Anya had to cling to her glaive so she didn’t fall back on her ass. The pangolin had spoken to her. In English. It had changed its mouth to something more human and talked to her, thanked her, and asked for ants.

“Uh,” Anya said. “Yeah. Hi.”

“Yeah, hi,” the pangolin repeated. It took several more shuffling steps forward, then hugged Anya’s leg. “Thank thank.”

“Ooookkaaaaay,” Anya said and looked down. “This is not what I was expecting.”

“Make big think, go away small land” the pangolin said. “Thank thank.”

“Awww, it likes you!” Felix said.

“Thank god for that I guess,” Anya said. She reached down and gently touched the top of the pangolin’s armored head. It stretched up and pressed its head into her palm. “You’re not gonna go crazy or anything?”

“Crazy or anything?” the pangolin repeated. “Crazy. Crazy.”

“Crazy bad,” Anya said. The pangolin stepped away from her, its eyes wide, then curled up into a ball again.

“Bad!” it cried.

“No no! Not you or, uh, shit. Hey, pangolin AI!” Anya said to the buttercup-headed yellow AI that floated behind the pangolin. It glanced up at Anya and darted behind the pangolin when she spoke to it. “Great, they’re both shy.”

“The AI probably won’t understand you much better than the pangolin,” Felix said. Anya recalled how very literal and not-forthcoming Felix had been the first day she’d had them. They had learned lightning fast, and mostly understood her metaphors and idioms now, but it had still taken them a few days.

“The AI has the same language barriers as the host,” Felix continued. “For example, you don’t speak Spanish, so neither can I. The AI is at the same English level as the Pangolin.”

“How’d it even know to pick English though?” Anya asked.

“Prior to integration, the menu systems scan the planet they land on and the area of the host they merge with. It picked up on all the English around the zoo, and found some non-verbal, pangolin way to tell the host to pick English for better communication. That’s my guess anyway.”

“As good a guess as any,” Anya said. Felix beamed. The pangolin uncurled from its ball just enough to look at Anya with one eye. She smiled and waved at it.

The pangolin opened its menu again by licking its tail, and this time Anya saw that its menu was made up of mostly broken English and more strange symbols. Where her menu said “PHYSICAL SKILLS” the pangolin’s menu said “BODY DO.” For “MENTAL SKILLS,” it read “THINK DO” and for “OTHER SKILLS” it just had one of those odd symbols.

The pangolin tapped its “THINK DO” menu open and tapped on a skill labeled “THINK OUT SOUND,” that was currently at a non-numerical value, just another symbol. When the pangolin tapped the skill, the symbol changed, and it tapped another button. The pangolin squeaked again and shook its head, and the menu changed before Anya’s eyes.
“THINK OUT SOUND” changed to “HUMAN TALK” and the symbol beside it changed to a 3.

“Huh,” Anya said. “Can you understand better now?”

“Understand your talk, okay,” the pangolin said. “Am I bad?”

“No! No I just…this is very complicated.”

“Complicated,” the pangolin repeated. It started to reach out for the “HUMAN TALK” skill again but Anya shook her head.

“Don’t do that now,” she said. “Later, maybe.”

“Later,” the pangolin said and put its claw down. Anya glanced at the creature’s menu and saw that it was level 11.

“It’s 11 years old?” Anya muttered.

“Yeee-eees,” Felix said. “Your menu’s passive level system is percentage-based, centered on a 100 year life-span. It’s not exactly the human average, but I guess the menu determined it was good enough. But all the menus on this planet are for humans, or were supposed to be. I’m afraid I don’t know how long pangolins live!”

Even if the pangolin was entirely fluent, concepts like years, age, lifespan, and so on would be beyond it. Even if it knew what a calendar was, it wouldn’t have any idea what to do with or how to apply it to its life. Anya pulled out her phone and did a quick search on Pangolin lifespans.

“Looks like they don’t live much longer than 22 years or so,” Anya said.

“I think it’s safe to assume the menu just performed a basic scan to figure out how long it had been alive and defaulted to the human timespan,” Felix said. “Which is too bad, because if the menu had adjusted to pangolin lifespans, it’d be level 50!”

“Yeah,” Anya sighed and studied the creature.

A groan from the V-187 drew Anya’s attention away from the pangolin for a moment. It sounded like Ramierez was stirring.

“Hey, you,” Anya said to the yellow AI.

It made an “Eep!” sound and floated behind the pangolin.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, calm down. Just talk to your host here, and make sure they understand uh, basic information. And don’t go anywhere, okay? Stay,” Anya said.

Anya wasn’t sure if that was simple enough for the AI to understand, but it nodded at Anya, then began whispering to the pangolin. Neither of them seemed in any rush to leave the area at least. The pangolin squeaked with delight as it found a tiny hill of ants in the dirt and began to lick and scratch at it as the AI continued whispering.

“All right. I think they’re fine for now,” Anya said to Felix and then walked to the V-187. She leaned inside and saw Ramierez blinking his eyes and coming to. She hauled him out of the V-187, marveled at how light he felt, and set him gently down in the dirt with his back against the vehicle.

“Hey,” she said. Ramierez twitched at her voice and blinked at her. “Wake up sleepy-head.”

“Hmmff?” Ramierez said then fully opened his eyes. There was confusion there for a moment, then realization and panic as he focused on Anya. He tried to move his hands apart and grunted as the cuffs bit into his wrists.

“Hey buddy,” Anya said and waved at him as she removed her helmet.

“What the hell? What is this? Where the hell am I?” Ramierez demanded.

“Hey, easy. Take a breath. You’re in Jersey, just a little south of New Brunswick. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“You punched me!” Ramierez said and winced as he spoke. “Twice now! What’d you get this time? My chin?”

“Yeah. Sorry,” Anya said and grimaced. “To be fair, I thought you were reaching for a gun. It was in your ankle holster, by the way, not on your hip.”

Ramierez cursed as he winced again and flexed his bruised jaw. He glared at Anya as she held up his emptied revolver and then put it away again.

“It’s because I got suspended. Captain wanted a full report of what happened in Prospect Park and I told him. He said I was crazy, or making a joke out of three other officers and a civilian dying, and if I wasn’t going to help and be serious then he was going to take my badge and gun. I tried to tell him I was serious and that was it.”

“Oof. That’s kinda rough. Can’t really say I blame him though,” Anya said. Ramierez’s thin, tan face tightened as he scowled at her.

“What the fuck was all that huh?” Ramierez said. “Some little kid’s fluffy toy or something killed my partner and friends. You had some kinda bazooka or flame thrower in your sleeve, and just…what the hell?”

Anya held up her hand. “Stop. First you gotta tell me: how’d you find me? Were you actually looking for me or was it just bad luck?”

“Hell yeah I was looking for you!” he said. “I asked around the local fire departments if they’d had any calls about explosive devices or anything going boom lately. Said it was for an investigation, which was true! If I brought you in I’d get my badge back and could prove I wasn’t crazy!”

“Uh-huh. Do they normally let you do investigations when you’re suspended?”

Ramierez’s frown deepened but he ignored the question.

“I got four leads from the fire department early this morning. First three were just some kids with firecrackers, then an amateur stunt man, and then a meth-head who burned his own lab down. The last one was you.”

“And you came looking for me after seeing what I did. Alone. And with just that tiny little revolver? What was your plan, man?”

“To do whatever I could to keep the crazy bitch with bombs from getting away,” Ramierez snapped. “Nobody believed me! What was I supposed to do? Wait out my suspension? You’re crazy or stupid enough to blow up your own apartment.”

“Yeah, well, shit happens. You get magic fire powers, you make a few mistakes,” Anya said as she scowled at the man.

“Magic?” Ramierez said and narrowed his eyes at her. “No, I saw it, you had something in your sleeve. Some kinda IED or something.”

Anya removed her one of her gauntlets and rolled up the covering heavy cloth and leather enough to expose her forearm.

“Nothing in my sleeves,” she said with a typical magician’s flourish of her hands. She held one of them up before Ramierez and, with every ounce of caution she could muster, created a tiny orb of fire an inch above her palm. She pointed at it with her other index finger, and Felix appeared at her side and made Jazz-hands motions at the burning orb.

Ramierez shouted in alarm and scooted away from Felix rather than the fire. “What the hell is that?”

“This is Felix,” Anya said.

“Hello!” Felix said and gave Ramierez a sharp salute.

“Hello!” the pangolin said. It must have finished off that ant hill and now leaned out from behind Anya’s leg. The cop screamed and the pangolin curled into a ball at once.

Ramierez fell onto his side as he continued to scoot away. Anya shook her head and hauled the officer to his feet. She dusted him off and put her hands on his shoulders as she leaned down.

“What is that thing? What the fuck is it?” Ramierez demanded, his eyes wide as he stared at the curled up pangolin.

“It’s a pangolin, it’s harmless for now, and it’s one part of a long, weird story. Look, I’m gonna tell you what’s been happening. I feel pretty awful about what happened to you and those officers and I wanna help, but you’ve gotta calm down first, okay?”

“Oh-ok-okay,” Ramierez said as his eyes darted between Anya, Felix, and the pangolin. Anya nodded and then brought Ramierez back into the V-187 where they could sit and talk about the invasion of planet Earth.

Last Chapter
Next Chapter