Tatammy won the toss and opted to bat first. Old Sarum took the field in heavy blue warmers over their whites, with a little yellow piping on their hats and gloves, for patriotism. Except for one guy, who was wearing a full suit modelled on an old-fashioned knight in shining armour. That was good, though, because Tatammy’s black-warmers-over- white had its own exception. Eve was wearing her bikini again.
“How can she stand to wear that thing? It’s, like, eight degrees above zero,” Chris asked, quietly, scuffing the powdery snow from the flurry before the game with his foot. Eve was down at the other end of the bench, talking quietly to Telantassar the Grey, who had turned up in a black and white scarf with a Tatammy pennant, complete with the school’s canoe-person mascot that had apparently replaced an Indian head so recently that you could see the spot on the paint where it had been removed in the regular gym. Eve gave no sign that she’d heard him.
“Um, I don’t know? It’s supposed to be magic and stuff,” Tyrell pointed out.
“Yeah. Magic,” Babs said, a cross tone in her voice. “What about the German guy? Is his outfit magic, too?”
Tyrell pointed at the knight, who was now hovering “Who? Max? Nah. See the puffs from the boot jet? He’s just wearing power armour.”
“Isn’t that cheating?” Chris asked.
“He made it himself,” Bab pointed out. “Being a supergenius is a superpower, too.”
“But he could have any kind of gadget hidden in there,” Chris pointed out.
“Except I think we can be sure that he doesn’t,” Rafaella said, over her shoulder. “He’s got a legacy to live down.”
“Exactly. Not all Evil geniusses’ nephews are evil. Just like not all their clones go crazy,” John pointed out. “Bwa-ha-ha! I’ll destroy you all.”
“Inside voice, John, inside voice,” Emily said.
“Who is Max?” Chris asked. “He didn’t mention his last name. But, come to think of it, he did promise to destroy us all.”
“Of course he didn’t,” Tyrell said. “If your last name were ‘Zerstroiten,’ you’d be careful about using it, too.”
“Max is Doctor Destroyer’s nephew?” Babs sputtered. “The destroy Detroit guy? The Work-for-the-Nazis, Invade-California, Start-An-Ice-Age guy? Wow. I though McNeely family reunions were something.”
“With a last name like that, the Zerstroitens have to be used to it by now,” Tyrell pointed out.
On the pitch, Cory was batting against a hulking kid in calico fur, with triangular cat’s ears poking up on either side of his cap. The bowler took the ball and, too fast to be believed, delivered a ball so fast that Chris only knew it was in the air by reading the bowler’s body and Cory’s equally rapid reaction. Reading the play, Chris knew where to look for the ball as it slashed through the air to one side of the keeper’s (literally) stretching arms. Max had read the play, too, however, and was jetting in an arc through the air to come at the hurtling projectile. Down on the pitch, Cory was running impossibly fast, and Jason even faster, neither even looking at the ball, as though they knew without looking what was happening.
They were right. Max misjudged the spin on the ball, which came spurting downwards out of his power gauntlets, thunking on the turf, still spinning madly, but now slow enough to be corralled by a European speedster, who ran it back to the wicket in less time than it would have taken to throw, but still enough time for Jason to score four times, and Cory twice. Not a bad start, Chris thought.
Before the cat-boy could bowl again, though, a female European fielder held up her hand for attention, pointed over at Eve, and made a gesture that somehow stopped short of being a very rude Italian hand sign while making it impossible to see it as anything but. “Oh, it’s on,” Emily muttered. “Fortunita’s luck powers versus Eve’s counter-hex.”
“Oh,” said Babs. “I thought she was just commenting on Eve’s outfit.”
“As reasonable as that is,” Emily said, “No. Betting that the next ball will just happen to go right to Fortunita, there?”
It was a bat bet. Fortunita caught the next ball, and the one after that, with Jason hitting. Chris looked over at Eve, who was now dancing in a slow circle, wiggling up and down. Chris tore his eyes away to watch Tatammy’s next bowler, Theera, the Indian girl who was substituting for Amy. The battle of hexes was apparently going Tatammy’s way, because Theera’s kinetic energy-translation powers put the ball down on the grass within a foot of her bat, and it accelerated from there, leaving a rocket-like track of scorched grass. Theera flew to score, while Rafaella ran almost as fast as Jason, and the score was 10-0.
Chris, being new and unpracticed, came up late in the order, against the stretchy wicket keeper, while Max took his place behind Chris. Emily was on the opposite wicket, wrapping something silver and shimmery in her hands when the stretcher put his incredibly distorted body in motion, firing the ball past Emily at the wicket. Only somehow it ended up striking her bat and disappearing. ‘Come on,’ she gestured. Chris had seen this trick. She distorted space somehow to bring them halfway over, and he ran out of the wicket zone, hitting a silvery membrane in space, only to be dumped back in front of the wicket, just out of safety.
It didn’t matter, because the umpire whistled down the play. The quiet girl fielding for the Europeans in the offside shyly held up the ball. Emily made a face. The one quiet and efficient girl had the other one’s number. For a moment, Chris felt that maddening feeling of being reminded of something or someone that you can’t quite place. It didn’t matter, because Tatammy was up 40-0, and he was the last batsman. This didn’t seem too hard. He’d just bat in a few, and then they’d see. It seemed hard to believe that Old Sarum could possibly score 80 times or more.
Max landed at the bowler’s mark, lifted his visor, and looked hard at Chris. “It seems that some kid has wandered onto the pitch. Shall we dismiss him now, or wait?”
Chris could feel his anger rising in him. “I’m not a kid!’ He yelled. He would show this German twerp by channeling his qi power through his bat in one mighty swing. That did not connect. In fact, he barely kept hold of the bat as he heard the soft tinkle of the wicket falling behind him. Just like that, he was out. Chris felt his face go red with embarrassment as he left the pitch to take the field.
It got worse. The Old Sarumites were good batters. Eve, Emily, and their opponents seemed to have fought it down to a stalemate, but power, skill, and experience picked holes in the Tatammy field defence. Although Chris burned to avenge himself, the balls went every which way, and he could only react and run after them as the score mounted, even if Tatammy did a good job of retiring batters.
With 3 overs left, and the score already 39-40, Old Sarum captain took the quiet girl out of the batting order to give Max a second chance to bat. He’d scored eight times in his first overs. Now he lifted his visor again, and his chilly blue eyes sought Chris across the field. Again, Chris felt anger rising in him; but this time also fear. He was a weak point in the Tatammy field, and Chris was finding himself caring about the score more than he’d ever thought possible.
A voice spoke in his ear. “Well, Chris, something to think about, isn’t it?” Chris almost jumped out of his skin. He looked left. A tiny little figure of Father Asplin was standing on his shoulder. Chris looked up, instinctively, at the stands, where the real Father Asplin merrily waved his furled umbrella at him. “Don’t mind the special effect. I’m just stealing Disney’s material.”
“You’re no Jiminy Cricket, Father Asplin,” Chris said, his voice still shaky with surprise.
“And you, and I mean this in the kindest possible way, are no Zerstroiten,” Father Asplin said.
“What does that mean?” Chris asked, wondering if he’d been insulted somehow. That was what those ‘but’ expressions usually suggested.
“It’s very tough to be a supergenius,” Father Asplin said, meditatively. “You can usually read people pretty well if you guess their motivations right, and, for a lot of people, their motivations are pretty low. Did I hear that Max promised to double the score on you guys?”
“Yes. Should we be having this conversation? He’s going to be hitting any second now, and I could catch one, still.”
“Don’t worry. This is a stop time effect. Don’t sell yourself short, Chris. You can catch one, and you will. Now put yourself in Max’s place. He’s put some pretty big talk out there. Let’s face it. There’s really not a hope of Old Sarum scoring 41 times in three overs. He must be desperate. Desperate enough to use all of his advantages.”
Again, Chris thought that he could read between the lines. “You think that he’s trash talking me deliberately?”
“Of course he is, Chris. Chris, what’s the first lesson of Eight Spirit Kung Fu?”
“I…calm. I need to find my Buddha centre, and fight like I was meditating. How do you know that?”
“I am a fighter and a priest. That’s all I know. Chris, put your anger aside. Find the calm that makes you such a promising student, and use your powers, instead of letting them use you. That way, the Dark Side lies.”
“Uh, wouldn’t that be ‘the Dark side lies that way?’ Anyway, easier said than done.”
“Saint Elizabeth, show those left behind the way through great loss to the service of God.’ Say it.”
“What? I don’t believe in God!”
“Luckily, He believes in you. Look, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God. Or good. Service is enough. Say it to yourself, or say your mantra. It doesn’t matter. We’re finding our centre here.” The little simulacrum disappeared.
Chris looked back at the pitch. His anger was gone, although that probably had more to do with the distraction than the theology. And it looked like the moment really had been locked in time. He was still looking at Max, and Max was still looking at him, mouthing words. Chris decided not to try to read them. “Saint Elizabeth,” he started to say to himself –only what did it mean, the ‘left behind?’ Was Chris left behind? He had to think that he was. His grandfather and grandmother had left him behind. And his father. His mother had. All he had left was Charlotte.
Only, he realised now, that was silly. He had his aunt and his uncle and his cousins. He had his friends. For the second time that day, he thought about Mister Vezina, and Master Lee. He’d left them behind, forty years ago, and he would never see them again. There were lots of people that he’d left behind, and they were forty years behind. That was what you had to find your way through.
Chris’ calm went deeper. He looked at Max again, and now his eyes could see through the armour to the body beneath, to the motions that were coming. Just as when he watched the first bowl of the game, he could see that the ball was in the air from the motions of Max as he prepared to take Emily’s ball. Yes, it was coming to him, but fast, high, and flat. Long before the crack of the ball could be hurt, Chris was launching himself across the grass to the point where he’d have to jump to collect it.
A moment later, he was pulling the ball down. He thought for a moment about showing it off, but there was no point in that. Max was out, and he had to know that Old Sarum wasn’t going to be scoring 41 runs.
From the opposite side of the field, Corey yelled at Max. “Sit on it!” Chris smiled.
In fact, Old Sarum only scored one more run, and had to settle for winning in the tiebreaker. For the first time in the International Superschool Cricket League, one of the new teams had tied India or Old Sarum in regular play. Chris couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear as he left the pitch with the whole team crushed around him. Corey, the captain, told him that he was welcome to come out for the next game, notwithstanding Amy being back. Jason grabbed him playfully by the neck, and Tyrell clapped him, a little awkwardly, on the back. “All you have to do is figure out how to do the same batting, and you’ll be in our first four,” John said.
But when he saw Max’s crushed-looking face, Chris managed to stop grinning long enough to go and congratulate him on his win. It looked as though they’d both learned important lessons on this snowy pitch.
Victory, apparently, meant TGI Friday’s at the King of Prussia Mall, which turned out to be the most enormous mall that Chris had ever seen, far bigger than even both halves of Park Royal mall in North Vancouver put together. Babs didn’t seem to be a fan, for some reason, but it was awesome, even if their waiter had forgotten to shave that day. They had unlimited bacon on the hamburgers! After that, the kids were dropped off at dowdy old Panther Heights Mall, with plenty of anxious instructions about going home through the tunnels or getting a ride from one of the juniors or seniors after their work shifts, because apparently walking a few blocks home through the neighbourhoods would infallibly lead to being ambushed by The Monster, or whatever. Whatever was right, Chris thought, as he got out of the Mazda. The important thing was that he was finally going to get to see a modern pinball arcade.
Instead, he was annoyed to find Charlotte hanging on his arm. “You forgetting something, bro?”
“I thought that you said that you’d spent our budget for December.”
“I spent our clothes budget. We have a presents budget, too.”
“When did you get to be so good at budgeting?”
“Grocery shopping with Mom? No, I didn’t think you’d believe me. Rose bugged me into doing it. She thinks you’ve always got to have a plan.”
“How much do we have to spend? Not admitting for a second that I’m going to let you torture me like this.”
Charlotte told him. Chris whistled. “Wait. We have that much? How come you’ve only worn three new outfits this week?”
“You missed my fights with Auntie Ma? You really do sleep tight,” Charlotte said, her eyes rolling.
“Okay, now I am in a weird alternate universe. The Dragon Lady actually made you change before school? How? Wait…Sis, if you’re going to hesitate that long before telling me, I know that you’re lying. So, lying for good reason?”
Charlotte hesitated for another second, then nodded.
“Okay then. I didn’t ask. Look, is there any reason that you can’t do this for me?”
“Oh, come on, Chris!” Charlotte even stamped her feet. Well, that was it. It looked like he wouldn’t see the arcade until they were done with Christmas shopping.
Which, of course, turned out to be totally unrealistic. Chris ended up dragging behind Charlotte, offering nearly-useless opinions about “his” presents until mall closing. Although they expected to run into their cousins in the secret tunnel that ran from the mall’s closed first floor to the basement of the Yurt, in fact the walk through the metal tube was quiet. Well, it was quiet except for Charlotte repeating every story that she had heard from Rose and Dora, and fielding questions about girls himself, especially after he mentioned the way that Tyrell kept talking about Eve and Babs before trying to have some kind of adult conversation about Sailor Loon.
One of the nice things about the security tunnels was the monitor screens at the doors. Chris didn’t really expect to find out that the Yurt had been taken over by invaders, but he felt wickedly curious about who might be sneaking around the halls after the house’s early-to-bedders had retired. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to learn. John and Rafaella slipped by Chris and Charlotte going the other way to their apartments in the old Liberty Legion base just before the door, and the monitors showed most lights out in the house, with Eve quietly watching TV in the basement rec room.
On impulse, Chris flicked over to the outside monitors. The fire-control capture of the roof turrets leaped out on the screen in front of him. It was trained on a familiar yellow taxi, parked at the end of the block. Oh, that’s it, Chris thought. “Charlotte, go to bed. I need to say hello to an old friend.”
“You’re not going to beat Bulldozer up, are you, Chris?”
Chris shrugged his shoulders. “Not if I can help it. But you have to bear in mind that he’s an idiot.”
“Eh. Best I can expect,” she said. “See you when you get back.”
Chris planned on sneaking around on the cab from the alleyway, but, apparently, he wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines, because as soon as he stepped into the side alley that led back to the street, a bulky, looming figure came at him from the shadows. Chris kicked the big man’s feet out from under him and took an arm as it flailed past, flipping Bullldozer down on his shoulder. Chris wasn’t being any too kind, but a dislocated shoulder of the kind he was aiming for would take the guy out of the fight without Chris having to hurt him even more.
However, instead of the pop of an arm coming out of its socket, Chris heard Bulldozer swear. “Oh, my back,” he said, stretching out prone on the worn asphalt of the old alley.
“Your back?” Chris asked, looking down at the allegedly super-strong, super-tough brick. “Come on.”
“You saw! You saw! It happened on the job! Professor Paradigm’s insurance totally covers this!”
“I saw,” Chris said. “I just don’t—“
“Oh, come on. You think that some punk kid could put me down? I’m Bulldozer! I’ll put you down, as soon as my back comes back. I’ll expose you.”
“What if I just finished you off, now?”
“You wouldn’t do that! It’s not fair! No-one’s ever fair to me!”
“I give up,” Chris said, turning his back to walk away, hoping that Bulldozer would come up after him, so that Chris didn’t have to hit someone who was lying on his back and whining about life not being fair to him. And that was when he ran into something with the rasping, painful, prickling needles of a fir that was trying to grab him.
For some reason, Chris’s heart leaped as he blocked the branches coming round him and jumped, kicking off the top branch to land, balancing, on the Wong’s garden fence. Facing him, standing with her feet somehow growing out of the fence, there she was. “I should have known it was you, Sailor Loon,” he said.
“And I should have known better than to trust Bulldozer. I have plants that are smarter,” she answered.
“Maybe you should take their advice more,” Chris answered. “Because . . .”
“Hilarious,” she said, and gestured. “Let’s play footsie.” The fence beneath Chris came alive, growing tendrils that strove to trap his feet.”
“Yeah. But no,” Chris said, springing free. Hurtling towards his archenemy in mid-air, Chris had a moment to wonder why he was going for a grab rather than a kick movethrough. He could probably have finished her right there, he thought, as his arm swept around Loon’s little waist, and carried her tiny weight into the backyard. The bushes that grew beneath the back porch to the right hand side reached up to comfort their fall, weaving in and out to pin Chris against their mistress. And that was why Chris and Loon ended up on the ground, instead of standing, as he’d intended.
As he thought that he had intended. He looked up. At the mistletoe that was hanging over them. Well, that's convenient, Chris thought. He looked down at the face glaring up at him that he somehow knew was pretty beneath its mask, and bent down to kiss the soft, pouting lips that sat above the cutely pointed chin.
Her lips were warm, but, even as they touched, the back porch light went on and the door bashed open. Somehow, Sailor Loon seemed to be sucked back into the mass of the bush and disappear. Chris stared at where she had been until his sister came around to find out what he was looking at.