Waiting for Thunder
by Stewart Wilson
September 13th, 1986
Electric potential in the air. I can hear it humming, feel it like my skull's one size too small. There's a storm on the way but now there's only rain. I know it is coming. I wouldn't be me if I didn't.
Grey buildings on grey streets, the faceless office blocks jutting up above me. Not enough windows. Too much concrete. What are they hiding, these pillars of the city? Filth and lies and drugs, most likely. There's nowhere that isn't. My thoughts aren't together as I walk these streets, rain soaking me to my skin. Can't think straight with electric potential fucking up my synapses.
I used to love this. The calm before the real storm. That's before everything went pear-shaped, before they thought I could quell a riot in down in Bricknell. Didn't happen. I was lucky to get enough of a wind to get out of there. Fly away, little airman, fly away. I went so far and so high I almost got sucked into the engine of a 747. Ever since then I've been fucking petrified of heights.
I turn down a side-street. There's a pub down here where only the dispossessed and the seriously fucking weird meet. It's mostly full of Mindstar types, but there's a few others who live in the cracks the Establishment ignores drink there. And I really, really need a drink. The barman sees me and the state I'm in, and pours. A large vodka and a pint to follow, just the thing my poundig head needs. I grab a table, any table. I try to avoid the tattoo and hunted look crowd. They're all right people, just too sodding gloomy for me.
There's an itch, at the back of my head. Nicely balances the pounding at the front of it. Something's going to happen. I look up and Lance is at the table with me. Or at least I assume it's Lance. He's got a fuck of a tan, and long dreadlocks, but the old bugger's been sunning himself for the past few years.
"Evening, James. Mine's a pint of mild."
I go to the bar and get him his drink, finishing the vodka on the way. His blue-green eyes sparkle as I bring him his pint.
"TImes are changing, James." His accent's skewed with something Carribean. Jamaican, or one of them places where they drink too much rum and smoke too much dope. If there is such a thing as too much.
"I'll say. I thought you'd buggered off for good."
"So did I. But then a friend of mine in the Civil Service brought me wind of what's going on in Whitehall. Brought me back fast as I could."
"Too bloody public minded," I said, "that's your trouble. And let me guess. Far from reminding me that I owed you a pint, you're here to get me into whatever balls-up you're planning."
"I wouldn't put it like that. This is major, James. The sort of thing that could shape the country."
"Don't you talk to me about shaping the country, Lance. I tried that, remember? We both did. They cut us fucking loose when we didn't work like their brainwashed thugs. We shaped the country into a place where we could barely afford a council flat."
"I know," He's calm as he says it, obviously been thinking it over a lot, "and that's why it is going to be different."
"Mindstar is being re-opened. To the wrong people. The people who made us what we are. So we go rogue. Shadow-war. Urban confrontation. Real black ops stuff."
He knows he's got me, just needs to know how much of a carrot I'll need to take it.
"Things have changed, Lance. I can't get air anymore. Fucking hilarious, ain't it? An air aspect who's scared of heights. Well I'm not fucking laughing."
"Is your life and your fear worth what you know this country could become?"
"Could become? Already is."
"There's talk of gated communities replacing council estates. The elderly are living longer and longer. How long before it comes to boiling point? We used to have an Empire, the sun never set on us. Now we're close to becoming some kind of police-state that the States use as an airbase."
"You recon it could get that big?"
"I'll think about it."
I finish my pint and leave. It's raining heavier, the air's thick with electricity. I can barely think. Three punk-looking fuckers split off from a wall where they were sharing a joint, by the smell of them. Switchblades. Obviously think I've got a bob or two that I ain't.
"Evenin', mate. Got the toll?"
"What's the toll today, lads?"
"Tenner. At least."
"I'm stone broke, lads. I don't want to have to hurt you to get past."
They laugh. They always laugh. Kids of yuppies, pop-rebellion. Dressing to shock mummy and daddy rather than because they believe in any of it. The Thatcher Youth. Doing fashionable drugs, getting fashionably pissed and not realising what any of it means.
"You ain't going to hurt us, mate. There's only one of you."
Smug bastards, too. I did my time with the project, if I were at my peak I could have took all three out with my bare hands. But I'm too rusty to try, especially with the knives.
My altered physiology twitches. I can't help it. I've spent ages denying what I can do for fear of taking off again. But right here, Lance's words ringing in my ears, I really don't give a fuck. There's a boom as a blast of lightning scorches the ground right in front of me. I only redirected it, but they don't need to know that. My head's clearer with that out of the air. The winds pick up around me, a howling maelstrom. That shits them up, messes with their heads.
"Which one of you bitches wants to dance?"