Read Resistance Online

Authors: John Birmingham

Resistance (page 5)

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‘What? Are you guys pissed at me for doing that TV thing?’ Dave asked. ‘Because you told me I was cool to do that shit.’

‘And it is totally cool,’ Boylan assured him over the top of any possible objections. ‘And you’ll be doing many more, Dave. Many more. Once we’ve worked out a schedule of appearance fees.’

‘It is not about you doing interviews,’ said Heath as he slowly turned his coffee cup around on its saucer. Around and around went the coffee cup with a quiet scraping noise. ‘We agreed back in New Orleans that there was no point in trying to keep a lid on this. You’re not a prisoner and you’re not a conscript. I can’t order or compel you to do anything.’

You got that right, Dave thought.

‘You have no legal obligations, only moral ones,’ said Heath.

Dave found himself bristling at that too, but he said nothing. It was all just words. Orc motherfuckers had killed his friends and work mates. Made him look bad doing it too. For a while anyway. They’d be getting a full measure of payback, and moral obligations be damned. The Horde was gonna find out that Dave Hooper was a guy who paid his debts.

Well, okay. Maybe not all of them.

But. . .

Boylan raised one hand and opened his mouth as if to speak but also seemed to think the better of it as their servers returned with hot food. A large omelette, piled with cheese, made a soft landing in front of Dave. The waitress brushed against his arm as she laid the plate out, her cleavage in clear view. Dave’s dark mood lightened and he winked, gratified to see her blush. Her friend laid a perfectly crispy side of hash browns next to the omelette.

‘I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the situation,’ said Compton when they had the table to themselves again. ‘There’s danger here, Hooper. Not just of going without your damn lobster sandwich because the delivery truck didn’t make it through. I mean things could quickly fray to the point of falling apart.’

‘What, in Vegas?’

‘Don’t be obtuse,’ said Emmeline, who seemed in an especially poor mood. Dave was starting to be thankful he hadn’t tried to fuck her when they were out on the rig. And then he wondered if that was why she was pissed at him. Even though she’d said she wasn’t interested? Dave had many faults, but a lack of basic comprehension wasn’t one of them. He knew no meant no. He’d sure as hell had enough women tell him ‘No’ over the years to take the lesson to heart.

‘Do you know how many days it takes for a modern city to run out of food?’ said Compton.

‘The way you’re inhaling those cheese crullers, I’d say by this afternoon,’ Dave answered, smiling at his zinger. He began the process of systematically dismantling and devouring the omelette. He switched between scoops of egg, ham and cheese with crispy hash browns.

‘Nine days, give or take,’ said Boylan, surprising them all. He shrugged off their querying expressions. The lawyer’s soft little hands whirled up by his head like hairy helicopters. ‘I’m one quarter Greek. My grandparents were in Athens during the Second World War. What my family don’t know about going hungry is not worth knowing.’

Dave nodded, while chewing. The fogginess of Trinder’s drug was gone. Dave shovelled in the last calories from the first round of breakfast just as a large plate of bacon materialised courtesy of the waitress who brought along his second omelette. She placed her hand between Dave’s shoulder blades and smiled.

‘Doing all right?’ she asked.

‘Are pancakes possible?’ he asked.

‘Oh for pity’s sake,’ Compton muttered.

Heath’s knuckles cracked from the clenched fist he formed three times to dissipate whatever urges he was experiencing.

‘Yes, everything is possible here,’ she said, dragging her fingers across Dave’s back as she went off.

He turned his attention back to Boylan.

‘Appreciate it, Professor,’ Dave smiled. He was beginning to enjoy having the Energizer Bunny on his side. It had been so long since he’d had anyone in his corner he’d forgotten what it was like.

‘Of course! Of course, you do, sir. As you will come to appreciate the many services I. . .Oh, dear. Just wait a second.’ Boylan threw up his hands again, before shooting them into his jacket pocket to retrieve a ringing cell phone. He pulled two phones out, then a third, holding it up and signalling to the table that he had to take this call.

‘It’s Zack Snyder,’ he mouthed. ‘About Dave’s film.’

And with that he was away, bouncing across the room.

‘Zack, baby! I hope you have good news on Pitt and points on the front end for us. . .’

06

Compton frowned after the retreating figure.

‘We cannot allow that man anywhere near the Office of Science and. . .’

‘Why?’ Dave interrupted, with a fistful of bacon just inches away from his mouth. ‘You think he might pull a dick move like murdering a bunch of Hunn warriors after I negotiated a truce with them?’

Compton’s face was partly hidden behind his ridiculous neckbeard, but you could see the flush of ire that coloured his cheeks and neck where the skin lay bare. His lips lost all of their colour as he pressed them tightly together. Heath looked as though he was about to issue another one of his traffic warnings to Dave, but Compton beat him to the punch.

‘They were hardly warriors. I’m surprised you couldn’t tell the difference. After all, dozens of real warriors had been fighting and dying around you for hours to give you a chance to do your little comic book hero act. As I recall, one of them had to sacrifice himself for you to unlock some mystery achievement that let you get off your ass before one of the orcs came by to chew it off.’

Dave stared at Compton with cold fire in his eyes. And then the world was utterly still and midnight quiet as he alone moved through it. He launched himself across the table, grabbing the academic by his shirt front and hauling him out of the seat. Picking him up like a bag of garbage. Tossing him through the floor-to-ceiling windows which shattered without sound as Compton’s body crashed through and arced out over downtown Las Vegas, tumbling and turning and dropping back toward the earth so very far below. But not moving as you’d imagine a man who’d just been thrown to his death would move. No spastic thrashing of arms or legs. No clawing at the building from which he’d just been launched. No . . .

The coffee cup Dave was holding shattered with a sound like a gunshot, causing everybody except Heath to jump. An uncomfortable silence fell across the room for a few seconds, before the buzz of conversation resumed. Dave shook off the homicidal daydream, pulled out of murderous reverie by the stinging pain in his hand. Luckily the cup hadn’t held more than a few drops when he’d crushed it so there was little to wipe up other than a few bloodied shards of crockery.

‘Sorry,’ he muttered, staring at the tablecloth to avoid looking at Compton, and digging a few pieces of pottery out of his flesh. The wounds stung, but not that much, and he watched, fascinated, as the cuts in his flesh sealed themselves up again. Itching.

‘I’m gonna need a pastry,’ he said, wiping the blood off with a white linen serviette. ‘Or some ham and eggs. And you’re gonna need to watch your mouth, Professor,’ he added quietly.

‘No, I think you’re going to need to watch your temper, Mr Hooper,’ Compton replied, but his voice shook. ‘And you need to start seeing the hard realities of this situation. Not the comic book version.’

It was Professor Ashbury who broke the tension between them, leaning over and using a menu to brush up the broken pieces of the coffee cup.

‘Behave. The pair of you. You’re as bad as each other,’ she said.

Dave grabbed a croissant and started tearing it up, stuffing it into his mouth just to have something to do with his hands, because he felt a serious need to hit something and Compton’s ugly head was looking mighty tempting. The little French pastry got smeared with some of his blood, but he didn’t care. He chewed quickly and dry swallowed, calming just a little as the food went down. The other diners returned to their meals, but he could tell the attention of most of the room had turned decisively in their direction.

Heath stepped in before the confrontation could spool up again. He nodded over Dave’s shoulder, where the waitresses were returning with plates of omelettes, scrambled eggs and toast, and a baking dish piled high with ham.

‘Oh dear,’ exclaimed one of them at the sight of the smashed cup. It was the little cutie who’d been flirting with Dave earlier. Or at least he thought she’d been flirting.

‘Sorry, darlin’.’ He smiled apologetically. ‘Don’t know my own strength.’

‘Just eat your breakfast, Dave,’ said Heath. ‘And you, Professor,’ he added, turning to Compton, ‘you should say sorry.’

It was a suggestion, not an order, Compton being Heath’s boss, Dave supposed.

‘But –’

‘No buts. You were out of line.’

Heath’s tone was reasonable, not at all like the ass-chewing Dave imagined he’d give a junior officer who fucked up. But neither did he look like he’d back down.

Compton appeared to think it over. He turned to Ashbury for support but all he found there was one raised eyebrow.

‘Fine,’ he said at last. ‘I apologise.’

Dave was taken a little aback at how sincere he sounded.

‘Okay, then, me too,’ said Dave.

The waitresses, alive to the awkward vibe at the table, hurriedly served up the food and disappeared, promising to come back and clean up the mess Dave had left. He still felt the need to make his point, however. ‘You shouldn’t have done what you did back in New Orleans, Compton. Ordering those helicopters to fire on the Hunn,’ Dave said in a low voice, when the waitresses were gone. ‘I had a deal worked out. If there’s gonna be trouble now, it’s down to you.’

The professor narrowed his eyes just a little, but didn’t bite back.

‘I didn’t order the gunships to do anything,’ he said. ‘Captain Heath can confirm that. I don’t have that authority. The order came from Washington.’

Heath nodded, but didn’t look as though he enjoyed it.

‘But the suggestion came from you, Professor,’ Heath said, ‘and you didn’t help matters bysuggestingthe ambush. You put that option on the table, pushed it up the chain of command. They were always going to take it.’

‘And what option was that?’ Compton asked, keeping any sarcastic edge off the question. ‘Teaching a pack of dark age brutes they made a terrible mistake in attacking us? Because I think they learned the lesson.’

‘And I think we got lucky,’ Heath said. ‘They happened to manifest in a time and place we could bring our resources to bear. Not every part of the country is going to be so fortunate. They could potentially boil up out of the ground anywhere.’

‘And what they learned,’ said Ashbury, ‘is that we can’t be trusted. Our word means nothing.’

Compton waved her off. ‘They see us as food, not foes, Emmeline. A pact with . . . what do they call us . . . cows?’

‘Cattle,’ said Dave.

‘Right. Whatever. It would mean nothing to them. It would be like Hooper negotiating a truce with his omelette.’

‘Never gonna happen,’ said Dave, shovelling a forkful into his mouthful.

‘You seem very sure of yourself, Professor,’ Ashbury said, pointedly using his academic title.

Compton put down his cutlery with a rattle. ‘A lot of good people died in New Orleans, and in New York and on those planes. I think more, alotmore, are going to die before this is done, and this. . .fellow’ – he flicked his hand at Dave again – ‘somehow fell ass backward into the role of our Chosen One. All you did in New Orleans,’ he said, addressing Dave directly, ‘was play a video game hacked to give you infinite life and ammunition while everyone else had to stumble through in hard-core mode. Get killed and stay dead.’

Dave felt the blush creeping up his cheeks, but it was shame not anger which turned his features red. Compton had just put into words something he’d been feeling since New Orleans, since he’d spectacularly failed to save those marines. He might even have been a big enough man to admit it aloud too, but Compton seemed to sense the ground shifting and pushed in harder.

‘You set yourself up as the champion of humanity in New Orleans. But you need to understand you are not our champion. You are not a superhero. Or even a hero. You got lucky on that rig, and I think you know it. That boy who bled out all over you, he has a claim to heroic status. The ordinary men and women who died with him to save a city full of other ordinary people, them too. But you don’t, Hooper. And you should not have led the Horde into assuming you would be the one they were dealing with when it came time to negotiate terms with us. Because you won’t be. Yes, turning the gunships on them certainly complicatedyourrelationship with the Horde. But it clarifiedours. A war between the realms means a war with us, the United States of America. Not some sort of wrestlemania smackdown with you.’

This time Dave was not seized of a vision in which he threw Compton out of a window. He was struck dumb by his inability to find any argument to throw back in the guy’s face.

‘Dave, just eat your breakfast,’ said Heath. ‘For the protein if not for my sanity. Put some more bacon in your mouth, keep your mouth closed while you’re chewing, and listen up.’

Whatever Heath was about to say, he paused because the waitress had returned to clean up the broken coffee cup. She apologised for interrupting them and apologised for the mess, which Dave thought was a little strange since he’d made it.

‘If they try to dock your pay for it, you tell me,’ he said.

‘Thanks,’ she smiled, ‘but that’s all right. They wouldn’t do that.’ She said sorry again and left them in peace, blushing a little as Dave winked at her again. Ashbury was eating a single piece of toast and shaking her head, staring at him. Heath and Compton had taken the opportunity to serve themselves some eggs and ham. Boylan was still away from the table, working his phone.

‘Trinder was right,’ said Heath when they were alone again. ‘In one sense at least. We need to get you out of here, Dave, and into a facility where we can systematically work up the intelligence you have on the Horde. If we can’t get a military flight out of here before this evening I’m going to request ground transport.’

‘We could just rent a car now,’ Dave suggested as Heath’s phone started to ring.

‘No, we can’t,’ said Compton. ‘There are certain asset protection protocols in place around you now, Hooper. We can’t just rent a Hertz. If we roll out of here it will be in armoured vehicles with air support and full spectrum command and communications.’

Dave stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth. A long piece of ham slid out of his omelette and dropped back onto the plate.

‘IthinkI understood what you just said.’

‘If we move, we go in convoy, with lots of guns,’ Emmeline clarified. Dave was about to say something to Compton but Professor Neckbeard’s phone also started to buzz. He turned back to Emmeline.

‘Well that sounds cool. But not as cool asthat,’ Dave said, as Boylan came dancing back to their booth. Actually dancing, old black and white musical style. And not at all fussed by the attention he was drawing, nor by the increasingly anxious and even fearful expressions on the faces of Heath and Compton. Getting his excitement under control again, Boylan finally pulled up a chair at the table and poured himself a cup of plunger coffee. He was almost panting.

‘Dave, we absolutely must speak about Mr Bradley Pitt and the frankly unspeakable amount of money he is offering to secure the rights to your story before Michael Bay gets hold of them. Did I mention we have a conference call with Michael Bay in half an hour?’

‘TheTransformersguy?’ Dave said, noting Emmeline’s baleful eye turning back toward him. Heath had his hand over the phone and was talking in a low voice that Dave had no hope of hearing. Compton was arguing with somebody on his phone too, but it was all in jargon that made no sense to Dave.

‘The one and only,’ Boylan confirmed, as he grimaced at the coffee. ‘This is cold, too cold, and that’s not at all acceptable.’ He turned in his seat looking for a waiter to refill the coffee pot. The private lounge was even busier than before, with at least another dozen guests lined up at the door waiting to get in. The attention of the room, or at least of the tables not immediately surrounding theirs, had slipped away from their party again, with many people, as was so common these days, not talking to their families or friends or fellow guests dining with them, but rather yapping into cell phones, or reading the little screens, or even working on laptops. It was then, when Dave noticed the number of phones in the room, that they all started ringing within a few seconds of each other. Even Boylan’s incessant chatter was muted by the shrill beeping and pinging and ringtones of maybe two hundred electronic devices.

‘We’re out of here, now,’ said Heath, who had terminated his own call.

‘Problem?’ Dave said when Compton hung up as well.

‘Yes,’ Heath replied, ‘you might say that. Especially if you lived in Omaha and you just woke up to find a demon army camped next to the highway out of town.’

Compton smiled. ‘You’re going to have to postpone Michael Bay.’

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