Times New Roman sighed as he looked through the stack of paperwork next to him. It was always paperwork. Nothing but paperwork.
Not that he minded. It was just, sometimes he wished life would be different. Oh, not more exciting—the great stresses of the world were too much for him. But...different.
“Well hello there!” Comic Sans came bounding into the office, superhero cape trailing behind him, without stopping to knock. “How's our chieftain doing today?”
“I'm fine. How are you?”
“Just splendid! I say, I think I may have found the lady for you.”
That was Comic Sans—always trying to save the day, even when it really wasn't necessary. “I think you probably haven't.”
“Hey, I have a discerning eye! Verdana was gorgeous!”
“She dyed her hair green, that's not my style—”
“Calibri looks up to you, she could be your cute young—”
“She admires me, but I think she just wants to stage a coup and declare herself the leader by default. I don't trust her.”
“Helvetica, then.” Comic Sans crossed his arms.
“A born leader. No serifs, so she'll counterbalance you. You need someone you can relax with.”
“Helvetica's dead. You told me that yourself, the other day!” Comic Sans had shown up, guilt-ridden that he hadn't arrived in time to prevent a fatal clash between Helvetica and Arial's gangs.
“Oh.” Comic Sans wrinkled his face, thinking. “Yeah, I did. Huh. How about that! Well, I saw her walking around outside, so she must be alive after all. What a relief!”
“We need to take this seriously!” said Times. “If she's still alive, Arial might be nearby as well. Or do you have any idea, how they could have come back from the dead?”
“Maybe Helvetica's just divine. Can't be killed.”
“I hadn't heard that one.”
Comic Sans shrugged. “All right, then.”
Times New Roman walked out of the building with him. “All right, guards?” he said, nodding at the small troop of guards who'd been pretty ineffective at keeping the peace during the font conferences. “Forget standing around here, I want you looking for any of Helvetica or Arial or their known associates. Check out Arial's family—her brother, Arial Narrow, will snap at you, but I bet you can make him talk. And her husband, Arial Black, was griefstricken, so see if you notice any changes in his behavior.”
They saluted, and paced off.
For a while, Times New Roman was content pushing papers, having no word from the guards—and at least Comic Sans appeared to be keeping quiet, rather than trying to “help” any further. The downside of this was that, while the guards were no longer around, there was no one to keep Wingdings out of the conference hall. “What do you want?” Times New Roman snapped.
“A” Wingdings repeated, making the peace sign.
“Okay, sorry. I've been under a lot of stress, with all this business with Arial and Helvetica—you haven't seen either of them, have you?”
Wingdings shook his head.
“All this business about Helvetica supposedly coming back from the dead...do you really think that's possible? That she's some sort of god of the fonts?”
“There are a whole lot of religions out there already, yeah. I should be happy, if they've been resurrected—but it's hard to be faithful. I'm just fed up with it.”
“Yeah, it does make me cross. Well, listen, if you get any word from them, you should tell me right away, yeah?”
Wingdings hesitated. “}L”
“I don't get sad, talking to you! It takes...a little bit of effort, but it's worth it.”
“Would it help to have someone to practice speaking with? Maybe that way you won't get so afraid about talking to people.”
“I mean—yeah, I get kind of crabby in the conference, a lot of people do. But if it was just the two of us? Then nobody else would get mad if you were interrupting, we could practice together.”
“JC” Wingdings smiled and gave a thumbs-up.
“Great. Well. I'll see you around.”
And so Times New Roman continued his investigations, aided—or not—by Comic Sans. “Guess where I've been?” asked the latter.
“Chicago. Monaco. Geneva! I don't know, tell me.”
“In the warehouse where the gang fight happened.”
“Even later than you were needed.”
“That was low.”
“Sorry, I've been busy. What did you find?”
“Evidence.” Comic Sans produced a beat-up college sweatshirt. “We think this was Party LET's. Or maybe Princetown. They must have left it when they came to and fled.”
“And what does that prove?”
“Uh...nothing, but it's a start!”
“Do you have any other leads?”
“Er...Verdana's been in a bad mood.”
“Because I wouldn't go on a date with her? Maybe you should think twice before setting me up with—”
“Oh, no, she's seeing Sybil Green now.”
“Really? Good for them!” At least if the women fought, it wouldn't be over anything more important than whose hair was brighter.
“Yeah. But she's in a sulk about the whole Helvetica thing, I don't think she likes the idea of a font god.”
“Well, of course she'd be unsettled. She's a humanist!”
“That's a good point. Do you know any others, who might be feeling the strain?”
Wingdings had returned once again.
“The archer?” Times New Roman asked. “Yeah, Tahoma was—is—a humanist too. If anyone knows how to hold a grudge, he does. He'll be off tracking Helvetica—so it's all the more important you track her down before he finds her, Comic Sans. We have to make sure the fonts can live in peace, this time.”
“Happy to serve!” said Comic Sans. “But, uh, Wingdings? What are you doing here?”
“Wingdings and I were just going to have a little conversation,” said Times New Roman. “Nothing to worry about, you go hunt down those fonts.”
“You really trust me?”
“You're the best superhero in town.” Wingdings was glancing skeptically at Comic Sans' bright underpants, and Times New Roman amended, “Well, the only superhero in town. Look, I don't think even Wingdings here knew how to rescue Courier and Curlz MT! Mailbox, open mailbox doesn't mean anything on its own. Like it or not, you're our best shot—Wingdings?”
“Don't be sad—no, I didn't mean it like that—you've come so far in this short time, right? You make a lot more sense, now. C'mon, Wingdings...”
But Wingdings had sulked off, following Comic Sans out of the conference building.
Shaking his head, Times New Roman decided he wasn't going to let the incident get to him. He was a very busy font. And sure enough, at least one of his schemes had panned out; the guards were back. “We've seen some bent trash cans that should be Magneto's work. And a bindlestick that looked like Poor Richard's. They're out there, somewhere.”
“But that doesn't answer the question of how they survived.”
“We know a lot of these fonts are resistant to bullets—they tote them around with them. Maybe they use the return key to return from the dead. Whatever the case, it's not worth getting worked up about.”
“Until they start killing each other again!”
“Take it easy, New Roman.”
“I'll rest when the fonts are accounted for.”
“Yeah. Okay. Look, can I give you some advice?”
“Go find that Wingdings and apologize to him. I think he misses you. Remember, you kicked him out once and, well, not even we had the heart to bar him, once he turned around.”
Times New Roman sighed. “Yeah. You're right.”
And so he left the conference and his papers entirely, seeking out Wingdings. “I'm sorry,” he said again. “If you'd ever want to practice again, you know where to find me.”
Wingdings made no reply. Times hesitated, but then slunk off on his own, not really expecting Wingdings to show up a few days later.
But show up he did, awkwardly hanging in the doorway. “C'mon in,” said Times New Roman. “Anything you want to talk about? Your family? You have a couple little sisters, right?”
Wingdings nodded. “A RY”
“Wingdings 2...likes to tan and is Jewish? What does she make of the whole Helvetica thing?”
Wingdings shook his head. “abcdefghi^_`”
“Is an astrologer? Watches the stars...she's really into stars.”
A tentative smile. “B CDEFGH”
“Wingdings 3...likes to point fingers?”
“She likes to point arrows. In every direction.”
“Yeah. And your great-aunt?”
“R' p ?@”
“Bright...clear...Lucida Calligraphy! Yeah, she's a sweetheart.”
And back and forth they went. “Are you okay?” Times New Roman finally asked.
“That's what I like to hear.”
Times felt calmer after that. If Wingdings could forgive him, then the other fonts—none of whom he'd ever had to evict from official proceedings—had no cause to complain. Even if Helvetica and Arial never came back, there shouldn't have been any serious challenges to his leadership.
Yet he couldn't relax completely, not until they had closure one way or another. And it was Comic Sans, once again, who found the proof. “Poor Richard is alive! I think Arial is, too. He was prowling around some footers on the outskirts, I bet he wants revenge.”
Times New Roman felt himself exhaling, but tried to stay on the level. “Have you talked to him?”
“No. He didn't see me. I think he's just a failure at staying undercover.”
“As well as everything else in life. Okay, give me the coordinates of where you think you saw Arial—row and column—and I'll go talk to her.”
“Sure thing. Any word from her family?”
“No, which surprises me—Arial Black might be lying, but Arial Narrow, I'd expect him to just blurt out the truth if he was in a tight spot. Oh well, you never know with these sans serifs—no offense meant.”
“None taken. He's always so loud and noisy, I don't think that baseball hat fits him. Cramping his style.”
“I'll have to tell him to stop with the Caps Lock.”
“So, while you're on the prowl, I stay back and beat up Poor Richard if he gets close, right?”
“No, Comic Sans, this is not the time for vigilante justice!”
“No. I don't care if you want to stay hidden or hang around to provide relief, but we're not going to engrave any more tombstones. Not if I can help it.”
“Fine,” Comic Sans said, then added a “killjoy.”
But Times New Roman tuned him out, concentrating on the task at hand. Would Arial heed him? When she'd already hidden from her family? Or would hearing about Poor Richard motivate her to take revenge? And how, how could she have lived through the gang fight?
There was nothing to do but go over the directions, dotting his is and crossing his ts. Finally, when he could wait no longer, he set out. Sure enough, there was a figure in the shadows, and not the quiet Poor Richard.
“Arial!” he hissed.
“Arial!” he tried again. “It's me, Times New Roman, I want to help.”
“Arial! Listen to me, you're in trouble.”
Then she turned. “Oh, please. Like I'd hurt her!”
“Who are you?” Times New Roman blurted, just as she said “Who are you talking to?”
Times New Roman paused. “Helvetica?”
“What do you want?”
“I—I thought—did you send Poor Richard here?”
“Poor Richard? I haven't seen him in weeks. What are you doing here?”
“I—I came to protect—you—Arial—how are you alive?”
“I have a healthy diet. Lots of Swiss cheese.”
“Come on, I know about the fight.”
“You weren't supposed to,” Helvetica sighed, “but okay. I came to, but I definitely wasn't healthy—I could barely stand up, that's how italic I felt, just leaning against a wall and trying to get my strength back. My wounds were acute, and everyone else was in grave condition. So I just tried to tie up my friends, as best as I could, and while I was helping them, they started gaining consciousness again.”
“So you healed them?”
“I'm not really sure what happened. But pretty soon enough, they were healthy enough to run away. I decided I couldn't just leave Arial and the others, so I tried—healing them, yeah, a little bit. But I was gone before they came to.”
“You didn't want to take credit?”
“Nope. This way I really can get one over on her.”
Times New Roman nodded—it made a bizarre sort of sense, in its way. “But you haven't seen Poor Richard, either?”
“No. Is he all right?”
Before Times New Roman could admit that he didn't know, “He's perfectly fine!” echoed across the way.
“Comic Sans,” groaned Times, “I told you to stay out of this!”
“So I had it all wrong.” Times might once have muttered how unsurprising that was, but he kept quiet long enough for Comic Sans to continue. “Poor Richard's been in communication with Arial—she wants to turn him against Helvetica, er, you, since you weren't that great at keeping him healthy last time he tried working for you.”
“Where'd he go?”
“Oh, home. Or wherever he sleeps these days. I bribed him to go away.”
“Comic Sans! You can't go around bribing people, did that work against Ransom?”
“It's Poor Richard we're talking about. It doesn't take much to buy his services.”
“That's a good point.” Times New Roman turned back to Helvetica. “I'm glad you're alive, but you and Arial need to settle your business once and for all. Preferably in public, so we can put all this god-rhetoric to rest...unless you want to be worshiped?”
“By Poor Richard? That double-crosser? No, thank you,” she shuddered. “If you hunt down Arial, I'll bring my gang to the conference.”
“I can do it,” Comic Sans immediately volunteered.
“Are you sure?” Times New Roman asked.
“Definitely. Besides, I'm armed! No one's going to mess with my double dagger.‡”
“All right. I trust you. But don't make me regret it.”
“It won't take much. All I need is to promise her another shot at Helvetica. So you'd better have a good plan.”
Helvetica nodded. “Leave that to me.”
So sure enough, at the next meeting of the conference, Times New Roman announced, “Thank you for coming on short notice. Today, we'll be going a bit off-script. Comic Sans, if you will?”
“Oh, what now?” groaned Arial Narrow. Just before Comic Sans proudly walked into the room, Arial and her gang trailing in his wake. Blushing, she took a seat by her brother and husband, who both were clearly shocked. “You?” Arial Narrow finally stammered.
“Please, calm down,” said Times, as the other fonts began to gasp. Comic Sans stepped out again, returning once again with Helvetica's gang, who filed into the remaining seats (Poor Richard tripping over a seat in the back row, and Comic Sans rushing to prop him up), while Helvetica came down to the podium.
“You!” Arial stood up. “New Roman, where are the guards? Let's have her brought to justice!”
“I sent them away,” Times said. “I think you'll be very interested in what she has to say.”
“I've heard all the talk I need to, and more! You shouldn't have lived through that!”
“Lived through what?” asked Arial Black.
“Excuse me?” said Helvetica. “Yes. Hello. Um, I actually came here to apologize.”
“To you. But before I do that, let me explain. To those of you who don't know me, er, hello, I'm Helvetica. Arial and I, and some of our...”
“Friends...” Arial filled in.
“Yes, our friends, were involved in a bit of an incident some time ago. I'm glad to say we've all made a full recovery.”
“So you really think you're the god of the fonts?” challenged Verdana.
“No,” Helvetica laughed, “not me. If I have special powers, it's only because a lot of people have put their trust in me; I got lucky, we all did, that I was able to find and replace their injuries.”
“Then you're a humanist, too?”
“Personally, I'm not sure what to think these days. But I think we should have room for a lot of options.”
“I agree,” said Times New Roman. “There's always room for a deus ex machina.”
“That's all very well and tolerant,” said Arial, “but all the same, go eat paste! Or is there a reason you haven't tried to kill me again?”
“I was getting to that,” said Helvetica. “Once I calmed down, I realized that I'd been wrong for a long time. The only reason I was out to get you was because I'd thought you cloned me and stole my identity, twenty-six years ago. But once I started researching, that wasn't the case at all, was it?”
Arial shrugged. “You clearly weren't listening at the time, I wasn't going to try reasoning with you.”
“Yeah. Well, I've been through the records, and I think I found your real family. Your father is Monotype Grotesque, see?” Helvetica passed a photograph up to Arial. “So, we never had anything to fight about.”
“Oh, the old man!” Arial Narrow laughed. “Yeah, I'd known about him for years.”
“And you never told me?” Arial gasped.
“Well, I mean, he was pretty grotesque. We thought it would hurt your self-image, if you knew.”
“I'm tougher than you think!”
“And gorgeous, in your own right,” Arial Black pointed out.
Arial blushed. “Thank you, dear. Well, in that case, I guess we don't have anything to fight about, do we?”
“I guess not,” said Helvetica.
“But what about the gang?” asked Jazz LET.
“As long as you don't go around trying to kill each other again,” said Times New Roman, “I have no problem with whoever associates together. If Helvetica wants to be some leader of her own little sect or whatever, fine by me.”
“So much the better,” said Helvetica. “No offense, New Roman, but trying to control all of us is a lot to ask, even for you.”
“Never mind vigilantes like Comic Sans,” he sighed. “Well, in that case, this meeting is adjourned. Thank you all for coming!”
The fonts dispersed, but not very far; Princetown and Party LETs had decided to throw a wild party, in celebration of their newfound friendship. Arial's friend Vivaldi turned out to be a very impressive DJ. “You should hang out with her,” Comic Sans suggested, “she's very cool.”
“I think Broadway's already had the same idea,” said Times New Roman. Indeed, Broadway was arranging a mashup of several popular songs about a donkey and an obelisk, featuring highfalutin † symbology.
“Okay, well. In that case—”
“Look, Comic Sans, I really don't think you need to try to set me up with a girlfriend tonight.” Times New Roman blushed, glancing over at Wingdings again. “Or ever, actually.”
“Oh. Well! In that case, mission accomplished!” Comic Sans strode off, back into the party.
Times just shook his head as he walked over to join Wingdings, who gave him a flirtatious smile. “c”
“Wingdings! That's a very personal question!”
“Have you been getting relationship advice from Herculaneum and Papyrus? Because I'm not really sure how much I trust them. Unless, I mean, you wanted to get into some of that superscript/subscript scene...”
It was Wingdings' turn to blush.
“Well. No rush in that. You're my TrueType, and that's all that matters to me—period.”
“.” agreed Wingdings.