0

Elsewhere

Tight spaces had never been high on Holiday’s list of favourite things. Not because of claustrophobia or anything easily understood and defensible like that. He was simply too big for such spaces.

He grunted as he tried to adjust the position of his shoulders. Brick scraped his skin through his shirt. He’d had a jacket at the start of this mess. It had been sacrificed to a questionable disaster-made “lake”. In addition to being large, Holiday was heavier than the average person.

It wasn’t fat. He often wished it was. Fat could be shed with diet and exercise. What he had was too much height and too-broad shoulders.

At last, he gave up on the hiding place and decided to go back out in the open. He’d take his chances trying to work out a plan to find the others while staying on the move.

It had been a good idea, to hide somewhere while he thought. It wasn’t the first good idea that had been vetoed by his size.

He stalked the edges of the streets, gaze darting about in search of armed conflict.

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0

He’s Twelve

For some reason, Simon found himself beginning a silent prayer of thanks that he was not overweight. He didn’t like to think that it mattered. But looking down past Mr Coats’s shoulder, at the wreckage of property and human bodies, all of the moral lessons of media seemed to have even less impact.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t light by any means. He could hear Mr Coats wheezing. It was especially apparent when the man stopped chatting. They slowed.

Simon tapped him on the shoulder. “I can climb by myself.”

Why this had not previously occurred to either of them, he couldn’t say.

“I’m twelve,” he added, in case that might help.

It was cold, and he shivered as he realised that the shared body heat had given Mr Coats’s name an overly appropriate significance. Mr Coats appeared to notice this immediately, but said nothing as he stepped aside to let Simon go up the penultimate ladder.

“Higher ground,” the man said.

Simon paused, halfway up the ladder already. “What?”

“Sorry, I was just thinking aloud. You always want the higher ground in a battle.”

A battle. Simon shivered again. If only this was a battle. His grades weren’t terribly high, and he was not a big reader, but he did know a couple of big words. One of them was ‘massacre’.

They travelled the rest of the way up the fire escape in heavy silence. The air was thick with it, but even the awkwardness of quickly familiar strangers was soon overwhelmed by the cloying scent of coming rain.

1

Strength of Purpose

Someone had survived. It wasn’t one of the agents Coats had dropped down with, but it was better than being alone. Especially since he was hardly alone.

He’d expended seven rounds on their attackers. Only one of them had gone down. However, it had stayed down, so he counted it a clear enough win. The prize: getting clear with the kid.

There was no way to be entirely certain that any of the buildings were secure. Instead, Coats found one with a fire escape and began hauling them upwards. His arms ached by the third floor, with four more before they would reach the roof.

“You doing all right, Simon?”

The kid’s chin scraped against Coats’s shoulder. He wasn’t shaking, for which Coats was immensely grateful.

Suddenly, he wished that one of the others was there. Not for the reason he had done since things had gone piriformis. More specific and arguably idiotic than that. “Sorry it’s just you and me,” he heard himself say. Speech had a calming effect on most people. “My friends are all better at this sort of thing.”

“Your friends?”

There was none of the rasp in Simon’s voice that had slowly begun leaving Coats’s. Although the kid did sound smaller than his actual physical presence. Coats shifted him and started up the next flight of stairs. “Yeah. Local government called us in as a favour–we’re kind of like heroes for hire.”

“Oh. How come you said they’re better?”

Coats tried to laugh, but the sound wouldn’t come. “The fire escape made me think of it.” He grunted with effort. Too out of breath to talk, really, but having started, he didn’t like to just stop. “Holiday is a big guy. He could carry both of us up to the roof without noticing the extra weight.”

They didn’t have much farther to go. Still, he knew that Holiday would have been faster. With more circus-y strongman finesse.

“And Cressida is…” He pressed his lips together to shut himself up. No reason to bring up Cressida. Even someone as young as Simon would not appreciate being told that she would have been better at easing his fear.

Besides that, Coats couldn’t bring himself to talk after saying her name. The rasp returned with a vengeance.

1

One-Player Game

As one might guess, I’ve started a game with myself. If you can call it that. The tag is “invasion game”, and it’s just that. Sort of in the vein of A Good Boy’s Guide to Breaking Things, but with a more immediate and direct threat. And less social commentary. If any.

Coats is a sort of mercenary, except for the part where he isn’t really. Reaching way back to Grey Matters, it’s more like a PMC version of The Avengers. There are at least four other people connected to him. Holiday and Dubh Essa are two of them.

I don’t really have plans for it other than to have weird crap like aliens (invasion!) inter-dimensional travel, a wizard, and probably someone will die.

I already know what the wizard is like, but I can’t decide if she’ll be Tegan or something that I make up.

0

Distress

Twelve was not too old to scream in the face of danger. Simon might have argued otherwise a few hours earlier. That morning, even. It was funny how quickly his opinion could be forced to change. Given the right stimulation.

If he hadn’t already lost his voice to terror long before, he probably would have yelled yet again at the sudden appearance of this armed, bloody stranger. Instead, he’d stood there, dumb as a mannequin.

“What’s your name?” the man said again.

This time, Simon found his voice long enough to squeak out his first name. He started on the rest of it, but as short as ‘Foer’ was, he only managed to sink his teeth into his bottom lip for the f before a brief blast of light seared past him.

The man–Mr Coats–spun round to return fire. In the same moment, he lunged for Simon.

Simon wheezed as the tight hold about his midsection complicated his air supply. But he knew better than to fight Mr Coats’s grasp.

Face forced into Mr Coats’s shoulder, Simon had only his memory to form an idea of what was happening. He’d seen five of them, four in black armour that made SWAT look like a bunch of bikini models. The third was disturbingly human. Dressed like a businessman, complete with a black tie.

His proximity to the weapons, especially Mr Coats’s gun, made Simon’s ears ring and his head hurt. He hung on as his body was jerked about with whatever movements Mr Coats made. It seemed years rather than seconds before those shared movements became a steady bounce that Simon guessed implied a run.

He held on tightly, once again biting his chapped lip in anticipation of sharing his last name.

0

Drop Point

Coats huddled against the wall, clutching his gun in the crook of his arm like a child with a scruffy teddy. Blood trickled down the side of his face. It had pooled in his collar and dried there. The itch in his neck was maddening. But with one arm dislocated and the other occupied with staunching the flow of blood from yet another wound, he was without a set of fingers with which to scratch.

And that morning had begun with such promise.

It was difficult to tell the situation, but he knew that the alley in which he had taken refuge would not remain secure for much longer. He winced against the growing itch and the pain in his shoulder. Combined, it produced a new sensation that somehow seemed to come from his lower back.

A few blocks away, he could hear the whine and compressed zinging blast of the enemy discharging their weapons. Coats shut his eyes and tried to ascertain their number. They could have been firing at anything. Abandoned vehicles. Stray cats too stupid or bewildered to have run away already. Survivors. One of his people.

The last two seemed unlikely. He had lost sight of his people hours ago, without even radio traffic for hope. Then his headset had broken. He had yet to see any survivors, even before he’d gotten separated from his people.

He checked the bleeding under his left hand. It had stopped. For a brief moment, he stared at it, daring it to start again as the sounds of weaponry and stomping feet grew closer. When it didn’t, he took the opportunity to set his other arm back in its socket.

His yell cut off the other sounds. He nearly bit off his tongue in self-reproach. Instead, he picked up his firearm and checked the clip. Maybe he could take three of them with him, but not more than that.

After dragging himself to his feet, Coats forced himself to exit the alley at a dead run. Away from the obvious presence of the enemy.

He hadn’t gotten far before he collided with someone.

He’d swung the pistol to bear without a conscious thought. A youthful face stared up at him, white with fear beneath a thick layer of soot and dirt. Another instinct lowered Coats’s arm so quickly that the ache in his shoulder increased.

The kid seemed too terrified to run. A bloody tear in the leg of his jeans suggested a supplemental reason.

Coats held out his unarmed hand and tried to speak reassuringly. “I’m here to help. My name is Ravi Coats.” His voice was raw, nearly unrecognisable to his own ears.

There was no immediate response, but the kid still didn’t run away. He allowed Coats to inch closer.

“What’s your name?”