Annabelle wished there were some way to call her parents so that she could say goodbye. In spite of their various shortcomings, she loved them and was grateful for giving her a very good life.
But her hands and feet here bound by robotic arms, so there was no way to grab Eleanor’s device and place the call. And so she closed her eyes and thought about Ellen and hoped that Max’s hand lasers would do their job quickly.
Just then, Annabelle heard a sound like the end of the world. Her eyes flew open as one of the colossal eye-socket windows shattered into a million pieces. A bright white streak shot through the air above her head landed with astonishing grace on the ground beside her.
“Ninja!” Annabelle had never been so happy.
“NEW TARGET ACQUIRED. REPROCESSING!” said Max.
“Do you have any idea how much that window cost?” Dr. Fungo wailed, brushing tiny pebbles of safety glass off the shoulder of his evil smock. “The question was not rhetorical!” he said, stomping his small, angry foot and glaring at Ninja.
Ninja’s right eye twitched.
“Darn it! I know you’re trying to tell me something,” said Annabelle, reminding herself that she simply had to learn to speak Ninja at the soonest opportunity.
“Something really important?” she prompted, doing the best to read the contours of Ninja’s face.
Ninja nodded. Much more vigorously than Ninja usually did.
“CHARGING LASERS IN 10, 9…” said Max.
“They don’t need to charge, Max!” said Fungo. “They are already charged! Incinerate the ninja now, please!”
“His name is Ninja!” said Annabelle, defiantly.
“ …7, 6, 5…”
“Seriously, Max. I am the boss of you,” said Fungo. “Please fire now.”
Ninja’s face was a carnival of twitches, tics, and wiggles.
“Sorry, Ninja, I just don’t understand.”
“MAX, I COMMAND YOU TO FIRE!”
Just then, there was another thundering crash as something shattered the other enormous eye socket window. There was a blur of a streak and a roar, and then Floyd was standing beside Annabelle, grinning wildly and wearing an impressive looking jetpack.
“Annabelle,” said Floyd, trying to look serious, but obviously quite delighted to have broken Fungo’s window.
“Couldn’t you have just come in through the one that was already broken?” asked Fungo, even more irritated.
“NEW TARGET ACQUIRED, REPROCESSING,” said Max.
“Isn’t it exciting how he has to charge before he can fire?” asked Annabelle with glee.
“Aaaaargh!” wailed Fungo with glee’s polar opposite.
“CHARGING IN 10, 9, 8…”
“Do you guys have a plan?” Annabelle asked Floyd, who was holding up a finger as if to say, I am currently winded and not quite able to speak.
Annabelle gulped. There were no more eye socket windows left to shatter. No more allies to come to the rescue and throw Max off his game. At some point, Max was actually going to fire.
“Suddenly, I’m slightly less winded,” said Floyd, still gasping, but standing upright again.
Floyd glanced over at Ninja, whose face was trying its hardest to be understood.
“Are you sure?” asked Floyd.
“What did the ninja say?” said Fungo.
“HIS NAME IS NINJA!” said Annabelle and Floyd together.
“…6, 5, 4…”
“Ninja says it’s time for the Triple Jimbo,” Floyd whispered to Annabelle.
“I heard that!” said Fungo.
“How exciting!” said Annabelle, “But…I never learned how it works.”
“That’s ok,” said Floyd. “You just stay put, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
“Doesn’t it require all three of us?”
“Strange as it sounds, the Triple Jimbo only requires two people.”
“I know, right?”
“…3, 2…” said Max.
“What’s this Triple Jimbo?” said Fungo, suspiciously, “It sounds like a game changer.”
“It absolutely is,” said Floyd. “Ready, Ninja?”
“…1…” said Max. “LASERS CHARGED.”
“FINALLY!” said Fungo. “FIRE! FIRE!”
“I AM SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING IT,” said Max, slowly raising his laser hands.
But just then, Floyd lunged to the left of Max and Ninja to the right, running in circles around him in opposite directions.
Max’s robotic head kept pivoting back and forth, trying to follow both Floyd and Ninja at once and having a difficult time of it.
“CONFUSING SITUATION,” said Max. “REPROCESSING.”
“Incinerate one of them at a time!” Fungo pleaded. “This isn’t hard. Or incinerate Annabelle, at least! SHE IS NOT MOVING!”
“PLEASE REMAIN QUIET AND CALM WHILE I REPROCESS,” said Max with a lack of expression that made him sound even creepier.
Suddenly, Floyd and Ninja started running together in the same direction, and as they did, Max’s head spun slowly counterclockwise, trying to track their movements but never quite catching up.
“MY NECK SEEMS TO BE GETTING LONGER AND LONGER,” said Max, as the threads of the mighty bolt that held his head in place became exposed.
“Your head isn’t just…screwed on, is it?” asked Fungo in horror.
Max’s head fell off and landed on the floor. “REPROCESSING,” it said. The rest of Max just stood there.
“The Triple Jimbo! It worked!” said Annabelle.
“Design flaw!” screamed Fungo.
“Woof,” said Franz. He had found a rubber ball and was looking hopefully at up Fungo and wagging his tail.
“Victory!” said Floyd.
“Not quite,” said Fungo. He pushed a button, and 99 more robots identical to Max rose up through the floor and pointed their laser hands at Floyd.
Annabelle was undaunted. “The Triple Jimbo. Can it work with 99 robots at once?”
But Floyd was bent over, hands on his knees, taking great wheezing breaths. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m winded again. My asthma has flared up.”
“The most aggressive kind.”
“Is this the reason Em won’t let you be a full time operative?”
“Why didn’t you say?”
“My foolish pride.”
“But it would have helped me understand.”
“I wanted you to like me.”
Annabelle understood that. There were a few things about herself that she didn’t want other people to know.
“I do like you,” she said, realizing in that moment that it was true.
“Thanks,” said Floyd. Annabelle wondered if they might shake hands or have a quick hug, but Floyd started wheezing again.
“Why don’t you have a seat on that bench over there?” Annabelle suggested.
Annabelle turned to Ninja. “How about you and me? We can do it, right?”
But Ninja had fallen asleep. “Seriously, Ninja?” asked Annabelle.
“Cut him some slack,” said Floyd, “He sprinted all the way here.”
Annabelle felt guilty. Ninja had come to her rescue in spite of being conflict-averse. Floyd had exerted himself in spite of being predisposed to dangerous shortness of breath. They were her friends. She was part of a team.
But at this moment, with Floyd slumped on his bench and Ninja fast asleep, she was once again alone.
Alone and shackled and surrounded by 99 laser hand-robots.
“TARGET ACQUIRED. CHARGING IN 10, 9…” said all 99 in perfect creepy unison.
Something in Annabelle shifted. The part of her that believed everything was going to be all right took a good hard look at her current situation.
Annabelle thought about Em’s words, “There is always a way.” But in this moment, Annabelle couldn’t for the life of her think of what that way might be. She felt…hopeless. The sensation was as strange and unwelcome as wearing someone else’s glasses.
But as quickly as the feeling came, it was gone again, replaced by an understanding of why she had refused to be Fungo’s henchman in the first place.
Fungo had tried to recruit her because of the things she could do. Her skills and abilities. Her lightning-quick reflexes.
Em believed in her because of the things that she was—her toughness and courage and wisdom and goodness. These were the things that were going to save the world, not her extraordinary intellect or her piercing stare or her extraordinary vertical leap. These were the things that neither Fungo nor an army of 99 robots could ever take away.
Suddenly, a geyser of red hot hope sprung up from the very middle of Annabelle’s heart and slammed into her brain.
She had an idea.
“…3, 2…” said 99 robots.
“All right, all right!” said Annabelle.
“Yes?” said Fungo. “What is it?”
“I’ll join you,” said Annabelle. “I will be your henchman.”
Fungo broke into a wide grin, as if he’d been playing chess for hours and had finally discovered the move that would ensure his opponent’s downfall.
“Stop, robots,” said Fungo. “Do not incinerate Annabelle.”
“STANDBY, STANDBY, STANDBY,” said 99 robots all at once. The sound was deafening.
“Standby quietly!” said Fungo.
The 99 robots started whispering, “STANDBY, STANDBY, STANDBY, which was still pretty loud, but by shouting a little, Annabelle and Fungo were able to have a reasonable conversation.
“How do I know you mean it?” said Fungo. “How do I know you’re not just saying that to avoid being laser-handed?”
“I’ll prove it to you,” said Annabelle, “Floyd has been working on a new, top-secret super weapon.”
Fungo’s eyes gleamed. “Tell me about it.”
“It’s perfect,” said Annabelle. “Simple, compact, and utterly destructive.”
“Ooh! Those are some of my favorite adjectives. Where is it?”
“I brought it with me. It’s in my backpack. If you remove these shackles, I’ll get it for you.” And when Fungo looked at her skeptically, Annabelle added, “And the 99 robots are welcome to incinerate me if I try to make a run for it.”
Seeming to agree that Annabelle was not a flight risk, Fungo pushed a button, and the robotic hands let go and slithered back into the floor.
Annabelle unzipped her backpack and removed the shoebox. She carried it up the steps to Fungo’s platform.
“Careful,” she said. “This box contains the single most powerful, unstoppable force on the planet. I was going to use it against you, but, since you’ve obviously won…”
Fungo was excited as a bully at his own birthday party. He rubbed his hands together with glee and then held them out to take the box from Annabelle.
He cradled the box as if it were a newborn puppy and then, very slowly, and with great anticipation, opened it and peered inside.
Fungo let out a shriek like the end of the world. He dropped the box and climbed up on top of chair/throne thing and held his hands above his head and continued to make anguished and undignified whooping sounds.
A moment later, a tiny black and white kitten poked its head out of the box and looked lazily around.
“Kill it, Franz! DESTROY IT!”
Franz waddled over to the box and sniffed the kitten before bathing it in loving kisses.
“Good, boy, Franz,” said Annabelle.
“GET THAT HIDEOUS, TERRIFYING CREATURE AWAY FROM MY EXTREMELY VISCIOUS DOG!” said Fungo, whose breathing was so quick and shallow that Annabelle worried he might pass out.
Annabelle saw something move out of the corner of her eye. It was Ninja. He had just woken up from his nap. Like a gauzy white blur, he dashed away from the robots, who were still whispering “standby, standby, standby,” and appeared at Annabelle’s side. He twitched his left nostril and wrinkled up his nose just a tiny bit with an incredibly hopeful look in his eye.
And in that moment, a formerly loose gear inside of Annabelle’s head suddenly slipped into place and she understood exactly what Ninja was trying to say.
“Are you trying to say, ‘Let’s come up with a plan to foil Fungo while he is utterly incapacitated by that adorable kitten?”
Ninja’s eyes got wide, and he nodded enthusiastically.
Annabelle smiled. She raised her right eyebrow then pursed her lips and flared her nostrils twice, but what Ninja heard was, “Go get Floyd, and together, turn that gigantic dial to the smiley face setting.”
Ninja nodded and even sort of smiled.
That’s so unlike him, thought Annabelle, entirely pleased.
While Fungo continued to shriek, Floyd and Ninja turned the dial all the way to the left. And when they did, the kitten stood up on its two hind furry legs and started doing a playful, jazzy tap routine while walking closer and closer to Fungo.
How I wish he had tiny tap shoes on! thought Annabelle.
Fungo writhed and moaned as if he had been suddenly submerged in a tub of powerful acid. He ran back and forth as if he were on fire and needed to be put out. He lay on the floor and howled as if he were being bitten by thousands of angry red ants. Clutching his stomach as if he was about to lose his lunch, Fungo staggered over to his chair/throne thing, fastened the seatbelt, and pulled a lever on the side. Propelled by white-hot rockets, the seat shot up into the air, through a hatch the top of the skull, and into the night.