This is the second section of the ninth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
“So your entertainment is watching an amateur get torn up by your local thug?”
The Queen laughed again “Oh that’s not the way to start charming Quentin by calling him a thug, looks like you’ve lost your chance to charm him.”
Iz still felt the muzzle against the back of her head “Look, can we talk about this?”
“We already did.” replied the Queen
Iz was almost starting to shake “Not you, Quentin.”
“Just doing my job.” She wasn’t sure what she expected from Quentin’s voice, but this wasn’t it.
“I’m sure I can do something to change your mind” she pleaded.
“Not really” came that slightly high pitched voice “The Queen isn’t the only one who’s bored.”
Iz felt the muzzle rasp slightly, probably the trigger being pulled she thought. Any second now the shield would kick in. Yes any second she’d be safe and a rescue drone would come through the door. No, the shield wasn’t activating. Maybe it clung to the skin in some way, no that’s not how the drone’s shield worked. Maybe it was faulty. Maybe it needed some threat to first be activated and it just didn’t recognise a vibrating muzzle as a threat. What else could she do? Snatch it from his hand? No she had never had combat training. What could she do? She couldn’t have long left now in a panic her head twisted backwards to deflect the muzzle. It was true, in life or death situations time really did slow down. She dived for a gap behind a local chair she wasn’t sure if she saw a flash of the muzzle but she certainly hadn’t heard the gun fire, why hadn’t he fired yet? As she felt herself fly through the air she knocked an ornate candle over that had been on a table next to that chair.
At that moment she realised that the room had slowed down to a halt. the candle she had knocked over in her dive for cover fell to the ground in slow motion. What the hell is going on she thought. She’d once been in a car accident and for that half second she had remembered time stretching out, this feeling was like this, but somehow more intense.
“Sorry about that,” remembered Iz “I just had to speed up your thought to allow you to survive this.”
What the hell, thought Iz, I don’t remember that conversation with the drone. In fact why am I just remembering a conversation that I never had as if I’m talking to the drone.
“Quickest way for your brain to process the information” she remembered the drone saying “If it is put in your brain as if you already have it in there then there’s more processing power for what you need to do.”
And what exactly is that thought Iz. No response came, she noticed that the ground was approaching but her arms weren’t responding to cushion her fall. In fact they didn’t totally seem to be under her control, or could they just not move as fast as she could now think.
“Survive. That shield pack will protect you in a force bubble but it’s a last resort. This is far more efficient, if we can use your body to do the work” it was as if the memory was of the drone calmly sitting pondering, almost aloof as if contemplating a fine sprig of tobacco, or contemplating a well painted canvas. “why do you think you were able to think so quickly and move so fast in the time it took him to pull the trigger” the memory continued “it took a while for the drugs the shield pack injected to act.”
Iz realised where her hand was going, quicker than she thought possible it grabbed the still falling candle and hurled it at her attacker.
“It’s not just the brain we can speed up with the right chemicals. I can’t use that hand again for about another second or so” this time the memory had more clarity the drone wasn’t sitting which is how she first imagined it, which was blatantly impossible given that it was a hovering sphere - how could it sit or for that matter not sit any more? Nevertheless it gave off a reassuring serene quality.
Iz felt her shoulder start to land on the floor and her whole body start to roll. The beginnings of pain starting in a spot and slowly spreading. She tried to move her arm to cushion the blow, it wouldn’t move it was out of her control.
“Sorry about that I kind of need that arm elsewhere,” Iz wasn’t pleased with how her own body had been taken over but at the moment she had no control over what was happening, then came another memory “don’t worry your shoulder muscles should survive the impact.”
Her arm was heading down towards her boot even in this sped up viewpoint she was surprised at the speed the boot came off and was thrown to knock the gun out of he guard’s hand.
“Not long left now, the drugs are about to wear off. Maybe a second or so left. Get ready to pretend this was all your own doing and the result of good training. If you play it right you should be able to run the joint.”
Does everyone get this little shield pack then? Have others done this before me she thought
“No” came the memory “you’re the first to ask the right questions. You didn’t know you were asking them mind. Others just want to get in to prove their superiority. Most are killed though, so would you be too if you weren’t cautious and asked for the right things.”
Again in what felt like a reflex action her head flicked around and in a feeling almost like being drunk watched as her eye focused on the new arrival at the scene. It was a strange sensation to see the effect of her eye building up the detail of the new part of the scene. Whilst the rest of her brain was operating at an accelerated speed to see the process of her eye focusing and building up a new picture of the world was fascinating from her detached viewpoint. She wasn’t sure if this was the so called shield unit reacting to a threat it had detected itself or if it was using only her senses to detect this, but a new threat had appeared and was in the process of aiming his gun at her. She felt her legs bunch and hurl her at this new attacker. As she approached her right arm shot out and knocked the still aiming gun out of his hand. Her momentum should have been enough to knock the attacker over but whoever it was must have had some hand to hand combat training as they spun her and used her momentum to swing her back so that it slammed her into the wall. Iz watched almost as a passenger in the event as her hands flew towards the attacker in a series of chops and attacks. A few got through when a new memory appeared.
“That’s it I can’t keep your brain and body going at this speed any longer. Sorry you’re on your own now.”
Halfway through a chop Iz realised that the world was speeding up approaching normal speed. As her hand still in flight connected with the neck of her attacker she felt for the first time pain from her hand as it smacked against his windpipe. Pain started to creep in from her back and all of her limbs like a tidal wave washing over her. Suddenly weary, suddenly in agony she took her last gram of strength bunched up her hand into a fist and threw her entire weight behind a single punch to the man’s jaw that knocked both of them off their feet.
Normality came rushing back to full speed like a diver surfacing for breath.
Iz suddenly realised she was short of breath and almost dizzy from lack of air it was as if she hadn’t breathed at all in the time she had been fighting. Well her body had been fighting. She sagged onto her knees and drew in a full lungful of breath that seemed to scorch like fire through her lungs.
She heard distant applause from what she guessed was the Queen “Well done!” the voice confirmed it “Quite a demonstration.”
Iz forced herself to stand. “Well I’m not sure I had much to spare.” she felt her legs giving way underneath her, the burning of lactic acid sensation had reached her like a blast, but she waited for her blood to wash the sensation away.
“No, but who would?” the Queen moved out of the recesses and Iz saw her for the first time. An older woman than she imagined from her voice, she looked in her late forties and moderately well fed, but certainly not someone you would cross “When you’re ready do come join me. I can see that took it out of you.”
“Yeah well falling on your arse like that enough times will do that to you.”
“Quite elegant I thought.” the Queen indicated to one of the chairs for Iz to sit on “always a pleasure to see the movements of a well practised professional”
Iz stumbled over to the first guard she had taken out and retrieved her boot. “Not really my forte, but enough to survive I like to think”
“No doubt” with this the queen noticed Iz striding over the still downed guard got up herself and walked over to the downed guard “I’m certainly interested what else you have to offer” with this she placed two hands on the unconscious guard’s neck and in a swift twist snapped it.
Iz flinched at the crack “Was that really necessary, I’d heard what it was like here, but really?”
“You’ve got to punish failure even if it was at the hands of a worthy adversary.”
“So what now?”
“What now is I ask what you want, I had dismissed you as just another disposable inconvenience, but never let it be said I turn away a new ally.”
“You should have thought of that before you set your guards on me.”
“Then we’d never know each other would we. You’ve seen what I have, I have seen you.”
“But what’s to stop me using them against you”
“Because I can see that fight took a lot out of you and I’m still fresh. Don’t worry I am a lady of honour. My power is nothing if I didn’t have pride.”
“Then in that case” said Iz forcing herself to stand “I feel I must withdraw”
“Why? We were just getting started”
“No disrespect to you, but a life of pride and power may be interesting but are not me.”
“How do you know until you try?”
Iz paused for a moment, the Queen was reclined in her chair looking like she was only missing a cat and cocktail to complete the picture “No I think I’ve seen all I came to see.”
“We don’t appreciate being turned down you will not receive the same welcome should you return”
“Then I shall not return” with this Iz left the room.