As told by Dakota Sue
Eb found me a used Jeep for a song and I spent the better part of three days giving it a much-needed overhaul and nervously watching Eb tinker. Still miraculously unexploded, I hit out on the Road, headed for Freedom City.
By lunchtime I was missing my CB; I hit a big slowdown on I-70 just past Indianapolis and by the time I got to the City rush hour had set in. I should have pulled off and gotten some dinner but by that time I was so road-dazed that I didn’t think about it until I saw the brake lights ahead flaring to life and staying that way. I groaned and pressed my forehead against the wheel just as something heavy came down on the Jeep and everything went dark.
I don’t have any clear recollection of what happened; my next conscious memory is of showing Rose’s card to a passerby and trying to get directions. I’d grabbed most of the useful stuff, including my fire-axe, out of the demolished Jeep and I had a few minor scrapes and bruises, but that gesture of frustration had saved me from serious injury.
I put on the speed and less than fifteen minutes later I was shouting at an overly-made-up secretary who was trying to feed me a line about an appointment.
“Look, Barbie doll,” I snapped, “I was just stepped on by a 200-foot action figure; I don’t care who’s in there, you get him out here right now!”
“Ah, Susan, what seems to be the trouble?”
I blew out a lungful of air and shook myself before turning to look at him. It was different, meeting him here where he was in his element and I was the fish-out-of-water. The office was neat, elegant, and small, not at all suited for a big woman that looked like she belonged on a construction site. It didn’t help that I was filthy.
“Excuse me,” I muttered. “There’s a giant Tonka toy out there busting up the City. It stepped on me,” I added somewhat sullenly.
We took the elevator up to the roof where the red-and-gold robot was clearly visible, stomping its mindless mechanical way through the streets. “Mecha,” Rose commented mildly.
“It’s plastic. In fact, it kind of looks like those Power Rangers toys my cousins were always leaving around. Those things were lethal. If they weren’t going whizzz! out from under your foot they’d break and drive sharp edges into your soles. Stuffed animals, that’s the ticket.”
He chuckled. A few flashes lit up the sky briefly. “It looks as though someone’s already on it,” Rose offered.
I squinted; the superheroes were tiny, barely visible. “It doesn’t look like they’re making much headway.”
“Shall we go and see if we can assist?”
“Sounds good to me.” Rose jumped off the building; after rolling my eyes I followed, landing inelegantly but safely on the pavement below. He started up the street, but I grabbed his shoulder. “Where do you think you’re going?”
He blinked at me. “To help?”
“By following it? I don’t know or care where it’s going, and from the looks of things neither does it. I want to know where it came from, which means we need to go where it’s been.”
I felt better after that. For a while there I’d been shocked and uncertain, not at all my usual state. If I was telling confused people what they ought to do the universe was back to operating smoothly again.
We backtracked along the path of destruction, hurrying as best we could through the rubble and mobs of frightened people, who I cheerfully assisted with yells of “Go home!” and “If you’re going to stand around, make yourself useful and dig out this mess!” The signs of damage rapidly diminished.
“It’s getting smaller?” Rose asked.
“Or, it got bigger in a hurry. We must be close now.” Abruptly we came to the end of the trail in a section of apartment buildings. It looked very much like a dead end, too, until I heard a desultory clicking noise. A very small child wearing only his pajamas was sitting by an overflowing dumpster and playing with a plastic gun, the kind that fires a little plastic missile with a spring. Scattered around him were some broken bits of action figures, and it appeared that he’d been crying. I walked over and looked down at him. He shot me in the knee.
“What are you doing?” I asked. He shrugged and picked up his missile again, so I gently but firmly took the gun away from him. “I said, what are you doing?”
“’m not s’posed to talk to grown-ups.”
“All right, then where are your parents?” He pointed up at the apartment building. “How old are you?” He thought for a moment, then held up three fingers. “Do they know you’re out here all by yourself?” He shrugged.
“Rose, you stay here with this kid while I go check on his parents, okay?” The Elf was watching me with a weirdly fascinated expression on his face. “What?”
“Do you like children?”
“Not especially.” The building had a security door with a lock, but I was in a hurry so I just ripped it off its hinges. A thorough search was not required; I almost gagged on the putrescent stench rising up the basement stairwell. No one with a choice would go down there, so I headed upstairs. The smell of a fresh breeze led me down the hallway to a half-open door, where two kids jumped me from behind. I nailed one in the gut with an elbow, a girl about twelve, as she fired a smoking beam over my shoulder, but the boy sank claws and teeth into me and hung on.
He was punishingly strong and mad with fury in the way that only children and the criminally insane can manage; I yelled for Rose while trying to keep him from taking out my eyes or throat, no easy task.
The Elf came sprinting up the stairs and put a neat hole through the little monster’s kidney. I grabbed my axe and finished him off before he could recover. Rose stared at me, horrified and disgusted. “You killed him!”
“Yeah, and he’d have had me if you’d been a little slower. Your point?”
“He was only a child!” Nearby the girl was making sick bubbling noises; an elbow from a mature super can do a lot of damage, and you can kill someone easiest by hitting them hard in the gut. The old liver and spleen can’t take much abuse before they burst. I didn’t expect she’d make it until the EMT’s arrived.
“Call the cops, Rose.”
He woodenly pulled out his cell phone and dialed, staring at me reproachfully all the while. After a moment his glare transferred to the phone. “I can’t get through. Too many calls about the giant robot, most likely. I still can’t believe you did that.”
I sighed. “Notice anything wrong with this apartment building?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“There’s no adults, Rose, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s because they’re all down in the basement, dead as posts. So don’t try to convince me that I’m the villain here. See if you can do anything for the girl so we can at least say we tried.”
He hitched up his slacks and knelt over her, searching. “I fail to comprehend what this has to do with the giant robot.”
“Well, I think we’re about to find out,” I replied. The three-year-old had made his way up the stairs and was now ambling down the hall, peering past me at Rose and the two bodies. He stopped just out of my reach and stared up at me.
“What’s going on?” he asked. Rose started to speak but I stared him down.
“I killed the two older children.”
He appeared to consider this for a while, playing with a button on his pajamas. “Like on TV?” I had the feeling he wasn’t referring to some sanitized cartoon.
“Just like on TV.” He sat down on the floor and poked at the wall. I sat down next to him and pulled my knees up. “I’m sorry.” I offered.
He patted my leg. “It is okay. They were-ent very nice. They made my zord go away.”
“Rick tried to break him. So he went away.”
“Well, he can come back now.” He nodded, the motion hugely exaggerated and going on for several seconds.
“Let’s go get you a sandwich or something.”
I sat on the front stoop with Todd (that was his name) while he smushed peanut butter and jelly over his face. I think at least some of it went in his mouth, because after he was done masticating he put his head on my leg and went to sleep. I tore off a hanging tatter of my sleeve and did my best to clean off the stickiest parts. Eventually Rose must have gotten through to the dispatcher, because some cops showed up and started doing cop things. After a lengthy discussion they gingerly approached me and took Todd away. I didn’t protest.
Rose came out of the building and sat down next to me. He was still a little white in the face, but he seemed to have recovered his aplomb.
“That was hideous,” he remarked.
“No kidding. This hero business is for the birds.”
“Heh. So why are you still here?”
I fluttered my hands next to my shoulders. “Chirp chirp.”
He started to laugh: high, thin, hysterical, which was scary because it wasn’t that funny. I was afraid for a moment that I was going to lose him, but he managed to get it under control. I’d forgotten temporarily that Elves are crazy for kids. It’s not uncommon for a powerful Fairy-lord to adopt random street children and spoil them rotten. It’s also part of the reason they dislike humans so much; not that we mistreat our young (which we do), but that the children they adopt are so ungrateful about everything.
He sighed. “The EMT’s said that all three children show signs of long-term physical abuse.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Would you still have killed them, if you’d known that beforehand?”
“How should I know? Are you going to turn back time so I can have another try? I was irritated that I let them sneak up on me, but I don’t think I could have talked them down. In a straight-up fight the result would probably have been the same.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“If you must.”
“What are you doing here? I was under the impression that most Elves stay in the Old Country.”
He fluttered one hand dismissively. “I made an ill-advised suggestion to Her Majesty about adopting a parliamentary system, since it worked so well for the humans. She didn’t take it very well. So I came here for asylum.”
“I’ll bet. So do you have a job for me or not?”
“A job. You know, like you were talking about when you gave me your card?”
“I cannot believe you would bring that up at a time like this!” he sniffed, putting his fists on his hips. Sitting down, he looked less than imposing.
“Hey, I could starve to death waiting for the right time. I need to know the answer pretty quickly, here!”
“Um, well, the truth is that I don’t, precisely, have a job for you, per se.”
“I figured as much, but without all the modifiers.”
“AEGIS, though, is recruiting, there’s a field exercise tomorrow at . . .” he glanced at his watch. “Make that today . . .”
“A test? Do I look like a square peg to you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Never mind, just tell me when it is.”
“Um . . . three hours.”
I just groaned.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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