“It’s like they think I’m a criminal! What the hell?”
“You are a criminal,” I said, my eyes on the road.
Honey White rolled her eyes. “I’m a gemological archivist. It’s a perfectly honest occupation!”
I twitched the wheel and tapped the brakes. The oncoming police car missed us by three feet and spun out into someone’s beach house.
“You’re a jewel thief, Honey.”
She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “I ask you: what’s wrong with what I did? They were going to use those rubies to summon something horrifying!”
“Are you asking me an ethical question, or are you trying to justify calling me up in the middle of the night to rescue you from corrupt squid people?” I pulled the lever that dropped the tailgate. “Make yourself useful and shoot back. Sooner or later they’re going to start throwing projectiles rather than plasma, and getting bullet holes out of a fusion-cell conversion is expensive.”
She unbuckled her seat belt and climbed into the cargo bed. I would have taken a minute to check her out if I hadn’t been paying attention to the police motorcycle gaining on us. Honey was long and lean, with sun-bleached hair and skin the color of caramel. I was pretty sure she was baseline human, but she could have been from anywhere. She’d called me up and asked if I could give her a ride home from an undisclosed location. It had turned out to be a police station on some version of Venus, about twenty planes down from the Prime system. Humanoid cephalopods that worshipped an Ecthros called The Hanged Man had followed her jump signature and overrun the place. They wanted the bag of sacred rubies Honey had stolen, and had teleported en masse into the station, eaten all the cops, and stolen their hardware in order to get the stones back.
“Where are your guns?”
“Climb all the way over into the way-back and push the raised red button next to the winch release.”
I patted the passenger seat twice and Fairfax hopped onto it. The little Atomic Schnauzer stuck her head out the window with every sign of enjoyment.
Honey hit the button. “Compartment underneath?”
There was a loud “clack” and the inbuilt Vindicator chain gun swung up and locked into place.” I checked my mirrors and saw the squid on the motorcycle pull alongside us. I leaned over and rummaged in the glove compartment until I found an acid-vapor grenade, which I primed and dropped out the window. I was rewarded with a rain of scrap metal and a disgusting floppy sound that probably approximated a scream.
Honey sat back, braced her feet and hosed the phalanx of stolen police cars down with armor-piercing slugs. I heard something fall from the sky. I angled my head back toward her.
“What was that?”
I nodded. “There’s a thin cable with a blue pull-tab next to the gun. Pull the tab.”
She got a grip and pulled hard. The spare tire flipped down and centered itself below the rear bumper. I nudged Fairfax, who obediently hopped into the way-back.
Honey strapped herself in. “Why do you even have a car like this?”
“I have a truck like this because I hunt monsters for a living. Are you complaining?”
“Hell no. This is fun.”
The spare tire spun in its housing. Then it spun faster, and faster, and faster. A magic circle manifested itself around the Bronco’s back end. I pulled the four-wheel-drive lever all the way back and aimed us at the beach. The wheels folded up and in and the compressor that fed the forced-neon jets lining the undercarriage engaged.
“It turns into a hovercraft? Shit, I want one of these. Where’d you get the jump booster?”
“Back of an Amtrak train. Is anyone still following us?”
“Couple-three boats and another chopper. Why aren’t we going faster than they are?”
“The jump booster takes about five minutes to warm up. I don’t want to use my cherub to open a dimensional gate until I know they can’t follow us through it. Let Fairfax get by you. We’re gonna drop her.”
Honey made room for the little dog. “Should I worry that we’re heading out to sea? Does she swim?”
“Not as such.” I checked the rear view mirror. “Fairfax! The three boats, please. Honey will take care of the helicopter.”
The little dog pawed the floor, growled, and leapt out of the truck. She hit the water like a skipped stone, her feet barely touching the surface, and accelerated. A twenty-foot rooster tail of boiling steam formed behind her, followed by a deafening crack as she hit Mach three. Two hundred pounds of small, angry dog ripped through the boats at three thousand feet per second, one after the other, obliterating them.
Honey’s jaw dropped. “Holy shit. Heard about her, didn’t believe it.”
“She gets that a lot.” I switched on the nitrous system. “This part’s tricky. We have to catch up to her just as the jump booster kicks in. She’ll try to wait for us, but if she loses too much speed, she’ll sink.”
“What if she does? Will she be okay?”
“She’ll sulk for the rest of the day if I make her swim—she doesn’t like getting salt water on her paws. Besides, I don’t want her drenching the interior when she shakes off the water. Don’t worry, she knows what to do.” I glanced at my mirrors. “Gunship coming up behind us. Your turn.”
Honey swung the gun up and squeezed the trigger. The helicopter swung away from the stream of tracer and depleted uranium, zeroed in on us and cut loose a barrage of rockets. There was a series of thumping noises and the Bronco shuddered as the rear ballistic damper absorbed more fire than it could handle. The magic circle behind the jump booster flickered and faded.
I turned around. “Honey! You okay?”
She unbuckled her seat belt. “Ow. Shaken up, but I’ll live. What are we going to do?”
“We have to get back on dry land. Plug your ears.” I took the small gold whistle from around my neck, put it in my mouth, jammed my fingers in my ears and blew.
Honey winced. “I think all the wax just ran out of them. Was that for Fairfax?”
“Yeah. It’ll take her a minute to swing around. Come up here and take the wheel.”
I made room and she got into the driver’s seat. I went over to the chain gun and hit the button that stowed it. The next bit was going to be tricky. I got up close to the tailgate, cracked my knuckles, and subvocalized a series of words in a language men created to speak to angels. I felt a gentle tugging at my karmic field and a plume of water roared into the sky, taking on the rough outline of a gigantic torso, arms and head.
The truck swerved to the right, almost tossing me into the water. “What the fuck is that!?” Honey screeched.
“Wave elemental!” I shouted. “It’s on our side! Keep us steady and flip the blue switch under the hazard lights when I tell you to!”
The tiny creatures tattooed under my skin don’t need much in the way of instruction; they’re intelligent, and they know in a general way what I want them to do. I gestured and the elemental swung a gigantic fist at the helicopter. The squid at the controls must have hit the thrusters, because the chopper shot upward and out of the elemental’s reach. I swung my hands outward. In a moment the elemental transformed, the humanoid shape blurring into a wall of fog. I vaulted over the folded rear seats and into the passenger seat.
“We’re covered,” I said. “Hit it.”
She flipped the switch and the afterburner came to life. “I can’t see for shit, Milo. Do you have radar or something?”
“No need. We’re headed in the right direction, and the fog’s going to lighten up when we get over dry land.”
“What if they’re waiting for us when we get there?”
“They almost certainly will be. As a matter of interest, how much cash can you get ahold of in the next couple of hours?”
She grinned. “What are we buying?”
“A new truck.”
She arched one elegant eyebrow. “For you or for me? Can’t be you—this one isn’t completely fucked-up.”
There was a sound like a Ferrari peeling out of a gravel driveway and Fairfax appeared alongside of us. She slowed momentarily, gauged the distance, and leapt into the back of the Bronco. I patted her head; she licked my face and curled up next to the gun compartment.
“We’re over dry land, Milo! How do I put the wheels down?”
I showed her how to turn the hovercraft back into a truck. I usually don’t let people drive it, let alone show anyone how the guns work, but since it was about to be a smoldering wreck in the center of a smoking crater, I didn’t see the harm.
“They’ll set up a road block as soon as they know we’re here. We lost the helicopter, but they’ll have fed our engine signature into a vibration decoder.” I checked the holographic map on my wristwatch. “There. Buckle your seatbelt, lean on the horn and step on the gas.”
“Wait, what? Are you trying to get us caught?”
“Not exactly. Give me the rubies.”
“Nope. I have a buyer already and I’m not burning her.”
“Then you can forget about hitching a ride out with me and the dog. Those little nightmares are going to leverage them somehow to summon a big nightmare, and I won’t allow that.”
She looked at me with genuine loathing. “Man, fuck you, Milo.” She dug a small leather bag out from something fashionable that I would have sworn was skin-tight and dropped it into my lap, ignoring my outstretched hand. “I hope you choke on them.”
I grabbed the bag and pointed through the salt-rimed windshield. “Watch the road, Honey.”
She turned her head just as we crashed into the garbage truck the squid people had set up in the center of the street. The undamaged ballistic damper mounted on the front of the Bronco transferred our momentum to the truck’s compactor and sent it into a sideways skid. Fairfax and I stepped calmly out of the truck, followed by a glowering Honey. In a moment, we were surrounded by squid people.
Octopi shouldn’t walk around on two legs. This bunch wore straps of blue and black rubber wrapped around and around their pale, clammy bodies. Their prehensile limbs undulated constantly, like a kind of full-body fidget, and their beaks chattered incessantly. Most of them were carrying weapons, iridium-plasma lances they must have brought with them or shotguns and semiautomatic rifles that they had looted from the police station. They reeked of fish and blood.
I held the rubies near Fairfax’s muzzle. “Back up!” I shouted. “Back up or I’ll feed them to her!” For a moment I thought I’d have to teleport the three of us out and take the chance that they would sniff out the teleportation signature and follow us through, but a path opened up. I turned to Honey. “Get behind Fairfax. I’m going to open a dimensional gate. It’s only going to stay open for a few seconds—get through it quickly.” Honey gave a curt nod. I lobbed the rubies over the cephalopods’ heads and onto the hood of the Bronco. Every yellow eye and clacking beak turned to follow.
I activated the cherub on my left shoulder. It leapt off, all eyes and wings and fiery breath, and became a gate made of nowhere. I checked to make sure there weren’t any squid people close enough to create problems, got out my car keys and pressed the button on the fob that would overload the fusion engine and turn the Bronco into a low-yield nuclear bomb. I didn’t wait for Honey to follow, just took her by the arm and dragged her through the gate just before the world went white.
We stepped out onto Washington Avenue, just south of my apartment on Mars Prime. Honey yanked her arm away. “You’re an asshole, Milo,” she said.
I shrugged. “You called me, not the other way around.”
“I thought we were friends.”
“We’re friends if you want to be.”
Her mouth opened, and she looked like she was going to say something, but decided against it. She pulled herself together and hailed a cab. I couldn’t hear the destination she gave to the driver.
The dog and I had dinner at the diner around the corner, then walked home.
Steven Smiley is the author of Milo & Fairfax.