Read Resistance Online

Authors: John Birmingham

Resistance (page 3)

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‘Well it’s probably best just to sit tight for the next little while,’ he said, thinking properly of his own kids for the first time in at least a day. There’s no way Annie would be watching Fox, but one of the neighbours or one of her friends was sure to nark him out. ‘Lay in some supplies, same as you would for storm season.’

‘What about ammo, Dave?’ asked the Haircut. Dave still couldn’t remember that guy’s name. ‘A lot of our viewers would like to know about home defence options.’

‘Well, I’m not a gun owner. . .’he paused to see if he could jog the Haircut’s name loose from his memory. Nope. ‘But the Hunn down in N’Orleans, they lit up real good under tracer fire. And they got some thick demon-hide asses. So armour-piercing would be nice too. The bigger the bullet, the better.’

Igor nodded to Zach, mouthing, ‘See, I told you so.’

Zach responded with a knife-hand slash in the air to shut it.

The Haircut seemed pleased with that. Knoxy mouthed something into her headset and Elisabeth reappeared on-screen.

‘For those viewers who might have just joined us, we’re talking exclusively to Dave Hooper, the hero of New Orleans. His first and only interview since saving the people of that city from the horrors of Hell. Dave, can you tell us how you killed the monsters on the Longreach? Is this something our viewers could try at home?’

Dave saw his eyes go wide on-screen.

‘Whoa. Hell no, Lizzie! I got lucky. The monster I knocked on the head was drunker than a goddamn Astros fan. And the hammer I brained him with, it was an oversized splitting maul, not the sort of thing most folks are gonna have lying around. Seriously, don’t even try.’

‘He was drunk?’

‘On blood, yeah. Sorry. Hot blood gets ’em shit-faced.’

They hadn’t reacted to him swearing before, and he felt more comfortable speaking the way he normally would, so Dave gave up trying to edit and censor every word before it came out of his mouth. Seven second delay, he thought. They must have been bleeping him whenever he cut loose. They were probably loving it. It’d make a great YouTube vid.

Then he remembered Annie would be watching this, and bad-mouthing him to his boys, so he had to put the clamps on again. All this second-guessing made it hard to concentrate on what the talking heads were saying. He decided to do what politicians always seemed to do and answer the question he wanted to answer anyway.

‘Thing is, Liz,’ he said. ‘These things are dangerous. Not like a meth-head or a grizzly bear. More like a whole army of grizzly bears on meth and packin’ a whole heap o’ big-ass battle-axes and swords. If you can run or hide, do that. If you can’t, and you got a gun to hand, you need to start shooting and keep at it until you run out. Go for the face, the throat, and this area just under the arm if you get a clear shot. Bone cage is thinner there. With a big enough bullet you might not even need armour-piercing rounds. But really, call the cops or the army. Or the National Guard, or whatever. Let ’em do their job.’

‘What about you, Dave?’

It was the Haircut, back again.

‘Will you be going after these things? People are saying you saved New Orleans. There’s photos and videos all over the Internet of you standing down the big bad all on your own. It’s viral, Dave, all over the world now. People need a hero, and you’re it, big guy. What you gonna do?’

Dave had the decency to blush and at that moment he remembered the Haircut’s name.

‘Steve,’ he said quietly, leaning toward the camera a little. ‘That’s just not right. I did my bit in New Orleans, but plenty of others did plenty more. You’re forgetting not everyone who fought those things got blessed with superpowers.’

Dave thought back to the marine who’d died saving him in the weed-choked lot where the small monster raiding party had emerged. So much blood and horror it undid him for a moment and he realised he had vagued out on national TV.

‘Sorry,’ he said.

‘That’s all right, Dave, we understand,’ saidSurvivorChick, doing a passable imitation of sincere concern. ‘What can you tell us about the ones you fought in New Orleans? Are they connected to these. . .Drakon. . .which attacked six aircraft last night?’

She pronounced the word ‘Draykon’.

‘Dar Drakon,’ he corrected. ‘Dragons. That’s some crazy shit right there, eh?’

He smiled weakly and shook his head, starting to relax into the interview.

He noticed Foxy –Georgia. Her name is Georgia– motioning at him to lift the mic a little closer to his mouth.

‘I don’t know so much about the dragons,’ he said. ‘But the Hunn? The Horde? Yeah I can tell y’all about them.’

And he did. At length. Until the screen turned to white noise.

03

Dave knew something was going down before the video link to New York dropped out. The disturbance in the hall outside would have set his Spidey senses tingling even earlier, had he not been so wrapped up in flirting withSurvivorChick. He was certain she was flirting with him. Right there on cable TV. Smiling and giggling, playing with a few strands of hair while alternately beaming, gasping and shaking her head in mock horror as Dave relayed some of the gnarlier moments from the Battle of New Orleans.

That’s what they were calling it now, ‘The Battle of New Orleans’. You could hear the capital letters in the waySurvivorChick said it. She was good at her job, getting him to talk, or maybe Georgia Knox was. The diminutive producer in the waffle-weave bathrobe never once looked at Dave while she channelled her questions through to the studio. But she led the two anchors and their guest – ‘the talent’ he heard one of the techs call him – through the entire adventure from the moment he’d landed on the Longreach in J2’s chopper, to Compton ordering the helicopter gunships to open up on the remnants of Urspite’s revengers party. Dave was smart enough not to reveal his true feelings about that. Years of ass-covering practice in the vicious pig circus of Baron’s Petrochemical’s office politics had taught him some discretion. He might have thought that firing on the retreating Horde after he’d negotiated their withdrawal from the field had been an epically dumbass piece of douche-baggage, but he knew better than to hang that out in public. There would probably come a moment to tell the truth of it, or his version of the truth at any rate. But for now, sitting half naked on breakfast television, he didn’t feel like that moment had arrived.

What had arrived were the Men in Black.

That was Hooper’s first thought as two of them, then three, then four and then a small army, all wearing dark suits, crisp white shirts, and mostly blue or black ties, burst into the temporary media suite. He’d heard them coming. Or he’d heard the commotion outside the suite, but had just put it down to pushing and shoving between hotel security, and the small pack of would-be agents and reps and ten-percenters scratching at the doors outside. But then the signal to New York dropped out as he was explaining to Elisabeth Hasselbeck – Lizzie he called her now – how braining a shit-faced Urgon Htoth ur Hunn had been his personalBiggest Loserand Marvel Comics origin story moment all rolled into one. Lizzie had even talked him into standing up and taking off his shirt to show America his newfound six-pack. Perhaps she’d forgotten that he wore no pants, or perhaps she was very much aware of the fact. It didn’t matter in the end because hissing white noise suddenly filled the screen.

He’d finally attended to the muffled shouts and protests outside then. Georgia Knox had started cursing up a storm, and the double doors of the suite had crashed open to admit a phalanx of gorillas in suits. All of them giving the impression they wanted to have a serious word with Mr David Hooper about his unfiled tax returns or unpaid parking fines, or some grim and difficult shit like that.

‘Shut it down,’ ordered one suit. Dave assumed he was the man in charge since he seemed pretty comfortable throwing orders around. And he wore a red and gold striped tie. The only splash of colour in the bunch.

‘You two,’ he barked at the cameraman and sound tech, ‘power down the equipment and don’t try any bullshit. Pull out the batteries, unplug everything, and get the fuck outside. You,’ he stabbed a finger at Knoxy. ‘You sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, and start contemplating how your cooperation in the next five minutes is going to keep you out of federal prison for the next twenty years.’

There were a dozen suits in the room now, moving swiftly to take control of the space. Dave could see more outside, pushing back his newfound entourage, brushing off the Bellagio muscle, while those in the room tried stone-facing Zach and Igor, who took up the challenge but reacted each according to his disposition. Zach showed the suits his open palms and surfer dude mellow, while Igor looked ready to throw down and get bloody.

The agent in charge, or whatever he called himself, turned his attention to Dave. He was a middle-aged man, with a slight paunch, watery eyes and thick mousy brown hair, heavily lacquered with what looked like a couple of handfuls of styling gel. Except this guy was a relic from before the time of styling gel, so it had to be some sort of old-school pomade. Brylcreem Original, or something like that. Dude had Don Draper’s suit, hair grease and cigarette habit, judging by the stink leaching out past his slightly yellowed teeth, but none of thatMad Menstyle.

‘Who the hell are you?’ Dave asked. It didn’t come out quite as forcefully as intended, because of his crucial lack of pants.

With pants comes dignity and a certain moral authority, after all.

Georgia Knox spoke up before Dave could get an answer.

‘You ever hear of the First Amendment, asshole?’

The producer was undeterred by her lack of appropriate day wear, nor by the threat of running the in-house breakfast TV show at some federal penitentiary.

‘Patriot Act trumps the First every time, sweetheart.’

All the suits were beginning to notice Dave’s half-naked state, but at least he wasn’t wearing Mulan’s sexy-time pyjama top or sporting any wood. He started to do up the buttons he’d previously undone for Lizzie.

‘Mr Hooper, my name is Agent Donald Trinder and I am authorised to escort you to a secure and secret location under the –’

‘Authorised by whom?’ Georgia Knox demanded to know before turning and snapping at the camera crew. ‘I didn’t tell you to stop shooting.’

Her crew seemed to weigh up the various threats and decided they were more frightened of her than Trinder. But as the camera guy tried to turn his lens on the lead government man one of the agents kicked the legs out from under the tripod, toppling the equipment. The camera hit the corner of the marble coffee table and shattered into a dozen pieces with a loud crash and tinkle of breaking glass.

‘Shit!’ cried Knoxy. The cameraman also swore but for good measure he threw in a wild haymaker aimed at the agent, who blocked the punch without visible effort and jabbed his stiffened fingers into the man’s armpit.

The cameraman toppled over, clutching his shoulder and crying out in pain as he landed on the table full of broadcast gear. The other techie tried to swing the sound boom like a club and found himself pinned up against the wall by two more agents. Bellagio Alec fell to his knees, running his fingers through his hair and crying out ‘Noooo’ in such a theatrical fashion that Dave couldn’t help but laugh, while Armando surprised everyone by elbowing another agent in the face.

Dave saw a gun appear and he felt thequickeningcome on. One moment he was just a guy with no pants in a room where everything was spinning out of control, and then he was the calm centre of a world which had slowed down to the point of all but stopping. He didn’t so much focus his hyper-accelerated, super-acute senses as he let them flow out into the world all at once, and let the world flow back in on him at the same time.

He took the time to count the number of agents. There were thirteen of them in the room, including Trinder, and more outside. Men and women. They weren’t blank-faced automatons. One little cutie, some Asian chick, was rockin’ a face tattoo. Trinder was caught mid-snarl, jabbing one pudgy finger at Armando who had his elbow buried deep in the face of the suit standing next to him, attempting to restrain him. Maybe Armando had had just about enough of being treated like a pussy, thought Dave. Because it looked like he was one of those gay guys who spent a lot of time doing karate orkrav magaor something. He’d struck clean and hard, breaking the agent’s nose and splitting his upper lip where it had been crushed against his teeth. Dave paused for a moment to appreciate the glistening arc of blood droplets and spittle blooming from the point of impact.

Nice work, Armando.

It was as though everybody in the room – everybody in the whole world, he presumed – was caught, suspended in a thick, invisible gel through which he alone could pass without hindrance. He smiled appreciatively at the muscles standing out on Georgia’s legs as she launched herself toward her cameraman, whose face was a pale mask punctured by the rictus of his mouth as he cried out in pain. Turned out Foxy Knoxy was quite the hellcat out of bed as well as in it. He couldn’t help giving her a playful squeeze on the rump as he moved past to disarm an agent who was pointing a pistol at Armando.

An older, redundant instinct almost tricked him into slapping the weapon out of the hand of the unmoving agent but he caught himself at the last second. If he chopped this guy’s arm, he’d probably sever it at the point of impact, and not cleanly. And for sure the damned gun would have gone off anyway as the agent’s fingers spasmed with the trauma.

Instead, Dave took a few seconds of his own time, long enough for him to detect the slightest incremental changes in everybody’s positions, to place one hand over the top of the pistol, forcing the muzzle to point down at a large leather couch in one corner, and away from all of the people he had effectively paused mid-heartbeat. Only when he was sure an accidental discharge wouldn’t blow a dirty great hole in anybody, including any of Trinder’s people, did he give the agent a quick, light tap on the bicep. He had to wait a little while for the signals to travel slowly through the man’s nervous system, into his brain and back down into the muscle, giving Dave another chance to take in the scene around him. He frowned at the deep, low frequency hum which he assumed to be the radically throttled down sounds of chaos. And he grinned at the ferocious, almost animalistic set of Igor’s features compared to the goofy, disarming smile with which Chief Allen was responding to a couple of agents who were attempting to get them to back away from the door. He tried to make sense of the entourage – his entourage, he reminded himself – who were still trying to get to him in spite of this added complication. Some of them were waving papers at him. One had a fistful of hundred dollar bills.

Then he felt the agent’s gun hand relax slowly, but appreciably. Just enough for him to twist the weapon out of the man’s grip without breaking his fingers. He turned and walked back toward Trinder. He had to stop and take a few moments of his own accelerated time to locate the gun’s safety and click it on, or what he hoped was on, before decelerating in front of the boss hog and slamming the solid lump of metal down on a small, nearby table like a judge’s gavel. The report was almost as loud as a gunshot, and split the wooden tabletop with a terrible, secondary crack. But it had the desired effect as Dave yelled out, ‘Enough!’

He had the weird, discontinuous experience of seeing everybody speed up and then stutter to a halt, but this time they froze not because he had accelerated beyond any human ability to perceive his movement, but merely out of shock. It was possible, he conceded that Georgia’s little squeal was also a result of the gentle butt squeeze he’d given her. She did reach around and grab at her delightfully tight buns, as though goosed by a ghost travelling at warp speed.

The agent he’d disarmed cried out in surprise and probably some pain. The suit Armando elbowed in the face crashed into the wall. And then Georgia swore once, loudly, even as she jumped involuntarily away from the space where Dave appeared to simply pop into existence, after having disappeared in a blur of fluid movement.

‘Stand down!’ Trinder shouted. ‘I said, stand down!’ It was the first smart move he’d made since barging into the room. His face, which had been florid with excitement, now looked sallow and slack. A long, uncomfortable second or two of silence followed, broken only by the thump of the elbowed agent sliding to the floor, groaning and snuffling through his broken nose and bloody lips.

‘Comeau,’ said Trinder. ‘See to Agent Bates.’

One of the Men in Black moved toward the injured agent.

‘So, who’d you say you were?’ Dave asked. ‘I’m Dave, by the way. Or Super Dave if you like. That works for me too.’

‘His name is Donald Trinder,’ a deep, commanding voice announced from the back of the room.

Heath.

Dave Hooper didn’t know whether to smile or flinch. Instead he settled, like everyone else, for turning toward the severe-looking black man who had just forced his way into the proceedings at exactly the right moment. Almost as though he had been waiting for it. A couple of inches over six foot, a long dark streak of corded muscle and deep disapproval with the world, Michael Heath, Captain, United States Navy, gave the impression of glaring at everyone all at once.

Agent Trinder, Dave noted, did not appear to be pleased by the arrival of his. . .What? His colleague? Dave had worn that same look on his own face many times at Baron’s. Most recently when he thought they were hanging him out to dry for the fire on the Longreach. Before anyone knew what had actually happened.

Even the small pack of carnivorous management consultants, or talent handlers, or whatever they were, fell silent under the power of the glowering, dark-skinned officer in khaki trousers and a short-sleeved tan dress shirt.

Again with the confusing wardrobe choices, thought Dave. They were in the desert, why not wear the desert cammies? The mind boggled.

‘Chief Allen?’

‘Sir!’ Zach dropped the surfer dude ’tude for pure military mode.

‘Clear the room of civilians,’ Heath barked, leading Trinder to issue a follow-up order to the agents he had out in the hallway to assist.

The protests, empty threats and cries of outrage faded away as the small crowd was forced out of earshot. Dave was sorry to see that fistful of Benjamins disappear.

‘Them too,’ said Heath, indicating the Fox News staffers.

‘No way,’ Georgia Knox said, folding her arms and jutting her chin at the naval officer. ‘You’re on private property, buddy. We’re here as guests of the Bellagio, isn’t that right, Alec?’