Authors: James Lovegrove
Tags: #Science Fiction
When Apollo and Artemis descended on a milling, militant crowd, and chants turned to screams, and placards and banners carrying messages such as "Down With The Olympians" and "Ban The Pantheon" and "No To Divine Terror" became spattered to illegibility with gore.
Sam had not been there.
And with his death something inside Sam had died as well, and that was no mere figure of speech.
Hatred? Did she still feel that for the Olympians?
Not to the extent that she used to. For months after the events at Hyde Park, hatred had burned fiercely inside her, and its heat had made her feel alive, had maybe even kept her alive. But eventually like any fire it had subsided. She couldn't sustain it. Her heart ran out of fuel for it.
The embers still smouldered, however. And Landesman's Titan project was a breeze blowing across them, fanning them back to life.
, Sam told herself,
if you really want to do this, do it
She recalled McCann telling her to listen to the battlesuit, trust it.
There was a boulder in front of her, a hunk of black granite firmly embedded in the ground. The other recruits were all some distance off. The mist gave her cover. Nobody would see her fail, if she failed.
The boulder was clearly heavier than anything she could normally lift. Even the strongest man alive would have struggled with it, most likely in vain, with nothing to show for his efforts apart from maybe a hernia or some kind of prolapse.
Sam squatted down. She clamped her gauntleted hands on either side of the boulder. She concentrated on being in the battlesuit, being at one with the battlesuit, working in tandem with it. So far, so good. Before now, the mere act of grabbing the boulder would have been beyond her. The manoeuvre would have gone awry somehow. Either she wouldn't have been able to control the positioning of her hands or she'd have misgauged the squat and ended up flat on her bum or her back.
Heartened, she heaved.
Next thing she knew, she was standing upright, no boulder in her hands.
She looked down. Odd. No boulder on the ground either, just a depression, a patch of bare soil where it had once sat.
So where - ?
She looked up.
The boulder was falling. Fast.
She sprang backwards out of its path of descent.
The boulder thudded to earth at almost the exact same instant she did.
She sat up with her legs akimbo, propped on her elbows, dazed.
What just happened?
Except, she knew what had just happened.
How high had she hurled the boulder? Fifteen, maybe twenty metres straight up, she estimated.
How far had she leapt? Ten metres, thereabouts, in a single bound.
Sam thought about it for a moment.
Then she broke into a giggle. She listened to herself. Actual giggling.
This TITAN suit.
Oh, all of a sudden she was starting to like this TITAN suit.
rom then on, she had no trouble. Her learning curve was steep but, by virtue of having taken so long a run-up at it, she ascended smoothly and rapidly. By noon, as the mist began to thin, Sam was utterly at home in the battlesuit. She understood at last the exhilaration all the others were feeling in theirs. The suit took her and improved her, enhanced her. Made her a better her. A her that could heft impossible weights, run at impossible speeds, see in impossible wavelengths and ranges, even hear at impossible distances, not only through the comms link but via directional aural amplification scanners that made the cry of a herring gull half a kilometre away sound as though the bird was perched on her shoulder.
The basic functions of the suit soon seemed old hat. Sam wanted to try something else. She wanted to challenge it and herself.
She squared up to one of the remnants of drystone wall that criss-crossed the island. She hadn't yet seen any of the others attempt what she was intending to do, but given what she understood of the TITAN suit's operation, there was no reason why this shouldn't work.
She drew back an arm at waist height and punched the wall.
Punched straight through it, knocking a cavity in the top couple of runs of stone.
Didn't feel a thing.
Repeated the action.
In no time she had flattened an entire section of the wall, strewing stones and fragments of stone in a wide arc on the other side as though she were some kind of human wrecking ball.
And someone was applauding.
It was Landesman, standing nearby, Lillicrap beside him, in scarves and overcoats.
"Great stuff, Sam," Landesman said. "A fine piece of demolition. And deduction. I was wondering if, when, one of you would make that intuitive leap. No surprises, you were the one."
"The nanobot coating isn't purely defensive."
"Indeed. Its ability to absorb and deflect force can be turned to offensive purposes. Had it not been there, and you had punched the wall as you just did with the assistance of the servos, your hand would now be a mess of shattered bone and pulped muscle. Instead of which, thanks to the nanobots, you can hit with impunity, and with considerable power."
"Any other features of the suit you haven't told us about?"
"Probably," Landesman replied with a grin. "But discovery is all part of the fun, isn't it? Nobody buys a computer and reads the manual from cover to cover. The best way to find out what a complex machine can do is by putting it through its paces and experimenting."
Lillicrap gave a polite, meaningful cough. "Mr Landesman?" he said, with a glance at his watch.
"Yes, yes, Jolyon, I know."
"Nagging's what you pay me for, sir."
"And you earn every penny. Sam, I'm afraid I must ask you and your colleagues to head inside now. The mist is lifting, and you know what that means."
"Come, come, Sam. Argus? Satellites?"
"Yes. We run a software program that plots the course of every known manmade object in earth orbit. It's alerted us that a US military Key Hole optical reconnaissance satellite is due to pass overhead within the next few minutes. Discretion is necessarily one of our watchwords at Bleaney Island. Last thing we want is the Hundred-Eyed One spotting what we're up to. Crimps in plans don't come much more serious than that."
"Then we'd better get under cover," Sam said. She relayed the message over the comms link, and the eleven recruits converged on the bunker entrance.
Ramsay flipped up his visor. "What's this I see? Can it be Sam Akehurst? Miss I'm Never Going To Get The Hang Of This Shit? Look at you now, strolling along all smug and ooh-la-la. I'm guessing someone's made a breakthrough."
"That she has," said Landesman.
"Good news," said Ramsay. "So, you on-side now? You with the program?"
Sam shook her head noncommittally.
"Come on. The ten of us here, I think it's safe to say we're all of a like mind. Isn't that so, guys? We want to keep at this. We want to keep working with the suits and get our hands on some of that ordnance as well and pull together as a unit and then, when we're ready, go out and kick some Olympian butt. Yeah?"
The others voiced their assent.
Ramsay fixed Sam with his gaze. "We want to be Titans," the Chicagoan said. "We want to put the smackdown on those sick, self-righteous sons of bitches, and get ourselves a little payback into the bargain. Any way you slice it, it's a worthy cause. But - and I'm speaking for all of us here, and I'm not afraid to admit that we have been discussing you behind your back, Sam - we're keen for you to come to the party as well. In fact, not just come, but we're kinda hoping you might agree to be the hostess."
"Dumb analogy. Didn't work. What I mean is, how about you running the show? Being the top dog.
. The big kahuna. Numero uno. I'm going to have to spell it out, aren't I? Our leader."
Sam recoiled. "No. Oh, no, absolutely not. Me? Lead? No. I'm not the right material. Far from it."
"I'd beg to differ."
Lillicrap started making desperate ushering motions. "We really don't have time for this. Everyone, please, into the bunker. Now. You can carry on your conversation in there."
"Nope," said Ramsay, not moving. "This brother's not going anywhere. Not 'til Sam says yes."
"Me either," said Mahmoud.
"Likewise," said Hamel.
The rest agreed.
Lillicrap threw a pained glance upwards. The mist had almost completely gone. The air was getting clearer by the second, the blue of the sky less pale, the cold sunlight stronger.
Landesman, for his part, appeared highly intrigued by this turn of events, and not a little gratified.
"What's it gonna be, Sam?" said Ramsay. "What's the answer?"
"It's going to be thanks but no thanks. Why not you, Rick? You should be in charge. Everyone pays attention to what you say. They're doing it right now."
"One, I'm a grunt, a jarhead, a born footsoldier. And two, I'm just a loudmouth. Folk may listen to me but they don't respect me."
"Too bloody right they don't," said Barrington.
"You, Sam, are respected," Ramsay said. "I know this. Granted, it's early days for all of us. We've only just begun. But if we don't get the top slot filled now, we maybe never will."
"I don't want the job."
"Want it or not, you're the only one suitable."
"I implore you..." Lillicrap said. He was hopping from foot to foot like a child with a full bladder.
Sam looked at the ten faces before her. They were firm-set, adamant, unanimous. How had this come about? Until today she'd been the least competent among them, unlikely to last. Not only that but she had minimal experience of giving orders. As a detective sergeant her role had been to follow her DI's lead and do much of his legwork for him. The rank carried authority but mainly that of someone else, in her case Inspector Dai Prothero. Uniformed officers had done as she asked but really only out of courtesy, deference to the man under whose aegis she sheltered. DI "Do Or Dai" Prothero had been a grave, commanding presence. A guv'nor. A natural boss. And thanks to him, Sam had realised she was not. It was a skill she hadn't yet developed and had been hoping to learn from him by example.
And here, now, was this thing, zooming in at her utterly out of the blue, this weird mutiny-in-reverse, where ten people were united, militantly refusing to budge, their complaint not that someone had misgoverned them but that someone was reluctant to govern them.
What could she do? She could, under the circumstances, only give in.
"All right," she said. "Under protest, and on condition that if it turns out that I don't meet up to expectations I can step down any time - I'll do it."
Lillicrap puffed out his cheeks in relief, and the Titans let out cheers.
"Good choice," Ramsay muttered to Sam as they went into the bunker.
"Was it?" she replied brusquely. "Was it even a choice?"