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Chapter 30: Fallen

‘What the fuck,’ said Veggie.

‘Ah,’ said Al Tyer. His hair, always so perfectly in place down to the follicle, was messy and ruffled; his suit, usually creased exactly as it should be, hung loosely on him. Sweat patches had soaked through, and every inch of material seemed to have been either damaged or dirtied. He looked gaunt, smaller. He looked ill.

‘You look like shit,’ TM told him.

Tyer laughed, which immediately turned into a wheeze. ‘I do rather, don’t I?’

Veggie punched him in the face. Tyer’s head snapped to the side, and when he turned back to look up at them his cheek bore a visible dent. It was as if his skin were stretched over Play-Doh rather than muscle and bone.

‘You took Ziggy,’ Veggie told him. ‘You took her.’

Tyer looked off at a spot on the wall, like an old man struggling to remember some detail of decades past. ‘I did,’ he said uncertainly. Even his voice was worn, hoarse, a far cry from his old perfect professional cadence.

‘What happened to you?’ TM asked. He had never felt so clueless as to how to feel: furious, curious, heartbroken, pitying, wrathful, even a little sad.

‘I’m not sure,’ said Tyer, still staring at the wall. ‘I think that perhaps I rather liked being a star on earth, as I was in heaven.’

’So, what, you came back down so you could enjoy being a celebrity again? You weren’t even a good celebrity!’

‘Something like that, I think,’ Tyer said, ‘although of course I had to leave… rather more of myself behind, this time, since I had no mission.’

Veggie shook his head; TM knew he was struggling to understand why they would even talk to Tyer, and not simply give him the same treatment as the Swede. Dominika leaned against the door, arms folded, watching impassively.

‘So there’s less of you now than there was last time,’ TM said. ‘I’m guessing you weren’t as successful at the whole stardom thing this time around.’

Tyer looked up at him with grey eyes, faded and dull. ‘I was not,’ he said.

‘What about Ziggy?’ Veggie said, his mouth hardly moving.

‘She is where she belongs,’ Tyer said, and Veggie hit him again. ‘It’s the truth, I’m afraid,’ he said, half his face caved in. ‘She watches you, of course.’

‘Is she happy?’ Veggie asked quietly.

‘She exists,’ Tyer said, ‘and that is really all we can be said to do up there.’

‘It’s not,’ TM told him. Tyer looked at him questioningly. ‘She wanted to come down, so she did. You missed being who you were down here, so you did it too. You can’t tell me you don’t feel anything when you’re up there.’

Tyer thought about it. ‘Perhaps not,’ he admitted. ‘I think perhaps I ought to go back now, anyway. Johan was very kind to me, you see. I was somewhat lost, but he has given me a home.’

‘Why?’ Veggie asked sharply.

‘I think he hoped I could tell him more about how best to hurt you,’ Tyer said, ‘but I’m afraid I was little use on that count.’

‘You know I went up and saw her?’ TM asked. Tyer’s head moved from side to side as if he were watching a very slow fish in a distant aquarium.

‘After my time, perhaps.’

’She didn’t want to go back.’

‘Sometimes we are all forced into places we would prefer not to be…’

Veggie exhaled loudly. ‘Are we done here?’ he asked TM.

‘I think so,’ TM said after a moment, watching Tyer’s head bob about listlessly. ‘I don’t think there’s anything more we need to do here.’

‘I shall return to my place now, I suppose,’ said Tyer. Veggie rolled his eyes loudly (it was practically a signature move of his, though TM was never sure how he did it) and punched him again.

‘Veg,’ said TM quietly. Veggie hit Tyer in the face, over and over, the ex-weatherman’s head caving under his fists. ‘Veg,’ TM said, warningly. Veggie raised his fist again. ‘Jon!’ TM yelled at him.

Veggie paused. ‘This isn’t even a person, TM,’ he said.

‘Ziggy was,’ TM told him. ‘He’s the same as her.’

‘She was a person,’ Veggie repeated. Then he looked down at Tyer, who looked back at him with sunken eyes, his face fractured and misshapen. ‘You took her away from the life she wanted. So you can stay here, living a life you don’t want any more.’

With that, he turned and left Tyer alone with TM and Dominika.

‘I will be going now, I think,’ Tyer said, the words hissing out like gas escaping from a ruptured pipe. ‘Yes, I will be going now.’

‘You’re scared to go back,’ TM told him, half-questioningly.

‘Hmmmm,’ Tyer murmured. ‘There are things above me that I know very little of, and fear of the unknown might be the most human of feelings.’

‘It’s your place,’ TM said; Dominika nodded, TM thought almost with sympathy.

‘Yes,’ said Tyer, and then he returned to the stars.

TM watched him go, then turned and followed Veggie out of the small room, leaving the empty suit that had been Altair’s crumpled on the armchair.

‘Hey,’ said Dominika quietly.

He turned back to her. ‘Yeah?’

‘Veg,’ she said. ‘He’s angry.’

‘You don’t say.’

‘Hey,’ she said, taking him by the shoulders. ‘Don’t let it get the better of him. Or you.’

TM thought about it for a moment, then nodded. ‘You’re right,’ he admitted, to which she patted him on the arm.

‘Of course I am,’ she said. ‘Look, I gotta go home, but… I’ll see you guys at Marty’s thing tomorrow, yeah?’

‘Veg’ll be there. I’ve got… stuff.’

She nodded. ‘The stars are going weird again, by the way. Take care of him,’ she told him, then wandered home.

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