Orion kept pulling the trigger on his empty dart gun. The clicking was just about audible over the distant sounds of screaming and shouting, the occasional explosion and something that sounded like a firework display. We were far enough above it for it to be a concern but not to a trauma-inducing level.
The floor of the airship was opaque but I could make out the blooms of red-yellow clouds. I could also make out Lillian, who was lying where I’d tripped her. She had thought she was going to die today, apparently while saving my life. It’s very overrated, saving people. It never turns out the way it does in movies. No medal, no prize of any kind. The whole thing is just very disappointing.
“How did you do that?” she said in awe of my abilities, cunningly hidden behind a sneer of disgust.
“It’s complicated,” I said. By which I meant, beats me.
I had saved myself — no medal for that, either — by grabbing onto the light they were using to pin me in place. I couldn’t tell you how the technology worked (not surprising since I couldn’t tell you how any technology worked) but I had felt the pressure of the light beam on me — a solid, substantial pressure.
The rest was more or less instinctive. If I could feel it, it could feel me. And what do you do when someone starts firing darts at you and a solid object is close at hand? I didn’t have to think about it, I just grabbed the light and used it as a shield. A very normal reaction.
Less normal was the light being able to shield me, but it wasn’t like my abilities ever made sense. I didn’t even have to activate anything. This heavy light was apparently made especially for me no matter what state I was in, but that also meant that I could interact with it.
Whoever came up with it — a disgraced nuclear scientist who looked like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, I was hoping — clearly knew a thing or two about how my abilities worked. It would be good to track him down and hear his thoughts on the matter, the root of magic and the role of science. Perhaps we could put out a joint paper in New Scientist which would get picked up by Morning TV shows and misrepresented to the public.
“A new study suggests magic exists. Scientists have discovered a new force in the universe that could revolutionise the way we live, and are currently working on how to turn into a diet pill for fat people with money.”
Whoever this genius was, he hadn’t taken into account the First Law of Colin-Fu: Every action has an equally endless ability to get right on my tits.
Once I had hold of the light, not only did it prevent me getting darted, its other properties quickly became apparent. It didn’t obey the old Newtonian laws, for a start. It had much more in common with the vines and threads I was familiar with from the adjacent world, and a simple pull was enough to bring the house down, or a giant lamp in this case
Light was wave and particle, and now it was solid and immaterial. I could hold it and attach things to it, but it also passed through things. And a pull on one end instantly created a pull on the other.
I wasn’t too concerned about what would have happened if the light-shield hadn’t worked. At this point, I was so OP, I had no reason to fear anyone.
It was strange going from being a weak little git who had to run from everything, to someone who wasn’t afraid of being shot by genetically-altering poison. Oh, how the turntables.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream, though. I might have been able to avoid getting hurt, but that didn’t mean I could do what I wanted. Sure, walking away from trouble was great, but if I wanted to go towards trouble to sort something out, then I only had my usual arsenal of misguided perceptions and poorly conceived ideas to rely on.
Unfortunately, walking away wasn’t an option. Jenny would be pissed at me, and when someone who has accepted all your many, many flaws decides you’ve disappointed her, that shit cuts deep.
I don’t like people, I don’t need people, I don’t enjoy being around people. And yet, sometimes they need me. And the truth is, it’s kind of addictive.
That thrill of seeing the look in a person’s eyes when they realise they couldn’t have managed without you because you’re strictly better than them, it’s like crack, only not invented by the CIA to fund an illegal war in Central America.
“Don’t come any closer,” said Orion.
I hadn’t been planning to but now it would look like I was doing what he told me. These are the trials even Hercules would have struggled with.
“It’s getting to the point,” I said, “where the only way to make you stop with this shit is to kill you. What the fuck is wrong with you people? Can’t you ever just take no for an answer? Were your parents really this shit at teaching you basic manners?”
I find being extremely condescending to people older than me is an excellent way to snap them out of whatever fake attitude they’re trying to play up. Just because I didn’t have any offensive powers, didn’t mean I couldn’t cause offence.
“This is too important,” said Orion, dropping the gun and holding up his hands to show he meant no harm. Sure. Very convincing. “I’m very sorry. Very sorry, indeed.” He reached into his jacket.
At this point, I had a choice to make. Act like I was invincible and let him take out another gun or a knife, maybe a South American bolas, and let him try his luck. Or, I could attack!
Problem with that line of thinking was that my attack options were very limited. Even though I was younger, he was taller and stronger than me. Lillian was back on her feet, so she might try to shield me again. I was in the mood to let her this time.
But you can’t let people keep on having a go until they manage to be successful and kill you. It’s not a winning strategy.
I rushed forward and hit Orion in the stomach with my shoulder. I’d been aiming for his face with my fist, so that should give you some indication of my level of expertise when it comes to the old fisticuffs.
Orion was winded and slumped to the floor. I landed on my knees and quickly rifled through his jacket Smeagol-style.
“What’s it got in its pockets?”
What he had was a cheque, written out to me. For one billion dollars. It just looked weird and fake. This was their trump card? More money?”
I threw it away. I know, very edgy of me, but it really didn’t tempt me. Once you got over a certain amount, you needed to be a certain kind of person to keep wanting more.
“Who gives a shit about money, Orion? What do you think’s so great about having even more that you already have, when you already have all the money in the world? I really don’t get it. You have more than you can spend and all you do is complain about how unfair the top-end tax rates are — taxes none of you even fucking pay with your secret off-shore accounts and Panamanian accountants. You’re all insane.”
I let go of him and got to my feet. I need to work on some more offensive capabilities, not everyone would go down as easily as Old Man Orion. The sword lessons I’d taken weren’t going to do me much good here. But then, it’s a slippery slope, being able to force people to do what you want.
It doesn’t help that there are a bunch of them who react by becoming completely servile when faced with someone holding a lot of power. There are always people willing to bend the knee (and then suck the dick), if they think it will save them from being on the losing side. Orion was just doing his master’s bidding.
It’s pathetic. Someone told them they were worthless, and they leaned into it. They looked in the mirror and thought, yeah, I can’t compete with what’s out there, might as well own it.
Every giant dickhead needs a crowd of sad losers to prop them up. They’re the real problem. The guy at the top, he’s just one guy. Can’t do shit. Not even that brilliant. For every guy who created the iPhone, there’s his true self who thought he could cure cancer with acupuncture and herbs. Fucking idiot. And still, they buy that shit in droves.
Power achieves nothing of real value because a good sword still needs a good swordsman. And there aren’t any of them left. I mean, there’s fencing, of course, which is possibly the least interesting Olympic sport ever. Let’s take the art of dancing death, and see who can poke the other person first. One-two-three-go.
“How do we go back down?” I said. The controls didn’t have any handy labels under them.
“You can’t escape,” said Orion from the floor. “There’s no way out of here.”
The lever on the console moved in two directions. Orion had pushed it up and the ship had risen. If I pushed it down, logic dictated it would go back down. I grabbed the lever.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” said Lillian, with a nervous edge to her voice. It was almost like someone had told her to watch out for my penchant for fucking things up.
“Nope, no idea.” I pulled down and the ship began to go up, but much faster this time.
How can up go up and down also go up? I felt what happened next wasn’t my fault, M’lud.
The ship was rising so fast it made your stomach turn inside out, like when you’re on a fairground ride. Then we hit something.
I can’t say for sure what it was, but judging by the debris that fell past the window, it was one of the ships above us. I’d been in their secret lair for ten minutes and I’d already destroyed two of their precious airships of the future. Pretty good going.
Our ship shook and tilted to a severe angle, so everything not nailed down slid towards the back. Various parts of the hull were open and it would be easy to fall out. The smooth, sleek fibreglass interior didn’t help. If I really was invincible and protected from death, then now was going to be an excellent time to prove it.
The ship was still moving up, banging against things as it went, which helped knock it back into a horizontal position. As the angle of slope decreased I was able to move towards the side nearest the wall of the building we were in. If they had been able to shine a light on me from above, it stood to reason that there would be a platform or structure the lamp had been fixed to.
What I saw once I got over there was a series of gangways, jutting out of the wall and leading to doorways into the walls of the building. They were zooming past like I was in a glass elevator on the way to claim my very own chocolate factory.
Then we hit something that stopped the ship on its upward trajectory and I decided it was now or never. I got up and ran towards the opening and jumped.
It wasn’t a big jump, there was a platform right below me, but it was still quite a surprising thing for me to do, I’ll admit. I just had the feeling I was going to make it and if I was wrong, so be it.
I landed on the platform and immediately lost my footing and fell over, scraping my knee. That was going to be a nasty scab. I pulled something in the back of my thigh at the same time which made me squeal. The scores from the Russian judge weren’t going to be good.
When I turned around, I saw the chaos I’d caused. There were at least half a dozen incomplete airships stuck together, parts of one sticking inside parts of another. There was also a great deal of smoke and lots of yelling and screaming. There had been people working on the ships, some of whom must have fallen out. I don’t think I can be blamed for that, either.
Lillian was standing in the opening I’d just jumped out of. The ship was on the move again, slowly pushing its way through its sister vessels.
“I can’t make it,” she shouted.
“Okay, then,” I said. “I’ll see you later.”
She looked annoyed. “It’s too far.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’ll die if I stay here.”
“What should I do?” It felt like she wanted me to do something. Whoever had warned her about me hadn’t done a very good job.
“You did say this is the day you die. I guess you were right.” Everyone likes to be complimented on a job well done, right?
She was getting more and more annoyed, but smaller and smaller at the same time, so it balanced out.
Then she jumped. If she was going to jump anyway, might as well have not wasted time whining and done it at the start.
“Catch me,” she called as she came down at terminal velocity,
“No thanks,” I said as she hit the gangway. She landed hard and her ankles buckled. It looked painful.
“Fuck,” she screamed, stretching it out. She lay there in a crumpled heap.
You had to hand it to her, she had balls. Not that I would tell her that.
“You are one dumb bitch,” I said. “Makes me feel homesick.”
I bent down and grabbed her knees. She upgraded her swearing to the premium package.
Normally, when a badly injured girl is having her knees pulled apart, there are secret service agents watching the exits so no one comes in but in this case, I wasn’t campaigning for re-election and she wasn’t going to have to give testimony for Congress to ignore.
“Ah, ah, ahhh…. ahhh?” She sat up and stared at me. “What did you do?”
“I healed you,” I said, letting go of her and standing up. “You’re welcome.”
She got to her feet, a little wobbly, but otherwise fine. Still batshit crazy, but nothing I could do about that. I did magic, not miracles.
One of the airships above us burst into flames and the smell of burning plastic filled my nostrils. Streaks of molten plastic on fire dripped down on to whoever was still down below.
“So, how do we get to your office from here?” I asked.
“How would I know?” said Lillian.
“Let’s have a look over here, then.” I turned around and headed towards the doorway, just as Jack appeared in it, surrounded by his boys. They had apparently been keeping track of me and had rushed up to help. Nice of them.
“I’ll take care of this,” said Lillian, which was not what I was expecting her to say. She took something out of her pocket.
“Is that a... grenade?” I asked her.
She pulled the pin and said, “I hope you’ve still got some healing left in you.”