Halo 3 (X-BOX 360) 2007 | Josh Meyer | nina sky surely missed Mp3

Blind Shrike Page 19

"Did I miss anything good?" Spyder asked Shrike.

"We're being offered a bribe," Shrike whispered. "The young pup doing all the talking is Bel, the crown prince of the Erragal clan. One of the powerful houses of the Third Sphere."

"What exactly are we being bribed for?"

"They know where we're going and what we're bringing back. They want the book."

"I'm guessing these aren't the kind of people Madame Cinders would have over to tell her troubles to."

"It's unlikely," said Shrike. "Did you bring the knife?"

"I've got it under my coat."

"Don't do anything until I tell you. For now, we're just playing a diplomacy game. Primo is politely telling the prince thanks, but no thanks."

"What if he gets mad? Last time I looked there was f**k-all but water under us."

"Those other airships should keep him in line. The Erragals are powerful, but they wouldn't want to be seen shooting an unarmed ship from the sky."

"Pardon me," said Primo, "but the young prince is becoming very agitated. I don't think that anyone has every refused an Erragal royal bribe before."

"Tell him we're on Hajj. Religious pilgrims can't accept bribes."

"Yes, ma'am."

Off to the starboard side of the ship, the sky opened like a sunbeam slicing through a cloudbank. A pale, sexless, beatific face appeared between the ship and the Seraphic Brotherhood's floating heart. The face was glowing, like a child's dream of angels, and when it spoke, its voice was like thunder.

"Fuck me," whispered Spyder.

"I know that sound," said Shrike. "God's Army to the rescue."

"What are you talking about?"

"Listen."

All Spyder could hear was the echo and rumble of the transparent head hanging in the cold ocean air. The voice and the size of the thing weren't what was most awful about it; it was the utter blissfulness of its expression. Spyder had seen faces like that before-especially the eyes-when being analyzed by court-appointed psychia-trists and being sentenced by compassionate judges who sent him off to juvenile work camps for his own good. They were the understanding eyes of kindly folk who burned witches alive to save their souls. But when Spyder glanced back to the prince, he saw that Primo had dropped out of the conversation completely.

Lulu emerged from the cabin, clutching the butcher knife to her chest. "Are we dead yet?" she asked.

"Not so's you'd notice," said Spyder. He nodded toward Bel's image. The young prince's flickering face was creased with anger. He was clearly no longer addressing Primo, but the Seraphic Brotherhood's ghost representative. The ghostly head nodded and calmly answered the young prince's furious chatter. "The bribers are bitch slapping each other," Spyder said.

"That or arguing over who gets to suck our bones," said Lulu.

"We'll know soon," said Shrike.

"Hey, Spyder?"

"What, Lulu?"

"When you were sixteen, how many times did you picture yourself freezing to death while god and a big scorpion tried to decide who was going to eat you?"

"It's not god, Lulu. It's just some magic trick," said Spyder. "And the answer is once every acid trip."

Lulu hunched her shoulder and went over to lead sit on a bail of rope. She softly began to sing: "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before…" Spyder laughed at her.

"Quiet!" Shrike yelled. "Primo, before I push these fools overboard, what's happening?"

"I believe, it's over, ma'am."

Spyder looked toward the beatific ghost head. It was fading from the sky. On the bow railing, the prince's spinning disc was folding itself up and retracting into the cable still hooked to the port railing.

"He's right," said Spyder. "Everyone's packing up and backing off."

"We got lucky," said Shrike. "Primo, set the course and come into the cabin with the rest of us."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Come on, Lulu," said Spyder.

"I don't think I like that Christian soldiers song anymore," Lulu said. "I loved it when I was little, but I never thought about the words till now. Doesn't seem very Christian singing about how fun war is."

"It's someone's idea of Christian."

"Not mine," said Lulu. "Don't let them play it at my funeral, okay? I want Amazing Grace."

"I don't know that they're going to have Amazing Grace on the jukebox at the strip club."

"What strip club?"

"The one we're going to have your funeral at."

"Cool. Can I come?"

Twenty Five

Angel Fire

It was warm below decks, but Spyder -shivered. He tucked Apollyon's knife into his belt and pulled his jacket around himself.

Primo was pouring whiskey for everyone from a crystal decanter that looked like it was worth more than everything Spyder had ever owned put together.

"I thought we were on some kind of secret mission," said Lulu. "Not much of a secret if every balloon jockey in NeverNever Land shows up for the run."

"Someone's been ratting us out since day one. We got ambushed on the way to set up this job," Spyder said, downing his whiskey in a gulp.

"Thanks for inviting me along, bro." Lulu, too, swallowed her whiskey and gave an exaggerated shake of her shoulders.

"Primo, did Madame Cinders tell anyone about trying to retrieve her book?" asked Shrike.

"Not that I know of."

"How many people knew she had the book in the first place?"

"A great many. Every truly powerful practitioner of magic in all the Spheres knows about the book of true names."

"Did Bel say why he wanted the book?"

"No, ma'am. In fact, I don't think he knows what it was. He just kept offering more and more gold. I got the distinct impression that he was acting on behalf of someone else. Perhaps behind his family's back."

"Did he say that?" asked Spyder, pouring himself and Lulu more whiskey. Shrike and Primo weren't drinking theirs, but, Spyder noted, seemed to take some comfort in simply holding the glasses.

"No. He was very evasive."

"So, you're just guessing."

"I'm observing. I'm a traveler. We learn to read people or we don't survive."

"No offense, man," said Spyder.

"None taken, sir."

"What do we do now?" Spyder asked Shrike.

She finally drank her whiskey, in two long gulps. "Sail on," she said. "Quickly. The sooner we reach the Kasla Mountains, the better."

"The young prince is still attached to the bow," said Primo.

"Get him off and get us out of here," Shrike said.

"Right away."

"So, the plan is we run real fast and hope they don't pounce on us like a cat on a baby chick?" asked Lulu.

"There's not much else we can do, bobbing along like a damned cork."

"This balloon idea was bullshit."

"A ship, a caravan or a magic pumpkin pulled by mice. It doesn't matter. Someone was going try and stop us from getting to the gates of Hell. I was just hoping we'd get more of a head start."

Spyder was no longer gulping the whiskey, but sipping it. Still, its warmth wasn't particularly comforting. Just when he felt like he was getting used to the high weirdness that had swallowed his life, that lost-at-sea feeling was coming on him again.

When Jenny was packing to leave and the warehouse had iced over into glacial silence, Spyder had re-watched what he considered the most peculiar Orson Welles movie, Mr. Arkadin. The flick was a puzzling mish-mash of Citizen Kane crossed with a baroque post-war crime melodrama sort of spot-welded onto the side. Mr. Arkadin was about an ambitious young smuggler who's researching how the mysterious financier, Gregory Arkadin, made his first fortune. Arkadin himself ends up hiring the smuggler to finish the project. Apparently, he had amnesia and didn't know his own early history. The story dragged the young ne'er-do-well through the junk and small-time gangster debris of post-war Europe, taking him from a flea circus to flea bag motels to mansions where drunks hinted at escapades in white slavery. As the bad guys who were murdering the people the ne'er-do-well had interviewed got closer and closer to him, Spyder didn't understand why the guy didn't just take his pocket full of expenses money, hop a train and head for the hills.

One thing about the movie had always stuck with Spyder, however: Arkadin's amnesia story. Spyder wondered what that was like, waking up in some stranger's clothes, afraid to touch anything because it might be a mirage, or a papier mâhé prop on a movie set or a museum artifact wired to an alarm. The cops would come running in and beat you, maybe kill you, before ever you had the chance to explain that you were simply lost. Drinking his whiskey, Spyder felt definitely lost, trapped in someone else's life, imprisoned in some other loser's skin.

The airship shook. Then shook again, knocking the whiskey decanter and tea kettle onto the floor. Outside, the booming voice of the Christians' talking head was back.

Spyder ran out onto the deck, followed by the others. The sacred heart airship had come much closer. At this distance, its size was shocking. The other ships, which had been keeping a discreet distance, were also closing in. When Spyder described the scene to Shrike, she yelled, "Primo, get us moving!"

"I can't! The prince's ship is still attached," Primo yelled, struggling with the claw that still gripped the railing.

"Get that thing off us," Shrike told Spyder. "Primo, get back to the navigation. When Spyder shakes us loose, take us low and away from here."

Spyder kicked at the golden claw and managed to put a few cracks in the surface of the rail, but whatever the rail and line were made of, they were very tough. Lulu ran over and kicked along with Spyder, but both the claw and railing remained where they were. Then Lulu stopped what she was doing.

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