Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 16 - We Have Takeoff

3986 0 0

Once in a while, the Universe steps back and just lets you do your thing.

…oh yeah, it feels awesome.

 

 

Week one was dedicated to training both Dax and Wendell in the basic functions of the machines. How to move and pilot both standing and prone, troubleshooting small glitches, communicating with the pit crew and when all else fails, how to escape the machine if something went critically wrong.

Dax was a natural, but it was attributed to the modifications the crew made to mimic his own body movements. Wendell was even more impressive, able to create his own combinations from the simple programming of a video game.

Week two was hardcore fighting, Alhannah and Dax rotating training sessions with Wendell. It was no longer about making the Gnolaum move—but to make it lethal.

From dawn until dusk they trained in condemned warehouses owned by Mr. Bellows in district eighteen. Old storage facilities at least a decade old.  No one had walked these roads in years. The surrounding warehouses were also abandoned, which was convenient—because the sessions were loud and rough. Before the week was out, more and more people were getting ‘lost’ and finding themselves in the abandoned sector. Rumors started to circulate among Bellow’s factory workers, about sponsoring the famous Alhannah Luckyfeller and her new prodigy fighter. More than once Shamas was forced to chase off bystanders peeking into windows and hiding in the doorways, trying to take pictures.

“Let them get a few, before you chase them off,” Alhannah grinned.

By the end of the second week, even she was astounded at how good Wendell had become.

“You’ve got to roll up to your knees when you’re hit from behind like that,” she said over the com-link. “If you don’t, you’ll be an open target for a secondary attack.”

Wendell growled, “I know. I know. Sorry—it’s not that I can’t make this thing roll…it’s just that I feel like I’m being knocked around like a piñata in here. My head flops around so hard, it’s killing my neck.”

“What’s a piñata?”

Sighing, “Never mind. Not important. This just hurts, a lot. If I can strap myself in more firmly, I’ll be able to do more. Something to protect my head.”

“Alright Wendell—I’ll have Tumbler look at it. Maybe he can weld some support bars and pad it.”

“Thanks,” he said, Gnolaum slamming its hand against Banshee’s in a resounding high-five steel on steel slap.

She beamed. “You, young man, are ready for some action! Let’s call it a day.”

Both S.L.A.G.s knelt down and powered off. The chest cavities popped open. Wendell tossed the ignition key to Freak.

“How’s it feel?” asked the mechanic, his face openly eager for a compliment.

All Wendell could do was grin.

Freak adjusted his goggles and wiped his forehead with a dirty rag. “That good?” He looked over to Alhannah, “It is good…right? The grin? He ain’t saying much.”

Wendell’s smile got even bigger. “Better than that. It’s freakin awesome.”

Strutting to the transport, the mechanic shouted at Socket, who was loading shelves in the back, “Hear that hun? I’m Freak-in awesome!”

She rolled her eyes.

Alhannah grabbed Wendell around the neck and rubbed her knuckles against his skull.

“Ow. Ow. Ow,” he complained.

“You are amazing. Truly amazing, you know that?”

Wendell wiggled his way free. “Whatever.”

“Seriously!” Hitting him square in the arm, “Dax and Nat think so too. Chuck,…even Lili’s impressed.”

He stopped short, “She is?”

“Oh don’t start that again.”

They walked to the small vehicle Shamas had waiting for them. “But am I good enough to compete with the pros?”

She pondered for a moment, then looked back at the S.L.A.G.s being loaded onto the truck. “Well, we’re going to find out soon enough.”

Yeah, he thought, maybe too soon.

“We’ll know how to spend our last week in prep after the opening interviews tonight on WHRN. Tier one’ll be announced, which means we get to find out who you’re up against…and that should give us more information on how to prepare.”

“And if I can’t win?” he asked.

Alhannah stopped just shy of the doorway. Sliding her hands into her leather jacket, she cocked her head to the side, “Then we do what Bellows said to do. We create drama. A lot of drama.”

 

****

 

Chuck handed the bowl of popcorn to Dax and another to Nat, who parked his wheelchair by the couch. Even Morty and Deloris joined them in the sitting area of the kitchen. The TNT crew had converted it into a lounge, and quite a comfy one at that. The couch had been reupholstered, there were end tables made of packing crates with steel legs from scrap metal…and the TV had been mounted on a custom swivel arm. However, the pilots and hosts were left to themselves tonight.

“Aren’t they coming up to watch?” the tinkerer asked.

Alhannah shook her head. “Freak and Telly have some modifications they said needed done ASAP. They have a radio going…and Shamas asked for the night off. He’s making some  connections before he’s starts this gig watching over us full-time.

“Then it’s just us tonight, huh?” Deloris asked. She leaned over and patted Wendell’s hand, “How do you feel? Excited?”

His stomach grumbled. “Mostly nervous,” he said, embarrassed. His attention wandered over to stare at Lili.

She was sitting apart from everyone, as she usually did, reading a book in the corner of the room. After a few moments she glanced up, but only momentarily, giving a half-hearted smile that wasn’t warm enough to melt an ice cube. Without a sound, she went back to her History of Clockworks volume. Though Lili didn’t seem to be rejecting Wendell’s presence, she’d grown cold about the whole Trench Wars event. She’d stopped watching practices and didn’t even visit the hangar anymore. Instead, she chose to spend more and more time closer to Morty and Deloris. She even seemed to get along fine with Morphiophelius and started helping the wizard in researching where the last Demoni Vankil seal might be hidden.

Deloris noticed Wendell staring. “She’ll come around,” she whispered.

“What?” he asked, perplexed.

“Lili.” She gave him a little nudge with her shoulder, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed your hopes.”

He swallowed, “I’m sorry, my what?”

Leaning closer, “It’s obvious to me, the way you feel about the girl—but I don’t think she’s ready for you, dear. Sometimes you have to let it grow. Allow natural events to bring you closer together. Know what I mean?”

Know what you mean? I don’t have a clue what you mean. Wendell scoffed, “I’m not…” but he couldn’t say it. “I’m…”

Deloris patted his hand again, “Only male.” Smiling, “…but you’ll understand in time.” She cast a quick glance at Morty, who was picking out individual popcorn pieces drenched in butter, “Most of you do.”

“Shh! Shh!” scolded Dax, “It’s on!”

The huge screen on the wall boomed—drums rolling as trumpets resounded over and over. Wendell stared, dumbfounded. Sounds like something you’d hear for the Olympics! A trail of stars flashed and spun into view, circling a gold coin with ‘W.E.P.’ and a muscle gnome imprinted on it.

“Welcome to WHRN’s premiere draw of Trench Wars, Season Four!” The camera faded to a blonde haired gnome with thick golden sideburns behind a metal desk. His big smile revealed huge white teeth, “I’m you’re host, Dusty Beckworth.”

To his left, a gnome with a black mow-hawk and a dozen rings piercing his bottom lip gave a thumbs up to the camera. He winked, “And I’m Pip Flocker, coming to you live from the Trench!”

The camera pulled back until it encompassed both anchormen and a gigantic poster of Trench Wars  S.L.A.G.s between them.

“It’s that time again, fans and friends,” Dusty grinned wider, “to announce the pilots of the new season and roll the dice to see who gets to hammer it out head to head in tier one!”

Tapping a set of papers on the desk, “That’s right Dusty. We have a full roster and rumor has it, a few surprises. With the Brothers Trench pulling their sponsorship roll from the games, Burton and Ernie decided to claim two of the pilot spots for themselves. That leaves thirteen slots open for those willing to put up the credits, courage and crazy it takes to compete with the hottest S.L.A.G. pilots in Clockworks City.”

The camera zoomed forward, isolating Dusty and a portion of the Trench Wars poster. A recent picture of Alhannah and Wendell, leaving the training warehouse appeared. “To make the season even more interesting, reports are flooding in that Alhannah Luckyfeller is not only back in the games, but has been personally training a young pilot by the name of Weeble Dipples.”

“Weeble?” coughed Wendell, sitting forward.

Dax snorted, “Dipples….that’s funny.”

Wendell sneered at him.

“This is a recent picture, taken only days ago as they trained in an abandoned warehouse in the lower districts. Reliable sources say that the fast and furious session demolished three buildings in the process!”

Alhannah rolled her eyes.

“Wha—we didn’t damage any buildings,” Wendell protested.

“You don’t say, Dusty! Well that only means we have incredible fights to look forward to this season,” with another wink at the camera, “and watch out for this Weeble, he looks like he could make a run for the championship!” The camera pulled back. “We’ll be right back with the seasons pilots and our three week roster.” The TV went to a commercial.

Morty whistled, “I thought you kids were training Wendell to control his robot thingy? I didn’t know you’d demolished buildings!”

Wendell gasped, “But…I didn’t!”

The tinkerer snickered, “I’m just teasing you, son.”

“But this isn’t funny! The people are going to think I’m reckless and dangerous…”

“That’s a good thing,” Alhannah said calmly. “The more dangerous the people think you are, the more fans you’ll get.” She grinned, “Most of this pre-show fanfare is complete crap. Most sports casters are glorified monkeys who draw out the boring stats and conversations as long as they can. That’s their job—to pull you into the hype.” She shrugged, “But it puts butts in the seats.”

Chuck grunted and threw a piece of popcorn at the back of her head, “UNGH! Now you’re starting to sound like Cory the Fat Cat Bradhsaw. One insane, foul mouthed promoter is enough, thank you.”

“He’s good at his job.”

“Never said that fat tard wasn’t. I just wouldn’t let him into the house without napalming his mouth first.”

“Shhh!” snapped Dax, “They’re back!”

The music dropped off and the camera centered on both anchormen. Fifteen small pictures appeared between them on a black screen.

“Fifteen S.L.A.G. pilots,” Dusty started, his tone low and ominous, “fighting for the gold medal and a grand pot of sixty million credits. That’s right! The largest prize money ever seen in a public sport, up for grabs. That’s what this is all about, ladies and gentlegnomes.”

Alhannah choked, “I didn’t get more than ten thousand between both season one and two! Sixty Million? When did the pot get so big?”

Nat crunched on a handful of popcorn, “When the games went inter-faction. More tickets, more merchandise means more profit, I’m sure. It’s not just the people playing anymore, Alhannah. The government and church are involved too.”

Her mouth fell open, “You’re joking.”

Morty and Deloris shook their heads.

Wendell rubbed his hands together, zoning out completely to the sounds of the room. It’s my time, he thought. Win or lose, this is something I can do. His eyes stared at the small pictures stacked neatly on the screen. So who do we have?

“Let’s see who we have competing this year, Dusty.” The camera zoomed onto the list. “Fifteen pilots, from six different sponsors from all three factions! From Team Trench we have the ominous pilots Burton, piloting IRONHOUD…and his portly brother Ernie in KING’S JESTER.”

“Oh this is gonna be good Pip—because as you know, the Brothers Trench are not in the games to win…but to cause chaos for as long as they can.”

“Next we have Team DOA, sponsored by Tramhill Development, but they’ve only taken one pilot this season…which is none other than the reigning Grand Champion himself, Darcy Dunnit! He’s looking to keep a hold of his title this season, but will ALPHA FIGHTER have what it takes against its biggest rival?”

Dusty chuckles as Alhannah’s picture pops up on the screen next to his head, “I don’t know Pip, but this is what I’ve been waiting for—the ultimate comeback. Alhannah Luckyfeller was the hottest pilot in the Trench, holding the Grand Champion title for the first two seasons. No one could touch her fighting prowess, but she vanished from the Trench scene without a word during season three. She may be back, but things have changed. There are new gadgets, new pilots and a whole set of new rules to play by.”

The camera shifts back to Pip. “What’s even more interesting Dusty is Luckyfeller isn’t being sponsored in the traditional way. Reliable sources say the workers of Bellows Mining and Manufacturing are sponsoring Team Steel and Stone! That’s right—the average, everyday citizen has a team in the Trench! BANSHEE, TURNPIKE…and get this—Weeble Dipples will be piloting The GNOLAUM.”

Dusty looks at the camera and lets out a rehearsed gasp.

Wendell throws a handful of popcorn at the TV and screams, “It’s WENDELL, not WEEBLE,” then annoyed, “you retard.”

Alhannah and Chuck laughed.

“Ooooo, that’s not good,” Dusty adds, “The Church will have something to say about that…AND I’m betting the response will be with bullets!”

The camera zoomed in to capture Pips expression of worry. “More than you know Dusty. Even the Church has thrown its champions in the Trench…and they happen to have three of the scariest pilots in the league: Hook, Panicswitch and Booker, known as Team Trinity.”

Dusty shivers on camera, “Three ruthless pilots, Pip, that dominated season three…and nearly caused the downfall of Alpha Fighter. HOOK, ARMORED ENSEMBLE and BEATDOWN quickly became known as the Last Judgement, while others preferred the label of The Religious Hit Squad.”

“Doesn’t matter how you label them, Dusty,” adds Pip, “if they have their sites on you, you better say your prayers.”

Wendell moaned. “Do we have to watch these idiots?”

Nat couldn’t help laughing. “It’s not that we don’t agree with you, Wendell, but we have to know the fight lineup. They are a bit thick, I know—but they’re the hottest newscast on the air—on the biggest station, which means…”

“Which means,” concluded Alhannah, “that if these dopes say your name, your value goes up.”

Ungh! Wendell folded his arms across his chest, the smiley on his t-shirt growling at the TV. At least get my name right.

“So who do we have for our last six pilots, Dusty?”

Again the screen morphed, this time showing a split background, with two columns of three, the team name over each group. “We have two interesting groups with even more intriguing backgrounds—an all female team and an all aerial team!”

“You don’t say!”

“I do! I do!” Wendell and the smiley rolled their eyes in unison. “Our first team, Pip, is made up of famous political daughters and military brats: Spindell, Faulkner and Britney Gears. Backed by the oooh-lah-LAAHH! makeup company, comes Team Kiss This!”

“You don’t say!”

“I do! I do! Piloting PRINCESS, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and DREAM DATE.”

“Oooo,” chimes Morty, sporting a big smile on his face, “They sound interesting.”

Deloris promptly clobbered him with a couch cushion. 

“Last, but certainly not least, the Trench arena will be set ablaze with both ground and aerial combat as Team Inertia joins the fight.” The camera slowly pans back as Pip looks seriously at the viewers. “STREAMLINE, INC. is putting its best engines behind its best pilots: Ratchet, Vaughn and Dunkan. So watch the skies, Trench fans, and get ready for SKYLINE, NOSEDIVE and BETTY 4.0!”

“WOOT!” cheers Dusty, then slaps his hand down on the desk, “And we’ll be right back with the Tier One lineup, right after this quick commercial break.”

The TV faded out and Alhannah clicked the mute button just as two female gnomes started a discussion about cramps.

“So now we know who we’re up against,” she said, tossing the remote onto the table. “And who’s the most popular.”

“Well if you ask me,” said Chuck, small kernels of popcorn falling from his beard, “you’re all in trouble. Those people look scary.”

Dax sat up on the side of the couch. “How can you tell which ones are the most popular? Dusty and Pip talked big about everyone.”

“I think you’re looking for the side notes,” said Deloris and Alhannah smiled.

“It’s when they took the time to reflect on the name Gnolaum,” added Nat.

Alhannah grinned further, “Exactly. We’ve already got everyone’s attention and win or lose, people are looking to see what’ll happen between Wendell and the Church.”

Wendell scoffed, “You got all that from ten seconds of banter?”

Everyone nodded.

“They’re going to try and crush you.” Lili’s voice was quiet and calm. She looked up from her book in the corner and tapped the page, “From what I’m reading, the Church’s opinion and interpretation around here is absolute. The Gnolaum is one of the most revered characters in religious ceremonies.” Her smirk was faint, but her eyes smiled, “Which means you just kicked the bully in the leg.”

Wendell gulped, Great. I’m not even in the fight yet and I’ve being zeroed out?

“So what is this Tier lineup they’re talking about?” asked Morty.

“Don’t tell me you’re interested now, are you?” Alhannah giggled. Deloris coughed to suppress her own laughter. The tinkerer frowned at both of them and Alhannah bit her lip. “Sorry. The League is made up the fifteen pilots we just saw. Each Tier is split into rounds, one played out each week. Tier one is three groups of five, everyone fights solo. The first two disabled are eliminated, letting the top three from each group to progress to tier two. Tier two can be any mixture, including members from your own team—but there can only be one left standing. The three winners go to the final match, where the Grand Champion will be decided.”

Wendell sat forward and grabbed the remote, “So seven weeks of battle?”

She nodded, “Plus side offerings along the way.”

“Side offerings?” asked Dax.

“Matches created by promoters for pay-per-view crowds. Usually in abandoned or condemned warehouses, all recorded live, no RAT teams involved—just S.L.A.G. against S.L.A.G., winner take all.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong Alhannah,” said Nat, “but that’s where you get a portion of the side bet money, just for participating, isn’t it?”

“Among other perks—but we have to be careful. Damage your S.L.A.G. too much and you might not be able to finish the season.”

“It’s back on.” Wendell clicked the remote.

The setting had changed, though both Dusty and Pip’s voices narrated. Instead of the desk, the screen showed a huge, empty stadium. The floor was sectioned and looked like stone or cement, but Wendell couldn’t tell. There were stains, scorch marks, debris all over the floor. The walls were high and constructed of metal, with the stadium seating overhead. The seats were encased by chain link fencing, up and over, attached to steel framework.

“Is that…” he started to ask.

“Yes,” said Alhannah, “that’s the Trench Wars arena. And don’t let the simplistic look fool you,” her eyes narrowed, “It’s a constantly changing environment of tricks, traps and treachery.”

Trumpets sounded and a leader board appeared, sparks shooting out the sides. Dusty’s voice sounded rehearsed and ominous, “Round one, tier one will be BANSHEE, SPINDELL, IRONHOUND, BETTY 4.0 and ARMORED ENSEMBLE.”

“So you’re going first,” Nat said to Alhannah. “You can set the pace.”

The trumpets changed to base drums. Pip’s voice was nearly shouting, “Round two, tier one, is….,” drumroll, “ALPHA FIGHTER, NOSEDIVE, TURNPIKE, BEATDOWN and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR!”

“YES!” cheered Dax, “I wanna kick Darcy’s tin can!”

Wendell looked at him, stunned.

“What?” Dax sat upright and composed himself, “I can’t stand Alpha Fighter.”

“So I’m going last,” Wendell sighed, not altogether disappointed. This was going to be hard enough, and he knew it—but for some reason, the thought of being able to watch Alhannah and Dax fight—to see how it actually happens, took the edge off his nervousness.

“And round three of tier one,” both announcers said in unison, “KING’S JESTER, HOOK, DREAM DATE, SKYLINE and the GNOLAUM!!” A dubbed crowd tape boomed over the speakers and the media center came into view, both announcers still behind the large desk.

Pip grinned, looking overly excited, “And there you have it ladies and gentlegnomes, the tier one lineup!”

Dusty crumpled up a paper in front of him and threw it towards the camera, “So don’t miss it!” then in a raspy, intense voice, “See you in a week!!”

The camera panned out and faded to black, the WET, Inc symbol on the screen until the music ended. Wendell clicked the power button.

“What utter crap programing,” he complained.

Morty got up from the couch and helped Deloris to her feet. “Well that was anything but educational,” he chuckled, “but I have to say that I can see how this might become addictive. The rush and intensity of competition,” he nodded, “impressive.”

“Wow,” whispered Deloris, “you sound like you just shed twenty years, old man.”

He flicked his eyebrows up and down at her, “Why don’t we go see if that’s true, oh lovely one…”

“ALRIGHT,” snapped Dax, fighting his gag reflex, then calmer, “goodnight you two.”

Deloris laughed heartily and left the room, Morty on her arm.

“So what’s our schedule, team leader?” Dax finally asked Alhannah.

The warrior gnome stood up and walked around to the front of the table so she could look at everyone. Lili put down her book and smiled back, Chuck kept eating the last of the popcorn.

“We’ve already handed the S.L.A.G.s over to Freak for the final touches. In the meantime, we’ll go over strategy, coordinate with our hacker,” nodding to Nat, “and then we’ll introduce ourselves to the public.”

“Huh?” said Dax.

“Yeah,” added Wendell, “Huh?”

Alhannah rubbed her hands together as her lips thinned out in a flat grin. “We’re going to work the circuit, gentlemen.”

If you enjoyed this story, consider buying me a coffee on my ko-fi -- it's the way I fund my writing efforts.
  THANKS!!

Support WantedHero's efforts!

Please Login in order to comment!