*in case you missed it last time, it’s a post-alien invasion re-conceptualizing of the King Arthur myth
Jake Uther had been dead for five years, according to popular belief. An easy mistake to make, too – people tended to think the worst after you fell off the planet for that long. Every now and then, for a fleeting handful of seconds, he wished they were right.
Then he remembered just how spiteful and petty he was, and the feeling turned into something smug.
“Dyethrin,” Arthur repeated. “The Vees?”
“I admit to not knowing why you chose ‘Vees’ as their moniker,” said the Metroid. “But I assume you mean the outside force you also refer to as ‘aliens.’”
“We call them Vees because it’s short for Visitor,” said Kay sharply. “It reminds that’s what they’re doing. Visiting.”
Arthur blinked. “I actually didn’t know that,” he muttered.
Hec’s eyebrows drew together. “Where you been, kid?”
“I don’t know, too busy to make etymology inquiries?”
Arthur settled back in his seat and watched the corner of Kay’s face in the rear-view mirror. He imagined he knew less about Kay and Hec than most kids did about their parents – but then, Hec was the only one old enough to have actually fathered Arthur, and neither of them were related. Hec was thirty-nine – almost forty, Arthur realized. It would be a good day of razzing, that birthday. Kay was only thirty-four, probably a decade Arthur’s senior, but between the two men it always surprised Arthur that Kay was by far the more mercenary.
To look at them, anyone would assume it was the other way around – Hec had that look, one Arthur could only describe as ‘been around the block.’ Kay almost looked softer – a softer mouth, lighter eyes. Always clean-shaven. If not for the jewelry in his eyebrow and the intimidating width of his biceps, you might assume he was the friendlier of the two. Not that Arthur would call Hec friendly. Reasonable, up to a point, though.
Twilight had melted into night when Kay finally found a place to turn around on the winding mountain road. Arthur glanced at the clock – it was fun to be able to tell the time when sitting in a car – and whistled.
“What?” asked Kay, resting his free arm out the window. He looked in his element, which was weird, Arthur considered, given he hadn’t thought much about Kay’s life before they met.
“We drove fifteen minutes out.”
Kay’s mouth curved, his signature almost-a-smirk-but-not-quite. “Calm down, I’ll have you home by midnight.”
“If you weren’t looking at the road I’d roll my eyes, but you wouldn’t see it so just know I rolled them. Hard. That’s half an hour of gas we just wasted.”
“Pretty sure your idea of liquid measurement is off there,” Kay remarked, slowing down for a sharp curve.
He pressed his lips together, his expression still neutral, and that’s when Gwen realized it wasn’t difficult to read – the more emotions he was having, the less he seemed to actually emote; as if his feelings were on tap and he had to shut the water off to keep the sink from flooding.
“I was beginning to wonder if I had killed you by accident,” said a voice. It might have been fairly monotone and robotic, but Arthur recognized it.
“You wrecked the car,” was the first thing he blurted, then shook his head. What the heck, Arthur.
“I did wreck the car,” the Metroid agreed, folding its long arms. “An odd choice of vehicle; I thought the van much better suited to your needs.”
“The Ferrari wasn’t for our ‘needs,’ it was just a quick joyride,” Arthur sighed.
“Joyride?” The Metroid sounded puzzled. “A ride for joy?”
“For fun, anyway. You probably don’t get that concept.”
“I do not. I do understand another concept, however: stubbornness.”
Arthur blinked. “Good for you.”
“You have it in abundance.”
“You try living with a couple of ex-military hardasses and see how stubborn you get.”
“It is not in your best interest.”
“Well, that’s your opinion.”
He couldn’t tell the Metroid where the sword was – that would mean telling the Metroid where Hec and the girls were, and he still didn’t know what the Metroid wanted. They were known for killing people in the blink of an eye. He couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t tell him.
He shrugged as well as he could with his arms tied behind his back, trying a bluff. “Is that supposed to scare me?”
“It does scare you,” said the Metroid. “I can hear your elevated heartbeat.”
“I bet you say that to all the kidnapping victims.”
“You are my first.”
Arthur opened his mouth, then shut it, and shrugged.
“I will damage your friend until you talk.”
“He’s not really my friend,” Arthur drawled, his mouth dry with fear. He was seconds away from watching the alien robot murder Kay, he could feel it under his skin, and he didn’t know what to do. “He’s more like a weird surrogate dad. Maybe an uncle. Hec’s more the dad type.”
She cleared her throat loudly. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To find Arthur.”
“Sorry. You can’t leave the tent.”
He couldn’t look over his shoulder without more pain, so he turned to fully face her. “Watch me.”
She snorted. “Says the guy I could probably cripple with a well-aimed pillow.”
Kay’s mouth twitched. He was tempted to like her – probably would have, under different circumstances. Right now, he just wanted to be able to snatch the gun from her hands, and he seriously doubted his body would let him.
She was followed by a man who looked more pirate than civilian. His long hair was pulled away from a leonine face, and he lowered a cigar from his teeth when he saw Kay.
Then he grinned. It wasn’t a wide expression – more like a smirk with teeth, but it rubbed Kay the wrong way and he felt an immediate desire to punch the guy in the face.
Cool it, he said to himself.
“Where is Arthur?” he asked, keeping his tone even.
“About thirty feet that way.” The man gestured outside the tent, then made a sweeping gesture with his cigar, indicating Kay’s frame from head to foot. “You look like you tried to wrestle a tractor.”
“He doesn’t have a good sense of humor,” said the woman. It took Kay a second to realize she was talking about him, not the man.
“Ah.” He lifted the cigar to his mouth, the tip glowing orange before he blew out a long stream of thick, sweet-smelling smoke. “I wouldn’t be either, if I looked like that. Makes me miss aspirin just looking at him.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Leave a note and head out.” He shrugged, wiping gasoline off his hands with a rag.
Elaine stared. “We’re just leaving?”
“Don’t look at me like that; we’re going to look for ‘em.” He shook his head with an incredulous frown. “Geez.”
She released a pent-up breath. “Okay. Great, I feel better.”
“You always go around assuming the worst like that?”
She snorted. “Like you don’t?”
His eyebrows drew together. “Maybe, but I’ve seen more shit. You’re a kid.”
“A kid in the apocalypse.”
The corner of his mouth lifted slightly in a near-grin. “Eh, good point, I guess.”
“And I’m not a kid. I’m twenty-one.”
“You’re a kid until you stop saying ‘I’m not a kid,’ trust me.”
“Oh, yeah?” She wanted to be annoyed, but she couldn’t find it in herself.
“Most new cars are harder to siphon gas from,” he said. “They don’t have a cap over the gas tap, so you have to put this in there first, then use the guide tube.”
“Wow.” With equal parts appreciation and apprehension, she asked, “Where did you learn that?”
He grinned a little and crouched down, putting the pieces into the open toolbox at his feet. “What, you mean did I learn it in prison?”
“No,” she said quickly, grimacing. That was exactly what she’d meant.
“Well, I didn’t learn it in prison.”
“I learned how to make a shiv in prison, though.”
Gwen raised both eyebrows and glanced at the garage door. “Oh.”
He looked up. “That was a joke.”
“I was really hoping it was,” she admitted with a laugh.
Hec turned right, heading farther up the mountain, and Gwen blinked. “You think they went this way?”
“Aren’t the roads better the other way?”
He glanced at her. “You’re a couple of guys driving a fast car for the first time in six years, you gonna take the safe boring route?”
“So are you really okay?”
“Yeah, I’m all right,” said Kay easily.
“Who patched you up?”
Kay’s clear eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?”
“Because I want to ask them how you’re doing and see if they say ‘yeah, he’s all right.’”
“It’s not that bad, moron.”
“Look,” said Arthur, allowing the X-Caliber to rest on the ground and relieve the tension in his arm, “there are two kinds of guys who get hurt. The smart type, who recognizes they’ve been injured and should probably take care of it, or the dumb kind who pretends nothing happened and probably exacerbates the problem.”
“What the hell does ‘exacerbates’ mean?”
“Thus illustrating my point that you’re the dumb kind.”
“He doesn’t know how it works either,” said the Metroid, sounding miffed.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No. Kidding isn’t ‘my thing,’” the Metroid retorted.
“Then why bring it to me? If you don’t even know how to use it, or what I’m supposed to do with it? Are you crazy, or are you just some kind of chaotic neutral?”
“I am a lawful neutral. I resent the implication I am capable of chaos.”
Arthur snorted. “What if I swung it at you, huh? If it’s so darn special, it could probably do some damage.”
“Try it, tough guy,” said the robot, sounding suddenly both paternal and annoyed.