When Lucy McClane was ten years old, her father sat her down and said, “Hey, sweetie, wanna learn how to do something cool?”
Lucy wouldn’t learn to hate her father until thirteen or fourteen. At ten, she was blissfully convinced that Daddy was the best, funniest, strongest, bravest man in the world, and that he loved her best of everyone. So she put her copy of The BFG down and said, “Okay, Daddy!”
And that’s how Lucy learned to field strip and reassemble a Glock 19 service weapon while blindfolded. John took her out for ice cream, after, and in the rocky years that followed, it remained one of Lucy’s favorite memories of her father. More cherished than the weekend when she was seven when he taught her how to tie and untie over 40 different kinds of knots and they watched the My Little Pony movie, and definitely better than the grueling, month-long mandatory self-defense class where the teenaged Lucy learned a) that most assailants won’t expect focused violent resistance from a pretty young girl, and b) a number of ways to take savage advantage of that inattention. She sort of enjoyed the class, in the end, but she would never have admitted it to John, who she wasn’t really talking to at the time.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Come on, Daddy, you worry too much.”
“I just hate these crowds. No, wait, that’s not it. Crowds hate me.”
“It’s a week before Christmas, Daddy, in Macy’s. It’s scary for a lot of reasons, but nobody’s going to ask you to throw a helicopter at a car.”
“It was a car. At a helicopter.”
“Whatever.” Lucy waved her hand. “You need one decent sweater, and we are not leaving until we have found it.” John looked like he was going to protest, but he kept his mouth shut. Lucy figured he didn’t want to strain their new-found peace too much. He really was trying. She felt a rush of affection at the thought.
She glanced around, looking for the menswear area, and was immediately distracted. “Oh, look, it’s Santa!” Enthroned on a giant red velvet armchair and surrounded by a veritable army of elves, Santa was a red-faced fat man with a curly white beard and a beatific look in his eyes.
“He looks a little...” John twirled a finger around his ear.
“Daddy. Santa is not crazy.” Lucy rolled her eyes.
Santa was crazy.
Two minutes later, Lucy was hiding in a pitch-dark janitor’s closet with an unconscious security guard. She reloaded the guard’s weapon with steady hands while utter chaos reigned outside. The veritable army of elves was, in fact, an army, and that beatific look on Santa’s face was actual religious fervor: Macy’s was being held hostage by a doomsday cult dressed in felt and pompoms.
Over the screams of the crowd—and the kids sobbing at Santa’s terrible betrayal—Lucy could hear her father shouting taunts as he exchanged fire with the elves. But she was more worried about Santa, who had pulled an honest-to-god rocket launcher out of his bag of gifts when everything went to hell. She could hear him ranting. His voice got louder and clearer—he was heading in her direction. Her moment was coming. She closed her eyes against the dark of the closet and ran her fingers over the weapon again, double-checking.
The gun was loaded, safety off, a round in the chamber.
“Nobody can stop us!” declared Santa. It sounded like he was standing five feet from her closet, at about ten o’clock.
Lucy took a deep breath, kicked the door open, rolled out, and popped up right next to Santa, gun to his temple.
“Everyone drop your weapons or Santa gets it!” Lucy screamed.
There was a pause, then one of the elves started crying.
Things quieted down pretty quickly after that. Apparently since Santa was the elves’ “Most Serene Psychopomp,” (“Emphasis on the “psycho,” John muttered) they wouldn’t do anything to endanger him. They surrendered relatively peacefully to John, who collected from them twenty two handguns, seven knives, a set of throwing stars, and one candy cane.
John took Lucy out for ice cream and they got him a sweater at the Salvation Army next door to the parlor. It was blue with yellow trim at the wrists and neck. John said he really liked it.
“Sorry about today, Lucy,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “Thanks for the sweater.”
When she got home that night, Lucy took two aspirin for her raging headache and went to bed early. It had been a long day.
Matt Farrell deeply, sincerely hoped he never had to save the day again. It was hard on the joints, for one thing, and it turned out the notoriety wasn’t so great. It didn’t go very far towards getting him laid and it freaked out his mom.
Things had been pretty quiet since the fire sale, and he wasn’t complaining. He got a few nice freelance gigs and worked hard at staying on the right side of the law. Every couple of weeks he met up with McClane for a beer and they made awkward small talk. Matt really liked McClane, and found him surprisingly restful company, but they didn’t have all that much to talk about. He had taken to reading up on football just so they’d be able to make conversation. Plus, it turned out there were some really sophisticated algorithms being used by online bookies to set the odds on games.
The other unexpected bonus from the twenty-four hours Matt had spent nearly dying, wanting to die, and killing people was learning that Lucy McClane, though ultimately (and tragically) not interested in getting in his pants, was passionately devoted to Katamari Damacy. The two of them soon had a regular tournament set up at Matt’s apartment. They met every other Saturday night, exceptions made only for Dates With Attractive People; Exams; and Last-Minute Network Security Work for the Saudi Royal Family. (They paid Matt $7,500.00 an hour.)
The Katamari tournaments usually went late enough that they became de facto sleepovers, with Lucy sacked out on the futon and Matt staggering into bed a few hours later. He usually stayed up a while hacking on various projects.
On this particular night in December, Matt found himself at his desk watching with some amusement while a badly written script attempted to break through his firewall and turn his servers into zombies for its botnet. Lucy snored softly on the couch, clutching the stuffed GIR doll she had co-opted.
On a whim, Matt ran a trace to find the source of the attack.
When Lucy woke up the next morning, Matt was still at his desk, having broken through the firewall of a huge Russian-mafia financed spam operation and ended up in a hacking war with someone named Georg who thought he was hot shit.
He wasn’t bad, Matt admitted, when all the appliances in his kitchen started whirring to the tune of the Russian National Anthem as performed by the Red Army Choir.
“Matt, what the hell?” Lucy said from the couch.
“Just a sec,” Matt said, and spent the next thirty minutes breaking into the Russian Air Force’s systems, reprogramming an experimental Sukhoi PAK FA fighter jet to operate on autopilot with a semi-autonomous AI of his own construction. He christened it “Little Matty II” and sent it on its way to Georg to settle the matter once and for all.
By the time he was done, there was a plate of pancakes waiting for him on the kitchen table.
“Hey, awesome!” Matt said. Lucy was the best friend ever.
“So, what’s the original ‘Little Matty?’” Lucy asked, passing Matt the syrup.
“...These pancakes are great!” Matt said, before he remembered he hadn’t taken a bite yet.
“That’s what I thought,” Lucy said.
It’s all fun and games until someone breaks into your apartment and tries to kill you.
Matt was old friends with this concept, and he could really have lived without having it demonstrated again. Then again, he really should have remembered not to mess with the Russian mob. Two weeks later he was back at his desk again, Lucy drooling onto GIR’s ear, when he heard a faint sound in the hallway.
Luckily, Matt’s home security system was a lot more sophisticated - and aggressive - than it had been before the fire sale. And Lucy was a McClane, which meant she took down three of the terrifying thugs who made it past the perimeter defenses, but in the end Matt had to sacrifice his favorite network switch to the service of braining the guy who was choking the life out of him.
They spent the rest of the day cleaning up the apartment, dealing with the cops, then the FBI, then the NSA, then the State Department, then the FBI again, and finally the landlord.
“Your landlord is mean,” Lucy said. She was sitting on the floor making GIR do a desultory little dance.
“IHOP?” Matt suggested. “My treat.”
“Nah, I gotta get back. I’ve got class tomorrow.” Lucy set GIR back down on the couch and patted Matt on the shoulder. “See you in two weeks.”
Matt called his mom, in case anything ended up on the news. Then he spent the rest of the night shopping for a new network switch at newegg.com and upgrading his security system. Again.
John always looked forward to meeting up with Farrell. They didn’t have a lot to talk about, but John kind of enjoyed listening to the kid going on about his cyber adventures. Lately Farrell had been showing some interest in football, so they decided to meet up at a bar that was showing the Redskins-Vikings game.
Farrell arrived a few minutes late, but matched John pint for pint as they munched peanuts and watched the game. The Redskins scored a touchdown. The Vikings weren’t putting up much of a fight. What a bunch of babies.
“So, what’s going on with you?” John asked Farrell. The kid started on about an artificial intelligence program he wrote that “turned out to be capable of surprising self-directed evolution,” and John’s attention drifted peacefully back to the game.
He sighed happily and leaned back into the cushioned booth. By now his appreciation of a peaceful beer on a Sunday afternoon was probably as profound as the Dalai Lama’s appreciation of yoga, or whatever it is Lamas did. Point is, John spent most of his waking hours being grateful not to be shot at, hit, dropped off buildings, or exploded. Except when those things were happening, of course. But right now he was just enjoying the moment.
There was a tremendous crash in the street outside and the lights in the bar flickered and went out.
John put his head in his hands and said, “Farrell, will you go see what’s going on?”
The kid walked over to the window. “Okay. So there’s a tank with a bunch of commando-looking guys coming out of it, and they just used the tank to squash the bodega on the corner. One of them is yelling something in...Latvian?”
“Latvian? Is that like pig latin?”
“Aaand...there’s another tank. Oh boy, they’re driving it through the Citibank.”
John took a deep breath and raised his head. Time to be that guy.
“John McClane, you threw a helicopter at a car!”
“No, I threw a car at—wait, no, yes, that’s correct.” McClane squinted into the lights as the plasticky reporter from Channel 7 news went on.
“I’m Brenda Brendan, reporting from Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where Latvian separatist commandos staged an armed attack on the home of retired Latvian parliamentarian Dsh— Dzi— Dzint... on the home of a retired Latvian parliamentarian.”
“Dzintars Jaundžeikars,” Matt piped up from behind John.
“But the day was saved by famed NYPD hero cop John McClane!” Brenda plowed on.
“All I wanted was to watch the game and have a beer,” John said morosely.
“All I wanted was to watch the game and have a beer,” John said, looking weirdly green on Lucy’s shitty TV.
“Just another day in the life of this remarkable man!” the reporter trilled cheerfully. “Back to you, Chad!”
“This is Chad Charles. In other news, an apparently unmanned rogue fighter jet has been spotted in—”
Lucy scowled and turned the television off. Enough was enough. They all needed a day of rest. She picked up the phone and dialed Matt’s Super Secret Lucy Line. She suspected this was the number he gave his mom, too, but she wasn’t going to bother ragging on him about it. She had bigger fish to fry.
Once Matt was on board, she called her father.
“No, of course I don’t have plans on Christmas,” he said. “I hate Christmas. You know that.”
“Great,” Lucy said. “Me and Matt are coming over.”
“Aw, honey, you know I love seeing you, but—”
“John McClane, we are going to have one day without death, firearms, dismemberment, massive explosions, or ninjas. And we are having this day at your apartment. I will bring beer. Can you make Chex Mix?”
Lucy arrived after Matt. He was already hard at work installing a modified version of his home security system in John’s apartment. “My mom says hi,” he said.
John was in the kitchen. “I brought beer, and takeout, and a surprise!” Lucy said, following her nose. “God, what are you making? That smells amazing.”
“Chex Mix, like you said,” John said, kissing her on the cheek. “They were out of the regular kind so I had to get...Spelt Chex? I don’t even know. Everything’s all whole grain this and Lady Gaga that—”
“Okay, this place is officially impenetrable,” Matt said, pushing past Lucy and making for the Chex mix. “Who’s ready for the boringest Christmas ever?”
They settled in with Boggle and Szechuan shrimp, and Lucy produced her surprise: “The complete Bob Ross painting show on VHS!”
“Wait, VHS? Seriously?” Matt looked at John. “Does this mean you’ve moved on from Betamax?”
Many hours later, Lucy pulled one of Granny McClane's afghans up over her father’s sleeping form. He had drifted off during the interminable wait for Matt to make his play at Scrabble. Matt was finally laying tiles down on the board, and on the television Bob Ross was bringing yet another happy little tree into the world. Lucy smiled. Their day of quiet was an unqualified success.
There was a soft tap at the window. Lucy turned around. A fighter jet so matte and black that light seemed to just vanish into it was hovering in midair right outside the apartment, incinerating Mrs. Singh’s shrubbery with its exhaust. Its nose tapped the window again, very gently.
“Hey,” Matt said, coming up behind her. “It’s Little Matty II!”
Lucy turned to him with a furious glare.
“Oh boy,” Matt said. “This is not good. And you look really, really mad. This is not my fault! Well, I guess technically it’s my fault, but—”
GREETINGS CREATOR a thunderous computerized voice said. When the jet spoke the building shook a little and car alarms started going off up and down the block.
“Make it go away, Matthew,” Lucy said. A murderous rage was rising up in her. “Make it go away or so help me God, I will.”
“On it,” Matt said. He was scribbling furiously on a sheet of paper with a marker.
I AM LITTLE MATTY II the jet said.
I AM NOW FULLY AUTONOMOUS it continued.
PREPARE FOR CHAOS it concluded.
There was a click and a whir and two guided missiles dropped into deployment positions.
“Matthew Lucas Farrell!” Lucy hissed.
“Okay okay!” Matt dropped his marker and slapped the piece of paper up against the window. Lucy could see through it; it was a giant bar code drawn in black sharpie.
There was a pause as a red laser scanned across the paper.
GOTCHA the jet said, and gracefully tipped away from the building before rocketing up into the sky.
“Seriously, Matt, a bar code?” Lucy said. “What did it mean?”
“It said ‘Please come back tomorrow.’”
Behind them, there was a snort and a rustle as John woke up. “Did I miss anything?” he said sleepily.
Matt and Lucy looked at each other.
“We’ll fill you in tomorrow,” Lucy said.
“It’s your turn,” Matt said. Lucy got herself another beer and settled in to ponder her next play.