SF Drabble #412 "Fusion Flame"

There wasn't any announcement. There really should have been. You know they knew. All those telescopes and tracking stations. All those people still looking for your grandfather's ICBMs because somebody's still scared enough to pay them to do it. They knew.

Eight new stars, moving slowly across the sky, getting brighter, twinkling, pulsing white-hot, disappearing. Then the smaller shooting stars, darting though the highest clouds, flaring and rising before disappearing.

Then the lines. Long, colored lines, red, green lines that reached out in an instant to touch the horizon. We thought they were pretty until we started seeing the fires.

Smart

Mickle slipped the tablet into his mouth, held it on his tongue. The girl with the blue hair and the cleavage and the nursing degree handed him a glass of water, watched him drink, watched him swallow. He opened his mouth so that she could see the tablet was gone. She nodded, took the glass from his hand, stood, and walked out of the room.

"So, no sex then?"

"Not that kind of trip," she called back over her shoulder.

People moved past, in the hall, whispering. Someone laughed, a jarring, guttural sound. He wanted to get up and pull the door closed, but something made him dismiss the idea as too much trouble. He settled back into the pillows, got comfortable.

For some reason he started thinking about his ex, the break-up, how she had left him suddenly, how she'd been so angry, how she wouldn't explain. It occurred to him that it hadn't been all that sudden, if he was going to be honest with himself. He'd been dismissive, and emotionally absent, and though he hadn't cheated, it isn't as though he hadn't considered it. In fact he'd gone right up to the line and poked it with his toes. Of course Jinn had left. He'd been a fool.

His mind wandered. He thought about the last big argument, about that movie she'd liked that hadn't made any sense to him. But he couldn't remember why, it seemed so straightforward now. The whole thing was a metaphor for—

Oh.

It was the trip. The drug was buffing his cognitives.

He started thinking about all the mysteries in his life, setting them up, knocking them down like paper targets. It just got easier and easier; to hold a problem in his mind was to grasp its solution. He fished his phone out of his pocket, started reading the stock market pages, leaving himself notes. He cancelled his lottery subscription.

Mickle was already on the way down when he started thinking about cancer.

Bothros

It's tough, being alone. Being a Cape is lonely enough, but after Mandy left the absence of our 'us against the world' thing felt like falling across a fence when you're a kid and having the wind knocked out of you. I couldn't breathe.

I got rid of the apartment and started bunking at HQ. I busied myself with work. After we bagged Panix, Dreamland One sent Rapture and I out after Methis. When we caught him, we were sent right back out after Cetacea. We returned with her safely imprisoned in the pressure-tank and D1 surprised us by adding Headmaster to our team.

We didn't like him. "I'll be the brains of the operation." Sure, buddy. Just don't get in the way. Privately, Rapture made jokes about his head overheating and bursting like a balloon. Publicly, she made it clear that B Team didn't need a 'leader', and she only took orders from D1. I didn't care either way. I missed Mandy.

D1 had us run drills, exercises, whatever. For all her posturing Rapture learned to trust Headmaster's precog skills. Soon we were a well-oiled machine, a 3-pronged deadly weapon.

Headmaster started getting visions that clearly disturbed him. He wouldn't tell us what they were. He told D1, though, so we kept our mouths shut. The operational tempo increased. High-tech equipment hummed in every corner. The lawn outside HQ became a dish farm. A couple of the staff quit to 'spend time with their families'. D1 was red-lined 12 hours a day, running and re-running simulations at 57.39 petaflops per second.

Rapture and I waited to be let in on the secret. We practiced our moves, exercised our powers. I picked up a few more KPH; she worked on setting things on fire from BVR. Nobody told us anything.


My whole body hurt. I got up anyway.

Everything East of the Oberbaumbr├╝cke was a tear in the Earth the size of the Grand Canyon, into which the river Spree poured like a broken faucet. Everything West of the bridge was wreathed in smoke and broken plate glass. I was amazed at how little was on fire. It was eerily quiet.

I walked to the edge of the gouge, looked down. Lying on its side, oozing black goo, was the mind-bogglingly immense corpse of the Mo Ten Rah.

I'd never fought a God before. A Team's plan had spectacularly failed to work. Lead it towards us! had come Headmaster's voice, an icepick in my brain. I remember running up the highway, the enormous horror close behind me, hoping D1 had managed the evacuation in time; I remembering the crashing of its footfalls ceasing; I remember looking back to see it rising into the air, glowing like Rapture glows; I remember wondering where she was getting that kind of power. Then I woke up on the pavement under a blanket of dust and debris and silence.

I walked back West. I found Rapture sitting in the back of an army truck guarded by soldiers, sobbing, blood trickling from her nose and ears. They'd already sent for a Doctor. She wouldn't look at me. The Headmaster was a body and a mess of a neck sitting upright in the passenger seat of a cordoned-off jeep and that was that.

Dreamland helicopters passed overhead; I expected them all to land at the Sportplatz but one circled around at the last minute and set down in the middle of the street.

Mandy got out. Later she told me I looked like one big man-shaped bruise. She kissed me anyway. We'll need a new apartment.