Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter 14: Investigations

So, long ago, I decided that the basic motivation for Juanita Guzman's emo snarkiness was that she grew very tall, very quickly, and felt freakish about towering over her BFF, Jenny Wong. Then I decided to have Juanita and Henry Wong be a thing. And not to load too much on the poor girl, I made it a "normal" relationship.

That is, Henry is quite tall. All very logical so far, even if it's not quite the full Bruce Lee to be towering over your opponents, but then when I was tailoring plot elements to characters, I made Henry the spitting image of his father, Henry Wong, Senior.

So the Furious Fist is tall, too. How tall? 6'3"' (191cm). So, I thought, so what? The girls could take after their mother and be a more typical stereotypical height. (Except May; I visualised May as tall, albeit a more normal 5'10 or so.)

The problem is that while Mrs. Wong might be a more "normal" height for your stereotypical Chinese mama in spite of being a northerner, genetics doesn't work that way. Jason has to be tall, and that means his twin has to be tall, too. It's not how I imagined Amy, but there you go.

In cleanup matters, I will be fixing my wandering Tamil rocket-girl's name back to "Theera" in Chapter 13 shortly.

Chapter 14: Investigations

The Star-Racer was the most awesome team transport plane ever. Too bad it wasn’t quite as good at being a school bus.  To be fair, it wasn’t the real Star-Racer that John was currently crammed into between Cory and Jason. The real Star-Racer was back at Liberty League headquarters, ready to race off and do something cool. The teams were using one of the back-ups for their trip to Tokyo. It was still nice of the Mechanic to lend them his ride, but John really hoped that they found a better way of getting around before Jason grew again.
Speaking of, Jason pushed him. “Shove over, John!” The tinny sound of K-Pop girls came pouring  from his phone. If John ever told this as a story, he would pretend not to know the band.
“No, you shove over,” John answered, shoving back. “It’s your fault, anyway. You’re the one who grew the most last month.”
“My Dad and my brother are both 6’3”. I’ve got an excuse. What’s yours?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I was cloned from someone big. Holocaust is six foot.”
“You’re not cloned from Holocaust. He’s a moron.”
“He gets the girls.”
“With mind control! Learn to flirt instead.”
“I try. But it’s, like, cute makes my brain push the video slider forty seconds ahead.”
“You’re not the only one.”
“People do that. Just saying. You need to stop.”
“It’s not something that I do.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
“If you’re so smooth and dreamy with girls, why do you wave a teddy bear at the screen and do baby talk with Theera?”
“I do not. I… okay, once. Breaking the ice. That’s all.” John was looking at the phone, not for any reason involving Girl’s Generation, because girl bands were for kids, when the dance video disappeared and Theera’s face filled the screen. Oh, awesome, bro, John thought. If he were giving advice, he would say that Rashindar could break any encryption that Jason could afford. And, besides, it was just so hard to take it all seriously when he could swear that he heard Theera call Jason, “Snookums” before Jason fumbled his ear jacks into his phone. Well, maybe. Did Indian girls even say “snookums?” And why was he thinking about this kind of thing? It wasn’t because he was jealous or anything. Jason could have his stupid girlfriend and his stupid baby talk.
The Star-Racer began to shake again. Hypersonic skips through the mesosphere were a great way to get from Philadelphia to Tokyo in under forty-five minutes. Otherwise, they sucked. John slammed one hand down on the handle on the back of the seat in front of him, the other one on the wall-strut past Jason, just before the big lunk’s body was hurled half out of his seat and into John’s biceps. You owe me, bro, John thought to himself. To the other side, his pinkie finger slid over Corry’s hand as John got a four handed grip. He looked over. Cory was looking back. Guess his cross-aisle conversation with Kareem  was over on account of the racket made by the howling, thin, high-altitude atmosphere whistling by a fraction of an inch’s worth of kendrium alloy.
“It doesn’t just go for Ty, you know, Jason’s right.”
John felt a little irritated. On the one hand, this sounded like more unwanted advice. On the other hand, Cory and Babs would be babysitting tonight, and maybe Cory could be helpful. He must have been assuming that John was eavesdropping a second ago. Which was wrong, because the reason everyone was gossiping down here in the Star-Racer’s hold was that you couldn’t hear someone five feet away between the outside noise and the engines. “What?”
“I was telling Ty that he just can’t hang around Babs agreeing with her. He’s got to make a move. You and Amy, same thing.”
“What are you talking about? Amy is my friend. And my buddy’s sister. I like…” John thought frantically, one little part of his brain wondering why he cared so much about denying it to start with, “blondes.”
“Yeah. Pull the other one. Just so you know, this isn’t the one where the gay buddy has some masterplan for unleashing het snogging. I saw what Billy Washington had to go through to get Henry and Nita, and I’m not doing that for more than one friend at a time.”
“So you do have some crazy scheme to get Ty and Babs together? Amy’s going to be all, like, ‘I knew it!’”
“Shut up, kid.”
“Roger that.”
Cory rolled his eyes. The Star-Racer’s nose tipped up. They’d be in vacuum again in a moment, and you’d be able to hear again, and the girls in the next row…. Amy was in the next row. He’d had enough of girl talk, anyway. John pulled up a clip of the latest South Park On his phone and passed it to Cory.  This conversation was over.
And that was too bad, because if he could get Cory on side, maybe they could think of something to do about Sabine’s “date” tonight. He had to meet up with her, because he had to know about his family. But the same part of his brain that was usually so insanely optimistic about girls and stuff was sounding all kinds of alarms. Which was crazy. The Wongs were going to be at some kind of Buddhist thing and while Rafaella and Emily would be there, John ought to be able to get away. The optimistic part of his brain, of course, didn’t think about it that way. It was thinking about converting to Buddhism. Which was crazy. It wasn’t like the kids were into this religion thing much. Jenny even wanted Father Asplin for her wedding, and the Wongs were having to drag Amy and Jason to this thing. And it wasn’t like Mr. Wong wasn’t doing much of the dragging, either. Not that that would be a problem to real Buddhists, Mrs. Wong said.
One more skip, and the intercom came on. Mr. McNeely’s voice sounded over the cabin. “Okay, gang. We’ll be landing in the Tokyo Supersquad’s compound in about five minutes. If you want to reset your watches, it’s 8:25 Tokyo time..” Now it was John’s turn to roll his eyes. Watches! “Coach will be unloading bags from the lower bay as soon as the hull’s cooled. Changerooms are just to your left. Chop chop everybody. It’s already  8:30 in Tokyo, and I promised Tesuronin that the game would be over by 10!”
“And that’s why we had to get up at 5 friggin’ AM on a Saturday morning!” Jameel shouted. A half-dozen crumpled McDonald’s wrappers hit the front bulkhead below the speaker.
And that also meant zero time to actually see Tokyo beyond the vaguely Shintoish vicinity of the Supersquad’s compound. It was a wonder that they even had space for a cricket green. Wasn’t Tokyo the most crowded city on Earth? Although when you thought about it, 5000 square miles was enough land for a lot of nooks and crannies.
John was standing next to Jason in line at the side of the Star-Racer, waiting for Mr. Wong to get to their bags, when Cory walked by Jason and stage-whispering, “Code Dream Brown.” It probably sounded a lot less dorky when Cory said it in his head. And the whole point of using codenames was lost when Jason bolted out of line and sprinted across the field to where one of the Supersquad’s jets conveniently obscured the far perimeter wall. Subtle, bro, subtle, John thought, not jealous at all. Instead, he focussed very hard on figuring out just how many cricket greens you could fit into 5000 square miles as he grabbed Jason’s kit along with his own, and walked beside Amy towards the change rooms.
She was wearing dangly feather earrings, and when she turned her head to John, he had to step on a sudden impulse to just bat at them like a cat. Amy said, “So what do you think about playing the field in Tokyo?”
Hunh? After a second, John answered, “Well, a cricket pitch is supposed to be at least 16,000 square yards, and there’s 0.84 yards to a square meter, and there’s 10,000 square meters to a hectare, and there’s 5000 square miles of land in the greater Tokyo area, and there’s a hundred hectares to a square kilometer, and there’s 2.59 square kilometers to a square mile, so….”
Amy stopped and looked at him. And looked at him. Did you know that you need to be able to concentrate at least a little to do telepathy? This was the first that John had ever heard about that, because he was looking at Amy, and he could swear that he could hear someone saying telepathically, “Just kiss…” but that couldn’t be right, and anyway it was right out in the open and everything.
She looked at him for another moment. And then she said, “Oh…. Well, you couldn’t just pave the entire metro with secret cricket pitches. You have to have room for all the people. And there’s all those skyscrapers. They’d be able to see over the walls….” She looked away from him towards the jet, and John finally got what she was talking about to start with. Playing the field! Hah!
“You think that Theera smuggled herself over here?” Which was exactly what John thought, and on reflection, it seemed obvious that his sister would figure Jason’s game out as quickly as he had. Amy was smart. That was one of the cool things about her. explained to her about how many greens you could have in Tokyo, but she asked him about sightlines. They both looked over to where Jason had gone in behind one of the Supersquad’s jets, but it turned out that Amy was asking him whether people wouldn’t be able to see into the greens if they were packed that tightly.
And not just one sister, either, because May abruptly stalked by them, changed into her uniform. “Don’t just stand there, go get changed! Amy, if you lose those earrings, Dad is going to be so mad. Go! Have either of you seen Jason?”
Amy didn’t say anything. John didn’t say anything. He just tried to focus on angry May, but The Captain wasn’t fooled. His head swivelled towards the jet, his ears cocked forward. May said something swears jar-worthy under her breath. Jamie materialised beside her.  “Double play to second base?”  The two older girls headed across the field, and John, very reluctantly, went into the boy’s change room.
John got out of the change room first, in time to see May and Jamie dragging Jason and Theera across the pitch. He hung back a little, not sure whether he should get involved. Emily and Rafaella came up beside  him. Then Amy followed. John took a long look. Amy was only about 1.7” inches shorter than May at the measure-off Thursday night, and in the pants that came with their cricket uniform it seemed like he could see every inch for a long moment until Rafaella nudged him in the side.  Amy stalked by, her cheeks blushed up about something, and John followed. The earrings must be somewhere safe. John was disappointed.    
By the time they’d got there, so had Mr. McNeely and Mr. Wong, followed by two Asian men of more normal height. John recognised Revolutionary III and Masahara Yohi, the mysterious Japanese industrialist who backed the Supersquad. Both men stood back as Mr. Wong talk to Jason quietly, no doubt giving him the old Number 27: “not angry, just disappointed.”
Mr. McNeely didn’t have quite the same touch. “Rashindar is the most powerful supermage on this planet after the Archmage! He’s saved the world a dozen times over. And he’s your legal guardian! You should be honoured that he took you in when your parents were killed! Instead, here you are, dragging his good name in the dirt!”
“I…” Theera began. But Mr. McNeely would have none of it. He waved an intricate necklace in front of her. “And to just take a magical ward this powerful for your own selfish reasons…”
Theera bit her lip this time, but if she didn’t want to say anything, she also must have felt that this was just too unfair, because every telepath on the field could hear her mind, yelling. >Ushas said I could use it! It was just gathering dust in our armoury, and you keep yours in a museum.
“But we can work something out if you’ll just tell me who teleported you to Japan tonight.”
Theera shook her head. “No. I can’t.”
Mr. McNeely shook his head. “It was one of Jason’s little friends, wasn’t it? John? Don’t worry. He won’t be in any trouble. Except for a little prank at my house a few months ago that only a teleporter could pull off.” Then Mr. McNeely’s phone rang. He flipped it open. (It was ridiculously old-fashioned.) And then, painfully slowly, as everyone else’s business came to a halt and Theera fidgeted nervously, he pecked out a reply.
Then, with a smile and a bright tone, as though he had never been angry at all, Mr. McNeely spoke. “Well, it looks like everything’s cricket!” He stopped for a long pause for everyone to laugh. Cory, and then Rafaella, did. Cory even sounded almost natural. “Cory Cox of the Tatammy Under-17s won’t be able to play tonight because of a groin injury. He has arranged for Theeravalli Kunappur of the Indian U-17s to substituts for him tonight’s game!”
John turned to Cory. “That sucks. You’re our best runner after Jason.”
“Yeah,” Cory answered. “But this way, Jason, Theera, and Ushas all owe me. That’s big favs. Well, one solid plus the stars of Dumberest and Juliet.”
“Ushas? Like, the Hindu goddess in the Superhero Division?”
“Even his buddies think Rashindar needs to lighten up before….” Cory didn’t even need to sound ominous at the end. That’s all they needed, Rashindar going over to the dark side.
But it turned out that John didn’t need to worry. Theera might not be much of a runner yet (she needed to figure out how to turn around while rocketing at ground level), but she was a great fielder. Soon, John was finding his place in her pattern, trying to knock down the assisted, teleported, and just plain fast balls coming off the better Supersquad batters. The Japanese had the same problems, and without Theera’s experience in the air, John soon found himself racking up the runs.  This was tiring, John thought to himself, as he felt an errant breeze on his face running across the protected area. He hadn’t even noticed Amy going invisible on the far wicket. She was getting better at using distractions to cover her transitions.
It was tiring in the air, too, chasing the balls, but also liberating. In a way, being up here, snagging the flying balls was getting to seem more normal than running on the ground. And, as John telekinetically reeled in the last Supersquad fly ball for a convincing Tatammy 27-21 victory, he had an idea. An idea that could leave Cory and Babs out of it and keep Sabine a secret.
That night, John saw Sabine first from a hundred feet above, standing under the same tree outside the Panther Down Mall where he’d first talked to her. She was wearing a leather jacket and tight jeans, her motorcycle pulled up at the curb, with a spare helmet on the pinion. It was strange that he just now remembered that she had a bike, John thought, as he came in for a landing.
“Who are you?” She said.
“Air King,” John answered. “I have a new costume.”
“Yeah. Look, I’m grateful and everything, but I’m kind of waiting for a date here.”
Which, John thought, was a little rude, and made him feel better about what he was about to say. Or, to be honest, didn’t really. Because he was going to be mean to her, and maybe if he was mean enough to her, she would leave him alone, and he wouldn’t have to worry about the way that she made him feel so very, very guilty. “John Roy sent me. He can’t come tonight. Something came up. But he asked me to collect some stuff that you had for me.”
Sabine looked disappointed. “That wasn’t the deal we had.”
John was appalled. This wasn’t working out like it was supposed to go. Girls were supposed to dig superheroes. It was their secret identities that couldn’t get dates. But why had he even thought that it would go like that?
“Okay. I’ve got this memory stick for John. You can have it. But you tell John that we’re on for next Saturday. And this time, I’m going to his place to pick him up.”
“You know where he lives?”
“Dunh. I’ll ring the doorbell at 7:30. He can have a corsage for me.” She smiled, and even though it was a nice smile, it frightened John right down to his stomach. He was still scared as he flew into his window that night and left him unaccountably afraid that someone was watching as he did so, besides The Captain, whose head was visible in May’s open window as he flew up to the house.  

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