Shell Shock

Titan City 1933

Leroy Carre whistled a happy tune as he parked his Packard. Damp sweat already stained his tan uniform, but Doreen packed meatloaf for his lunch so it was going to be a great night. The Jupiter Enterprises warehouse stretched along the waterfront. Warm, incandescent light spilled out of a few windows near the loading dock. Sweet, summer air filled his lungs as he crossed the parking lot and punched in at the time clock. Leroy smiled at a few passing dayshifters as he made his way to the security office.

The room would have seemed cramped if not for the window overlooking the warehouse floor. A coat rack, shelf, and gun safe were crammed into the space along with a card table and a few chairs. Two other security guards, one lean Italian and one stocky Irishman, sat playing poker around a radio. A tinny voice announced the blow-by-blow of a boxing match. Leroy stuffed his bagged lunch between two others. “How’s tricks fellas?”

The Italian ran a hand through his dark hair and leaned back in his chair. “I was just telling Connor here why it’s a bad idea to bet on a boxer named Mickey ‘the Flick.’”

“Blow it out your arse. It’s a double entente.” Connor shook his head and spat tobacco.

“You mean a double entendre?” The Italian cracked a smile. “I’m pretty sure that’s when you say one thing but it means playing mattress polo.”

Connor leaned forward and started shuffling the deck. “What I mean is a name like ‘the Flick’ makes the other guy misestimate you. He comes in like ‘I ain’t scared of a tosser with a name like that,’ then blam. Total knockout.”

Leroy sidled up to the table. “Makes sense to me, Tony. I know to be scared of a guy named Bull or Jackhammer, but the Flick? I wouldn’t give him a second look.” He pulled a chair loose. “Deal me in, and turn up the radio. I can’t hardly hear what’s going on.”

The Italian put his foot on the chair. “Not so fast. You got here last, means you get the first patrol.”

“Come on guys, you know there’s nobody out there. The last picker just left. It’ll be fine for an hour or so.”

Connor started dealing for two. “Not tonight. You heard Mr. Hunt. He said he’d be making sure someone was always watching. See you after your little walkabout.”

Leroy walked over to the gun safe and unlocked it. “Fair enough. I should really let you guys warm up.” He pulled a revolver and a torch from the rack. “Wouldn’t want you to accuse me of stealing your money unfairly.” Leroy laughed at his own joke and left the security office.

“Just make sure our money is the only thing you’re taking down there. I don’t need Hunt on my ass because stuff is falling of the trucks.” The Italian clutched his cards and threw a nickel into the pot.

The warehouse proper was a cavernous chamber. Rows of crates towered over the grid of walkways. Several ceiling fans tried in vain to circulate the stuffy air. Moonlight poured in from a skylight every few dozen feet. The hum of electricity and Leroy’s whistling were the only noises that cut over the summer stillness.

Leroy started in the deepest part of the building and worked his way out. The corridors widened as he approached the outermost edge. Symbols and glyphs marked each box. Usually he didn’t pay them much mind, but Leroy realized there was a symbol he didn’t recognize. He shined his torch over two of the crates. The symbol was of a skeletal figure, carrying a sphere on its back with golden chains bolted to its wrists.

Leroy looked over his shoulder. The security office wouldn’t be able to see him in this aisle. “Couldn’t hurt to take a look.” He pulled a knife from his pocket and plunged it into the seam between the lid and the crate. Leroy opened it with a grunt and a pop.

A golden band the size of a manhole cover sat in a bed of fine excelsior. Intricate carvings danced across its surface. Leroy ran his hand along the ring, noting the icy chill to the metal. He swore as it shrank at his touch, taking the size of his own wedding ring. Leroy leaned over the edge of the crate and plucked the band from its nest. Violet light pulsed from the symbols and he found his gaze fixed on the jewelry.

A series of cracks snapped Leroy out of his trance. The lightbulbs in the warehouse snapped off, one by one, along the perimeter. He pocketed the ring and drew his revolver.

Leroy crept forward. He stopped after a couple of paces and looked back at the crate. He needed to reseal it before Tony and Connor got down here. They would have seen the lights going out from the office. They’d covered for him before, but never for an open box like this.

Leroy placed the lid on the crate. He sighed as he realized there wasn’t a hammer around and started bashing the nails in place with his pistol grip. The bulb went out above him, plunging Leroy into darkness. “Oh for Christ’s sake.” He stopped dead as the crunching of glass reached his ears.

“Tony? Connor?” Leroy leveled his gun at the shadows. “Is that you guys?”

He swung the torch wide, illuminating the crates around him. The towers were more ominous than they’d ever been before. There was no response from the gloom.

Leroy’s voice shook as he said, “That’s enough fellas.”

The beam of light scanned the aisle and came to rest on an enormous figure in a trench coat. Dark armor plates accented with a golden chevron gleamed in the light on his chest. Crimson eyes glared in the void. Mechanical breathing cut the silent pause between them.

“What the hell are you?” Leroy backpedaled and pointed his weapon with shaking hands.

The figure didn’t answer, but lumbered forward. He pushed the coat aside and a black revolver appeared in his grip. The shot rang out before Leroy could react.

Pain shot through Leroy’s arm as bullet struck steel. His pistol flew away. Leroy turned and bolted. “Tony, Connor, get down here!”

A hydraulic screech followed by the crunch of boots on wood was the only response.

Leroy’s chest heaved as he sprinted through the corridors. He wheeled around corners, pumping his feet faster and faster against the ground. The crunching kept pace, tracking him through the warehouse.

Connor headed Leroy as her neared the security office. “What’s wrong with you, ya daft bastard?”

Tony cut in, “You look cra-”

A golden canister hit the ground between the three men and exploded in a flash of light and thunder. Leroy flew away from the security office and skidded along the concrete. His skin tore against the ground, tearing away the flesh along his arms and legs.

Leroy’s breath came in short bursts. His muscles seized and spasmed as he struggled to assert control. It was like artillery falling on his trench at Verdun. Shell shock. He raised his head and tried to slow his breathing.

Tony was screaming, or at least he looked like it. It was hard to tell with the whine in Leroy’s ears. Blood poured out of the Italian’s shattered legs. Fragments of bone and muscle covered the wall of the security office. Connor was dead.

The figure strode over to Tony and placed the black revolver against his forehead. Tony spat blood on the weapon. Defiant until the end. The muzzle flashed and he fell limp.

Leroy closed his eyes, letting tears fall along the creases of his cheeks. He choked as he said, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

The figure walked over to him and holstered the pistol. It reached down and unclipped another device from its utility belt and pulled the pin. A violet flame erupted from one end like a flare. It tossed the weapon onto some of the crates and watched. Purple light reflected off of its crimson lenses before it nodded and scooped Leroy off the ground.

Leroy continued praying as he was thrown to the asphalt outside.

The figure stood and watched the building go up in a violet conflagration.

“Are you a demon?” Leroy pushed himself up on skinned hands.

“No, a demon stops when you pray to God.” The figure loomed over Leroy’s battered body. “I’m Chevron. Tell your boss I’m coming for him.”