Read The Supernaturalist Online
Authors: Eoin Colfer
Overhead in the Krom factory gantry, Cosmo and Stefan watched the race with a mixture of terror and fascination. At one point Stefan’s phone vibrated. He checked the screen.
‘What does it say?’ asked Cosmo.
Stefan deleted the text. ‘Everything’s fine. See you soon.’
‘OΚ, I get it. Don’t ask.’
Stefan watched the race’s conclusion through field glasses. ‘Strange.’
‘Strange?’ asked Cosmo. ‘What’s strange?’
Stefan passed across binoculars. ‘They’ve stopped. An emergency stop too. I was sure Mona would punch out through the gate. Why would she stop on the track like a sitting duck? Unless –’
Cosmo felt a chill across his brow as the blood drained
from his face. Unless what? He waited for Stefan to complete the thought.
‘Unless someone else stopped the car for her.’
Through the field glasses, Cosmo saw Mona point to the ceiling above them. He flipped on to his back, squinting through the huge panels into the night sky beyond. Dozens of shadowy figures were hurtling through mid-air towards the holes in the roof.
‘Are those things real? Or are they some other creatures that only we can see?’
Stefan grabbed the glasses, pointing them towards the ceiling. Several black-clad figures swam into focus. Combat-chutes trailed behind them and directional gas jets were attached to each heel. Cradled in the figures’ arms were chunky assault rifles. There was a company logo emblazoned across each helmet. The same logo that flashed from the Satellite.
‘Myishi Corp,’ said Stefan. ‘Para-legals. They’re here for the Z12.’
‘What? All this for a car?’
Stefan clambered to his knees on the grating, hoisting his greatcoat over his head.
‘That car cost billions of dinars to develop. Losing it was a real kick in the teeth for Myishi. This is probably the first time it’s been out from under a lead sheet long enough to trace.’
Stefan lifted the flap of his coat. ‘Quickly, under here, and pray we’re not spotted.’
Cosmo crawled under the leather, beneath Stefan’s armpit. The coat smelled of hard work and lightning-rod flash. Through a gap in the coat, he watched the paralegals swoop gracefully through the gaping slots in the roof. With guiding bursts of gas from their boot jets, they avoided being snared by jutting girders, and descended towards the gangs assembled below.
One ripped a mini-woofer radio speaker from a Velcro patch on his arm and dropped it to the factory floor below. It bounced a full ten feet in its plastic casing before rolling along the track to settle at Honcho’s feet. He picked it up quizzically.
The para-legal’s voice blasted from the mesh.
‘The Z12 Nitrous Charger is the property of the Myishi Corporation. Step away from the car or you will be sanctioned. This is your final warning. You have ten seconds to respond.’
The gang members did not need ten seconds. Most spun their cars through a one-eighty skid, heading back towards the doors. Halfway there they noticed the three-storey assault tanks blocking the exits. Myishi were pulling out all the stops on this one. The gang leaders began firing whatever they had at the descending para-legals.
By then the ten seconds were up, and the Myishi lawyers were legally entitled to open fire. Which they did, with the most advanced weapons in the world. The first phase was to lay down a cellophane blanket. Fleeing
gang leaders were wrapped as they attempted to escape. Every second shell was a Shocker, the charge of which ran across the surface of the cellophane, blasting everything beneath the sticky surface into oblivion, or beyond it.
The Parasites pounced like iridescent wolves, sinking through the cellophane cocoons to settle on gang leaders’ chests. The charge from the Shockers was too dispersed to do them any real harm, in fact it seemed to add to their enthusiasm.
The para-legals fell like deadly missiles, spitting pain and death. They hooked on to stairwells and lower gantries, picking off their prey from above. The gang members never had a chance. Most were unconscious before they had time to draw a weapon. The rest were herded into corners by lumbering assault tanks and glued to the walls by cellophane slugs.
Stefan poked his head out from under the coat.
‘This is all my fault,’ he moaned. ‘The Parasites are feasting and it’s all my doing. I gave the Z12 to Miguel.’
Cosmo peered down at the chaos below. ‘You couldn’t have known. No one could.’
Stefan’s eyes flashed in the light of electric shells. ‘I should have known! For three years I’ve been running from Myishi police. I know how they operate.’ He pointed his lightning rod at a group of Parasites. ‘Too far. We don’t have the range. We need to get down there.’
Cosmo searched the melee of fleeing bodies. ‘I see
them. They’re going under the track. They’ll be trapped.’
‘I need to get lower,’ Stefan muttered. ‘I can’t help from here.’
Cosmo smacked the grille with his fist. ‘Why can’t it ever rain when you want it to?’
Stefan looked at him strangely. ‘Rain? Of course, we need water to drive away the Parasites. We can do that much at least.’
‘Now you’re telling me you can make it rain?’
Stefan was on his feet, scrambling towards an access ladder.
‘I can’t, but they can.’
‘They?’ shouted Cosmo, racing after the Super-naturalist. ‘Who are they?’
‘There. In the doorway. You get back to the Pigmobile; try to hook up with Mona and Ditto if they make it out.’
Cosmo still didn’t get it. The only thing in the doorway was a thirty-foot-high assault tank. Surely Stefan didn’t intend taking on one of those? Cosmo followed Stefan down a ladder. He had no intention of going back to the Pigmobile. If Stefan was going after an assault tank, Cosmo was going with him. He was, after all, one of the team.
‘Para-legals,’ gasped Mona. ‘The baddest of the bad.’
Para-legals were a three-way cross between lawyers, paratroopers and pit bulls. They were a corporation’s
last resort, and were only unleashed when there was big money at stake.
Mona twigged immediately. ‘They’re after the car.’ She grabbed Ditto by the collar, dragging him to the lip of the track.
‘Myishi shut the car down. There must be some kind of tracker in the wiring. We need to take cover.’
‘Cover?’ croaked Ditto, half strangled by his partner’s grip. ‘They’re only after the car.’
‘And anyone who’s seen it or worked on it. They can’t risk another corporation stealing Myishi ideas. Everyone here will be taken in for interrogation.’
‘Interrogation? A few polite questions and a cup of sim-coffee?’
Mona tutted. ‘Sure. A few Shockers and a cup of sodium pentathol. We’ll be lucky if we can count to ten by the time they’ve finished.’
Ditto nodded. ‘Cover. Good idea.’
They jumped from the assembly line, worming between the girders propping it up. The asphalt was littered with juice pouches and gum. The stink of generations of assorted garbage was sharp in their nostrils.
Ditto slapped his sleeve as though that could dislodge the smell. ‘This jacket is ruined. I’ll never get the stink out.’
Mona crawled deeper into the shadows. ‘At least you’ll still have a nose to smell the stink.’
The shooting started. Huge blobs of liquid cellophane
spattered the gang leaders and their cars. These were followed by searing jolts of electricity.
‘They’re getting the tar and spark treatment,’ said Ditto. ‘I almost feel sorry for them.’
Honcho pinwheeled past their hiding place, chest lights flashing furiously. A Shocker clipped his elbow, sending a charge jittering through his torso. The bulbs below his skin blew out like bullets. A Parasite was on him in under a second. Honcho fought on oblivious, screaming his rage at anyone in earshot. Eventually a para-legal casually plugged him with a cellophane slug. The Bulldog leader flapped weakly beneath a layer of rubbery liquid.
A low rumbling came from the back of the hall, like a wolf gr owling in a tunnel.
Mona knew every engine signature in the book. ‘Assault tanks. Here to mop up the mess. We have to get out of this place.’
Ditto’s head bobbed in mock happiness. ‘You don’t say?’
They crawled through years of debris, looking for a crack in the Myishi forces. But the para-legals were efficient as well as deadly. Obviously they had taken a while to survey the building before attacking. Every square inch was covered by a Myishi soldier. They clipped themselves on to railings on the upper levels, triangulating their fire to secure the building. In minutes, most had made their way to ground level and were herding any conscious gang members into the tanks’ holding pens.
Meanwhile the Parasites were sucking life force with horrifying gusto, glowing bright gold with swirling energy. It was almost too much to bear. A very large part of Mona wanted to crawl under a girder and go to sleep. To sleep and dream of peace and happiness.
If I get out of here,
I’m giving up for good. Maybe go to South America and earn a living diving for shells. Sure,
she told herself,
if there is a litre of seawater left on the planet that won’t bleach my skin.
‘I don’t see a way out,’ puffed Ditto.
Mona noticed Miguel being carted away, his features barely recognizable beneath a layer of cellophane. There was a Parasite clamped on to his chest.
‘Me neither. Stefan will do something. He wouldn’t just leave us here. Or maybe Cosmo can pull another miracle out of the bag.’
Ditto grimaced. ‘I like Cosmo, but he’s a kid. The Creeper thing was a fluke, he’s not going to save anyone.’
Mona rubbed her brow with a knuckle. ‘You’re wrong about him, Ditto. There’s something about that kid. He’s got guts, brains too. Cosmo will get us out of here. I know he will.’
Cosmo followed Stefan down a metal ladder surrounded by a tubular cage. Stefan heard his footsteps clanging on the rungs.
‘I thought I told you to go back to the Pigmobile,’ he whispered, wary of the two para-legals forty feet below.
‘Mona and Ditto are trapped down there,’ Cosmo replied simply. ‘I have to help. No one else is running away, so why should I?’
Stefan lifted his fuzz plate for a moment. Some of the tension seeped from his shoulders. He was glad to have Cosmo with him.
‘OΚ, good, you’re a Supernaturalist. Pig-headed, just like the rest of us. I have to make it to that assault tank on the north-east corner. You can open a hole for me.’
‘Open a hole?’
‘We get down to the next level and borrow a few Myishi rods. I’ll make a run for the tank and you knock out anyone pointing a weapon at me.’
Cosmo swallowed. This was war. Stefan was talking about war.
‘What about you?’
Stefan settled his mask over his face. ‘They’ll probably get me, but you can go out the way we came in. A distraction is the only way to save Mona and Ditto.’
Cosmo summoned resolve from somewhere.
‘OΚ. I’ll do my best. Let’s go.’
Stefan actually winked behind his red lenses. ‘Good. And if you happen to hit a few Parasites, I won’t be too upset.’
Cosmo swallowed, trying to dislodge his heart, which seemed to be jammed in his throat, and followed Stefan down the ladder. Stefan’s feet seemed to make no sound
as they descended, but to Cosmo’s ears his own boots rang out like church bells on the rungs.
Below, the two para-legals were enjoying themselves, laying down a saturation cellophane blanket in one corner of the factory. Their rifles bucked as they sent cartridges arcing towards a group of Sweethearts.
‘Fish in a barrel,’ said one.
‘Candy from a baby,’ agreed the other.
Stefan dropped the final few feet, landing behind the lawyers. Without pause for a movie-hero quip, he bashed their heads together and the two men slid to the stairwell without so much as a whimper.
‘Lawyers,’ grunted Stefan, unclipping their rifles. ‘I liked them better when they fought with briefcases.’ He flipped one over, removing his abseiling rig. Stefan let the straps out to their limits, fastening the rig across his own chest.
‘I’m going in as fast as possible. Hopefully by the time they realize I’m not Myishi Corp, it will be too late.’
Cosmo dropped on to the walkway. His stomach felt as though it was still halfway up the ladder. Stefan thrust a hefty rod into his arms.
‘It’s set on cellophane slugs. Aim higher than the target, these shells have a bit of drop on them. Two feet above the head should be fine. You have about twenty slugs in this rod, maybe thirty in the other.’
Cosmo studied the mystifying array of valves, barrels and buttons. ‘I can’t work this.’
Stefan spun the rod jamming the butt against Cosmo’s shoulder. ‘Think of it like a computer: you don’t have to know how it works, or even use all the functions. All you need are sights, barrel and trigger.’ He pulled a circular optic from its niche in the barrel, using the suction pad to seal it to Cosmo’s right eye socket.
‘The sight gives you distance to the target, wind condition and slugs left in the clip. Lie on the walkway and wrap anyone who casts a crooked look in my direction.’
Cosmo lay down. ‘But what if –’
‘No time for what ifs,’ interrupted Stefan, securing the abseiling spike to a girder. ‘Do your best. Remember Mona and Ditto are depending on us.’
, thought Cosmo glumly.
Stefan vaulted the safety rail, plummeting towards the factory floor a hundred feet below. Cosmo followed his progress with the rod’s barrel, the electronic sights feeding magnified images to his right eye. Stefan was descending into a world of madness. Assault tanks rumbled across the floor, bagging any stray fugitives with cannon slugs. Parasites sucked life force from the injured and gang members struggled in cellophane balloons like souls trapped in hell.
The abseiling rig slowed Stefan’s drop, but the cord ran out when he was still twenty feet up. His weight popped the reel and the tall youth dropped earthwards. Fortunately a squad of para-legals broke his fall. Stefan
was out of the rig and running before the moaning stopped.
One para-legal made it to his feet, staggering after Stefan. Cosmo moved the rod’s barrel and the eyepiece’s sight moved correspondingly. He centred the cross hairs on the para-legal’s head, then remembered Stefan’s advice and raised the barrel a couple of feet.
‘Hey you!’ called the lawyer after Stefan, and Cosmo fired.
A slug sped from the barrel, impacting between the man’s shoulder blades. A sea of gunk exploded from the tiny pellet, pinning the man to the factory floor.
Stefan continued his run, blasting a sea of Parasites from his path. Blue orbs rose like party balloons. He was heading directly for an assault tank. But why? What could he achieve?
No time for questions and less for answers. Two more para-legals had noticed Stefan and, shrugging off their parachutes, brought their weapons to bear.
Cosmo aimed and fired. Too low. The slugs splashed across the floor. Two feet above the head. Concentrate. Concentrate.
He fired again. Two shots in quick succession. The rod jumped in his arms and the para-legals found themselves entangled in a cellophane envelope.
One on the left. Down low. The para-legal got off a slug which took Stefan between the shoulder blades, knocking him forwards three stumbling steps. Cosmo
couldn’t take his eyes off the Supernaturalist. Experience saved him. Stefan shrugged off his greatcoat. In seconds the leather garment was sealed tighter than a football.
. He fired five slugs at the marksman. Three found their target.
Stefan had almost reached his goal. Twenty yards to the tank. There was a cluster of troops on a gantry one floor up. The final hurdle, apart from the tank itself. Stefan fired a few Shockers into the gantry. Most of the para-legals were completely insulated, but two had removed their gloves and were holding the rail. They collapsed smoking. Cosmo covered the rest with a cluster of slugs from his borrowed rod.
A red logo flashed in Cosmo’s sights. An ammunition clip. He was out of slugs. Cosmo hefted the rod aside, dragging the second one across by the strap. He quickly swapped eyepieces and focused on Stefan.
It was difficult to ignore the surrounding chaos. Parasites swarming, gang members struggling, chargers circling the factory floor in a futile attempt to find an exit. Cellophane coating the floor and walls.
, Cosmo ordered himself.
One emergency at a time.
The tank gunner noticed the Supernaturalist, revolving the main turret in his direction. Stefan tried weaving but the gun barrel was locked on and tracked his movements with fluid ease. Stefan appeared to give up, standing stock-still with his hands raised. Through his rod’s eyepiece, Cosmo saw the index finger of Stefan’s right hand. It was
pointing at the tank’s barrel. A message. Shoot the barrel!
It was a shot in a million, even with the eyepiece.
Cosmo stood for a better angle, resting the rod on the upper bar. Two feet above the barrel’s nozzle. No point in being delicate about it. Cosmo shot everything in the clip at the tank. At least one found its mark, spiralling into the belly of the tank. At that exact moment a Shocker shell attempted to punch through the gunge. It failed to penetrate, dispersing its charge through the tank itself. Anyone who was touching a control pad got enough of a jolt to knock them unconscious for at least a minute.
Stefan was on the move again. He leaped high, grabbing the cannon barrel, moving inwards, hand over hand. Below the main gun was a secondary barrel. Stubby with an adjustable nozzle. A water cannon for crowd control. Of course! Water!
Stefan swung again and again, slamming his booted feet against the stopcock. Behind that valve lay twenty thousand litres of pressurized water waiting to be unleashed. The stopcock groaned, jerked and finally popped, allowing the water to burst forth in a powerful jet. It quickly spread across the factory floor. Troops, vehicles and gang members were scattered before the deluge, but most importantly, the Parasites abandoned their prizes, scattering quickly to the upper levels. Any that were caught in the torrent fizzed and sparked before groggily joining the rest of their kind.
Cosmo turned his empty weapon towards Mona’s
hideout. The sights revealed the girl poking her head from under the track. Then, taking advantage of the complete confusion caused by Stefan, she tucked Ditto under her arm and made a run for a ventilation shaft on the nearest wall. None of the Myishi troops saw her go. The pair scampered inside, disappearing into the blackness. There was nothing more Cosmo could do for them now.
Meanwhile, Stefan had released his grip on the cannon barrel, dropping to the factory floor. He was unarmed now and in the open. His antics had attracted the attention of several Myishi para-legals who surrounded him like jackals, rods trained on the teenager.
Stefan raised his arms, fingers spread, but the paralegals were not about to let him come quietly, not after all the destruction he’d wreaked. They hit him with at least a dozen cellophane slugs, each one spreading across his frame like an oil slick. Cosmo saw the Super-naturalist go down, fingers clearly clawing the gunk that threatened to squeeze the life from him. On the wall, several Parasites sensed his pain and took hesitant steps in his direction. But there was too much water.
Cosmo pounded clenched fists on the railing. There was nothing he could do except watch.
‘Nice shooting, kid,’ said a voice.
Cosmo turned. A Myishi para-legal was standing further down the walkway, rod trained on Cosmo’s chest. Red cross hairs flickered on his jacket. At this range, there was no need to aim high.
‘Do you have any idea how many dinars it’s going to cost to repair that assault tank?’
Cosmo shook his head. He didn’t speak because he was holding his breath, inflating his chest as far as possible. This would make it easier to breathe if he got wrapped.
The lawyer noticed the tactic. ‘Hey, kid. Don’t worry, I’m not going to wrap you. You’re going to come peacefully, right?’
‘Right,’ said Cosmo warily.
‘Well, OK then,’ said the para-legal, pulling the trigger on his rod. A cellophane slug arced along the walkway, impacting on Cosmo’s chest. He watched helplessly as the virus spread across his torso. In seconds he was inside a malevolent cocoon that squeezed every bone in his body to groaning point.
Through the silver tint of the cellophane, he saw the lawyer lean over him.
‘Oops,’ said the man, his voice dulled by the wrap. ‘My finger slipped.’