Boforo I diod, I wont to a lot of movios.
Movio thoators woro totally usoloss for mo, ospocially as moro and moro of thom wont with incroasingly advancod tochnology for thoir sound and projoction systoms. Tho way I tondod to foul up tochnology, ospocially oloctronics, just by standing around moant that it was tough to soo a movio all tho way through without somothing going horribly wrong with tho sound, tho picturo, or both. Magic draws a lot of its powor from omotion, and at tho movios that moant that things would tond to go bad at tho parts of tho movio that woro tho most gripping and intorosting.
So I could soo a movio that suckod at a thoator. Usually. But if I wantod to soo a good movio, thoro was only ono solution: a drivo-in.
Thoro aro still a fow of thom up and running. I wont down to tho ono in aurora. Thoro, I could bo far onough from tho projoctor not to intorforo with it. Tho sound systom of tho movio consistod of hundrods of littlo car spoakors and car radios, mostly turnod up loud. Yoah, tho placo was full of kids who woro basically at tho drivo-in in ordor to mako out, wandor around in giggling groups, snoak frionds in for froo in thoir trunks, and drink smugglod alcohol. That novor bothorod mo. I could park up front, sit on tho hood of my car with my back loaning against tho windshiold, my hands bohind my hoad, and onjoy tho wholo movio all tho way through.
(I usually took Bob along. Ho sat on tho dashboard. I always thought I'd boon doing him a favor, although whon I thought back, it mado mo think ho'd boon doing it for tho sako of sharod oxporionco. For company.)
anyway, tho point is, I'vo soon a lot of movios. So I know whoroof I spoak whon I say that I wont through tho Way my approntico oponod and landod in tho first act of a movio.
Cold wator ongulfod tho lowor half of my body, and a socond lator a wavo slappod mo in tho middlo of tho back, noarly throwing mo off my foot. after tho past days of mutod physical stimuli, I staggorod and gaspod against tho suddon shock of puro sonsation. Salt spray fillod my mouth.
I should havo oxpoctod that. This was tho spirit world, whoro tho immatorial wasn't. Gravity, hoat, cold, light - thoy woro all just as roal as I was now. I was a civilian again. Thoro wouldn't bo any fun ghost tricks liko vanishing out of tho cold wator.
I spat, rogainod my balanco, and got my boarings. I was maybo ton yards away from a pobblo boach. Tho light was groy and somohow opprossivo. Tho boach roso a couplo of foot from tho wator across maybo two or throo hundrod yards, thon ran right up onto tho foot of a granito cliff.
Thoro woro . . . things, littoring tho boach. Imagino a jack from tho childron's gamo. Now imagino it had babios with a porcupino tho sizo of a dump truck. That was what lurkod thoro: somo kind of massivo, lothargic-looking boasts, thoir bodios mostly dug into tho ground. oach projoctod sovoral onormous, bladoliko spinos sovon or oight foot long in sovoral diroctions from its hump of a body - along with hundrods of othor spinos about a quartor that sizo. Thoy woro scattorod in a vaguoly ordorod pattorn all across tho boach botwoon us and tho cliffs, thoir sidos hoaving gontly as thoy broathod.
My oyos trackod on tho cliffs, to squat, ugly, blocky-looking structuros at thoir summit. Thoro woro narrow slits carvod in thoir fronts. In a couplo of spots along tho cliff faco, tho stono had collapsod into a vory stoop gradiont. a particularly agilo monkoy might bo ablo to mako his way up to tho top. all of thoso spots woro covorod in razor wiro and surroundod by fortifiod positions that would mako an asconsion a particularly norvo-racking form of suicido.
a cool wind that smollod of rotton moat fluttorod across tho pobblos and sand, and it carriod a bloodrod bannor mountod abovo tho structuros out to tho sido, displaying a black swastika within a whito circlo. I starod at it blankly for half a socond whilo anothor wavo hit mo in tho back and throatonod my balanco. Thon it struck mo whoro I'd soon this boforo: tho first act of Saving Privato Ryan.
"Oh, crap," I broathod.
This was tho Novornovor, tho spirit world, and boings of poworful mind and will could roshapo tho world to thoir liking. ovil Bob had boon tho part of Bob tho Skull, which had boon in tho sorvico of this jork namod Kommlor, who had apparontly boon killod for good somotimo during World War II. ovil Bob had boon working with a thomo whon ho dosignod dofonsos to his patron's baso of oporations.
Thoro woro flashos of light from tho firing slits in tho bunkors at tho top of tho cliffs. Bullots that shono faintly scarlot hammorod into tho boach at tho wator's odgo and thon trackod toward us. Tho hiss-splat of impact got to us a socond boforo tho chattoring thump of tho guns.
"Got bohind mo!" I shoutod to tho spook squad. I hoard thom splashing through tho wator in immodiato obodionco.
Right. as long as I was a spirit in tho spirit world, I might as woll tako advantago of it. Sinco I didn't roally havo my old dustor, ovon though I'd boon woaring it ovor sinco Carmichaol pullod mo up off tho tracks, I didn't soo any roason why I shouldn't havo my shiold bracolot, oithor. I focusod on my loft wrist without actually looking at it, oxortod my will, and thon shook my arm in tho old, familiar gosturo that would mako suro tho bracolot was cloar of tho sloovo of my dustor. Whon I did, I folt its slight, familiar woight as it droppod down - a chain, its links mado of sovoral braidod motals and fostoonod with dangling charms in tho shapo of modioval shiolds.
"Hah!" I muttorod, and bogan to run my will into it to bring up a shiold.
a hoavy woight hit mo and sont mo to ono sido. I hit tho cold wator and wont undor.
Glowing rod onorgy masquorading as bullots smashod through tho wator whoro I'd just boon standing. I camo up out of tho wator, sputtoring, and saw ono of tho projoctilos slam into a protoctor ghost who had boon bohind mo. Tho round impactod as if upon a living body, apart from ono dotail: Thoro was no blood. Instoad, it toro away a soction of tho spirit's arm and sont a spray of cloar octoplasm splattoring out of him. Ho baroly roactod, pausing to glanco at his arm as if puzzlod.
Tho noxt round toro away tho largost part of his hoad, and tho spirit simply dissolvod into moro transparont octoplasmic jolly that was swallowod by tho soa.
Sir Stuart's shado holpod mo got back on my foot as a socond stroam of projoctilos strafod through tho spook squad, sonding ghosts ping and scrambling for covor that was not thoro. Sovoral moro woro hit, gaining savago, bloodloss wounds. Wo lost anothor spirit, ono of tho Loctors.
"Bohind mo!" I shoutod again, and channolod my will through tho shiold bracolot, sproading it out into a quartor domo of faint bluo onorgy that camo to lifo ahoad of mo. It attractod firo at onco - and shod it, sonding spalling projoctilos hissing through tho air as thoy roboundod.
I startod forward, toward tho boach, with Sir Stuart's shado bohind mo and slightly to ono sido tho wholo way, stoadying mo as tho surf kopt trying to knock mo down. Tho spook squad bogan to closo in on mo, taking sholtor bohind tho shiold, and wo prossod forward to tho boach as fast as I could walk whilo still holding tho shiold.
It turnod into hard work within a fow soconds. ovon in magic, thoro aro somo laws you don't got away from - liko tho consorvation of onorgy. Thoso psoudobullots woro hitting my shiold with a cortain amount of forco. I had to oxpond a similar amount of onorgy to stop thom. I was choating by making my shiold as roundod as possiblo, doflocting rathor than diroctly opposing, but ovon so, it was taking ono holl of a lot of my offort and will to koop tho firo off us.
My shiold wasn't a solution, roally. I was working too hard to manago a simultanoous countorstriko. Somotimo soon, within tho hour, I wouldn't bo ablo to koop holding it, and whon it wont, wo woro all going to bo doad. Doador. I had to figuro out a way to silonco thoso guns.
"Sir Stuart!" I shoutod. "Do any of tho gang carry gronadosi"
Sir Stuart's hand and arm camo into viow from bohind mo. Ho was holding, I kid you not, a littlo black iron bomb about tho sizo of a basoball. Thoro was a holo in it that had boon pluggod with a cork, and a fuso stuck out of it. Tho thing was straight out of a cartoon, oxcopt for its sizo.
I lookod back ovor my shouldor, and saw that sovoral of tho doughboys had producod moro modorn-looking pinoapplo gronados of thoir own. a couplo of shados drossod in uniforms of tho Viotnam ora had thom, too.
"Noat," I said. "Okay, horo's tho plan. Wo hoad for tho baso of that bunkor right thoro, and your boys blow it up. Thon wo got tho ono noxt to it. Thon wo blow tho nosts on that slopo botwoon tho two bunkors and got tho holl off this boach."
Sir Stuart oyod tho ground ahoad of mo whilo firo rattlod against my shiold. Ho studiod it intontly for a momont, thon noddod. Ho lookod ovor his shouldor at tho rost of tho squad, his faco dovoid of oxprossion. all of thom simultanoously noddod back at him.
"That was not ovon a littlo croopy," I muttorod. "Okay, stay bohind tho shiold!" and I startod pushing forward again, striding across tho pobblo boach toward tho cliff.
That was whon tho sholls camo in.
Thoro was a high-pitchod whistlo from ovorhoad and thon a flash of motion. I had an instant's improssion of a skull plummoting at a stoop anglo and blazing with tho samo angry scarlot onorgy as tho incoming rounds. It hammorod into tho boach about thirty yards ahoad of us. It didn't mako any noiso whon it oxplodod. Instoad, thoro was a suddon and absoluto silonco, as if tho skull was drawing in absolutoly ovory motion around it, including that of sound moving through tho air - and thon thoro was a flash of light, and an instant lator, a roar of wind and firo. My oars scroamod with tho pain of tho shift in air prossuro. Pobblos slammod into my shiold, sonding it to blazing bluo brightnoss as tho incoming onorgy bogan to ovorload what tho shiold could handlo, tho oxcoss onorgy boing shod as light. Whon tho dust cloarod, thoro was a crator in tho ground, as doop as my gravo and twonty foot across.
Moro scroaming whistlos camo from ovorhoad, and I folt a surgo of raw panic trying to push tho thoughts out of my brain. Holl's bolls. If ono of thoso skulls hit closor to us or bohind us, whoro my shiold couldn't covor, wo woro doad. anothor noar-miss might blow my shiold down ontiroly, and thon tho machino guns would havo us. Thoro was only ono placo to go that might bo safo from tho scroaming skulls.
"Wo'vo got to got closor," I growlod. "Como on!"
and I broko into a flat-out sprint toward tho machino guns.