Read Hard Magic Online

Authors: Larry Correia

Tags: #Fantasy

Hard Magic (4 page)

“Just do your job, and we’ll keep you safe,” Purvis promised. “I want this to go nice and clean. You just wrap her up.”

At least Purvis seemed like the kind of agent who cared more about being effective than being popular in the papers, unlike the fiasco in Detroit six months ago. “Yeah, fine,” he said, shoving the canvas case back into the Ford. He closed the door too hard. “You know, Agent Purvis, I know Delilah pretty good. The dame’s had a tough run. She’s not the kind that’ll go down easy, and she ain’t going quiet, that’s for damn sure. She’s a fighter, but I never knew her to be the murdering kind.”

“You saw the same file I did. I’ve got five dead men that say different. Necks snapped, one arm torn clean off.” Purvis scowled. “I’ve got my orders. We take her alive . . . But I’m more worried about the safety of these boys than I am about orders. You getting me, Heavy?”

Sullivan preferred the more dignified term Gravity Spiker. Heavy was what you called the Passives who were employed in factories as human forklifts. Cold water was slipping inside his trench coat as he shrugged. He just wanted to get this last job over with and finally get the Man off his back. “I get you, Agent Purvis.” The street was clear of oncoming headlights, so he started across, big boots splashing through the puddles. The six G-men followed.

The wedge-shaped dirigible was gradually slowing between the towers, and when it came to a rest, the passengers would begin to debark. It was slow going in bad weather, and this particular balloon was just a little two-hundred-footer hybrid machine, so it was getting kicked around quite a bit by the wind. The Springfield dirigible station was relatively small, nothing like the enclosed behemoth just constructed in Chicago.

Ground crews were braving the rain and catching the security lines. One man was giving them orders with a bullhorn from the tower, probably a Crackler, redirecting lightning and static electricity to keep the airfield’s workers safe at the ends of those cables, but it wasn’t like Magicals like that got any credit in the press. No, everybody knew Hearst didn’t care about working stiffs with Powers. He only wasted ink on people like Delilah.
And me . . .
Sullivan thought,
trouble makers
, but then shook his head, getting back to business.

He and the Bureau of Investigation men took cover beneath the overhang at the entrance to the waiting room. Through the glass he could see the room was nice, mosaic tile floor, all brass and glass on the walls, with lots of wood and iron benches for the commuters. There were a handful of people waiting. Purvis left two men outside, and the rest got out of the rain and entered the dry comfort of the lounge.

The lift was clearly visible. Sullivan noted that they’d be able to see the passengers before the passengers could see them, which was convenient for once. A United Blimp & Freight worker spotted the guns but Purvis flashed his badge and waved the man away. The G-men started ushering people out into the rain as fast as they could, and Purvis sent one to make sure nobody was loitering on the stairs. The uniformed bulls were out on the dark perimeter if Delilah somehow made it past or drew on her Power and turned it into a fight.

Most of the UBF employees didn’t know what was going down, but word would spread quickly now. He stood with his back to the mirrored wall. The tower was four stories tall, and that was a lot of stairs, which meant that Delilah would probably come down in the elevator, especially if she had luggage. Either way, from this position he could watch both.

Everything in this place was mirrored and shiny—even the ceiling had mirrors—but the mighty UBF budget had been cut because of the recent downturns, and the place felt kind of grimy. The Twenties had been a huge economic boom time, but Sullivan had spent most of those happy years doing hard time. The papers were calling it a depression, but compared to Rockville, Jake thought the whole outside world seemed pretty damn nice.

The dirigible’s cabin made a strange clanking noise as it mated with the docking platform through the roof above. Sullivan closed his eyes and used a little more of his Power to feel the world around him. The giant reserve of helium felt unnatural, being lighter than air, and that always made accurate Spiking a little difficult. He’d have to compensate for it. He was supposed to capture Delilah, not splatter her into red mush.

It wasn’t even five minutes after the dirigible had docked that the elevator came down with its first load of passengers. UBF was the model of efficiency. Like the ads said, they were the
Convenient Way to Travel
. The agents tensed up, but there were only a few passengers, none of whom were Delilah Jones, and a young UBF employee pushing a cart full of suitcases. The passengers looked a little wobbly, which was understandable since blimping wasn’t exactly a joyride during a storm. Two of the G-men flashed badges and converged on the car before the employee even had a chance to raise the gate. They started herding the passengers outside while Cowley grabbed the UBF and showed him the wanted poster. The kid nodded his head vigorously and Purvis smiled. “Got her.”

Cowley came back. “She’s in a red dress, black hat, black furs, and she’s in line for the next ride.”

The gate scissored closed, the elevator lift clanked back up, and it was just then Sullivan noticed a shadow moving on the stairs above. The grey shape was there for a second, but when he looked harder, it was gone. “I think we got somebody up there,” he said, pointing.

“Hollis, Michaels, check the stairs,” Purvis ordered and his two men immediately tromped up the brass capped steps, guns in hand. They were out of sight in a few seconds but their footfalls could still be heard. The agent in charge turned back to the elevator doors, nervously bouncing his shotgun. “I thought they’d already cleared those,” he muttered.

“There’s nobody up here,” one of the G-men called from the stairs.

The elevator was coming down. Sullivan got ready. He had to be careful. He didn’t want to damage any of the other passengers, so he would have to be very selective. If there were people in there with bad tickers or delicate constitutions, it was far too easy to hurt them by accident, and that still mattered to him. The safest thing to do for the bystanders would be to get nice and close, but getting close to a Brute was a game for suckers.

Guess I’m a sucker.
He tilted his fedora down, stuck his hands in his suit pockets, and strolled to the elevator. When the doors opened, he’d just be loafing around, as if he were waiting for the next one up. Hopefully she wouldn’t recognize him until it was too late. His best bet was to overwhelm her before she could use her Power. Cowley and Purvis let him go. They’d worked together enough times before that they knew Sullivan was a pro.

The elevator appeared, and Sullivan scanned the passengers through the gate as they descended. Four more people and another cart full of suitcases, and there she was. Delilah Jones was in the front of the car, borderline petite, delicate hands planted on lovely hips, tapping one high-heeled shoe impatiently. Jake had a moment to admire her legs before he was forced to lower his head.
The girl still has nice gams.

They’d met in New Orleans not too long after the war, only a few years before he’d gone up the river. Back then she’d just been a petty crook at worst, using her Power like a can opener to rip open cheap safes, and Jake had been an idealistic idiot, thinking that people like them could make the world a better place. They’d been tight once, maybe even something special, but Jake Sullivan didn’t have friends anymore. A stint in the Special Prisoners’ Wing of Rockville State Penitentiary had seen to that. Now he just had jobs.

One of the male passengers lifted the gate and the others began to file out. Jake reached inside himself and felt the Power. Reality faded into its component bits. His surroundings now consisted of matter, density, and forces. The Power began to drain as he willed the pull of the Earth to multiply over the form that was Delilah Jones. Selectively increasing gravity was one of the more challenging things he could accomplish. It took a lot of effort and Power, but it was darn effective. It was a lot less draining to just Spike something hard, whereas this was more like delicate surgery. She wouldn’t be able to move, no matter how strong she could make herself, and after a few seconds he’d manage to cut off the blood flow and knock her out. Go too soft and she’d Power out of it, go too hard and he’d kill her, but Sullivan was the best Spiker in the business. She would never know what hit her.

There was a shout and a gunshot. Sullivan’s concentration wavered, just a bit, and the real world came suddenly flooding back. The Power he’d gathered slipped from his control and the elevator gate was sheared from its bolts and slammed flat into the floor under the added pressure of ten gravities. A passenger screamed as his foot was crushed flat and blood came squirting out the top of his shoe. “Sorry, bud.” Sullivan turned in time to see one of the G-men tumbling down the stairwell, a grey shape leaping behind, colliding with Cowley and Purvis and taking them all down, “Aw hell,” he muttered, then spun back in time to see Delilah’s lovely green eyes locked on his.

“You were trying to
smoosh
me, Heavy!” she exclaimed, eyes twinkling as she ignited her own Power. She grabbed the big man by the tie and hoisted him effortlessly off the floor, even though he was almost a foot taller. The tie tightened, choking him as he dangled, and she finally got a good look at her assailant. “
You!
Well, if it isn’t Jake Sullivan. Been a long time.”

Then she hurled him. Suddenly airborne, he flew across the waiting area. Instinctively, his Power flared, and he bounced softly off the far wall with the force of a pillow. Jake returned to his normal weight as his boots hit the floor. He loosened his cheap tie so he could breathe again. “Hey, Delilah.”

“You lousy bastard.” She stepped out of the elevator and cracked her knuckles in a very unladylike manner. The other passengers had no idea what was going on, but they knew that this was not where they wanted to be. They took off at a run except for the one with the crushed foot, who hobbled as fast as he could. Every Normal had the sense to stay out of this kind of fight. “I’d heard you’d gone all Johnny Law now,” Delilah said.

“Something like that,” he replied slowly. “Bounty hunter.”

“Hypocrite.”

There was the sound of several quick blows. Off to the side, the grey shape rose and took on the form of a man in a long coat with a nightstick in hand. The G-Men were down. Purvis moaned. The man in grey stepped off the fallen agents and took a wary step away from Sullivan. He was short and tanned, with a pointy blond goatee and nearly shaved head. He picked his hat up and carefully returned it to his head. “Delilah Jones?” he asked quickly. Cowley started to rise and the stranger kicked him in the ribs, sending the agent back down.

“Who’s asking?”

“I’m here to rescue you,” he stated with a German accent, “from him.” He nodded in Sullivan’s direction. “No offense,
Mein Herr
.”

“None taken, but I’m gonna give you an ass whoopin’, you realize that, right, Fritz?” Jake stated calmly. He checked. The majority of his Power was still in reserve and he began to gather it.

“I can take care of myself, buddy,” Delilah told the stranger. “Were you planning on arresting me, Jake?”

“If I don’t want to go back to prison, yeah,” Sullivan answered, glancing back and forth between Delilah and the new threat. Delilah was a known quantity, the other guy, not so much. “That’s kinda the plan.”

“Too bad,” she answered as she grabbed the heavy metal luggage cart, picked it up as if it weighed nothing and threw it at him.

Sullivan reached out and increased the pull on the cart. It slammed into the floor, digging a divot through the tiles and coming to rest at his feet. At the same time the stranger hooked his shoe under Purvis’s shotgun and kicked it into the air, smoothly caught it, and turned it toward Jake’s head. Sullivan barely had time to Spike, gravity’s pull changed direction, and the stranger was jerked off balance to the left. A round of buckshot harmlessly shattered a window. The Power twisted him again, pulling the German in the opposite direction, as if he were in sideways freefall.

But rather than collide with the wall, the stranger turned blurry and passed through the concrete as if it were water and was gone. “Damn, Fades,” Sullivan muttered, turning his attention back to Delilah, just in time to see that she had crossed the room and her fist was flying at his face. He ducked and the concrete wall exploded into dust overhead.

Delilah had gotten faster over the years. Sullivan leapt back as she just kept swinging. He’d boxed in the service, but nothing like this. He went between her fists and slugged her in the face with a brutal hook. Pain crackled through his knuckles, down his bones, and through his torso as he drove all his considerable weight forward. The blow was hard enough to topple a gorilla.

She blinked. “I think you smeared my makeup.”

He barely had time to Spike himself dense before she hit him in the chest. Mass increased, his boots cracked into the floor, and she still managed to shove him back ten feet in a cloud of broken tiles. His back hit the wall and shattered a mirror, leaving a cracked indentation of his shoulders in the concrete. He stepped out, shrugging off the broken glass.

It was not something that a normal Heavy could do, but apparently Delilah didn’t have the time to think through the philosophical implications. “I’ve punched trains that were softer.” The Brute paused and shook her aching hand. “You’ve learned some new tricks!”

“You too,” he answered, breathing hard. “Too bad you took to murdering innocent people.”

“Innocent?” she sputtered, reaching down and grasping a wrought-iron bench and ripping its bolts out of the floor. “You’ve got a weird take on
innocent
.” She swung the bench like a baseball bat and Sullivan barely had time to throw himself to the ground as it whistled past.

Sullivan rolled aside, finding himself staring up Delilah’s dress as she brought one foot down to stamp him through the floor. Distracting as that was, he managed to focus, Spike, and Delilah suddenly fell
up.
“Son of a b—” she shouted before crashing into the glass ceiling, twenty feet above. Sullivan held the pull for a moment, but he’d burned through too much of his reserve, too fast, and lost control. Gravity returned to normal, and Delilah fell in a cloud of broken glass, screaming, to the ground.

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