Chapter 36: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-
Orion was there, looking back at the building and the cloud of dust rising from it. She dropped Veggie on the pavement as TM emerged, staring up at him with shock and hatred in her eyes.
’Are you serious?!’ she exclaimed, holding her hands up in disbelief. ‘What does it take to get rid of you?!’
‘More than you, apparently,’ TM said, panting.
Orion scoffed. ‘You’re nothing,’ she said. ‘You’re not even anything special, and I can’t even believe I’m having to take care of you myself.’
‘That’s us humans,’ TM told her, standing on the steps defiantly. ‘Nothing special.’
She strode towards him, shaking her head, and though TM braced himself, the first punch lifted him from his feet and slammed him into the arch of the doorway. He felt something break, and all the air whooshed forcefully from his lungs, burning his throat on the way out. She hoisted him up with one hand, then tossed him down the stairs and bounded down after him.
‘You stupid little man,’ Orion said, kicking him in the ribs. TM went flying, landing next to Veggie. ‘Why even get involved? Why not just let me do what I came here to do and live your own fucking life?’
‘Cos it’s about more than just my life,’ TM told her, the words leaving him in painful shudders. His hand snuck its way to Veggie’s neck, finding the chain with the fragment of space rock and pulling it free. Veggie coughed.
‘First sensible thing you’ve said in your life,’ Orion said disdainfully, striding over and driving her knee into his throat as he tried to sit up. TM fell back, gasping for breath. ’It’s about more than just you, or him, or any person. It’s about the universe.’
‘The universe doesn’t care,’ TM tried to say. The words came out as a series of sharp hisses and coughs, but Orion seemed to understand.
‘No, it doesn’t, but you live in it and unless you let me fix it it’ll quite happily destroy your entire planet,’ she said.
TM gazed up at the sky from his place in the road, lying face up on the tarmac. The star hanging above the museum seemed brighter than ever, like an enormous white fireball growing ever larger and closer.
‘I didn’t want to hurt you,’ Orion told him, hauling him to his feet and staring into his eyes. ‘At first. But now I think I do.’ She headbutted him, keeping hold of him by the shirt, then punched him in the stomach. TM felt something start to slip away inside him. She let him fall once more, and TM felt something like peace as he landed on his back again.
The star above really was beautiful, he thought. Maybe Veggie, lying still in the road a few metres away, could go and be as beautiful as that, too. Maybe he would get to be something like that himself, once he was gone from this earth. It was so big, so bright. So close. He almost thought he could feel its warmth as it grew larger, drew nearer. It was so clear that he thought he could see something in the centre; a small, dark shape, surrounded by burning brightness.
There was something. Someone he knew.
Orion picked him up for what he knew would be the final time, and held him with his back to her, gripping him tightly by the wrists.
‘Goodbye,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘I’ll be making some changes up there when you’re gone. Maybe make things a bit harder for your friend. Ziggy, you called her, right? I think I’m going to push her into a black hole, and I’ll watch, and from her perspective she’ll fall in and be gone, but from mine I’ll watch her frozen on the event horizon for all eternity and I’ll hope you can feel the pain of it too, wherever you end up.’
‘Changes?’ TM whispered hoarsely.
Orion whipped him around, releasing her grip on one of his arms. TM spun away from her, and then her forearm was rocketing towards his head. The first drop of rain touched his forehead as she pulled him in for the Rainmaker. TM looked up.
‘Turn and face the strange, bitch,’ he said, and ducked under her arm. Then he jumped up and smashed his knee into her head.
Orion stumbled back, holding a hand to the side of her head, staring at him in pain and confusion. TM leapt forwards and thrust the piece of space rock in his clenched fist into her face; she was blasted backwards, landing ragdoll-like in the middle of the road.
‘What -?’ she wheezed, staggering back to her feet.
TM pointed upwards smugly, then collapsed. The brightness in the sky descended, burning as intensely as the Sun, and the shape of the girl within it bent and extended her legs like a frog as she fell to earth.
Then Ziggy landed on Orion with a High Fly Flow and all the weight of the fall from space.
Orion disappeared into the concrete, battered down by the falling star that had hit her from above.
TM watched as the burning of the star faded and a faintly glowing shape picked herself up from the earth and walked slowly towards him.
‘Hey,’ Ziggy said. She looked exactly as TM remembered her, albeit perhaps slightly more luminescent.
TM could only laugh, a pained and breathy sound.
‘What’s funny?’ Ziggy asked, folding her arms and looking down at him.
‘I thought the universe didn’t care,’ TM said, staring up at her.
‘The universe doesn’t care,’ Ziggy said. ‘But I do.’
TM nodded, a few tears falling from his face. It might have been the pain, or something else. He wasn’t sure.
‘Did you hear what I -’
‘Turn and face the strange, yeah,’ Ziggy said, grinning. ‘I liked that. Would have said it myself, but you sort of beat me to the punch.’
‘Is she gone?’
‘She’ll go back up now, I think,’ Ziggy said, glancing at the presenter-shaped hole in the road. ‘Doubt she’ll be back down for a while, though.’
‘What about…’ TM trailed off, staring at Veggie, who still lay unmoving.
‘He’s gone,’ Ziggy said. ‘I’m sorry.’
TM closed his eyes, feeling a familiar burning in his chest, more fundamental than the sharp cuts of the broken bones. ‘He’ll… go up?’
She nodded. ‘I’ll take him, show him what’s up. Put him at the head of Lyra. Then everything will be back in place, and… hopefully you can just go on with your life.’
‘Yeah, that’ll be easy,’ TM said, unable to look anywhere without seeing something that made him want to disappear.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I wish I could stay.’
‘What are you… how are you… are you okay?’ TM asked her, not sure how to phrase it.
‘Oh, yeah, it’s not so bad,’ she said reassuringly. ‘I mean, I miss you guys. But I got to see you, when you came up to visit. That was crazy!’
TM nodded. ‘Compared to some of the stuff we’ve been through, that seems kind of normal at this point.’
‘You know,’ Ziggy said, ‘since you came up I’ve been able to see you better. Kept an eye out - seems like you’ve been doing alright for yourselves, no?’
‘Thanks to you.’ TM half-smiled.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said again. ‘For everything you’ve been through because of me.’
TM smiled, fully this time. ‘It was worth it,’ he told her.
Then she returned to the stars, the iridescent stardust that was all that remained of Orion and Veggie following in her trail. TM watched them go. Then he passed out.