Read Resistance Online

Authors: John Birmingham

Resistance (page 4)

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Trinder couldn’t give it up.

‘Mr Hooper, if you would please reconsider, I can get you on a plane to see your family again.’

‘He’s lying,’ said Compton.

‘I just told you that my orders specify he is not to fly anywhere until we have secured the airspace,’ said Heath, finally losing patience.

Hooper threaded a nice leather belt through the black dress pants and tucked in his shirt. He felt better now he was dressed. More in control, especially given how he’d just rubbed Trinder’s nose in the fact that he was the boss here.

‘Here’s what I’m going to do,’ he said as he searched around for shoes and socks.

‘For God’s sake, you can’t even dress yourself properly.’ Ashbury marched across the room and plucked a pair of black lace-ups from under the lounge where Foxy Knoxy was sleeping off the drug they’d used on her. Dave hadn’t injected the whole gel pack into his own neck, even though after last night he was pretty sure he could’ve handled it. But it had left him feeling lightheaded and buzzy, as though he’d slammed down a couple of full-strength beers on a hot afternoon.

He took the shoes and a pair of socks from Ashbury with a nod of thanks. Everyone waited for him to continue while he finished getting dressed.

‘I’m going to go back to my room,’ he said. ‘Have me a shower. Then I’m going to hit the breakfast buffet.’ He looked at Trinder, ‘Thanks for the suggestion, by the way. I’m happy to roll with these guys for now,’ he indicated Heath and Ashbury, but not Compton. ‘And I’d appreciate it if you looked after Ms Knox. How long will she be out?’

Trinder tilted his head toward one of his men.

‘About six to eight hours,’ the agent replied.

‘Okay, find her a room. Talk to that Alec guy. He seems to be the go-to guy around here. I’d say just put her back in my room but housekeeping is going to want to come through there today. We made kind of a mess last night. And you’re going to want to keep an eye on her anyway. I’d hate to have to go back on TV to tell everyone about how you drugged and fucked up such a pretty girl.’

Trinder looked as though he was setting himself up to object, but Dave quietened him with one finger to his lips.

‘No, seriously, I will. Those Fox guys are going to want to know what happened to their producer and their interview. And those guys, they never struck me as being well-disposed toward. . .’He paused for a moment searching for the right words. ‘Civil servants.’

Nobody made any move to restrain him as he headed toward the door. That was a good thing, thought Dave, because the drug he’d injected in a show of stupid machismo was really starting to slow him down and dull his senses. He wanted to get back to his room, have a hot shower and maybe give Mulan a bit of a tumble to clear his head.

His SEAL detail fell in on either side of him as he left the room, walking with slow, stately care, exactly like a drunken teenager trying not to be found out.

‘Nice work, Dave,’ said Zach. ‘I think you just pissed off the guys fromThe Bourne Identity.’

‘Hey, Mr Hooper?’

Dave blinked away some of the fuzzy headedness from the drug and squinted to focus on a casually dressed man who had just emerged from a door to his left.

‘Hey,’ said Dave, expecting to be asked for an autograph, and kind of glad of it after the unpleasant confrontation with Trinder and Heath. It was nice to deal with somebody who just wanted to tell him what a great guy he was. Perhaps, if Mulan wasn’t waiting for him back in his suite, he might even kick on and join those frat boys for a few breakfast beers like he’d promised. They could tell him whether they thought he had a chance withSurvivorChick.

‘Yeah,’ he said a little groggily, patting down his new shirt looking for a pen with which to sign his name.

But the man was already prepared and handed him an envelope.

‘You’re served, Super Dave.’

04

Lord Guyuk ur Grymm dipped one talon into the bubbling stew of the blood pot. The brew was near scalding hot, thickened with marrow and chunky with great cuts of rump and leg and sweetmeats. Guyuk’s nostril slits flared as he sniffed at the rich human ichor coating his fore-claw, a reduction of the choicest offals and rendered fats. He suppressed a shudder of anticipation. There was so much fat.

The ancient records of the Consilium did not offer many recipes for cooking with a surfeit of human lard. It had been an uncommon delicacy in the oldest times, and completely unobtainable since then, of course. But this recent game taken from the Above, like so much else from there, had surprised. It appeared that in the long eons since the banishment, humanity had grown large in more than one way.

The Grymm lord breathed deeply of the aroma. Digestive acids squirted into his mouth and both stomachs rumbled as he further restrained himself. He was proud of his forbearance. A score of blood pots bubbled away over heaped and glowing coals, filling the chambers of the Inquisitors Grymm with a heady miasma of rich murder and fear. He could hear the moans and cries of the captive cattle drifting up from the pits, where they had soiled themselves with their own pastes and liquid excretions, adding a particular piquancy to the already sweetened humours of the dark, hot cavern. And just beneath the lowing of the cattle, the constantscritch-scritch-scritchof the Inquisitorial Factotae. Two recorders to a pit, each one taking down every word – or at least the sound of every word – spoken or cried out or screamed by the occupants. Scolari Grymm would do their best to translate the guttural nonsense later. Although Lord Guyuk was coming to doubt the efficacy of the procedure.

He peered into the nearest pot, troubled by his thoughts. Lord Guyuk ur Grymm had not tasted of the feast being prepared down here. He had not given into temptation, because weakness was not the way of the Grymm. But neither was waste, and the rigours of the inquisitorial process were proving so harmful to his captives that he had ordered royal cooks summoned lest the work of his scouts come to naught. He might not be able to present Her Majesty with any usable intelligence, but at least he might seek her indulgence if he was able to present a fine repast. It was more than that idiot Scaroth had been able to do after all.

Two full Talon of Hunn he had taken with him through the breach to the Above, with four Lieutenants Grymm and a clutch of Sliveen scouts into the bargain. And with what had he returned?

Nothing.

Indeed he had not returned at all.

Only the broken, humiliated remnants of his thrall had escaped with their worthless hides intact. BattleMaster Urspite Scaroth Ur Hunn, it seemed from the survivors’ tales, had led his so-called Vengeance party into a human trap, where Scaroth himself had been challenged and humiliated by a champion.

The so-called Dave.

A human champion? Guyuk had trouble accepting the absurd myth, but he was Grymm and accepting hard truths was his reason to be.

He flicked the cooling stew from his talon and hawked a mouthful of acid into the nearest pit, where he heard it land with a satisfying splat and sizzle, followed by a terrified squeal of pain. He had not lost his appetite, but his determination not to be diverted by it was redoubled. The Hunn were fools. But that was less explanation than description. All Grymm knew the truth of it, from the newest hatchling to the old lord himself. Hunn charged into situations where finesse and nuance or even restraint should have been the watchword. They never prepared, apart from loading themselves down with mountainous piles of edged metal and thinning their own ranks with ridiculous Shurakh contests before they even took the field.

Just thinking on the dull-witted brutes and the iniquity of the high station they presumed in Her Majesty’s regard was enough to turn his already foul mood into a dangerous, seething chancre of impacted rage.

‘Inquisitor!’ he roared. ‘Have up another prisoner. And have a bit more care about it this time. The blood pots are full. We don’t need more ingredients, we need answers.’

The Captain Inquisitor on duty grunted and mumbled and shuffled toward the edge of the nearest holding pit, peering over as he snarled and worried at the problem of how to extract one of the prisoners without killing it. Guyuk consoled himself with a lesson in patience. A stupid Hunn would probably have just harpooned another calfling and stood there scratching its nuts in confusion as the poor dead thing refused to yield any useful information. The human cows really had proven themselves to be fragile creatures, even more so than the old scrolls had implied. A goodly number of them had actually died in the process of simply being transported here. They were not even mistreated to any notable extent. Guyuk himself had insisted upon that cautionary measure. It was known the creatures became deranged with fear if handled too harshly, and indeed, it was considered great sport to do so under the right circumstances. But these were not the right circumstances. Even so, in spite of his instructions, it appeared one third of the number taken had simply passed away from fright.

He sighed in vexation.

The Diwan Sliveen’s scouts had brought back three score captives from the Above. Not just from the unobserved fringes of the engagement between Scaroth’s forces and the human host led by the Dave, but from sorties Guyuk had dispatched in great stealth as soon as it was known the breach to the Above was open. It had been eons, of course, since any from the UnderRealms had sallied up into the Above, and much had been forgotten about the lands of men, but the Grymm lord was satisfied that he had cast his net as wide as fortune would allow and hauled in such a catch as would enable him to judge the disposition of the human forces.

He snorted in disbelief at that.

Human forces. It was an affront to any right-thinking daemon to even say those words one after the other. And yet. . .The reports he had seen from Scaroth’s remnants – reports compiled by his own Inquisitors within these very walls – left no other conclusion to be drawn. These were not men as the Scrolls knew them and the Hunn were piling ignorance upon shame as they gave into their blood lust and clamoured for ever larger revenge raids.

The Captain Inquisitor of the Night squatted on his haunches at the edge of the pit, grunting with exertion as he leaned over with pole and hoop attempting to snag one of the prisoners. The Grymm Lord Guyuk allowed himself a moment’s indulgence, closing his third eyelids, sucking in a deep draught of the blood-pot scent and enjoying the terrified shrieks of the cattle as the captain attempted to rope and haul one up for questioning. It made him almost dizzy with hunger, and beneath the base physical desire he could feel the terrible thirst ofgurikh, his warrior spirit, for even a sip of the bloodwine.

But Lord Guyuk had not risen to command Her Majesty’s Grymm by giving into desires. He examined the temptation, tasted it in the acid still squirting into his mouth, even imagined himself upending one of the blood pots and simply pouring the contents into his open maw. By allowing himself to consider exactly how he might succumb to his most basic lusts, how he might sink to the level of a Hunn, or even worse to one of their leashed Fangr, the Grymm lord was able to take the measure of his weaknesses and put them to one side.

The shrieking coming from the pits, for instance, as his Captain Inquisitor attempted to lasso another human, would normally have left him dizzy with hunger. Instead Guyuk concentrated on separating out the various cries and screams. There were, he determined, at least five of the creatures being held in this, the nearest pit. Two full-grown animals, and three much younger calflings. It was most likely, he deduced, that these were one of the nestling groups his scouts had brought back. The worst of the hysterical screeching almost certainly emanated from their egg-layer, while a sort of deeper barking noise he attributed to the nestling founder, the. . .he searched for the human term. . .the father of the nest. The sweetest, caterwauling shrieks and cries of terror must then have emanated from the tiny throats of the three hatchlings they were trying to protect.

Moving to the edge of the pits, on the far side from the Captain Inquisitor, Lord Guyuk peered over the edge to confirm his deductions. He grunted once in satisfaction. It was exactly as he had thought. One large male, one fully grown female, and three diminutive hatchlings squirming away from the Inquisitor’s hoop, attempting to hide behind their progenitors.

‘Take the large male,’ Guyuk advised, although advice from the commander of Her Majesty’s Grymm was as good as an order sealed in the blood royal. ‘It keeps getting in the way. So get it out of the way. Are you some Tümorum half-breed that you cannot see that?’

‘Yes, my Lord!’

‘What?’

‘I mean no, my Lord!’

Lord Guyuk exhaled slowly.

‘Just get me the big one, and be careful about it.’

The Captain Inquisitor grunted his acknowledgement and assent before returning to his job. Guyuk would never admit it of course, but he had some little sympathy for the captain. The shrieking of the nestling group was most distracting, and the dominant male – the father – was proving difficult; not just placing himself in front of his nest mates but actively working to thwart the captain’s attempts to corral and lasso any of them. Guyuk could see the creature’s arms were bloody and bruised from batting away the pole again and again. He put aside his frustration to learn what he might from this. A Hunn Dominant would long ago have become enraged to the point of jumping into the pit and killing them all. That was why Her Majesty did not rely on the Hunn for much beyond the simple, brutal business of massing great forces before an enemy and crushing them with one great stomp.

He watched as the man foiled the captain’s repeated attempts to slip the noose over his head. He was tiring, but remained surprisingly agile and determined, in spite of the fear which came off him in waves. This was all fascinating, and worthy of further study, but in the immediate moment it intrigued Guyuk because in no way did it accord with what he knew of the habits of cattle from his study of the scrolls. If the scrolls spoke true – and the scrolls were holy writ so how could they speak otherwise? – these creatures should simply have collapsed in abject submission before their daemon overlords. Instead, just as Scaroth had discovered, they resisted.

To be sure, the resistance of this lone male was not just frustrating but ultimately futile. And unlike the resistance Urspite Scaroth ur Hunn had encountered, it posed no threat.

But the very fact of resistance itself was the threat, thought Guyuk. There was so much they did not know about the world Above but one truth had always been known. Men did not resist. They might flee. They would certainly scream and soil themselves. But they could not and would not resist.

Yet here was one of them, an unremarkable specimen, pale of hide, fat and slow, leaking its vital bodily essences, and yet it resisted. It resisted even though that resistance was meaningless.

Fascinating, thought Guyuk.

‘Think I got him, my Lord,’ grunted the captain.

The Inquisitor distracted the male by jabbing the end of the pole into the face of its female nest mate, shattering a few bones and possibly destroying one of the eyes to judge by the damage Guyuk could see. The brood cow wailed in pain, which drew the attention of the male long enough for the captain to whip the noose around his head and jerk him up toward them. His body slammed into the side of the pit with a dull thud, which was almost drowned out by the cries and protests of the hysterical nestlings. The Grymm lord hadn’t thought it possible they could screech any louder, but they proved him wrong.

‘Daddee, daddee,’ they cried. Guyuk noted the scratching of the Inquisitorial Factotae on their clay pads as they transcribed every word drifting up from the pits. Thorough but possibly as meaningless as all the thrashing-about goings-on beneath their very claws, he thought.

The Captain Inquisitor of the Night hauled steadily on his difficult load while the caterwauling grew worse. And still the Factotae scratched and scribbled away.

This was going nowhere, thought Guyuk, just as the captain proved him wrong by crying out aloud and tumbling over backward.

What now, thought the Grymm lord. But a quick look down into the pit told him everything he needed to know.

‘Gah! You damned fool,’ snapped Lord Guyuk ur Grymm at the sprawling Inquisitor. ‘You’ve pulled his head off.’

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