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Authors: Jonathan Wood

Broken Hero

BOOK: Broken Hero
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Contents

Cover

Also by Jonathan Wood

Title Page

Copyright

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About the Author

Also Available from Titan Books

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM JONATHAN WOOD AND TITAN BOOKS

No Hero

Yesterday’s Hero

Anti-Hero

BROKEN HERO
Print edition ISBN: 9781783294527
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783294534

Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First edition: January 2016

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Jonathan Wood asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

Copyright © 2016 Jonathan Wood

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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1

You can always be fairly certain that the agency retreat has gone awry when your co-worker ends up pointing a sword at her step-daughter’s throat.

The co-worker in question is Kayla MacDoyle. On a day-to-day basis she’s fairly easy-going for a superpowered, psychosis-ridden swordswoman. Sure, we’ve had our differences—like the time when we’d known each other for eight seconds and she stabbed me in the lung—but over the past year we’ve developed a fairly reliable working groove where she keeps her abuse verbal rather than physical.

This, however, cannot be categorized as one of her better days.

“Jesus, this is so fucking typical!”

That’s Ephemera, or Ephie, Kayla’s step-daughter, the one at the sword’s more offensive end. I can’t help but think that it’s a sad day for modern parenting when a child gets to say that.

She’s decked out in unseasonably sparse clothing. A T-shirt exposes one narrow shoulder, and it looks like someone got bored halfway through weaving her shorts. Skinny knees look red in the cold of the room. Large hoop earrings sway as she shouts.

Compared to Ephie, a swordswoman with super-powers and issues is fairly simple. Ephie is… OK, let me see if I can get this right.

My aforementioned stabbing at Kayla’s hands led me to discover the existence of MI37, the British government’s department for dealing with threats to the nation’s sovereign borders that are supernatural, extraterrestrial, or generally batshit weird. And that in turn led to them recruiting me. And once I joined MI37, I discovered that reality wasn’t quite what I thought it was.

It turns out there are, in fact, multiple realities. They all vary in some small but important way. Say, for example, in one mayonnaise is awesome and the most amazing thing to happen to sandwiches ever. On another it is a slimy plague on one’s tastebuds. That sort of thing.

Except—and here’s where I go cross-eyed and have to sit down in a dark room for half an hour with a very strong Scotch—it turns out that multiple individual realities is actually the kiddy-school version. In fact, the reality I know and occasionally love is actually a composite made up of a very large number of realities piled one atop the other like cheap balsa wood.

Now, multiple realities coming together is like multiple members of my family coming together—they don’t always agree. The mayonnaise-is-great and the mayonnaise-is-awful realities have trouble coexisting. Again, just like in my family. But on the reality side of this metaphor, sometimes serious paradoxical things happen that just can’t coexist. Like people living in one reality and dying in another. So there needs to be something that makes sure that only one of the paradoxical things really happens in the composite. To prevent us from all getting a headache or disappearing into the heat-death of the universe. And that something is the Dreamers.

I don’t really understand the Dreamers. I don’t think anyone really does. I guess the main point is that they are the arbiters of reality. They decide what’s real and what’s not. The rest of us live with their decisions.

They are, essentially, gods.

And that’s where I get to Ephie. Because Ephie is a Dreamer. She’s had the power to literally turn my head into a cabbage for about a year now. And Kayla seems to think pointing a sword at her and shouting is a really good idea.

“Maybe we should all calm down a little.”

That’s Felicity. My boss. Kayla’s boss. The boss of everyone who works at MI37 actually. She’s also my girlfriend. Just me. Arthur Wallace’s girlfriend. Everyone else at MI37 can make their own arrangements.

Felicity is also the voice of reason, which is a handy thing to have around at times like this. Especially, say, when you’re in a moderately busy pub and people are starting to stare.

Felicity tries to wedge herself between Kayla and Ephie, but the sword has only left an inch or two of room, and Felicity, who is of a lovely figure, and who looks wonderful in her pants suit, is not capable of fitting into that narrow a gap.

“You shut your feckin’ trap, you wee shite,” Kayla shouts at Ephie. Kayla is less the voice of reason and more the voice of Scottish belligerence.

“That’s probably not a helpful suggestion, Kayla,” Felicity says.

The interest at the bar is growing. And it turns out that this pub’s primary clientele are very large men with very large fists.

In some ways, my being here is really all Felicity’s fault. She and Kayla have known each other for years. Since shortly after Kayla adopted Ephie in fact. While Kayla seems to regard me, at best, as a human-shaped pin-cushion, she actually seems to respect Felicity.

We were having a debrief last week, when Kayla brought up the issues she was having in her relationship with Ephie. As she explained it, the whole hormonal teenager thing was causing some friction.

“She’s turned herself into a whiny feckin’ whore who won’t listen to good feckin’ sense,” were her exact words, I think.

Which is marvelous, of course. Because not only do I have to deal with a deity, I have to deal with her when her hormones resemble the cocktails I used to make at the end of college parties and just wanted to use up all the left over booze.

It had been a good debrief up until then. We’d just gotten back from dealing with two enthusiastic gardeners who had stumbled across a grimoire and subsequently grown semi-sentient broccoli that had formed a primitive religion and were threatening to overthrow the local village council. I’d gotten to use a flamethrower. Not very sporting, but once you’ve been stabbed in the leg with a plastic fork wielded by an overly aggressive broccoli stalk, then those sorts of things stop being a major concern.

And then Kayla was talking about parenting advice, and authority figures, and wanting to re-establish relationships, and showing Ephie where she grew up in the Highlands. And then Felicity was agreeing to go. And that was fine, I suppose, but then Felicity asked me to go because she wanted to discuss some Things. The capitalization was definitely audible. But once I was coming, suddenly everyone wanted in on the trip, and as things had been so quiet we were having to deal with tribes of semi-sentient broccoli, Felicity seemed all right with the idea.

And now, I’m in a pub in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, with a pint halfway between table and mouth, overly aware of the five large men at the bar looking at a group of adults threaten a small teenage girl with a sword.

“Is there a problem here?” says one of them, with an even thicker accent than Kayla, and with the distinct suggestion in his tone that he’s already made up his mind.

“Sit down. Shut up. Don’t be a clever bastard. You’re not one.”

And that’s Tabitha. Tabitha is… Well, maybe the nicest way to put it is to say she’s good with computers. Very good in fact. She can eviscerate a firewall as quickly as Kayla can eviscerate the average-sized co-worker. And when you need an obscure thaumaturgical fact found, she makes Google look like a doddering old man troubled by excessive drool.

It’s just other stuff that Tabitha has trouble with. Other stuff like people, and the real world, and sentences that don’t contain insults. Things like that.

“You know,” says one of the peanut gallery from the bar, “that does sound a lot like a problem.” He cracks his knuckles.

There’s a chance Tabitha’s appearance is making things worse. Not many people seem prepared for a small Pakistani goth covered in white ink tattoos, and whose close-cropped hair has been carefully gelled into two small devil horns. I’m only guessing though.

“See,” Ephie spits at Kayla, “you’re bloody mental. You can’t even come for a nice meal without it becoming World War bloody Three. You’re like a fucking Nazi!”

“Language!” Kayla barks, and the sword blade shudders forward an inch.

“Actually comparing her to a Nazi is not really… You know. Well, one doesn’t want to make generalizations about what people do and don’t say, but for the sake of this argument I think what I’m voicing is a fair assumption… Because, well, I don’t think that’s really a fair thing to say.”

And that’s Clyde.

Clyde is… well, the long story is complicated, involves reincarnation, artificial intelligence, and the zombpocalyse, but the short version is that he’s a very nice, slightly nerdy man who happens to be able to do magic.

“I mean,” he continues, “I know Nazis have become the bogey man of the twenty-first century. Sort of comic-book, computer-game, default villain types. Standard bad person type X. Or not type X. But, you know, stereotyped. Which, and this is again, opinion, editorial, not strict facts, but a defensible argument I think—which rather takes away from how truly evil they were. I mean I don’t think, from what I know at least, that we can really say what Kayla has done here, say behavior A, is really comparable with, say, well, let’s call it behavior B—persecuting an entire religious group and mass exterminations in concentration camps.”

BOOK: Broken Hero
5.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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