“It’s dark in here, Thor,” Rudy said.
Thor Slaymaster didn’t respond. He knew it was dark. Thor Slaymaster didn’t like the dark, the way that he didn’t like burning acid, or scorching flame, or spending hours cleaning zombie guts out of tank treads. But when you’re trapped in an abandoned silver mine by an evil alien doctor, darkness is part of the package.
“How are we going to get out of here?” Rudy asked.
“Have patience,” Thor said.
“Dr. Mysterio just tried to drop seventy tons of rubble on top of us. Now it’s all blocking the only passage out of here. Are we going to patiently move it all away? Or just patiently starve to death?”
“Are you being sarcastic, Rudy?” Thor Slaymaster knew about sarcasm, but wasn’t one to indulge. Thor Slaymaster had never yet been in a tactical situation where sarcasm helped him hold off a zombie onslaught, resist a killbot rampage, or, more practically, escape from a dark passage in an abandoned silver mine.
“Forgive me,” Rudy said. “I tend to get sarcastic when I get trapped in dark underground passageways.”
“Then you should try to avoid them in the future,” Thor said.
“So what do we do?”
“For what?” Rudy asked.
“For Dr. Mysterio to show up, which he will do, once he realizes that you still have the key to his doomsday machine.”
“I forgot I still had that. He’ll kill me to get it back.”
“That’s the plan so far.”
“So, instead of digging through seventy tons of rubble, your plan is to wait for Dr. Mysterio to realize that I have the key to the doomsday device, and then wait for him to dig us out, at which point he will kill us, and take the key. With all due respect, Thor, that doesn’t sound like much of a plan.”
“You misunderstand the plan in two key respects. First of all, we will not wait for Dr. Mysterio to realize that you have the key to the doomsday device.”
“No. We will send him a text.”
“There’s wi-fi in here?” Rudy asked.
“The name of the network is ‘EVIL ALIEN DOCTOR MYSTERIO’S LAIR,’” Thor explained.
Rudy took his phone out. “Kind of obvious. What’s the password?”
“Oh,” Rudy said. “Okay. I sent him a text. Now what?”
“Now we wait for him to triangulate on your signal, figure out where we are, and clear the obstruction. You might want to find someplace to sit down. Alien mining technology is good, but it is not instantaneous.”
“That’s a good idea, Thor. We could use a little rest, I guess. Of course, you don’t get much rest, though, do you?”
“Zombies do not rest,” Thor Slaymaster said. “Killbots do not rest. I am human, so I must rest, but I do not get to rest as much as I would like.”
“It must be hard for you,” Rudy said. “Everyone counts on you to keep us all safe. Everyone expects that you’ll always be there to protect us against danger. That’s a big burden.”
“I want to tell you something, Rudy. It’s a secret.”
“Sure, Thor. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
“I know you won’t.”
“So what is it?”
“I don’t enjoy it. The death, you understand. The killing. The rain of lead and shrapnel from the sky. The blood and guts and devastation that are a part of my everyday routine. It’s not fulfilling. It doesn’t make me happy.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Thor. But it’s all right, really. No one really expects you to enjoy the things you have to do. After all, you’re not a monster.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
“Excuse me?” Rudy asked.
“I said you were wrong about two things in my plan,” Thor said. “One of them was about waiting for Dr. Mysterio to come after us. But the other thing is that when he comes after us, we aren’t both going to die. Only you are going to die.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I am sorry about this, really. But now Dr. Mysterio will break down that rock wall. It is a matter of time. Then he is going to try to kill us both. But he will only be able to kill one of us at a time. He will aim for you, because you have the key. That will give me enough time to return fire, take him out, escape, and disarm the doomsday machine.”
“You’re telling me that I’m expendable,” Rudy said. “You’re telling me that just because I happen to be here, trapped with you, that you’re going to sacrifice my life to kill an evil alien doctor and destroy a doomsday machine. And you’re doing it calmly, dispassionately, and without a great deal of concern for me personally. Do you know what that makes you?”
“A monster,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“That’s right. A monster.”
“I don’t disagree. I want you to know that I don’t enjoy being a monster. But it is necessary.”
“So what do I do?” Rudy asked.
“You can duck, and hope that Dr. Mysterio’s aim isn’t as deadly as usual.”
“Damn you to hell, Thor Slaymaster,” Rudy said.
“If I don’t get Dr. Mysterio with my first shot, you may get your wish. Are you ready?”
“No,” Rudy said.
“I forgot about how being in small dark underground passages made you more sarcastic.”
Thor Slaymaster crouched in the darkness and waited for Dr. Mysterio’s magma tank to burn its way through the passage. Thor made his first shot count, drilling a plasma bolt through Dr. Mysterio’s carapace. It was too late to save Rudy, of course. Thor scrambled over Dr. Mysterio’s lifeless alien body, and found the passage that led to the Doomsday Vault. The world would be safe, and it had taken only one innocent life to accomplish that. I am a monster, Thor told himself, but even a monster can do some good.