Some Time Later
“People of our fine system,” said Ariadne, the real Ariadne, on the video that had been practically looping on every news station for the past month, “My name is Ariadne, the dread pirate, and this is my confession.”
“By now you will have heard about the mass suicide of the Red God cult on Mars. This is a lie. You see, the Red God cult you saw was a front for something far more sinister. They were a paramilitary organization run by a disgraced lunatic named Dr. C. Alexander Simon, trying to use science and technology to create a fascist state of mind-controlled drones, with himself as its immortal leader. He thought that free will was something that needed to be cured, and that humanity would prosper if individual human beings were made incapable of behaving outside his warped morality framework. He brainwashed your friends and loved ones, and used the promise of the fabled Ariadne to bring in new ‘converts.’ But, he made two mistakes:
First, he didn’t expect for there to be a real Ariadne. Now, I know a lot of you thought I was an urban legend, and I was okay with letting you think that, after all, it’s hard to catch someone nobody’s really sure actually exists, but I take great pride in being a folk hero and I couldn’t have some impostor ruining my good name, which brings me to mistake #2:
That cult brainwashed and abused children, and when I found out about that, I knew something had to be done. That’s why my crew stormed their fortress, rescued the children, and slaughtered their abusers. Every single member of their organization who acted of their own free will is now dead. Dr. Simon is now dead.
Anyone who had friends or relatives fall victim to their mind control, you have been tricked into believing your loved ones are dead as well. Go ahead and cancel the funeral. Even if you’ve seen a body, they’re alive, and they miss you very much, and as soon as we are able, they will be returned to you, although… don’t be surprised if they seem a little more, shall we say, mechanical at first.
Meantime, I advise you not to waste your time trying to catch me. I’ll be doing what I always do, taking from people who have too much and giving to people who don’t have enough, until the day I die, and the only person in the universe good enough to stop me is fighting by my side. The only difference now is that you know I’m real, that I’m watching, and most importantly, you know what I’m capable of if I find out you’ve laid a hand on a child.
Bye now!” Ariadne waved and the face flickered away, a gruff looking white news anchor with a gray mustache taking her place.
“That was, once again, the video of the alleged fabled pirate Ariadne, claiming responsibility for the recent deaths of several hundred cultists and assuring the public that their recently deceased relatives will be returning from the grave. Now, Leanne, does that sound possible to you? Sounds awfully far fetched to me.”
The hologram panned out to reveal a second reporter, one possibly too attractive to be remarkable. “Well Jim, I thought so too, but we have been getting reports of relatives taken in by the Red God cult years ago suddenly returning home. NewMo News 7’s own Solomon Cho has returned unharmed after disappearing a few months ago while investigating the group. Solomon, what can you tell us about what happened to you?”
The hologram suddenly switched off. “I said, no news,” Flax insisted as she approached the poolside with a tray of recently grilled cheeseburgers. “Aren’t you sick of your own voice by now?”
Ariadne laughed. “How else am I supposed to see my normal face?” Truly, Alicia had done an amazing job, with only a new pair of glasses and a specialized hair growth formula she and Sasha had developed together, Ariadne now had much longer hair, which Alicia was currently braiding into cornrows.
“I’m surprised you aren’t sick of that, too.” Flax said. “You’re not going to swim for an hour after eating that, right?”
There was, at this point, a large splash in the pool as Sweettalk was knocked underwater by Spacebreather.
“Best three out of five!” Sweettalk shouted when she resurfaced. “You have an unfair advantage, she’s like, freakishly strong.”
“Look, I can play chicken as long as you can,” Pilar replied from atop Beam’s shoulders, “but I’m going to tell you right now, the Spacebreathers can’t be beat at chicken.”
“Don’t worry,” Sasha said very seriously, allowing Sweettalk to get on her shoulders again, “I have a plan for this one.”
“What kind of plan?” Sweettalk replied.
“I’m not going to fall down and you’re going to push harder than her.”
“That’s… really not a plan, you’re just… describing how the game is played.” Sweettalk said.
“Yeah,” Sasha responded just as seriously, “do that this time.”
Baltimore sat down next to Ariadne and Alicia. “Beam!” She called, “If you don’t win, we’re getting a divorce!”
“You already know I’m going to win!” Beam called back.
“Yeah!” Baltimore said, “Look, some of us weren’t cheerleaders in high school, this sort of thing is more your strong suit!”
“I’m glad they worked things out,” Alicia said to Baltimore, “I mean, a rift between sisters, we know that’s not the easiest thing to repair.”
“I genuinely have no idea what you’re talking about,” Baltimore replied. “I wasn’t there for, like, any of what happened.”
“I mean, when I came back, it took a while to win that trust back. That’s why I call every day, you know?”
Baltimore burst out laughing. “You are too stupid, you know that?”
“What?!” Alicia said, accidentally yanking a few of Ariadne’s hairs out.
“Ow!” Ariadne jumped in.
“Sorry sweetie, you gotta keep your head still while I’m doing this.” Alicia replied. “I’m stupid for what, calling you up?”
“No, dummy, I was really just glad to have you back. Once I found out where you’d gone I pretty much forgave you right away.”
“Well,” Alicia looked confused, “I still think I gave pretty good advice.”
“You definitely did, Baltimore’s Sister.” Ariadne said through a mouthful of burger.
Baltimore laughed and gave Alicia a friendly punch on the arm.
“Ey Beam!” Baltimore shouted, “Just drop her in the pool and come get a burger already, I miss your face!”
“Do not drop m--” Pilar said plainly as she was dropped directly into the water. Baltimore was waiting for Beam with a towel when she got out of the pool, and greeted her with a tender kiss.
“Hey,” Beam said as flirtily as she could, “where’s my burger.”
“Ugh,” Baltimore said, “you ruined a good moment.”
Beam considered this. “It would all be worth it if I had a burger, though.”
Baltimore rolled her eyes, handed Beam a burger on a paper plate, kissed her again, and said “I’m gonna go check on the kids.”
“I’m getting a burger too,” Alicia said, “do not move your head while I’m gone. I’ll know if you moved your head.”
“So,” Sweettalk swam up to the edge with Sasha loosely hanging her arms around her neck and drifting behind her, as Pilar got out of the pool and dried off, “your friends seem to have a really happy life here.”
“They really do,” Ariadne replied, “they deserve it, and I’m glad they have it, but I’m not gonna lie, I could never do this.”
Pilar sat down next to Ariadne and quietly stole a bite of her burger, instead of walking ten feet to get her own. “Me neither,” said Pilar with the bite of stolen burger still in her mouth.
“You know what they say,” Ariadne mused, “do what you love and love what you do.”
“And love who you do it with,” Pilar added.
“Yes, that too,” Ariadne nodded, “and I’m just more cut out for the life I’ve got. I love what I do, I love who I do it with.”
“You don’t ever get tired of it?” Sweettalk asked.
“Sometimes,” Ariadne replied, “but it wears off pretty quick. I mean, I could never stop. What I believe in is that the good people are supposed to be rewarded and the bad people are supposed to be punished, and nobody seems to get what they deserve unless somebody gives it to them. So, until the universe starts doing its job, I’m gonna keep fixing things for good people and breaking them for bad people.”
“Yo ho,” Pilar agreed. Ariadne saw Baltimore and Beam come out of the house, each carrying one very sleepy-looking toddler, both of whom were far too young to swim and had inflatable floaties on their arms seemingly just for decoration, and they sat down in the shade and began feeding the babies, and each other, french fries.
“Good people always get tired of being good, but bad people never seem to get tired of being bad,” Ariadne thought, lying back on the soft towel behind her, “so, that’s what I want out of life. That’s the kind of person I need to be. I want a good person’s compassion with a bad person’s patience. Keep doing good even when it’s easier to do bad, and try my best to make the bad people feel as tired as I am.”
Ariadne took in the warm, gentle rays of the sun, surrounded by the people she loved most in the universe. At her side was the woman she knew she would spend the rest of her life with, whether that was one day or a hundred years, who she could only hope understood the depth and passion with which she was loved.
A few feet away were two girls who’d known some of the deepest tragedies a child could know, who’d grown up to be the sweetest, kindest, most intelligent young women the system had ever seen.
Standing at the grill was the first authority figure she’d ever truly respected, handing a burger to someone who’d devoted her life to Ariadne’s crew just because she believed in the cause, whose patience and unfailing loyalty had meant everything to Ariadne in the years they’d known each other, and at a small table in the shade were two women who’d become like sisters to Ariadne, who showed her how intensely two people could love one another, whose marriage she had officiated and whose children she loved as though they were her own.
Right then, she could have combined all the misery she’d experienced in her entire life and it would still only be the smallest fraction of the joy she was feeling at that particular moment.
The universe can be a good place, she thought, and if I’ve got anything to say about it, it’s damn sure going to be.