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Episode Nine: Mayhem Ex Machina

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Mayhem Ex Machina

May 4, 1959

“Mrs. Hanover—” The bungalow door slammed hard on Steve Flanagan’s foot, but he didn’t budge; the second he withdrew his foot, he’d lose his last chance to find his brother. “Frank Cable only gave me your name because—”

“Frank’s real good at giving names.” The grey-haired woman’s bony fingers tightened on the hem of her bath robe. “That’s how he got off the blacklist, giving the FBI my husband’s name. That’s how we lost everything.”

“This isn’t like that. Tommy Gould’s my brother!”

“Even if he is, what the hell would that prove?” The door opened, then closed even harder against his foot, forcing a gasp from Steve’s lips. “My own brother hasn’t spoken to me since I was blacklisted, said it was what I deserved for turning my back on AMERICA.”

“But that’s over. There’s no blacklist any—”

“Tell that to my brother! And there’s still a federal warrant out for Tommy, right? He was a good kid; if I did know where to find him, I’d never tell you.”

Steve shot a desperate glance at Dani beside him, saw she had no idea what to say either. He forced a smile as he withdrew his foot. “Okay, Mrs.—” The door slammed in his face.

And just like that, I’ve lost my brother for good.

“Steve, I’m so sorry.” Dani wasn’t much for public display but she reached over and hugged him before Steve started limping down the garden path. “We’ll find someone else—”

“Who? How?” His heart felt heavy as lead. “That’s the last of the names Cable gave me, the people he thought might have helped Tommy hide. Now, I got no leads, no names, nothing! And it’s not like I can run an ad in the newspaper.”

Ten years. Ten goddamn years. Getting out of reform school, learning from the Summers Orphanage that Tommy had been adopted four months earlier. Finally getting the name of the Goulds from a sympathetic secretary. Trying to find them.

Then I got sent to Korea, came home after Klaatu and Gort scared everyone into making peace…and a year later, the FBI arrests the Goulds as Red spies and Tommy’s gone on the run. And if the FBI ever knew who I was, they’d never stop watching me until I led them to Tommy.

“I have to face facts, Dani, I’m never going to find him. I failed him.”

“The hell you did!” Her fingers suddenly dug into his arm. “You wouldn’t have had this problem if he’d answered your letters from reform school, or told you about the adoption or if he’d made one goddamn attempt to find you—”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Steve slammed open the garden gate, letting them out onto a quiet, wisteria-lined street of small, cheap bungalows. The one he’d rented for them was just a few blocks away.

“It takes two to tango, doesn’t it? Your brother wasn’t dancing!”

“Tommy was a kid! After my pop died, I was the man of the house.” Seeing she was about to retort, Steve added, “Maybe he didn’t have a choice. Maybe the guards at the reformatory tore up the letters or something.”

“Maybe he—” She reigned in her temper with a visible effort and pulled out a package of Starfire cigarettes. “All I’m saying is, your friend Matt was right. You said he told you to stop putting your life on hold, give up on Tommy, start a family—”

“Start a family?” Steve’s heavy heart gave a sudden, crazy leap as the day turned around. “You mean you’re finally ready to let me put a ring on your finger?”

From her shocked expression, he realized that hadn’t been what she meant at all.

Since joining the FBI’s Science Police division six months earlier, Harry Sato had gotten used to weird.

The second-story man with the anti-gravity belt. The triggerman who’d had a ray-gun built into his arm. The crazy artist who’d killed critics with the radioactive mutant hidden in his basement.

Even by Science Police standards, Harry decided, the conversation with Ezra Novak was completely screwball.

“Roboticus has the mind of a child!” Sitting with Harry and Mickey Moon in the grey-walled interview room, Novak mopped at his pasty face with his dirty handkerchief. “He could be scared, confused—you have to rescue him.”

“Now, hold on a dang minute.” Mickey, Harry’s tall, blonde partner, said in his Texas drawl as he scribbled Novak’s comments in his notebook. “Didn’t you just tell us this robot was some sort of fighting machine?”

“Eventually he will fight against all those who threaten America, yes. But it will take time; he has to be taught, trained, given a firm moral foundation.”

“So—” Harry kept his voice neutral. “—you’re saying you not only built Roboticus without a TSC license, but he’s intelligent? Literally?”

“Well, of course he’s unlicensed.” Novak smiled condescendingly. “It’s impossible to get a license to build a true thinking machine, but once the government sees what Roboticus can do, I’m sure they’ll admit I was right to proceed without one.”

“Do you remember the last thinking machine anyone built?” Harry said. I don’t believe this guy! How can he be so reckless? “Hypnotized its controllers, almost took over this country—”

“Bad upbringing, Agent Sato. I, on the other hand, have spent the past year inculcating Roboticus in 100 percent Americanism.” Novak puffed out his chest. “Bible readings for morals. Watching Ozzie and Harriet to teach him about family. Books on America and California. And when there’s a war movie on the late show, I let him stay up and watch to learn the importance of defending his country.” The man’s smile became wistful. “I’ve never had a family of my own, but I think I’ve proven a fine father.”

“And you sat with your 100 foot tall robot in front of the TV?” Mickey said. He was no longer taking notes. “How’d you get him on the couch?”

“He was six feet tall at the time, Agent Moon. 100 feet is only his potential height.” Novak replied. “You remember the Kronos robot in Mexico, with its ability to convert energy into mass? That inspired me to develop a method for expanding Roboticus by—”

“Kronos almost destroyed the North American electrical grid,” Harry said. “You don’t see a problem here?”

“Kronos was sent to destroy us. Roboticus has been trained to protect us.” Novak’s smile was reassuring, then it faded. “I can’t imagine whoever kidnapped Roboticus can damage him—the alloy I developed is completely indestructible—but he must be so utterly scared. Please, agents, you have to find him!”

A few minutes later, as the outraged Novak was informed of his rights, of the penalties for violating science-licensing laws and led off to make his one phone call, Harry glanced over at Mickey. “So is this worth worrying about? I mean, a six-foot tall giant robot that watches television with its dad? Maybe he’s a complete kook.”

“You know our boss’s rule: Never say it’s impossible until you’ve proven it so.” Mickey popped a stick of Juicy Fruit and chewed thoughtfully. “Back in Germany in the war, if someone warned your platoon that—”

“About giant robots? We’d have laughed. But yeah,” Harry said, nodding slowly, “if someone warned us the Krauts were nearby, we made damn sure to check it out.”

“We have Novak’s address, so let’s go check it out.” Moon got up from the desk and clapped his partner on the back. “Let’s ask Saul to go with us and see if we got a real robot maker or not.”

Back in the drab bungalow, Dani Taylor handed Steve his highball and joining him on the moth-eaten couch with her scotch. Renting the bungalow had been a break from signing in as Mr. and Mrs. in yet another hotel register, but just then she wished she was a hundred miles away. It’s been six months since the last time he asked, I thought he’d given up. And then I got him going again!

Steve avoided her eyes, fiddled with his tie, and Dani thought of those hands on her body the night before. They were good together. Very good. So why did he want to change things?

“So, the answer’s still no?” Steve looked up and locked eyes with her. “You realize it’s been two years since we started dating?”

“Do you still want me to quit the Guard if we get married?”

“There’s a hundred ways a doctor as good as you could save lives, baby. Emergency rooms or—”

“Your work isn’t any safer. Are you going to quit?”

“I’ve seen your scars. Here.” His hand patted her back below her shoulder, where a Devilfish claw had cracked three ribs. “Here.” His fingers rested on the three year old scar where molten glass had splashed her arm. “And I’ve seen how it scars you inside when you can’t save someone.”

“You’ve got your own scars, you know.” Dani slammed her glass down on the side table. “Do you know what it felt like seeing you in hospital after that Torgo creature almost killed you?” Her guts clenched at the year-old memory. “The cuts, the blood loss, the burns, those goddamn chemicals that seeped into your body? Waiting three weeks for you get off the critical list?”

Steve looked surprised. “You never told me you were that worried.”

“Well of course not, I—”

I didn’t want to make a fool of myself when we’d only been going out four months. It would have been…ridiculous.

“You had enough to deal with. You didn’t need me crying on your bed.”

“I wouldn’t have minded. And wasn’t it worth it? We smashed Torgo’s crime ring, stopped him from transferring his mind to Newman’s body, freed everyone that sex fiend had locked up for—”

“Do you know how many lives I saved during the Deathworm infestation? When I was up for 72 hours straight? Not just Pulaski and Hill, but the kids, grandmothers—”

“And I’m proud of that! It’s part of what I love about you! Only—” He paused and took a long drag on his Winston. “Okay, let’s get one thing clear. Are you saying that’s the only problem? If I was okay with you staying on in the Guard—you’d say yes?”

“I—” Dani’s tongue froze in her mouth as she realized she had no idea what to answer.

“You could just have said you didn’t know.” On the other end of the phone line, Claire White sounded amused. “Why didn’t you?”

“What if he’d asked me to decide?” Dani clutched the receiver like a lifeline. “Claire, you know men better than me. And you’re a genius. What the hell do I do?”

“Well, true love has never been my scene—”

“It’s not mine either.” Claire made a small laugh. “What the hell gives you the idea I’m in love with Steve?”

“Would you be this upset if you weren’t? Back when we met, you had quite a few guys on a string, but you’ve been dating Steve for two years.”

“We’re not exactly dating. Exactly.” Dani jumped from the easy chair and began pacing up and down, stretching the phone cord to its limit. “We’re both free to go out with other people—”

“Which you never do.”

“—and I always buy my own dinner. Just so he doesn’t get the wrong idea.”

“Which would be what? Dani, it’s obvious that—”

“It’s not obvious! Nothing about this is obvious!” Hearing how loud she was, Dani felt glad Steve had taken a walk.

“Let’s cut to the chase: If he did say he’d accept you remaining a Guard medic—”

“He hasn’t said that for sure.” Dani saw the phone starting to fall off the table, rushed back and restored it. “Claire, just because I can’t articulate my reasons doesn’t meant I don’t have good ones. Maybe we’re just not right for each other. Maybe I don’t want to get married. Just because I don’t have your social life doesn’t mean I’m ready to settle down.”

“What if he gives you an ultimatum? Say yes or it’s see you in the funny papers?”

“At least we’d get it settled. Then again, thinking about breaking up—” Scares me as badly as saying yes. “Dammit, I’ve faced spacemen, kaijin, protoplasmic blobs and not lost my cool!”

“This time it’s your heart that’s at stake, not your life.” Claire exhaled thoughtfully. “Plutarch said nobody but the cat wearing the shoes knows if they pinch. You’ll have to figure this out for yourself.”

“At least you gave me a sounding board.” Dani sank back into the chair. “If you’re ever in the same boat—”

“In love? Pigs’ll be flying first. Of course, with mutations these days—”

“Wow, Bob Hope’s got nothing on you. But thanks.”

Shaking her head, Dani hung up and lit a cigarette. I can’t lose Steve But I don’t know if I can marry him…and I’m not sure why I don’t know. Maybe if I sleep on it? By the time Steve got back, they’d have to rush to make it downtown in time to see James Dean in Music of the Spheres, then have a late dinner in Little Tokyo afterwards. If she was really lucky, there wouldn’t be time to discuss it again before tomorrow.

“I feel like Gregory Peck in Earth is the Hostage.” Dark-haired, dark-eyed FBI technician Saul Horowitz jabbed the stem of his curved pipe at one of the blueprints he’d spread out over Novak’s garage workshop floor. “Wondering why someone this smart has to go rogue when he could have—”

“So, Novak’s not a crackpot?” Harry said studying the garage door, which appeared to have been ripped open from inside. A trail of heavy footprints led across the lawn to what had once been the neighbor’s fence. “I mean, it sure looks like Roboticus walked away, but the other stuff?”

“You saw me shock this thing.” Saul held up a six-inch cube of metal that had been five inches before he jolted it with electricity. “And even my diamond drill didn’t scratch it. Novak’s notes indicate not only would the alloy have absorbed the energy for growth, it could channel the electricity into an electromagnetic skeleton supporting Roboticus’ larger body.”

“And it got up and walked away.” Harry ran a hand through his prematurely receding hair and lit a cigarette as Mickey crossed back through the fence. “Anything, partner?”

“Mr. Kellaher next door called in a police report last night.” Mickey leaned against the heavy steel door. “He was watching Halls of Montezuma on the late show, saw some ‘big guy’ stealing his station wagon. Didn’t get a good look, but—”

“And Novak slept through all this?” Saul said.

“Told Roboticus to go to bed early, then took a sleeping pill.” Mickey sighed. “Guess the kid didn’t do what he was told.”

“Is it possible, Saul?” Harry asked. “Roboticus has a brain? A personality?”

“Novak’s computer design is more sophisticated than anything coming out of Engineer’s Row.” Saul held up one of the blueprints, not that it told Harry or Mickey anything. “Without Roboticus here to perform a Turing test, there’s no way to—hell, Novak didn’t program it to be a car thief, did he? So I say yes.”

“So joyriding in the neighbor’s car was Roboticus’ own idea?” Harry said. “Why? I doubt he’s cruising for chicks.”

“At least, we got the car as a lead,” Mickey said. “I’ll call LAPD, see if anyone’s spotted it.”

“And if we find it, what then?” Harry asked Saul. “How do we stop something harder than diamond?”

“I’ve only had 90 minutes to study these plans,” Saul said. “Finding a weakness’ll take time.”

“Find fast and call us by wrist-radio,” Harry said, as he and Mickey stepped through the shattered door. “We’re off to hunt down a robot.”

Steve knew that between the World War II internment and the damage done by the Invasion, Little Tokyo was a lot less Japanese than it had been thirty years ago. Still, the First Street Buddhist temple and a couple of other old buildings remained, enough to remind him of the few days he’d spent in Tokyo before heading home from Korea.

That night, Steve felt as detached from the street as he had from the movie. He stared at Dani, walking beside him, at the dark, fine-boned face under her brown, close-cropped hair and worried Tommy wasn’t the only person he was losing.

She didn’t answer my question, that means no, right? She wouldn’t marry me even if she weren’t in the Guard. The thought gnawed through his guts like battery acid. Not for the first time he wondered how he’d fallen so hard for her. Sure, she was brave, good-looking, smart, classy, but so was Steve’s partner Gwen and he’d never wanted to kiss her the way he did Dani.

It’s love. There’s nothing else that explains it. And she doesn’t feel the same. He’d thought she did, lots of times; the smile over her last birthday gift, the way she laughed at some of his cornier jokes, the look in her eyes every time—okay, almost—that they made love.

But hell, I’m a nobody from Brooklyn with a brother wanted for treason. How could that be enough for her?

I know I’ll stay with her as long as she wants, but—how long will that be?

And then, just as they were entering into the restaurant, it went dark. The entire street went dark. “Well, damn,” Steve said with a laugh. “Someone forgot to pay the light bill.”

“You sure that’s all it is?” Dani studied the scene warily; the only light came from the full moon and cigarettes and headlights scattered along the street. Somewhere up the street, two cars collided. “I should have brought my medical kit.”

“They have ambulances in LA. And we don’t know that it’s anything but—” Someone a couple of blocks away cried out what sounded like a warning in Japanese, then someone else screamed. “Hell, who am I kidding?”

They started running, as fast as they could manage in the dark, hearing gunfire, more screams, then the sound of metal smashing hard into stone. It grew louder as they drew closer, and then they were pushing through a panicked mob of Los Angelinos running away from whatever it was; Steve grabbed a man to ask questions, but the guy shoved him away and kept moving.

Breathing hard, Steve and Dani turned the corner and saw a forty-foot tall robot smashing a building with clenched metal fists.

“I keep telling you Harry, you shouldn’t smoke—”

“Shut the hell up—Mickey.” Harry wheezed out the words as they approached Little Tokyo, past intersections gridlocked by the loss of traffic lights, using flashlights to check the sidewalks ahead. “The screaming, the power loss, he’s gotta be here.”

“If we’re wrong—”

“We’re not.”

When the police reported finding the ditched station wagon half a mile from Little Tokyo, Harry had suddenly seen it. A kid. Sitting, watching war movies with his pop, dreaming of being a hero like father wants. So one night he sneaks out to play soldier, and from something he read or heard, he realizes where he can find some Japs in Los Angeles… “I think the screaming’s coming from that road to the left.”

“You realize even if he’s there, we still have to find a way to stop him.” As they detoured around a phone booth, Mickey glanced down at the jacket pocket where he’d placed a couple of handmines. “If Saul’s wrong—”

“Pray he’s not. Pray shooting into the cooling vent will blow up the brain.

Yeah, and it’ll be such an easy shot in the dark, unless we get real close…

“You ready?”

“Like momma used to say, nobody’s tougher than Texas.” They reached the next intersection. Roboticus stood a hundred yards away, stomping on a row of parked cars. “Don’t think she had critters like that in mind when she said it.”


“Dig!” Dani barked at Steve as she threw herself on the rubble, peeling it away from the two Japanese men half buried under it. The robot, ignoring the bullets someone was firing at it, had moved down the street. “They’re unconscious, hold up your lighter, let me see their condition.”

“You’re are the bossiest girl I ever met, you know that?” Steve said, pulling his lighter out. They’d already called in the emergency on their wrist-radios. “Where the hell did that thing come from?”

“Pluto? Rogue scientist? The future? Doesn’t matter. Get closer.” Dani knelt down, studying the unconscious men, saw multiple cuts and abrasions, prepared to remove their coats—then suddenly, the light disappeared. “Steve?”

She looked up, looked around, and saw him racing toward the robot. She couldn’t believe he’d do anything so crazy, then she made out a little girl, standing a few yards in front of the giant, screaming in panic. Dani almost screamed herself as Steve raced through the robot’s legs, snatched up the girl, kept running but not fast enough to avoid the robot’s moving foot. It struck Steve as it rose and he went stumbling into a building’s shadow, crying out in pain.

The seconds it took Dani to reach him felt like hours, and it took more precious seconds to find Steve in the dark, even with the girl’s wails to guide her. “Steve?”

“I think I—” She saw him sit up, gasp, sink back down. “My arm—!”

“Sit still until I look at it!” The robot, thank God, was walked away; Dani dragged the girl from Steve, held her when she tried to jump back. “I’m going to have to get your coat off, but—”

“Give her back.” Steve held out his other arm, took the girl; Dani carefully tugged the coat off his other arm, ignoring the hammering of her heart, forcing herself to think like a doctor … the coat came off, her lighter clicked on, and she could see the bruises, swelling, and a slight misalignment. “There might be a break. I’m going to palpate your arm, which—”

She glanced up at the sound of metal and falling rubble, and saw Roboticus thrusting his arm through the front of a bar. An explosion of screams followed; Dani made herself ignore them, set her hand on Steve’s wrist, to work up to what looked like the injury site—

“He’s bleeding!” Someone screeched from inside the bar, louder than the other screams. “Someone help me, I can’t make it stop!.”

“Steve.” Dani glanced at the bar, swallowed. “Can you sit still? Completely still until I get back or an ambulance gets here?”


Without chasing that thing?” She heard another desperate cry from the bar. “You swear?”

“I—sure, I guess, but—”

“Then stay put, don’t move it, I’ll be back as soon as I can. It—it sounds like they may need more help than you do.” Saying it didn’t make her feel any less of a heel as she ran to the bar, praying that for once Steve wouldn’t try to do anything heroic.

“Only forty feet high?” Climbing off the fire escape onto the apartment-building roof Mickey stared across the street at the back of Roboticus’ head as it resumed crushing cars. “Guess Novak was a kook after all.”

“It’s looking away from us.” Harry ran across the roof, drawing his gun, but there were no openings on the back of the metal head. “If we want to try the trick shot, we’ll have to get his attention.”

“And if we do and we miss?” Mickey pulled out the handmine and set the magnetic switch. “Or it doesn’t blow up his brain?”

“Then he squishes us like bugs.” Harry forced a smile. “We knew the job was dangerous when we took it, right?”

“What was your motto back in the war? Go for broke?” Mickey hurled the grenade at Roboticus’ shoulder, saw it land and cling, then explode a second later. “Sure hope something breaks!”

Novak wasn’t so screwy. The metal wasn’t even scratched that Harry could see. But Roboticus halted in mid-step, its foot poised above a VW Beetle, and swung around, reaching its leg across the street. As it raised metal hands covered in powdered brick, Harry studied its face: Eyes the size of hubcaps, bulges where the ears and nose should be and where the middle of its mouth would have been, the slit for the computer brain’s cooling vent.

Both agents drew their guns and fired into the vent. Roboticus’ arms kept rising toward them and Harry fired his last bullet, praying to a God he only half-believed in anymore as he slid a new clip into his automatic.

Roboticus paused. A second later, with its foot still a yard or two above the sidewalk, the robot began to wobble.

A second after that, it toppled slowly forward.

Harry and Mickey scrambled to the far side of the roof as Roboticus’ body struck, caving in the building only to catch on something inside and stop falling, leaving half the roof intact.

A second later, Roboticus began to shrink.

“Holy cow,” Mickey whispered. The robot dwindled, shrinking to six feet tall in a matter of seconds and collapsing onto the rubble. “Harry—you think it was really intelligent? A little kid like Novak said?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Harry lit a badly-needed cigarette and sat on a skylight. “Believe me, Mickey, if you start worrying that you just shot a swell guy and it’s a shame he was your enemy, you’ll go nuts. Maybe he was a kid, maybe not; either way, we had to stop him. And we did”

“Six weeks in this thing?” Shifting in the hospital bed, Steve glared down at his cast as Dani fit a cigarette in his mouth and lit it off hers. “Crummy robot. Crummy arm.”

“You’re lucky it didn’t snap off. It happened with the Guard unit that attacked the Megalith.” The thought made Dani shudder, which was stupid—he was fine, wasn’t he? Despite her abandoning him. “What the hell were you thinking, Steve?”

“I was thinking I’d be faster.” He gave a small laugh. “Oh, don’t give me that look, baby, you’d have done the same thing if you’d seen the kid.”

“That’s beside the point. You could have been killed—”

“And you’d have cared?”

She stared at him incredulously. “Of course I’d have cared! How can you ask that?” The answer came to her immediately. “I’m sorry Steve. I shouldn’t have left you, and I’d have been back but the man was hemorrhaging—”

“You think that’s it?” Now he looked incredulous. “Yeah, it was a bit of a shock when you ran out on me, but…Hell, even if we were married, you’d have done it. That’s what you do, take care of people. It’s part of why I go for you so much.

“I—I kinda do wish you’d stuck around, but you got a job to do, just like me. It’s just that…” He shrugged. “You’re number one on my hit parade baby, and it sunk in after our talk yesterday that you don’t feel the same.


“Besides, I know you ain’t gonna quit the guard, and the thought of seeing you in this bed instead of me—and the kind of risks you take, it’s bound to happen someday—tears my heart out. Only—” He swallowed, reached out his free hand, caught hers. “Only I know walking away from you now would feel worse. So I guess I’m around as long as you want me.”

“Steve.” That should have been good news, but the look on his face made her feel constricted, like she couldn’t breathe. “I’ve never said I don’t love you.”

“You’ve never said you did.” He was trying to hide it, but she could see the ache in his eyes. “You won’t even agree to go steady.”

“You said you’d still marry me if I did stay in the Guard.” She felt stretched to the breaking point, but she couldn’t even be sure where the breaking point was. “What you’re saying about not wanting me to be the one in the bed—are you taking it back?”

“All I did was ask if it would make a difference.” He took the cigarette awkwardly with his left hand and tapped off the ash. “Even if it would, I don’t know—”

“I told you, Steve, it’s no easier for me, seeing you almost die.” A long awkward pause followed. “I’d understand if you—if you don’t want to stick around. If you wanted to find someone who’s ready to get married, have kids—”

“I don’t want to get married, baby, I want to get married to you.” Dani’s heart skipped a beat. “I think I have ever since that first night in Boston.”

“That’s ridiculous. Love art first sight doesn’t happen.” But she could feel the words relaxing her, warming her. “I don’t know I ever will want to, you realize that? Especially if it means giving up—”

“Maybe next time I ask, I’ll accept that.” He gave his old, cocky grin. “Or maybe I’ll change your mind.”

“You won’t, but—” She reached over onto the bed suddenly and hugged him, even though doing it embarrassed her. “Don’t ever believe I don’t care. Or that I’d have left you for one minute on that street if you’d needed me there.”


“Yeah.” And their eyes met and for a second Dani felt something so intense she wanted to sing. Or run away. Or something. But she only smiled. “So…how’s the patient feeling?”

“I itch under my cast.”

“Everyone does. Can’t be helped.”

“Six weeks of itching? Jesus.” Then he laughed. “What the hell? How about my best girl being the first to write something cute on it.”

Smiling, Dani picked up a pen and tried to think of something sweet that wouldn’t be too mushy.