Chapter 11: Bear v Lion Part 2: Rumble in the Head

Inside the mountainous skull of the First U.S. President, Former President Twenty-six, in full werebear form, charges Number Seven's Freedom robot. The robot is strong, but not fast, and it takes the full brunt of the bear's attack. The bear swipes at Seven's face, raking his claws through soft flesh, scraping bone. The robot kicks, hydraulic joints powered by the Original Document thrusting with the full force of the Founding Fathers. The bear has no wings, but he learns that under the right circumstances, he can fly. He smacks against the far wall of the cavernous head. Dazed by the blow, his bear form shrinks, halfway between man and beast as he struggles to stay conscious.

“We've gotta do something,” says Forty-two.

“I'm on it,” says Forty-three, and runs for the door.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“Deploying my exit strategy,” says Forty-three. The door slides shut, six inches of solid metal slamming into the floor. Every other door in the room does the same, sealing off their only means of egress.

“Going somewhere?” says Seven. The gashes in his face are rapidly closing.

“Your face,” says Forty-two. “It was shredded to ribbons.”

“Being wounded is a state of mind,” he says. He stomps his robot toward the Forties.

“How about being blinded?” says Forty-three. He reaches a hand into his pocket and pulls out a fistful of white powder. He opens his palm and blows as hard as he can. Seven's face is hit by a thick cloud of the stuff, filling his eyes and mouth. He coughs, rubs his eyes, and gropes blindly at the Forties.

“What is that stuff?” says Forty-two as they dodge out of the way. “It's not- Is it?”

“It's flour. I traded some POGs for it back at the hobo camp. Thought we could make some biscuits. Wait, you didn't think-”

“Never mind,” says Forty-two. “You distract the robot some more. I've gotta help the bear.”

“Hey, Seven,” says Forty-three, “there's some WMDs over there we've gotta get.”

“What? Where?” Seven squints one eye open and looks in the direction Forty-three is pointing. “They're mine! I'm America, I get to have all the nukes!” He stomps the robot across the room, still half-blind.

Forty-two kneels by Twenty-six's half bear form. “You have to get the Constitution away from him,” says Twenty-six. “It's the only way.”

“I will, but I need your help,” says Forty-two.

“Leave me. You can do it. You have the power. You have my vote.”

“And you have mine.” Forty-two reaches behind his back and pulls his saxophone around on its strap. “This'll help you out.” The saxophone has more than a few dents now, and it could use a new reed, but he plays anyway. A tune that seems somber at first, but hints at better news on the horizon. It's a song of loss and hope, wounds and scars, the turn of the day and a sun that sets before it rises.

“Stop that racket!” says Seven from across the room. He turns and starts to stomp back in their direction.

Twenty-six puts his hand on Forty-two's shoulder. It swells into a bear-sized paw. “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed,” he says. “We might fail today, but we'll do it together.” He picks up the pieces of his broken walking stick. He tosses one, aiming at the glass enclosure that holds the Constitution. The robot catches it in midair. While Seven is distracted, the bear throws the other half of his stick. It lodges in the robot's knee, jammed between two of the flagpoles that make up its body.

“You think sticks and stones can defeat me?” says Seven. He raises his own leg inside the cockpit, but the robot struggles to follow his movements, straining against the stick in its joint. He straightens his leg out, then bends his knee as hard as he can. The stick splinters into a thousand pieces.

The bear laughs, a low and hearty rumble.

“Your end is imminent,” says Seven. “What do you find so funny in this moment?”

“That stick,” says Twenty-six. “It's made from hickory.”

The room shakes. A low rumble rolls in from somewhere in the distance.

“Told ya there were WMDs over there,” says Forty-three.

“The airstrike,” says Seven. He laughs. “It's nowhere near us. I told you they'd never hit the mountain.”

The building trembles. The floor pitches and tilts. “Near enough for the shockwaves to bring the whole skull down on top of us,” says Forty-two. “You'll be buried along with us.”

A muffled cracking sound echoes through the chamber. It sounds like ice cracking on a frozen lake. “That's no collapse,” says Seven. A shaft of light appears through a hole high up in the wall. A second light appears a moment later, bathing Seven in golden sunlight.

“The eyes,” growls Twenty-six. “The cement is cracking. The faces awaken. He's going to stand up. With the Constitution, he can control the entire body. There'll be no way to stop him, unless- Forties! This way!” He throws his bear body at the steel door that leads to the next head.

“You'll never get through that,” says Seven. Two iron rings ascend from the floor, near the same chamber that housed his Freedom Enforcer. “You think I didn't plan for this?” He grabs the rings with the robot's hands.

The room quakes and tumbles. Twenty-six uses his soft bear body to cushion the Forties as they're tossed around. Their stomachs lurch with the sensation of quickly rising, then stopping suddenly. For a moment, all is calm. Another light appears, level with the floor.

“The mouth!” says Twenty-six. “He's opened the mouth!”

“You want out?” says Seven. “Let me get the door for you.”

The head tilts forward. The mouth opens wide. There's nothing to grab onto, nothing to stop their slide. Seven holds onto the rings, safely embedded in his robot, controlling the stone body of the First. The Forties and the bear tumble out into open air.