A fireball erupted and everything whooshed. The Space Cowboy flew through the air. The Alien Girl covered her lovely head, but not before her eyes gave her away and it was clear that she really cared for the Space Cowboy, that their verbal jousting had been flirting, and the thing he had told her, his vulnerability, had revealed to her the Real Him. The robot whirred and spun and when the smoke cleared, its formerly white exterior was charred gray. The creature’s face was unchanged because his face was always unchanged, but he said the thing he always said in a way that indicated joy.
They nodded at one another and closed ranks, each of them wobbly but still standing. Their foe was reduced to a pile of smoking robes. The thing they were fighting for – the thing they now knew could either save or destroy the universe – was steaming off-center among the scorched remains of their foe. They held their breath, all of them, while the Space Cowboy picked up the thing they had been fighting for, tossed it in the air, caught it in his other hand, and passed it to the Queen.
The crowd cheered and the Queen admitted that she had been wrong, that they weren’t misfits or criminals, but in fact heroes. The Space Cowboy hugged the Alien Girl and they kissed. The robot whirred. They walked away from the battlefield and toward the next scene, wherever that would be, and it was like an old rock song was playing, familiar but distant and uplifting and a little kitschy and still much better than anyone remembered.
“What’s next?” said the Alien Girl. They looked to the Space Cowboy.
“I sure could go for that cheeseburger,” he said, and his world-weary but glib delivery made them laugh and shake their heads and in the gesture, a silent vow was made to follow him wherever he might lead.
“Um...actually?” said the Queen. She smiled and adjusted her crown. “There is a little bit of paperwork. A hearing committee. Standard procedure, you know in, well…” she waved a hand at the still-smoking ruins, the first responders desperately picking through the wreckage.
“But I thought…we’re heroes!” the Space Cowboy said. The Queen’s soldiers, who had seemed supportive, worshipful, even, only a few moments earlier, now closed upon them. Devices were clicked into readiness. Vehicles hovered nearby.
“I sure could go for that cheeseburger,” the Space Cowboy said again, louder this time, but the bravado had come out of his voice and the others looked at the ground. The creature said the thing he always said and it sounded like what it would have normally sounded like.
“Just a formality,” the queen said. “We’ll have it wrapped up in time for the Independence Celebration.” She nodded to the head of her soldiers. The group escorted the Space Cowboy, Alien Girl, Robot, and Creature forward. “You’re probably very big heroes!” the Queen shouted after them. “Almost certainly!”
* * *
“We need a plan!” the Space Cowboy said.
The Alien Girl touched-up the paint on her big toe. The pink stood out in stark contrast to her toad-green skin, and she nodded approvingly. “It’s been one day,” she said. “By tomorrow, we’ll be half a galaxy away.”
The Space Cowboy tried the window again. “There must be a way,” he said.
“It probably takes a while to set up a...what did they call it?” the Alien Girl said. “Special prosecutor.”
“And what the hell are you doing?” the Space Cowboy pointed to the Creature, who said the thing he always said, but in a way that indicated embarrassment mixed with innocence. He held up a book.
“Sudoku?” The Space Cowboy said. “Really?”
The Alien Girl put another layer of enamel on her big toe. The robot whirred and clicked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and then closed it.
“I need to get back to my ship,” The Space Cowboy said.
“Why?” the Alien Girl asked.
“What do you mean, why?” the Space Cowboy said. “Because that’s, like, what I do.”
“Well can’t you just, I don’t know, do something else for a little while? Enjoy the break?”
The Space Cowboy walked to the door, tried the knob again, reached for where his gun would have been. “No,” he said. For the first time, he looked scared.
“No what?” the Alien Girl said.
“No, I don’t think I can do anything else,” he said.
* * *
“But you must have understood on some level that there was a cost associated with all of this.” The Special Prosecutor looked to the Space Cowboy, then back toward the banks of image monitors and their pictures of smoking ruins, crying spouses, beings covered in dust and blood, the candlelight vigils and “missing” signs and workers digging through the ruins.
“I didn’t. I mean, we’re not, like…” the Space Cowboy stammered.
“Yes. I realize that you are, as you said yesterday…” the Special Prosecutor traced his finger down a page. “Ah yes. A ‘ragtag band of misfits.’”
“And the permission to enter our planet’s gravity space, then, was granted by…” the Special Prosecutor pretended to be looking for something. “In fact, you neglected to file a request with the proper authorities. Is that right?”
“Request?” the Space Cowboy said. “I mean, we were fighting our foe. The thing we were fighting for, it can, you know, like, blow up the universe.”
“Yes. About that.” The Special Prosecutor said. “Could you explain exactly how this device works. The physics of it. Just the salient points, so we might understand exactly what you thought you were fighting for when you brought this destruction down upon our city.”
“Salient points?” the Space Cowboy said. “It just, like, I mean, the universe depended on it! We’re the good guys!”
The Alien Girl stood, growing, extending until she loomed over even the portraits hanging on the walls of the chamber. The Alien Girl could do things. She was from a galaxy far away, where beings had evolved in interesting ways that were not beholden to the natural laws on most planets.
The Special Prosecutor tilted his head and cleared his throat. “You’d like to say something?” he said.
“Request a recess,” she said. “Until tomorrow.”
The Special Prosecutor smiled. “Granted,” he said.
The Alien Girl withdrew to her normal height. The Space Cowboy stared ahead. Behind him, in front of him, to all sides, people put away papers, shuffled toward the exits. “I sure could go for that cheeseburger,” the Space Cowboy whispered.
* * *
The Space Cowboy did a set of push-ups and looked out the window. The city was laid out below them, broken and smoldering. Large machines sorted through the rubble, moving piles of what had been buildings, cars, roadways. The Space Cowboy knew that they were looking for people, for beings, the twenty thousand that had been killed or gone missing in the battle with their foe. The Special Prosecutor had taken to opening each “fact gathering session” with the number of the missing, a moment that had become the least awesome part of their increasingly less awesome days.
The Robot was cleaning itself, the display screen gone temporarily blank. The Creature tapped a pencil along the edges of a crossword puzzle. The Alien Girl was reading a gossip magazine.
“You think that’s our fault?” the Space Cowboy said.
The Alien Girl put her hands on his face and turned him away from the window. “We were fighting evil,” she said. “It’s what we do.”
“I know, right?” the Space Cowboy said, and for a moment there was a spark of the misfit spirit that had drawn them together in the first place. Then he looked out the window again and it was gone. “It’s just,” he said, his voice growing thick and soft, “my vulnerability.”
“This must be even harder on you,” the Alien Girl said. “With your vulnerability and all.” She leaned over and they kissed and it was like a power ballad was starting up, slow at first, and then rising as their kisses gained intensity, building to a chorus and then slowing down and soft like a piano bridge, until the Alien Girl pulled back.
“What happened,” the Space Cowboy said.
“I have a plan,” she said.
* * *
“But we were saving the planet! We defeated our foe!” cried the Space Cowboy.
“Indeed,” the Special Prosecutor said. “And if you had taken some care in the process of said defeat, there might be another party who would be financially and criminally liable for this catastrophic event.”
“But he was, like, really really bad!” the Space Cowboy said.
The Special Prosecutor tapped his writing device on his binder. “I’m going to read back your own testimony. As you said on Day One: ‘the universe is full of evil dudes and stuff, and it’s totally up to awesome dudes like us to, you know, fight it.”
“Right!” the Space Cowboy said. He pumped his fist. “Nailed it,” he said in a soft voice.
“So the ability – no, the duty, the assignment, if you will, to fight these ‘evil dudes’ – exactly where did that come from?”
“Where did it come from?” the Space Cowboy said. He looked to the Alien Girl, then the Creature, then the Robot. He winked and placed a hand over his heart. “It came from here,” he said.
“The prosecution rests,” the Special Prosecutor said.
* * *
“I miss Robot,” the Space Cowboy said. “Do you really think they’re just going to clean him?”
The Alien Girl had been looking out the window since they had returned from the Senate Chamber. Tomorrow, they would be sent to maximum security prisons on three separate planets. “You know the answer to that question,” she said.
The Space Cowboy looked out the window, where the Independence Day countdown clock indicated that the celebration would start in three hours. “I’m trying to have a hunch,” he said. “But…”
“That’s it,” said the Alien Girl. She walked into the kitchen and reached a hand into the garbage disposal, extending her arm into the drain. She grimaced and the arm went deeper and deeper.
“What the…” the Space Cowboy said. In the distance, they heard sounds, scraping, something getting closer. The Alien Girl wiped a single bead of sweat off her beautiful green face. There was a grating sound and then the sink was wobbling, moving. Tiles popped. Pipes burst and hissed. Finally the Alien Girl shouted and flung the sink against the wall in a mass of broken pipes and concrete.
After everything had settled, the Space Cowboy looked at the hole where the sink had been. “We’re going down there?” he said.
“Look behind the sink,” the Alien Girl said. The Space Cowboy picked through the rubble and came away with several bundles of rockets. “We’re going through there,” the Alien Girl said, pointing to the window. She made a sound none of them had ever heard before, metallic and high. “I’m calling your ship right now,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
The Creature said the thing he always said and this time it sounded like a high five.
They arranged the fireworks in a row, facing the window. When they lit the fuse, everything whooshed again and the Space Cowboy smiled and winked. “This one’s for you, Robot,” he said, as the explosives burst through the window and out into the open sky above the city. They watched as the rockets found their purchase in buildings or parks or roadways, crowds of people gathering for the celebration. Fires burned.
“What’s next?” the Alien Girl said.
The Space Cowboy’s ship appeared. The portal opened and the steering mechanism beckoned.
“I sure could go for that cheeseburger,” the Space Cowboy said.
The Alien Girl hugged him and the Creature said the thing he always said. This time it sounded like he was swearing oath, making a vow for all of them: this ragtag band of misfits would fight together until the very end.
They crawled into the ship and flew away, the three of them together, over the flames and through the smoke of the burning city, toward their next adventure.