Bzrk, p.25
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       Bzrk, p.25

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 
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  Ophelia chose not to answer that directly. “Vincent does generate a certain degree of loyalty, doesn’t he?”

  Wilkes looked at her, very serious, eye to eye, or at least eye to eye-dripping-with-tattoo-ink, and said, “I’d die for him. I don’t think he even likes me, and I would totally fucking die for him.”

  Ophelia said, “And I will die because Charles and Benjamin Armstrong are a disease.”

  There was venom behind those words. No smile. Anger, quickly covered up, but Wilkes saw it and grinned at it.

  “You’re not telling me something,” Wilkes said.

  “No time. And this isn’t the place,” Ophelia said, turning stern.

  “If we come out of this?”

  Ophelia nodded, and surrendered what might be the last of her smiles, a wistful creation tinged with loss. “If we survive, we can play twenty questions, Wilkes.”

  “Time to go?” Wilkes asked, and to her intense irritation there was a quiver in her voice.

  Ophelia didn’t answer. She reached up and peeled the bindi from her forehead and slid it into the coin pocket of her jeans. Then she stood up and walked out the cafeteria door and into the gift shop.

  Plath snatched a just-delivered triple-grande skim cappuccino off the Starbucks counter and smashed it into One-Up’s face.

  “Ahhhh!”

  “Run!” Plath hissed.

  They ran from the Starbucks. The Starbucks that was the closest one to the AFGC building.

  A stupid error, Plath saw that now. Stupid! Of course AFGC people would go there, of course they would. They would go there and another twitcher—another person who knew what it was like to be in two places at once—would notice the faraway eyes, the gaze that looked at things unseen in the macro, and intuit what you were.

  They’d been sitting there in Starbucks, staring past each other, eyes flitting here and there, not looking at each other though they were face-to-face. The shark-toothed girl had felt what they were.

  They pelted out the front door onto the street, glanced wildly in both directions. “Follow me,” Plath yelled.

  “It’s your city,” Keats panted.

  And there was One-Up tearing after them, her jacket trailing streams of coffee and foam. She was young and fit and fast, but not fast enough to easily close the distance, especially when she was dialing as she ran.

  “She’ll warn them!” Keats yelled.

  As they ran, pushing through indifferent pedestrians, slipping on dropped hot dogs, running blind despite Plath acting like she had a plan, they were each seeing the huge fingers touching the distant wounds on the beagle’s back.

  “That’s not a vet!” Keats panted. “He’s stroking, not examining a wound.”

  “It’s them,” Plath said.

  They aimed their biots toward the wound, toward the God-fingers that reached down from a misty, vaguely detailed sky.

  They raced across the fur, not descending back to the skin but racing hair to hair, leaping from horizontal asparagus shaft to asparagus shaft, grabbing and kicking and oh, wow, it would have been exhilarating except that up in the macro there was a thick crowd of people clogging the intersection ahead of them.

  One-Up had only to touch them. Neither had biots on board. Neither had a defense. A single touch and a rush of nanobots would be on them, then inside them.

  Race tree trunk to tree trunk!

  They skirted the crowd and for a minute they thought they had gained some ground, but there was One-up rushing, halving the distance. They tried to cross the street, but it was a steady stream of yellow cabs. The only way out was to take One-Up down.

  It was a game of tag. All she had to do was get a hand on them. She was yelling into the phone, “Get a twitcher on my frequency! Now now now!”

  Plath heard her clearly. Their eyes met. One touch and whoever was no doubt rushing now to take over One-Up’s nanobots would send the deadly little robots onto Plath or Keats. Nanobots would rush into Plath’s eyes or ears and into her brain and pull the plug on the aneurysm, or maybe just get to work wiring her brain.

  Yeah, well: screw that.

  Plath grabbed a woman and spun her into One-Up’s path. The woman went down hard, but One-Up leapt over her like an Olympian. Then she landed on something wet and slipped.

  The lights changed and cabs screeched to a halt and Keats and Plath were in the midst of those crossing the street, hurrying, pushing, and the goddamned God-fingers were stroking the fur now, no longer exploring the wound, a hand that blotted out the sun, an entire storm front made of ridged farmland held improbably upside down.

  “Jump!” Plath yelled, and Keats at first misunderstood and jumped in the crosswalk.

  Plath kicked her two biots up, twisted in midair like a cat, or a fly, and gripped onto farmland dotted with pearls of oozing sweat.

  The hand went shooting past, and Keats was swept away beneath her or up in the sky or whatever the hell direction it was now.

  “Keats!”

  His biots jumped and missed and fell away, back onto the beagle, and Plath yelled. She spotted a man leaning on a cane. He didn’t look as if he needed it as badly as she did, so she snatched it from him, turned and ran straight at the on-rushing One-Up.

  She didn’t swing the cane, she jabbed it. The rubber tip caught One-Up in the chest, and she said, “Ooof,” like in a comic book; you could practically see the word balloon.

  Plath hit her again, another jab, then gripped the cane, a nice wooden cane, and swung it down hard on One-Up’s protective up-raised arm.

  One-Up cried out in pain, and Plath hit her again and again and again all the while screaming, “Fuck you, bitch!”

  Then, with One-Up on the pavement bleeding, Plath knocked the cell phone from her hand and sent it skittering across the sidewalk.

  After that Keats and Plath ran, because New York wasn’t a place where you could just beat someone up without cops coming.

  Eventually.

  Keats grabbed her hand and pulled her away.

  “We’re separated,” Keats said breathlessly.

  “I know. I know,” Plath said.

  Her biots ran blindly across a human palm, no idea where to go or what to do. And no better idea, really, up in the macro.

  “This jacket is hot. I think I’ll wear a summer dress. Something sleeveless.” The voice was not recognizable, not even through the sensors of the two nanobots specially modified to detect sound waves. Even with the best “Big Ears” a nanobot rendered every voice into a high-pitched whine.

  But the droll sense of humor was that of the president of the United States.

  “That would certainly draw the media, Madam President.” The second voice was Liz Law, the president’s body woman, who at that moment unwittingly carried a small but potent army.

  “In April I had the honor of meeting with the queen. Goddamnit. In April I had the honor of meeting with Her Majesty the queen.” The president was practicing her toast. “Her Majesty. Her Majesty the queen.”

  In the end, it had been easy for Bug Man.

  He had made all the jumps along the pathway. Down in Washington, and then back in New York. Like a passenger plane making multiple stops, or a flea hopping from dog to dog. Now all his boys—twenty-four fighters, four spinners—were ready and primed and quivering with readiness on Law’s finger.

  Nanobot optics had strengths and weaknesses. Biots saw in greater resolution; it was one of their strengths. Biots were insanely quick at detecting movement and had a connection between sight and mind and action that made them superior to nanobot fighters one-on-one.

  But nanobots were machines, and had the advantages of machines. For one thing their visual data could be combined to form macro images. Line a dozen or so nanobots up in a row, point their optics in the same direction, and the computer at the base station could form those smaller images into a larger one. Nanobots produced digital data, and digital data was, as always, wonderfully manipulable.

  It was complicated,
using the optics that way, and doing it meant keeping a large percentage of his force stationary, which Bug Man did not like. No twitcher did. But sometimes it was worth it.

  Worth it now as he saw the actual face, the familiar jowly chin all the comics joked about, the sleepy/smart eyes, the stiff, brown hairdo, the slightly too-hip earrings, all of it. Probably the most recognizable face on Earth.

  It was only a flash, that image, because Liz Law’s fingers were moving, fussing about. So Bug Man saw a dish and a desk and a sleeve and a cloth used to wipe something from that sleeve, and the presidential face again, then a window …

  “In April I had the honor of meeting with Her Majesty the queen. When my good friend, Prime Minister Bowen, joined us, Her Majesty pointed out … What is it, Tom?”

  A new voice, male, too far away to be understood. It spoke briefly. “That’s good news,” the president replied. “Good work, Tom. Tell the Speaker that seven percent is fine.”

  Bug Man was in a storefront dental office directly across First Avenue from the UN. On the outside the office looked a lot like a tavern. On the inside it looked a lot like a tavern after an epic drinking contest, because the dentist, receptionist, hygienist, and two unlucky patients were stacked like firewood against a back wall, passed out after being shot full of a narcotic that would guarantee a nice, long sleep.

  A sign on the front door pleaded illness and asked patients to call to reschedule.

  AmericaStrong techs had moved the twitching gear into the two examination rooms, and now monitors hung from bungee cords above the dental chairs, and wire, gathered by Velcro ties, spooled onto the immaculate floors. Bug Man sat in the chair in Exam Room A while Burnofsky sat in Exam Room B.

  Somewhat to Bug Man’s irritation, Burnofsky had also made it along his pathway and was now positioned aboard the Chinese leader’s assistant/girlfriend.

  The president was at the Hilton Manhattan East hotel, barely a block from the dental office that was itself just a block from the UN. Bug Man would have direct linkage all the way through, from the reception at the hotel to the UN.

  By the time the woman reached the podium he expected to be busy wiring her brain.

  The Chinese UN mission was farther away, up 40th Street in a sleek new office tower built by the Chinese as a statement of their ambition to be seen as the world’s other superpower. At that distance Burnofsky had to use signal repeaters. Bug Man wished him nothing but static.

  It would not be enough for Bug Man to succeed; Burnofsky must also fail. Then Bug Man would stand unequalled atop the twitcherverse.

  The POTUS had moved to a smaller room. The picture swirled dizzyingly as Liz Law’s finger swung by her side and then soared up into space to take something.

  Bug Man saw a sky of fibers, each like a bridge cable.

  A garment.

  Was it the president’s? Was it time?

  But then the fibers zoomed away, off into the distance where they rested on the presidential shoulders.

  “Just let me get that, Madam President,” Liz Law said.

  Bug Man could see the president’s face clearly in the serried ranks of nanobot optics. Had he missed his moment? Fear swelled within him. What would the Twins do if—

  But no, now the hand was rushing toward the president, touching, smoothing, and now, now, now!

  Bug Man’s army raced across fingertips and leapt. He could see the picture of two dozen nanobots falling, like an insect army platoon jumping out of an airplane.

  The ground—those same fibers—rushed up at him.

  With twenty-eight tiny impacts Bug Man’s forces landed on the lapel of the president of the United States.

  TWENTY-FIVE

  Ophelia went straight up to the gift-store clerk and asked, “Do you take MasterCard? I mean, I know you have to take Visa, right? Because it’s the UN? Visa? Get it?”

  While Ophelia distracted the clerk, Wilkes went to the book rack, bent back the pages of several paperbacks, pulled out a lighter, and set fire to as many of them as she could get to before the clerk yelled, “Hey, what are you doing! What are you doing?”

  Wilkes smiled, and Ophelia turned, walked quickly to a shelf of stuffed toys and kid’s books, and deployed her own lighter.

  “Oh, my God, what are you doing?” the clerk cried, waving her hands as if frantic fingers would solve the problem. And now the handful of other patrons in the store had to choose between screaming, running, screaming and running, or trying to corral the obviously crazy woman and girl.

  Wilkes reached under her skirt, up into the waistband of her tights, and pulled out something that looked exactly like a pistol. In fact it was plastic and therefore had gone through security without a problem. And if the patrons who now raised their hands and said things like, “Whoa, whoa, take it easy,” and backpedaled, had taken the time to examine the gun, they’d have spotted it as a fake.

  But when a crazy person is waving a gun at you, sometimes you don’t search for serial numbers.

  Ophelia set fire to a bunch of glossy commemorative picture books, and a nice oily smoke was coiling up to the ceiling.

  Alarms began jangling.

  Sprinklers came on fitfully, spitting and then spraying water over all the tacky merchandise.

  To her credit the clerk did not flee, so Ophelia reluctantly smashed a snow globe against the back of her head, and she and Wilkes pushed around the counter, into the back room, and through the door that led to the storage area. It was a fairly compact space full of flimsy cardboard boxes, most with Chinese as well as English markings.

  The obvious back door opened onto a blank, overlit hallway that presumably went on to find a loading dock or freight elevator somewhere.

  “That’s not it,” Ophelia said.

  “It has to be here. Has to be,” Wilkes said. “Otherwise we’re just going to jail for arson.”

  “And assault,” Ophelia added, still holding the snow globe.

  They raced around the perimeter of the small storeroom, pushing boxes away, knocking things over. Out in the shop there was yelling, and an authoritative voice saying, “What’s going on here?”

  “Two crazy women!”

  “Where did they go?”

  And the sound of a walkie-talkie and the UN guard calling for backup and ordering the loading dock closed down.

  “Here!” Ophelia hissed. There was a space not blocked by boxes, where the wall was covered by a suspiciously large poster of former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

  “No one cares that much about Ban Ki-moon,” Wilkes agreed. She tore the poster down, revealing a very ordinary door protected by a very unordinary passkey system.

  They had been briefed on this. And they’d been told that if all they did was start a fire and draw cops and firemen, that would probably be enough.

  “That would be a C-plus,” Vincent had told them.

  But now with the adrenaline pumping, neither of them wanted to take a C-plus.

  Wilkes banged loudly on the door.

  Nothing.

  She kicked it with her boot, and out in the shop a second guard must have arrived because there was a worried, conspiratorial conversation.

  They had seconds left.

  Then, a muffled voice through the door. “Who is it?”

  Ophelia glanced at Wilkes, who deepened her voice and said, “It’s Bug Man. Open up.”

  “He’s English,” Ophelia whispered.

  “It’s fooking Bug Man, open the bloody door, I have to use the loo!” Wilkes yelled.

  “Use your swipe card,” the muffled voice answered.

  “I lost the bloody thing, didn’t I? Now open up, you tosser!” She sounded a bit like Rupert Grint. Or at least an American’s version of Ron Weasely.

  To their mutual amazement, the door opened, revealing a TFD in characteristic polo shirt and chinos.

  Wilkes jammed her fake gun under his chin and pushed him back.

  Ophelia slammed the door closed behind them. Then, as the TFD was just
beginning to notice that the so-called gun didn’t feel as though it was made of steel, Ophelia smashed him in the face with the snow globe, which broke and sent fake snow and plastic representations of the UN Building tumbling down his front.

  It didn’t knock the TFD out and he was recovering fast and realizing he was in trouble and the gun wasn’t real and that he had maybe just forfeited his own life, so he came back swinging hard, wild, and half blind.

  Wilkes gave him a Doc Marten testicular adjustment, punched him, and Ophelia punched him and it was a melee. The TFD went down on his back but with his hands around Ophelia’s throat, so Wilkes just started kicking him in the side of the head. Crump! Crump! Crump! Again and again.

 
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