“Is this the guy?” the woman asked.
The Norseman responded with bitter irritation. “He’s got to be. How else would someone get in here without the wards frying him? And if Wong here had half a brain instead of being obsessed with his little toy footballers, we’d already be on the way to the Engineering Center. Wong put him down.” Bridge drifted softly to the earth, relieved to finally feel solid ground beneath him again. “You!” The blonde’s finger stabbed at Bridge like an accusation. Bridge had been in this man’s presence less than one minute, and he already wanted to kick the guy in the balls. Based on Wong’s descriptions, the blonde must be Rolfsberg. “What’s your name?”
Bridge decided to play it dumb, if for no other reason than to tweak this douche. “Me? I’m nobody.”
“You told me you were Bridge, that the dragon sent you here, Carl sent him, he said,” Wong stammered before finally catching on to Bridge’s joke. “Ohhhhhh, right.” The kid might be brilliant with whatever kind of magic physics simulation he was running on the football pitch, but he didn’t seem to have any idea how to read actual human beings.
“So you’re the one Balfour sent for? Artemis Bridge?”
Bridge tossed a sarcastic salute from his non-existent hat. “Artemis Bridge. You need something, I’m the Bridge, the path to whatever you want, so long as whatever you want is hard to find and someone else has it. I’m the go-between and the get-to-know. You stand over…”
The man in black interrupted him. Bridge guessed this was Janicki. “Save the spiel. You spoke with Carl?”
“He’s not a goddamn dragon.” Janicki let out a sigh of pure exasperation. “He’s a man just like you and me. Well, not you. The dragon skin is an illusion.”
“That’s one helluva an illusion,” Bridge retorted. “I saw that thing’s claws crush a car. How’s an illusion do that?”
“That’s complicated,” the woman, Lydia, replied. “Balfour will help explain it as best he can.”
Rolfsberg began to rapid-fire questions at Bridge. “When did you see Carl? How did he die? Who killed him?”
Bridge was distracted by the sound of metal scraping against metal. Wong had lost interest and turned his back to the discussion, waving his arms up and down to bring the players back to life. “Like I was telling your buddy over here, I left Carl outside the dome two, maybe three hours ago tops. Of course, when I walked into the dome, it was late night but when I got inside, it was daytime. I swear I haven’t been in here more than an hour or two and it’s already nighttime. What the fuck is going on around here?”
As a group, the three dropped their eyes to the ground, as if embarrassed to admit what they knew. “That’s impossible,” Rolfsberg said.
Bridge stabbed an angry finger at Wong, who had floated a little ways off the ground. “I’ve seen a gigantic impenetrable dome cover a city, a flaming dragon and that motherfucker over there is FLYING while playing with life size toy footballers made of car bits. Impossible appears to be a relative term. You asked. I’m telling you what I know.”
Janicki responded, “Rolfsberg says it’s impossible because the last transmission we got from Carl was five days ago. And that was three days after he said he’d escorted you into the dome.” He seemed to mull something over in his mind. “How long ago did you get the call?”
“You mean the giant brain-stabbing hallucination you sent me and every other son-of-a-bitch with an interface jack from here to Los Angeles?” Janicki nodded. “Four, five days ago. Same time the dome appeared.” A panicked look spread from Janicki’s face to the others in the group. “What? What is it?”
“We sent that message over two weeks ago, right after the dome went up.” The night had well and truly fallen by now. Janicki’s face was swallowed in shadow as dark as his mood. “Temporal distortion?”
Lydia nodded. “I concur. That’s the only possible explanation.”
“Unless Bridge here is lying to us.”
“Yeah, fuck you, buddy. You think I’m lying then give me a goddamn car and I’ll drive my ass right back to L.A. where I belong. I didn’t come all this way to get insulted, attacked by ghosts and jerked around by the geek gaggle.”
“Ghosts?” Lydia asked with sudden, panicked interest. “You’ve seen the ghosts?”
“Seen ‘em? Shit, they almost got me killed. I ran one over with a truck. Well, ran through her anyway.”
“I want to apologize, Mr. Bridge,” Lydia began.
“Just Bridge.” Bridge gave her a smile that was full of charm. She scoffed like he’d just tried to pick up the last lesbian at the man haters bar.
“Bridge then. It wasn’t my call to bring you in on this. But now that you are, we all need to go back to the Engineering Center and sort this out with Balfour. He’ll be able to explain more when we get there.”
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s all fly there now!”
Janicki coughed. “We’ll have to settle for the car.”
“Yes, we’ll have to take the car! Our buddy Wong doesn’t feel like sharing his flight equations. Isn’t that right, Wong?” Rolfsberg yelled angrily at Wong’s back, spittle flying from his mouth. Wong floated ten feet or so off the ground, his back to the group, ignoring the abuse completely. “Didn’t you hear me, Donger? I said you should share your flight equations so we can all fly like you and Carl!” Wong continued to ignore the insults, which only served to infuriate Rolfsberg more. “I’m talking to you!”
Lydia put a calming hand on Rolfsberg’s shoulder, but he shrugged it off angrily. “No, I’m tired of this shit. You! Ding Dong! We’re all going to the Engineering Center to work this out. Stop playing with your dolls and move your ass.”
“They’re not dolls,” Wong said silently over his shoulder. “It’s a complex physics simulation.”
“It’s junk science, you twerp! We have important work to do, and despite your painful immaturity, we could actually use your help. And it’s effing poor form to hold out on the rest of us. I’d like to fly. Wouldn’t you like to fly, Lydia? Janicki? Aren’t you goddamn tired of trotting around like a grad student while he gets to fly like a bird?”
“You couldn’t handle my calculations,” Wong said icily. He’d turned to face the group now, and a cold fire seemed to be building behind his eyes.
“What? You little shit. I could run rings around your math in my sleep. I spit differential equations and piss matrices. I don’t have to listen to this drivel from my intellectual inferiors. Why don’t you come down here and say that to my face?”
“Why don’t you come up here and make me?” Wong retorted with a puckish grin.
Rolfsberg’s face was fire engine red by this point. Lydia’s snickering didn’t help, only serving to enrage him further. He looked down at his flesh fist, which was squeezed so tightly the knuckles had turned white. Bridge began to feel crackling in the air, a building buzz of power consolidating in a single point of electrical energy. Rolfsberg’s fist began to shake and glow. Bridge unconsciously began to back away, aware at a cellular level that something bad was about to happen.
“That’s it!” Rolfsberg screamed, throwing his fist out at Wong. A blinding blue arc of lightning flew from his outstretched hand to strike Wong dead center with explosive force.
Go to Chapter 16.0
Thursday, May 21, 2009