Bad Magic

Stephan Zielinski

Tor Books

From Bad Magic

"Creedon, we've got to get out of here!" Rider scrabbles towards the cockpit. "The keys! Where are the damn keys! Who turned off the goddamned engine?!" He dithers and waves his hands. The engine turns over. The boat blunders forward, heading west.

"Duck."

Rider is something of a chowderhead, but he and his friends have trained for many hours to acquire the "duck" conditioned reflex. A kamikaze sea urchin sails over his head, squeaking.

Thibaut takes the wheel. "Destroyer approaching, Mr. Rider." He heels the wheel hard to port.

"Wrong way, Creedon! Not sou--" A shell hits off the starboard bow. "Never mind. Just warn me next time, okay?"

"RESISTANCE IS FUTILE," booms the destroyer's P.A. system. Rider can hear the Muzak oozing from the destroyer: a gutted, bleached, and deflavored "Yellow Submarine." Tracer rounds find the yacht and pieces of superstructure are chipped into the ocean.

Rider rummages in his pack. He can't see the labels in the dark but he can feel the Braille. "Yak butter...Virgin's blood...Grandma's fruitcake..." A rocket shatters the yacht's radar boom.

"Gorgon dung...Yttrium needles...Sacramental ouzo...I have got to get a system one of these days...Mandrake..." Another shot hits the water off the port stern.

"Wicker lingam...Nixon buttons...Schrödinger's cap...Aha! Where's the damn can opener?"

Rider gashes his thumb in his haste to open a king-sized can of Chicken of the Sea. Seizes a line, takes a deep breath, and jumps overboard. Bounces off the hull a few times. Begins letting his breath go to moan certain bass notes in a language that predates mankind.

Something huge and black hits the water nearby ...