|Stories # - L | M - Z | Authors
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Tog entered the common room and made a quick check to see who was present.
“Everyone, I’ve got someone I’d like you all to meet. This is Dawn. She’s the one that made my axe, and the one that sent me that new armor last year. Dawn, this is nearly everyone I’ve told you about.”
Several people stood up to come and meet her. When she finally met Heather, they made plans to sneak off and have a good long talk about metallurgy and stronger, lighter steels. After the first wave of introductions, Lista pulled her aside.
“So you’re Dawn, huh?” said Lista.
“You’ve known Tog for quite a while then?”
“Well. I met him about three years ago, but we’ve only traded letters and a few phone calls since then. Oregon is a long way from here.”
“I’m about to be uncomfortably forward, so brace yourself.”
Dawn’s face changed a bit and she glanced around to see if there was anyone that might be a witness to whatever was about to happen.
“I’ve been watching you a bit, and if I read you right, and it’s just one of my many talents, you’ve got a bit of a thing for him. You might not want to admit to it, you might not even be conscious of it, but I bet that there are nights, alone in the bath with the warm water running gently in the tub, that you think of him. Am I right?”
Dawn stammered for an instant too long.
Tog was right by the way. You’re a looker.”
It all hit her at once and she turned a deep crimson. “He said that?”
“Not in those words, exactly, but I could read the intent. He’s talked about you quite a bit since I’ve known him. If you have any interest in expanding your relationship with him, you should try really hard to get him alone around midnight. Unless you’ve got someone back home that might be bothered by that.”
“He’s never said anything to me that made me think he thinks of me like that. What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. I can just read people. See, that’s the thing about the big lug. He’s got no problem stepping in front of an angry mob and asking who wants to chew the crunchy bits out of his tail, but the thought of telling you he’s been pining for you since I’ve known him scares the hell out of him. Seriously. If you have any interest at all in him, come , pin him to a wall and ram your tongue down his throat. Just make sure that no one is around or he’ll lock up on you. He’ll reciprocate, I guarantee.”
“Now I know you.” She laughed. “Oh god, it’s good to put a face with to the person in his letters. Lista? Right? I guess I was pronouncing it differently in my head so I didn’t make the connection. I’ll give your suggestion some thought.”
The two smiled at each other as Dawn moved off to a different part of the room, and still more people to meet.
Over the din, a deep, grumbly tone carried across the room. All present turned to face the sound to find Bert standing in the center of the room.
“Okay, ya’ll. I’ll make it fast so you get back ta things. As long as we’re celebrating things, I’d just like to offer the official Safe Harbor, pre-congratulations to Showbiz, Tog, and Katt A Lyst for earning the Hero of the City titles. At least once the papers are signed next week. Grats’ to you all! Now back to it.”
A round of applause and cheers echoed throughout the common room, along with some hand shaking, back-slapping, and a few hugs.
Dawn had made the first lap around the room and met nearly everyone there, when she found herself back with Lista and Kym.
“Wow, fancy meeting you here,” said Dawn.
“Well you know how it is,” said Lista. “People let you in ‘cause you look like fun, next morning they have to pry you out from behind the toilet.”
“Kym was telling me about your escape a couple months back. It sounds like a horrible experience.”
“Parts of it was. Other parts weren’t really so bad. Honestly, once I made it out of the cave, I’d put it behind me.”
“Okay, just so I have the real story here. You escaped, bare-butt naked, and fly off to do battle with little robot soldiers?”
“Kym said there were little metal bits scattered all over the street. You must have really messed them up. I just hope that—“
Lista’s eyes began darting around behind closed eyelids while her hands began to shift slightly as she remembered the events.
“Crap!” she yelled. Where’s Mourning?”
“Her room I guess,” said Kym. “What’s up?”
“They blew up!” she yelled, and ran off to Mourning’s room.
Dawn and Kym watched her vanish in the teleporter. Dawn turned to Kym and said, “So. She’s not really all that stable, is she?”
“Not really.” Kym took a sip from her glass and followed up with: “Fun as hell though.”
“Excuse me, Doctor Jensen?”
“Yes, Ahm-ee? You know I don’t mind you calling me Epim, or even just Ep, right? Or this a Doctor question?”
“Sort of a doctor question. Can we talk? Privately?”
Epim led her to a conference room away from the main party, where they each took a seat.
“What’s on your mind, Ahm-ee?”
“Actually, I’ve sort of grown to like Twitch. It’s odd, but even though your world is basically in chaos, I like feeling like part of a group. I’ve never had a nickname before. It’s nice. I’d grown so used to living with people I may have to kill one day that it never occurred to me that I could be worried about someone’s well being. That’s sort of wanted to talk about. I’m worried about Sliss.”
“Sliss is going through some changes right now. He’s maturing and it’s affecting his mind in ways we can’t really anticipate. Just be patient with him.”
“No, it’s not the puberty thing. It’s something else. When we go on patrol, it’s like he’s different. He’s happier or something. Then he’ll start to say something to me and stop, then he gets all depressed and barely talks the rest of the day. Does that make sense? It is something I’m doing?”
“No. It’s not anything you’re doing exactly. It also makes perfect sense to me. I hadn’t seen any of this, so I wasn’t aware of it.
“When Sliss first developed, we didn’t know what to do with him. He was very energetic and showed a strong desire to be a hero, so we found a spot for him on a strike team. This was a brutally effective team that basically only worked with each other. One of those was a woman named Cursed Phoenix. In many ways, she was like you. She fought with claws, but rather than avoiding damage, she healed from it almost instantly. She healed so well, she actually could not die. This made her very aggressive. She was always looking for that one foe that might give her rest. Since she was really active, Sliss was drawn to her. He knew that when she was around, he would have something to do. I’ve seen you fight, and you are a lot like her. You get right in and fight aggressively. I think you remind him of her a great deal. You said that he’ll start to say something just before his mood changes. My guess is that he’s about to call you ‘CP’. Then he catches himself and the memories hit him.”
“If she couldn’t die, what happened to her? Did she leave?”
“Not really. One day Sliss was watching a movie about space travel and it had a scene with cryogenic chambers; where people are frozen to keep them from aging over very long space journeys. It also had some parts where one character gave up his life to save another, and one killed a friend to end his suffering. Sliss asked me about those parts and I explained them, but I thought he was just curious. A few months later, Zach had built a Cryogenic chamber in the basement. Sliss had approached him with the idea, then talked to CP. She was all for the procedure, and when it came time to do it, it was only Zach and Sliss in the room with her. No one else knew until Sliss passed Bert a letter to read the following morning. It was probably the most selfless act he’s ever done, and if you’ve run with him, that says a lot.”
Epim paused a moment to let that sink in, then continued. “It’s not really anything to do with you. I’ll find some time to talk with him about it. I do appreciate you bringing it to my attention.”
“You think he’ll be okay then?” asked Twitch.
“Yes. We’ll start next week. Would you be willing to sit in on a session or two if I feel it would help?”
“Yes. Most certainly. I must confess a fondness for him that I never expected after our first meeting.”
“Yeah. He can grow on you.”
The pair left the room and rejoined the party. There were still a couple of hours until the big event.
Mourning answered the knock on her door and was nearly knocked back as Lista burst in.
“What the hell, Lis’?”
“We need to talk. About that day.”
“I don’t want to. You know that.”
“I know. But it’s important, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to put all the bits together the right way.”
Mourning flipped the comforter back into position and sat down on the bed, folding her legs beneath her and crossing her arms to match.
“Okay, when I arrived and started blasting, you had already put down quite a few. Most of them exploded, right?”
“I didn’t notice.”
“I swear. I wouldn’t bring this up if it didn’t matter. Please. Think.”
Mourning let out a sigh and stared at the gobs of wax that covered her nightstand. “Honestly. I didn’t notice.”
“Okay. What if I told you that some of them exploded when they fell, but others exploded only after being dragged from where they fell by another robot?”
“Did that happen?”
“Yes. And more importantly, all the ones that exploded later were dragged from where they fell to a patch of sunlight, to explode.”
“They didn’t explode if they fell in the shade?”
“Not as far as I can recall.”
“So what do you want me to figure out?”
“What else exploded when it was hit with sunlight?” Lista dangled the question out like bait.
“That storage tank in Indy!”
“Yeah! We wondered what that stuff would have been used for, and then we see some stuff with the same properties used in robots sent to attack you. No way that’s a coincidence.”
“So, if the stuff from the tanks was in the robots, then whoever was really using that tank was behind the attack on me, which the guy who held you had known about. That makes him the guy behind the tanks. That’s not really that hard to put together.”
“I know, but I was hoping you’d go after what it might be used for first. If it’s only used in those little bots, then there must be a lot of them. If it’s used in other stuff, then what could it be. What else is out there?”
“The cars!” Mourning nearly shouted.
“The cars that Danforth’s makin’. Captain Pruitt said they’re powered by some kind of synthetic chlorophyll. Basically they recharge in the sunlight. What if the robots use the same stuff? That would mean that Danforth can be tied directly to those bots and the scam that was run on Crey.”
“How cool would it be if we could get Crey to go after Danforth?”
“Yeah. That would be one worth sitting out ‘til it’s over and then takin’ out the winner.”
“How do you want to act on this?”
“It can wait until tomorrow. I’ll take it to Tog and we can go over some ideas then. For now though. I think I feel like a party after all.”
A small group had crowded around the large monitor in the common room to watch the final countdown to the New Year.
“Kym! Isn’t this exciting? Only 5 minutes to go ‘til 2007!” Debi was bursting at the seams.
“Yeah. Thrill a minute.” Kym was not.
“Seriously, how can you not like this? The New Year! Fresh starts. New beginnings.”
“Or more of the exact same stuff. Nothing’s going to change. The world will still be the same the day after tomorrow as it was the day before yesterday. All you have to do is look back at the history of the world. When has there ever been a huge change, for better or worse, tied directly to the New Year? Never. This is totally a cheerleader holiday. Be stupid-happy for absolutely no reason in 3… 2… 1…” She stuck her finger in her mouth and pulled it out so that it made a popping sound with her cheek, then twirled it around in the air in front of her in mock celebration. “Yay. Freaking yay.”
Debi turned around for support and saw Lista. “Tell her she’s wrong. You like to celebrate stuff. Tell her what this really means.”
“It means that we’re about to hit that part of the year when it’s too cold outside for most people to do anything, so no swimwear or mostly naked people. They are in debt up to their eyes from the holidays and bitter about it, so they don’t go out much and when they do, they’re surly and bitter. All the plants or animals are dead or hibernating. Yeah… Good times.”
“You too Lista? God, I swear you two are the most cynical people I’ve ever met.”
“Actually”, Kym said with a slight grin, “I’m cynical, she’s just sarcastic.”
“And what’s the difference?” asked Debi, her hands on her hips.
Lista answered. “Kym uses sarcasm to make a valid point. I just want to see you cry.”
Debi made some huffing, grunting noise and stomped off for people more fun to be around.
“Hey, Lis’, you think we should lighten up on her a bit now? I’m actually starting to get these strange little feelings every time I pick on her.”
“Those are little buds of conscience trying to form. They’ll give up pretty soon. Besides, she wouldn’t keep coming around if she didn’t enjoy it in some way.”
“Maybe. Still. She’s not really the uptight, vacuous little skank I’d always thought she was.”
“Not yet. But the right coaching, who knows.”
Kym laughed at the implication, then changed the subject. “I haven’t seen Tog’s friend for a while. I wanted to ask her something. You seen her?”
“Not for a bit. But don’t go looking too hard. She’ll turn up. Maybe not ‘til morning if things go well.” She paused to let the implication sink in.
“What? Oh. Oh, god! Ha ha, seriously, her and Tog? Wait. Anyone and Tog? Wow, I never thought about him like that.”
“You never know,” she said with a wink then turned back to the screen to watch the countdown.
The following morning, Tog knocked lightly on Dawn’s door. The door slid open and Tog walked in and took a seat on a chair in the corner of the room. He looked up at her and gave a slight smile.
“Today’s the big day. You ready?”
“I think so. I’m really nervous though.”
“That’s understandable. I am too. Just remember, everything will be laid out from the start. No games. No tricks. If you want to stop at any time, all you have to do is say so.”
Together, they left the room and moved up to the common area, then into a small hallway off to one side.
“This room here,” said Tog.
“And you’ll be?”
“Right out here.”
She opened the door and a brilliant white light filled the hallway. Negotiations had begun.