Thorn (Lawrence Lloyd) apparently hates all contact with human beings now, so he's perfect material for a Ph.D. supervisor. Unfortunately, his writeup in Champions Villains says that he has a public identity, i.e. that his cover is blown. I think that being exposed as a would-be world-conqueror would get you put on administrative leave at most universities. The second or third time, you might even lose your tenure!
The fat crow in his dream, pecking at a nest with a beak full of threads. Chris couldn’t see the colour, because it was too dark. Then, it saw Chris. It opened its beak, and gave a long, two part call, not like a crow. Like the birds that sang before dawn in Hope. Then Chris realised that it wasn’t building its nest in a tree, at all, but in the nook of someone’s neck, under the drape of a girl’s hair. A girl who looked like Charlotte.
“You called me ‘Mom,’” Charlotte said, standing over him. Chris lifted his head up off the pillow to look at his sister. Her crow peeked over her shoulder at him and flicked its head. “Ginger says it smells like bananas in here.”
Chris had a panicked moment, reaching up to check that the pillow was still flat where he left it. He regretted it when the coverlet fell off his body, letting the cold air in. “Ginger?”
“Cuz she’s a featherbrain,” Charlotte said, her face perfectly straight.
“A ginger is a redhead, right? Wouldn’t Blondie be better?”
“I stand by the name, bro.”
Chris’s neck was getting cricked. He let his head down on the pillow again. I don’t know.”
“Definitely bananas. Bro’s got a secret. Is it about a girl?”
“I do not have a secret. And it’s not about a girl.” Chris said it before he realised how stupid it sounded. “Girls. You’ve got romance in the head. So, Pain-in-the-Neck. Why did you wake me up?”
“Because you’re going to miss breakfast again. And that’s pretty hard on Saturday.”
“I was out late.”
“I know. You were at Billy’s party. Was it lame? Dora said it would be lame.”
“It was pretty boring,” Chris said. “Except for the part where we fought the supervillains at your school.”
Charlotte shrugged. “Are you mad at Billy?”
Chris wondered about that. Actually, mainly he wondered why his sister didn’t want to talk about the super crime. Then he answered the question. “No.”
“Good.” Charlotte said. “Billy’s nice.”
Okay then, as Tyrell would say.
“Are you going down for breakfast now?”
“I had breakfast hours ago. I’m going to the Dairy Queen with Dora and Rose.”
“Is that okay?” Chris asked.
“Don’t worry about us. It’s at the mall. Babs works there, and Doctor Stonechild is driving us to the cricket pitch.”
“Rich girl fries chips? I’ve got to see that.”
“Nah. She’s on the drive through window. She’s pretty good at it. Doesn’t even yell at Snowflake when he rides his bike through.”
“McNeelys are good at everything.” Ginger gave him another headroll, then squorked.
“So if I get up now, I get to go to cricket? Oh, joy.”
“S’yeah. And after I leave, you can find a better place to hide whatever’s under your pillow.”
Chris could feel himself reddening as his sister turned around and bounced out the door. Her crow turned around and flicked its beak at him. When she was gone, he got up and carefully lifted the mattress up off its frame and put the little swatch of fabric on the frame. Then he headed for the bathroom.
There was a uniform consisting of black pants, a white shirt, and a black jacket laid out on his bed when Chris got out of the shower. At least it didn’t have a tie, he thought to himself.
Breakfast was out on a hot plate under a warmer lid when he got downstairs: scrambled eggs, solid, with just an orangey tinge from some added cheese, a raft of glistening sausages and thick slices of doubled French toast with banana filling. Mrs. Wong came in from the utility room as he sat down, carrying a little stool and a wreath with berries, and sat down at the table across from him. “How do you like your breakfast, Chris?”
“It’s good,” he said enthusiastically. “I like the French toast.”
“That’s Hong Kong-style,” Mrs. Wong said. “They used to be my husband’s favourite. I served them to him once, back before he knew he was going to be my husband. But they’re a young person’s food, I’m afraid.” She lifted the wreath to show it to Chris. “What do you think, Chris? Should I hang mistletoe this year?"
Chris sat, trying to think of something to say that wasn’t… Wasn’t something. He wasn’t sure what. Mrs. Wong looked evenly into his eyes, her own, calm, black ones taking his measure. “It’s an English tradition. Every Christmas, you hang a new wreath of mistletoe, and it protects the house from disaster. And every time a boy and a girl meet under it, they kiss and take a berry, until the berries are. Plants have an odd idea about how one goes about avoiding disaster. I suppose that it comes of being stuck in one place.”
Chris thought about that for a moment. “I knew about the kissing part.” He made a face. “It seems weird. Just kissing whoever comes along?”
“That’s what plants have to settle for,” Mrs. Wong said. “Pollen, blown in the wind.”
“Don’t birds and bees carry pollen, too?” Chris blushed. He couldn’t believe that he was talking about health class with his aunt.
Mrs. Wong leaned across the table and put a gentled hand on his arm. “Chris, have you ever been up at dawn?”
“I’ve been awake at dawn, yes.”
Mrs. Wong’s eyes flashed, and, for some reason, Chris remembered Mr. Vezina greeting him at the entrance to the trailer park at dawn one morning last year, and yelling at him for making his mother worry. As though she’d be around, instead of gone to work or just come from it. Waitresses worked funny hours. And then as he looked at those dark eyes, he realised that it had been Mr. Vezinawho was worried, and probably Charlotte, too. And he suddenly felt ashamed that he’d never felt ashamed before.
“At dawn,” Mrs. Wong continued, “All the male birds sing out. It’s called the dawn chorus, and they’re calling for mates. I used to hear them, when I was walking to work in the mornings.”
Now, it was Chris’s turn to feel a little angry. This was how girls talked about things, like you were supposed to put your life on hold and chase them all the time. It was okay for birds to be sad and lonely. Guys needed to be strong. His anger made him speak. “What kind of loser has to work at dawn?”
Mrs. Wong smiled sadly. “Well, a waitress, for one.” Chris felt ashamed all over again.
“Of course,” she continued, “No male bird would just do that, right? Sing their need to the dawn? They have to be strong and independent. Do you know why they do that?”
Chris shook his head. “No.”
“Because they’re sitting in trees. Trees filled with mistletoe, and they eat the mistletoe berries, and the berries make them crazy for love, so they sing and they flit and they fly, and as they do, they spread the mistletoe. Plants have their plans, too.”
“Is that really true?” Chris asked. “Does mistletoe make you high?” Chris was pretty sure that he’d have heard about that if it were true.
“No,” Mrs. Wong said. “It’s a story that I tell.”
“I fought some kind of plant controller last night,” Chris said. For a moment he thought he was going to tell Mrs. Wong about the swatch, before he realised how terrified the thought made him.
“What did you think of her?” she said, her face perfectly straight and serious.
“Eh. She’s just some supervillain who dresses like a sailor scout, whoever those are.” Chris shrugged to show how unimportant Sailor Loon was to him, as his heart sped up.
“Is there anything in particular that you remember? Professor Paradigm is up to something in Philadelphia. It would be good to know something about her new muscle.”
“Well, there’s a Japanese-Canadian plant scientist at the Institute. She’s supposed to do some pretty strange stuff, and Billy says her thesis supervisor is some mad scientist who turned himself into a human plant. He’s locked up at Stronghold right now.”
“Lawrence Lloyd. Otherwise known as the supervillain Thorn. And you see some connection?”
“Dr. Konoye says that her daughter was in town this week. What if her daughter got powers from some experiment or something? She could be Sailor Loon.”
“Sailor Loon?” Mrs. Wong frowned.
“It’s what Billy called her,” Chris explained.
“Is that what you call her?” His aunt asked.
“I ….no. She didn’t seem crazy to me.”
“Good. Don’t underestimate her. Now, we’ll find out what we can about Dr. Konoye’s daughter. You and Billy need to figure out what’s going on inside the Institute.”
“Eve says that this could be the end of the world.”
“The world is a pretty hard place to end. Even the most evil and dangerous people have to have somewhere to live.”
“So you aren’t worried, Auntie Ma?”
“On the contrary. The Professor isn’t evil. He’s confused, and confused people do things they don’t intend. Confused people gather people who think that they’re exploiting them. It can all turn ugly and dangerous, and on top of that, the Professor is recruiting young people, who are also confused, by definition. It’s a very dangerous combination.”
Mrs. Wong got up from the table, picking up the wreath. “I think that I’ll hang this by the back porch. And you’d better hurry up, Chris, because we’re leaving for the game in half-an-hour.”
The Rugrats showed up out of nowhere just before it was time to leave, and, just to add to the chaos, just before two kids were dropped off at the front door. It turned out that Amy was going to be babysitting rather than playing. John ostentatiously limped around the kitchen, talking about an injured leg, until Mr. Wong glared at him, and he straightened up. Jason, meanwhile, was grinning from ear to ear over something. Chris was also disappointed to learn that Eve had left the house hours ago, and would be travelling to the pitch with the McNeelys.
Jason sat next to Chris in the Mazda. “So. You going to play today, Chris?”
“Well, you are short of players,” Chris pointed out. He tried to make it sound like he was doing the team a favour, but he was actually starting to get excited about the idea. And, truth to tell, he actually hoped that Jason would see through him. For all that Jason was a kid, Chris didn’t want Jason to think that he was some kind of jerk.
Jason looked at him, and that goofy smile returned. “Yeah, but we do have a substitute. And she knows how to play cricket.”
“And I don’t?” Chris noticed that Jason said the word ‘she’ like guys do. He would have to pump his cousin about it later.
“It’s just that the power set is a big deal, the way we play cricket, and May’s pretty lousy at cricket. It’s, like, the first sport she’s ever not been awesome at.”
“Jason, don’t trash talk your sister,” Mr. Wong said, from the front seat. “Cricket is a complicated game. May is a great fielder. She just has to find a way to make her kung fu work for her on batting and bowling.”
“Is Amy’s substitute who I think it is?”
“Dad…” Jason began.
“Don’t ‘Dad,’ me, young man.”
“No-one is saying that Theera can’t play for us today,” Mrs. Wong pointed out.
Mr. Wong was silent for a moment. “True. But….Never mind.”
“John, are you going to be on that phone all day?” Mrs. Wong asked.
“I..I…” the younger man stuttered.
“Amy will still be there when you get back, and it’ll do you both good to do something apart besides text.”
“Amy will just start texting Jenny about wedding plans,” John pointed out.
“Second mortgage, here I come.” Mr. Wong muttered.
Mrs. Wong answered levelly, “Oh, like you and Juan aren’t pulling out the rulers on this one.”
“What?” Chris whispered.
“Our brother and sister are getting married next May but one,” Jason whispered back. “And Henry is marrying Mr. Guzman’s daughter, Juanita.”
For some reason, Chris had a sinking feeling. “The ceremony isn’t going to be on the Bench, is it?”
“Yes,” Jason whispered. “Why?”
“I mean, that’s where Aunt Yili was going to be married. It’s bad luck.”
“But she never got there, did she?” Jason asked.
“What are you boys whispering about?” Mrs. Wong said.
“The Bench. Aunt Yili. The wedding. Bad luck,” Jason explained.
“There’s no bad luck involved,” Mrs. Wong said, firmly. “Jenny and Nita are finishing what Elizabeth Wong started. This is a promise in your father’s family that goes back all the way to Madame Montour.”
“Who?” Chris whispered.
“Ancient history,” John replied.
Chris would have asked more questions, but at that point, they pulled off the throughway onto an exit that cut through a tree-crowned berm. Suddenly, they were in a big parking lot, with a small stadium on one side. It wasn’t a normal parking lot, though, because normal parking lots don’t have an Avro Vulcan flying wing bomber squatting in the middle, surrounded by more normal cars, including, Chris noted, the McNeely’s Mercedes, Tyrell’s Reliant and Babs’ Volvo. It still killed Chris that a girl who drove a Volvo had to work at Dairy Queen. Strange kids milled around the parking lot, carrying athletic bags.
“I see that Old Sarum’s here, already,” Jason said. “John and I have to go see someone, but here's Tyrell to do introductions for you.” With that, Chris’s cousin headed off across the pavement in a tearing hurry.
Chris turned to Tyrell, who was wandering nover. “So, they’re, like, the British superkids, right?” Chris asked.
A tall, blond boy standing nearby interrupted. “You really shouldn’t believe anything the Rugrats tell you, you know. They have an international reputation for mischief.”
“You can’t prove that it was them who dematerialised your bomber.” Tyrell pointed out.
“No, no, that we cannot.” Turning to Chris, the Old Sarumite continued, “I have not had the pleasure, by the way. I’m Max.”
“Um, Chris. How do you rematerialize a bomber?”
“With difficulty,” Max said, coolly. ”We understand, though. The Rugrats are jealous that our ride is so cool. And our school is European. The French and the Germans are talking about setting up a combined school at Verdun, but until that happens, we go to Old Sarum, instead.”
“Um, why is that?” Chris asked.
“Short answer? The French are always wrong about everything.”
Tyrell snorted. “That’s not what you said about Sarah Leclerc.”
Max smiled. “That’s one French girl I wouldn’t mind invading! And she’s a good bowler. I think we shall double our score against you this time, Tyrell, and you can ask yourself whether that little prank was worth it.”
A whistle blew from the stadium, and the crowd on the parking lot began to move towards it. Chris let it carry him along, worrying about the game. He badly wanted to show Max up now, but if May couldn’t hit and bowl with her mastery of Eight Spirits Kung Fu, how could he?