The map was enormous. Placed somewhere on Earth, it would have taken up a medium-size stadium. Colorful dots hung at different heights above various locations on the map. Some areas had more dots, some – only a few. A small figure hovered over the map, sometimes moving to a specific portion of the map and adjusting the dots, sometimes going higher to survey the whole. A shimmering sphere followed the little creature like a devoted dog.
- Hey, Grinder, you want to... What in the world?! - Smirk popped out of nothing, expanded into a purple globe and was just about to coalesce into his gnome form when he saw the map.
- Why don't you finish assuming your form? - the female gnome said without even looking at him, - You always look funny when you freeze up like that – like a beach ball with big ears and nose.
She smiled and finally turned away from the colorful expanse. Smirk snapped into shape, the look of incredulity overtaking his face the moment it was fully formed.
- A beach ball? You know about beach balls? How do you know that?
- Megan told me.
- Megan? My Megan? Megan Buchanan?
Grinder floated closer, took Smirk's face between her hands and kissed him on the nose.
- Don't be jealous, - she said, - I went to see her for... some research I was doing. And we got to talking about other things and she told me about playing ball on the beach.
- You know we are not supposed to visit recruits once they have signed on, right? You know how Mr. B is about these things.
- It should be ok. I covered up pretty well. Watch.
Grinder put her hands around the glowing sphere that was still following her, then withdrew. The sphere pulsed brighter, then formed into a figure very much like Grinder herself. Up close, it was clearly a fake, but from a distance one would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
- What is that thing? - Smirk reached out to touch the pseudo-Grinder only to be zapped with a small shock.
- It's a pod I made. To help me with... things.
- You know... Things I want to know.
Smirk was beginning to feel exasperated. He was very fond of Grinder, to be sure. But there were times when she irritated the Beelzebub out of him, and this was rapidly developing into one of those times. He knew she couldn't help it. It wasn't Grinder's fault that the Chief Water Elemental Poseidon mixed in some stray elemental matter when he made her. But the fact was: that little additive had rather unexpected effect upon Grinder's abilities and intellect, which made her rather frustrating to deal with at times.
Smirk made a valiant effort to summon his patience and rally his rather limited mental abilities.
- Grinder. We have jobs. We are crazy busy. All the time! I understand that you want to know things, but haven't you got enough stuff to do?
Her beautiful turquoise eyes (“the Aegean Sea at the end of summer” as Poseidon described them) became sad.
- I am bored, Smirk. It's the same thing all the time. Go to the assignment book. Get the page. Recruit. Then go back and do it all over again. I just have a few little projects. You know, just to have something fun to come home to.
The last statement caused Smirk's face to become even more mournful than it normally was, which Grinder noticed.
- I am sorry, - she said gently, - But you know and I know that even when I try to explain things to you, you don't always get them and either get bored or angry.
- It's just that you talk so fast, Grinder, and you talk about things nobody has ever heard of – nobody has ever thought of – before. I am scared for you, Grinder, because you always get into things we aren't meant to mess around with. Like... Like... Like this thing here. What is that anyway?
Grinder perked up considerably as she always did when working on something new.
- Oh, this is just a bit of fun – nothing dangerous. Come over, let me show you!
She grabbed Smirk by the hand and dragged him to where he could see the entire map, shimmering sphere still in tow.
- This is the map of Earth with as much detail as possible. I made it big so that I don't have to zoom in and out too much when I need to see something specific.
Smirk held up a hand.
- Wow, wow, wow! See, you are doing it again. You are going too fast – what is “zoom”?
- Oh, sorry... It's a term Megan taught me. It's to... see things up close or further away when you need to. So, when you zoom in, things appear bigger, and when you zoom out, they go back to being small again.
- And these... thingies floating all over? What are they for?
Grinder looked so pleased with herself she practically sparkled.
- These are time and place markers. Each dot marks a particular year and a particular place.
- Ok. So... Year and place for what? Grinder? Hey!
She became temporarily distracted when her pod floated up and nudged her, then flew over and pulsed near one of the dots. Grinder followed it, grabbed the dot and very slowly moved it up by a fraction of an inch.
- I am sorry, what were you saying, Smirk? Oh, right, what for... Superhero sightings, of course!
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