Olivia flushed with embarrassment as Cara leaned forward, a salacious grin alive on her features, suffused with the confident air of someone who knew that their charisma operated on a whole other level of ability.
‘Now would you like to know what’s in my giftbag for you, little lady?’
The accent was pure cornball Americana, but delivered with such gusto that Olivia couldn’t be offended by it.
Gloria was stabbing at the air with her fingertips, giving out gasps of awe as she played with her gift. She pushed her knees together and sighed heavily as she collapsed back against her chair.
Olivia glanced over at her. Drea was on her second drink, eyes glazed over with a sloppy drink. Drea had continued to assert that she was dreaming, and when a cloud of sparkling gases floated past, humming something that sounded like ‘Ole MacDonald Had A Farm’, she considered that perhaps she had a point. Her attention returned to Cara who winked at her and clicked her fingers.
Instantly, they were both stood in a room without walls, the pristine white of oblivion stretching out beyond the limits of vision.
‘Always wanted to do that.’ Cara said.
Olivia flinched, crouched and brought her hands up, made fists as she stared out at the infinite expanse.
‘Where the hell are we?’
Cara frowned and gestured around her.
‘Technically, nowhere but it would require too much explaining and I would probably break your brain in the process.’
Olivia found that a burst of incredulous laughter was the most appropriate response.
‘You mean you haven’t already?’
Cara chuckled and winked at her, bowing forward at the waist as she swept her right arm in front of her. Olivia thought that Cara was beautiful, but it was the kind of beauty that could be taken off and discarded. Olivia had a sense of people akin to the rapport she had with animals, that what someone said and did were two different things. She saw what someone did rather than said was a truer indication of how a person was.
Cara clicked her fingers again and a black metal rectangular box arose from the floor.
‘The Phantom Bunyawi Fever K.’
Olivia stepped back, appalled and fascinated.
Cara shrugged and gestured towards it.
‘Kneel down and open it. It doesn’t bite. Well, it won’t bite you.’
Olivia knelt in front of it, brushed her fingers against it. It had the texture of something living, slippery and smooth, made her fingertips tingle pleasantly.
‘What sort of name is a Phantom Bunyawi Fever K?’
Cara squatted so that they were on the same level.
‘It’s when you’re translating the language of a species who communicate telepathically and visually at the same time, you run into some amusing word play.’
Cara tapped the box.
‘The beauty isn’t in the name.’
The lid rippled away as though it were a memory of a first kiss. What lay inside made Olivia gasp with appalled fascination.
It was what a child imagined they carried when they pretended to shoot one another. It had the shape of a revolver, without any visible moving parts beyond the trigger, which had the intricacy of a mosquito wing, tracings of filigree across the barrel and the butt. Colours ran through it, changing as Olivia stared at it, lost to the alien beauty of it. She barely heard Cara tell her to pick it up until she found herself reaching for it.
The butt hummed against the meat of her palm.
HELLO OLIVIA. I AM WALTER, CARA HAS PROVIDED ME WITH YOUR BASE INFORMATION. I AM YOUR CHOSEN ARMAMENT.
Olivia looked up at Cara, face turned tight and pale with disbelief.
‘The gun is talking to me.’
Cara laughed, a rich pealing sound that Olivia found quite lovely. It had no mockery in it, and Olivia could have listened to it for hours.
‘Where do the bullets go?’
Cara smiled and gestured towards it.
IN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, I PRODUCE MY OWN AMMUNITION FROM AMBIENT MOLECULES TO WHATEVER SPECIFICATION YOU REQUIRE EITHER AUDIBLY OR THROUGH MENTAL COMMANDS.
Olivia looked up, shaking with awe and concern.
‘I didn’t understand a word of that.’
Walter sighed, like a parent losing the last vestiges of their patience.
YOU IMAGINE WHAT YOU WANT TO HAPPEN.
Cara stood back up.
‘OK, so you’re more practical than theory, which is good, so pick Walt up and point it -‘
She looked left and right, touched one of the glowing rings on her fingers and then smiled, pointed left.
Olivia found the gun too light to be plausible, but it sent another pleasurable shiver down the length of her arm and she adjusted without thinking.
A LITTLE INCENTIVE FOR US BOTH. NOW WHATEVER APPEARS, PUT THE IMAGE IN YOUR HEAD THAT YOU NEED IT TO EXPLODE. IT’S THE MOST FUN YOU CAN HAVE WITH YOUR CLOTHES ON.
Olivia gave a sideways glance to Cara, who put her hands up in a gesture of mock-surrender.
‘Don’t look at me, he comes as part of the gun. The Keltsey plug it straight into their third cortex but we don’t have time for surgery right now.’
Olivia decided that she would just wait and see what happened. The explanations were terrifying to her, but the feel of a gun in her hand, even an alien, talking one was comforting after a fashion.
The sound of something grinding and stomping echoed through the air. A guttural, pained roar hurt her ears. It sounded like something old and terrible, dying but determined not to do so alone. It appeared before her, and she fought the urge to empty her bladder by tightening her grip on the gun.
It was a twisted, scarred thing, with massive swollen limbs wound with barbed wire, bleeding a black ichor that dripped and sent up stinking wisps of steam where it touched the ground. It’s fingers flexed, ending in serrated talons encrusted with blood rusted to copper stains. It was humanoid, and within it’s sunken eyes, Olivia saw an eternity of pain and torment, and the utter implacability of its will to dominate and return the insult that existence had offered it. Its scarred lips peeled back over stainless steel teeth jammed into blackened gums at horrific angles, their edges glinting wetly as it looked at her with the same disdain a coyote showed its prey. It wrenched its head to the right and a swelling on its right shoulder spat out green thick pus that splattered onto the floor and a tentacle emerged with the tip flaring out like an orchid made of meat, and the interior pulsed with awful, malevolent energy before it sent a plume of black flame into the air.
Olivia turned to Cara and grimaced, but Cara bowed and took a step backwards.
‘Just something I came up with on the fly. Now you and Walter start working together.’
OH OLIVIA, THIS IS A PENITENT, PART OF THE CASTE OF THE FLAYED LAMB. THEY HAIL FROM AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE WHERE THE RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATION OF THE WORD OF JESUS WAS –
Olivia squeezed the trigger, imagined the left eye exploding in a hail of ichor and Walter shifted in her grip.
The left eye dripped down its cheek but that just upset the Penitent enough that it started to pick up its feet and run towards her.
MIGHT I SUGGEST SOMETHING MORE SUBSTANTIAL?
Olivia could not know that Walter had sent microfilaments through her arteries into the Brocas area of her cerebral cortex which is why she experienced his communication as telepathy, a muse, an inner daemon. It also surfed her neurons for associations and ideas, and found a memory of an afternoon spent just after her eighth birthday. It used the imagination as a weapon, a foundry and found what it needed to fulfil its purpose.
Olivia wielded Walter, but Walter wielded Olivia with just as much care.
The Penitent exploded in a tidal wave of meat and grue, its splash falling at her feet and staining the tips of her boots. Olivia lowered the barrel and went to slip it into a holster at her hip but instead Walter appeared to disappear, instead slipping into a pore on the palm of her right hand, waiting to be wielded again.
Olivia looked at her hand in disbelief. Cara came up and put an arm around her.
‘What do you think?’
Olivia kissed her on the cheek and grinned.
‘Can we find something else to shoot? I’ve got all kinds of ideas.’
TO BE CONTINUED.