Dead Lies Dreaming, by Charles Sloss, Part Five: Super Powers to the Rescue

The Bat stepped up beside the Joker, nostrils flaring.

By Aidan Martin - Abridged by Liam Rudden
Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 7:00 am
Charles Stross
Charles Stross

“Don’t you worry about anything,” Doc intoned, frowning as he tamped his emotional state down into a concentrated bolus of apathy and shoved it at the troublemaker. “I’ve got it all covered.” He laid a hand on the Joker’s pin-striped shoulder as he continued: “You can relax. In fact, you want to relax. You’re really tired, it’s been a long day, and you slept badly last night. We’ve got your back, and you can rely on Robin and the Bat to take care of it from here.”

Amy the auditor slumped, open-mouthed, drooling a little under the impact of Imp’s assault. “Everything is totally under control!” he told her, hamming it up for the cameras in character as the Joker. “Nothing to see here!”

He produced a heavy-duty refuse sack from his sleeve with a flourish and offered it to his victim. “Cash transfer now,” he ordered.

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Dead Lies Dreaming

Amy nodded vacantly and swept an armful of bundled banknotes off the counting-desk, straight into the open bin liner.

Game Boy nonchalantly approached the vault. “Niiiice,” he remarked.

The guard on the left ignored him, eyes closed by the burden of Doc Depression’s projected exhaustion.

Game Boy peered at the electronic keypad and tsked as he noticed the card reader for the first time. “Keys, please,” he requested.

“You need to open the vault for the regular cash collection service,” Imp told Amy. He moderated his force. He held her soul in the palm of his hand: it was a fragile thing of spun

glass and imagination, and it was already warping beneath the weight of his self-confidence. Imp was, he smugly admitted, a bad man. But he took some satisfaction in not being a terrible man, and he didn’t want to leave a trail of shattered minds in his wake.

“The key, Amy,” he emphasized.

“The key,” Amy echoed. She stumbled towards the vault and produced a keycard which she palmed against the reader. She touched her index finger to a fingerprint scanner, then

punched in a six-digit number. The door unlatched and swung open.

“The cash transfer.”

She reached inside and withdrew a canvas satchel secured with padlocks. “I need you to sign for it,” she said in a monotone as she presented Imp with the bag.

Then the Bat sneezed, and all hell broke loose.

Doc Depression’s peculiar talent required steady concentration.

The unbearable itch of old money tickled his sinuses, broke him out of his focus, and shattered his grip on the guards. The left guard, the middle-aged jobsworth who had

held out longest against Imp’s will-to-believe, jerked upright.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Stop!” He slapped his hand against a big red button mounted on the wall. “Stop right there!”

His co-worker, a decade younger and skinnier, bounced to his feet, yanked a baton out of a loop on his utility belt, and waved it at Game Boy. “Yeah, not cool! Hold it right there!”

“I don’t think so.” Game Boy yanked the satchel away from Amy the auditor and threw it over his shoulder, not bothering to check where it fell.

It landed neatly with its strap snug across the Wakandan princess’s shoulder. Del jerked her chin once, then sped off with the eerie economy of motion that only she could achieve. Once she had her hands on the goods, nobody on Earth could catch her.

Game Boy turned to leave just as the guards made an ill-judged attempt to stop him. The older guard grabbed; the younger one swept his baton around, evidently aiming for

Game Boy, but caught his elder colleague in the face instead. Then the youngster tripped over his own bootlaces – which had inexplicably knotted themselves together – and toppled sideways. Meanwhile the older guard screamed as his nose sprayed blood, then he, too, tripped and fell.

As he fell he threw out an arm for balance, but succeeded only in punching the younger guard in the crotch. Then his handcuffs spilled from his belt pouch and closed around his wrist and his colleague’s ankle. The youngster flailed around for a few seconds before his cuffs fell out too, and mysteriously shackled his free wrist to the leg of Amy’s desk.

Game Boy stepped over the fallen guards as if nothing untoward had happened: “I’m done here,” he announced, then walked out the door.

The Bat shook his head, then trailed after him. Elsewhere in the building, alarms were shrilling. That just left Imp to tidy up.

“You can go to sleep now,” he told Amy, “everything is just copacetic!”

He gave her a final psychic nudge and she slumped slowly forward across her desk. Behind her, the two guards were fitfully pawing at each other, trying to disentangle themselves from their inadvertent bondage scene. The assistant manager in the corner was facing the wall and giggling cheerfully. As Imp left, he tugged the door closed behind him. The silent alarm was also a lockdown trigger.

The strong room crew wouldn’t be getting out any time soon. Imp turned and moonwalked down the corridor. He briefly paused to stuff two fat bundles of banknotes into his

pockets, then dropped the bin bag, even though it was still half full. Then he ran after Robin and the Bat...

To continue reading, Dead Lies Dreaming, by Charles Stross, is published by Orbit in Hardback, priced £18.99

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