“Robot Girl & Underdog Boy”
Robot girl opens her eyes. She’s been dreaming again. She shakes the fading images, and the lonely child they contained, from her head. There is work to do.
She looks on her bedside table. The calendar reads July 15, 1952. The clock tells her it is time to get up. She feels stiff all over. It must have been a rough night. It usually is when you are saving the world.
With a grimace, she moves to get up and put on her robotic gear for another day of heroics. In place, these pieces make her feel alive and able to take on any villain, even the likes of Baron Von Tyrranicus.
She walks awkwardly to the window and looks out to the meadow beyond. She knows Underdog Boy waits for her out there. Why couldn’t her powers include flight? It would be wonderful to fly to him and arrive safely in his arms. But she doesn’t know if he feels that way when he thinks of her. His greatest love has always been helping others, as very well it should be.
She sets out with her super hero gear and it helps her step bravely into the day. Others see her heroic apparatus as strange, but she knows that being different isn’t always such a bad thing. Into the meadow she goes, in search of Underdog boy, to see what adventures await them today.
She finds him by the creek, his cape billowing out behind him. Though it looks more like a costumed Dracula cape, she doesn’t say a word, for it may spoil their moment.
“Hi Underdog Boy,” she says.
He turns and smiles. “Hi Robot girl.”
She wants to sit down next to him, but if she does that she knows she might not want to get back up again. So she stands behind him. She puts one hand on his shoulder.
“I missed you yesterday,” she says.
“I was busy saving a family of four,” he calmly replies. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Are they going to be alright?”
He turns to look up at her. “Yes, I guess so. The boy will have a black eye, but the rest will be fine.”
She doesn’t say anything about the dark circle around his left eye. It would be rude.
“What did you do yesterday?”
“I chased down a thief,” she answers.
“Wow! Cool! Did you catch them?”
“Sure did,” she beams proudly. She doesn’t mention that the thief was her sister and what she stole was her favorite doll. “Justice was served.”
“I’m sure it was,” he agrees, rapping on her robot gear with his knuckles.
“Stop, that tickles.”
He does it again.
“Stop, I said,” she giggles. “You’re going to make me fall.”
“Hey, you want to fly over there?” he asks, pointing across to the other side of the creek.
“Silly, you know I can’t fly.”
“But I can. Come on, I’ll fly you over.”
He gets up and goes to pick her up.
“Don’t, I’m too heavy for you,” she protests.
“No you’re not.” He picks her up in his arms. The weight of her robotics makes him hesitate for just a minute as he adjusts her in the cradle of his arms. “You ready?”
“Oh no, put me down Underdog Boy!”
“Nope, we’re going flying,” he says, and he carries her into the creek. “Wheeeee!”
She screams in delight, as he bounds across the creek rocks, with her in his arms. “Yay, we’re flying!”
“Yeah, we’re flying,” he agrees, splashing through the water to carry her to the other side.
They reach the bank and he gently sets her down. She stands on unsteady legs for a moment, trying to get used to the ground again. He touches her arm to help her adjust.
“Did you like the flight, miss?” he asks in a courteous voice.
“Why, yes I did, kind sir,” she replies, trying a half curtsey without losing her balance. For a moment she thinks of kissing him. How easy it would be just to get on her tiptoes and plant one on his face.
Before she can get the courage, a scream breaks the silence.
“What’s that?” she cries in alarm.
“Someone’s in trouble, come on!”
He helps Robot girl up the embankment and they head into the surrounding woods, Underdog boy taking the lead, his companion following behind the best she can. Speed has never been in her powers, but she makes up for it in bravery.
The cry sounds around them again, now more like a banshee’s wail than the scream of a human voice.
“Where are you?” Underdog boy calls out, and a cry comes again in response from a tree branch high above their heads. They both look up. A Kitten is on one of the limbs, clutching the branch as if it is afraid to move.
“It’s Missus Kitten,” Robot girl whispers.
“What’s she doing up there, I wonder.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she’s trying to get away from some new villain.”
“Or a new one,” suggests Underdog Boy.
They both look around, but see no one, not even the notorious Mr. Dog, who has threatened just about everybody on occasion.
“Well, I guess I better go up there and talk her down.” Underdog boy starts up the tree. He’s about halfway up when Missus Kitten decides to jump. “No!” he screams.
“I got her!” calls out Robot Girl, and sure enough she catches Missus Kitten, her robotic costume providing enough strength to support them both.
“Why thank you,” cries Missus Kitten, though it really sounds something like “meow”. She jumps out of Robot Girl’s arms and bounds playfully into the wood.
Underdog Boy climbs out of the tree, smiling. “All’s well that ends well, I suppose.”
“Yes, we did good. We make a pretty good team.” He looks into the woods where Missus Kitten had run. “I wonder why she went up the tree to begin with.”
“Because we were going to eat her,” a voice booms out from the forest. The two heroes spin, Robot Girl almost losing her balance in the process.
They come out of the woods. Three villains. One of them carries a stick. He is Boss Kane. Beside him, his burly, some would say fat, right hand man Boulder. And picking up the rear, a villain notorious for his weapon of choice, Mr. Stone. They chuckle at the sight of the heroes, as they always do, every time their paths cross.
“What have we got here?” Kane grins mischievously. “Little Cassie Deane, and her cry baby boyfriend.”
“Her name is Robot Girl,” Underdog Boy corrects him.
“Robot Girl? Ha! And who are you then? Super Runny Snot Nose Whiney Boy?”
For a moment, it seems like Underdog Boy might cry, but he swallows it back, trying hard to fight his emotions.
“Leave him alone,” commands Robot Girl.
“Leave him alone, leave him alone,” mocks Boulder.
“Nobody was talking to you, fatty,” she bravely says.
There is a look of surprise on his face, before it turns to anger. “Fatty? Did you just call me fatty?” Before she can answer, he shoves her hard with both his hands. She can’t keep her balance and immediately falls over, her robotic gear making a clambering noise as she meets the earth.
“Hey!” yells Underdog Boy, stepping forward to defend her. Boss Kane pokes him in the chest with his stick.
“Oh yeah? What are you going to do, cry on me?”
Underdog Boy stops. He has been here before. Many times before actually. These three villains have been a nemesis to them both over the years. Most times, he had been frozen with fear, afraid to act. Robot Girl was always the braver one when it came to them, but now she is lying helpless on the ground struggling to get back up. Boulder stands over her laughing.
Mr. Stone juggles some rocks back and forth in his hand, as if searching his target. Underdog Boy knows it is only a matter of time before he decides to lob one at him. Just like he always does.
“So, what you going to do?” Kane taunts once more, laughing right in Underdog Boy’s face. “Bet you don’t do nothing but cry and run home to mommy!” He makes some exaggerating movements as if he is a baby wiping his eyes. “Mommy, Mommy, I got my diaper wet! Waaaaaa!”
POW! Underdog boy slugs him. His balled up fist right against Boss Kane’s nose. Kane blinks, disbelieving, before reaching his hand up to stop the blood that is now running from his busted nose.
It has surprised everyone, even Underdog Boy himself. And now he has to act fast or Mr. Stone will. He drops to one knee and gathers up the largest rock he can find. He hefts it in Mr. Stone’s direction. The villain is caught off guard and it hits him in the chest.
“Hey! Ow!” he cries, and readies to throw a rock back in return. But Underdog Boy has already found another and throws it before Mr. Stone can counter attack. This one strikes him in the forehead. He drops his own rocks in a yelp of pain.
Boulder is getting ready to leave his position towering over the fallen Robot Girl. “Oh boy, you have had it now!’ he snarls, right before she uses all her might and robotics to force her leg upwards into his crotch. Her foot and leg, surrounded by the metal design, makes an awful sound as it meets its target.
“Ooooof”, he moans, doubling over, holding himself. She manages to crawl out of the way before he falls to his knees, his eyes welling up with tears.
“Good shot, Robot Girl”, Underdog boy exclaims, picking up the stick Boss Kane had dropped.
“Oh you, have had it now,” Kane growls, somewhat nasally.
He lunges at Underdog Boy, but meets the end of his own stick, right upside his cheek.
“You can’t keep on picking on people, you bully,” Underdog Boy warns.
“Oh yeah, well you ain’t seen nothing yet, super hero. We will meet again. And you’ll regret that.” He backs off and nudges Mr. Stone’s arm. “You might have won this day, but you’ll pay tomorrow.”
Collecting both Stone and Boulder, who still has tears in his eyes and is holding himself, the bloodied Boss Kane and his gang retreat back the way they had come.
Underdog Boy steps over to Robot Girl and helps her to her feet.
“That was a good hit,” he reaffirms, grinning at her.
“Yeah but it took too much out of me, because I couldn’t get up.”
“It’s okay, I’ll always protect you.”
She blushes. “I know.”
And in that moment, the courage comes to her and she kisses him. In her mind, the clouds stop moving across the sky. The world itself halts its rotation, while fireworks and music light the scene. In reality, none of that happens. The kiss lasts all of a brief moment, and the clouds keep moving, the world still turns, and she doesn’t see any fireworks until the fourth of July. Still, it is nice.
“What was that for?” Underdog Boy asks.
“I like you,” she says.
“Duh, like tell me something I don’t know,” he grins, and in one swift, yet innocent manner, kisses her back. “Hey, you want to see the new crime detection super computer I’m building?”
Her face lights up. “Sure!”
“Well, come on, I’ll show you.”
She hesitates just a minute. “I don’t know if I can make it.”
“That last adventure must have taken more out of me than I realized. I am quite tired.”
“Well, hey, I’ll carry you. It’s not that far to Secret Headquarters.”
At another time she may argue, but today she gives in easily. The look on her face tells him she is tired on her feet and willing to be piggy backed to his headquarters, which strangely enough is a house not much different than her own.
The walk over field and street to Secret headquarters doesn’t take long. She likes it when he carries her like this. Though she feels like she is too heavy with all her gear, she has to admit it is nice for him to always carry her when she is tired or can not follow.
Still, as they near their destination, she decides it will be best if she walks the rest of the way. To show the world and everyone that she is his equal and will always stand by his side.
“Go ahead and put me down now, okay?”
Underdog boy sets her down, and after she has made a few adjustments, she is ready to go. She takes hold of his hand, and he looks at her smiling. She smiles back reassuringly as they continue down the street. As they round the last corner, their smiles vanish. Standing on the front lawn of Secret Headquarters is Baron Von Tyrannicus. He is talking to Underdog Boy’s manservant,
Mr. Roberts (whom the young hero often calls Dad).
They both turn their heads as the superheroes approach. Robot Girl lets go of Underdog Boy’s hand. “It’s Tyrannicus,” she whispers.
“I know,” he says. “I wish your mom would come instead.”
“Yeah,” she sighs, knowing her step dad isn’t none too happy.
“Child, where have you been?” he wants to know. “Get over here! Your mom and I have been worried sick. You know better than to take off like that.” He admonishes her with a look and she doesn’t dare meet Tyrannicus’ gaze.
The man fixes his look on Underdog Boy. “You’re going to get our fragile little girl hurt one day, boy.” He looks at the manservant just as hard. “I hope you will have a long talk to your son about staying away from our Cassie. It’s going to end hard on them both if he keeps it up.” He prods the girl’s shoulder. “Come on, we got to get you home.”
Robot Girl looks up at her friend. “Bye Underdog Boy. U triple T.” She looks about to cry.
Underdog Boy bites his lip. “U triple T, Robot Girl.”
As Tyrannicus ushers her to the waiting car, Mr. Roberts puts his hand on his son’s shoulder. “What’s with the U triple T?”
“It’s our secret slogan.”
“Ahhh, okay. So you can’t tell me?”
“It wouldn’t be a secret then.”
The man chuckles. “No, I guess not.”
Tyrannicus closes the car door and they can hear him fussing at his stepdaughter through the glass. “You’re going to be the death of your mama for sure,” he says.
Robot Girl doesn’t say anything. She knows it is best to just let him blow off steam. She sits with her hands folded neatly in her lap, looking out the window as they drive off. The dangerous world drifts slowly by her window.
“You need to stay away from that boy, Cassie. He’s trouble.”
“No he’s not,” she whispers quietly so he will not hear. “He’s a hero.”
Standing on the lawn watching the car drive away, Mr. Roberts looks down at his son. “I know you’re just trying to help son, but that girl is different than you are. She can’t run and play like the rest of your friends.”
“Yes she can, dad.”
Father kneels down in front of son. “Listen, I know you both play in this comic book world that you’ve made up, but real life isn’t like that. The girl has to wear those leg braces just to get around, and you dragging her around playing out this fantasy doesn’t help. She’s got Polio, son, and unless they find a cure in ‘53 she could one day die from the disease. Do you understand that?”
“She’s not going to die.”
“Or she could end up spending the rest of her days in an Iron Lung.”
“No she won’t,” the boy says hopefully.
His father is exasperated, and doesn’t know how else to put it. “She’s trouble,” he finally says in desperation.
“No she’s not, she’s a hero.”
In two different bedrooms, they lay in their beds, two kids thinking of each other. They are not much different than you or I. One is healthy. One is not. But their hearts speak a language that most have forgotten, and they both choose to live their lives as free as they possibly can in their tender years. And though a young girl with polio named Cassie Deane is told by her mom and step dad to stay away from the boy with twinkling eyes and a zest for life, days later she sneaks out of the house once again. In her leg braces she walks awkwardly across the meadow and down to the creek where the boy patiently sits waiting. She puts her hand on his shoulder and whispers their secret slogan in his ear.
“U triple T”, Robot Girl says.
Underdog boy smiles. It isn’t a secret to him. “Until Tomorrow There’s Today,” he replies. And then he kisses her.
2016 Paul D Aronson.