Following the incident at the courthouse, Donna was held at the hospital for a while for observation. She discharged herself as soon as she was able, and hurried down to the South Hertling Super Centre to warn everyone that the DIY Barn was back on the march.
She went to warn Ms Shan, but found her gone from her hiding place. Delia was also nowhere to be seen. Neither was Christian, nor Fanaka, nor that weird old guy who Fanaka worked for. She considered dropping in on Belinda at the art supply shop, rejecting the idea after barely a second. It wasn’t that big an emergency.
That left one person to talk to. Nalda.
It wasn’t that Donna didn’t like Nalda. She neither liked not disliked her. Sadie’s mentorship had taught Donna much of human nature but surprisingly little about killer cyborgs from the future. As a result, Donna tried not to think about Nalda more than necessary. As bad luck would have it, Donna found both Nalda and Belinda at the disposals shop but — cursed with being a decent person — she smiled instead of sighing deeply.
Nalda stood rigidly behind the counter, dressed in her usual black leather jacket and jeans. Belinda wore a red shirt with an illegibly embroidered monogram. Fortunately, Donna knew this identified her as staff from the Super Centre’s art supply shop which, equally fortunately, was not called ‘Art of Darkness’ or ‘Warm Craft’ or anything stupid like that. It was called ‘Jane’s Arts and Craft Supplies’ and people seemed pretty okay with that.
“I’m glad you’re here, Belinda,” Donna said, after a brief struggle with her internal definition of the word ‘glad’. “I have to tell…”
“Just wait a second, Deanna,” Belinda said. “I’m in the middle of an important experiment. I’m trying to see if I can teach Nalda the meaning of ‘love.'”
Nalda turned slightly to look at Donna. Her dark sunglasses made eye contact impossible, but there was no mistaking that despondent look of someone who had been talking to Belinda for too long. For the first time ever, she felt a sense of connection to the terrifying fembot.
“Belinda,” Donna began, “I don’t know if you noticed, but Nalda has been seeing Fanaka for weeks.”
“Fanaka?” Belinda said. “The scientist guy? I thought he was just doing maintenance work on her.”
“You might say dat,” Nalda smirked.
“You’re not helping, Nalda,” Donna said. “Look, a) Nalda knows what love is and b) rather more urgently the Barn is on the move again, and Ms Shan is missing. We need to round up the troops.”
“Pffft, the Barn,” Belinda said. “They thought they were so tough but we kicked their butts. We can do it again.”
Again Donna and Nalda exchanged glances. “You do remember the massive casualties, don’t you Belinda?”
“Oh, yeah, the casualties. We should probably try not to let that happen again, eh?”
“Ve certainly should not!” Nalda said, thumping her hand on the counter. “If der Barn rises again, it must be smashed! Destroyed! Destroyed mit extreme…”
“How much is this gas burner?” asked a terrified man with a big beard and an army jacket.
“Es ist $124.99,” Nalda thundered. “That is quite reasonable!”
The man made his purchase and scuttled off as fast as possible.
“We need to rally the troops,” Donna said again. “Who do we have?”
“Fanaka is at home, vorking on a sophisticated short-range anti-missile device. Boys und dere toys!” Nalda chuckled, and the sound made Donna and Belinda shudder.
“I can’t find Christian anywhere,” Donna said. “Seamus is more… mobile than usual, but I’m not sure how useful he is in a fight. That leaves Zorbar and Gwen the Phantasm. Might be enough.”
They each considered this for a moment, before shaking their heads. “Nein, der Barnlings are cowards. If they are ready for a rematch, they vill have calculated the odds. If they were ready to fight us all, then they are more ready to fight while we’re a few people down.”
“How do we know they didn’t already take out Ms Shan and Delia and the rest?” Belinda wondered.
“They tried to blow me up and take a courthouse with me,” Donna said. “They aren’t subtle enough to pick us off one by one without leaving any evidence.”
“How did the court case go, by the way?”
“Pretty well,” Donna said. “When you save the magistrate and the court building from destruction, that tends to back up your claims of being ‘of good character’.”
“Ve are dancing around der issue,” Nalda said, with another thump on the counter. “Like common Bavarians. Ve have been relying on der legal system to set our friends free, one by one. Dat vas fine, assuming that we had the time to do so. Ve do not. Derefore…”
“Jailbreak!” Belinda squealed. “Ja-a-a-ail break! Daylight come and me wanna go ho-ome. Jail-break! I say jail, I say jail, I say jail…”
“Stop that!” Donna snapped. “It’s cultural appropriation, and it’s out of tune.”
“Ja, vun or der other, please…”
But Belinda wasn’t listening. She was dashing about the disposals shop, picking up camping tools, studying them for jailbreak potential and discarding them with disgust.
“What’s this? Can we bake it in a cake and send it to Laura? No! How about this? They can tunnel out with it, like that movie when the guy from the Hudsucker Proxy helped Batman’s friend escape from the Kurgan? No! How about…”
Donna leaned in closer to Nalda. “Want to let her run around while I tell you the real plan?”
Nalda gave a grim smile. “Ja. We’ll break everybody out – Laura, Jane, Axel, Adam and the other ones whose names I can’t remember. And den ve vill crush the DIY Barn, see it driven before us und hear der lamentations of dey’re stockholders.”
Donna smiled. Then she frowned. “Hey, what happened to Ali and Wellsey?”
“Oh, I expect dey vill show up sooner or later.”