The Hardass watched the city scroll past the porthole window on his personal Titan IV rocket with a tender eye.
Perhaps tender wasn't quite the proper term. Less flinty than usual was closer to reality.
"Damn," he growled into his helmet. It was black cast iron and had a visor made of half-inch-thick stainless steel. The visor was riveted in place. The Hardass had driven those rivets himself with his thumb.
So actually, he wasn't watching anything scroll past. He was merely facing the porthole window and fantasizing about things scrolling past. He was also fantasizing about dropping incendiaries on the dwellings of criminals, and this made him smile slightly. If you could see through the stainless steel, you'd note that it was a grit-toothed and determined smile. You might also detect a hint of tenderness in it, but you'd be wrong. It was dark inside the helmet, after all, so you could be forgiven for making the mistake.
No bombs would be dropped tonight, though. His smile spoke of determination to be sure, but it was determination to perform feminine conquest that drove it, for tonight The Hardass was on his way to his woman's place. He chuckled turgidly into his helmet.
Chastity had invited him over for a movie and some popcorn, and The Hardass had thoughtfully brought some napalm and gear oil to pour over it. She always put some sort of yellow goo and a sprinkling of wuss crystals on her popcorn, and The Hardass could barely taste it. He considered putting some Fluff on his popcorn the next time, because Fluff was friggin' delicious.
The rocket landed on the street outside of Chastity's apartment building, charring the living hell out of half a block's worth of parked cars. The Hardass charged down the ramp and through the front door of the apartment building, head-first.
He greeted Chastity at the door to her apartment with splinters and chunks of plaster on his shoulders, and a bouquet of socket wrenches in his hand.
"Brung you some wrenches, babe," he said, smashing a head-shaped hole into the top of the doorway as he entered.
"Oh you!" she squealed, taking them from him. "I see you didn't eat them this time!"
"Not all of them."
"There's one teeny-tiny little itsy bitsy change to our plans tonight darling..." Chastity began.
"Waaaait," The Hardass growled, nostrils flaring and eyes darting suspiciously about. Of course, this would not have been observable, as he still had his helmet on. "It smells like babies in here."
"Well, that would be the change," Chastity laughed nervously. "I hope you don't mind, sweetie."
"Don't call me sweetie. Are you planning on making a salad and some rolls to go with these babies?"
"Tee hee! You're so funny! No, silly. There's only one baby, and my friend Veronica asked me if I wouldn't mind babysitting him tonight. He's such a dear. Come see!"
The Hardass removed his helmet and dropped it to the floor, where it crashed through into the basement. He followed Chastity into her guest bedroom.
"I'm so sorry about this, but Veronica and Steve really needed a night to themselves. After they had little Tyler here, they've just been sooo busy!" She lifted the infant out of a crib and put him over her shoulder.
"Damn, he's ugly."
"Oh, he is not! He's so cute and chubby, I could just eat him right up."
"Me too. Got any salsa?"
The baby made some gargling noises.
"I think Ruddiger's going to barf," The Hardass observed, stepping back.
"His name is Tyler. He was just fed, so I wouldn't be surprised if he did burp up a little." She patted the baby's back as she walked back into the den.
"I'm calling him Ruddiger," The Hardass stated with finality. "I don't like you," he said to the baby's face.
The baby grinned at him and burped softly.
"Blazing moose nuggets! The little bastard just gut-sassed me! I'll stuff him in my shoe!"
"Did Tyler make burpy burpy? Awww!"
The Hardass went back into the guest bedroom and, spitefully, ate the crib.
"I thought we'd watch The Spreadsheet tonight. It's about this old couple that work in Accounts Receivable and meet through the Excel document they share and fall in love. Does that sound okay?"
"No." The Hardass eyed the baby mistrustfully. "Is it going to be watching the movie with us?"
"Can we put it on the floor when we have sex?"
"He's not going on the floor, silly. It's drafty down there."
"So where are we going to put it while we have sex? In the flowerbox?"
"We're not going to have sex."
The movie started and Chastity made whimpering noises as the old people's younger selves first meet through a flashback at an office party. The Hardass chomped manfully at his bowl of napalmy popcorn and kept one eye on the baby. He didn't trust Ruddiger one bit. The baby looked sly. He especially didn't like having him on the couch between him and Chastity.
Sullen, he reached over and ate a lamp.
At the part where the male love interest gets fatal carpal-tunnel, Chastity began to weep copiously. "Oh, it's just so...so...believable!" She honked into a tissue. "It's just like real life!"
The Hardass poked the baby. "If real life was really lame."
"I must be a mess," she sniffed. "Makeup all over the place."
The Hardass looked up.
"Yeah. Looks like you've been crying licorice. You wanna go wipe it up?" he said sympathetically.
"Mm hm. Can you keep an eye on Tyler? I'll only be a half hour."
"Thanks honey!" she said, and kissed him on his crags.
"Dammit. And don't call me honey!"
She pranced into the bathroom and slammed the door. The Hardass and the baby sat, or sprawled, as was Tyler's case, on the couch, awash in the blue glow from the television. He poked the baby again, and this time it smiled. Then its little face twisted up into a look of intense concentration, like it was trying to read hieroglyphics.
"What the hell?"
The baby made some grunting noises. Then some other noises. Then his face cleared up and he looked radiantly happy.
"Holy bats." The Hardass leapt from the couch as the smell hit him. "Chastity! It's decomposing! There's this horrible smell, and I think it's decomposing, but it's happy about it, apparently, and--what the hell?"
"Aww! He's dirty!" she squealed from behind the door. The Hardass could hear power tools operating in there.
"I know!" The infant was sticky. The Hardass figured that was normal. This new smell, however, was unearthly.
"Well, change him!"
"God! I think it's defective! Shouldn't I just throw it away?"
"No, silly, just change his diaper."
The Hardass turned his jaw-dropped face from the bathroom door down to the baby on the couch. It was happily squirming, very proud of its work.
Then it clicked.
"It shit itself!"
"That's what they do at that age, pumpkin."
"Don't call me pumpkin. God. If I did that, I'd want someone to shoot me."
"You did it too when you were little."
"Like hell I did!"
"The diaper bag's in my room, under the bed."
The Hardass thundered into Chastity's bedroom and threw the bed into a corner. Underneath it was a layer of dust, a thong, and a duffel bag full of what looked to The Hardass like wadded-up white sweatsocks.
"Damn. Anyone craps themselves on a couch in front of a TV, they're defective. No argument. But if you're only 18 inches tall, then it's cute. Unbelievable." He grabbed the duffle bag and a mouthful of nickels from a jar on his way out.
"So what the hell should I do with this bag of socks?" he yelled at the bathroom doorknob.
"Friggin' crinkly white socks with tape on 'em. Damn! I think the smell's getting worse! I'm going to put him under the vent hood."
"Those are diapers, and you are not putting Tyler on the stove!"
"I'll do what I want because I have a driver's license. And consider your lighter fluid drunk," he yelled over his shoulder as he rummaged under Chastity's kitchen sink.
The Hardass found what he was looking for: a blue plastic dustpan. He scooped the baby up with it and carried it at arm's length over to the stove. It was an electric range with a smooth glass top. He covered it with a layer of Cosmo magazines and deposited the giggling infant on top. He turned the fan on high.
"Change it..." he muttered, looking for some tongs. "Gotta stick a new diaper sock on you, huh Ruddiger? Nice."
The Hardass worked diligently. He skillfully unfastened the diaper from Tyler's abdomen with the tongs and a salad fork and hurled the soiled atrocity out the window.
"Dill-scented mother of monkeys! It's covered in mold!"
"That's just baby poop," Chastity explained over the hiss of her airbrush.
"It's green! Chas, if this is--damn. I'm going to Windex it off him. "
The Hardass applied the paper towels, stuffed the baby into a new diaper, wrapped his lower half in masking tape and called it a night. During the whole ordeal, the baby had fallen asleep. The Hardass scooped him up with the dustpan and stuck him between two pillows on the couch.
"It's on the couch, and I need some strippers," he told the bathroom door.
Chastity exited and smiled up into his flint grey eyes. "Oh, you big teddy bear you!"
The Hardass allowed himself to be hugged and stomped to the door. Chastity followed until she fell down the hole his helmet had made. She met him at the front door.
"You did good," she said.
"I learned something too," The Hardass said, looking introspectively up at his rocket.
"What's that, smooshybeans?"
"Don't call me smooshybeans. I learned that gravy would be better than salsa."
The neighborhood filled with the Titan's thunder as The Hardass took to the skies. He had some strippers to lunge at.