Oh, well. A publishable version of this (because the way things are going, everyone's going to have a self-published novel up on Amazon soon!) should be about three times as long, anyway.
Chapter 23: When A Plan Comes Together
Gyre stood over John for a long moment, letting it all sink in. She really was awful, John thought. Which meant that his friends were doomed, and it was all John’s fault. All he had wanted to was find his family, so that he could have what Jason and Amy and even May had. Yet to do it, he had trusted this girl more than he ought, and he didn’t really understand why he had done that, and why it made him feel so bad about Amy.
“You’re not a bad-looking kid, John,” Gyre said. “Especially compared to what I have to put up with at work. My real work. And you won’t be fifteen much longer. After we’re done fixing you, maybe you can show me something more than your teleportation tricks.”
John looked up at her from the floor and then over at his unconscious friends. He might be helpless, but she was dawdling. Mr. McNeery did this kind of thing, just standing around, talking to people, when he ought to be doing stuff. Sometimes, he never got it done, even stuff that was important to him. So maybe John should just talk to her, and his friends would be okay. “What’s the big deal with my teleportation? I mean, long distances, sure. I’m your guy for a galactic tour. But good teleporters make the dimensions sit up and speak. That’s so not me.”
Gyre squatted down next to John and put her hands down at his waist. “You’re selling yourself short, John. That trick you kids pulled at the party the weekend you arrived, with the balloons in the containers? Or teleporting the principal across the school? I don’t have to tell you how hard that stuff is.”
“But that was…” John shut up. It was getting to the point, he thought to himself, where he just couldn’t not see her.
Gyre took her hands back. “That was who?”
“Didn’t Mr. McNeely say?” Gyre looked stunned. John was starting to enjoy this. Delaying tactics were totally going to work!
“Say what?” she growled.
“You’re all about the dimensional teleportation tricks. Everyone knows that. The Rugrats have a technomage right on the team. She even models her spells on yours!”
“Shit.” Said Gyre, turning around to look at the rest of the team, just a little too late. From her position, she was staring right into Emily, Jason and Amy’s belt buckles as Emily draped a necklace over Gyre’s head with her right hand, while Jason scooped up the supervillain’s arms in his. The girls bent over to keep their hands on his shoulders as he looped a length of Gyre’s own wire cord over her hands and tightened the knot. Long raven-feather earrings, weirdly unbalanced, bobbed in the blonde superheroine’s right ear and Amy’s left. Amy’s, John couldn’t help noticing, dangled elegantly along the line of her neck, while Emily’s bobbed clumsily, almost level with her shoulder. It was a weird thing to notice, but the earrings totally suited Amy. And May, he guessed. Maybe that kind of thing was why girls spent so much time getting dressed?
Rafaella watched from behind, one hand over Emily’s on Jason’s shoulder, the other on her sword hilt. She had a smug smile on her face. “You know, I could get to love it when…”
Jason rolled his eyes, visible behind his cowl. “See? You’re learning! Can I drop a house on this witch now?”
Amy pulled her hand free and pretend knocked her brother on the head. “No hitting girls.”
Jason explained patiently. “I don’t hit girls. I hit supervillains. Subtle difference.”
Amy put her left hand down to her hips, her right finger in Jason’s face as the group expanded and relaxed around the pinioned Gyre. John was paying close attention, because, frankly, he could watch Amy for hours, and because it took his mind off thinking about what a loser he was. “How many actual helpless girls do you know?” She asked. “One. The one with that amulet on her. You know that. You were the one Theera gave it to in the first place!”
“I still want to hit her. She tried to jerk everyone around.”
“A) That’s when you don’t hit people. B) She was terrible at it. She didn’t even bother to see if anyone was following her. Not that she would have caught me anyway.” Amy kicked Gyre.
“Hey!” Jason said.
“It’s okay. I’m a girl. And it wasn’t very hard. And she tried to steal my…” John couldn’t help noticing a blush spreading below Amy’s mask. It was certainly spreading across his. What had Amy meant to say? The crazy part of his brain was sure that it was “boyfriend,” but the crazy part of his brain was –crazy. It was the part that thought that he was the smartest, best-looking guy in the room. It was the part that always wanted to skip studying and roadwork and kung fu practice because he was already good enough. And, he thought, angry at himself, that it was the part that thought that it could save the day all by itself after getting everyone into this mess in the first place.
John shook his head and sat up, since Gyre’s bonds had long since fallen away. At least he could watch his friends having fun. Even if he was mad with jealousy. He wanted a sister like Amy. He wanted….
Emily had been taking her earring off. Now she handed them to Amy. “Thanks for the loaners, Amy.”
“They’re magic, Emily. You should have them.”
“No, I shouldn’t, Amy. They’re your Dad’s. Family magic.”
Amy shook her head. “They’re not Dad’s. They’re Grandmère. And by Grandmère’s rules, if you live under her roof, you’re her daughter.”
Emily still held the earring out. “Your great-great-grandmother has been dead for a hundred years. Whatever her rules say, the Yurt is your Mom’s house.”
Amy grinned. “Well, you know what they say about great-grandmothers-in-law. No, seriously. A?, You’re a magician; B) You know people with time machines. So don’t be dissing Grandmère if you know what’s good for you. Besides, I know my Mom, and for sure you count as Mom’s daughter.”
Emily’s eyes glistened. But she still held out the earrings. “More importantly, you have the neck for danglies. I don’t.”
“That’s sweet, Em.” Amy smiled and finally took the earrings. Then she hugged Emily.
“I don’t get it,” John said.
Rafe replied, her voice starting unexpectedly thick with something. “The earrings are totem magic, to protect against hostile spells. Which includes Gyre’s little bondage toys, of course. And they work on any member of the family. Which, by Great-Great-Gramma Wong’s rules, includes any child that’s lived in the family home. So we just shared them around. Tricky part was defeating Gyre, but Jason got Theera to lend us her magic-bubble-shield casting amulet. It’s not quite as subtle and powerful as the earrings, but it works in reverse. Twist it, drop it, lock it. Bang! Wicked witch is out of the picture until she can take it off.”
“No,” said John. “How did you plan all of this?”
“Eh. Amy figured something was wrong. So she followed you around. Once we had a picture of where this was going, she borrowed the necklace from downstairs, and we just waited for the moment.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” John asked.
“Because you were under Ms. Stupid Witch’s glamour. Besides, with you as a decoy, we could watch and wait until she pulled a move.”
“Which,” Amy said, looking down at the helpless, red-faced, and very angry sorcerer, “She did. A pathetic move. Look at her. Wrong target, and she couldn’t even be bothered to comb her hair under the glamour.”
Gyre found her voice, spitting anger. “Because I have more to worry about than boys and fashion like some little Twilight fan. I’m out to understand how the universe works.”
Amy cocked her head and looked down as Jason tied Gyre’s hands up behind her. “Twilight? That’s so, like, 2008. See, no. You only think those things aren’t important, because you’re, like, ‘stop the world, I want to get off.’ Go somewhere where you’re super special and no-one else matters, even if that’s inside your head. But nuh-unh. You’re never going to get anywhere studying the world until you accept that you’re in it.” The long, exhausting lecture came out of Amy in a rush, as though she’d been practising to give it for a very long time.
“But I wanted to rescue you guys!” John blurted.
Rafaella cocked her head. “Why? Aren’t you glad we didn’t need rescuing?”
Jason dropped his hands to his hips. “Oh, come on, Rafe. It’s a guy thing.”
“So, what? We add ‘rescuing people’ to ‘making smells,’ and ‘breaking furniture’?” Emily asked.
“Don’t forget ‘quoting obscure TV shows,” Amy supplied.
“Is this a top ten list of things guys like?” Rafaella asked, making a curving gesture at her chest to suggest another entry.
“You quote old TV shows, too, Amy.” John protested.
“Not as much as you two!”
“And don’t get me started about Rafe and …!” Jason added. John couldn’t help noticing that Emily blushed at that.
Rafe put left hand to sword pommel and held up her right, almost echoing Amy’s posture earlier, but not so much asking for attention as claiming it. “Dudes. Rescue the princess. Big thing for guys. Duly noted. We’ll totally do that if the chance comes up. Maybe if you rescue them enough, you can even kiss them.” Emily and Amy’s eyes flicked across John’s, and they giggled. In his earset, he heard Rosa laugh, too. Trust girls to make it all about kissing!
Rafe continued. “Bad news for dudes, on this front, though. Because this team rescues itself. Who’s left to rescue?”
Jason said, loudly, “Booker.”
“Yep.” Rafe nodded. “And where is he?”
“In the free zone somewhere,” Amy said.
Rafe looked, caught Emily’s eyes. One more smart kid to take her turn. “But the SUV was in the Piper & Norton convoy the whole time it was in the free zone. So either Book was snatched in Babylon, before the SUV hooked up with the convoy, or after it arrived in Philadelphia.”
Emily gestured down at Gyrre with her chin. “We’ve seen what her projection magic can do. Figure this thing was staged for the truckers. Where better to hide Booker than out in the waste of the free zone?”
“Sort of what I was thinking,” Rafe said. “Now we just have to get home and search an entire dimension. Rosa, if we turn around now, how long before we get back to Earth?”
“Four hours, Captain,” came the ship’s computer’s voice from out of the air.
“What? You said it was an hour to Mars!”
“Unfortunately, your boorish guest froze the Navigational menu. We’re landing now, and that will be all that I can do until the controls reset in three hours.”
“No problemo,” Jason said smugly. “Rashindar’ll be showing up any minute now to find out what I’m doing with the artefact that’s supposed to be down in the League Trophy Hall for safekeeping. We can hitch a ride back to Earth with him.”
Rafaella turned to Jason. “Jason, for a kid as bright as you, you sure are dumb. Do you really want to make the second-or-third- most-powerful-supermage-on-Earth-After-the-Archmage your taxi? Because he’s pissed off enough already. And kind of a jerk, too.”
“No, no, Json’s plan is awesome. Trip home, grounded for life, and a condescending lecture, too.” Amy didn’t seem to actually be that happy about the idea. Neither was John, come to think of it. On the other hand, Amy was funny.
Gyre spoke up now, her voice as condescending as Rashindar’s. “Don’t count on Big Daddy to save your butts. The aether’s all futzy today. I cast my bridge spell, like, half an hour ago, and look how long it took my cavalry to show up.” Across the bridge, the air suddenly shimmered and split, and into the room sprang a familiar, black-furred wolfman, moving, once again, faster than a human eye could follow, with a silvery glint. Oh, great. He was wearing armour now.
Only it stopped, took in the scene, and its fanged mouth broke into a wide, toothy, grin. Or whatever it was when a wolf-dog-man made that expression. And it turned out that Black Fang could talk, too. “Why, if it isn’t a room full of dinner prospects. And Mistress Gyre, all tied up and out of juice. Ordinarily I’d take veal over mutton-dressed-as-lamb any day. But this isn’t an opportunity to pass up.”
“Sit, boy!” Rafe said, drawing her sword.
“Ooh. A princess! With a sword. You know, at least your friends have superpowers. That’s why I’ll kill them first. You can watch.” But it was at Gyre that Black Talon launched himself, again moving faster than John could follow. Fortunately, not being an idiot, he’d already thrown his telekinetic screen up around Gyre. It probably wouldn’t have held, even if Rafe, moving as fast as Black Talon, hadn’t put herself between them, swinging her sword in hard and fast enough to knock the wolfman off his feet.
Unfortunately, it didn’t cut through his armour, and Black Talon was up again. Although not before the walls of the bridge had irised down, allowing Rosa’s two hull robots to grab him with their tentacles. Rosa’s voice broke over the room. “Children! Get out of here! This thing is too strong for you! Or my robots!”
Rafe’s eyes glared for a moment. Then she nodded. “We need space and time to fight this thing. Go!” Jason scooped Gyre up. She oofed loudly as he took her over his shoulders like Jameel carrying a bag of onions at work. Served her right.
They ran through the irising wall. Behind them, Black Talon began to growl, like a dog playing tug-of-war. The hull plates lit up beneath them, a strobing yellow arrow pointing them around the corridor for a quarter circuit, and then to their right, into a little room, almost like the entry way in a house. Could this be an airlock? A screen lit up on the wall, showing a schematic picture like the safety diagram on an plane. It showed someone wearing fatigue tights putting some kind of mask on their face. Beneath the screen, a drawer came out of the wall, with five masks like the ones in the diagram. Rosa spoke again. “With your tights, the rebreathers will keep you alive for about half an hour. Closer to an hour down at Mars Reference Level, if you can get down off the mountain.”
“What about Gyre?” Rafe asked.
“There’s a safety tube waiting outside the lock for her. With a rebreather module this time, instead of an empty air canister. She’ll be safer than you guys, if you can keep her away from the werewolf.”
And there was. After the team snatched their rebreathers and hastily donned them, the outer door opened. Weirdly, there was no sign of the difference in atmospheric pressures until they’d actually stepped out on the gangway, pushing through an invisible, clingy barrier into the thin, cold Martian air. While they waited for Jason to stuff Gyre into the tube, John took a second to look around. He was on Mars!
It was anticlimactic, really no great surprise after the pictures and movies and videogames. As expected, the slope of the gigantic volcano was so mild that he couldn’t even see the slope. The ground was red, barren, and rocky as expected. Here, where there might have been lava flows since the time when Mars was alive, you couldn’t even expect to find ruins on the surface, even though, on the other hand, the deep, volcanic tunnels below equally well might have been the last refuge of the ancient Martians. Above them, the sky was a reddish haze of Mars dust, with the sun shining weakly through it. It looked like the pictures, frankly, even the way that the details were washed out by the dim light.
John was brought back to the gangway down to the surface that he the team was now descending as quickly as it could by a faint noise. Rafe was trying to say something. Of course, in this weak atmosphere, you could barely hear her. There were their radios, but that might not be a good idea. Did werewolves do ELINT? John liked that word. It was so much cooler than “listening in on enemy radios.” Thanks to Mr. McNeely, it probably could. That was the problem with radios, even frequency-hoppers. If the enemy knew what frequency to listen at, you were just broadcasting your plans to the whole world.
<Hey, Amy? Can I ask you something terribly important?>
Telepathy was good for nuance, so John could hardly miss the excitement in her answer. <Yes, John. Yes, you can.> It was an excitement that stripped the humour out of his joke, as he wondered what the question she was expecting might have been. But he had no idea, so he went on with his joke, instead.
<Should we let the others communicate, too?>
Her disappointment was as powerful as her excitement of a moment before as she thought, <Probably.> What had she been expecting him to ask? John had a strange feeling that there was something that he really ought to have figured out by now.
A long second later, and he heard Amy speaking in “public broadcast” mode in his head. <Okay, everybody, Rafe says we need to get the heck away from here. There are supposed to be caves in the surface of this mountain. See those shadows over there? Emily’s going to ‘port me with her, John’s going to fly, and Rafe and Jason can run for them!>
John didn’t need any further orders. He was going to fly! On Mars! Chased by a werewolf or not, this was incredibly cool. And because he was flying solo, he was the first at the vague shadows. Disappointingly, they were just a little hollow in the ground. Amy and Emily appeared on the lip a second after he arrived, that being how long it took Emily to cast her spell. Rafe arrived a moment later, well ahead of Jason, because of his having to carry the body-length tube in his arms.
<Oh. Look at that.> John looked back at the ship, a good few football fields away. The door on the hull was irising open again, and the black-and-armour form of the werewolf came out. It scanned the surroundings, and its eyes fixed on them. Then it bounded down to the ground from the heights of the bridge deck onto the ground, and began loping towards them. Fast. He would be here in seconds, and they needed a better plan than “set Gyre loose.”
Then Jason arrived, jumping down into the crater as he cleared its lip. As his feet touched to ground, a heavy puff of Mars Dust lifted, and Jason saw the ground bounce. Awesome. John gathered his telekinesis and rammed the ground beneath Jason’s feet, and it gave way, dumping him into the darkness below. Oops. John threw himself after Jason. If the fall were far enough, he might actually need to catch Gyre, although Jason would be fine.
<Come on!> He yelled in his head.
In reply, he heard Amy, repeating herself, but now with excitement in her mental voice. <Boys smash!>
John smiled to himself. Yeah, criticise all you like, Miss Suger-n-Spice. Sometimes, things do need to be smashed! John swooped into the darkness below, and as his eyes adjusted to the dim Martian light and he could see what was around him, he thought to himself, perhaps he should try planning when he would smash things. There were drawbacks to doing it accidentally.