353: The Iceman Comet

The first rule of fight club is not ‘You don’t talk about fight club.’ Enforcing strict non-disclosure agreements is requisite for a lot of groups — governmental agencies, drug cartels, the Catholic Church — but fighting has some rather more imperative concerns to deal with.

Rule number one, don’t get killed.

How you go about this somewhat primitive concept is a matter of judgement, but I would say chief among the options is to not take on more than you can handle, like for example, a huge fucking ball of fire falling out of the sky.

Sometimes you have to take a stand, you might say, mainly because you’ve never stood under said ball of fucking fire. Sometimes delaying the enemy, sacrificing yourself so others might have time to escape, is a worthy reason to go into a fight you know you can’t win.

I disagree.

It’s a difficult argument to make. Anyone can point to a large number of examples where one guy’s charge into the fray against impossible odds resulted in a victory for his side. Lives were saved, evil was defeated, a statue was erected.

You misunderstand me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take action to prevent an undesired event from occurring. If you don’t agree with what people are doing to the world you live in, by all means do everything you can to stop it. Fight them in every way that you can, except the way that they want.

Because the enemy, your enemy, any enemy, is not a fixed, one-note, limited to a single purpose kind of entity. No one is.

Villains don’t build a laser pointed at the moon and then go home and put their feet up. They have a reasonable expectation of reprisals, they are prepared for a range of consequences to which they have answers. And some of those answers are more effective than others, so they would like you to choose the response to their actions that results in their preferred outcome. Guess how high on the list you getting yourself killed is.

The ball of fire was coming, but it wasn’t exactly whizzing through the air. I mean, it probably was whizzing, and fizzing and spitting, but travelling large distances across the sky is a time-consuming business. It would get here but it would take a bit. Soon™.

“We merely need to slice it in half,” said Laney. Maybe her whole issue was that she needed glasses and then the world would finally take on a realistic appearance for her.

“It’s a bit on the big side, isn’t it?” I suggested. It can be deceptive judging from a distance, especially at night with only the stars for reference, but it wasn’t going to be the size of a grapefruit.

“It is possible,” said Biadet, the fruit ninja, “if a stroke was aimed correctly and with enough force.”

“See? Even the appalling midget agrees.”

“If it were aimed at us, that is,” Biadet added.

“It isn’t?” I asked. It looked like it was definitely aimed in our general direction. “Then where’s it going?”

My first thought was the ship alongside us. Take out the Council, a nice forward-thinking move.

To be honest, the Council would have been my guess for the ones most likely to send me a big ball of death from above. Why? No idea, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t convince themselves it was their best hope for a bright future.

The only problem with that idea, though, was that they were already here. I was sure they could have found an easier way to dispatch me. Or just make sure I was marooned here permanently.

Laney cocked her head. “It’s going to the island.”

“Yes,” said Biadet, “as I’ve already said.”

“No you didn’t,” insisted Laney. “You said not here, you didn’t say where. I did. It’s going to just miss us. But not if I have anything to say about it.”

Laney was sending confusing messages to my brain. No change there. She wanted it to hit us? “What do you m—”

Before I had finished presenting her with a chance to ignore me, she ignored me anyway and kicked one of the sailors in the back of the leg. He lost his balance and fell to one knee. Laney sprang onto his back with one foot, jumped off onto the shoulder of another sailor and from there, launched herself onto the rigging.

She did this while at the same time sheathing her sword, which made it all look like she had rehearsed this move a thousand times. She scrambled up the mast like some kind of long-haired crimson monkey.

The only thing up there was the crow’s nest. At first I thought she wanted a better view, but that wasn’t it. The comet was going to sail over us. Laney wanted to be high enough to be able to hit it with her sword. It was a fantastically retarded idea. I almost began applauding.

Biadet sighed and the stick which had been in her hands a moment ago disappeared. Then she ran towards the mast, and ran up it.

I don’t mean she climbed it quickly, I mean she ran up it.

Biadet was elegant and efficient in her movements. Laney was a flurry of arms and effort. They reached the top at the same time.

They made quite a strange pair, a bit like Batman and Superman, only the dark knight in this case had the superpowers, while the sun god had nothing but total self-belief.

Batman plus powers would clearly be OP beyond belief, but Superman without his powers (which has occurred in the comics a few times) is just a normal person with a massive ego. Hardly a fair swap. Tell that to Her Imperious Majesty.

If anyone had a chance to stop that thing, it was probably me, but maybe that was the idea. The Council could have sent it to force me to act. If it hit the island, it could have a devastating effect on the inhabitants. Many lives would be lost. It was like they didn’t know me at all.

But I was being stupid. The Council themselves were the obvious choice to bat the flaming ball out of the sky. They could easily prevent it from hitting the island, and we both knew it. So why weren’t they doing something about it?

Maurice and co., then? But why attack the island? What were they hoping to achieve? This was apparently the way back to Earth. Maurice and the others wanted to use the gateway, not destroy it. So someone else was taking steps to make sure they wouldn’t be able to?

Or was this how the gateway was opened, in a huge fiery mess?

It was sort of fascinating. Someone had made a very bold move, which didn’t sound like anyone I knew. Everyone I’d been in contact with since I got here had been a sneaky git, doing everything they could to hide their dark deeds in the shadows. At least you could respect a giant act of fuck-you like this one.

The thing with having time to think while disaster slowly edges towards you, is that questions can start to accumulate. In a movie, you can cut from when the asteroid is first detected to when it’s about hit the Golden Gate Bridge. I, on the other hand, had plenty of time for musing.

I wasn’t really too concerned. When it came down to it, I felt I could handle whatever this was. My own powers were enough. It wasn’t so much needing to act, it was more a matter of choosing which of the many possible responses would be best. Not often I’ve been in that kind of situation.

“Would you like the red wine or the white? Or the yellow or green or blue? Perhaps sir would like to try something from our purple collection?”

New meta, available only for you.

Even if the shrine was the target, the Council could put it back together, probably. Arthur was in another dimension, so he wouldn’t take damage. Of course, it did depend on what the fireball was comprised of. Maybe it was a special kind of magic Maurice and the Cool Kids put together that could destroy everyone here and leave the shrine unguarded.

What I needed was a closer look.

As the comet came in for a landing, its true size became clear. About the same as a mid-sized hatchback. Still too big to cut in half with a sword, you would have thought. Unless you happen to be a princess in a half shell.

Laney was up on her toes, ready to samurai-slice the fireball as it flew by. Biadet also seemed to think she could do something. Or maybe she wanted a better view of Laney getting dragged off the ship and smooshed into the island.

I left my body and floated up. Everything stopped, including the fireball, which hung in the air like a Christmas decoration. Laney was poised to strike. Biadet was no longer to be seen. Vines were everywhere, including growing out of the stationary ball. I rose to meet it.

Within the flames was a sphere. It looked to be made of metal. There were no windows, but there did appear to be a hatch, a square marked out on the side. A vehicle? The question then was who was inside, and what the fuck did they think they were doing?

I floated closer, through the flames, through the metal exterior. My power had its uses, occasionally.

Inside was a single person, sat in a reclined position, a look of abject fear on his bespectacled face. Maurice.

I have to admit, I had kind of hoped it would be Jenny.

“I made a terrible mistake, I’m a terrible person, I want to make amends through transactional sex.”

Part of that may have stemmed from how backed up I was.

Maurice was not who I expected to see. Was he here to ask for my aid? Had things gone horribly wrong and I was their only hope? I bloody hoped not. The last thing you want from the people who betrayed you is a plea for help.

“We let you down terribly, please put in the effort to make us feel better about it.”

Then again, here was the person I’d probably have to face at some point, served up like a giant lob waiting to be smashed. Kind of suspicious, if you ask me.

What I no longer thought was that the ball of fire was here to cause mass destruction. Maurice wouldn’t ride the bomb in like Slim Pickens. This was just his way of getting here by express delivery.

I returned to my body and things began moving again.

“Hey, you two,” I shouted up to the crow’s nest. “Leave it. There’s someone inside.”

They looked down at me.

“Don’t worry, I can kill them,” shouted down Laney.

“Both of you come down. We’re going to the island.”

Biadet jumped out of the crow’s nest. She came down much slower than gravity or physics should have allowed, landing gently on the deck, knees only bending slightly.

Laney followed suit. While I felt no unease watching Biadet doing the impossible, Laney was another matter. I fully expected the idiot to slam into the deck face first. So did the crew judging by the way they stepped back to not get in her way.

Laney stuck out a hand grabbed the bottom of the rigging, which should have pulled her shoulder out of its socket, and swung into a somersault, landing on the deck on one knee with a shuddering thump.

“Let’s get that boat in the water,” she shouted. The crew sprang into action.

We took enough men to row us ashore. Maurice’s space taxi shot over us, screaming as it fell towards the beach. He was coming in hot, in every sense. I hadn’t seen any safety belts or padding. He’d need a hell of an airbag to stop him dying on impact. Perhaps a chute would open at the last moment.

Nope. It slammed into the beach with a resounding crash. It didn’t bounce or roll. Just hit the ground and stayed there like a golf ball in a sand trap. The flames went out.

By the time we reached shore, the islanders had gathered around the last escape pod from Krypton. If Maurice was hoping I’d raise him as my own, I suspected people would know he’d been adopted.

I waded onto the beach followed by Biadet and Laney. I half-expected Biadet to walk on water, but she jumped from the bow to the beach in one leap.

Heat radiated from the sphere. There was no door handle or buttons to press. I waited for Maurice to open it form inside. Maybe he was dead. At least I’d be able to introduce the concept of canned food to the islanders.

I got a bit closer and kicked the side a couple of times. The hatch sprang open and Maurice half-fell out. He seemed to be unconscious. Or dead.

Then he moved a bit. Even if he was alive, he wasn’t in a good way. Maybe he was like that when he got into the sphere.

“Yo, Maurice, wakey wakey.”

There wasn’t much of a response. He needed healing, and I had the ability to heal people. Perfect match, you’d think. I didn’t fucking think so.

I looked up at the sky. “Hey, Cowdrey! Clean up in aisle six.” Nothing happened. “Come on, I know you guys are watching. You said you could send help wherever I was. Let’s see it in action.”

I had to assume the reason they didn’t intervene when the fiery ball was streaking across the sky was because they knew what was in it. They wanted me to deal with it, fine. Here was I delegating like a boss.

A spotlight hit Maurice and there was a sound just barely audible, like when you’ve got a mouthful of sherbet fizzing on your tongue. Maurice groaned. A few seconds later he slid completely out of the sphere and sat up, fixing his glasses to see better.

“Colin? You’re alive.”

Apparently he hadn’t come to pay me a visit. “Yep, no thanks to you. Why are you here? I don’t remember ordering a pizza. Don’t expect a tip if it’s got pineapple on it.”

Maurice looked dazed and confused. His head turned from side to side as he tried to take everything in. “Where am I? Who are these people?”

I wasn’t sure if he was genuinely disoriented or trying to stall for time. Maybe both. Was he going to attempt to claim he’d lost his memory and had no idea what had happened?

“These are cannibals.”

Maurice gulped. “Really? Are they your friends?”

“No. Hey, you,” I said to the nearest islander, “what’s my position here.”

“You’re the president of the island.”

Only until daybreak, but no need to bother with the details.

“Don’t try using your powers,” I said.

Maurice looked up at me, frowning. “It won’t work on you without Jenny.” His head dropped. “And I’m not as powerful now that Peter’s gone.”

If he was expecting sympathy, he’d crash-landed on the wrong island.

“Why are you here, Maurice?”

“I don’t know. I thought I was going home. That’s where it was supposed to send me. Home.”

I kind of understood. Wherever this sphere came from — the spires, I would guess — he had worked out it was a way to get him back to Earth. What he didn’t know, it seemed, was that the portal home was on this island, so it had taken him part of the way there. The question was, why was he going alone?

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