Stories I’ll Probably Never Finish #1: Ten

Found this while poking around some old files. it’s dated 2008, and is the start of an idea I had for a superhero prose novel. It was going to be called Ten, presumably the number of superhumans in the group. I can’t find any supporting plot notes or ideas, other than this. I have no idea where the story was meant to be going, though I vaguely recall some kind of alien invasion. It seems very derivative now, and it was obviously influenced by Warren Ellis’s The Authority, even down to a Jenny Sparks-alike. Anyway, here it is for posterity.

Ten

Prologue

They were supposed to save the world, and they fucked it. Well, nearly. Very, very nearly.

It was impossible to tell whether it was night or day. Thick, black smoke blossomed from the fractured, broken buildings, merging seamlessly with the boiling clouds that turned and writhed above them, marbled with thin worms of lightning, blue and red and burning white. The Promenade was slick with brine, blood and black matter that made walking without slipping and flailing spastically impossible, even for Freddie Fleetfoot, who stood stock-still, not even twitching; even for Man Mountain Gene, hunched and broken and looking so terribly small; even for the creeping Ladybird, who could stick to any surface, but now found herself clinging to a slim, pale figure clad in the rags of what surely used to be Shatter’s crimson and indigo costume, his stubbly face frowning in uncomprehending silence. Not that anyone was walking anywhere. Not that anyone had the energy. Not even these titans, these Olympians. The jagged, rent teeth of what used to be the Tower stabbed forlornly through the swirling blackness, the twisted, torn girders lolling like the stalks of dead, headless flowers. From the nearest one, that arched over and down towards them, a body was impaled. Was it a man or a woman? A child? The face was gone, the limbs ragged and trailing sinew and bone stump. It dripped, keeping time like a clock winding down, the drops becoming thicker and less frequent as the blood coagulated into black tar. And underneath it, her eyes blinking only minutely as each drop fell on to the rags of the embroidered headband that barely clung to her forehead, was Hippy Chick. She was sitting cross-legged, her face turned upwards towards the angry blackness as though in supplication, her ice-blue eyes focusing on the void. The dripping blood of the corpse pooled in the shallows of her cheekbones and spread into the sockets of her eyes, creating a visceral mask for her, sliding thickly down her temples like tears.

The only one moving was the Illusionist. His dinner jacket was all but torn from his back, his trademark fez hat long-since gone. He wore one white and black brogue, and limped between each of the others, murmuring to them, checking pulses, making them gaze into his eyes. Cuchulain refused to meet his piercing eyes, brushing the other man away with a swat of his bare, muscled arm. He was peering through the fog, out towards the west, where the hissing steam of the Irish Sea added to the melange that darkened the sky.

“Home,” he said thickly, pausing to spit a stream of blood that carried two teeth aloft on to the cracked, blasted concrete below him. “I need to go home.”

The Illusionist had finally succeeded in rousing Jools Britannia, standing with her feet planted in the concrete, a small river of coins from the shattered amusement arcade smouldering behind her trickling between her boots. A blackened foam hat with the legend KISS ME QUICK rolled on its brim past her and described a tight circle before flopping silently to the pavement. She turned her tired, hooded eyes on the stricken face of her colleague.

“Sit-rep?” she demanded quietly.

The Illusionist brushed dust from his thin pencil moustache with the dirty fingers of his once-white gloves. “Cuchulain, Ladybird, Shatter, Freddie Fleetfoot all mobile. Hippy Chick’s practically catatonic. She’s showing signs of severe trauma.”

“Who fucking isn’t?” muttered Jools, brushing the burnt ends of her dark hair from her face. “Gene?”

“He looks like he’s broken his leg, maybe his arm too.”

Joolz looked at the Illusionist. “Gene’s bones can’t break.”

The other shrugged. “They can now. Clank’s in pieces, but his hard drive looks like it might be salvageable. Johnny Reb…”

Jools looked at her red feet, spattered with something that was both liquid and solid at the same time. “Johnny’s still dead. You don’t have to tell me that. I still have pieces of him on my boots. What about Drifter?”

The others, those that could move, had drifted towards Jools and the Illusionist as they spoke, eventually forming a loose, battered circle about them. Man Mountain Gene, his face contorted with the unfamiliar sensation of searing pain, cradled Clank’s lifeless-seeming head in his massive arms. Only Hippy Chick remained seated, staring as the blood from the corpse dangling above smeared her face.

“Drifter’s gone,” said the Illusionist quietly. “Missing in action.”

Far away there was the scream of sirens dancing on the breeze that tried to blow in from the sea. The angry black clouds stirred and rolled as the distant sound of a chopper’s whirring blades tried to penetrate.

Ladybird gave a tremulous sigh. “Thank God. There are people alive out there.”

Jools turned to look at Hippy Chick. “Is she in any position to give us a body count?”

“I don’t think we need her to,” said the Illusionist. “You saw the dead piled up in the Tower. Saw them lining the Prom. They’ve turned this place into a charnel house.”

Ladybird uttered something that might have been “Oh God,” and turned to vomit on Shatter’s feet. He barely noticed. Instead he said, “Uh, about them. Are we sure they’ve gone? All of them?”

“We could do with Hippy Chick to tell us that, too,” said Jools, surfing annoyance. “But I don’t think she’s in any state to. James?”

The Illusionist shrugged. “It seemed to go according to plan. They don’t seem to be here any more.”

Jools surveyed the immediate surroundings. She’d almost got so used to the corpses that she’d stopped noticing them at first glance, but she let her eyes rest on the waxy-looking severed heads arranged in a clumsy pyramid to one side, the bodies of the dead that had tried to flee the blast-zone and failed, human decency giving way to something darker and more feral as those at the back clawed and spat and raked at the those in front. Not that it did them any good, in the end. It was Ladybird’s sobbing, a harsh, hacking noise that sounded as though it was being dragged out of her, that brought Jools back to the expectant circle of eyes watching her, waiting for her to say something, to give orders. She reached into the pocket of her combat pants and pulled out a crumpled, blood-slicked packet of Marlboro Lights. Extracting the least damaged of them she put it into her mouth and waited. But there was no Johnny Reb to click his fingers and produce a pale yellow light, as if by magic, from the tip of his thumb. Jools dug into her pocket for her Zippo and it flared first time, igniting the crushed end of the cig. She took a long drag and looked each of them in the eye, even Clank’s dead receptors.

“Cheer up, you fuckers,” she said, forcing a grin that felt stretched across her face like polythene. “We won, didn’t we?”

That wasn’t how the rest of the world saw it.

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