"I have a little confession to make. I, ah, used your name to threaten somebody."
Megamind and Roxanne were in the hoverbike, newly upgraded to include a generous back passenger seat, on the way back from a concert in Waterfront Park. Now that he'd given the machine a silent mode, they'd found that fifteen feet in the air was their favorite vantage for watching outdoor shows.
"Roxanne, if you feel that someone needs threatening, feel free to use my name. Who was this dastard?" She made a mental note to look up whether dastard was a real word or more of his mangling of the English language.
"My brother-in-law. He's gotten crazy lately, ranting and threatening. Last night he hit Roz and she took Clarice to a battered women's shelter. They're safe there, but it's too far from her work and Clarice's school. Besides, the shelter is only safe because it's secret, and he knows where the school and the job are; he could find it by following them. So I told them to come to my place because, even though Phil knows where it is, he'd be scared to go there. Then I called Phil and made sure he knew why he should be scared to go there."
Megamind's face was grim. The criminals who'd raised him had been the gifted criminals, the master forgers and safe crackers, the big time smugglers, gang leaders and con men. An ordinary batterer was something he understood little and respected less. "Your actions seem perfectly approoopriate. In fact, let's go up to the tower and see if we can find some equipment to give your threat some teeth."
When Megamind had rebuilt the top of Metro Tower, he'd arranged with the owners to add three extra stories for his use, both as a dispatching center for the brainbots and as his public headquarters and residence. The lair was still his workshop, and still more or less secret, but most of the finished gear was in the tower now. For Roxanne, the awful memories of being held prisoner there by Titan were wearing away. The fact that Megamind had done the exterior of those three stories in black helped; the building didn't look the same, and she was starting to feel at home there.
The armament room took up half of one story, but most of what was in it was inappropriate for the situation. Roxanne rejected the idea of a dehydrator gun for Rosalind. "She'd never pull the trigger. She's still in love with the jerk. If it weren't for Clarice, she might have stayed with him." The offer of a couple of brainbot bodyguards was also rejected on the grounds that Roz and Clarice might be more scared of them than of the man they were there to protect against. Transmitters she accepted, and her spare bulletproof vest, which was also effective against body blows. Then they went to the lair, where Minion began making a small bulletproof vest for Clarice while Megamind reconfigured a backup hoverbike into a single-purpose escape vehicle, sized to fit on Roxanne's balcony. The reconfiguation involved pulling out the front motorcycle seat and most of the controls, leaving only the passenger seat at the back and a big green button labeled GO, which would activate a preprogrammed route from the balcony to the helipad between City Hospital and police headquarters without the need of anyone aboard who knew how to steer it. This meant that Megamind had to fly it to her apartment by hotwiring it, a talent she hadn't known he had but figured she should have guessed. Minion followed in the main hoverbike.
The escape vehicle set down on the balcony perfectly, with only a little noise. Megamind locked down the housing that kept anyone else from getting at its internals. The two of them climbed out and said a quick but affectionate goodnight; then he climbed over the rail into the hoverbike and was gone. As Roxanne came inside, she saw half her sister's face, peering around the doorframe.
"That was really him," Rosalind whispered, sounding amazed, scared and impressed, but not in a good way. Her eyes were too big.
"Yeah, that was really him. Come on in the kitchen." When they had steaming cups of a calming herbal tea in front of them, Roxanne showed Rosalind the transmitters and the vests, keeping her voice low because Clarice was asleep in the living room on one of the armchairs. Minion had loaded Clarice's vest with a combination of silver satin, stitched to suggest chain mail, and pink lace trim; its underlying function was hardly recognizable. She also explained the use of the escape vehicle.
"He just gave you all this?" Roz was actually a little shaky. "He's never even met me."
"He's a good guy now, Roz. He actually wanted me to give you even more, but I told him you'd never shoot Phil, even with just a dehydrator gun."
"I'd shoot him if he was going to hurt Clarice," said Roz, straightening up a little. Roxanne was secretly pleased with this momentary appearance of the personality she thought of as the old Roz. Then she slumped again. "The thing is, I, well, when the rest of the family told me I shouldn't marry him, you told me to follow my heart. Remember?"
"Mm-hmm. I also remember that I warned you, if he ever fell out of love with you, you should run."
"You were right." Roz sighed. "The thing is, I, I can't say that to you. When I saw ... Megamind on the balcony with you just now, I..." She has to work herself up even to say his name, Roxanne noticed.
"You found it, what? Disturbing? Scary? Were you afraid for me?"
"I was grossed out!" Rosalind's effort to keep her volume down even as her emotion rose resulted in her voice getting almost too faint to be heard. "And I feel really bad for feeling this way. You supported me in my choice, all the way, and I... just..." She swallowed. "I know it's not bestiality because he's not an animal but he's not human, either. And I feel really bad for accepting all this valuable stuff from him when I can't accept him as your guy."
Roxanne drank some tea to give the tumble of emotions she was feeling time to fall into some sort of order. I will not blow up at my sister like a nuclear bomb. She's under a lot of stress. Maybe this attitude is the product of the stress and when her life settles down she'll have a better attitude. She's trying to have a better attitude now. She's just not succeeding. Okay, so I cut her some slack, but I don't put up with her talking about him like he's not a person.
"I appreciate your being honest with me," she finally said. "And, if it makes you feel any better, whatever you're imagining that's grossing you out, it isn't happening."
"People with nonstandard bodies often have a lot of shame about it. I think he's afraid that if I really found out what his body is like I'd disappear out of his life. So we go out and we talk and we kiss and that's it. I've never even seen him without gloves. But," with a glare at Roz for emphasis, "that could change any time. And if you can't handle that..." Now that it was time for the ultimatum, she couldn't deliver it. "...try to be civilized about it, okay?"
Roz nodded. "I'll do my best."
"Then let's get some sleep." They hugged and separated, Roz to the living room couch and Roxanne to the bedroom. They both cried a little before they lay down, but didn't actually cry themselves to sleep.
The next time Roxanne and Megamind had dinner together (after Phil had been arrested, received a mental health evaluation, gotten on meds, and ceased to be a threat) she noticed for the first time that he even ate with his gloves on. Afterward they went up in the hoverbike again and he set the autopilot to a slow random pattern, following the streets, about ten feet above the tops of the street lamps. Then he came back and sat next to her in the passenger seat. For a long moment they sat in silence, watching the city lights go by.
"I've got a nosy question," she said.
"Strictly off the record and you should feel free to say No Comment."
"Why do you always wear gloves?"
"You mean aside from the way they make a menacing gesture look even more menacing?" As he spoke, he flexed one hand into a horror movie claw shape.
"Oh, come on. How long has it been since you needed to make a menacing gesture?"
"You never know. It might come in handy again. But that's not the only reason or the most important one. I developed this fabric because it is comfortable, flexible, and has no conductivity. You know that touching a live wire by mistake is a constant hazard when working on anything electrical. Then once I had them I found that... How should I say this?... that they relieved me of a great deal of distracting sensation. I began only taking them off when I really needed tactile information."
"You mean you felt distracted just by the way things feel when you touch them."
"Yes, especially human skin. My surface electrochemical balance is a little different than the standard for humans, and I can feel the electrons going back and forth. It's not an unpleasant sensation, but it is rather personal, not something I want to share with any bare-armed human who happens to bump against me in a crowd."
"So wait. You're saying that special feeling when we kiss, that's not like any other kisses I've ever had, that's not just being in love, that's... electrons?"
He was smiling like she'd said something seriously naive. "See for yourself." He raised the hand nearer to her with a little flourish. He has to be a showman, she thought, even for an audience of one. He pulled off its glove with the other and held it out to her, palm down. She took it, and where their skin touched, the nerve endings lit up like a string of Christmas lights coming on.
"I see what you mean by personal," she said after a breathless moment. She'd had French kisses that felt less personal than this. At the same time it wasn't really erotic. If she'd felt it with a member of her family, it would just be warm and comforting. With him, it was those things and more.
They rode for three blocks and a left turn just looking into each other's eyes, just feeling their joined hands.
"So why didn't I feel this when we held hands when you were being Bernard?"
"It was the hologram that was bare-handed. Underneath it, I had gloves on." She remembered thinking that "Bernard"'s hands were very soft, but she didn't realize she'd been fooled by something that wasn't skin at all.
Four more blocks, and she came back to herself enough to drop her gaze from his eyes and actually look at the back of his hand. In the midst of the pale blue skin there was a little oval of white with veins of a deeper blue. She touched it with her thumb.
"That's a scar from spilling acid on myself. It should be gone in a couple of weeks."
"Did you break this bone?" It was the one going up to from his wrist to his middle finger and it was slightly crooked.
"Hitting Titan." Ah. Now she remembered.
She turned over their hands. At the tip of each of his fingers, the flesh formed a little round pad, wider than the rest of the finger.
It's not bestiality because he's not an animal, but he's not human, either. For a tiny moment she really got his not-humanness and she felt ashamed of him and of the feelings she had for him. Then she felt defiant. She pulled his hand to her face, held the wide fingertips against her lips, eyes closed, the sensation so strong she had to force herself to breathe. I choose this, even if nobody in the world understands.
She pulled his hand back from her face and, with her free hand, lifted the index finger so she could see the inside. The tip had... texture. If human fingerprints were sneaker soles, these would be hiking boot waffle soles. She stroked that complicated fingertip with one of her own and felt the electrons move all out of proportion to the amount of skin being touched. Megamind gave a little gasp, as though in pain, though she knew better. She started to pry up a second finger and he opened his whole hand. All his fingertips had the texture. She moved her hand around to the back of his so she could see the palm. It looked more or less human, except for the color.
After a moment, he turned over his hand, grasped hers again, and did exactly what she had done: he pressed her fingers to his lips, then lowered and opened her hand, cradling it in both of his, the gloved one and the bare one.
"Thank you," he whispered. She looked at him in confusion. "With children, any physical oddity is a reason for cruelty. You have shown love for one of those oddities. You healed a little of the old pain." She took her hand from his, but only to pull him close. They kissed slowly, feeling the electrons dance between their faces.
"This explains why you haven't tried to seduce me," she said after they came up for air. "We were just touching hands and we were practically in an altered state. If we tried full body contact, we might have heart attacks."
"There's more to it than that," he replied. "This kind of pleasure can very easily go over into pain. Very easily and very suddenly. If we go forward," and he looked her firmly in the eye, "we will cause each other pain sometimes. We will not be able to help it."
"Then we'll just have to be really, really careful, like porcupines."
It was his turn to look confused.
"Porcupines? What is or are porcupines?"
"They're animals that have long sharp spikes all over, that protect them from anything trying to eat them. It's an old joke: how do they make baby porcupines?"
"Ah. Well, then. The next day when you're not working, would you like come to the tower and engage in porcupine-like behavior?" It was about the most bizarre, unromantic, Megamind-like proposition that had ever come her way, except that it wasn't. He wouldn't have put it like that if he hadn't listened to her and understood, and that raised more romantic feelings in her than any amount of flattery and passionate declarations.
Not enough, though, to turn off her brain.
"First we have to have the hygiene talk."
"I forgot, you didn't go to high school. The talk about pregnancy and STDs." He might not know what that stood for, either. "Sexually transmitted diseases. And what we're going to do to prevent them."
"No human disease has ever touched me. Every time I get sick, it turns out to be an allergy. I don't think I can even carry disease. And mixing my genome with a human one is something I researched a long time ago. The only way it could happen is if the two were spliced together by genetic engineering, and then it only might work; it wouldn't be a certainty. I was disappointed at the time, but if it eases your mind, then at least we've got a little something out of it." She didn't get the last part. Her attention had snagged on the word disappointed and all that it implied.
"Let me get this straight. You... wanted... children?"
"I am not happy to be the last of my kind, Roxanne. For a while I even toyed with the notion of cloning Minion and myself. He wants this even more than I do. The thing that... What are you laughing at?"
"Ever hear the phrase 'raised by wolves'? I got this mental picture of a little Minion and a little you being raised in the lair by brainbots."
"While the adult me sits in prison and the adult Minion is preoccupied with trying to spring me. Yes. That was half the problem."
"And the other half would be, let me guess, coming home one day and finding a smoking hole where home used to be? I mean, if the little you would be as smart as the big you, but with no more sense than small children usually have, you'd have to expect something like that."
"You have a very good point, but that's not the other half I had in mind."
"Okay, what would this other half be?"
"Protecting them from the world, from people who would want to use them. Minion and I had the prisoners, the lonely men who became attached to us because they were separated from their human families. They were prepared to riot if any effort was made to take us away from them, so the warden's interest in riot prevention made him our protector as well, standing between us and the scientists out there who wanted to die-ssect us."
"Die- you mean dissect you?!"
"Oh, yes. The endangered species protection laws don't apply to extraterrestrial species, you know." Her eyes went out of focus, a sign that she was thinking hard, but he kept talking. "We might have been good for, oh, half a dozen PhD thesises each. Or is it thesi? Roxanne, why do you suddenly have that look on your face, like somebody's going to be sorry when you catch up with them?"
"Roxanne, you're not making sense." Her eyes came back to his face.
"If you died next week in some stupid battle, Minion would be legally an animal and your property, and since you have no family, all your property would go to the state government. Which means Minion would go to the state university, which means the biology department, which means a dissecting table. We need to establish legal personhood for him, that under the law he is a person, not property. It wouldn't hurt to make sure you have legal personhood, too, although it's probably not an issue. You're close enough to human in your looks that the burden of proof would be on somebody trying to prove you're not."
Megamind needed a moment to digest all this. Finally he spoke.
"The right side of the law is a strange place, Roxanne. I never guessed how strange. All right. How do we, er, establish legal personhood?"
"We start by talking to a lawyer. The right kind of lawyer. I'll ask around."
They floated in silence for a moment.
"Do you want children, Roxanne?"
Why didn't I expect this question? It was obviously next. She opened her mouth, considered the canned answer she had ready for him, the jumble of thoughts and feelings about motherhood that she knew she had in common with half the single women in the city, knew it for the lie it was and rejected it. That left her with a choice between silence and the truth, a truth so intimate that she blushed, looked down, looked back at him and blushed even redder before she finally worked up the nerve to speak.
"Ever since I knew I loved you, I've been having these thoughts. Well, no, these mental pictures... of a little blue child. Sitting on my lap, running on the grass, sleeping. And feelings of longing. And fear. And what you said about people wanting to dissect you just made it worse. Megamind, I know how to be the kind of mom that my mom was. I know how to raise an ordinary middle class American kid."
"If you're trying to pass yourself off as an ordinary middle class American, it's not going to be very convincing. There's nothing ordinary about you, Roxanne." She flashed him a momentary smile at the compliment.
"The thing is, I don't know what I can give that little blue child. What he needs. How to keep him safe. All mothers worry, because there's so much that's out of your control, but this would be like raising a kid in a minefield, where -" He put a finger over her lips. A bare one. It was effectively distracting.
"A bunch of convicts managed quite well, and there wasn't one of them with previous experience as a mother. Now. When it comes to keeping a child safe, I think a full compliment of brainbot bodyguards is an excellent place to start. There's quite a bit of unused space in the tower that can be made extra secure, and in those mental pictures of the little blue child you should definitely add a clear globe with a little striped fish in it."
"Megamind, you're going way too fast."
"Why? Haven't we agreed that this is what we both want?"
"Wanting is not the same as choosing. I need to think this through, think about the other things I want that this is going to cost me, decide whether it's worth it. I need time. Do you understand?"
"No, but I want to. Tell me."
She took a long moment to gather her thoughts. "When I called myself an ordinary kid, one of the things I meant was a kid that's not much of a kidnapping target. Ordinary kids can do things like go to the beach and the mall and the movies. By the time they're ten they can ride their bikes to school. And around these kids there's a community of adults who all trust each other. Even if we don't know each other. Because we're the same kind of people. It's a whole world. My world. It's home and it's the world where I always thought I'd raise my kids.
"But any kids of yours are going to be part of that other world, where kids have to be guarded every second and don't really have freedom of movement. I've seen a little of it, doing in-depth profiles of political leaders and movie stars. It seems so constricted. And yet these are the people everybody envies. I'm sure there would be people looking up at the tower and thinking how much better we have it than they do, and yet we couldn't even go to the park for a picnic without all this heavy-duty security."
"That's it? Freedom of movement?"
"That's just the beginning. Right now I can drop in on Roz or my parents or my cousins and just be casual about it, and if I had kids with an ordinary man, or even with no man in the picture, I'd be able to keep doing that and bring them along. With your kids, everywhere I went with them I'd bring along all this security apparatus and it would be like I was bringing a little... intrusion of that other world, the unsafe world, into the safe one. Either that or they'd come to the tower and they'd be all nervous and too polite, like they didn't know who I was anymore."
"Every once in a while a middle class person would be sentenced to our prison. When their families came to visit them, they would be just like that. It's almost as if your people can't cope with anyone who has another experience of life than themselves."
"It's not experience of life. It's choice. Your choices bring you closer into the community or further away. The choice to be rich or powerful or famous, or to attach yourself to someone who is, puts a person almost as far away as the choice to commit a serious crime."
"And you have chosen me." She smiled at that, unexpectedly.
"Part of the middle class understanding is that, when we're young, we're entitled to some romantic exploration, so long as everyone can pretend that someday I'm going to come to my senses, dump you and pick somebody who's what they call appropriate, meaning who's part of the community. But if I have kids with you, that's not revocable. If I have a little blue child..." She looked out into the night, shaking a little. "I'm out."
"Now I understand," he said. "I have spent much of my life being out, wanting in, not understanding how to get there. Over the last year or two, I have come to understand that to some degree I'll always be in exile, no matter what I do. What I am asking you to do, whether I like to admit it to myself or not, is to share my exile, now and for the rest of your life. I can make it a very comfortable exile, compatible with your work, but I have no power over your people. Roxanne." He took her hand with his gloved one, so that her eyes came back to his face but she wasn't distracted. "I have longed since a very early age for my people, knowing that they are lost to me. You still have your people, and that is a precious thing. If you choose your people over me, I will understand. I won't pretend not to be hurt, but I will always, always love you."
He more or less expected her to respond by kissing him, or at least thanking him. He was astonished when she burst into tears. Nevertheless, he was catching on about what to do in a situation like this: he pulled her close and let her cry on his shoulder. It took her about ten minutes to finish and pull herself together.
"What I have to do now," she said, "is decide which limb to amputate. That's why I need time, because this can't be a quick decision." She pulled out a tissue and blew her nose. "And I'll look into that lawyer." She gave one of those weak little smiles that says I know I look awful but I've really got things under control now. He gave her a gentle, quick kiss and then, by wordless mutual understanding, went forward to the controls and drove her home.
There was really only one choice for the lawyer. Arthur Sturgis, the Scott family lawyer, had done the adoption papers for Wayne Scott and had later published a law journal article, "Extraterrestrial Citizenship: The Legal Implications," that was pretty much the founding document of this obscure branch of the law. When asked about establishing legal personhood for a talking fish, he took it completely in stride. In fact, he had been expecting the question. It took him a matter of days to come up with all the establishing documents for both Megamind and Minion, plus wills, powers of attorney and all the other paraphernalia making them, in the eyes of the law, equivalent to next of kin.
In the months she'd been dating Megamind, Roxanne had come to see the value of his system of having documents hung on strings from the ceiling. She decided to use that technique to deal with the decision. She hung the strings from the ceiling of her home office. At the end of each string, she hung a picture or a piece of text on a card. On one side of the room went the photos from her middle-class life. Her mother and stepfather, her sister, her niece, friends from college that she kept in touch with, certain co-workers that she considered friends, a group photo from the last Ritchie family reunion. Stock photos of kids bicycling, of Metro City Beach on a hot summer day when it was crowded, of the elementary school Clarice attended.
On the other side, the photos were fewer, but she found herself handling each one tenderly. First was one of Megamind, culled from an old news report of one of her kidnappings. He was just turning to the controls of one of his machines and for the moment looked thoughtful instead of manic. The picture was in three-quarter profile and showed the delicate shape of his ear and the arch of his neck. One of Minion in his cook's apron, looking particularly funny and endearing. For the little blue child, she traced a stock photo of a five-year-old boy, reshaping the head, using colored pencil for the skin and adding a rather clumsy representation of a globe with a fish in it. She was no artist.
Then the real estate: on the one side, a stock photo of a generic suburban house of the sort she'd always expected to raise her kids in. On the other, one of the top of Metro Tower, centered on the three black stories, and one of the inside of the lair, just to be silly. She stood back.
Okay, she thought. What am I missing?
After a moment, she got out a card and wrote her current address. Above it she wrote "Miss Roxanne Ritchie". Below it, she wrote a date thirty years in the future. It would do, she thought, to represent the third option, the one where she tried to have both her blue lover and her middle-class community by choosing to grow old and die childless, perhaps right here in this apartment. She hung it in between the two groups. Again, she stood back.
Still missing something... I know. I've got all positives, no negatives. She hung Phil's mug shot with the pictures of Roz and Clarice and, alongside the family reunion photo, one of her cousin Morris' pain-in-the-neck wife. With Megamind she added an aerial photo centered on the lair, showing what a blighted neighborhood it was in, and a ground-level shot of Metro City Hospital's emergency room entrance to represent the risk involved in loving someone who goes into danger. On either side of the little blue child she hung one of a brainbot with a de-gun. Then she went to an internet dating site, printed out the blank application form, and hung it on the community side to represent the lack of any romantic prospects.
And even if there were, they'd be human romantic prospects. No extra electron action. Hey, that's a consideration. I should put something up for that. She finally took another card and drew a simple representation of a helium atom, with the two electrons orbiting around the nucleus. Instead of giving that one its own string, she paper-clipped it to the picture of Megamind. She realized that she was grinning like a fool at the memory of that last hoverbike ride, and her nipples were standing tight against the inside of her bra. Okay, libido. Thank you for sharing. I think I need to take a break.
It was that night, after she'd turned off the lights and laid down, that things became clear. She was trying to imagine herself forward into various possible futures and she'd come up with a fantasy that had been a big deal in her adolescence: the wedding she'd someday have. This time it was in Simons Park on a beautiful summer day. Every detail of her dress, her veil and her flowers was clear, and the smiles of her family, but the groom remained vague, a shape with broad shoulders and a suggestion of muscles under his jacket. They said the vows, kissed, and then as they turned to face the crowd, she saw, in the distance at the other end of the park, Minion getting out of the driver's seat of a black van, brainbots emerging from the back, and then the little blue child, just as she'd drawn him, carrying his fish in its globe. A kind of panic shot through her.
They went ahead without me! She should have seen it. To produce the little blue child, her participation was completely unnecessary. Megamind and Minion could do it all in the lab. Now that their lives were stable and they had Arthur Sturgis to build a wall of legal documents around their peculiar household, nothing stood in their way. She stared at the van, wondering if Megamind was in there, wondering if she'd see him, and suddenly this wedding seemed like the mistake of the century.
And then the whole thing dissolved and she was back in her bed, in her apartment, staring up into the darkened room.
She conjured it up again, only this time she was climbing out of the van behind the child and Megamind was definitely in there behind her; she could tell by the glow of pleasure at her back. In the distance she saw the wedding party, only now it was one of her cousins getting married and she hadn't been invited because they would have had to invite him, too, and the child. She had a moment of piercing sadness, self-pity, really, but no regrets.
As that fantasy, too, dissolved, she was left looking at the ceiling without really seeing it, knowing that the decision was made. She rolled over, groping for the phone. He'd still be up at this hour. She hit his speed-dial number.
"Whatever plans you had for Saturday, cancel 'em," she said without preliminary. "When should I be there?"
"Now would be perfect."
"I have to work tomorrow. When on Saturday?"
"Hmm. Minion, can you add Roxanne to our luncheon party on Saturday?... Good. Twelve o'clock, Roxanne?"
"I'll be there."
"Does this mean you've chosen?"
"It means I've chosen you."