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Hostile Takeover

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Ballister Blackheart contemplated the scatter of pieces on the board. He looked down at the pewter shark that was menacing his golem. He looked up at Nimona. "Nimona," he said, "there are NO SHARKS in this game." The game's brightly colored box claimed that it took 1-2 hours, was for ages 12 and up, and taught you how to run a business. He felt responsible for Nimona's education.

He was used to Nimona rewriting the rules sets. And now he knew to buy spare copies of games. She wasn't very good about not toasting the boards when she started to lose.

"Antitrust legislation is boring," Nimona said. She was sprawled on the couch kicking her heels. "Sharks make everything better." Carelessly, she lengthened one arm, scooped up the pewter shark, and moved it halfway across the board to occupy a tactically important square. "See? Now your company has a SHARK CEO. Sharks make EVERYTHING better."

Ballister felt a very familiar headache coming on. In fact, these days it never left. "Nimona," he said, "sharks make terrible CEOs."

"Have you ever tried it?"

He glowered at her.

"Anyway, it's your move." She retracted her arm and grinned at him, shark-headed. Hammerhead for extra emphasis. (She had told him that last time, when he had attempted to teach her to play backgammon without cheating.) "Hey, do we have any popcorn left? Because I am all about the popcorn."

Ballister sighed. "You'll get grease all over the game."

"But POPCORN."

"Nimona."

"Come on, being a shapeshifter means I need to eat a lot."

That much he had to concede was true. Nimona ate like, well, a shark. Certainly she had a shark's table manners. "I don't want to have to wipe grease off my game."

"You ate popcorn just the other night!"

Ah, yes, during another of Nimona's beloved zombie movies. How he had let her persuade him to keep watching them after the first one, he couldn't fathom. The filmmakers did not have any eye for the stages of human decomposition. "You weren't interested in the popcorn then," he said.

Nimona pulled a face. "I don't see how you can eat popcorn while looking at people's guts."

Ballister shook his head. "I've done a lot of medical research." He didn't look at his prosthesis. He'd stopped being self-conscious about it a long time ago. And anyway, a mere mechanical arm was small change when your sidekick was a shapeshifter.

"Pizza then?"

Ballister took the opportunity to move the pewter shark--purloined from a completely different board game, one about marine biology--and deposit it in one of Nimona's holdings. "Pizza is even worse than popcorn."

Nimona upended the board. Pieces scattered; cards fluttered to the floor. "HOSTILE TAKEOVER," she said. "Game's over! Let's eat."

"We have to clean up the pieces," Ballister said. If he couldn't teach her best business practices, at least he could try to get her to respect his need for organization? Just the other day he'd caught her rummaging among the carefully labeled and sorted containers of chemicals in one of his storage closets, instead arranging them by color. He'd almost caught himself resorting to the argument But phase two will go more smoothly if my lab space is in order.

"HOSTILE TAKEOVERS wait for no one," Nimona said. She was already out the door.

Ballister hated to think what she was up to as he knelt to pick everything up and put it back in the box. 1-2 hours? he thought. The game had barely lasted eight minutes. Maybe he should send away for one of those self-help books about how to work with sidekicks, except he doubted any of those authors could account for a Nimona.

By the time he had finished and emerged into the kitchen, Nimona was happily banging pans. "What are you trying to do?" he asked, not sure whether to be astonished or irritated.

"PERCUSSION!" she chanted, dancing away as he swiped at her in a futile effort to retrieve one of the pans. "This place is soundproofed anyway."

"I thought you were hungry!"

"I ordered pizza."

He didn't know why he tried to feed her perfectly healthy, nutritionally balanced meals of genetically enhanced anchovies, spinach, and brown rice when she would rather eat pizza. And knowing her, she'd ordered it with--"Extra cheese and pepperoni?"

Nimona beamed at him. "You're learning!"

That wasn't precisely what he had meant. "And I suppose you ordered soda too," he said, resigned.

"ALL the caffeine," she said, nodding firmly. "You can stick to that mead stuff. All sidekicks run on CAFFEINE."

Ballister hadn't touched his store of mead in the better part of a year. It was a holdover from the days when he'd retained mercenaries. Mercenaries wouldn't work for one at all without alcoholic incentives. And he might have a slight pack rat problem, so he'd never gotten rid of the stuff. At least Nimona showed no interest in it. He didn't think he could face the thought of dealing with Nimona hopped up on mead.

"I have enough trouble sleeping at night"--wondering what trouble you've gotten into--"without subjecting myself to caffeine."

"Your loss!" she sang out, and dropped the pans. They landed with a clang.

Ballister winced.

"Hey, I don't suppose you can invent something to make the pizza delivery come faster?" Nimona said, scooping the pans back up by the handles and, thankfully, depositing them on a counter. He'd have to rewash them later.

"It's already enough of a security breach that we're giving them our delivery address," Ballister said dryly.

"Beats starving."

"If you'd eat the genetically engineered--"

"NO."

Just then, they were interrupted by a chime.

"That's pizza delivery, I presume," Ballister said. He hit a button on a nearby console and sure enough, the security camera revealed a nervous-looking pizza delivery woman. Ballister frowned. "Nimona, have you been terrorizing the delivery people?"

"Maaaaaaaybe."

Well, he was going to have to tip higher to compensate. "I'll go get the pizza," he said, on the grounds that he might as well do damage control.

"Thaaaaaaank you."

Ballister shook his head and headed to the entrance. He glanced behind him. Nimona grabbed a cookbook off the shelf and was doodling bat-winged sporks in the margins. Ballister continued upstairs, although the sudden quiet made him suspicious.

"Pizza delivery?" he asked when he opened the door.

"Yes," said the pizza delivery woman. Her expression was frankly relieved.

He accepted the box of pizza and set it on a table, then watched while she double-checked that he'd paid her enough. "Keep the change," he said.

The delivery woman changed into a shark. The shark grinned. "HOSTILE TAKEOVER! I took over ALL YOUR MONEY!"

"All right," Ballister said, amused in spite of himself, "by this point I should have seen that coming." Nimona must have slipped by him--not difficult, given the number of secret passages in his lair, and her shapeshifting ability.

"Face it, Boss," Nimona said, resuming her ordinary form. "You wouldn't know what to do without me."