On the edge of town...
The call had come in roughly an hour ago -- trespassing & possible theft -- and the police deptartment had dispatched a squad car to check it out. It should have been open and shut: get to the junkyard, apprehend the scavenger, and read him his rights. But that had been an hour ago...
With nothing better to do (and looking for some excuse to avoid coming home to a nagging wife any sooner than the job demanded) sheriff Winston Jack took a few deputies and headed over to the scene. The Newberry Springs Salvage & Recycling Yard was a business on the edge of town, the town itself being on the eastern edge of Barstow and known for little more than outdoor recreation and the occasional water-skiing event. To call the place a backwater was to presume too much. Outside of tourist season the only thing worth anything in the area was its natural water reserves and the occasional diner along the highway. If there was trouble in Newberry Springs it was almost always of the local variety, domestic and largely uninteresting.
The trio of cars pulled up alongside the unoccupied squad car in no particular fashion, and the men who got out seemed more used to patrol and paperwork than actually responding to incidents. One of them joked that they should get a beer with the police team when this was all over; the others grinned and guffawed at the suggestion. Sheriff Jack stepped slowly from the driver's seat of his car, took a swig from a metal flask, and after pocketing it turned to face his men. Of course... that's when they heard it:
"Hello? Is someone out there? Damn it, I need help over here!"
Eyes shifted about uncertainly, eventually turning towards the junkyard. The front gate was open and about a hundred yards off was a large crane with a hanging electromagnet, the kind used for moving and dumping junk cars. All eyes followed the voice, which continued to shout, and found themselves traveling upwards. And there, practically flush with the underside of the magnet, was one of the police officers.
Wrapped up in metal chain.
--------------------------------------"The bastard came out of nowhere." Officer Higgins explained as he was nervously lowered by the crane. The sheriff, shotgun now in hand and pistol, safety off, hanging from his hip, watched the delicate rescue. The officer hadn't been able to call for help because his radio and cell phone had been fried by the magnet -- not that he could reach them, anyway. "All of a sudden Jessy's gone silent and he just comes out of the shadows like a commando... like a ghost!"
"Simmer down, man." The sheriff insisted, preferring to keep things professional. "Did you get a look at the suspect?"
"Long dark coat... some kind of head wear... and goggles. He wore some kind of goggles."
"So he got the jump on you, wrapped you up in chain. Then what?"
"He walked off. Must've turned on the magnet, though, 'cuz two minutes later I'm being pulled skyward. And damn it, it wasn't a soft landing -- this headache's killing me!"
"And your partner, when'd you lose each other."
"We... we split up to cover more ground. We were supposed to radio once we had eyes on the trespasser, but... after a few minutes Jessy stopped responding."
"Don't worry kid, we'll find him." The sheriff gestured with his head and the team moved out, leaving one operating the machine and one to check Higgins for injuries.
The junkyard was quiet at first, but the further the law enforcement team penetrated the more they began to hear an odd, oscillating buzzing sound. No footsteps, no telltale chatter. Had one person really managed to ambush both officers? If so, why go through the trouble of picking Higgins up with the crane magnet? After about two minutes the search turned up a few footprints leading off into the main sorting area; the officers fanned out in formation, guns held ready, watchful and wary...
The deputy's question trailed off as they rounded a corner... and came across some kind of impromptu workshop. A car chassis sat partially gutted and partially rebuilt in the center of the work area, it's design looking like something from an outrageous antiquated fantasy era. Where the engine -- which was sitting discarded in a corner -- had been was a vast, impossibly complex latticework of variously sized cogs, pistons, tubes, valves, wires both coiled and straight... and, at the center, something that looked like a miniaturized water heater. Or, how they would have made water heaters look in Victorian England if they'd had the technology. Brass nobs, screws, and pulleys jutted from one end of the apparatus -- controls of some kind? -- along with an array of recessed light bulbs accompanied by what looked like some kind of incomprehensible shorthand notations -- not in English or, for that matter, any other readily identified language. Whatever color the car had been before someone had painstakingly undone the paint job, leaving only the glint of raw metal and copious rough scratches. The wheels had been reinforced by lengths of metal straps and all the stray glass shards from the windows had been carefully removed, leaving only empty frames. As the men inspected the work zone more closely they noticed that the dashboard had been torn out and replaced with esoteric mechanisms as complex-looking as a jet plane cockpit and as absurdly old fashioned as a Model T. A jug of water was emptying into the gas tank through a long hose while a homemade-looking work light on a stand lit the area at an angle with the power of a handful of wired-up D batteries, casting ragged shadows across the junk-strewn assembly. The entire scene was both impressive and surreal, like some kind of over-elaborate joke that had been laid out to greet them upon their arrival.
"Someone's been busy." The sheriff observed with as much of a disinterested tone as he could muster. Scavengers picking through junkyards for useful scrap was nothing new, but this...
And then, behind the sheriff and his posse, one of those ragged shadows cast by the work light turned around. It's large eyes, flat glass discs that glowed dimly in the shadow cast by a nearly pile of scrap, seemed to brighten ever so slightly. Slowly, soundlessly, it stepped towards the men with guns, a length of metal pipe held in one hand...
CLACK CLACK ...
That was the sound of a soda can, flattened nigh completely for recycling, skittering across the floor as an ill-calculated step of the shadow figure knocked it aside.
That was the sound of the deputy in the rear flicking off the safety on his pistol just seconds before the end of the pipe slammed into his gut, doubling him over. The first words of the sheriff's shouted demand to drop the weapon filled the air as the pipe spun in the attacker's grip, knocking his current opponent onto his back with a deft upward stroke.
And that was the sound of the sheriff's shotgun as it discharged, sending a white-hot slug into the attacker's shoulder. He recoiled, dropping the pipe and stumbling back several steps... but never once making a noise, not even a whimper. It was unsettling... it didn't seem human, that kind of tolerance to pain. Backtracking behind a pile of crushed and cubed aluminum refuse, the shadowy attacker reached into the folds of his coat with one hand as the officers pursued. A quick series of gunshots around the corner convinced them to back off and take cover, one of the shots sending the impromptu light stand crashing down in a shower of sparks. Orders were shouted, suppressive fire leveled at the assailant as the downed deputy crawled back behind the vehicle to catch his second wind.
Stowing the custom pistol, the shadowy intruder used the time he'd bought to pull out another device, this one looking curiously like a remote control for an RC car... only with a lot more knobs and switches. Long, agile fingers danced across the controller; seconds later the car suddenly revved to life and roared forward, sending the officers who'd been sheltering behind it scattering in a panic as a hot wash of exhaust steam -- not smoke -- assaulted them. The water supply crashed to the ground with a splash as the car rushed away from its place; veering suddenly, the driver's side door flew open as if by a will of its own to admit it's master entry. He was in the driver's seat in a second, one hand on the wheel and the other on his bloodless wound. The steampunk car sped away, veering around or slamming right through every obstacle in its path.
"AFTER HIM!!" The sheriff barked, the men rushing for their own cars. Sirens wailed as the chase went full throttle, tearing down empty roads with the desert growing on the horizon...
"Hello?!" Officer Jessy McCraw beat on the inside of the locker furiously, hearing a commotion outside. "HELP! I'm locked in here!!"