Chapter 19: Frequent Flier
Go outside and shake your fist at the heavens and proclaim that you are a fierce warrior of the written word, a conqueror of subplots and misbehaving characters! - No Plot? No Problem!
It's okay, thought Random. It's not as if I don't have a helmet.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, sitting in a human sized trebuchet sling, poised on top of Bob's House of Free Shrimp Dinners, it wasn't the same. On the other hand, it was the only one she had, and she could hardly back down now when Mr Ian Woon had put the whole thing together out of his own goodness.
"Are you ready?" said Mr Ian Woon. His paradoxical placard was on the ground beside him, as he poised to wind the trebuchet up.
"No," said Random, "but since I won't ever be, you may as well get started. One thing, though?"
"What would that be?" said Pilcrowe.
"Do you need to come with me? I know this is all about you."
"Someone's got to stay here and keep an eye on Cedilla." This far above, it was near impossible to make out Tildeworth's voice over the wind and the crowd's relentless, merged voices. "I'll do what you ask of me, but I don't know if I have it in me to go inside."
"That's okay," said Random. "Can you do one thing, though?"
"Get everyone away. If what I'm thinking of is going to work, I think the words 'blast radius' are going to be appropriate."
She'd been expecting a protest from Pilcrowe, but all she did was nod. "I will."
Mr Ian Woon set about winding the trebuchet, and Random heard the timbers groan. "Well, here we go." She held the Shovel tight against her chest. "Cue dramatic music."
Maybe things would have worked out if she just catapulted the Shovel and nothing else? But just as she had that thought, the counterweight fell, and she was sailing through the air.
The world, as it always did during a suitably dramatic moment, took on a slow motion quality, and she saw people down below, most trying to break through the Editor line, but one or two looking up as she flew overhead.
Her calculations were right. The Shovel hit the roof first, and then she landed in a heap beside it, taking a moment to catch her breath. She was face down on black rooftop, huddled under the looming skeletal framework of the transmission tower. The first thing she did was to snatch up the Shovel, and examine where it had fallen. A few cracks radiated from the site, but not enough to cause any real damage.
She resisted the urge to peer out over the edge at the crowd or look for her friends. The whole building was swarming with Editors, and the safest place now was inside.
At least, she hoped it was inside. But as long as she held the Travelling Shovel of Death she had a weapon, and that was enough.
There was a maintenance door which led into a staircase descending into to the main building. She found herself in a plain corridor lit by strip lights and covered in tiles, nothing that would have looked out of place in an everyday office building. But it was calm here, and quiet, with none of the whispering doubts that always crept into her head when an Editor was near, so she had time to think. She tried tapping the Shovel on the tiles. It didn't make any difference, but Tildeworth had been sure.
What if there was a place, somewhere she needed to be to destroy it? Slamming it into the floor in a back office corridor didn't seem like the sort of end that befitted the Travelling Shovel of Death.
Then what about the studio?
Yes, that would do. And not at all because she'd always wanted to see the place where the Tildeworth Hour was filmed, definitely not.
Thankfully the building was well signposted, so Random could easily find her way through the twists and turns. A faint cool breeze still emanated from the ventilation shafts. She saw papers laid on desks, half eaten food left out, computers still running, with their screens waiting for the next command. There were a lot more passages and corridors and little offices than could reasonably fit inside the station building, but after her experiences in the library and the November Gardens, it would have been a lot stranger if the interior and exterior actually matched.
When she came across the missing ceiling tile signposted NINJA EXIT, it was exactly the nonsense she'd been looking for. She was a scientist walking through an abandoned television studio whilst carrying a deadly weapon in the form of a gardening implement, and also wearing a plastic Viking helmet with a faintly glowing halo danging from one of its anachronistic horns. There was no was she could take this mission seriously whatsoever, except that she had promised herself she would take it very seriously indeed.
At last she stood outside the studio doors.
"Hello?" she said, more to hear the sound of her own voice than anything else. Her grip tightened around the Shovel. "Is anyone there?"
"You!" called a voice, from the other side of the door. "It's you, isn't it? The scientist, and... and... you have the Shovel, don't you? Who are you, that you can touch it?"
Good question, thought Random, who had no idea herself and was going to do some serious testing if she made it out of here intact. Rob had been waiting. He must have known they'd try this place.
"I'm just this person, you know?" said Random, She wasn't going to open the door until she had the shaking under control. "Had a few names, I'm not sure which one you're looking for? There's some people, a while back, called me the Scientist With Red Hair, or maybe the Scientist With the Missing Eyebrow. You might call me the Bane of Librarians, with what they must be thinking of me these days. Someone once said I was the answer to the question 'what gives you nightmares?' and I guess I'm the answer to a few other questions as well, but nobody knows what they are. That enough for you?"
"And the bearer of the Travelling Shovel of Death," said Rob, from behind the door. "This is silly. We shouldn't be fighting one another. You're not my enemy, even if you did have the misfortune to be working with Pilcrowe. I take it she is not here?"
"Hmm, I did not think so. Sending you to do her work. You may as well come in. There's nobody here but me, and I'm not interested in killing you. It is as you said. If I killed you, you would only come back later. There's only one of us here with a true deadly weapon."
"You want to talk?"
"I don't see what else we can do."
She nudged the door open, taking care to keep the Shovel between her and the gap.
It was a surreal moment, seeing the studio from this angle. There was Tildeworth's chair, and the glossy floor, and the little potted plants, and the rows upon rows of seats facing the set. But the seats were empty, and the plants were strewn over the floor, and one of the cameras had fallen on its side.
Rob had taken Tildeworth's chair, lounging in it with his legs draped over the side. "See?" he said, holding his hands out. "No guns this time! Just you, and me, and... that!"
"What do you want?"
"That Shovel..." Rob said, adopting a more conventional posture. "You don't have any idea how it works, do you?"
"No," Random admitted, "But that's okay. I can find out." And find out soon, she hoped, There was no room for proper scientific rigour here, but she was a fictional scientist, and she could fudge things all she wanted. The trick was to fudge them in just the right way...
What was so special about this place? Tildeworth had spent enough time here that maybe it was infused with her own sense of self. That was how Personifications worked, wasn't it? That was why Pilcrowe had been so reluctant.
"It's very powerful," Rob went on, now sitting in a crouch with his fingers clasped and his chin propped up on them. "But you knew that. How powerful do you think it is?"
"Enough to subjugate an Editor, I know that," said Random. She shrugged. "But there's plenty can do that. It's all about-"
"Believing in yourself, I know, I know. I've done the same, plenty of times. But now the Shovel is more powerful than ever. You've noticed it can-"
"Rally Editors to your side, I know."
"Why am I bothering? You know what it does. You know what it's capable of. You could have anything you wanted, not just Editors."
"Couldn't get you your novel back, though," said Random.
"You know it's finished, right? Pilcrowe did that. That's how we got out."
"It doesn't matter. I could have more. So could you. Think about it, Red. The Shovel obviously likes you. What do you want?"
There were a lot of things Random wanted. Some of them had been bad ideas, in hindsight, like thing about becoming a pirate. Some of them... she still did want to be a main character, someday, if she was honest with herself. Even seeing what happened to the novels that didn't make it hadn't quenched that flame.
"Are you thinking about it?" he said. He must have noticed the way she rubbed her fingers on the handle, feeing its pitted black iron surface.
"Yeah," she said.
She shrugged again. "Don't really want it."
"Then give it to me!" Now he was sitting bolt upright, his fingers digging into the soft upholstery, as if he were about to spring to his feet any second now.
"Why'd I want to do that?"
"You don't want it any more!" He leapt to his feet as he spoke. "You just said so! If you aren't going to keep it, I should! It can't go roaming around!" He walked forward, holding out his hands. She stepped back, and circled him. They were locked into a slow, wary dance, like predator and prey sizing one another up.
"Who said anything about letting it roam?" Random said.
"You'd let it go to waste?"
"I told you I didn't want it." The right spot had to be here somewhere, but how was she going to know what it was? All she could do was stall. "Sorry to ruin all your hard work."
"It was a lot of work," he said. "Years and years of tracking its movements, understanding its mind... Oh yes, it has a mind, even if it isn't a mind you or I would know. Haven't you heard it? Haven't you listened as it whispers its knowledge in the dark?"
"Yeah. It gets kind of boring after a while."
"Then you haven't really listened! Don't you see how much it wants to do its duty? I was doing it a favour!"
"Wouldn't mind knowing how you did it," Random said. "Scientifically speaking, that is."
"Ah, so you do listen to it?"
It wasn't a total lie. A scientist is always curious. "Yes," she whispered. "Tell me about the Travelling Shovel of Death."
His face split into a grin. He was barely standing upright anymore - instead he was hunched, like a predator ready to spring on its enemies. "Good, good. Then you know of its story, its powers, how it has always longed for our blood..."
"For blood, yes," hissed Random. "For power and for glory."
"Yes, yes, now you know!"
"All hail the Travelling Shovel of Death!" Random screamed, throwing back her head.
"You know, now, don't you?" His hands reached out, grasping for the iron. "You know. Now listen to me, slave to the Shovel, girl of many names, listen...."
He drew closer, so close that she could feel his breath on her face, and their circling ground to a halt.
"I am listening," she whispered, and the world slowed, and she could see everything in the finest of details.
And that was when she knew that it was not the right place she needed, but the right time. That moment when the narrative sang, and the tension hung heavy, and anything could happen.
"And by the way," she said, "my name is Random Idea Number Forty Two."
She backed off and swung the Shovel. He ducked, but she did not aim to hit him. Just as she had in the bar, she slammed its point into the floor, placed one foot on the blade, and pushed.
Points of vivid light spread into cracks, twisting and extending over the studio floor like the growth of some strange and luminescent plant sped up on film. The floor under her feet rocked and shuddered from side to side like an earthquake. The cracks widened, leaving her standing and waving her arms for balance.
Rob the Rat reached forward, fingers clasped around the Shovel's handle. He laughed, a wordless cry of terrible joy just before he fell, clutching the Shovel close to his chest and never, ever, letting go.
...in a far away radio station, in a place where the normal dimensions of time and space had given up and gone home, a host, talking through her exhaustion on coffee and sheer bloody mindedness, clutched her chest...
Time snapped back, and Random ran. The studio was collapsing all around her, splitting in half with the force of the Shovel. The floor gave way underneath her, and she too fell into the light.