It wasn’t hard finding the radio telescope at Effelsberg. If it was, I probably wouldn’t need a shrinkymado to get it. A Shrink Globe. The Belgian had refused to give me a demonstration. He insisted on taking it apart, cleaning it, and making sure everything was still in good working order.
The whole place rose above a forest in Westphalia, one of the places I vaguely remember reading about in the 1632 series of books. Long story short, alien artwork causes part of 1999 West Virginia to swap with 1631 Thuringia, Germany. Semi-modern people and knowledge brought back to the Thirty Years War. Complete fantasy, unlike how we’re going to use some sort of super leafblower to shrink a giant radio telescope so I can find the aliens I’ve been forewarned about due to time travel.
It took a lot to get there, and I don’t just mean the trip from Effelsberg. Having to navigate Europe’s network of thieves has frustrated me greatly, particularly the part where they don’t like to kill people. Still, I got what I wanted and got to swordfight a thief who screwed me over.
It all led here.
“Okily dokily, old dude. Let’s see what this baby can do. Fire it up and break out the shrink wrap!” I pointed toward the giant dish from the top of the tree.
The Belgian called up to me, “Is there any way you can clear the people out first?”
“Protecting bystanders isn’t high on my list of priorities!” I yelled back down at him. I dropped down from branch to branch up until one of them broke under me. I crumpled as I fell to save my legs and ease my fall. Moai moved away from our van by the road to help lift me up. “Thanks, Moai,” I said. I brushed myself off to find the Belgian tinkering with his Shrink Globe gun.
Without looking up, he told me, “I do not kill and I can turn this gun into a big, useless toy.”
I tilted my head to the side. “Non-negotiable? Can’t just throw more money at it?”
He shook his head.
Not only has this leg of my vacation had a disappointingly low casualty rate, now I had to save people. I hate saving people. They tend not to deserve it, the jerks. And they’re horrible tippers about it, too.
I resolved that the best way to go about clearing the entire place out was to run in there shouting bloody murder. So I left the two others behind and that’s what I did. “Bloody murder! Bloody murder!” I suppose it would have helped if I knew the German words for it, but I still had some corrupted data in the translation program, but I think they got the idea when I dodged around a mowing groundskeeper and jumped someone planting daisies, yelling and flailing my arms.
It’s something of a human-wide recognizable sign. As the good book, or at least a good sci fi book, says, “When in deadly danger, when beset by doubt, run in little circles, wave your arms and shout,” I hoped they got the message through those damn sunhats they wore.
Thing was, the big dish array sat on this little bunker type thing, so there was no reason why these people should have been around the base of it, except maybe for the guy with the giant mustache and the bright shirt with palm trees on it. Tourist, obviously. And the landscapers had a good enough reason to be outside too, I suppose. There were plenty of other buildings around the two wannabe scientists could occupy, though. It did cross my mind that they should have felt honored to be the last people to visit my new telescope before I took it.
The group turned out to be anything but. Two of them wore lab coats as if all scientists just do that no matter their field. The threw them off. One of them pulled out a cowboy hat and plopped it on his head to join the cowboy costume he wore. The other fake scientist wore a midnight blue catsuit and settled a domino mask on his face. “Well, well, well, Buttero and Chat des Combes. Y’all got clean away from the Turk and his men. And here I was worried I’d have to save people’s lives here. I can think of a fun way to get rid of y’all from this equation.”
Chat smirked, tracing a finger over . “You can’t handle us, love.”
“No more than the Turk could,” added Buttero.
With that, the man planting the daisies stood up and pulled off his sunhat, wiping at his brow with his sleeve. “Counting me out already?”
I didn’t take him for a man to get his own hands dirty. He seemed like the sort to pay people for that, which explains why the person mowing the lawn, a guy pruning a nearby tree, and someone else pushing a wheelbarrow all stopped and pulled out some interesting weapons. The wheelbarrow pusher in particular grabbed a hefty-looking double barrel shotgun with a pair of rotating cylinders. It had a laser sight on the side of each barrel. The whole thing gleamed with nickel plating.
I looked it over, then asked the bloke carrying it, “Whatcha call that nifty piece of killing hardware?” Just because I find guns unimaginative doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the occasional weapon.
“Issun’s called a Sod-Off Shotgun, because you can sod off!” He said, sounding like some sort of Brit.
I made a show of glancing at Anatole, who had stepped safely behind his three enforcers. “I suppose you checked the limey bastard here to make sure he’s not a secret agent, huh? I’ve had one of their guys following me around lately.”
“Talking about me?” asked the one remaining bystander, a man in a tropical shirt. He pulled off his mustache, sideburns, and hairpiece to reveal a dashing secret agent with a love of wrecking his cars. Agent John Hall held up his tiny pistol, almost an afterthought compared to the abilities and weapons the rest of us wielded.
“Who’s this wanker?” asked the man with the nickel gun. He turned it on Hall, who quickly raised a radio detonator in his other hand.
“I shouldn’t do that if I were you. I’m not the only person who will be blown away,” he shook it, but kept his thumb awfully close to the button I assumed would set off something loud. “There is enough Semtex hidden here to end this escapade for all of us.”
Anatole snorted. The man with the shotgun gave a chortle and spoke up, apparently the mouthpiece this time around, “Funny that. We been plantin’ mor’n flowers aroun’ ‘ere. We got ‘nough C4 to make it to the bloody moon you try anything.” One of the other enforcers pulled out a bulkier detonator that looked more like a cell phone than a remote.
Chat laughed heartily.
“Let me guess,” I asked, “you rigged the place to blow too?”
He nodded and held up what could have been mistaken for a small pistol. “Plastrite.” He swept the detonator across the dish above us. “You can have your telescope in hell.”
All eyes focused on me. I shrugged. “Y’all know you’re in trouble when I’m the only one not trying to blow everything up. This is on you guys. You can all go fuck yourselves. Wait, before y’all do, there’s something I want to try…Hey, how about that Mary Elizabeth Winstead? Isn’t she hot? I bet she’s been wandering around Europe lately, right?” I made a show of turning to look around, then slumping in disappointment when the latest person I discussed broke the pattern and failed to magically appear as if from the anus of the fairy monkey of disappointment.
Agent Hall had enough. “Enough stalling. Tell me what the plan is? Mass hypnosis? Paralysis? Or are you going to play that annoying song for the entire world?”
“Boom, boom, boom-?” I started to ask, but he uncocked his gun just so he could cock it again while pointing at me, followed quickly by the Turk’s men and Buttero’s magnum revolvers.
“We’ve heard enough already, pardner,” Buttero said, mustache twitching to the side.
I needed to get their attention on each other. More than that, I had to get them to remember their conflicts with each other and try to have them wipe each other out. It’d just be less messy for me. “You know what?” I asked. “You three groups probably have a lot of fascinating things you can discuss about crime and punishment, but I don’t see why I should muddy the waters of the entire conversation.”
“Don’t go anywhere, Psycho dear,” said Chat. “We have much to discuss.”
Sod-Off guy aimed at them and cocked his gun, ejecting a couple of perfectly good shells but reminded the two super thieves of his presence. It was Anatole who spoke up, though. “WE have much to discuss as well.”
“Nobody is going to have any discussion here except with me, is that understood?” asked Agent Hall on his turn in this little back and forth.
I couldn’t disarm all of them before any of them could set it all off. Even if Moai had come down with me. I wished I could block the radio signals, but that wouldn’t have worked. Heck, I realized there was a chance they all managed to set their bombs’ receivers to the same frequency. As many times as people accidentally blow themselves up, it’d be dangerous to even make a phone call.
Which is what I was thinking about the time when the “Call incoming” sign appeared on my HUD and the first explosion high up on the dish rocked us all. I jumped to escape with all the strength of my body and armor. The fucking daisies exploded as I passed over them, and the explosion of the pruned tree itself knocked me to the side.
Though dented, smokey, and deafened, I cleared the area as explosion after explosion blew the giant dish into small and useless pieces of shattered metal. I don’t know how the others fared, but I felt like shit after the shockwave took over to help throw me clear. If not for my armor, I’d have been impaled by a tree limb. Then again, I’d have also been stuck in the middle of the explosion down there, the armor saved my life a few times that day.
Not that it made me feel any better when I recovered my wits and the Belgian asked me, “So it was a bad time to call and find out what was happening, was it?”
In my mind, I greatly desired to strangle the bastard. I wound up throwing a bit of a tantrum in the dirt on the floor of the forest instead. My one consolation was that the idiots who all tried to ambush me and each other should learn a valuable lesson if they bother to survive at all. Not that I expected them to. I’d seen my fair share of conflagrations, but this didn’t look like an easy way to walk away from. Well, except for this metal endoskeleton that stood up and began to march out of the flames. It didn’t get far before it collapsed on itself.
Fire can play havoc with structural integrity.
I didn’t keep watching the whole mess, however. I couldn’t. I’d just wasted almost a month running all over the place, acting like a moron. I played nice and this is what I got. It would have been more simple to just shrink the damn thing. I hoped that message got through to the Belgian when I walked up to him, but I still had my helmet on.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, making no attempt to defend himself more than that. He stood there with the Shrink Globe at his feet, eyeing the burning mess below.
I could have killed him. I wanted to kill him. Hell, if anyone deserved to kill anyone else, I deserved to kill this guy. It wouldn’t bring my dish back, but it would make me feel better.
I didn’t, though. I had a revelation while staring at the old man. A seed of an idea. I’m still not sure how it will germinate. He could be useful. The logic in my head turned and noted that killing him could potentially weaken my ability to stop the invaders. Keeping him alive could be useful.
And just like that, I realized my interactions with any supers I encountered before then were going to get a hell of a lot more complex. Damn.