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The Sculptress

EQUIVALENT MASS,
OPPOSING CHARGE

by Doug Atkinson


   "Well, Kelly, it looks like some more Patrollers have gone public."
   The newspaper knocked over my fries as Kirstin slapped it onto the orange plastic table. I pulled the newspaper towards me as I scooped a couple into the little paper ketchup cup.
   "The Machine? In Denver?" I read further. "Cosmic Defender? Is this for real?" One of the fries slid off the table and onto the footrest of my wheelchair. Get it later.
   "That's USA Today, Kelly, not Weekly World News. There is a difference in reliability, you know."
   "Yes, one has color photos. Damn... hold on..." I paused in wiping up the Coke I'd spilled on the page. "It looks here like they're acting a bit more violent than the average Patroller. That's weird."
   Kirstin glanced around to see if anyone was nearby; McDonalds was as empty as always at 12:30 in the morning, though. Only the faint sound of the two cashiers chatting about "Melrose Place" reached us over the distant traffic noises.
   "I still say you should get a costume, Kelly. Go out and fight crime like these people."
   "As what? Handi-Woman? Paraplegic Princess?"
   "Role Model Girl, maybe."
   "How about Token Queen? I fill four oppressed group slots for the Patrol, after all. Besides, I don't have the body for Spandex."
   Kirstin shrugged. "So wear Kevlar. Get yourself some molded muscles, like Batman."
   "I've got some old raincoats I could--"
   I broke off as the side door of the restaurant flew open, and a man entered.
   He was tall, and walked with a long, purposeful step. His hair was white and pulled back into a ponytail, but he didn't look over thirty otherwise. A tweed cap that should have belonged to a London cabbie clashed incongruously with a denim jacket and jeans.
   His eyes darted around the restaurant quickly, soon lighting upon our table. Walking towards us, he smiled unsettlingly. I pulled myself up in my chair and silently wished I was wearing the Gauntlet.
   "All right," he said, "which one of you is the Patroller?" His voice was very low and somewhat hoarse; not quite a whisper, but more like the rasp of a precancerous smoker.
   Kirstin glanced over at me involuntarily. "Good," he said. "The other one is restrained already, and you're the only one who can be a problem tonight." I noticed for the first time that his right hand was deeply thrust into his jacket pocket... probably holding a gun. Kirstin saw it too, apparently.
   "Hold it," I said. Perhaps I could reach the Mace I hid in the framework of the chair if I distracted him. (The Recharger allows minimal violence off-duty for self-defense, and that would qualify.) "Who is the 'other one?' I thought I was the only Patroller in San Diego."
   "You are, hon. I tied up the one in Tijauna. Now, if you don't mind..."
   Before I could reach the Mace, the man withdrew his hand from his pocket and held it up. He didn't have a gun, but I would have preferred that. Instead, his hand was sheathed in metal, similar to that of the Gauntlet. Rather than the shiny silver I knew, however, it was a glossy black, like obsidian.
   He gestured towards me, and my arms were suddenly pinned to the wheelchair with a black forcefield. A similar gesture bound Kirstin as well, ankle and wrist.
   "Now, if you ladies will excuse me..." He tipped his cap graciously and strode to the front of the store. Kirstin and I were silent as the sound of his voice asking the cashiers to empty the registers drifted to us. Judging from what we overheard, he did something to incapacitate one cashier; the second one gave him as much money as she could access. To prevent her summoning help, he bound her as well. Apparently she was making too much noise; he gagged her. A pause, then the sound of the front door opening and closing.
   "Well, this sucks," Kirstin said.
   "Tell me about it. Geez, what was that?"
   "Looked like a black Gauntlet. Have you heard about anything along those lines?"
   I considered for a moment. "I don't think so. There was something about historical enemies of Civilization, but they're aliens, and I don't think this guy is." Rocking myself back and forth in the seat didn't move the chair anywhere. Looking down, I saw why; he'd thoughtfully put square blocks on the bottom of my wheels. What a sweetheart.
   "So, what now?" Kirstin asked. She slouched down in the brown plastic chair as well as she could, and clumsily drained the last of her Coke.
   "I suppose we just sit and wait until someone shows up, or the fields melt. That could take forever, though."
   "Hell. What do you suppose he wanted?"
   "Money, looks like. Look, let's not worry about it now. Once we get out of here--"if we do"--I can ask the Recharger. Until then let's talk about something else."
   We chatted on neutral topics for a while, or at least tried to. It was hard to keep off the subject of our confinement, or whether we'd ever be freed, but we tried. After an hour or so Kirstin interrupted my diatribe on my station managers to say, "Kelly? Look at your wrists."
   I looked down; the black manacles were beginning to decompose and turn gray. The process was certainly familiar, since I'd seen it happen to my own fields often enough. Never this soon, though. He must be drawing a hell of a lot of energy through his Gauntlet.
   In about 15 minutes our bonds had dissolved almost completely, and we were free. Kirstin made a mad dash for the bathroom (I had warned her about drinking the Coke while we were tied up, but she didn't listen.) After she emerged we snuck out before the two cashiers were freed, and drove back to my apartment.
   "All right, Recharger, explain this."
   " To what are you referring, Kelly?" asked the female voice. The Recharger pulsed calmly, in complete contrast to my mood. Sometimes I wished it weren't so sanguine.
   "Get the account from my mind. I don't feeling like explaining it."
   I felt a small touch against my mind, that only lasted a moment or so. The Recharger pulsed a couple of times while thinking.
   "I will attempt to contact this man's Recharger. One moment." The pyramid's glow faded, leaving it in its neutral, silver state.
   The Recharger has a much different time-scale from us mere mortals, but it's usually pretty considerate about translating to our reference frame. I took advantage of the brief pause to stretch my arms; keeping your hand on the Recharger can leave you terribly stiff if you're not careful.
   The voice and glow returned. "Kelly. I have attempted to contact this man's Recharger. I may have some disturbing news."
   Kirstin and I exchanged a glance. "What is it?"
   "First, the man's name is Sullivan Green. This is not the disturbing news." I bit down a wisecrack. "His Recharger appears to have been badly damaged by entry. This is extremely rare, but has been known to happen.
   "The ethical dampers on his Recharger have been partially relaxed. He will still lose his Gauntlet if he causes anyone more than minimal harm. However, there is no constraint against purely selfish behavior on his part. His Recharger will not attempt to stop him if he takes anything he wishes, or causes public damage."
   "So he's unstoppable?" Kirstin asked.
   "Not at all. First, you experienced one of his major limits firsthand. The extradimensional energy conduit that powers his constructions is damaged; they last for far less time than yours, and he can create fewer at a time.
   "Moreover, I fail to see how your relative ethical conditions constitute a problem. Any group of law enforcers must be more ethical than those with whom are in conflict; this is an essential part of Civilization. I am aware that you resist a role as 'crime-fighter,' but this is important. He is likely to return at a later time; you must be prepared to apprehend him and turn him over to the authorities."
   I looked over at Kirstin. "Role Model Girl, you were saying?"

--TO BE CONTINUED--


The Patrol created by Mike Montoure
The Machine created by Dave van Domelen
Sullivan Green concept created by Tom Ward

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