Previously: “Prometheus had clawed through the walls of Fortress City - not an outcome we'd expected when we confronted John Kirkham. But it wasn't quite the rampage it seemed.”
Part 45: Birdwatching
“It's not moved?”
I shook my head. “Not a hair's breadth.”
Una shoved a brown paper bag at me. “I brought you food.”
“Thanks. And you found a rifle, I see.”
She shrugged. “I think its previous owner was in the act of deserting his post. He didn't seem to want it anymore.”
It had been hard work to find somewhere with a commanding view of Prometheus where you didn't have to walk up stairs to get there, but we'd found it in the end: a mould encrusted cottage that dated from times when Fortress City had fended off human enemies.
I'd set up a telescope aiming out of a gaping hole in the brickwork that probably used to be a window. Una sat down in the deckchair beside mine and laid the rifle across her lap.
“So,” she said, “you think Kirkham's just redrawn the borders? It's no longer him versus the Sky Spiders, but John Kirkham: zoo keeper.”
“Right. He's just going to sit up there and wait for everyone to come back to the city. If they come back at all.”
“They will,” Una said confidently. “There's nothing between here and the ocean except Circhester and the factory farms. They might be tempted to try looting the farms, but if they do they'll only wind up disrupting their own food chain. And Circhester will provide them precious little fun as well.”
“You know, people can be surprisingly decent in situations like this.”
Una leaned over to look through the telescope. “And surprisingly ruthless as well.”
I turned to look out at Fortress City and the giant black war machine sitting on top of it, insectile legs curled around the rubble of the buildings crushed beneath its bulk. “I keep looking at the area around Prometheus. Somehow I don't think Kirkham would want to be too far away from it.”
“I can see a lot of likely places. I wouldn't exactly care to wander up there and try searching for him, though. And even if we did find him - what then?”
“I'm not sure. Killing him might just remove whatever control we might ever hope to have over Prometheus.”
Una shrugged. “Or maybe it'll revert to whatever it was supposed to be doing before Kirkham stole it from the Sky Spiders. In any case, I can't see putting a bullet through Kirkham as being anything other than a positive step.”
I sighed. “Okay. Well, we can't sit here forever. If we don't make a move, Kirkham will.”
“What are you thinking?”
I shrugged. “Run away. Go back to Unity City. Stop worrying about who's oppressing who and relax. The whole problem with Fortress City is the people are living in fear, behind a wall and a load of big guns when they don't need to.”
Una smiled. “Tempting. But no. Don't let me stop you, though.”
I touched Una's shoulder and pulled her back from the telescope. “Look at that.”
“A hot air balloon. Is it the same one-?”
“I think so.”
“And you don't suppose?”
“Who else would you expect to find riding Kirkham's hot air balloon over Kirkham's stolen Sky Spider machine?”
Una stood up and brought the stock of the rifle to her shoulder. “It's still pretty low.”
“Do you really want to take the chance that it's Kirkham in there and not someone else trying to fight him?”
Una thought about it for a second. “Well, yes, actually.” Her finger tightened on the trigger and a look of almost childish mischievousness came over her face. “Are you a better shot than me, Perry?”
“Seriously, don't call me Perry. And I honestly have no idea.”
She sighted down the barrel and fired. We waited a few seconds, but nothing about the balloon seemed to change. Una pushed the rifle into my hands. “Well now we can find out.”
I worked the action and leant into the stock, taking careful aim, trying to correct for the range and the wind. Then I squeezed the trigger.
Again, no change in the balloon.
Una laughed suddenly. “Actually, I suppose we might both have hit it. It's not like it's going to just pop is it?”
“I'd imagine not.”
“If only Sigrid were here.”
In the distance, the silhouette of Prometheus began to rise, its legs unfolding steadily, joint by joint.
Una laughed again. I joined her. “Wonderful,” she said. “An opportunity to regroup and come up with a plan, and yet here we are: running from Prometheus yet again.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Showdown over Fortress City! It's human versus Sky Spider automaton, and there's no backing down! Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!