughter of Rusty Cassidy is ‘just a girl.' Especially if she had gotten her hands on what I'm thinkin' she came here for." Malaki walked over to a portrait of their homestead that was hanging on the wall, lifting it off and placing it on the floor. Hidden behind the portrait was Malaki's personal safe. Malaki opened the safe and pulled out a rolled up set of papers and a small metal canister, setting them on the table.
"What is this?" Beau said, leaning onto the old wooden table. Malaki smiled, unrolling the plans. Roughly sketched on the paper was the canister that sat on the table, along with a drawing of what looked like a tornado. Beau hadn't seen too many funnel clouds in his lifetime, as they only occurred on some uninhabited islands, but he had heard enough about them occurring Below to understand what they were.
"This, Beau, is a game changer," said Malaki. "This will make the Cartel supreme in the floating frontier."
Beau felt his blood chill. "What does that mean?"
Malaki held up the canister. "We took the idea the Minutemen created of ‘lightning in a bottle' and made it 100 times more effective. While their version of it just would boost everyone's weapons, making them more powerful, this one will create a catastrophic event." Malaki tapped the funnel sketch. "Throw this baby onto an island and it'll create a massive tornado."
"But, Malaki, that would destroy everything in its path. Even people!"
Malaki let out a low laugh. "That's the general idea, brother." He quickly rolled back up the plans, placing them and the canister back in the safe. "The Minutemen have continued to treat us like criminals and like we're beneath them for years. It's time we took back the skies!"
Malaki strode past Beau and went out his office door. Beau stood in his office, staring at the painting that hid the safe. While Beau could agree that there had been years of strife between the Cartel and Minutemen, and that he was tired of the way they had been treated, he couldn't rationalize in his mind that decimating an entire population of people and being in possession of a fatal weapon was any way to gain superiority. Beau knew he had to get the prototype and plans out of the Cartel's hands and he knew just the person who could help him.
What is Beau's plan for getting the plans and prototype out of Malaki's office? Why does he need Amabelle's help? And what will Malaki do when he discovers that Beau has betrayed him? Find out in upcoming episodes!
written by: Shannon McPherson
At first the whistling started faintly, slowly creeping into Amabelle's brain and needling her awake. She knew the source of the whistling before she even opened her eyes. She gritted her teeth, trying to fight the urge to wake up, but it was no use. Amabelle slowly peeled opened her eyes, glaring through the cell bars at the other prisoner in the Cartel jail.
It had been two days since Malaki and his unknown companion had come into the jail. During that time, Malaki and the other man had only shown up one more time asking her what she had been looking for in the engineering warehouse. Amabelle sat silently on her cot, hands in her lap, until Malaki stormed out, the man trailing quietly behind. The other cellmate had chuckled under his breath before resuming his incessant whistling. After that, the only people Amabelle had seen were the woman who brought in her skimpy rations and the drunkard.
Well, he wasn't exactly drunk anymore. He had sobered up after his first day locked up, but for some reason, they kept him in the cell. Amabelle didn't even think he slept, just spent the entire time lying back on his cot, whistling. He had made snide comments here and there, trying to bait her, but Amabelle hadn't bothered in responding. She didn't come all the way to the Cartel stronghold to make friends with them. As Amabelle began moving around on her cot, he looked over at her and smiled.
"Well, don't ya just look radiant this morning," he said, sitting up on the edge of his cot.
Amabelle grumbled, but didn't respond.
"So, is that how it's going to be? You just never speakin' to me?"
Amabelle walked over to the small table under her even smaller window, leaning on it as she stared out onto the parched earth. The day was shaping up to be another hot one, if the early morning heat was any indication. She itched for a giant tub filled with water to wash the grit and grime off her body, but had to settle for a bowl of murky water that sat on the small table. Amabelle splashed some water on her face, trying to ignore the irritation that was beginning to tingle over her skin.
He sighed. "You Minutemen are all the same. Buncha yellow-bellied cads."
Amabelle spun around, knocking the bowl to the floor, the water seeping into her already stained socks as she walked over to the bars separating their cells.
"Excuse me? What did you say?" Her blood began to boil as she gripped the cool steel. "Where do you think you get off saying that to me?"
The man laughed, which made her insides rage even more.
"I said you Minutemen are all the same. Always thinkin' they're bein' picked on. We've spent almost three days in this here jail and you never even looked my way, except to glare at me. I ain't never done nothin' to ya, but you act like I'm a criminal," he said, standing up and walking toward Amabelle. The stench of days old booze and unwanted body odor wafted toward her, but she swallowed hard and fought the urge to be sick.
"But, you are a criminal. Why else would you be in the jail?"
"If I'm a criminal for bein' in jail, then what does that make you?" He fixed Amabelle with his watery eyes, shifting unsteadily on his feet.
Amabelle's shoulders sank slightly as she looked down at her feet. As much as she hated to admit it, the man was right. She came to the main Cartel island with the intent to steal, even if it was for something that rightfully belonged to the Minutemen.
Amabelle's grandfather, Rusty, was one of the most respected leaders of the Minutemen, and had been for decades. She had spent most of her youth trying to get into his favor and while he was a doting grandfather, he told her she had no place amongst the Minutemen commanders.
"Best for you just to stay at home with your momma and learn how to cook," he'd tell her. Amabelle refused to be the type of woman that just sweated away in a stifling kitchen while the men went out on adventures and spent her teen years studying engineering and weaponry. She thought that she could catch her grandfather's attention by learning everything she could about the floating islands and what made them work.
One night, she overheard her grandfather talking to her uncles about a set of blueprints and a prototype the Cartel had stolen. Amabelle couldn't quite hear exactly what the blueprints were about, as their voices became more hushed, but she decided that the best way to earn a seat at her grandfather's side was to sneak over to the Cartel island, breaking into their engineering building, and stealing back the plans.
Her stomach tightened and she swallowed hard as she imagined what his reaction would be to hearing she got caught by the Cartel. She sighed, running a hand through her stringy hair.
"What's your name?" she asked. The man's eyebrows raised, apparently just as shocked that she asked the question as she was.
"Garth," he said. "Don't need to ask what yers is since your the granddaughter of the famous Rusty Cassidy." Amabelle opened her mouth to ask Garth how he knew her grandfather, but stopped as she heard the front door open. Quick footsteps approached and a man not much older than Amabelle hurried around the corner -- it was Malaki's quiet companion. He ran up to Amabelle's cell, digging around in his pocket until he pulled out a key.
"What are you doing?" she asked as he unlocked her cell.
"Isn't it obvious? I'm setting you free," he said as he pulled open the door, the metal screeching far too loudly in the quiet morning.
"Why, why would you do that?" Amabelle stuttered. Even Garth was looking at the man with a faint hint of amusement, but mostly confusion on his face.
The man grabbed her arm and leaned in, his breath warm on her cheek. "I know what you were trying to steal. I can help you get it." Amabelle locked eyes with him. He was a complete stranger, but there was something in his eyes that made her trust him.
"What's next? And why are you helping me?" she asked.
"Lots of things, but right now, we need to run." He pulled hard on her arm and she cast one final look over her shoulder at Garth, giving him a small smile. She followed after him, gripping onto his hand as they left the jail and snaked around behind the building.
"By the way, I'm Beau. And I'm helping you because we need to stop my brother."
How does Garth know Amabelle's grandfather? What were the documents and prototype Amabelle was searching for in the engineering warehouse? And why would Beau betray the Cartel and free Amabelle from the jail? Find out in upcoming episodes!
written by: Shannon McPherson
The sun crept higher in the sky, beating down on the already parched earth. A vulture circled overhead, searching for any morsel along the barren terrain. Amabelle Cassidy leaned her forehead against the bars on her window, praying for a cool breeze to blow against her sweaty face. She had been locked in her cell for nearly three days, each day getting hotter than the next. Her cell was located at the back of the jail, overlooking the drop-off edge of the floating island. From her vantage point, it felt as if she was barely teetering on the edge.
A loud snort jerked Amabelle out of her daydream. She glanced over at the adjoining cell. The only person she had seen in the past three days other than the woman who bustled in twice a day to give her a meager meal, was a man the sheriff dragged in the night before and threw into the cell. The man passed out immediately on the floor and for much of the night, Amabelle kept still on her cot with her blanket pulled up to her chin - not that she could see much anyway in the dark. What greeted her instead was the overwhelming smell of body odor and several other smells that she didn't care to identify.
Now that the cells were awash in late morning sun, she could see the man. He looked like the typical drunkard she normally saw around her town, except this man had a red bandana tied around his upper arm, rather than the typical blue one she was used to wearing and seeing from the Minutemen. He was part of the Cartel.
Amabelle had never heard what exactly had caused the strife between the Cartel and Minutemen decades earlier, but since she was a little girl, her grandfather had told her stories about the devious Cartel and all the conniving things they had done in the past. Before everyone moved up to the islands, both groups of people had lived Below together. Over the years, the temperature grew hot and the rains grew scarce. Rivers and lakes dried up, crops began to dwindle, leaving those still around scavenging for what precious water they could find. Both the Cartel and the Minutemen knew they were on the brink of extinction if they didn't find a way to get more water.
The Minutemen in previous years had invented air turbine technology, establishing the basis of all future technology in their world. Skillful engineers from the Cartel took that idea and adopted it on a massively ambitious scale. By creating floating islands in the sky, people could draw water directly from the clouds for themselves. By taking water directly from the source, the Cartel established control of the most powerful resource in the world and began selling it at an astronomical upcharge to everyone.
As law abiding citizens, the Minutemen became aware of what the Cartel were doing and used their endless supply of funding and resources to take to the skies themselves, at least that's how Amabelle's grandfather had always told the story to her. He had been one of the first Minutemen to help take control of the first floating islands from the Cartel and establish their own base amongst the clouds. He explained to her as a young girl that the Minutemen were a strong, moral group of people, and the Cartel were just a ragtag group of bandits and thieves who were engaging in illegal activity. She had heard mumblings around town that the Cartel of course didn't think along the same lines, that the Minutemen were just as bad as since they stole land from innocent people, but she hadn't bothered spending enough time with anyone from the Cartel to see if that was true. Other than the Minutemen looking slightly more cleaned up than those of the Cartel, the only real way to distinguish between the two groups were through the colors of the bandanas they wore: red for Cartel, blue for Minutemen.
Amabelle jumped as the front door of the jail flew open. The Cartel man jerked in his slumber, but not even that loud noise or the approaching footsteps could wake him from his stupor. Amabelle quickly smoothed down and tucked away any bits of rust colored hair that had slipped from her braid, gingerly placing herself on the edge of the cot. She didn't know who was coming to see her after being locked up for three days, but as the footsteps grew louder and closer, they definitely did not belong to the woman who brought food - she had a feeling it was someone important.
Amabelle had never met the man that walked around the corner and stood in front of her cell, but she had seen enough pictures done in his likeness in her lifetime to know who it was. Malaki Pickett, the newest leader of the Cartel stronghold, had for some reason thought her presence in a Cartel jail cell was important enough to come in to see her. Amabelle wasn't sure whether or not she should be honored by that fact, but she chose to set her face in the appearance of being not impressed.
Malaki stood there for a few moments, rocking back on his heels as he gazed down on her with his arms crossed. He was a smaller man than she expected, looking to only be a few inches taller than her, but his small black eyes and black hair slicked back into a low ponytail gave him an imposing demeanor. Amabelle had been so focused on Malaki when he walked in that she didn't notice that someone else was with him. While the other man had dark eyes and hair almost identical to Malaki's, there was a softness around the edges that put her at ease, if only slightly.
"Well, well, well," Malaki said, his voice barely above a whisper. It sent chills down Amabelle's spine. "I never thought I'd have the granddaughter of the Rusty Cassidy tucked quietly away in one of my jail cells."
Amabelle huffed through her nostrils. "If you were so thrilled to meet me, why did you let me sweat it out in here for three days before you showed up?"
Malaki laughed. "Well, you do have your grandfather's spark. I'll give you that. I wonder if you have his skill." He walked closer to her cell, leaning against the iron bars. "Why don't you go on and tell me what you were looking for when you were caught rifling through the offices in my engineering building?"
Amabelle stayed silent. There's no way she would tell Malaki what she was looking for in the warehouse. No one in her family even knew that she had quietly snuck over to the main Cartel island in the dead of night, and she sure wasn't going to let them find out through the enemy.
He let out another low laugh. "I didn't think you'd break that easily. Maybe another few days in the cell will loosen your tongue," Malaki threatened, turning to exit. "Maybe if we cut your food rations in half you'll be more agreeable."
Amabelle jumped off her cot. "Hey! You can't do that! I'm a Cassidy! When the Minutemen find out I'm here there'll be hell to pay! "
Malaki slowly spun on his heel, fixing her dead in the eyes with his steely stare. Amabelle felt her breath caught in her chest.
"I think you'll find, Miss Cassidy, that I can do whatever I want. This here is my island and you're stuck here on it, so I reckon you get comfortable." And with that, Malaki turned around and walked out the door, with his unidentified male companion trailing in his wake.