4. A Friend Indeed
I flew up
Church Way in a
right-handed corkscrew. Traffic was
light: some robots, a Yeti, a bevy of witches, and a small dragon. I saw someone flying next to me, corkscrewing
left-hand, and I thought it was my mirror image.
Then my mirror image said, “Are you her or are you me?”
Confused, I said, “Who? What?” He wasn’t my mirror image!
“Oh, brother! You’re me all right,” not-my-mirror-image said. “Here we go again.”
“Again?” I thought fast. “You mean… this is a time-loop?”
He sighed. “I knew you’d say that. Look, I’m busy. I gotta go, now.”
“Wait!” I cried. He was my future self! “Info?”
“All right. Tooth mouse.”
I wailed, “Tooth whaat?”
“Not rat: mouse. Tooth mouse,” he said, then flapped off into hyperspace.
He flicked ana, into the fourth dimension, to wing his way back to when-and-where he started. And since he’s my future self, I’ll eventually have to travel back in time, and say what he said, and hear what I said.
How weird, but that’s a time-loop for you. Time travel has strange logic. I try to avoid time-loops, but I keep on getting caught in them anyhow.
Still, though, a clue’s a clue – even if I got it from me. So there’s a tooth mouse. And a mouse is cousin to a rat. And Rickie-the-Rat mentioned his little cousin Perez.
I stopped at the next road-sign and hung out. I was at the intersection of Church Way, Pico Street and Alvarado Avenue. I evoked a phone.
The phone blossomed from a spark to a glowing disk. It went beep, then it said, “Thank you for using Hellen Wireless. To whom may I direct your call?”
I said, “Tooth Mouse Perez.”
The phone chirped once, twice, and then a mouse picked up.
He said, “’Allo, señor?” Through the phone, I saw him twitch his whiskers.
I said, “My name’s Mischief, I’m a private ear. You Tooth Mouse Perez?”
He said, “That’s me.” He squinted at me. “Why are you calling?”
“My client wants some information about the Tooth Fairy. You know her?”
“Of course I know her, we’re in the same business! What do you want to know?”
“The basics. Motive. Method.”
Tooth Mouse Perez said. “Ahh! So you want the truth about the Tooth?”
“You can put it that way.”
“Are you sure you want the truth, señor? Can you handle it? ’Cause you know what they say: ‘The truth will set you free–’”
“ ‘–but first it’ll hurt’,” I replied. It’s an old folk saying, here in Hellen. “Well, I already got ten hurts from your big cousin, and six – no, seven – from Bugsy.”
Perez said, “You got them both mad at you?” He had half a laugh in his voice.
“It was a misunderstanding. They said I was comparing them to the Tooth Fairy. I wasn’t, but they didn’t like it.”
“I bet they didn’t!”
“I just want the truth. And you’re in the same business as she is.”
“I could tell you all about it, but would you believe me?”
“I’d rather hear it from the Tooth Fairy herself.”
“Suit yourself, señor. Now I don’t know exactly where she is, but I know where you can find someone who does know.”
Tooth Mouse Perez then gave me a place, an address, and a name. “Vaccinia,” he said. “Health worker. Works part-time as a receptionist. Also happens to be good buddies with the Tooth Fairy.”
“They have the same job, sort of. Tell him I sent you, OK?”
“OK,” I said.
“And good luck, señor!”
“OK,” I said, and signed off. The phone shrank to a point and vanished. I thought, nice guy.
I Googled directions: first west along Side Street, then up along
Jasmine Way, and north on 9th Avenue.
Traffic was light; I saw a flock of ghosts, a pair of
hippogriffs, a centaur and a Nessie. At
the corner of 34th
Way, and 9th
Avenue, down by the northwest corner, was my destination:
“Madame Ruth’s Mystic Emporium”.
I entered, flew to the front desk, and there was my contact: Vaccinia, the receptionist. He was magnified to about my size: another free size-adjustment.
“Hi there,” I said. “I’m looking for the Tooth Fairy.”
The virus said, “Who’s looking for the Tooth Fairy? And why?”
I said, “I’m a private ear. I just want to ask her a few questions.”
Vaccinia said, “Hmph. I’m not talking to you.”
“Perez sent me. Perez the tooth mouse.”
“He said that you and she have the same job. What did he mean by that?”
That did the trick. Vaccinia said, “Yes, we do have the same job, now that I think about it… You really want the truth? About her? About me? You want the whole sordid story?”
“I’m all ears,” I said.
“All right then! The truth is… the truth is…”
Vaccinia wailed, “I’m a failure as a virus!”
I said, “There, there, it can’t be that bad.”
“But it is, it is! Tell me… would you call me a dangerous molecule? No, no,” Vaccinia cried, “Don’t lie to me, I’m not! You see, I’m a cow virus, not a human virus, but I took on the human immune system, anyhow.”
“And you lost?”
“Badly. The human leucocytes… well, they cracked my code.”
I said, “How embarrassing.”
Vaccinia wailed, “Humiliating! I conferred immunity! And not just to myself, but also to my brother Variola!”
“You might know him as Smallpox.”
“Oh, him. What did your brother think of your immunity mishap?”
“He made fun of me. He said that my failure is more contagious than I am!”
Ouch! “Sibling rivalry,” I said. “I’ve heard it often before.”
Vaccinia said, in a low voice, “Then the human doctors came, and they offered me… a little deal. They said, throw the fight. They said, we will cultivate you. They promised to breed me by the billions. And all I have to do is lose. Every single time.”
“Winning by losing? Nice work if you can get it!”
“You don’t understand; you can’t refuse an offer like that. The human doctors… they… they don’t take no for an answer.”
“So you said yes.”
“My brother used to call me a turncoat, a collaborator, an informant! He used to call me a traitor to viruskind!”
“He used to? Has he stopped?”
“He’s stopped all right. Smallpox is gone,” Vaccinia sniffled. “Extinct.”
I said, “A virus extinct? That doesn’t happen often.”
Vacinnia sobbed, “Yes, yes, the human doctors got rid of him. Using me.”
I thought, sibling rivalry, but I said, “Wow. You are a dangerous molecule.”
“How kind of you to say that!”
“A virus gotta do what a virus gotta do.”
“You do understand! Call me Cowpox!”
“Call me Mischief. You’ve got a good grift going there, Cowpox.”
“Thank you, Mischief. Now, my friend the Tooth Fairy, she’s running more or less the same scam.”
“See for yourself. Go down the hall, go out exit 23.”
I went down the hall and I found exit 23, and I went out. Outside was a small yard, with a big tent pitched in the middle. Just beside the entrance was a sign:
THE TOOTH FAIRY
Sees all, knows all, tells all!
I flew inside.