Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chapter 9: Trouble That Starts With A 'T'

It's hard writing sports fiction for a sport you've never even played. Not as hard as guessing what this year's CO Halloween event is going to be like, but harder to wing. Also, "gravure idols?" You Japanese are strange.

Chapter 9: Trouble That Starts With a “T.”

John backed through the door after Mr. Wong, trying not to tangle his cluster of grocery bags again. One broken jug of milk was enough! He was already ready for a certain amount of chaos, just from the way that May was ringmastering a circus of preschoolers in the garden. The Captain chasing the most active ones, barking softly, and that meant that there would be more inside.
The kitchen itself was disappointingly quiet. Mrs. Wong was sitting at her place at the table, her hands cupping her chai in front of her and her tablet turned aside, her face forward to catch every word whispered by a four-year-old girl, dressed in much too nice a dress for preschool, her face shiny with recent tears. The little girl’s fingers were drumming her cup. Mrs. Wong whispered back, and the girl smiled.
Then Mrs. Wong stood up and began to organise the groceries and the little girl slipped down from her chair and went back into the living room. From the sounds of things, her friends were just about to sacrifice Jamie Neilsen to the Elder Gods.
Unless that had already happened, John thought, as the wallpaper on Mrs. Wong’s tablet changed to show a twelve year-old Jenny Wong and Nita Guzman dressed as brides, with practically the entire Wong-Neilsen-Guzman mafia lined up facing the camera as a double bridal party. Co-Maid-of-Honour Jamie’s “gown” was as horrifying as any Elder Thing. A glowing pink “gown,” made, John had been told, by pinning t-shirts from Goodwill together.  Men’s t-shirts at that, not that John would have noticed unless Amy had pointed it out. What kind of guy wore things like that?
Though at least Jamie wasn’t sticking her tongue out at the camera like May, wearing a gown made out of teale. Or something like that. John had been paying more attention to Amy than what she was saying. Manny Guzman  and Brad Neilsen, the grooms, were frankly scowling. Henry was apparently the photographer, and had also snapped the next few photos, taken after Amy, Emily and Jason went into action. Those, however, were only in an album, not the wallpaper. Children and Youth Services wouldn’t understand about the Rugrats.
Fortunately, the girls were being paid to be sacrificial maidens. Mrs. Clarke got one Sanity Sunday a month away from her day care, and Jamie, May, and Amy were in charge for October, so John didn’t have to rescue anyone, and was free as soon as he’d unloaded the groceries and lumber from the Mazda and helped remove the roof carrier. It didn’t take that long. And then John was headed upstairs with as many comics as forty bucks would buy. Which wasn’t much.
Jason was lying on his back in his bed, flipping through an old Sonic comic, bored out of his skull. John could feel for him, not that he wasn’t going to rub it in.“You know, you probably shouldn’t plan a scheme and a broken ankle for the same weekend. That way, you can have Internet while you’re stuck in bed.” 
“Ha. I would have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”
“Jamie and Jameel are kids now?”
“It’s a quote, dude.”
“I know it’s a quote. So you’re a Scooby-Doo villain?”
“I don’t know what’s so bad about conning Liam and his posstards out of their allowances. They’re just going to drop it on clothes at ‘Jersey Shore 4 Less.’”
“Because you shouldn’t be taking advantage?”
“How am I going to develop my face skills if I don’t practice? Every covert ops group needs a face man.” Jason rolled over, and pulled a deck of cards out from under some underwear. “Here. Pick a card. Any card.” A few missed cards fell off the side of the bed, followed by the underwear.
John carefully picked his way to the bed. The kids must have been in here, because there was Lego out. Lego and stocking feet don’t mix. “I’ve seen this trick before.”
“And you’ll see it again if you don’t hand over my comics! What’d you get?” John sat down sideways so as not to hurt Jason’s ankle and handed over both bags.  Jason was pretty good for giving comics back, and, anyway, that meant that he’d get to read Jason’s pull, too. And Jason was getting Batwing.
“Aw, man. You got Hawk and Dove? Again?” Jason looked disgusted.
“I like Hawk and Dove. And Deadman,” John protested. “It’s just the comic that’s lame. And I kinda feel bad for Rob Liefeld.”
“Because he sucks ass? I bet you next week’s allowance that this is the last issue, unless they fire him.”
“Not a chance. This 52 thing is sucking up all my money. I’m still saving up to buy Children in the Sky and it’s been out two weeks now.”
“You could get a job.” Jason said.
“That’s about as likely as my family suddenly showing up and doubling my allowance. May said she had to get A-plusses in everything before your Mom would let her drop figure skating and get a job.”
“Dude. You’re, like, a genius.”
“Ms. Grey says that I have to learn five languages just to get an A! I hate learning languages. Why can’t the Japanese and French and whatever learn English instead? Captain Picard speaks English.”
“With a British accent,” Jason replied.
“For an A+, she’s probably finding three new languages ones. Harder ones. More tones, more case. Dative isn’t enough. Figurative?”
“What?” Jason asked.
“Because dates are fruit, and so are figs, and “figurative” is a kind of...Yeah. You know what? Never mind.”
“Woosh!” Jason waved a speeding bullet by over his head. “You’ll never get to be a bag boy if  you don’t work harder than that. Sad about all those outfits, though.” Jason threw his hands up like a figure skater and winced as his ankle shifted.
“Yeah. Not going to start figure skating, Jas.”
“Why not? You could meet girls. I’m jealous.”
“Dude, we’re surrounded by pretty girls.”
John ticked off on his hands. “May. Emily. Amy. Jamie. Jenny and Nita when they were in town last week.  Rebecca and Rafaella. And that’s just around here.”
“Dude. Those are, like, my sisters or next best. Well, except for Rafaella, and she’s a sistah. They don’t count.”
“They’re not my sisters. And they’re so, so hot.”
“You really think my sister is hot?”
“Of course May’s hot, I-”
“Not May. Amy.”
John tried to keep the panic off his face. He’d been so careful to slip Amy’s name into the middle! Maybe Jason caught the way his voice broke. Time for a diversion. John brought out his phone, pulled up a saved search and handed it over.
“This is who Amy reminds me of.”
“Nonami Takizawa? First of all, she’s Japanese. Second of all, I am so going to have to beat you up if you’re imagining my sister like that.”
“I’m sorry, it turns out that they don’t post pictures of Japanese pin-up girls in potato sacks.”
“What is a potato sack, anyway? My sister is way prettier than that.”
“Well, yeah, sure. But look at this picture. Doesn’t she remind you of Amy?”
“You want me to think of my sister like that? Are you mental?”
“The face, dude. The face.”
“You look at a picture like that and go for the face? Next you’ll be all Harlequin. ‘Her skin is like a snow bank in a blizzard, or whatever’.” John didn’t say anything. It was the colour of her mother’s chai, and probably just as warm and sweet.
 “Okay, I see it,” Jason went on. “She does remind me of Amy. Embarrassed. Shy. Next point: did you really scroll through thirty pages of pictures like this? Because I think you might be a little obsessed with-“
“Like you’re not. No, I found it on way back from last Spring  on the Lair of the Evil DM.”
“You really think my sister is Lair-worthy?”
John nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“You don’t have a thing for Amy, do you? ‘Cuz I’d have to hurt you.”
“As if you could.” John lifted off the bed into mid-air and gave the rug a little tweak. Or meant to, because his TK kept getting stronger, and now the room was filled with socks, underwear, t-shirts, magazines, books, DVDs and comics arcing through the air. Falling, half-built Warhammer figs clinked against the LCD on Jason’s desk and the closed cover of his laptop. It made a better distraction, but, now John didn’t feel quite the same need for distraction. “And what if I did?”
Jason swept some of the clutter off his bed and back on the carpet. “I don’t know. It’d be weird. You’d have to move out.” Jason stopped and looked John square in the eyes. “I don’t think I’d like that.”
John nodded. There was that. So they read comics and talked about them, instead, until the parents came for the kids, and it was time for dinner: Indian takeout that was so good and so hot that you had to wipe your nose every few minutes, and so good that you couldn’t stop. Eating it almost made you think Mrs. Wong was right when she complained that Americans never ate lamb or wore wool any more. As long as he didn’t have to wear wool underwear!
After dinner, they watched TV until bed, except for Jason, who, ankle certified for walking, was sent upstairs to clean up his room. He gave John a dirty look as he went upstairs. About the room, or something else, it didn’t matter, because Rafaella got home just after dinner, and sat between John and Amy on the downstairs couch. It was almost like someone was doing it on purpose.
School was buzzing the next day. Everyone in the regular classes was excited about Halloween. Part of John was, too. Their grounding would end! But the Special Programme teachers seemed determined to kill the mood. El Professore was grim and dire in Tactical Training, pushing them as hard as he ever had. Jason had to run a parkour obstacle course, chased by robots.  Amy had to throw grenades until she was ready to cry. Emily had to improvise five different kinds of fire strikes before El Professore was happy, and John had to absorb and replicate them all, pushing to the limit, and ending up with minor burns. Rafaella did sword exercises, submerged in rubber-fleshed robots like an extra in a zombie flick until her slashes and thrusts grew dangerously sloppy. Her sword’s new, silver-bonded edge just didn’t cut as well as the old one.
Mr. Brown didn’t seemed anywhere near as preoccupied, but that impression didn’t last. “Could I see your emergency beacons, please?”
John and the others took off their new rings and laid them in front of their tablets. Mr. Brown, face set, walked down thetables , examining each with his magnifying glass. Jason was last in line, and the last to be inspected. “Jason. I see that you’ve scuffed yours.”
“I was...” Jason stopped and clamped his mouth shut. John looked at him. What was Jason up to now?
“You have a very physical powerset, Mr. Wong. You need to work it, but those phone-blocking demons are just the kind of trick that the Demonologist likes. That’s why we linked you to the Liberty League’s emergency alert system in the first place. I would sleep a great deal better next weekend knowing that it would actually work.” But when he opened up the case of Jason’s ring, the beacon was intact. Not appeased in the least, Mr. Brown brought out five spare beacon rings and had the class take them apart. It was only the second time that John had worked under a tool microscope, and his head felt like it was splitting apart by the time he left for his regular math class, but he had a new appreciation for the way that the Mechanic’s design drew power from the Earth’s magnetic field.
After that came lunch. There was a new girl sitting with Liam’s posstard at lunch, a pretty blonde that Jason had never seen before, and he couldn’t help feeling like she was watching him.  
The final special class for the day was Esoteric Arts. This time, the kids went through the attic entrance to the secret school. Telantassar preferred to teach in her office, open to the sky, although since tablet computers don’t like getting wet, she didn’t open the skylight. Unlike the spacious underground classrooms, her attic was cramped. Not just with bodies, but with plants and with cats that came and went, even though you never saw them on the main campus. Yet it always smelt cool and fresh, like a rainstorm.
Telantassar was not nearly so cool. Instead of easing into the class with a story, as she liked to do, she was blunt: “What have you heard about the Blood Moon? Yes, Amy.”
“Last Halloween, the lich lord, Takofanes, launched supernatural attacks all over the world. Zombies, and werewolves were raised everywhere. In Detroit’s Millennium City development, where he raised the spirits of the heroes who died in Doctor Destroyer’s attack on the city.” Amy almost sounded as though she were reciting. She was such a keener.
Telantassar cocked her head. “And?”
“He is probably going to do it again next week.”
Telantassar turned to her whiteboardand sketched a family tree. “Takofanes purports to be the ancient necromancer king, Kal Turak, son of the Lord of the Graven Spear and grandson of the demon god, Krim. Kal Turak called itself ‘Takofanes’ when it rose from the grave a sere lich.” Then she crossed the tree out with fast strokes.  “I, for one, think this pretence. The Takofanes of our era is just one more dark sorcerer out of ancient Ambrethel. Yet evil sorcery drew on great powers during the Blue Aeon. My ...sources tell me that this Takofanes has summoned dragons to battle, raised powerful lieutenants of this era and extended his influence to the far future. It is capable of far more than it showed last year, and it will escalate, lest it appear weak; the one thing that the Kal Turak of old would never do.”
Rafaella put up her hand. “Ma’am? Why are you so sure that this creature isn’t Kal Turak?”
A cloud passed over the skylight. When Telantassar spoke, John often almost heard music. It was as though it were latent in the world, like potential energy, ready to grip your mind in the same way that gravity carried away a cup of coffee carelessly balanced wrong. Never before had that not-quite heard music been quite so sad.  “My people survived the dying of their world to live on under the arc of Time. To bring Kal Turak down, they gave up all that made that life worthwhile and took sorrow for their lot. Their sacrifice was not in vain.” The old grey elf’s voice turned more businesslike. “Today we will be talking about the hidden history of the world, and how to handle relic magic and techno-sorcery from the Great Ages.”
After that, it was conventional math class. It would have been brutally boring, except that Principal Guzman taught the advanced section of frosh Math as his one course, and he always made sure that John had extra assignments. As he worked on his proofs, John kept noticing that the pretty blonde from lunch was in this class, and looking at him. Liam, who was pretty good at math for a gangsta mook, seemed to notice, too, and scowled in John’s direction.
The final class in the afternoon was supposed to be a Technical Studies double, but all five years of the Special Studies programme had classes in that block for Programme assemblies, and when John walked in, that was what was going on. The partition at the back of the class room that screened off the toolroom was folded back, the tool stands all pushed against the far wall. Additional tables and chairs from the computer lab were set up in the space. Jamie, May, and Rebecca were sitting with Mannie Guzman and Billy Tatum, giggling. Where John and Jason usually sat, Kareem and Graydon were at one end, their lanky bodies levered low over pushed-together tablets. Don sat at the other end of the table, leaning back, arms folded, a picture of tense discomfort, as always. The sophomores came in to the classroom in a rush just behind the frosh and the other juniors and seniors as soon the frosh took seats at the back. John leaned back until his desk touched the micrometer/X-ray stand.
El Professore came in through the teacher’s entrance. He was wearing his belt. This was serious. “As you will all have heard if you were paying attention,” he glared at Billy Tatum, “Takofanes, the necromancer supervillain, made a major demonstration last Halloween. We expect the same, only worse, this year. He will attack the Community as well as civilians. So all Special Programme classes are cancelled next Monday. The Junior and Senior classes will be excused to patrol from nightfall Sunday until noon on Tuesday. There will be a briefing, 1600 sharp tomorrow at the Liberty League Hall tomorrow. Don’t be late,” he added, with another significant glance at Billy Tatum.
“Freshman and sophomore classes will stay home at their parents’ discretion, as the secure classrooms here will be taken over by Mrs. Clarke’s day care. Some elementary grade students will be with Mrs. Clarke. Others are invited to join the freshman and sophomore classes at Halloween parties at the McNeeleys, Wongs, and Local 2519 of the UWRW.”
“Extra sitters for the babies!” Jason muttered.
El Professore waited for a moment for the students to react to the news that there would be no classes Monday because zombies might be coming to eat everybody, then rattled the room with his booming, “Simmer down.  On a happier note, the day that we’ve all been waiting for is coming Sunday, as our interschool cricket season kicks off with a visit from the Superhero Side Under-17s, straight from Wellington Cantonment, Tamil Nadu, India. We’re expecting the Superhero Sides to be one of the ones to beat this year.” He stopped and looked at the phone on his desk.  “I have the final score for Ravencroft versus Sarum School this morning. It was a massacre, and I have a little with Ironside that we do better against the Indians. There’ll be a bus in the West Parking Lot tomorrow at 7:30 for athletes and any family who might want a ride to McNeely Farm. Make Old Tatammy proud.”
The next day was cold and clear, and the atmosphere at the Yurt was electric. May affected complete cool, but ran out of the house when Jamie picked her up, despite the early hour. And before that, she gave her father a gift that turned out to be a cricket jersey in Tatammy Black-and-White with “Coach” on the back.
She was obviously jealous that the Under-17s got to go first, John thought. Amy was excited, Jason was vibrating, and even Rafaella was smiling. John tried to keep it in perspective, but he couldn’t. This wasn’t just the kind of sports that you watched on TV. This was a chance to prove themselves! Sure, it was a crazy English sport. Sure, the Indian team would beat them. But as long as they scored higher in their innings than Ravencroft, the Tatammy side could say that it had accomplished something. And in two weeks, it would be their chance to travel. To Tokyo!
The bus ride was tense, at first, with Mr. Wong checking his phone and texting every few minutes, and Mrs.Wong sitting with her arms folded, rolling her eyes. Mr. Wong was supposed to be “easing himself into retirement” this year. It didn’t look all that easy to John, until Jason started singing “99 Bottles of Beer,” and. Dora Guzman picked it up, singing the lyrics loudly as “Take one down and pass it around.” Mrs.Wong fixed her with a glare, Mr. Wong smiled and put his phone away, and the whole bus joined in.
The pitch wasn’t far from King of Prussia Mall, which presented the small problem that the Indian side had a teleporter, and all 11 of them had vanished there as soon as they arrived.  Rashindar, a bare-chested man with six arms like a Hindu god, was angry enough about it to be yelling at the Indian coach when they pulled up. The coach was Anvil, an amiable, steel-form brick, apparently used to being yelled at by Rashindar. John heard something about a “stupid materialistic diversions a-top of this waste of time sporting event,” as he got out of the bus, but then Rashindar switched to Hindi, or perhaps even Sanskrit, if John were hearing the endings right. Fortunately, the Indian team’s little field trip gave the spectators more time to arrive. A van from the Road Home Assisted Living Society pulled up. Mr. Stone, a regular volunteer, got out and helped Mrs. Crudup and a man to their seats. He was wearing, unbelievably, lederhosen, and Emily and Dora ran over to the man the moment he arrived. Was that really their great-grandfather? John went to ask Amy, who was warming up on the pitch.
It gave John a headache to watching her make her run-up to the bowl, her body’s orientation switching as she changed her gravitational angle. Two bowls, two batters dismissed. Finally, Corey Cox, the Noetic Boy, hit off Amy.
John walked up to Amy between pitches. “Hey, Amy.”
“Hey, John. This is fun!”
“It’s a little disturbing to watch.”
She flashed a momentary frown, and John flinched inside. He hated himself when he said these stupid things. “But it works!”
Amy smiled. “I’m really enjoying being a better athlete than my sister, but I think I’m done for now.” She turned towards John. She was wearing a bright green, totally non-cricket tank-top that would soon disappear under a cricket jacket. For now, it was pretty and distracting, and John focussed on not being a complete moron.
“Is that old guy sitting in the stands with Dora really Major von Wrede?”
“Sure. Check out the family jaw.”
“No way. I was expecting something more German.”
“He had to leave his beer stein and sausage at the home. Lucky for us. He has flame powers.”
“Shouldn’t he have, I don’t know, a duelling scar or something? He was a Nazi supervillain!”
“Never, ever say that to the Major.”
“Hunh? He was a Nazi. Party membership card and everything. I read it in on Wikipedia!”
“What does Wikipedia say about the Golden Sickle?” Amy asked fiercely.
“Soviet superheroine of World War II? Not much.”
“The Major was kicked out of the Party for surrendering at Stalingrad to save his men. The men were in a prison camp near Semipalatinsk when some aliens attacked, killing civilians and everyone. So the Major promised the Golden Sickle that he wouldn’t fight in the war if he were released to stop the attack. After that, well, he and his men captured a spaceship and went back to space for the duration. When he got back, he heard that Necrull had eaten the Golden Sickle while he was working for the SS. That’s why he never went back to Germany.  So don’t be calling the Major a Nazi.”
“That’s horrible. Was he in love with the Golden Sickle? She was married, right?”
“It was so romantic. And also gruesome.” Amy leaned in close, and John leaned towards her, not that he could do anything out here right in the middle of everyone. What would he do? Her skin really did look soft and warm. Then the Indian team teleported onto the middle of the pitch, and the match was on.
Corey, their captain, opted to bat first, starting off Jason, who connected on the third try. He was just too fast for the Indian bowler, a brick who relied on pure power and speed over accuracy that might have paid off better. With his leg speed, Jason got three runs before the Indian wicket keeper, a lithe girl with stretching powers, managed to dismiss Jason, tripping him with his thirty-foot-long arm and sending Jason hurtling into the stands at sixty miles an hour before Mr.Stone intercepted and brought him down. Rafaella went up next, but, despite her superhuman reflexes, was dismissed by an illusionist. John, as non-batting batsman, kept prudently to his side.
John could see through the illusionist’s tricks, but he was also a superhumanly fast bowler, and the Indian fielders were just too good for John to connect and hope. He would have to keep the ball in play somehow if he were going to have enough time to score some runs. John raised his kinetic field, carefully sculpting it close. Let it extend too far, and he wouldn’t be able to bat, but, on the other hand, he wasn’t semi-invulnerable like Jason, and that ball could literally go right through him if it connected. By super league rules, that would be worth some runs for the team, but John wasn’t going to make that sacrifice unless he had to, and he had an idea.
Two pitches whizzed by John, comfortably clear of the wickets and too fast to connect with. The sixth, and last for the bowler, came in a little less furious than the others, and John put his bat to it. The shock ripped through his arms in spite of his fully expecting it, and the ball caromed off at a hopeless angle, arcing high towards the wicket keeper behind him. And that would be it if this weren’t super-cricket. But it was! John grabbed the ball with his telekinesis and hurled it upwards as he ran for the opposite wickets. Corey, now non-batting, started as soon as he did. Above him, John could “see” in his mind an Indian flier take off on rocket power, headed straight for the ball as it rose into the sky. John jerked the ball left, hopelessly willing his feet to to go just a bit faster ground of the pitch even faster, his breath coming in gasps of slightly-past-crisp-to-warm, Indian summer air as he touched the far wicket and accelerated in the opposite direction. Above him, a second flying fielder, lifted on gusts of air, rose in front of the ball. There’d be none of that! John twitched the ball back, dividing his concentration between ground and air as his lungs burned. Now another gust, followed by another twitch, but the rocket flier had guessed where John was going to send the ball, and corralled it in mid-air.
He was so close to the wicket now.  John reached for a little more endurance, but in his mind’s eye he could see the Indian rocketeer, a nimbus of exploding energy limning her legs as she plunged towards the ground. Oh oh, John thought. I know where that ends up, but whether she knew or cared, she wasn’t going to let John get safe, and instead smashed into the wicket just in front of him, relieved to be able to stop running, but disappointed at his performance, John put his head as he hurried towards the crash site, only to feel someone’s arm over his shoulder. He looked up. It was Corey.
“Awesome, John!”
“What? I was dismissed after a single run!”
“And I made three! It’s not your fault that you run like a normal. We’ll work on that. More importantly,” he said, gesturing towards the wicket only a few feet away, where Jason, had appeared out of nowhere, and was crouched over the Indian rocket girl, talking in an urgent tone, “I think we’re needed not here right now.” Now that John was paying attention, he could see that the wicket keeper was also holding back, and even Mr. Wong, in spite of being in charge of first aid calls, was coming up at something less than urgent pace. Then, Rashindar, materialised right next to Jason and the Indian girl.
“I’m just trying to help, sir,” John heard Jason say.
“Your intentions are well appreciated, Master Wong,” Rashindar said in the same superior tone that he’d used on Anvil. “I should rather think that I can take care of my ward.”
“I’m fine, guardian,” the girl said in a polished accent, half way between stereotyped upper-class English and Delhi Wallah. “It was only the shock of striking the ground so quickly.”
“Then, by all means, compose yourself, Theeravalli. Your example will be an inspiration for these American children. As for you, Master Wong, I believe that you are needed on your bench.”
John and Jason walked back to the bench together. Jason seemed distracted, and as soon as they got there, Amy asked, “What did you say to her?”
“I told her that I liked her pants.” Jason answered.
“I know you like her pants, Jas. You’re pretty obvious. I think her friend the wicket keeper noticed you liking her pants.”
“What?” Jason sounded genuinely upset. “Check out her ankles, when they show. The skin is the perfect colour against the pants. That’s what I meant.”
John rolled his eyes. Jason was in for it when they were alone.
Mr. Wong called Amy up to replace Corey as non-batter. She went, glancing back at her brother as she went. “We’re not done, bro.”
It turned out that John and Jason’s performance was the highlight of the side’s at bat. With only two more runs scored, they went into the field up 9, one ahead of Ravencroft against Sarum. Now they needed to run out the clock or retire the Indians to make good on El Professore’s bet, since Sarum had scored their full 40 before the ninety minute time limit, but one run had been disqualified. They’d have to bowl very well to beat 39 to 8, John suspected.
And so it proved. Fast balls, telekinetically assisted balls, even nanotech-assisted balls, the Indians were ready. With only a minute left, Amy, the side’s cleanup bowler, came in at 37 runs scored and with fully three Indians left to bat. Theeravalli was the Indian batter. Amy started to run. Suddenly, she was running sideways and the ball left her hands falling west at several gees. Theeravalli’s rockets ignited, pushing her in the unexpected direction and speed of the ball. But as it left Amy’s personal field, a twitch sent it first south and then down, and Theeravalli ended up two bat’s lengths away as it whizzed by and slammed into the wickets. One runner dismissed!
Next up was the illusionist, who promptly disappeared from sight. Little did he know that two could play this game. Amy ran, released the ball, and as soon as the batsman turned his attention to the ball, disappeared and let the ball fall back into her invisible hands for a second release. It was only a moment’s distraction, but the ball accelerated away in a gravitational field suddenly as powerful as Jupiter’s, and wherever the illusionist went, it was too far to get back on the ball. Again the wickets clattered.
The final Indian batswoman was the rangy wicket keeper. She flexed, and her arms extended a good twenty feet in the air as she took her bat on her right. This one would be hard to handle with misdirection, John thought. He flexed his telekinetic ‘muscles.’ He wasn’t the only flier on the fielding side, but he was the only flying fielder on the batswoman’s strong side. The clock said 30 seconds to go. Not nearly enough time for normal runners to score three times, but who knew how fast the Indians could run? Amy delivered, using all of her tricks. They weren’t enough. The bat connected with taut power. The ball slammed into the right field at the perfect angle, a bullet of a strike. Without even thinking, John launched himself on an intercept. He was flying lower to the ground, and faster, than ever before. Remembered pain sent twinges through his right arm, but he ignored them. He was not going to let the team down!
The grass flew by beneath him, green and blurry. He stretched out his hands, dove a little, and the ball connected with a meaty sound. It was painful, but not as painful as a moment later, when his arm slammed into the turf. The feeling of bone breaking was almost familiar by now. He catapulted over his head, keeping his grip on the ball, came up, switched hands and threw as fast as he could for the right wicket, towards which the more normal Indian batter was still running. The former wicket keeper was rounding her first wicket, her legs stretched bizarrely, making long, rubbery strides. The ball would never make it in time. John reached out with his telekinesis, pushing down the pain, accelerating the ball towards the pitch. Could anyone catch something going so fast? But Corey, the wicket keeper, could. John heard the ball slam into his glove just ahead of the Indian runner.
Thirty-nine to nine! It might not be a win, but at least they’d outdone those preppies at Ravencroft! And from the look of it, his arm was only a little broken.
Later, John sat on the bleachers beside Jason and Mr. Stone, who was apparently sleeping. It was still a little tender and tingly from Mr. Wong’s healing. Across the pitch, Rashindar was having heated words with Theeravalli about....something. Jason seemed to have his eyes fixed on the fight. John couldn’t resist a jump into dangerous waters. “You don’t have a thing for Theeravalli, do you, Jas?”
 “What? Of course not!”
Mr. Stone took off his sunglasses and stood up. “Looks to me like that young lady needs an escort to the facilities. I think that I’ll wing it.” He did slight, unemphasised air quotes as he said “wing.” “I sure hope that I don’t miss any important calls,” he added, as he put his phone down on the bleacher beside Jason and ambled onto the pitch.  In a minute he had joined the bickering Indian pair. His mellow, reasonable tones were a sharp contrast to their conversation. A moment later, Mr. Stone and Theeravalli headed off under the far bleachers.
Mrs. Crudup spoke behind them. “Why, I do believe that Denver is confused. He’ll have to bring that girl all the way back to the far end of the bleachers to find the facilities.” She gestured over to the right, and, as she did so, Mr. Stone’s phone rang.
“Jason,” Major von Wrede said, in his faint Bavarian accent, “could you perhaps take Mr. Stone’s phone to him? I need to talk with Rashindar.” The Major caught fire with an eye-searing flash and flew across the pitch towards Rashindar, while Jason took off down the pitch at top speed. John noticed that he left the phone behind. No-one called after him.
Whatever Major von Wrede needed to talk to Rashindar about, the Indian superhero seemed less than pleased to be involved. A few minutes of visibly forced pleasantries, and he simply disappeared. A few minutes after that, Jason and Mr. Stone popped into existence on their side of the pitch, Rashindar and Theeravalli on theirs. They began walking towards the rest of the Indian team, which was packing equipment so that Rashindar could teleport them back to India. Rashindar turned back once to glare at Jason, who was staring dreamily after them.
Corey had come up behind them. “She’s out of your league, Jason.”
“Like I care.” Jason said. But his eyes were still on the retreating Indian.
“Hopeless. It’s hopeless.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Then Theeravalli looked back over her shoulder and caught Jason’s eyes, a little smile on her face.
“Oh! She’s got no taste at all!” Corey said.
“Maybe she likes the bad boy thing Jason’s got going,” John answered.
“Spaz boy, more like it,” Corey answered.
“You guys don’t know what you’re talking about!” Jason said. But he couldn’t hide his grin, even when Amy came over to demand a full debriefing.
John felt someone watching him, and turned around to look up the bleachers. Mrs. Wong was sitting at the top, looking down at them. She was smiling.
The rest of Sunday afternoon was a blur of activity, with dinner at the food court as the Wongs bought last minute party supplies and dropped Rafaella off at the Crudup-Hirsches. It was past regular bed time before it was finally quiet enough for John to go to Jason’s bedroom to tease him some more. But no-one answerered when he knocked.
John opened the door and went on in. Jason’s room was empty, the window open. It was Blood Moon’s Eve, and Jason was breaking curfew. There was only one thing for John to do. He stepped out of the window into the night air. That boy was just going to get into trouble without a wingman.

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