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Justice

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  1. Running his hands through his silver-specked hair, the man continues filling out the paperwork he needs to bring to the next board meeting in two days time. Why the hell did Janice's vacation have to come up now? How was he meant to lay the groundwork for that acquisition if he also had to answer this damn lawsuit? Christ he needed a drink.
  2.  
  3. Pouring himself a whiskey, he flicked on the radio to try and clear his thoughts. A brief update on the economic impact of Monsters reappearing and how Ebott City was thriving. He didn't care. He lived there for a while once, but it was only for the job. He was glad to get out of there even when it wasn't filled with weirdos.
  4.  
  5. Knocking back his drink, he toyed with taking something to give him a boost, but before he could fish anything out, a knock on the door. Breathing heavily, he half called for Janice, forgot she wasn't here, and awkwardly got to his feet and clambered down to the front door. Probably another server of papers because those idiots wouldn't listen to a word he said and wouldn't wait on the bill passing before trying that crap. He opened the door.
  6.  
  7. "Howdy!"
  8.  
  9. It was too bizarre to truly react to. A creature of white fur, up to his shoulders in height. Barefoot with largely paws, but otherwise fully dressed. A snout with two prominent fangs currently wrapped in what looked like a sincere smile, backed by bright green eyes and shoulder-length ears. A green and yellow sweater wrapped in a sturdy brown jacket, the brown pants a good match. A small insignia of wings and three triangles patched on the right hand breast pocket. But perhaps the most bizarre thing was the stetson hat on his head, which through two roughly cut holes poked eight inch horns. The effect was disarming.
  10.  
  11. "My name is Asriel Dreemurr, and I'm Prince of the Monsters! You're Robert Coline, correct?"
  12.  
  13. "...yes?"
  14.  
  15. "Mind if I come in and have a chat?"
  16.  
  17. "Uh...sure."
  18.  
  19. A few years ago Robert might have panicked. But that hadn't served him well, so a poker face would suffice. Besides, the papers had suggested the leader of the Monsters was a furry horned thing, so if this guy had any connection to them, it could be an opportunity to do business with them. There had been feelers by some companies and even a stupid bubble had formed when someone claimed exclusive trade rights with the monsters, but nothing concrete had formed. Maybe he could pour that tonight?
  20.  
  21. "Take a seat Mister, uh, Dreemurr. Would you care for a drink?"
  22.  
  23. "That's very nice of you Mister Coline, but no thank you."
  24.  
  25. The two walked into the darkened living room. Robert clapped twice and the gas fire started up. They sat in the chairs next to it.
  26.  
  27. "So you're Prince of the Monsters?"
  28.  
  29. "Yup! You may have heard of my Father, King Asgore?"
  30.  
  31. "Vaguely. I'll be honest, I haven't followed the Ebott situation closely. Some of us have lives to live."
  32.  
  33. "I'm sure you do..." Asriel murmured softly. Robert missed the remark.
  34.  
  35. "So what brings you to my house so late? Does your father need some sort of legal representation? I can't help directly, but if you're interested in contacting our offices in the morning-"
  36.  
  37. "Oh, sorry, you've misunderstood." Asriel chuckled apologetically. "This isn't official business, it's something of a personal matter."
  38.  
  39. Robert raised his eyebrows. Disappointed, a little angry, but curious. For now.
  40.  
  41. "You see, as part of establishing contact with the outside world, for the past few years my Father has been cross referencing our histories with surface records. Golly, you have a lot. A lot of what we're accused of doing is made up hyperbolic nonsense, but there are a few things he...we did, and he has taken it upon himself to visit those affected by that and personally offer restitution."
  42.  
  43. "And this is part of that? The monsters have wronged me in some way? Well I'm flattered he's so considerate, but this is probably a matter best discussed through my attorney-"
  44.  
  45. "Well, yes and no. By all rights we SHOULD have wronged you. But a little bird told me you don't really see it that way."
  46.  
  47. "A little bird? And who would be in a position to tell you that?"
  48.  
  49. "Jimmy."
  50.  
  51. The air froze. Robert's whiskey glass slipped a little, and Asriel noticed it. Robert kept his poker face, but there was a hairline fracture in his pupils contracting. Asriel remained as pleasant as ever."
  52.  
  53. "And who is Jimmy?"
  54.  
  55. It was Asriel's turn for his eyes to lose something. Or perhaps gain it?
  56.  
  57. "Golly, I figured you'd know! Well maybe Sarah could jog your memory?"
  58.  
  59. A bead of sweat added another crack to Robert's mask, but he rallied admirably.
  60.  
  61. "Hmm, come to think of it, I used to work with a Sarah twenty five years ago. Sarah...Bellington?"
  62.  
  63. "Bellingham, actually."
  64.  
  65. "You've...you've talked to her."
  66.  
  67. "Not yet. My Dad will probably visit her in a day or two. I persuaded him to hold off until I had a chance to talk to you."
  68.  
  69. Impatience entered Robert's tone for the first time. "And what do you want to talk to me about?!"
  70.  
  71. "About what you did."
  72.  
  73. The fire offered no warmth. The response to this was unnervingly formal. "And what. Do you think. I did?"
  74.  
  75. "Well, I think it's important you understand the whole story as we understand it first. Sarah Bellingham worked for you as an intern for a few years. Not long after she quit, she had a baby boy. Jimmy. They didn't have much, but they loved each other, and because she was working she encouraged him to be independent, but also never to hesitate when he saw the wrong thing happening."
  76.  
  77. Robert's face remained stony, but his eyes were alive.
  78.  
  79. "Well one day Jimmy went to a friend's house after school, and they played Cowboys and Indians. Funny, we called it Monsters and Humans where I come from. Anyway as it grew dark, Jimmy left his friend and was walking home to his mom's house. He never made it there."
  80.  
  81. Asriel fished in his breast pocket, extracted some paper, unfolded it and handed it to Robert.
  82.  
  83. "As far as humans know, this is what happened."
  84.  
  85. ****
  86.  
  87. CHILD KIDNAPPERS SENTENCED
  88. EBOTT - On Tuesday of this week, two men were sentenced to imprisonment for the kidnapping of local child James "Jimmy" Bellingham.
  89.  
  90. Horace Michaelson (32) of Tenot received twenty five years, and Kevin McDaird (29) of Dethre received fifteen years, an arrangement by plea bargain.
  91.  
  92. On October 2nd of 20XX, Jimmy was last seen leaving a friend's house to return home. Eyewitness accounts placed a rusty Ford van nearby Jimmy ten minutes after leaving his friend.
  93.  
  94. On October 4th, this rusty van was found crashed on a sharp bend on a country road leading away from Ebott City, but near Mount Ebott. Michaelson and McDaird were found inside, and though DNA evidence later confirmed Jimmy's presence, he was nowhere to be found. An extensive search and rescue operation was launched, but no sign of Jimmy was ever found.
  95.  
  96. According to McDaird's testimony against his accomplice, they were attempting to move the child to a safehouse away from prying eyes, when the child must have slipped his bonds and attacked the driver, causing the crash and then fled. It is believed this testimony, along with failure to find a body, is why Michaelson was found not guilty of first degree murder at the trial last month.
  97.  
  98. Despite the plea bargain, neither Michaelson or McDaird have offered any motive for the kidnapping, though the District Attorney argued that an attempt to ransom him was surely on the cards.
  99.  
  100. At time of writing, no sign of Jimmy Bellingham has emerged. Jimmy's mother, Sarah Bellingham (31) of Ebott, could not be reached for comment.
  101.  
  102. ****
  103.  
  104. Robert lowered the article.
  105.  
  106. "What a tragedy." came the mechanical response. "If I had known, I'd have at least been able to offer my sympathies. I can't believe she kept that to herself."
  107.  
  108. "I don't think she did. She just didn't tell you."
  109.  
  110. Despite everything, not being considered important enough roused a stab of anger in Robert.
  111.  
  112. "Well what does a missing brat have to do with me?!"
  113.  
  114. "We're not there yet Mister Coline. But we are where I come in. Well not me personally, this was, well, technically before my time, but there's a reason the police never found Jimmy: He found us."
  115.  
  116. Almost uninterested: "You mean he reached the Underearth or whatever?"
  117.  
  118. "Underground, yes. And unfortunately," Asriel looked uncomfortable for the first time ", he died down there."
  119.  
  120. "You mean you monsters killed him."
  121.  
  122. Asriel's ears twitched.
  123.  
  124. "I wasn't there, I don't know what happened, Mister Coline."
  125.  
  126. Robert sniffed with contempt. He heard that line before, saw that expression before. Even if this brat hadn't witnessed the deed, he knew enough to connect the dots. That might work in a corporate lawyer, but for whatever the hell this farce was...
  127.  
  128. "Then the kid's mother should file a wrongful death suit." There was anger, but it it was devoid of the grief you'd expect to go with it. "Or hell, the DA should rack up murder charges against your kind! I have his number, I can help her-"
  129.  
  130. "We've already settled two of those suits, that's what this is about." Asriel cut him off. Still sad, but now with iron in his stance. "As for murder...well privately my Father would probably agree with you. But a very good friend of mine served as our ambassador, and one of the first things they negotiated was for us to be indemnified for anything we did to escape the barrier. They have a knack for bringing people around to their way of thinking."
  131.  
  132. "Bah!" The composure was slipping, but this too was an attempt to obfuscate. "What kind of idiot king sends a teenager to a stranger's house to tell a sob story that has NOTHING to do with him?!"
  133.  
  134. This was meant to wound, but it had the opposite effect. Any doubt this kid had was gone, but the iron was still there, even stronger. And yet it was not accompanied by anger or anything. That increasingly irritating smile was back.
  135.  
  136. "I know I look pretty young for my age, but I've learned more than you think, Mister Coline."
  137.  
  138. "How the hell should I know what's "young" for you- Whatever! So why is a teenager investigating a kid who died before he was born?"
  139.  
  140. "Never said I wasn't born back them," came the cryptic reply ", but anyway. My Dad never asked me to do this or anything. He'd be happy if I just stayed home with Mom and went to school. But I owe this. I owe this to Jimmy."
  141.  
  142. "What can a dead child do for you?"
  143.  
  144. "More than you think, Mister Coline. A lot more. In Jimmy's case. He was there when I was all alone. I wanted to be alone, thought it was for the best. But when the others moved on, he offered to stay. It wasn't the only offer on the table at the time, but this felt fairer to everyone. In return, all I had to do was figure out who brought him to that crashed van near Mount Ebott. Seems he's quite determined to get that resolved, if only for his mom."
  145.  
  146. "Well you have your answer, don't you? SHE should have that answer! Two junkies probably trying to score five Gs to get more smack! But they're not the reason she never saw him again, are they?"
  147.  
  148. "Well, they got more than five thousand dollars, didn't they?"
  149.  
  150. The glass finally enjoyed a split second of freedom from Robert's grasp, only to blissfully smash on the wooden floor.
  151.  
  152. "Funny thing about being the son of a King with little bureaucracy, and friend of the ambassador. It's really easy to get yourself all sorts of diplomatic credentials."
  153.  
  154. From another pocket, Asriel produced what looked like an over-sized purple passport with the same insignia on his jacket, and he briefly opened it up to show official looking paperwork with his picture. His horns looked smaller in it.
  155.  
  156. "Tracing Michaelson and McDaird was easy enough, not like it was a secret. McDaird was paroled a couple of years ago, but Michaelson's still locked up. Still, easier than you think to get a chance to talk to both of them. They stuck to the official story for a while. But I had someone on hand to get them to spill the beans."
  157.  
  158. "Who?"
  159.  
  160. "Not yet, Robert. Anyway, the secret version was so much more interesting! Even cool! A guy in a way too expensive suit turned up to their bar one night with fifteen thousand dollars, a photo and a bunch of forged paperwork. Seems they were meant to pick the kid up, drive two or three countries over and deposit him in an orphanage where nobody would have ever heard of him. I've a lot of experience with mercy in my time, more than I deserve, and that's the most peculiar version of I've ever seen."
  161.  
  162. Seeing where this was going, Robert felt compelled to actually start defending himself.
  163.  
  164. "And you think this person was me? I've literally never been in a bar in my life."
  165.  
  166. "Oh don't get me wrong, I totally believe you. Going yourself woulda been pretty dumb. But with a bit of prodding, they remembered a fancy ring they wore that, and this is the craziest thing, looks like a ring your firm gives to junior partners." A shift subtly removed Robert's left hand from view. "And one of the firm's junior partners made senior not long after Jimmy disappeared."
  167.  
  168. "And what, Mister Dreemurr. Does this. Have to do. With me?" Cold fury now. "How do you even know?"
  169.  
  170. "Well I have a lot of friends. One's a really good hacker. The other perseveres at reading documents to find connections. It's like a wordsearch to him, and he's better at it than you think. Human money is complicated, but you can generally track it down. We're pretty sure it all comes back to that account of yours in the Caymans. But anyway, the finale. During the trial, McDaird's girlfriend visited him and told how the bill to her dealer had been cleared up. Michaelson's bill to his dealer was cleared up too, and his daughter was cleared for surgery she needed. Funny how you can be so nice in buying silence and not give a thought to your son-"
  171.  
  172. "HE WASN'T MINE!"
  173.  
  174. The tension in the room that had been building for minutes snapped. Something in Asriel that wasn't Asriel quivered.
  175.  
  176. "You stupid goat! Prodding into things you have no business dealing with! I told the bitch to get rid of it, but she up and quits instead! I thought that was the end of it, but then she calls me and threatens me with a goddamned paternity suit! And my boss is such a hypocritical puritan even the whiff of something like that brings my career to square one! What would you have me do? Marry her? I got an ex-wife already, I can't afford more alimony! Pay child support for a kid I never wanted? She should have been on the pill! Now I'm not heartless, I didn't want the kid dead, just out of the way so there's no standing for paternity! It was cheaper that way! That's what those idiots were supposed to do, but they couldn't even think to keep him tied up properly. Doesn't matter though, you monsters fixed my problem for me!"
  177.  
  178. Heavy breathing. It was Asriel's turn for stoicism. A low chuckle.
  179.  
  180. "So what. Got a tape recorder in there? Gonna take it to the police?"
  181.  
  182. "Nah. Not our style."
  183.  
  184. "So then what?! You gonna kill me? Little Jimmy keeps you company and you think more murder's the answer-"
  185.  
  186. "No." It was simple, it was calm, it had more force than a thousand shouts. Robert was silenced once again. "This isn't kill or be killed. That isn't justice."
  187.  
  188. "Justice?!" A mirthless laugh. "Then what is?"
  189.  
  190. "You confess. You tell Sarah what you did. You tell the police what you did. Heck, you can even tell McDaird and Michaelson you were behind it."
  191.  
  192. "And why the hell should I?"
  193.  
  194. "Our findings are ready to post. Should be in an hour or two unless I text in. You could probably weasel your way out of it with a lawyer, even avoid court, since a lot of it's circumstantial. But humans are great at drawing the wrong conclusion. I learned that the hard way. If your bosses are still "hypocritical puritans", your career is probably over. I mean it's over either way, but surely a little closure would bring you peace?"
  195.  
  196. Peace. The word was painfully jagged. This, this THING waltzes into my house and threatens to destroy my life unless I destroy it for him-
  197.  
  198. Rationality was gone. The implications of attacking someone who boasted of so many friends in so many high places were not reaching his higher functions. The goat had to be shut up.
  199.  
  200. Robert ran to the writing desk and picked up the antique letter opener. He couldn't remember the last letter he opened with it, but a big fuzzy one should be-
  201.  
  202. "No." Again.
  203.  
  204. A clawed hand pointed at him almost instantly. A small yellow bolt hit his hand. The letter opener flew across the room and skidded under the book case. His hand wasn't painful, just warm. He looked back at Asriel. He wasn't smiling anymore, but his eyes were still bright and focused. Something floated over his chest. A heart. White in the center, encased in yellow.
  205.  
  206. *Your SOUL is filled with JUSTICE.
  207.  
  208. "What the hell is that?!"
  209.  
  210. "Jimmy."
  211.  
  212. The name that started this stoked his rage. A large vase was within arm's reach, and his grabbed it.
  213.  
  214. PING. Smash. What smelled like...blue?
  215.  
  216. Forced to his knees and hands like he suddenly gained four hundred pounds, the shards of the vase before him, he struggled to raise his head. Looking past Asriel to the window, out onto the street, a figure was standing in the shadows. A brilliantly blue eye shining like a star.
  217.  
  218. "I think it's time..."
  219.  
  220. Asriel carefully swept the shards aside with his foot as he stepped forward. Robert looked up defiantly, rage overriding any fear he would normally feel.
  221.  
  222. "I think it's time...that you had a heart to heart with your son."
  223.  
  224. The heart filled his vision. The yellow turned briefly red, and in a flash he saw things...
  225.  
  226. A birthday cake he was blowing out with his mom and two friends...the time he won at kickball...the arrears bill his mother tried to hide, he didn't even know what "arrears" meant at the time...stopping two bullies from picking on a little girl...sleeping with Mom after a bad dream, after MOM's bad dream...arguing with a teacher over a piece of history homework, Washington never said that...a barren room with four books, an action figure, two balls and a toy gun, all well played with and loved...the biggest hug he could give his mom...and his friend...the cool evening interrupted by being suddenly being picked up...
  227.  
  228. Rocking around in the back of a van...lying on the floor of a motel...forcing his hand free, briefly rubbing his bruised wrist before getting ready to hit the driver with his gun...a deafening roar of metal and wood as the world flipped over and over...crawling through where a door once stood as his captors moaned...stumbling through the woods, no idea where he was going, finding a mountain...getting into a cave to get out of the rain...falling...
  229.  
  230. Golden flowers...a kindly soul, so much like his mother...sneaking away at night, best not to linger...snow under the mountain...a small town, the library answered a lot of questions...spotted by what looked like a dog, but he didn't want to hurt them...the biggest waterfall, pining for his mother...now lava, this place has everything...a towering horned figure, what a dad would probably be like...he'd not give up, but he didn't mind if he lost, they started it anyway...it was only fair...
  231.  
  232. In a dark place, but there were new friends, five of them...a sharp pain, like getting all your shots at once...more golden flowers...the horned man summoned them, they sensed a new friend...they needed help, well golly he was gonna help...more friends, hundreds, bundled together...a small boy trying to be a bully, but his heart wasn't a bully's heart...a hug, one he hadn't felt since his mother...we did magic, how cool was that...the boy's alone again...nobody should be alone...it's not fair...
  233.  
  234. The visions ended. Robert felt his proper weight again. His face was wet. He had no memories of what he had done during the vision.
  235.  
  236. "He...he really was something..."
  237.  
  238. "Yep." Warm fuzzy hands held his. He appreciated it. "I've only had two other friends that close. He was...he IS something special."
  239.  
  240. "And I wanted nothing to do with him...how could I..."
  241.  
  242. "It's easy to focus on the wrong things. Pain, Fear, Rage. I've seen them all trump Love, and never has it ended well." In spite of everything, the young man was still smiling.
  243.  
  244. "I don't think I can...live with what I did..."
  245.  
  246. "I know that feeling too." Asriel stopped him "The feeling that it can never be enough. And in many ways it can't. But that doesn't mean you give up. You keep trying and trying to make it right, and as long as you do, that's all that can be asked of you. Took me a while to get that."
  247.  
  248. Silence. Who knows how long.
  249.  
  250. "Alright." There was defeat in his voice, but also DETERMINATION. "I'll confess. I'm over the hill anyway. Tell Jimmy...tell Jimmy I..."
  251.  
  252. "Don't worry, he knows."
  253.  
  254. A phone emerged from Asriel's pocket. With a few quick taps he turned it round. Robert read it as the phrase NOT-SPAGHETTI sent to another number.
  255.  
  256. "Now just to make sure. I've got a friend of mine watching the house. You've met his acquaintance already, in a matter of fact. You can do it tomorrow. If you renege or try to flee, well he says that will be a bad time."
  257.  
  258. It was a completely unnecessary threat, they both knew it. Quite unprovoked by his own thoughts, Asriel threw his arms around Robert Coline. It was a hug big enough for three.
  259.  
  260. "Be seeing you...Dad."
  261.  
  262. And with that, he picked himself up, and struck a surprisingly impressive figure as he headed for the front door.
  263.  
  264. "all wrapped up, bucko?"
  265.  
  266. "Heh, yeah. He'll do the right thing."
  267.  
  268. "you're damn right he will."
  269.  
  270. Asriel walked down the street.
  271.  
  272. "So Jimmy. I helped you out. You want me to go talk to your Mom? Hmm, yeah, she might not be ready for that, better let Dad deal with it for now. But beyond that..." a little uncomfortable "...are you sure you still want to...stick around? Wouldn't be fair since I don't have anything else to offer you...really? Well, never thought about it like that! Thanks, Jimmy! ...a cop? Well yeah they're exciting and they catch bad guys, but I still wanna see if I can study astronomy. No they're not boring, have you ever seen a supernova? Well, maybe we can compromise. How about a double major...?"
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