“Everyone, guns down,” said Mario, frantically gesturing with his hands.
This was probably mostly for my benefit, since he followed it up with a lot of very fast French talking. It didn’t have much of an impact, other than me not getting shot again.
Most of the soldiers just kind of stood there, guns not pointed at me, but not dropped either. One of them was checking on their Ultra. One of them was standing by the hostage, pointedly not pointing a gun at her. The sharpshooter (as I thought of the guy who’d started out in back with the Ultra and shot during our fight) was arguing with Mario.
This seemed like it might go on for a bit, so I started to walk back over to my pull wagon. As soon as I took a step the guns came back up and then Mario and the shooter were yelling at the rest of the soldiers instead of each other. They hesitated and then pointed them down again.
I got to the wagon and took out my mask. Its really cool. It looks like a big lizard’s face kind of, but flatter. I wish I could say that its GreaterGator’s real mask, but actually Adder made it for me after we watched BloodBattle 2042 together. Refiner blessed it after I built him a statue, so it is super useful to have when guys are shooting me. Little late today.
When I put my mask on and looked back at them I was disappointed that none of them seemed to recognize me. I guess they don’t like watching old pro wrestling movies wherever these guys were from. I walked back over to them.
Mario turned to me. He seemed really exasperated or frustrated. Maybe that was just being scared though. I’m not really good at reading people.
“Why didn’t you use your power from the start of the fight?” he asked.
I sort of shrugged. I didn’t exactly see why I had to say that, considering that I won the fight. It wasn’t exactly secret, but I just didn’t feel like saying.
“I only ask” he pressed on, “because some of the guys think you’ve run out of juice or whatever.”
“Nah” I said. I appreciated that he was trying to sound more like me.
I figured they might not believe me, so I asked my gift to make itself obvious. I wasn’t sure exactly how this would go, but a moment later there was shudder in the ground.
Before anything could even start to happen the soldiers started throwing down their guns and putting their hands up. They scanned the ground around them like I was about to hit them with earth hammers like I had their boss.
Mario started to say something in French when the blonde lady snatched up the gun that the guy standing by her had been carrying and pointed it at him. The soldiers dove for their guns and everyone was pointing them at everyone else again.
“Motherfuckers!” she yelled, voice cracked and broken. She didn’t pull the trigger, but she moved the gun higher and closer to him a few times, sort of thrusting it at the guy.
“Calm down! Calm down!” yelled Mario, who still didn’t have a gun. He had his hands up and was yelling not just to her, but to the rest of them as well.
“Put the guns down” I said, and once again the ground shook. I wasn’t yelling, but somehow my voice seemed to reach everyone. They lowered their guns and pointed them at the ground. She took a second longer, but she lowered her gun too.
“All the way down, set them on the ground.” I said. There was a clatter as everyone complied.
As their guns hit the turf they sank into it. My gift just sort of scooped each of them down into the ground where nobody would shoot them. I hadn’t exactly intended that, but it was great.
“Ok” I said to the soldiers and Mario. “Now you guys go away.”
Its hard to describe the looks that passed over their faces, or at least the one’s I could see. Mario’s and the lady’s. Baffled, relieved, incredulous… Basically their eyes got wider and their mouths hung open a bit.
“You’re letting them go?” she asked, at the same time as Mario said “You’re letting us go?”.
“Yeah” I said. “I don’t want to keep fighting, and I don’t really want to talk with you, so I’d like you to go away.”
Mario gaped a moment longer, but the soldiers were already moving off back the way that they came. Two of them picked up the Ultra between them and carried her. Another came to their aid even as they started off. She probably wouldn’t die. Even Ultras without Ultra toughness tended to take a bit more than a person would to go. Adder once told me that the world cherished us, and as long as we weren’t dead we’d tend to get better.
The lady walked over to me. She was smaller than me, but still pretty tall. Older and blonde, with the wrinkles just starting to show up. She had tears in her eyes and she was still really angry.
“Do you know what those bastards did to me?” she asked.
“Uh, no.” I said, dropping my gaze to my feet. It felt like she was going to tell me, but I didn’t really want to know.
“They kidnapped me.” she said. “They took me from my HOME. They took me in the middle of the damn night. Dragged me onto their ship and…” she trailed off.
“Ok” I said, trying to keep my voice casual. It seemed like she was about to ask me to kill them, but I hoped she wouldn’t. I tried not to kill folks.
“They, they…” she lost track of what she was saying for a second, then rallied. “they were snatching people up for a week, from what they said. They were asking for information about this stupid road. Nobody knew anything, so they’d move to the next little town and grab another person. As if we know why big city Ultras do anything!”
“Jerks” I said, trying for a ‘there there’ kind of vibe.
“You have your stupid Ultra fights.” she said, glaring at me. This was alarming. Why was she mad at me? “And you don’t care, you don’t even CARE, about who gets caught up in them!”
“Woah.” I said, uncomfortable. “I care. I do, I swear. Remember, I saved you when she was going to shoot you? I’m the good guy!”
She scowled. I shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable. I had the strangest feeling that I was wrong, somehow. Like a bruise on my mind. It made me keep talking.
“I work way out here where no one gets hurt if someone comes after me.” She kept staring, giving me nothing. I kept babbling. “I try and make sure that no one dies when we fight. I’m building a new road.”
Her glare kind of faded out, and she looked away.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You are right, of course.” It didn’t sound like she really meant what she was saying, but she’d been through a lot.
“Ok, cool.” I said.
There was an uncomfortable silence. The soldiers were reaching the edge of the range I could feel their footfalls at. They were still carrying the Ultra along with them.
“I’m Indulger, or Dale, whichever you prefer.” I told her. It was getting awkward just standing there.
“Blair” she responded.
“Ok, Blair” I said. “I’m going to get back to working on my road. There’s candy in the pull wagon. You can help yourself before you head out.”
She nodded, almost absently. Then she went over to the wagon. Instead of eating anything she pulled off my old army blanket and curled up under it.
I wasn’t immediately sure how to react to that, but I didn’t really want to confront her about it, so I just lay down and continued to work on the road.
It was slow going. Images of the fight kept filling my mind, making little statues or depressions form out of the stone that I was trying to mold into a road.
This was always the way for me. My gift worked well enough in a fight, or at a critical time, but when I was just trying to move the ground around with no tension or stakes he balked or shifted wrong.
I made slow, steady progress during the remainder of the day. It was hard. I had to fetch so much rock, and set it into place just right. Then I had to get the next bit, and not mess with the parts I’d already made. One time, early on, I’d found out that my gift was just snatching road from outside of where I could sense and adding it to the front, which obviously wasn’t useful. I had to be sure that this was new rock, pulled out from deep in the ground, or off of a nearby hillside, or wherever.
All day, Blair just rested. She only slept a few hours, but even after she just lay there. The ground helpfully let me know that she was crying, or, at least, that there were tear-force impacts coming off her face. I let her be. I didn’t have a lot to say to her.
As it started to get dark I walked over to the wagon. She tensed, but I didn’t take the blanket back. I set up my viewer and sat down, scanning through the old wrestling programs that were saved on it. I picked BloodFest 14, an old favorite. One of the classics.
I watched it for the next three or four hours. I got into it, mimicking GreaterGator’s moves and slamming dirt manikins into the ground. He liked wrestling too, so he was obliging about bringing them up for me to take care of.
The ground let me know that she sort of shifted when I started watching the program, rolling over and changing where she was looking so she could see the screen. As it wore on she sat up and watched openly. She never applauded or reacted, but I hoped that she enjoyed the program. We’ve lost a lot of culture. Very few folks get to see pro wrestling nowadays.
After that I went to bed. I just lay down on the ground and sank into it. I figured it would be safer to sleep under it instead of on it. Channels too small to see would carry the air from my mouth and nose to the surface. If anyone moved towards me the ground would wake me up before it got to me.
When I got up in the morning, Blair was still there. She was up and sitting by my pull wagon, and she’d eaten some of my candy. She looked over at me with basically no expression.
I walked over to her. This might be awkward.
“Uh” I started off. Yep, awkward.
“Uh, I was sort of thinking you’d go away.”
“That doesn’t seem very safe.” She scratched under one arm as she said this, still looking right at me.
“Well.” I said. Then I didn’t say anything.
She didn’t say anything either. The silence just sort of stretched.
“The only food I have is those candies” I tried. “You’ll starve if you hang out with me way out here between towns.”
“It takes a long time for a person to starve” she said. “Also, I can hunt for food. That’s one of the things I did for my town.”
I gaped at her. Hunting? Did that mean that her town didn’t have a Company Facility to give them protein paste? Where had they snatched her from anyway?
“Oh. Well. You’ll be bored.” I didn’t really want to just tell her to go, but that was the direction that this conversation was going.
“No doubt I would” she said. “But, listen, Dale, can we make a deal?”
I stood looking at her for a while. I didn’t see that she had anything that I needed, or wanted, but maybe I just didn’t know it. I didn’t see what I could do for her, but maybe she’d tell me. No harm in saying yes.
“Sure, maybe” I said.
“I’d like to travel with you for a while. We could go to towns and build things that help people. I’ll do the talking and arrange everything, you use your gift.”
She smiled slightly while she said that. It was a friendly smile.
“Um. What would you be putting in? I kind of already do that.”
She pointed at the viewer.
“In that program you were watching, a lot of the wrestlers had managers, right? They distracted the referees and held the ropes. They carried their stuff and made themselves useful?”
“The heels, mostly” I said. “But I’m not really a wrestler. I’m an Ultra. I don’t think I need someone to tell me what to do.”
“Not what to do. More like…how to things. Or how to do them best.” She blinked a few times. “I’m pretty clever. I’ll make myself handy.”
“I dunno.” I hemmed and hawwed.
“Look, how about this. You are trying to build a road, right?”
I nodded, not sure where she was going with this.
“How long has it taken you so far?” she asked, innocently but not really.
“Well.” I said, seeing the trap. “I mean, its not like I keep an exact count.”
“Yesterday, after we showed up, you added, what, a hundred feet to the road?” She was asking a question, but she knew the answer.
“Well, yeah. But some days I do a bit more.” I said.
“So, you’ve been out here for weeks.”
“Well…” she had that right. “Yeah, I guess. More like a couple months if I’m being careful about it.”
“If I can tell you a way where it doesn’t take months to build a road, would you agree that I can make a valuable contribution to your work?” She smiled again.
I put my hands on my hips.
“Listen, little girl.” I said, in my best heel voice. “I know how my gift works, and you don’t. I seriously doubt you’ll think of a way for me to do this faster that I haven’t thought of.”
“What about fixing the existing road?” she asked.
“The road that’s already there? Its got wrecked cars all over it. They aren’t part of the ground, so I can’t make them move like I want to.”
She shrugged. “So make the ground move like a wave, and push them aside.”
“Its broken in some places.”
“In those places you’ve got to bring up new road, like you are already doing for the entire length of your new construction.”
“Well, there’s got to be some…” I trailed off as I felt the ground shifting very slightly beneath my feet. He was laughing at me. He’d thought of this straight off from the start. More, I could tell he liked Blair.
She looked carefully off into the distance. Not gloating or anything. Not pressing. Letting me think it through.
“I guess you’ve got a point.” I told my manager.