The Imprecise Art of Sidekick Acquisition
by T.R. North
Jennifer Jackson glowered through her goggles and tapped her fingers idly against her holstered freeze-guns. The nervous receptionist blinked back at her and tried to smile.
“If this is a trap…” She squinted at the nametag. “…Susan, you will rue the day you heard the name Dr. Omega.”
Jennifer leaned across the counter at the woman. Between her average frame and the way she needed platform boots to manage average height, it was difficult to loom properly. The dentist’s office apparently didn’t see many attempts at it, though, because the cowed receptionist shrank back and gave her an even more ingratiating smile.
“It’s not a trap!” Susan squeaked. “You’re down as Emily Navarro’s emergency contact!”
A clipboard with the evidentiary paperwork was quickly produced, and Jennifer suppressed a sigh. The looping scrawl was unmistakably Lightning Lass’s handwriting. She dropped the clipboard on the laminate with a clatter and drew herself up to her full height.
“Very well. What emergency prompted this summons?”
“Um.” Susan coughed. “Her father was supposed to pick her up an hour ago, but he’s not answering his cell? And she needed general anesthesia for the procedure, so she really can’t be left alone?”
Jennifer shook her clenched fist at the ceiling, then brought it down on the counter with a bang. “Blackguard!”
She’d been minutes away from a breakthrough with her latest deathray design when she’d gotten the receptionist’s call. Last time, it had been a soccer coach pulling her out of talks to form a villainous coalition because he’d needed someone to sign off on treatment for Emily’s sprained ankle. Before that, it had been a concerned guidance counsellor interrupting her during a ransom negotiation because she’d somehow gotten the impression that Jennifer was Emily’s mother, and she wanted to talk about Emily’s poor grades and social anxiety. Jennifer had wound up having to simply release her hostage, ransom unreceived, in order to kidnap Lightning Lass and get to the bottom of the guidance counsellor’s complaints.
She was beginning to consider Professor Electric’s terrible parenting her true nemesis. It had done more to thwart her schemes than a half-dozen of his allies combined.
“So, can you take her home, or…?” Susan asked expectantly.
Jennifer’s shoulders slumped. “Yes, fine. Bring her out. I’ll have the robo-minions bring the hovercar around.”
“Then there’s the small matter of her co-pays,” Susan said, sliding a bill toward her.
Jennifer looked it over, gritted her teeth, and then calmly set it on fire with a laser. There were limits, after all.
“Let that be a lesson to the enemies of Dr. Omega!” she shouted, dropping the burning invoice on the tile. “As goes this office, so will go the world!”
“Hey, JJ,” Emily giggled, wobbling along behind an alarmed-looking hygienist. “My dad bail again?”
“Perhaps,” Jennifer said, her tone all menace. “Or perhaps I have finally banished the wretch and his allies to the tenth dimension!”
The colleague who’d first called Jennifer ‘JJ’ in front of a captive Lightning Lass actually had been banished to the tenth dimension for the lapse. They were her initials, yes, but Jennifer hadn’t duly registered the name ‘Dr. Omega’ just to have science-heroes going around calling her JJ all the time. Jennifer had never, in spite of her best efforts, managed to pin down Professor Electric long enough to dispatch him to the dimension of no return.
Eventually she’d given up on it under the assumption that, should she ever succeed, she’d somehow end up being responsible for Emily full-time. It was disruptive enough when the kidnappings that should have taken mere hours to lure Professor Electric into traps instead stretched out days or even weeks. His failure to respond appropriately to threats to his daughter’s life were even more infuriating than his penchant for foiling Jennifer’s plans.
“Yeah, right,” Emily snorted. She gave the hygienist a conspiratorial grin. “He totally bailed.”
“We’ll just send him a bill, then,” Susan said. She watched the invoice burn to ash from a safe distance and grimaced.
“Can I stay with you this weekend, JJ?” Emily asked. She started to tilt too far back, and the hygienist quickly righted her.
“Is one of your father’s sniveling assistants on duty?” Jennifer asked sharply. She’d been stuck with Emily for a full summer once.
Professor Electric had been whisked away by a pack of alien freedom-fighters to help save the galaxy while Emily had been at a Science Heroes Youth League sleep-away camp. It had been fine until the camp had closed with him still off-planet and incommunicado and Emily’s delinquent, absentee mother in jail for check kiting. The head counselor had dropped Emily off at Devil’s Island and explained, from a safe distance, that Jennifer was the closest thing the girl had to a responsible guardian. That he’d had a point had been particularly galling.
Jennifer had reluctantly taken care of Emily, but Devil’s Island was no place for a child. And however proud she might have been when Emily had taken first prize at the science fair that fall with a project that owed more to Jennifer’s designs than Professor Electric’s, there simply wasn’t room in Jennifer’s schedule to play foster-mother to a neglected junior science-hero forever.
“His grant expired last week, so they all left,” Emily said.
“Bah! This is why robots are infinitely superior in every way to interns,” Jennifer sneered. She grimaced at the sharp whine coming from the hovercar as the robo-minion at the wheel deployed the inertial dampeners too abruptly. “Is there anything to eat in the facility besides tv dinners and expired pudding cups?”
“My wrath will fall upon that man like a bolt from the heavens!” Jennifer growled. She held the door while the hygienist ushered Emily into the parking lot.
“Does that mean you finally got your orbital laser platform running?” Emily asked. Two robo-minions floated out of the cabin and maneuvered her into the passenger seat.
“My wrath will fall upon that man like a bolt from the heavens as soon as the replacement gigacapacitor arrives!” Jennifer corrected grudgingly. “And buckle that seatbelt, young lady. Invulnerability is not among your gifts!”
“My dad never makes me wear a seatbelt,” Emily grumbled.
Maybe, Jennifer thought, it was time to take another look at the robo-nanny design she’d shelved once she’d hit menopause.
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T.R. North was born and raised in Florida and has never been featured in a “News of the Weird” column run in another state.