A bell rang and the elevator doors closed. The people inside tried not to sweat on each other much. Ladybird particularly hated sweat, or at least her dossier said so. Her dark chitin-colored skin found it particularly difficult to sweat, and she hated many things, and both were strong signs that she would hate sweat, and would probably hate people who sweated near her. She was an x-factor. The nurse with them was also an x-factor, but there was no controlling that ahead of time, and it would be minimal compared to Ladybird. The most controlled element of this operation was Fulton Handler, and he was sweating the most. He sweated so much that Ladybird crammed herself in a corner away from him.
Being a Wish-A-Wish sponsor was difficult. Every kid had wishes and nobody would ever be granted exactly the wish they wanted. Fulton tried his best to keep up with the names. So many kids. What’s worse is all the collaboration required to make the wishes come true. He was anxious because this was an industry where you had to have done things before and my god he was with someone who hadn’t ever done this before. Seizing his tie he eyed her up and down, knowing that somehow everything was going to go wrong and everyone was going to be mad. Everyone.
Especially Mr. Fairway. He would have a fit if he saw how much Fulton spent booking the Ladybird, while he was out working hard trying to campaign for healthcare funding cuts that were valuable to the Wish industry. He would be in his office all day, answering calls and preparing the perfect ways to berate Fulton for his excesses.
“Is something the matter?” Ladybird asked, her antennae scraping the ceiling of the cramped little elevator whenever she so much as moved an inch. She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at Fulton for staring.
“No! Nothing. Everyting is fine.” Fulton replied. “So, are those real?”
“No.” Ladybird said. “I’m just an actor whose forehead managed to sprout antennae just like Ladybird’s.”
She glared at him. Fulton knew off-hand that Ladybird had punched some robots and done some things. She was the city’s resident super heroine, and the red and black polkadot neoprene suit, the goggles, the antennae and translucent wings hidden under fleshy folds in her open back, all seemed to suggest it. But Fulton was so busy! Kids were always in the hospital and always wishing things and by god, he had to make all the wishes come true. He couldn’t keep up with the news. He had also read in Ladybird’s dossieur that she might hate aggrandizement, on account of also hating many things.
When the elevator bell rang again, and the others opened, Fulton rushed out ahead, feeling like he would tip over and faint from the heat. Ladybird ambled behind him, and the nurse smiled and led them to the room.
It was a little private room high up in the hospital, with a breath-taking view of Central Newfork. Crowds marched below them like motes of dust carried by a fickle wind, and cars were like colored chiclets and trails of light rushing across pretedermined paths. There was a little child in the room, made all the littler by the bundle of pillows and blankets she was cocooned in, pale as a ghost. She cast a silent, wan look at the doorway.
Ladybird failed to smile, and Fulton failed with her, too anxious to start the wish-granting process.
The nurse succeeded in smiling in their stead. “Ackley, these are Mr. Fulton, and the Ladybird, from Wish-A-Wish!” She said cheerfully. “They’re here about your wish. You wanted to meet the Ladybird, right?”
“Correction,” Ackley said, poking her head from out of the blankets, “My wish was phrased thus: ‘I wish that the Ladybird perform some favors for me.'” Satisfied with her correction, she started to twist one of her long and thin pigtails around her index finger, waiting blankly for a response from the doorway. The nurse smiled like a champion.
“Ooookay.” Ladybird said. “Well, um,” She rubbed her chin, “what’re you sick with?”
Something buzzed loudly from Ladybird’s ear. “FOR GOD’S SAKES DON’T ASK HER THAT!”
“Shut up Dragonfly,” Ladybird said, tapping against her earpiece.
“She’s right, don’t ask her that! You’re already ruining everything!” Fulton said, near to tears with despair.
“I have Stilton’s Syndrome.” Ackley replied matter-of-factly. “It makes liquid nitrogen bubbles in my lungs sometimes.”
“Oh my god.” Ladybird replied, hands gripping her own chest. “How does that even happen?”
“Don’t reply like that.” Dragonfly urged. Ladybird reflexively tuned her out.
“My chances of survival are minimal.” Ackley said. “But I have made peace with this reality.”
“That’s so frickin’ sad.” Ladybird said, sobbing.
“This is awkward for all of us!” The nurse chimed in merrily. “Don’t worry, I remember the first time Captain Captain did a Wish-A-Wish grant here. He was also very nervous with the children.”
“Captain Captain isn’t a real superhero though.” Ladybird said, wiping tears from her eyes.
“DON’T SAY THAT.” Fulton and Dragonfly shouted, both right in Ladybird’s ear.
“Can I have my favors now?” Ackley asked, raising her hand from the bed bundle.
Fulton collected himself. “Why yes, of course Ackley. Ladybird will do anything you want!” He was in the zone now. He thought of kids and the things kids liked. His imagination soared as he recalled his extensive child psychology classes. He thought of blues and blues things and then fixed himself and thought of pinks and pink things because Ackley was actually a girl. He fell out of the zone for a moment because that was stereotyping and he shouldn’t do that but then he climbed back into the zone. He was in the zone. Again. “Ladybird could fly you around Newfork, like she does all the time!”
“I could.” Ladybird added. “I could also bifurcate one of Dr. Cruciere’s stupid robots while you watch. You could have the chunk that has her stupid logo on it as a present, if it’s not radioactive or booby trapped.”
“Yes! I mean, no!” Fulton said, stomping the ground. “She can have safe things!”
“Okay!” Ladybird said, “I can take her to a baseball game. Or take her to the museum.”
“You could make her a princess for a day!” Fulton said, trying to grasp a girlish thing to suggest.
“I want PVC pipe.” Ackley said.
The room fell silent. Even the nurse had failed to smile now.
“You want what?” Fulton said, scrabbling at his own mouth as he said it.
“PVC Pipe, this list of industrial fertilizers and chemicals, and some spare computer parts.” Ackley reached down the neck of her pajamas and produced a small list of items that she wanted Ladybird to procure.
Ladybird took the list. She reviewed it. “Well. She wants PVC pipe all right.”
Fulton wanted to cry. This was very much not like the business. This was not in the same Venn diagram sector as the business, in absolutely any way. The Business had left the building. But this was a wish. And you had to grant kid’s wishes – or else you made no money and the bank foreclosed your house. Kids needed wishes and so did Fulton.
“Um, I’m a bit worried, about this. Because you know, we got the Ladybird to come, and that was kinda expensive–”
“I wasn’t paid anything actually.” Ladybird said.
“The bookers who approached you were kind of expensive.” Fulton corrected. “And Mr. Fairway, our CEO, you know, he wants every kid to have a wish granted, but, you know, in a budget conscious way and all.”
“I’m afraid if I don’t have my wish I will have to make this a media scandal.” Ackley replied. “I believe the headlines might go ‘Genius Girl Denied Wish By Sad, Scared Man.’ I’m very well versed in Mr. Fairway’s current lobbying against child healthcare and other aspects of your organization you’d rather not make the news cycle for the day.”
Fulton turned stark white and grabbed hold of the door for support. “DO IT LADYBIRD, DO IT.”
Ladybird nodded. “I’ll be back in a bit with that PVC pipe and junk. And uh, power tools?”
“Yes, I need power tools.” Ackley said. “They needn’t be child-safe. You’ll supervise me.”
“Roger.” Ladybird said, giving a thumbs up. She opened the window, spread her elytra and translucent wings, and dove out the side of the hospital and toward the nearest House Shack.
* * *
“You know,” Dragonfly said, “this reminds me of something.”
Ladybird muted her earpiece again.
A chilling wind blew over the roof of the Fairway Children’s Hospital as the Wish-A-Wish representatives, Fulton, Ladybird and the beaming nurse gathered to supervise Ackley. Wrapped in a bundle of blankets with a pillow over he head, she twisted nuts, mixed chemicals, and soldered silicon chips on the roof of the building, while the puzzled onlookers tried to determine what the child’s perhaps final building project would be.
“Unmute her, she was saying something important!” Fulton demanded.
Ladybird growled and unmuted her earpiece, turning the volume up for Fulton to hear. Dragonfly was in the middle of counting off all the things Ladybird had gone to buy and acquire for Ackley’s wish.
“–Amonia tablets, fertilizer, a GPS module, an old miniature ASAN rocket engine, hmm.”
“How did you even get that?” Fulton asked, looking at the rocket engine as Ackley affixed it.
“I stole it from an ASAN facility.” Ladybird shrugged. “It’s the kid’s last goddamn wish.”
“Well, you know, this is irregular. Mr. Fairway won’t be happy with this at all.” Fulton said.
Ackley smiled. “That may soon cease to be a problem.”
She flipped a switch, and her construction came to life. The rocket lit and burnt and blasted the PVC edifice and its chemical payload into the night sky, leaving behind a heavy stench of fertilizer. It arced and twisted in the sky, circling around a nearby skyscraper, dodging under a pair of streetlights far below, rising anew. It sputtered once, then suddenly thrust sharply into the peak of an adjacent building and erupted. A single office upon the face of the building was reduced to a cloud of green biohazardous ash. There were screams, and sirens, and people on the ground growing terribly erratic. There was a second explosion and people flying out of the office. Smoke trailed into the sky and flashing lights piled up below.
“Oh!” Dragonfly said, “A home-made explosive chemical missile! That’s what I’m reminded of!”
Ladybird tapped her earpiece. “That just kinda happened, right now.”
“I knew it!” Dragonfly said. “It hit the Fairway building right? Right next to Fairway Hospital?”
“Uh huh.” Ladybird said.
“I’ve figured everything out Ladybird.” Dragonfly said. “Signed, sealed, delivered.”
“Yeah. Delivered. Quite.” Ladybird said, staring blankly at the devastated office.
Ackley lay down atop her blankets, sighing. “And that’s my wish. Thank you Ladybird.”
“No problem.” Ladybird said, scratching her hair nervously.
The Nurse fainted. Fulton choked.
This is what happened when you worked with people who hadn’t done things before.