As Told by Dakota Sue
I was actually looking forward to relaxing that Sunday. So much so that I was still in my pajamas at two in the afternoon when the doorbell rang. I almost jumped out of my skin; I hadn’t realized I had one of those ridiculous chimes that played a tune. I opened the door cautiously and there they were, looking like one of those figurines that old women love so much: elf and small child. Wish I had a camera.
Rose essayed a grin but it came out looking kind of sick and desperate. “I don’t suppose you would be inclined to do me a rather large favor?”
I looked down at Todd. “Heya, short stuff.”
“Don’t call him that! He’s average height for his age!”
I was a bit taken aback. “He’s still shorter than me. Why are you so huffy?”
Rose grimaced. “It’s a long story. May we come in?”
“Knock yourselves out,” I told him, stepping back to make room. There was a long, awkward pause.
“Do you mean, we should come in?” Rose ventured tentatively. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an elf put so badly off his stride in my life. Given, I haven’t seen many elves, but still.
“I think that’s a fair assumption,” I replied gravely.
He edged around me into the condo, drawing Todd along by his grip on the three-year-old’s hand. By the time I closed the door the boy had vanished somewhere. There was a crash a few moments later as he upset the coffee table.
“Todd!” Rose cried, scandalized.
“Oh, leave him alone, he can’t break anything valuable anyway. What’s going on?”
“I, ah, need you to take care of him.”
“I’m on call, but I could probably watch him for a few hours.”
“No, I mean more, um, permanently.”
“You have lost your mind.”
“If I can’t find an established super to take him the state is going to send him to a containment facility.”
“And you aren’t good enough?”
He coughed slightly. “My legal status is, ah, somewhat questionable.”
I sighed. “You don’t know anyone else?”
“Not that I’d trust. I’m willing to underwrite any childcare expenses he may incur.”
“Jeez. A containment facility? Those places are gruesome. I’d hesitate to send a hardened criminal there. Why is he in danger of that?”
I winced. “You’re killing me here.”
The Wrecker act was the bane of normal and super citizens country-wide. Rammed through the legislature on the heels of the Grue invasion, its nominal purpose was to protect superheroes from endless lawsuits and prosecution by allowing them to maintain discrete legal identities for their various activities, assuming, of course, that they were acting “in good faith” to address a “legitimate” threat or perceived threat. It was originally named after The Wrecker, a super that was driven into bankruptcy and viciously discredited because he used his rather dramatic abilities to assist some people, causing a great deal of property damage. Since then, the name has taken on an unfortunate double meaning.
The real result was to turn any attempt at meting out justice into a perversion and a mockery. There was no reliable definition for superhuman or what constituted a legitimate threat. Never mind trying to figure out what might or might not be considered a perceived threat. That was a tangle even a Solomon couldn’t unravel.
Some jurisdictions had flat-out abandoned any attempt to sort through it and left the supers to police themselves, a situation that suited many of them just fine. Old established names could get away, literally sometimes, with murder, while people trying to stay quiet and lead private lives were relentlessly hounded with “Wrecker Suits” for minor infractions. Suits that they didn’t dare to lose.
The containment facilities were a side effect of the Wrecker Act. Since superhumans were given special status and favors by the government, it only made “sense” for them to face special penalties as well. You have to at least pretend to police the monster you’ve created, after all. So, for almost any illicit use of their powers, supers were sent to maximum-security prisons where their abilities were kept under control by drugs that rendered them, effectively, zombies. That, and no one ever came back. Supposedly, after a few months or years your brains turned to mush and they didn’t even have to give you the drugs any more. Let the punishment fit the crime? Don’t make me laugh.
Even with all that, there was never anything even approaching a popular movement to get the thing repealed. Superheroes were major celebrities and they were the ones who’d touted the Act in the first place. It’d become the modern-day version of Social Security. Make even the most perfunctory noises about the most minor reforms and your political career was headed straight down the crapper.
Todd was not an established super. He was a three-year-old child whose first eruption of power was violent and freakish. If he was going to have any chance at a real life, he needed an established super to claim him and grant legal immunity. He needed an Aegis. He needed me.
“Ah, hell. I guess I could use the company.”
“You’ll do it?”
“Wonderful! I have the paperwork right here . . .”
I signed things until my fingers went numb and my eyes blurred from trying to read the tortured multi-clause sentences. Every so often I would shake off my stupor and ask a question, then try to pretend I understood the answer.
“Why am I signing paperwork for the Academy?”
“You have a job, and someone has to watch him during the day. It’s essentially a Montessori preschool for children with super powers. The instructors are supers so they can handle any difficulties that might arise.”
“You’ve thought of everything, huh? My last mission was at 8pm, who’s going to watch him then?”
“Don’t you know anyone in the City?”
“No!” I snapped. “It’s not like you just run into them hanging out at truck stops . . . hang on . . .”
“I do know someone! Well, if she decided to come back here, that is. Heh. She’s supposedly a student at Claremont Academy.”
Rose shook his head.
The next morning I left Archer a voice mail informing him that I was taking a personal day and rode the bus with Todd to visit the Academy. I toured the preschool in the morning, meeting the various instructors and trying to look interested while they showed me around. Todd seemed to like it well enough (they had action figures), so I left him to eat lunch with the other children while I prowled around the campus. Finally I hit pay dirt.
“Miss Susan! Miss Susan!” a voice squealed, and Natori Taiko came bounding across the lawn towards me. In her short blue jumper, without the appalling makeup, she was insanely cute. I made a mental note to introduce her to Paul sometime. Maybe after she’d taken her Valium.
“I thought I told you to go home,” I drawled.
“Yes but, I thought, Miss Susan would never do what she was told, so here I am!”
I snorted. “What, now I’m your role model?” I couldn’t help but grin when she nodded enthusiastically. “So what do you do with yourself on evenings and weekends?”
“Homework, and read, mostly. I used to hang out with my friends, but we don’t get along very well any more!”
“Interested in a job?”
“Fighting crime? Righting wrongs?”
“Watching my, um”—I stumbled, trying to think of a brief way to describe my new relationship with Todd, and finished lamely—“kid.”
“I didn’t know you had a family!”
“Well, I didn’t. I don’t. Technically, he’s sort of my extremely junior sidekick-in-training.”
I explained as best I could.
“Ohh the poor little boy! I should be most honored to watch him when you are occupied!”
“Great! Are you busy? I’ll take you to meet him.”
“Not at all!”
We trotted back to the preschool wing, where the youngsters were now running around the playground. I looked around for Todd, but didn’t see him. Then I heard vicious laughter coming from around the side of the building. Two older children, early teens I guess, had cornered him and were playing keep-away with his beloved zord. Todd was quite red in the face and out of breath from chasing them, but I was pleased to note that it hadn’t occurred to him to get angry yet. Mostly, he was perplexed and hurt. I started to intervene but Natori beat me to it.
“Flying Dragon Attack!” she bellowed and slapped the primary tormenter on his wrist with her open hand. I grimaced; that blow had probably numbed his entire arm. Scooping up the zord with her other hand, she passed it off to Todd in one motion while turning to include the other boy in her glare. “What shameful behavior! What disgrace! Be happy if I don’t report you! Go! Now!” They ran for it; I would have, too.
Then she turned to address Todd. “I am very sorry, young sir. Those ruffians will trouble you no more!”
He stood there, staring at her. After a moment his eyes slid sideways to me in a mute appeal for help.
“It’s okay, short stuff, this is Natori. She’s going to take care of you sometimes when I have to work. She only hits bad people.” Natori bowed.
He considered this for a while. “Okay.”
“And what should I call you, little boy?” Natori asked him. He grinned.
I could see getting used to this arrangement.
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