'This's where your friends hang out?'
The little mist girl nodded. ~Yes. Usually.~
'Usually?' Adric said.
~We've... well, we've been going through some Bad Things lately.~ Suzie said. ~Very Bad Things.~
'Ah.' Adric said. 'Bad "having to take other toddlers home" Things. Bad "toddlers having to sort things out with other kids before they can come play" Things.'
Ukyou winced. 'Yow. Nasty.'
~I know.~ Suzie said. ~My friends... well, they looked into the Hole, into the dark place, and...~ She trailed off. ~They came out of it, but...~
'It /does/ leave a mark.' Adric said.
Suzie started hugging herself a little tighter. ~And... and I just couldn't be around, it hurt... I wanted them back so /much/... and I'd have done anything...~
'Oh yeah.' Ukyou said quietly. 'Doing anything to get them back - you're angry, jacked off... but you're angry 'cause they're leaving - and you don't /want/ them to. Or you wanna be with them...'
~...but you can't.~ Suzie said.
Ukyou nodded. 'Baka...'
~What's that mean?~
'Idiot. Jackass.' Adric supplied. 'Nyssa's used it enough times on me...'
~No... no, he had his reasons, they were good ones...~ Suzie said.
'They do, Suzie hon. Doesn't stop you getting worked up 'bout it.' Ukyou said.
~No... it doesn't.~ Suzie said quietly. ~Not at all.~
' 'Sides, we're toddlers. We're practically /expected/ to throw tantrums.' Ukyou said.
~Up to a /point/...~ Suzie said.
'Then the Adults step in.' Adric said.
Suzie looked away. ~Could we talk about something else?~
Adric grimaced. He had a good idea why Suzie'd tantrumed - and he'd /hate/ to see what'd happened when she did...
It'd been because of that friend of hers, the one who'd left...
' 'Kay,' Ukyou said.
Course, Adric /had/ wished they'd step in when Nyssa started pounding on him... but /that/ only got him her extra-special attention afterwards. And she always won.
Can't fight, can't talk, can't run... not for long. No real friends to hang around with, 'cept Ukyou...
But if he knew /why/ she kept doing it, why she'd started doing it in the first place... maybe there'd be a clue as to how to stop her.
What if it was just 'cause? 'Cause she liked it?
Didn't she like anything else? Anything? At all?
'Cause he didn't /want/ her pounding on him. Wanted to be left to play with the pocket calculator, an' with Ukyou an' /her/ friends.
An' maybe make some /more/ friends. The others didn't hang round much - hangin' round with him was a quick route to a wedgie, but for Ucchan an' her friends, a wedgie was... well, they 'xpected them, so it didn't worry /her/ much... but if he could crawl around without bein' scared of a wedgie...
~Adric? Are you okay?~
'Just thinking, Suzie.'
'He gets like this. Specially when it's one of those maths things. Would you believe he managed to work out what 5 + 5 was?' Ukyou said.
~Really?~ Suzie said, her eyes big. ~What is it?~
Adric's brow furrowed. 'Um... the same number as the total number of fingers... what's the word again...?'
'Ten.' Ukyou supplied.
'/That's/ it. Ten!'
~Wow. And he managed it all by himself?~
'That's Adchan. Our resident maths genius. He even got a gold star for it. Show Suzie your gold star, Adchan.'
~/Can/ I see it?~ Suzie asked. ~Umm.. if you don't mind?~
'It's in my cot,' Adric explained.
Ukyou pouted. '...And /that/ means getting past the Wedgie Zone.'
'With two toddlers who wanna wedgie us.' Adric finished.
~My friends can help with that.~ Suzie said.
She frowned. ~Where /are/ they?~
A toddler with short black hair, wearing a red and blue jacket, a T-shirt with an S-shield on it, and a nappy, landed in front of them.
'Hey there, Suze!' the toddler said.
~Um... Hi, Kon. Are you okay now?~
'Why'd you keep asking me that?' Kon wondered. 'I'm fine, guys!'
~If you say so.~
'I do say so. Well, I would say so... unless it was my evil clone.'
'/He/ has an evil clone?' Ukyou said, jerking a finger at Kon.
'Well... /yeah/.' Kon said. 'Long story. So where've you been? An' who are these guys?'
~Okay... Kon, this's Ukyou. She's an okky- okon-~
'Okonomiyaki.' Ukyou said.
~What she said. She makes them. Sort of like, um... pancakes.~
Kon turned to Ukyou. 'Really? Are you serious?'
'Absolutely.' Ukyou said. 'But call me Ucchan, everyone else does.'
~And this is Adric. He knows maths.~ Suzie continued. ~Like how to add big numbers.~
'We were 'bout to get wedgied by these nasty toddlers, an' Suzie helped save us.' Adric explained.
~Well, we managed to distract them for a /little/ while, but they'll be back.~ Suxie said.
'No problem!' Kon proclaimed. 'The Justice Toddlers can handle 'em!'
'/Justice/ Toddlers?!' Adric and Ukyou chorused.
Kon blinked. 'What?'
'It just... I dunno...'
'We're toddlers, an' we do justice.'
Adric and Ukyou looked at each other.
Ukyou frowned. 'Um, what's justice?'
Kon frowned. 'Dunno. The Adults didn't seem too clear when we asked /them/... I think it's what we do - take on supervillains, help stop Bad Things happening, play around, that kinda thing.'
~So where're the others?~ Suzie wondered.
'Oh, they're talking to the new guy.'
~The new guy?~
'Yep. Thought we'd get in a toddler who knew a bit more 'bout this "justice" thing, specially now we're two down...'
Oh. /That/ was what Suzie'd been talking about. Two of her friends had looked into the dark place, seen the bad stuff there... so they'd had to leave, or sort things out with other toddlers 'fore they could come back... It /must've/ been a Very Bad Thing, specially with the looks on Kon and Suzie's faces...
A girl in a sleeveless black T-shirt, goggles over her long blonde hair, and red star-spangled trousers pulled up over her nappy, came flying in.
/This/ time, Adric and Ukyou's boggle factor wasn't pushed. Well, not too much.
'Hey, can all of you fly?' Adric wondered.
'Nope. We can, the others can't.' Kon frowned. 'Hm.'
'/There/ you are!' the new girl said. 'I've been looking for you /everywhere/!'
'I keep /tellin'/ you, Cass, I'm /fine/!' Kon grumbled.
'Oh, I know /that/, Kon.' Cass said. 'I was asking /Suzie/!'
~I'll be okay, Cass.~ Suzie said. ~This's Adric and Ucchan, I've been with them.~
'Heya!' Cass said. 'Hey, you've /got/ to meet Ciss sometime, she'd /love/ to meet you!'
~Hasn't she gone off again?~ Suzie asked.
Cass waved a hand. 'Oh, I can find her again, no problem.'
~Okay.~ Suzie's expression was that of someone who wished /everything/ could be that simple.
She blinked. ~Um... how's Lobo taking the new kid?~
Cass frowned. 'You know, I don't know... Nita's the only one he's been talking to lately. An' he's getting really, really nasty if anyone calls him Lobo.'
Cass shrugged. 'Got me. He's been saying he doesn't deserve it or something - at least that's what Nita's been saying.'
'Who's Ciss?' Ukyou wondered.
Cass grinned happily. 'She's my bestest bestest bestest friend in the /world/!'
'Um...' Kon began.
'You're /all/ my bestest bestest bestest friends.' Cass reassured him. 'But Ciss's my bestest bestest bestest friend who's not you guys!'
Kon looked mollified.
'She's always like this.' Adric said. It wasn't a question.
~Yep.~ Suxie said.
Ukyou looked between Kon and Cass.
Then she grinned. 'Oh yeah.'
'What?' Adric said.
Ukyou whispered in his ear. 'Cooties.'
Adric grinned. 'The c-word?'
Ukyou nodded. 'The c-word.'
'Both of them?'
'/Definitely/, Adchan.' Ukyou said. 'Trust me on this. Hanging round Ranchan, you know the signs.'
Kon snapped his fingers. 'Hey, /I/ know! We could get Lobo to take on those nasty toddlers. Help him snap out of it by letting him frag someone.'
'You /do/ know you're actually saying Lobo should frag someone.' Cass reminded him.
Kon nodded. 'Yeah. Scares me too, Cass...'
A girl with red-black hair, in gold and purple scale armour (yes, complete with nappy) crawled up. 'I wouldn't be so sure about that, Kon.'
'Nita?' Kon said. 'Where's Lobo?'
Nita pointed to the left. 'Over there on the beanbag, moping.'
'Did you say /moping/?' Kon echoed disbelievingly.
'Moping.' Nita said. 'Lobo, moping.'
'Lobo... moping.' Kon repeated. 'Lobo... moping. Nope. It /is/ Lobo we're talking about here?'
Nita raised an eyebrow. 'If it isn't, then someone's doing a good job... Would you believe he actually wanted me to be /nastier/ than I was to him?'
'Well, it /is/ Lobo...'
'To hate him for getting out of the Bad Thing?'
Kon paused. 'Okay, /that's/ not Lobo.'
'It is - or I /think/ it is.' Nita said. 'Or still is.'
'What's fragging?' Adric asked.
'"Only the Top Tot can frag!"' Nita said, in a passable imitation of Lobo's voice.
Switching back to normal, she added 'It's something Lobo does. Admittedly, we can't tell the difference between it and a wedgie, but he does say only /he/ can do it... or did, anyway.'
'I don't think that'd work with these kids.' Adric said diplomatically.
~And Billy's one of them.~ Suzie added.
'Billy?!' Cass and Kon echoed.
'Who's Billy?' Nita said.
Suzie nodded, but said nothing.
'Aw, mon.' Nita said. 'That's the last thing we need...'
'So what's the problem?' Cass said.
'Okay...' Ukyou began. 'There's this toddler called Nyssa - cute, short brown curls, looks disgustingly innocent - and she's been beating on Adchan ever since he first turned up. And we can't work out why. He can't /run/, 'cause she'll wedgie him. He's tried talking to her, but she spitballed him. He tried wedgieing her, and she buried him in the sandpit...'
'I'm beginning to notice a pattern here,' Nita said.
~Then my brother turned up, and tried wedgieing me /and/ him.~ Suzie said. ~Then /they/ started wedgieing each other...~
'Huh. Rob could tell you what ta do just like /that/!' Kon said.
'Yeah, but he's not here.' Cass reminded him.
Kon rounded on her. 'I /know/! I know, okay?! And I can't do /squat/ about it!'
~As if you could.~ Suzie muttered.
Kon glared at her.
'This isn't helping.' Adric interjected. 'Anyway, we've been trying to work out why-'
'And not coming up with squat.' Cass said. 'Sorry, Kon.'
'Hm. This /does/ look like a job for the Justice Toddlers,' Cass mused. 'I mean, wedgieing a kid just because? /That's/ a Bad Thing.'
'Wait... that means you'll help?' Adric said, the faintest note of hope sounding in his voice.
'Well, if everyone agrees.' Cass said. 'And even if they don't, /I/ will.'
'I'm in.' Kon said.
~Me too.~ Suzie said.
'You said you just showed up and she started it?' Nita said.
'Count me in.'
' 'Kay...' Cass said. 'That just leaves Lobo-'
'Leaves Lobo /what/?'
Spiky black hair stuck up from his head. Thin arms were crossed over a sleeveless black jacket and grey T-shirt. Solid yellow eyes glared at them.
'Leaves Lobo /what/?' the Top Tot repeated. 'Off scooting round the playroom somewhere? 'Cause that's where he is!'
'Forget it.' the Top Tot said. 'Whatever it is, ferget it. Get someone else ta do ya fraggin' for ya, 'cause /I/ sure as hell can't do it any more!'
Adric blinked. Double-took.
'Alright, that's /it/!'
'Stop.' Nita said, her eyes glowing.
The Top Tot froze.
'He doesn't know, okay?' Cass said. 'He doesn't know. As far as he knows, this's how you've always been - so he thought...'
'He thought I could still frag...' the Top Tot said slowly. 'He actually thought I could still frag. Hah. Like I could go up 'gainst anyone an' /not/ get the fraggin' of my life. I'm a /clone/, 'kay? An' not even a /good/ one. /I/ got cloned from the /shallow/ end of the gene pool - so I'm /weaker/, don' have the /mass/, of the original.'
'If you went up against me, /I'd/ get fragged.' Adric said.
'Fat chance.' the Top Tot said. 'Fat fraggin' chance. So what good am /I/ gonna be, huh? "Oh look, it's th' Lobo wannabe!" Yeah, really gonna make 'em wet their nappies.'
'You're the best mechanic we have.' Nita said. 'None of /us/ have as much experience with machinery as you do. And you're the best pilot - we wouldn't know how to repair the spaceship, or the Super-Tricycle. You do.'
'Oh yeah, keep the clone runt behind so he doesn't get fragged...' he muttered.
'It's not /about/ that...' Nita paused. 'Come on, you don't need strength to frag someone. You're... you're cunning, smart, intelligent... You can't outfight them, does that mean you can't out-think them?'
'Say. Nothing. Kon.' Cass advised. 'Otherwise, I'm gonna smack you /so/ hard...'
'An' what if I get fragged? Huh? What then? What you gonna say then?'
'You're saying you /can't/ avoid getting fragged?' Nita countered. 'This Top Tot is saying he /isn't/ smart enough to dodge a fragging?'
'No... but I'd only be doin' it so I wouldn't be lookin' a fraggin' in the eye. Backin' down from a fraggin'. That's not the Top Tot, never will be.' Yellow eyes turned on Nita.
'But if you stay behind, isn't /that/ backing down?' Nita pressed. 'If you're never going to face another fragging in your life, isn't /that/ against what being the Top Tot means?'
'Yeah? Well then, maybe I ain't the Top Tot no more.'
Cass gasped, but quickly covered her mouth. Even Kon's eyes widened.
Nita's eyes narrowed. 'The Top Tot's stared Bad Things in the eye, and never backed down before. The Lobo flying around out there? He doesn't know fear, he's never had to face it - he doesn't even know the meaning of the word. You're his clone - but you do. If you face *this*, you'll face something he /never/ has - and fragged it halfway to Apokolips.'
She leaned forward. 'You'll be proving yourself /worthy/ to be the Top Tot once more - because you'll have faced something he's never even /known/. And you'll have walked away from it.'
Her voice lowered. 'So... you want to prove you're the Top Tot again? That you're worthy of the name? Then prove it. Face down these guys - these toddlers who want to prove /they/ can frag, that /they're/ the best. Outthink them, outwit them - and show them who the Lobo name *really* belongs to. Show them it means /thinking/, as well as fighting.'
'Yeah...' he breathed. 'Yeah, I can do that.'
'Yeah, mon!' Nita said.
'But I still ain't Lobo.' he said. 'So don't /no-one/ call me that, you got that?'
The others nodded quickly.
'Stickin' with bein' the Main Tot for the moment. May not be /top/ - but I'm still the /main/ one...' The Main Tot paused. 'So... who needs fraggin'?'
Nita grinned. 'Suzie's brother.'
'Your brother?' The Main Tot raised an eyebrow. 'Can see how ya'd need me for /that/...'
~He's solid.~ Suzie explained. ~He just doesn't breathe.~
'Hah. No problem. Not for /me/, anyways. Who's the other one?'
'Her name's Nyssa.' Ukyou said. 'She's already got a name for herself - the biggest meanie this side of the playgroup.'
'We'll see 'bout /that/...'
'And we need to find a way to stop them wedgieing us in return.'
The Main Tot's eyes narrowed. '/That's/ why ya needed thought, huh? 'Cause no-one understands how ta do it better than me?'
Nita nodded. 'Yeah.'
' 'Kay... Now, if we're gonna think about this... what the hell makes them think /you're/ a target? Apart from the obvious?'
'Because anything I do in return, they do something horrible to me.' Adric said. '/Anything/. Even if I /haven't/ done anything, they still do it.'
'Now that,' the Main Tot said. 'is why they /ain't/ the fraggers supreme. Ya frag the guys who need fraggin', people who get ya really angry. People who've /done/ somethin' to ya to get ya really angry. These guys'll do anybody. That ain't how ya frag. That's how ya wedgie. And the Main Tot don't wedgie. Th' thin' to do here ain't ta figure out why they wedgie /you/ - it's why they're doin' it at all.'
~Because they're mean?~ Suzie suggested.
'Can't have mean without style.' the Main Tot said. 'Could be. Could be they're doin' it fer the rep, 'cause they wanna be the top ones, 'cause they're scared you're gonna frag 'em first, 'cause they enjoy it... they ain't angry, we know /that/...'
'We do?' Cass said.
'I'm bettin' they're in this 'cause it's /fun/ - and 'cause who's gonna stop them?'
'We know who's going to stop them.' Kon said.
'Yeah. Us.' the Main Tot said. 'Now, all we gotta do is come up wit' a plan...'
Cass and Kon looked at each other. /Him/? Coming up with a /plan/?
Who slipped the funny stuff in our bottles?
Cass slapped herself on the forehead. 'Uh-oh... We forgot somebody.'
'We did?' Ukyou said. 'Who?'
The little group turned around and tried their best to look innocent.
Given that they were toddlers, this was pretty easy.
Unfortunately, so was the boy behind them.
He raised an eyebrow. 'Any of you wanna tell me what's going on?'
And, simultaneously, one thought ran through all their minds.
They weren't getting out of /this/ one with a pat on the back and a bottle of warm milk...
To Be Continued...
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat