Read Hard Magic Online

Authors: Larry Correia

Tags: #Fantasy

Hard Magic (6 page)

Good thing he’d done nothing but practice for six years . . .

“Sam! Get out of the way!” he shouted. He had no idea if the Bureau of Investigation agent was actually crazy enough, or physically fit enough to follow him this way, but it was worth the effort to yell. “Incoming!”

The trapdoor, now drawn toward the Earth as if it weighed five hundred pounds, tore free and toppled down the shaft. Sullivan reached out with his Power, just in case, and lessened the pull on the trapdoor so it fluttered down with the energy of a broken kite. The length of the reach overcame his concentration, and for a brief moment, Sullivan slipped. He barely held onto the greasy cable as he returned instantly to his natural weight. Sliding, almost losing it, he managed to shove one hand through the open trap. Grasping the edge, he pulled himself through onto the elevator’s carpeted floor with a grunt.

The shaft terminated inside a glass enclosure. UBF signs encouraged mothers to secure their children while on the platform. Sullivan crawled forward, glancing around the darkened enclosure. Rain was streaking the glass and lightning crashed. Three UBF employees and the last of the passengers were standing there, gawking at the dirigible beginning to rise just outside the windows. Delilah was getting away.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Can you clamp it down from here?”

“Are you crazy? You want them to
stay
?” an older man in a blue UBF captain’s uniform shouted. “That’s my bird they’re glauming out there, and even I don’t want to mess with those freaks! He bent the door with his
brain
, son!”

Sullivan swore as he tried the door to the platform. The metal frame had been twisted and distorted somehow. It was like what Cowley had said had happened in the stairs. He didn’t even know what kind of Power that was, and if it was the Mover, then it was from an Active far stronger than anybody he’d met before.

That gave him an idea. The dirigible companies were employing lightning directors now, and their safety records had gone way up as a result, but he’d also seen what an offensive weapon they could be during the war. “Who’s the Crackler?” Sullivan asked. on!”

One of the younger UBF employees stepped forward. Sullivan kicked himself. It should have been obvious. His coverall had a big yellow lightning bolt sewn on it. “We prefer being called Edisons,” the young man said stiffly.

“Whatever floats your boat, pal. Can you blast them out of the sky?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” he said quickly. The others looked at him suspiciously. Even if he could, he wasn’t going to admit it in front of people who could get him fired. “Of course I can’t.”

“It was worth a try.” The dirigible was rising, loose cables whipping about it in the wind. “Cover your ears,” Sullivan ordered as he drew his 1911 Colt. There was no way he could heed his own advice and his ears stung from the concussion in the enclosed space. A hole puckered through the thick glass. He stepped back and kicked the window out, careful not to slice himself open on the jagged edges, and stepped onto the platform. The rain was pounding around him in giant sheets.

The dirigible’s cabin was thirty feet up and rising quick. He could have shot at it, but he might as well try to poke holes in the moon. He could empty an entire magazine into that gas bag and they’d still have enough helium to make it to California. A few .45 caliber holes weren’t going to make a lick of difference. They were far enough away from the tower now to safely fire up the propellers, which coughed and began to turn. The stubby wedge wings started getting lift and the rate of climb increased dramatically. There was no time for hesitation. Sullivan took three quick steps and vaulted over the railing into space, drawing deep on his Power the whole time.

The safety cable snapped past, slamming into his chest, flinging him about as if he weighed nothing, which in fact was almost true. He wrapped his arms around the cable and his fedora disappeared into the darkness. Sullivan grimaced as the sharp corner of the platform’s metal roof caught his leg and slashed through his trousers and into the muscle of his calf.

It hurt unbelievably bad. He didn’t know how deep it was. He could let go and float to the ground now, or he could wait, pass out from blood loss and drop like a stone. But Sullivan ignored the pain, despite every rational part of his brain telling him that he was cuckoo, and began to climb, throwing himself up the cable with maniacal force. The wind was increasing as the dirigible picked up speed and the incandescent lights of Springfield were winking by under his kicking legs.

Thrashing through the rain, he could see that the cable terminated on a spool at the aft end of the cabin. There was a catwalk under it, and Sullivan concentrated on reaching it. He blinked away rain and tears long enough to notice the form of a man walking down the catwalk, right toward the spool. Sullivan knew he was a sitting duck. There was no more time.

Altering gravity took Power. The further he reached the more it took, and changing the direction of pull entirely burned up Power like coal in a blast furnace, but he had no choice. Sullivan Spiked as hard as he could as he let go of the rope and returned to his normal weight. There was a rip in space as one bit of it was temporarily
wronged
and inverted. Up became down and he fell through the sky, upward toward the climbing dirigible.

It was the Fade, moving down the catwalk, reeling the cables back in to avoid lightning strikes. He paused, noticing that something was wrong as the raindrops in front of his face slowed, hesitated in midair, and then began climbing. The German turned just in time to catch Sullivan’s massive fist with his jaw.

“Lights out, Hans,” Sullivan said as he crawled over the railing and dropped into a crouch on the steel catwalk. The German was out cold, flat on his back, one leg dangling off the edge. Sullivan knelt next to the unconscious man and patted him down. No papers, no wallet, the only thing distinctive was a gold ring with a black stone on his right hand. Sullivan found a diminutive little .32 in the man’s coat, and frowned as he examined the baby Browning. “Europeans . . .” he muttered, stuffing the tiny pistol in his own pocket.

The German moaned, so Sullivan grabbed a handful of shirt with his left, and gave him another big right, before dropping him back to the deck. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. “Now we’re even.”

The big man moved quickly down the catwalk. Through the portholes he could see that the lights were on inside the cabin, which meant that he could see in, but they’d have a darn hard time seeing out. But he didn’t see anybody as he passed. The dirigible was going even faster now, and the wind was screaming past, whipping his tie and coat behind him. Sullivan leaned into it and plodded on until he found an entrance door and ducked in.

The door opened into a wood-paneled hallway that bisected the cabin. It was a lot quieter inside. Sullivan paused, catching his breath, dripping rainwater, and made sure his Power was ready. The cut on his calf burned, but didn’t appear to be as deep as he’d originally feared. The blood was leaking, rather than pumping, and he removed his tie and wrapped it around the cut as a makeshift bandage. Once he caught Delilah, the feds were definitely going to have to spring for a new set of duds. He drew his Colt and proceeded slowly down the hall, boots squeaking slightly.

The next door was marked Galley. Sullivan moved inside. The rectangular space was filled with two long bars and bolted-down swivel stools, but empty of people. There was a door at the far end, and Sullivan started toward it. Somebody was driving this blimp, and he had to be in that direction. Delilah was probably with him, and if he could capture her, then he was finally a
free
man.

There was a tinkle of glass and a crash from the other side of the door and Sullivan automatically raised the Colt. A head moved on the other side of the circular glass window, and then the door swung open.

It was a young man, tall and thin, with disheveled brown hair and a skinny mustache, wearing a wool overcoat, but no hat, and his tie was undone. He had a bottle of wine in one hand and a corkscrew in the other. He was grinning and all of his attention was on getting that bottle open. Of course alcohol was illegal, but everybody knew that the passenger blimps always had something good stashed for the rich passengers.

“Hey,” Sullivan said calmly. The 1911 made an audible click as the safety was moved into the off position.

The young man looked up in surprise. “Hey, yourself,” he replied slowly. “Who are you supposed to be?”

“The one with the gun, so get your hands up.”

He paused. “But if I do that, I would have to drop this . . .”

Sullivan nodded slowly. “Beats getting shot in the face.”

“This is an 1899 vintage Merida-Claribout. I can’t
drop
it.”

“Well, I could drop you instead.”

He sighed in resignation. “Fine . . .” He let go of the bottle and the corkscrew and quickly raised his hands.

But there was no crash. No breaking of glass. Sullivan jerked his eyes down and saw the bottle hovering an inch off the floor. The young man smiled.

The bottle streaked across the galley at insane speeds, faster than Sullivan could Spike, and hit him in the arm as he jerked the trigger. Rather than break, the bottle impacted like a club. Sullivan tried to reacquire his target, but the bottle came flipping around out of nowhere and hit him over the top of the head and this time it shattered.

“Shit,” he growled as he landed against the bar, alcohol burning his eyes. The Colt came up, but pain flared through Sullivan’s hand, and he looked down in disbelief at the corkscrew embedded just behind the knuckles of his gun hand. His fingers twitched uncontrollably and the .45 hit the bar. He grasped for it with his left, but the gun flew down the bar and disappeared. “Damned Movers.”

“Yeah, we get that a lot,” the kid said. There was a sudden noise as several of the drawers on the service side of the counter slid open. There was a flash of silver and a cloud of knives, forks, and spoons rose over the bar. All of the items turned in the air so that they were pointed at Sullivan. “So who are you supposed to be?”

“I’m here to help arrest Delilah Jones for murder,” Sullivan said with more calm than he felt as he stared at a particularly large steak knife. He grasped the corkscrew and slowly withdrew it, turning it so as to not pull out a plug of meat, grimacing against the pain. From his understanding of Movers, it took a lot of effort to even direct the smallest of objects with any control. Let alone whole bunches of them. This kid was
good
.

“You a G-man?” the Mover asked. He was frowning slightly, so it was taking some effort to hold up all those things, but Sullivan had to admit that it was mighty intimidating.

“Hardly . . . I suppose I’m a bounty hunter.” Sullivan took his time responding. It had to be using up a lot of the kid’s Power to show off like that. Being flashy was a waste of energy, and everybody had limits. “Maybe I’ll get a reward for you too. What’s blimp-napping worth nowadays?”

“Actually this is a dirigible. Blimps don’t have internal frames.”

“Everybody knows that.”

“You must be the Heavy that’s working for the feds.”

“Yeah,” Sullivan answered, Spiking hard. “Guess so.” Each piece of silverware suddenly gained fifty pounds. The kid gasped as he lost control and the objects crashed down.

The kid was at the far end of the bar, which was a little too far for an accurate Spike, so Sullivan reached across his body with his uninjured left hand and rummaged through his right coat pocket.

“You’re going to regret that!” the Mover shouted. “You Heavies can only concentrate on one space at a time. Watch this!” Then he theatrically spread his arms, and every loose object in the room shook. Plates, cups, bottles, trash, silverware, even the stools spun and the light fixtures pulled against their cords. “It’s like a thousand invisible hands, bucko. Let’s see how you do in the middle of a tornado.”

Sullivan came out with the German’s .32. “You talk a lot.” And then he shot the kid in the knee.

“Oww!” the Mover screamed as he fell to the floor. “Oh damn!” he grasped his leg and blood came pouring out between his fingers. All of the telekinetic Power was lost and the various objects fell with a clatter. “You, you bastard! That
hurts
!”

“You have to learn to focus through the pain to use your Power, kid,” Sullivan said patiently. He’d crossed the room quickly and was standing over the Mover. “You’re lucky. I was aiming for your head, but I’m right handed.” He held up his bleeding hand, indicating the corkscrew hole. The fingers didn’t want to close. “I don’t aim so good with my left.”

The kid gritted his teeth, gathering his Power, and a meat cleaver rose from the bar. Sullivan just shrugged, Spiked, and the injured man lofted to the ceiling and rebounded off a steel beam in the roof, then Sullivan let gravity return to normal and the kid fell, crashing in a moaning, broken heap at his feet.

Sullivan returned the .32 to his pocket. He removed his handkerchief and wrapped it around his hand to stop the bleeding. The white quickly turned red. It hurt like a son of a bitch. He spotted his Colt near the kid and picked it up, limping onward.

Two down, but how many others were there? Sullivan was feeling woozy. He was losing blood. Had the others heard the gunshot? Would they be waiting for him?

He crossed another empty hallway. The control deck was up a short flight of metal steps at the end. The coast appeared to be clear. Sullivan checked his Power. There wasn’t a whole lot left. He should have just shot the talky Mover again and saved the juice.

There was only one way in, so Sullivan moved up as quietly as possible for a man of his stature. If he hadn’t been so worried about running low on Power, he would have given himself the weight of a dainty ballerina and made no noise at all. He set his boot down carefully, so the steps wouldn’t creak. The space around him was a mass of darkened pipes and shadows. This section wasn’t meant to be seen by the passengers, so UBF had saved the money on making it pretty. This end of the dirigible was noisy and vibrating from the front propellers and the wind. It was possible that the pilot of the stolen blimp hadn’t even heard the guns.

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