Read Infernal Sky Online

Authors: Dafydd ab Hugh

Infernal Sky (3 page)

Medikits aren't good enough for you, Corporal? You'd rather trust in that alien crap, huh? And how do you know that you and Arlene weren't altered in some diabolical manner when your lives were saved in that infernal blue light?

“I'm hanging from a freakin' rope and you choose this moment to worry about that?” I shouted.

“Fly, are you all right?” Arlene called down.

“Okay,” I called back, feeling like a complete idiot. Normally I don't argue out loud with the voice in my head.

“Don't go weird on me now,” she said. “If I fall, I want my strong he-man to catch li'l o'l me.”

“No problemo,” I promised. “But I think we're getting enough exercise as things stand.” Well, at least I'd convinced her I was playing with a full deck again.

As if life had become too easy for us, the door in the office flew off with such force that it smashed through what was left of the window and went sailing in the direction of the freeway. The door was as black and twisted as if someone had turned it into burned toast and tossed it in the trash.

The first monster to peer out the window, if black dots count as eyes, was one of the things Arlene had wisely dubbed a fire eater. It must have only recently joined the other pukes and taken care of the door problem for them. In a flash it could solve the rope problem, too, burning our lifeline to cinders. We didn't have a fire extinguisher this time.

Fire Guy wasn't alone, either. He was the gatecrasher, bringing with him a whole monster convention. They'd be pouring down the ropes after us like molasses on a string if we didn't do something fast.

*   *   *

I stopped the story there because I wanted to finish my beer, and because I had my eye on another can of Limbaugh. The master gun had brought a six-pack, so with the aid of higher arithmetic, I figured I had another one coming.

“And?” asked Mulligan, fire in his eye; and the way his mouth was working you could say fire in the hole, too.

“As the fire eater was getting ready to burn our ropes—and you can always tell an attack is coming by the way its skin bubbles and its body shimmers like a heat mirage in the desert—I swung out and then
came in hard, kicking in a window with one try. In the remaining seconds I pulled the rope taut and Arlene shimmied down into my arms as tongues of flame raced after her. But we'd made it to a much lower floor. We had a twelve-story head start, so we booked.”

“Story is right!” thundered Mulligan. “I've never heard so much bullshit!”

For one grim moment I wasn't at all sure I'd be getting my second beer.

3

“H
old on,” said Mulligan, guarding his small ocean of beer as the larger ocean sent armies of waves to die on the beach, “I'm not buying it. When I was a kid, I was in the Boy Scouts. I carried the heaviest knapsack on camping trips. I won all the merit badges. I was a good scout, but other kids still beat me up and teased me all the time. Do you want to guess why?”

“Why?” asked Arlene, genuinely interested and not the least bit annoyed by the mysterious direction the conversation was taking.

“Partly because I was a chunky kid, but also
because I loved comic books. They thought I was gullible or something. They thought I'd believe damn near anything. But I'm telling you, Fly”—he turned those cold blue eyes on me—“this story of yours is bullshit.”

“You believe the part about his starting to lose his mind while he was on the rope, don't you?” asked Arlene.

“Well . . .” Mulligan began.

“I left nothing out of my gospel rendition,” I said.

“Especially not the verisimilitude,” Arlene threw in.

“Huh?” came the response from both Mulligan and me.

“Still sounds bogus to me,” concluded the master gun, inhaling the rest of his brew.

“That's because it didn't happen that way,” said Arlene. “I'll give you the authentic version—for another beer.”

“Yeah, right,” the sergeant said morosely, but he handed her a beer, and she started her engines.

“With one mighty leap . . .” she began.

George Mulligan groaned.

*   *   *

“Flynn Taggart, bring me some duct tape from the toolbox, an armload of computer-switch wiring, and the biggest goddamn boot you can find!”

He looked at me like I was crazy, but he did it. The scaffold was our ticket out of there, but first we had to get over to it. It made sense for me to go first because I weighed less. The ledge was narrow and the chains and ropes were sufficiently out of reach so that a lifeline seemed like a good idea. At least it would give me more than one chance in case I fell.

The sounds at the heavy reinforced door told me two things. First, there was one hell of an enemy out there. Second, the most powerful ones could not be in front. A hell-prince would have huffed and puffed the door down faster than a politician would grab his pension. Even a demon pinkie could have chewed his way through that door as if it was a candy bar. So the wimps were up front, and this gave us a little more time.

While Fly was collecting the stuff, we received more evidence supporting my theory. I heard screams that I'd have recognized anywhere—the noise imps make when they're being ripped apart. They were up front and not strong enough to break through. It occurred to me that this military-quality door dated back to the time of Walt Disney himself. I was glad that Disney had been a paranoid right-wing type, according to the biographies. A more trusting sort would never have installed the door that was saving our collective ass. But it wasn't going to hold much longer.

“Got it!” Fly announced, trotting back with the wire, tape, and boot. “What's your plan?”

I told him. I showed him. He nitpicked.

“I should go first because of upper male body strength and a longer reach . . .”

“I weigh less! Besides, it's my idea. You're going to be too busy to go first anyway.”

He opened his mouth to ask what I meant, but the shredding of the door provided the answer. Talons appeared like little metal helmets, leaving furrows behind them as they sliced through the last barrier between us and them.

Grabbing his Sig-Cow, Fly started blasting through the door before the first one even appeared. I saw that
my buddy wouldn't be able to help with the makeshift rope so I tied one end to a heavy safe and the other around my waist and clambered out the window pronto.

Luck was with me. Fly and I disagree about luck: he thinks you make your own; I think you're lucky or you're not. The ledge was so narrow that I couldn't imagine Fly negotiating it. The stupid little lifeline came apart before my hand was on one of those beautiful, thick, inviting ropes.

I shouted my patented war cry, based on all the westerns I'd seen when I was a kid, and jumped the rest of the way. I knew I'd better be right about luck.

I swung far out and heard a long creaking sound overhead, which was fine with me as long as it wasn't followed by a loud snap. Just a steady creaking, as the rope settled into supporting my weight. I didn't waste a moment swinging over to a sturdy-looking cable chain. I didn't trust the chain, so I tested it out. The damned thing snapped, and I hung over L.A. like an advertisement, glad for the rope. My left hand was covered with rust. I would have thought that the chain would outlast the rope, but maybe some of the links were caught in a random energy beam.

A lot of stuff raced through my mind. I filed most of it for future reference—if I had a future. The stuff overhead reminded me of the last time I was aboard ship—on the ocean instead of in space, I mean. The only reason I wasn't splattered all over the street below was that the window-washing equipment was securely attached on the roof. I hoped no alien energy burst had done any damage up there.

“Fly!” I yelled.

“Coming, coming, coming!” he shouted back.
There was no double entendre in either of our minds. My bud would either be a fly on the wall out here or a squashed bug inside.

He chose fly on the wall.

I made like Tarzan, or maybe I should say Sheena of the Jungle, and swung over toward the window. The scaffolding held. Fly held on. As he leaped out the window, a red claw the size of his head missed severing his jugular vein by an inch. I couldn't believe I used to feel sorry for the Minotaur trapped in the lair until Theseus came to put him out of his misery. I'd never look at those old myths the same way.

We started down. The ropes wouldn't get us to ground level, but half a loaf is better than none. If we could descend below the monsters we might have a chance to hoof it down to the street before they could catch up with us. I was counting on their habit of getting in each other's way and tearing each other up when they should have been focusing on us instead.

Fly had it tougher than I did because he was hanging like a piece of sacrificial meat directly outside the window where the enemy was massing. He was holding the rope with one hand, leaving the other free to fire repeatedly at that rectangle of horror and doom.

“Fly, I'll cover you if you climb lower,” I promised. Grateful for the time I'd spent rappelling down cliffs in my high school days, I maneuvered so that the rope was wrapped around me like a lonely boa constrictor, freeing my gun hand. As I started firing thirty-caliber rounds at the window, Fly slung his weapon over his shoulder and used both hands to lower himself.

When he was safe enough—safety being relative when you're playing tag with all the denizens of hell—he yelled, “My turn to cover you!”

I made like a monkey and headed straight for certain death. Fly kept up a barrage that was truly impressive. The odds were at an all-time low, but as I made it past the window, I was ready to rethink my position on God. Fly and Albert had God. I had luck . . . and a fireball that came so close it singed my hair. Well, my high-and-tight needed a trim.

Fly ran out of rope and I joined him just in time to see his very special expression, the one he only wears when Options 'R Us has closed its doors permanently.

I couldn't help myself. I looked up. There is no mistaking a fire eater. And this one was getting ready to fry everything it could see.

The only hope was to break one of the windows, get inside the building quicker than a thought, and then haul ass down to the street. We had one chance. Fortunately we'd brought along that really big boot.

*   *   *

“Aw, gimme a break, you two,” begged Mulligan, thoroughly beaten. “I don't care how you escaped from the tower. It's none of my business. I'll never ask again.”

He threw the remaining beers at Fly and me as if they were grenades. The way the brews were shaken up, they might as well have been.

While I pointed mine at the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean and fired off the white spray, Mulligan changed his tone. He didn't sound like a wily old master gun. He didn't even sound like a marine. He sounded like a Boy Scout trying to requisition a last piece of candy.

“Okay,” I said. “I'll tell you the rest, from the point where Fly and I have no disagreements about what happened.”

“Thank you,” said our victim.

4

N
o sooner had Mulligan agreed to be a good boy and let me finish my story than he changed his mind. Just like a man.

“Uh, Sanders,” he said.

“Yes, George?”

“How about we do it a little differently this time? I'll ask questions and you answer 'em. How's that?”

“Is that your first question?” I asked the master gun.

“Arlene,” Fly addressed me with his I'm-not-worried-yet tone of voice, the one he uses right before he tells me that I've gone over the line. He has a big advantage in these situations: he seems to know where the line is.

Mulligan just sat there grinning, waiting for a better response from a mere PFC. “Okay,” I said. “What do you want to know?”

“Looks like I should've brought more beer,” he admitted. Fly still had some Jack Daniel's left, so he'd be feeling no pain. All I had to get me through was truth, justice, and the American way.

“When you reached ground level, you didn't have any wheels waiting for you,” Mulligan said.
There's no way you could've outrun a mob of those things.”

“No problem,” I told him. “I hot-wired a car.”

He grimaced. “Now I suppose Corporal Taggart will tell the story of how he was the one who—”

“No,” Fly happily interrupted. “Arlene hot-wired the car all by herself. Can't imagine where a nice girl like her ever picked up such a specialized skill.”

I gave Fly the finger and didn't even wait for Mulligan to ask what happened next. “I drove like crazy for the airport with Fly riding shotgun. I had the crazy idea I could hot-wire a plane and fly Fly out of there.”

“Thanks,” said Fly.

“Let me get this straight,” Mulligan returned to the fray. “At that time you didn't realize the teenager was still waiting for you.”

“Jill,” said Fly.

“Jill,” Mulligan repeated.

I enjoyed this next bit. “We'd told her in no uncertain terms that she was not to wait for us. We'd risked our lives taking down the force field so Jill could fly Albert and Ken to safety.”

“So naturally she disobeyed orders,” said Fly.

“You've got quite a kid there,” observed the master gun with true respect for Jill. Fly and I exchanged looks.

“Jill is loyal.” Fly spoke those words with dignity.

Mulligan steered the discussion back to my monologue: “So you only had to drive to the airport . . .”

“Except we didn't make it in the first car. No great loss, as it was an unexploded Pinto. Until it exploded! A hell-prince stepped right out into the middle of the street and you know what happens when they fire those green energy pulses from their wrist-launchers.”

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