Settling the Score
In which Dodger is too late
After the first strike, Torque sprang to life, his head spinning in circles while he staggered about as if recovering from a drunken stupor.
“There we are,” the doc said. “A little percussive maintenance always does the trick. Torque? Torque, are you fully functioning?”
“Wha, wha what happened?” the clockwork man asked. He paused and looked down at his open chest, touching the keyboard inside. A tin whistle of a gasp sounded. “My god! Is there no mercy in the world! You’ve done it to me again! You’ve dragged me out to the middle of nowhere and forced me to do god only knows what while you delight in my-”
“Torque!” the doc shouted and threw his arms around the mechanical man, knocking both of them to the ground. “It’s really you!”
Sarah clapped and giggled in glee.
“Get off of me!” Torque shouted. “Let me go you overbearing man child!”
“I shall not,” the doc said, squeezing his butler tightly. “I shall never let you go again.”
“I am doomed!” Torque lamented. He brought his metal hand to his forehead and wailed. “Doomed! I shall never be rid of your torment!”
Dodger was pleased to see the metal man in motion once more, and doubly happy that Torque sounded back to his true self. Glancing up at the PAUL, Dodger wondered if the same could be said of Boon. He stepped up to the massive machine and rapped on the cooling metal casing.
“Boon?” Dodger said. “Boon? You in there?”
The massive machine remained silent.
The struggle between the doc and Torque ceased as everyone turned their attention to the motionless giant.
“Is he still alive?” Sarah said.
It was a hard question to answer, considering the machine was never really alive to begin with, while the spirit inside had a living body somewhere, out there.
“What in the world is that thing?” Torque said.
“You don’t remember?” the doc said.
“The last thing I remember is standing outside of the mines …” the clockwork man paused as he gasped once more. “They did it again! Why, of all the diabolical-”
“Not now, Torque,” Dodger said, silencing the clockwork man’s rant. Reaching up, Dodger rapped the huge machine again and called out, “Boon! Can you hear me?”
“Mr. Dodger,” the doc said. “Try to open his panel.”
Dodger reached above his head toward the slumping machine, but couldn’t get to it.
“I can do it,” Duncan said. He upped his size and managed to get the panel open with a simple push.
“Good,” the doc said. “There should be a red button the size of my thumb in the lower half of the panel. See it?”
Duncan peered into the cavity of the PAUL. “Yeah, I see it.”
“Press it, hold it down for five seconds, then release it. That should restart the system.”
“Will it work with Boon inside of it?” Dodger said. “The original working of PAUL was damaged by Mayor White.”
“I realize that, Mr. Dodger,” the doc said. “I managed to reroute the power systems to a small backup battery, so Boon could relax in his control of the PAUL when not in full operational mode. The button should reset that battery, bringing the whole thing into a refreshed state. When it restarts, the machine will immediately read the inserted cylinder, seeking its new instructions. With the SPOOK in place, Boon should return to control. At least, I hope as much. Go ahead, press the button.”
Duncan reached into the panel and pressed the button, holding it down for the prescribed seconds then releasing.
The machine gave a soft whirr and click as the SPOOK settled into place inside of the chest panel.
“Close the panel,” the doc said. “And step back.”
Duncan pushed the panel closed and moved away as he reduced to his normal size once more.
The PAUL remained motionless for a few more seconds, then stood to its full height. The narrow bar across the face lit with a soft blue glow, turning to look down at Dodger. “Dodger? Is that you? Where are we?” Boon held his hands in front of his huge face. “Whoa. Am I controlling this thing?”
“Ah,” the doc said. “He sounds back to himself as well, and he doesn’t remember the last day or so either. It’s just as well. I don’t recommend it.”
“Why?” Boon said. “Did I do something terrible?” He glanced over the field from Duncan to the Jenny and back again. “I did that, didn’t I? Duncan, what are you doing here? So much I don’t understand. I think I need to sit down.”
“No time for that,” Dodger said. “We need to head back to the line so we can get a move on. Rex is still several days away and we have wasted enough time as it is.”
“What about my plane?” Henry said.
“Boon,” Doger said. “Grab up that netting, be careful with the contents. Bring it and follow us back to the circus.”
“Circus?” Boon said.
“Yes and save your questions for later. We have more than enough to talk about as it is.”
The return trip was filled with excited conversation and joyful complaining. Dodger never thought he would be so happy to hear Torque’s whining voice once more. Sarah and Henry really seemed to hit it off, giggling like a pair of school children over Torque’s unique brand of belligerence. For once, everything seemed to work out for the best. Boon was back to his normal self, as was Torque. Henry not only got his aircraft back, but the doc was confident he could put the device together enough to keep the young man from suffering anymore. Maybe even get the lad back to his proper time.
The Rhino sped past the elephant, everyone waving at the handler on the way.
“An elephant?” Boon shouted behind them. “What else have I missed?”
“You don’t want to know,” Dodger said under his breath.
The doc set to laughing, which got Sarah and Henry started. Duncan joined in, and soon Dodger chuckled as well. Everything seemed good. Everything seemed right.
Dodger smiled, and felt at blessed peace for that single hour’s ride.
Once they returned to the line, they found the circus folk gathered, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their elephant. Dodger slowed the vehicle to the edge of the group, closer to the line than the camp. To his surprise, Ched sat on the cargo steps, chewing on a blade of grass and barely keeping a lazy eye on a bound and seated Kitty.
Bigby ran to meet the Rhino before Dodger even brought it to a complete stop. “What happened? Where is my Baby?”
“The collar is disabled,” the doc said as he climbed out of the Rhino. “We will still need to remove it but its effects are no more. Your elephant should be back within the hour.”
“Marvelous.” He turned to his crew and waved. “Success!”
The crowed gave a collective sigh of relief and immediately rushed forward to see what the giant Boon had in his enormous net. Boon carefully lowered the contents, allowing the circus folks to begin untangling the Jenny from the ropes.
Bigby drew a bit closer to the Rhino as he added, “And you, young Henry?”
“We got the Jenny back,” Henry said, pointing to the net. “As well as both halves of the device. It all worked out. It’s gonna be okay.”
“He’s correct,” the doc said. “For once I think everything is going to be okay, to use young Henry’s unusual vernacular.”
Boon stepped back from the crowd around the net as Henry ran forward to see what was left of his aircraft. “I don’t know what that thing is, but it sure seems to be important to that young man.” The PAUL shifted a few steps to the line, then stopped as Boon got a gander of who sat on the ground. “Is that who I think it is?”
“Unfortunately,” Dodger said. “What is she doing out here?”
“She shtarted getting’ shick again,” Ched said. “Feng shaid she needed shome fresh air.”
“She probably does,” the doc said.
“How can you stand being near him?” Kitty said. She retched over dramatically.
“Because he is our friend,” Sarah said.
“Correct,” the doc said. “Come along, Ched, let’s go see how we can help Mr. Henry with his plane. I will need your mechanical expertise on this one, I should think.” The doc wandered away to join the lingering spectators around the broken Jenny.
Ched followed in lazy, loping steps, leaving Dodger to keep watch over the prisoner.
“I don’t understand,” Boon said. “What is Kitty doing here?”
Dodger grimaced as soon as the woman’s name hit the open air. Boon not only forgot the last few hours, he also forgot Dodger’s simple request. Sarah had yet to know who the woman was, now there was no hiding the fact.
“What did he say?” Sarah said. She lost her easy humor in favor of a clouded confusion.
“Boon!” the doc shouted. “I need you to help me get this net off.”
“Yes, sir,” Boon said and left Dodger alone to deal with the repercussion of the spirit’s accidental verbal mistake.
“Kitty?” Sarah said. She blinked and stared hard at the bound woman seated on the dirt not a few feet away. That confusion was giving way to pure anger boiling up from inside the young thing.
Dodger took a few quick steps to the young girl’s side. “Sarah, try to keep calm.”
“Kitty?” Sarah said again.
Kitty raised her head and sneered at the child. “Yeah. And who the hell are you?”
While squeezing Sarah’s shoulder, Dodger whispered, “Just ignore her.”
“That’s her isn’t it?” Sarah said softly. She began to tremble under Dodger’s hand. “She’s the one who killed Uncle Al.”
“Yeah, she is, but don’t worry about her. Let’s just leave her to Ched and get back to the others. The doc will need us to help him with the Jenny.”
“Hey,” Kitty said. “You’re that brat from the farm. That old moron’s student. I thought we killed you.” Kitty grinned wide. “I know we’re gonna kill that brat brother of yours.”
The girl’s jaw tightened.
“Sarah,” Dodger warned.
Through clenched teeth she said, “But she did it. She killed my Al.”
“I know, darlin’. And I know what you want to do, but right now you need to walk away and cool your head before you do something you’ll regret. You need to focus on what’s important, and she ain’t it.”
Sarah balled her little fists and shook under Dodger’s hand with undisguised rage. “I know what’s important. I know what to do.”
The gun was out of Dodger’s holster before he even realized the child had moved. Damn Al and his thorough teachings! The kid moved like a greased pig down a slippery drain pipe, sliding Hortense from the holster and bringing it to a bead on the bound woman in mere seconds.
“Sarah, no!” Dodger shouted.
The blast of the gun silenced his plea, shattering that brief moment of peace and plunging Dodger back into the darkness of death and destruction he had come to know so well.
The bullet hit Kitty’s left shoulder, blooming with a burst of blood as it slid through her and struck the copper plating behind her. She fell back in response to the power and proximity of the shot, hitting the dirt in a hard slam. The wound immediately welled with blood, pooling in a wide arc around the fallen woman.
Behind them, the crowd shouted in surprised reaction to the unexpected gunfire. Folks hollered, some ran about, everyone panicking as no one knew what was going on in that first few moments of uncertainty. During all of this, Dodger turned slowly just as Sarah cried out from the pain of the gun’s recoil. She ignored her injured hand and tried to cock the hammer again so she cold aim once more at Kitty. Time slowed to a stop, as it often did in these moments for Dodger, as his analytical and tactical mind took over the situation. Everything froze. Everything stopped. Dodger took it all in, raking it over in his mind with fine tuned precision.
Kitty lay dying in the dirt.
Sarah struggled with the gun, prepared to fire again, to finish the deed.
And this was what Dodger wanted all along.
“No,” someone said. “It’s not what you want. Not really.”
Dodger listened to this familiar and quite feminine inner voice.
“You know this isn’t what you want,” Miss Rebecca said as she stepped off of the line and into the frozen moment. “Not really.”
“What are you doing in my head?” Dodger said.
“You have my blood running through your veins, Rodger Dodger. I will always be inside you.” She purred this last part, making it sound far more erotic than it should have. Rebecca stood over the dying woman, clucking her tongue. “She is losing a lot of blood. You will have to act fast to save her. Especially if that child fires off another shot. All of that delicious blood, wasted.”
“What makes you think I want to save her?” Dodger sneered. “She deserves this, after what she has done to me. To Sarah. To everyone. Who knows how many lives she has ruined working for that maniac.”
“Oh trust me, hon, I have no doubt that she deserves this. I also have no doubt you wanted it, or else you wouldn’t have let her touch your weapon.”
“I didn’t let her. You act like I just handed it to her.”
“Oh really? And how many times in the great career of Rodger Dodger has anyone gotten their hands on your holstered gun? Let alone a child?”
Dodger gritted his teeth, yet couldn’t deny it. Perhaps there was some truth to it. Perhaps he felt the weight of Sarah’s hand on his weapon, and chose to ignore it rather than act. Perhaps.
“I have no doubt this one deserves everything coming to her.” Rebecca slipped across the scene, as silent as a shadow, until she stood behind Sarah. “However, this one doesn’t deserve it. Not now. Not ever.”
“I don’t know what you mean by-”
“How did it feel to take your first human life?” Rebecca asked over him. She moved again, slower this time, slinking her way across the frozen landscape until she was practically atop of Dodger, pressing her body against his. “How did it feel to have that much power?” She nuzzled her mouth against his neck, her cold breath bringing gooseflesh to rise across his arms. “To kill without remorse? Without pity? Without concern?”
Dodger thought on this a moment. “Horrible. It felt horrible. I thought it would feel good, but it was awful.”
“And it changed the course of your entire life. If you hadn’t killed that first man, where would you be now? Nursing your elderly mother who is still proud of her good son? Maybe married to a strong woman, raising a family of your own?”
He closed his eyes, trying to push the Forsaken away from his mind. Dodger needed this fraction of time to plan and act, not land on the receiving end of a lousy sermon from a no good vampire.
“But no,” Rebecca said, holding on firmly to his mind. “The second you lit that fire, you determined the rest of your life. Even before then. The moment you decided you wanted your stepfather dead you were never the same. You could never go back from that. But she still has a chance. She is still so innocent.”
Dodger caught the vampire close to him, snapping her hips against his and wrapping his arms around her body. “We all lose our innocence eventually. Even Al taught me that much.”
Rebecca gave a sad smile as she looked up at him. “You didn’t lose your innocence. You gave it away. You traded it for a life of hate and misery. But she still has the choice, Dodger. Don’t let her ruin her life like you ruined yours. Not for this. Revenge is never worth it. It never tastes as sweet as blood spilled for pleasure.” She raked her teeth along his neck, shivering as she licked along the broken skin.
“What can I do?” he whispered.
Rebecca pulled away from his neck, a bead of blood running from her ruby lips. “Stop her. Stop this. Make her understand this isn’t the way. Swift justice comes at a terrible price. Show her how to be better.”
With that, the woman was gone and Dodger was alone in his frozen moment once more.
He knew what he needed to do.
He didn’t like it.
But he reckoned he was gonna do it anyways.
End Volume Eleven