Who walks around with a grenade in their pocket? I mean, come on. Sure, a rape whistle isn’t going to do a lot, maybe announce half-time so players can switch ends, but upgrade to pepper spray, invest in a taser.
A grenade is a weapon of spite. Kill your enemy, kill yourself, blow the glass out of all the windows and create a terrible draft for people who have to work there. Does everyone have to pay for your pain?
Where does a girl even get hold of a grenade? Do Prime members get access to Amazon Armoury? You go away for a few years and the internet makes everything about that exclusive membership. It’s all free, but if you want to get into the VIP areas, that’s going to cost you.
Lillian tossed the grenade. Jack and the boys went from standing proud, chests out and a look of ‘You shall not pass’ in their eyes, to crouching with legs primed to leap out of the way, a look of ‘Oh, fuck,” all over their faces.
Problem was, it was quite a narrow platform we were on. If they jumped to the side, they’d fall off and go plummetting to their deaths. Their only real option was to go back the way they’d come, which would present very bad optics. It’s all about how you look on social media these days.
The grenade bounced and rolled towards them. It was an odd-looking thing, not the classic pineapple-shaped object I was familiar with from Call of Duty, it was more round and black.
“It’s a fake,” shouted one of the men. I would expect them to know more about it than me so I was willing to believe him.
The grenade exploded with a loud bang, but instead of death and shrapnel, thick smoke poured out.
“Smoke bomb,” shouted someone from inside the fog of war. There’s always one person who has to say the obvious thing out loud, just to feel like they have a purpose in the group.
It was an interesting weapon to carry around. Did Lillian have a whole arsenal of specialised items in her inventory? As an RPG player, I recognised the value of picking up every single fucking object you come across, just in case it comes in handy at some point, but Lillian appeared to be carrying this idea over into real life.
“Follow me,” said Lillian.
We still had to get to the exit which was past the trained thugs with the weapons. The smoke made it impossible to see anything but that worked both ways.
“How are you going to get through them?” I asked
“I’m psychic,” she said and grabbed my hand. “Don’t let go and you’ll be fine.”
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think relying on people who claim to be reliable has ever worked out for anyone. People quickly figure out they can get their own way if they just make out they know what they’re doing, and deal with the consequences if they fail. Who knows, you might end up getting everyone killed and have no one to apologise to (and no one left to report your incompetence).
She didn’t wait for me to agree to her terms and ran into the smoke.
Inside the blanket of cloud, there was the sound of coughing and shouting. No one was rushing around (apart from us) probably because they didn’t want to risk falling off the edge.
Lillian swerved left and right, a fierce grip on my hand. If this had been an anime, this would be the lewd part with pixelation to protect the innocence of the young and the incel. If she didn’t let go soon, she might even get pregnant.
Somehow, she managed to navigate a path through everyone without bumping into any of them. We burst out of the smoke into a curved corridor walled on one side by tinted glass that looked out onto the roofs of buildings. We were on the outside of the building which was a thin shell around the empty middle.
Lillian let go of my sweaty hand and pointed down the corridor. “This way, I think.”
There was no way to know what was around the bend, but she was psychic, so she had the advantage over me.
The smoke would clear eventually and they would come after us. I wasn’t sure what I’d do then, but it made sense to keep moving. She was already running so I followed. It wasn’t like I had many other choices.
Lillian ran like a girl, arms swinging to the sides and high heel shoes clip-clopping on the metal floor. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with running like a girl, I’m just painting a picture. She coughed and flailed and ran like a spaz.
There was a smell of smoke clinging to me, clawing at the back of my throat, but I wasn’t too badly affected. I’d expected the smoke to make my eyes water and Hong Kong police to come looming out of the mist with batons, but no eye-watering and no Chinese wankers with inferiority complexes.
It occurred to me that maybe I’d phased out when the grenade went off and it passed through me, but I hadn’t felt anything change. Then again, I hadn’t felt anything in a long time, so maybe I was permanently phased and only occasionally became solid.
“Up here,” said Lillian. There was a ladder running up the wall. It came up through a hole in the floor and disappeared through a hole in the ceiling. It was made of metal and was bolted to the wall.
Lillian was already climbing. There was a distant clang of running feet so the pursuit had probably started. How long before they caught up?
I began the climb after Lillian. Looking up gave me peek up her skirt, which felt wrong and what kind of goth wears tartan knickers? Looking down made me feel a bit dizzy as I could see the ladder rungs disappear into infinity.
It’s very tiring climbing a metal ladder and it hurts your fingers. I realise that’s a feeble complaint, but those are the complaints I excel at.
“Don’t look up my skirt,” said Lillian after about thirty seconds of climbing.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I said, too exhausted to tilt my head in her direction. “Where did you get the smoke grenade from?”
“Etsy,” she said. I think she was joking, but who knows? “And you’re welcome.”
“It was very convenient and worked out surprisingly well,” I said between gasping breaths. “Which probably means you planned it with Orion and his boys and this is all an elaborate trap.”
“I wouldn’t go to this stupid an extreme if I wanted to trap you,” she said. “It’s too tiring.”
It was not an unreasonable point she was making.
We kept going up, breathlessness providing a lack of conversation. Every time I looked down, I saw no one. That didn’t mean they weren’t coming after us, just that they knew a shortcut. There were bound to be security cameras all over this place. All I could do was put my trust in Lillian and her psychic powers. It was not something I was comfortable with.
The ladder ended in a hole in the floor of a small, dark room with shelves and boxes. Lillian was crouching by the door as I emerged. I sat down on the edge of the hole, panting.
“It’s locked,” whispered Lillian.
“Don’t you have a key?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot, which was subtly different from how she looked at me before (like I was going to get her killed by being an idiot).
“No. I don’t even know where we are.”
“But you’re psychic,” I reminded her.
“It doesn’t work like that.” Her tone suggested she was losing her patience. Trust me, it was a tone I was very familiar with. “We have to be quick. You need to talk to Jenny.”
“Okay, let me see,” I remained crouched and waddled over to the door. There was no handle and no keyhole. I gave it a push. “It’s locked.”
She gave me the ‘duh’ eyes. Very childish.
“Can’t you use your magical powers to open it?” she said in a mocking tone.
It was certainly something I could try, the question was should I? Perhaps this was another part of the elaborate ruse. Make me use my power on a seemingly ordinary door, but no, it was all a Mission Impossible-style fake-out where I wasn’t in a submarine at all, it was a trick to make me reveal the name of the Russian spy in the Pentagon (would be a very long list of names if they tried that scheme today).
This door could be the door to Flatland and me opening it could mean the end of Narnia, Book Eight: Susan’s Revenge.
“What? It’s just a door,” said Lillian.
“People have tried to trick me before, you know.”
“That’s not my fault,” said Lillian. “I’m sorry if you’ve been betrayed by people, but I can’t change the past.”
“No, but you can fuck up the future.”
“You have a lot of unresolved baggage you should deal with,” she said. “See a professional and get help.” It was sage advice.
“And tell them what? That I can do magic?”
“If you can do some to prove it, then yes.”
Bickering over nothing, just like old times.
I put my hand on the door and tried to think myself into the right state of mind to make my body change states. If nothing else, I could use this to get some practice in. There was no point having a superpower if you never learn to control it properly, and high-stress situations were the best time to push yourself.
What I was actually doing was crouching in a darkened closet, my palm pressed against a locked door with my eyes closed. I felt stupid. I probably looked stupid, too. The whole thing was just embarrassing.
I put both hands on the door and pushed hard and fell through the door, ending up on the floor. I was out and in a dimly lit room, behind some kind of partition. The door was still closed behind me with Lillian on the other side. Leave her there and go do my own thing? It was tempting, but she was the only one who knew where her office was and there was no other plan to work with.
The doorknob on this side had a red light on it. I tried turning it but nothing happened.
I took a breath and put my hand into the door. It was easier this time, slid right in. I aimed it next to the door handle and pulled the door open, stifling the scream in my throat.
By putting my hand where the bolt from the lock entered the wall, I forced my flesh between the two. The door opened with the lock sheared off and inserted itself in my hand. I fell over, shaking my hand like it was on fire, which was how it felt. A lump of metal flew out and skidded along the floor.
My hand looked more or less the same, a bit red, but it hurt something fierce. I tried healing it but I was spent. I’d just have to suffer. Story of my life.
Lillian came out on crawling on her knees. “What are you doing? This is no time for a rest.”
I was pretty exhausted but I blew on my hand and got on my knees. “Which way?”
“I’m not sure. You check that side.”
We both crawled to opposite ends of the partition and looked out. It was the room with the psychics and big window we’d been in before. The lights had been dimmed and the window was closed. There were some technicians in white coats up on the platform, illuminated by the lights of their RGB keyboards (fucking nerds).
The pods containing the psychics filled the lower floor and provided good cover.
“This way,” whispered Lillian as she began crawling on all fours. She seemed to know the way so I followed.
“Aren’t there security cameras?” I hissed at her backside.
“No. The psychics see everything. But I’m blocking them so they don’t know about us being here.”
No one noticed us as we weaved our way across the floor so I guess she was right. We avoided wandering nerds (they’re everywhere these days) and snuck around in the shadows until we reached a door on the other side and quickly went through, which was painful on the knees.
This door had a keypad on it and Lillian knew the code which she punched in by sticking up one hand as high as she could while being on her knees.
The door clicked open and dived through, hoping the crack of light hadn’t given us away. Still no signs of our pursuers. Very suspicious.
Once through, Lillian stood up. I did likewise. We were in a brightly lit corridor with a coat rack on the wall, full of jackets. Lillian took off hers and hung it up, took out a pair of glasses and put them on, Clark Kenting it.
I followed her past some offices with glass doors and people inside at their desks. She waved at a few of them as we passed, all very congenial, workplace buddies. On the opposite side was a long glass wall, through which I could see a lab — test tubes and glass cabinets, things boiling on Bunsen burners and machines flashing numbers. People in white coats were going about their nerdy business.
We reached the end of the corridor and came out into an open area with a table and kitchenette — small fridge, microwave, poster of Garfield — and a man in a Hazmat suit carrying a potato in large pincers like it was radioactive.
“John,” said Lillian. “New potato working?”
The man peeled off the headgear and revealed a sweaty red face. Steam rose from the collar and the smell wasn’t great. “Yah. Best one yet.” He looked at me.
“New guy,” said Lillian. “I’m showing him around.”
“Great,” said John. “John Grand. Nice to meet you.” He put out a silver glove for me to shake.
I gave him a wave instead, which he copied.
“Nice potato,” I said. “Very smooth skin.” It was a well-maintained potato, no doubt about it.
“I see you have a good eye,” said John. “Don’t be fooled though. Every potato is its own snowflake. No two are the same.”
I smiled and nodded, edging behind Lillian. I know a latent serial killer when I see one.
“Okay, catch you later,” said Lillian, leading me down another hallway.
“Come find me,” said John. “I’ll show you my collection.” Yeah, of potato skins fashioned into a bodysuit. Hard pass.
We reached a non-glass door at the very end of the hall and Lillian closed the door behind me after we entered. It was a very small office with a desk that took up most of the space and no windows.
“I don’t know how long before they track us down,” she said, “so we’ll have to be quick.” She opened a desk drawer and pulled out a crystal ball.
“Shut up. I need total silence to do this. I’ll be tapping into the psychics’ network. Don’t be alarmed.”
“I’ll try not to panic.” I was pretty sure I could handle whatever she had in mind. I’d been around.
She sat down on the chair behind her desk, the crystal ball held in both hands level with her face. Her eyes went a bit crossed and the ball glowed. All very easy to fake and unconvincing. Then the room shook and the door rattled and bits of polystyrene fell off the ceiling.
I wasn’t particularly concerned but I had a feeling this might give our location away.
Jenny’s face appeared in the crystal ball.
“Finally,” she said. “Where are you?”
“I’m in an office with a young woman and a bunch of burly men are about to come in any minute. There’s a camera on my phone, so should be able to get some decent content for my PornHub channel.”
“Don’t say things like that about Lillian,” said Jenny, standing up for her fellow woman.
“Who said she’d be involved?” I said.
Jenny smirked and it was like a kick in my gut. It’s the small things that break your heart, like bullets and broken glass and a girl who’s genuinely pleased to see you.
“What did you want to tell me?” I asked her.
“Me? I thought you wanted to tell me something,” said Jenny. “I’ve already told you what I want. I want you to come back.”
I was a little confused. Why had I fought my way to this place if it was just to be told nothing new? I looked over the ball at Lillian.
“I’m glad you got a chance to speak to her again,” said Lillian. She put down the crystal ball and took something else out of the open drawer. This one looked just like the ones in CoD.
“You brought me here to blow me up?”
“I’ve seen the future. They need your body to make it happen and I can’t allow it.”
“No!” said Jenny, but when did women ever stick together to the end? Just not in their chemistry.
Lillian pulled the pin on this grenade and everything went bang.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino