It was a mess, twisted and black, still damp from the water and foam used to put the fires out.
Major Whistler had built a good fort. He built a strong fort. But he couldn’t have expected an attack from a robot army, and the Captain had arrived on scene too late to stop the destruction of the Old Fort.
Jack stood in the middle of the debris. He wore jeans and a t-shirt, now covered in soot and mud. Turning to the nearest pile, he picked up a piece of timber that had once been a support beam for the barracks. He lifted it up easily, placing it with the other larger pieces that had managed to survive the fire.
It was a little past noon, the air heavy and the sky grey. Jack knew it was going to storm soon, but he didn’t care. He’d been discharged from the hospital feeling good as new. His strength had returned, and a little bit of wind wouldn’t slow him down.
Just then, he heard a commotion behind him. It was Margot, trying to pull something out of her hair. She saw him and smiled, still trying to free the offending object from where it was attached to her scalp.
“Dammit,” she said, “I got stuck in a branch crossing over from the park, and now I think I’ve got something stuck in my hair.”
Jack turned towards her voice, another large piece of timber in his hand. He saw his assistant struggling and frowned.
“What are you doing here?” Jack said. “And how did you get stuck in a tree branch?”
“I don’t know,” Margot said, her voice edged with annoyance. “I thought I’d go on a walk, and then it just came out of nowhere.”
“Were you on your phone?” Jack asked.
Margot glared. She dropped her hands from her hair.
“No,” she said, avoiding his gaze.
Jack nodded, knowing otherwise. He tossed the charred piece of wood onto the pile.
“I’d offer to help,” he said raising his soot-covered hands, “but—“
“—no, I’m good,” Margot said quickly. “I think I’ve got it.”
A beat passed between them, and then Jack turned back to sorting through the debris.
“What are you doing?” Margot said.
“Just cleaning up,” Jack said.
“Well, I mean they have people for that,” Margot said. “The Mayor said—“
“—the Mayor should have had this whole thing cleaned up already,” Jack said. “It’s a damn eyesore.”
Margot shifted on her feet. “I mean—yeah, I guess it is.”
She looked out at the small field, now covered with blackened wood. In her mind, she thought about all the times she’d visited the Fort. She remembered wandering through during a festival, and even as far back as grade school, when history was still important enough for regular reenactments at the Fort.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” Margot said. “Rufus and Amber had like, nine robots. Each one of those robots had a flamethrower, and I think even one of them had a buzzsaw.”
“Yeah,” Jack said, grunting as he picked up a section of a wall and tossed it into a pile. “I remember.” He winced at the memory of the blade hitting his arm.
Margot looked down, her face red. Jack continued to work on sorting through the wreckage. She looked down and picked up a stray piece of debris. Turning it over in her hands and she frowned.
“Jack,” she said. “What if we get out of town for a couple days?”
Jack grunted again, but didn’t stop his work.
“No, seriously,” Margot said. “We could fly up to Chicago, maybe go shopping or something. You always love shopping, and we could go to a sports game, something you like—“
Margot trailed off when she realized Jack wasn’t listening.
She walked over to where Jack was crouched on the ground, looping up some exposed wire so nobody would trip over it. His back was turned to her.
“We could go tonight,” Margot said, the words rushing out faster than she intended. “There’s a thousand other places we can go better than this, and maybe—I don’t know. I never wanted to stay here anyway. The economy is turning around, you know?”
Jack dropped the wire, and stood up to his full height. He turned around and looked at Margot. His eyes were bright, his face covered in soot. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Margot balked, pausing to drop her head and run a hand through her hair. “I was just saying, I mean—you always wanted to move on to a bigger city and maybe this whole mess is a good time to just cut our losses and move on.”
Jack frowned and looked down at his hands. He wiped them on the front of his shirt. Despite her concern, Margot almost smiled at the sight of the prissy superhero so nonchalant about his clothing.
“I mean, Jack,” Margot said slowly. “It always seemed like you didn’t want to be here, like you didn’t want to do this whole superhero gig here in Fort Wayne. And—this place is important to me but, you don’t have to, I mean, it’s not like this is the only place in the world that needs saving.”
Jack looked at her, but didn’t say anything.
Margot continued to ramble, but fell silent when Jack reached up and pulled something out of her hair.
It was the offending twig she had been searching for earlier. Margot went to reach for it, but Jack held onto it, examining it as if looking for clues. She dropped her hand and looked up at her boss.
Jack was quiet when he finally spoke.
“Before I came out here,” he said, “I wanted so very badly to have a city of my own, a place to protect. And then, the only option after graduation—“
“—was here,” Margot said, slowly understanding.
Jack nodded. “Yeah. And when I got here, when I finally had my very own city to protect, nobody cared. And you know what—neither did I. There wasn’t anything I found that seemed worth saving.”
Margot’s face dropped, and Jack flinched, realizing what he had said. “Wait,” he said, reaching for her arm. “That’s not what I meant—I mean, that’s not what I think now,” Jack said.
“Oh really,” Margot said. Her voice wavered slightly from the feeling of his hand, warm and wrapped around her forearm.
“I had just thought—well, it always just seemed like a game is all,” Jack said. “I’d never even been hurt before. Not ever back home, not ever in training. Not until the robots.”
Margot wondered why he hadn’t let go of her arm, but she didn’t say anything.
“Now, I’m so damn scared of losing that I don’t even know what to do,” Jack said. “But if I get this mess straightened out here,” he said, gesturing with his free hand, “at least that’s done. Then, we can figure out how to go after Amber and stop her before she does something worse.”
Margot smiled. She put her hand on the one still wrapped around her arm. Jack smiled and pulled her into a hug.
“You ruined this shirt,” she said slowly, trying her best to hide her amusement at the look of horror on her boss’s face.
“Margot,” Jack said, his voice strained. “I’m so sorry—I’ll buy you another one.”
“Oh don’t worry, I’ll deduct this as an expense,” Margot said. “First, let’s finish this up before the rain gets here. What can I do to help?”
Jack smiled. “Just start with that piece of there,” he said, gesturing at a small board. “We can go from there."
Back to (260): Unsatisfied