I’d never seen so much rain.
“Where’s it all coming from!” shouted Epiphany over the storm. “Mars Prime is a desert!”
“Earth Prime! Lucien’s been feeding her his banked blood for the past two years to make her stronger! By now she’s absorbed enough magic to open a massive dimensional gate, and she’s draining our old home’s oceans straight through into our new home!” I got out my handheld and switched the mic to subvocal so I could talk without yelling. “Frank, I’m gonna need fire support.”
“Will he listen? If he gets it into his head that he’s gonna tangle with her, we’re all screwed.”
“He’ll listen to me.”
“Good. Get him orbital. Drive her toward the North Pole. Keep that nuclear breath of his far, far away from Amsterdam Two until the jump signature from my cherub clears the planet.”
“You got a plan?”
“Issue a global evacuation order and then sterilize Mars Prime. If we’re really lucky, Fafnir can take her out before she gets too big. I’m going to try and get to the Central Pylon. If I use my titan, I think I can dig it up and bring it with us to Miskatonic. Worst case, we make a stand there.”
I closed the channel and looked over the edge of the mesa we were standing on. Amsterdam Two was hip-deep in orange slurry. Cars were beginning to float. “It could be a lot worse! The northern hemisphere is mostly deserted now that Amsterdam Two is a shambles! Not a whole bunch of people left to drown on this side of the planet, which means she isn’t powerful enough to go interplanetary yet!”
“Why would she start here, then?”
“The Central Pylon is buried here!”
“I’m a little lost, Tracer!”
“Mars Prime is perfectly situated in planar space to be a conduit for interplanar communication and travel! It’s why Central Terminal went up here! The Central Pylon is like Central Terminal, only for interplanar communication rather than interplanar travel! But no one ever thought to waterproof the fucking thing, because no one ever imagined that it would ever rain here! If it shorts out, electro-etheric communication won’t work! No communication between planes means every planet after this one is a sitting duck—no way to call for reinforcements!”
“Reinforcements? I thought there weren’t any more troubleshooters!”
“There are a few planets that still keep armies—those weird biomechanicals on Mechatron One and traditionalists like Sparta Prime! They’re not crazy about us ‘cosmopolitans’ there, but they remember what happened to Earth Prime! They’ll help!”
Epiphany scanned the skies. “Where is she?”
“Wrong kind of dragon! She has to have water to move!”
Through my monocular I could see something immense out in the distant desert where nothing should be moving. It was seething with karma. I held out the little scope to Epiphany.
“Jesus, fuck, that’s huge!” She gave me an odd look. “How can she swim in this? There’s only about five feet of water here, and it’s mostly mud! It looks like she’s stuck!”
I stopped and thought about it. “Frank, new plan. Tell Fafnir to stand down until I give you the word. Dr. Platinum may be able to kill Tiamat before she’s fully mobile.”
“You’ve got ten minutes. Then Fafnir destroys Mars Prime. I’m not taking the risk.”
I closed the channel. “We’ve got ten minutes to get out there. I give it seven before it’s deep enough for her to swim!”
Epiphany pointed down the strip to a low building with a tall neon sign declaring it to be a Vampire Flying Carpet Emporium. “What about one of those?”
I opened a dimensional gate directly into the carpet dealership’s garage. It was warm and dry inside, and smelled of new carpet and grave dirt. “Sports model,” Epiphany said, pointing to an eight-by-ten in snazzy red-and-black with gold trim.
“Activating word is “Abracadabra,” I said, flipping up the label gummed to the underside. “I hope that’s just how it comes from the factory.”
“Fairfax doesn’t get airsick, does she?”
“That’s not going to become an issue. Fairfax?”
“Let her know who she’s fucking with.”
“Wuff.” The little dog blurred.
The carpet rose a few feet. “You’re driving, okay?” I said. “I’m going to hit her with everything I have left from a distance and see if that’ll get us close to her. With a little luck, she’s close enough to Amsterdam two that Fairfax will be able to outmaneuver her.”
Epiphany nodded. “Trying not to freak out,” she said.
“Christ, Milo, call me Epiphany. Or Doc, I like Doc.”
“Doc, this is it. I can’t say it’ll all be okay, because fuck, look out there. But you’re a professional, just like me. What’s the most difficult surgery you ever did?”
Her breathing slowed a little. “Cyclops with a detached retina,” she said. “Fucking thing was thirty feet tall, and it had fallen off of the lighthouse it was cleaning. Eighty feet straight into the surf, hit its head on a rock. It was thrashing around because in addition to the retina, the big moron had dislocated its knee. I had to hit it on the head with a crowbar to get its attention, yell directly into its ear to hold still because it was just me and a nurse, and if it had rolled on us it would have crushed us. Took me an hour and a half with the glyph’s laser to reattach it.”
“There you go. She’s bigger than a Cyclops, but not by much, and you don’t have to worry about hurting her by mistake. And I don’t mean to be morbid, but if we go out, it’ll be quick.”
She nodded. “Okay. How many chances do I get?”
“Fuck it. No pressure.”
I smiled at her. “Good. Let’s go give her a kicking.”
The carpet dealership had a sliding safety glass roof to make takeoffs easier. I ignored the controls and fired off my last stunner to shatter it from the ground.
Elder dragons inspire terror by their very presence. First of all, and most obvious, they are gigantic. Tiamat was the largest of them all, the mighty sea serpent herself. Weak as she was, she was a thousand feet long and as big around as a submarine. With enough water to drink, she would grow and grow until she strangled the planet.
Second, they possess a glamour that hotwires the fight-or-flight reflex in everything that lives, creating a constant state of anxiety in their prey.
Finally, their karmic field is so intense that it causes the air itself to beat like a drum. I knew that only Epiphany’s proximity to my magically enhanced karma was keeping her level. If I fell from the carpet, she’d die of fright.
Dark gray and crusted with barnacles and filth with a sickly white underbelly, Tiamat, Queen of the Dragons, Lady of the Ocean and Mother of the Ecthroi lay coiled in the mud, smiling malevolently with her shark-toothed mouth.
Hello, Milo. Come to kill me?
All terrestrial mammals fear the deep, humans especially so. We remember who waits for us beneath. I tried to focus through the sudden wash of dread. “You got it,” I muttered. I scanned the roiling mess below us for Fairfax.
“What’s she doing?” asked Epiphany, pointing. The little dog was moving too fast to be seen, but I could follow her wake. She was accelerating around Tiamat, creating a whirlpool of boiling steam. I tensed myself for the inevitable explosion.
“She’s doing what she’s trained to do on water! The friction her paws creates on the surface boils the water and causes a steam explosion!”
“But that’ll raise the water level! That thing’ll be able to swim!”
I took the whistle from around my neck and blew frantically. Fairfax peeled off immediately, but it was too late. The superheated wave lifted Tiamat off of the sandbar that had held her in place.
Oh, good dog, Fairfax.
“Oh, Christ, it keeps getting bigger and bigger! How is it doing that?”
“She’s drinking the water! Get lower!”
“It’ll swamp us!”
“I’m not leaving my dog!”
“Let it swallow her!”
“Are you crazy?”
“Milo, Atomic Schnauzers don’t need to breathe! That thing’s armored outside—is it armored inside? And look at it! There isn’t enough water for it to swim in yet!”
I stared. She was right. “Fairfax! Get inside her! Give her a stomachache!”
The little dog didn’t hesitate. As Tiamat gulped water, Fairfax let herself sink into the waves. My heart dropped into my stomach as she disappeared into the monster’s gaping maw. Tiamat writhed.
Little…bitch. You’re making me angry, Milo.
“Good. Epiphany, you’ve got to get us closer! Really close!”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to make her mad! Have you noticed that she hasn’t taken a shot at us yet?”
“Stay with me, Doc!” I spat plasma square in Tiamat’s yellow eye, the size of a swimming pool. She roared and thrashed, but did nothing other than slither toward what was rapidly becoming open sea.
I felt the air temperature rise. “You know who’s coming, Tiamat!”
Fafnir. You’ll die too, Milo.
“I’ll die quickly! You’re covered in scales and you don’t have enough water to fight back yet! You’ll dry out and crack, and it’ll be agony the whole way! And the hairless monkeys will have won again! How’s that feel?”
My tattoos recharged. I took stock. No more plasma breath. No more stunner. No more reactive armor. “Darts.”
Ten thousand hypodermic needles to the eye did the trick. Tiamat uncoiled and struck at us like a snake, missing us by two feet, her aim spoiled by a spasm in her guts. I felt Epiphany’s glyph’s defensive grid finally come to life.
The rain stopped and the temperature began to rise as something hot and massive got between the magically induced clouds and the ground. “Frank!” I shouted into my handheld. “Call off Fafnir! Epiphany’s got it!”
“He’s already in the stratosphere. I can’t promise he won’t make contact.”
“Tell him to hold steady at his current altitude! He’s evaporating the water! And don’t let him nuke the place!”
“Kill her quick, Milo. If he sees her, he’ll fire. He hates her more than we do.”
Epiphany’s eyes opened wide. “Milo, get dow—”
The world went photonegative. Epiphany’s glyph emptied its stellar reservoir in one silent, devastating beam of anti-light. A hole the size of a bathtub opened in the center of Tiamat’s injured eye. Anti-protons exited explosively from the back of her skull. She went down like a log—the impact shattered windows in Amsterdam Two, twenty miles away. A moment later, Fairfax strolled out of the monster’s open mouth, meticulously shaking herself.
The clouds parted. A flame-orange dragon the size of an aircraft carrier could be seen for a moment. Where he passed, the ocean receded and dried. There was a scream of triumph and he was gone.
I landed the carpet. Epiphany sat down. “Woo.”
“You all right?”
Fairfax trotted over and licked Epiphany, who recoiled. “Oh, gross! I love you, Fairfax, but you’re covered in yuck!”
I scratched the little dog behind the ears. “Team effort. Good girl. Very good girl.” Fairfax opened her mouth and panted. It looked like she was smiling.
Unexpectedly, Epiphany hugged me. “Thank you,” she said softly into my ear. “Thank you for bringing me back.”
I returned the hug. “Welcome. Want to find a shower and some clean clothes?”
“Yeppers. Where are we going?”
“Anywhere you want. Anywhere in the world.”
Steven Smiley is the author of Milo & Fairfax.