CHOSEN AT RANDOM
PIPER ROBBIN WAS HELPLESS. WORLD WAR OZ had exploded up and down the Pacific Coast following the dramatic ejaculation of Pentagon armor, Deplorables, and tripods from the Mojave base. Nothing could stop it. Given the prevalence of strong EMP deployment on both sides, nearly the entire western U.S. remained immune to virtually any type of destructive or useful Tao wavelength, magic or no. Thus the New Humanity Fleet, the Shadow Broker mages, the Dio Soldati brigades, and other magi-tech combat units were severely hand tied.
A grim reality faced the forces of Oz.
The Witch Queen was winning.
The U.S. Army, prodded by her phony Galaxians, pursued Oz and Martian “sympathizers,” while California, deemed a hive of rabid discontent, became a primary target for retaliation. Several million human beings from Sonoma Valley in the north to San Diego in the south were potentially at the mercy of rampaging war machines and flocks of Deplorables wielding blades. The east coast too was in flames, the Atlantic surf red with blood down to South Carolina.
Piper paced in her quarters on the Caliburn—a small and relatively spartan room with a few fern plants, a self-warming cot, two float chairs, and a wall-sized window facing the stars. She’d had no time for closure following the death of Murray Runyon. He’d exploded into pieces and she’d collapsed in the neural insertion compartment on the Caliburn. The techs helped her to stand, staring at her with sorrowful looks on their faces. They had witnessed the whole show via telepathic monitor feeds. A bit of Murray’s pain and guilt infected them too. Piper felt his young patient in them like a spongy wall that yielded to her touch.
Fuck it, this is horrible.
Where was her father? She needed to talk to someone. She could not go back and fix Murray. Would she ever? He was dead, the rest of them killed by the will of the tripod. Time spells were faltering or failing due to the war efforts of Mom Bee Coo, and would continue to do so.
Where was Tazamat? Alcaeus? Cereus?
They must be as split in the head as I am… all so pointless.
She shed her pixie clothes and with a yawn of routine magic acquired the face, six foot form, and voluminous dark hair of the Grand Sorceress. She also shed most of her attire, including her cape and magical bling, and sat on the cot looking out to the galaxy. Her Grand Sorceress corporeality was tougher, stronger than her barista body in a non-magical setting. With it she could pick up semi-trucks and heave them a quarter mile or more—three times stronger than in her Macaria days. Piper knew she would return to Earth, as soon as possible, and help lead the fight on the west coast, come what may, even if her father tried to stop her or neurally insert her again—which she would not agree to. The death and life of Murray were too real, and though a spell could soften the blow of his existence within her, Piper wished to keep him alive. He’d settled in her like warm toast, and as a melancholy soup at the same time.
She told herself, the duality was good.
I love you, Murray. Maybe we’ll meet again yesterday.
She recalled too the odd reaction of Kayla with the mind of Cereus. Her face close to Murray’s. Their kiss in the Martian night before death claimed them both.
AS THE CURSE OF DARDANOS FORCED THE ANCIENT GREEKS to vomit, and the Brooklyn morning climaxed with horns, seven different kinds of music, shouting humans, the aroma of cooking meats, as well as the morning itself—cool and crisp, blowing red autumn leaves with a promise of auld lang syne—Piper turned from her father to see the Czarina directly behind her. Back to her old stunning self, she was haughty and commanding as usual.She spoke to Piper with a calm and casual voice:
“You best transform to the Grand Sorceress, and with all your magical arms and accoutrements as soon as possible, for once your other father sees his plans gone awry, he will surely take wing with every manner of engine at his disposal, and every division of Dio Soldati he can muster, now, and from times past, as well as hundreds if not thousands of ships and other war machines.”
Catherine reached behind her back and pulled out a black-plasma Glock, tossing it to Piper. “Perhaps you can make use of this. Just one round was sufficient to disperse your acrimonious bling dragons.”
Piper frowned as she looked at the big weapon, and before a snarky response became reality, the air pressure of Brooklyn plummeted enough to pop her ears. The ears of the others popped too. She heard them. Other reactions followed. Edison grinned, and his grin waxed to a bigger and bigger smile, like that of a small boy flying his favorite drone to chase bad dogs while barking at them through the drone mike. Catherine’s mood, in contrast, turned dark and apprehensive. Piper decided to attend to the burning heads of Alcaeus and Cleon who had both collapsed to a fetal position. She knelt, cradled Cleon’s head first, and passed a hand over his face while whispering a cooling spell as he sputtered in agony.
THE FORGOTTEN CHILD IN PIPER ROBBIN, for the first time that day in the coffee shop, understood the meaning of true panic. Crushing a stone to powder or throwing a javelin half a mile wouldn’t fix anything (and neither would anyone in New York care) like in the old days of Ulysses. Muttering spells that made deserts bloom or oceans boil meant less than cooking a burger on the grill. Mortality for all, even the gods and greatest sorcerers, might be just around the corner. People think just because you’re a great magical being of some kind you have it made. Nothing could be more wrong. Your hopes and dreams are often spit on, your happiness ruined, your friends killed, and you lose sleep at night, worrying about shit just like everyone else. And besides obligations you really don’t want, you face mega-dangerous freaks way too often because you’re expected to, you know, cause you’re the official bad ass superwoman. By the Brooklyn gods! Really? You crawl in pain and heave up your insides for starters, die in lots of ways, and after all that trouble, sometimes you don’t come back.
“Where’s the plum sauce?”
“Uh, plum sauce? ... Khor stew doesn’t need plum sauce.”
“I asked you to bring it.”
“No you didn’t. Since when do you want plum sauce?”
He did not reply. She watched his eyes stare through her and beyond. But at what? As she observed him, his other eyes retracted from their planetary orbits, and in the room of his mind, became a swarm of vision on all sides, focusing to search for one thing, one inevitable and omnipotent thing becoming a bigger threat by the moment.
He spoke to her while in his daze of watching—his voice cold and neutral, yet vibrant as an echo of fallen idol: “Piper, I want you to go back to the Cambodian place now. Go back to Ms. Song and get the plum sauce… Please. Go.”
“What are you not telling me?”
What the hell? Suddenly outside on the street, she stood facing in the direction of the Cambodian take-out, her entire nervous system tingling and parts shaking as if with Parkinson’s due to the abrupt teleportation against her will. The night fell black and splattered with garish light. She looked up to see the Wall Street corpse directly above her, and she swore he was staring down with an oafish mocking expression as if he knew something she did not. Then the ground quaked, and like balloons filled with molten glass, every window in her apartment building exploded. The shrieks of burning people next. How many she did not know, but she knew she must save them.
Before Piper could act, a whip of turbulent energy uncoiled like a sun flare from her living room window eight stories above. She observed the Wall Street corpse nearby disintegrate into a memory of burning sparks. She immediately recognized the nature of the force—a Tao magical wavelength strong as a thunderstorm yet contained, compressed to a small vortex, and potent enough to kidnap half of Brooklyn.
Only a master black sorcerer, or a World Maker, could have executed the spell.
After thinking about it, she had a good idea who.
And if correct, she was in for the fight of her life.
For the love of Brooklyn, they can even mate.
Never once would they face the kind of financial and psychological corruption that the Deplorable club of narcissists and sociopaths had always forced upon them; and as a bonus, no human being was enslaved or forced to physically or metaphorically bend a knee. Social hierarchies based on riches or race were obsolete, money in any form bought nothing, health was assured, and beer was plentiful.
True utopia. True paradise.
It even came complete with New York and Chicago-style pizza, not to mention khor stew. This is what Edison told Piper after she landed with Alcaeus. The two of them, along with Edison and Catherine, now stood in a small circle, eyes bulging like owls in the long shadows of the gigantic trees, bodies tiny and unimportant beneath a violet-black sky of island stars.
“Why are you telling me this now, Dad?”
“Because you must know the full reality to understand the importance of what I am about to relate to you next.”
“You’ve won the War for Utopia. Right? I know.”
Piper glanced at Catherine and noted how dire and focused she appeared, staring intently at Edison. Something had happened, something not so good. This wasn’t about the War for Utopia after all.