Chapter 2, 20: A Demonstration, Eventually
Chris was lying on his bed, giggling uncontrollably. “Did the disgustingly pretty human do something bad to you?” He mouthed the words to himself. He couldn’t help it. The Captain beating up the master of the Dim Dimension in a bathroom was just too funny. He was also more than a little jealous that the Captain was allowed to fight angry.
A cold nose prodded under his pyjama top against the bare skin of his lower side. Speaking of the Captain, Chris thought. He rolled over. His cousin’s wolf dog was splayed beside him on the bed, front paws spread wide and crooked, his muzzle open in an expression of hope, about half of it happy, the other half desperate.
There was a knock on the door. Chris carefully turned around to his right, balancing one elbow against the edge of the mattress so that he wouldn’t fall off. May Wong was peaking in the door. She had a double armful of generic girl clothes held up in front of her. “I think what my dog is trying to say is, ‘can we go through?’
Chris reached into his dresser drawer. “Actually, what he’s saying ‘Did you save any bacon from breakfast?’ And the answer is,” he paused, took out the strip of crispy bacon and put it on The Captain’s nose. After a second, he said, “Yes,” and the dog tossed the bacon into the air with a quick flick and caught it in his mouth in the same motion.
“You’re saving bacon in your nightstand for my dog?” May asked, stepping inside and sitting on the foot of the bed, letting the clothes rest on her lap. A few items fell onto the rug.
“Well, the crows like bacon.”
“That’s not a denial.”
“Perhaps its not.”
“You’re going to spoil the spirit totem animals, Cousin-Mine. And Mom's not going to like it if you make a mess.”
At that, Charlotte walked through the hanging and into Chris’s side of the room. Ginger was perched firmly on her shoulder, her eyes gleaming greedily. “Ginger wants to be spoiled too.”
The Captain turned his gaze to the little crow and woofed, low and soulfully.
“What’s with the clothes?” Charlotte asked.
“I was clearing out my closet. I’ve outgrown these, so they’re probably still too big for Amy, and we all have the same complexion, so they might suit you.”
“Groovy,” Charlotte said. “We can have a little fashion show right here, and Chris can judge, just like at the mall yesterday.”
“That is not, in fact, what happened,” Chris pointed out.
“What? You even said that Rose would look good in patterns!”
For some reason, probably the sixteen hours of sleep he’d just logged, Chris finally caught the point of his sister’s constant references to her friend.
“Wait. Charlotte. Are you trying to set me up with Rose?” Chris didn’t need to mention Jameel, but he was thinking about it.
May laughed. “You are so busted, Char-Char.”
“Well, I figured she was cute, and you’re pretty handsome, so you’d make a cute couple. And all of a sudden you’re talking about how you’d like to date a smart girl for a change. And she’s not . . . .she’s not . . .” His sister stumbled to a stop.
May set her mouth, but with a little upward tweak at the corners. Chris looked at his sister. “Not what?”
“Not a villain. Like Morning Glory.”
“That’s… I’m not,. . . .Okay, maybe I am crushing on Morning Glory,” Chris admitted. “It sort of snuck up on me. I never thought she was my type.”
His sister looked relieved that he wasn’t upset. After a long moment, Charlotte continued. “She is a regular China Doll, not like those bleached blondes you used to hang around with.”
“My sister Jenny was a blonde for a while,” May observed. “It looked pretty good on her.”
“Not the point,” Charlotte replied. “Two months ago, my brother would have died before he dated an Asian girl.”
“Ah, Young Skywalker. Hate leads to White Fever, and White Fever leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side.” May actually did a pretty good Yoda.
Chris rolled over, dropping his comic on the pillow beside him as he propped his head up on his hand. The Captain pushed forward, aiming his cold, wet nose at Chris’ armpit. “Always with the anger. When Anakin gave into his anger, he turned from a dweeb into the coolest guy in movies.”
“But then he changed his mind, killed the Emperor and overthrew the Empire and saved the Ewoks. So giving in to your anger is about two-thirds bad. Math. Look it up. More importantly what are you going to do about Morning Glory.”
“Well, we run into each other all the time. Eventually, I figure we’ll, you know, have a long conversation, and I’ll end up asking her out for coffee, and, you know…”
:Oh, God,” May said.
“What?” Charlotte asked.
“My brother, Henry? He talked like Chris is talking. It took him years to ask Nita out. Literally. Years.”
“So? It’s hard when it’s a nice girl. She might say ‘no.’”
“Okay, why is that such a big deal? Lots of guys go out to bars and get shot down a dozen times a night. You have to try, or you’ll never get anywhere.”
Chris protested. “I’ve asked plenty of girls out!”
“Girls that looked like they’d been dragged over the Hope-Princeton by a Harley,” his sister pointed out.
“Andie wasn’t….” Chris argued.
“Andie was,” his sister replied, implacably. “Remember the night that Mr. Vezina drove her to the hospital? Remember the other night that Mr. Vezina drove her to the hospital? Seriously, Chris.”
Chris didn’t answer. He did remember those nights, all too well, and the talk that Mr. Vezina had with him about respecting himself. Wasn’t it girls who were supposed to get that talk?
“Whatevs. Look, I tried being the dating coach with Brad and Henry. Frankly, I heard enough excuses for chickening out for one lifetime. This time, I’m just going to wait ‘till the next time I see the two of you together. I’ll wrap handcuffs around you,” May said. “At first, you’ll all be angry and fight each other, but as the movie goes on…”
“Didn’t that movie star two guys?” Charlotte asked.
“Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier,” May said. “Very Yaoiy.”
“I was thinking,” Charlotte answered.
“What?” Chris asked.
His sister blushed. “Some other time, bro.”
Of course there was no way that Chris was going to let his sister get away with that, especially when she thought she had to remind him that he was her brother. But before he could open his mouth, his phone gave a high, lonesome crow’s caw. Chris picked it up. “Chris, this is Aunt Sandra.”
“Hi, Aunt Sandra,” Chris answered.
“Why do you sound so funny, Chris. Do you have one of those new cell phones? I should have texted you. They’re awful for actually talking.”
“I can call you back on a land line, Auntie. There’s one downstairs.”
“Never mind, Chris. I just miss hearing your voice properly. Anyway, we were told to let you know if there were any developments with Dr. Konoye and the RCMP Special Detachment in Osoyoos.”
“Dr. Konoye is at an environment demonstration just up the road from us at the border. And Springett just got a phone call. The RCMP Super Tactical Headquarters has called to ask for clearance for the Steelheads to cross the border for the event. The Border Service turned them down.”
“Exactly. Something’s up. Just thought you should know. Love you, Chris. Please give our love to Charlotte.”
Chris put down the phone. “Aunt Sandra says she loves you, Charlotte. And that the Steelheads just got called in to a protest at the border.”
“What?” May asked. “The Steelheads are powered armour combatants for anti-supervillain work. The Canadians are on the phone to the Liberty League twice a day asking why they have to waste a detachment in Osoyoos in the first place. There’s no way that they’d get called in for crowd control.”
“Uhm, exactly?” Chris said. “So what’s going on?”
“They’ve had a tip about supervillain activity,” May said, crisply.”
“Geez,” Chris said. “And they asked to cross the border. The Feds said no.”
“Oops. Their mistake.” May stopped for a moment. “If crossing borders were illegal, only criminals would cross borders.”
“Double oops,” Chris said. “Aunt Sandra said the demonstration was going on just up the street. That means that they’re at the beach house with Springett. Oh. Crap.”
“What?” Charlotte asked.
“That Decurion dude is investigating Achilles. The World War II Supersoldier. Whom we found out was actually Springett Dawson, of 85 Boundary Point Road, Oroville, Washington. Three blocks from the border crossing then, and three blocks from it now.”
“So this whole protest might just be cover for an op at the beach house. ‘Codename Achilles, I presume. They told me you were dead.’ Aunt Sandra is there. We’ve got to do something!”
May rolled her eyes. “The Steelheads are right there. And they’re allowed to cross the border in hot pursuit. No more Battles of Detroit, right?”
“Yeah, but what if it’s a stealth op?” Chris asked.
“Okay, you got me,” May said. “Chris, I’m going to call Rebecca Hirsch and get her to teleport you over there. That means I’ll owe Rebecca, and you’ll owe me. As in, ‘be my bitch’ owe me.”
“But you’re, like, Rebecca’s best friend. And it’s just a teleport.”
“Best straight friend. And it’s a bigger deal than you’d think. Continent hopping wipes Rebecca out. So if she was planning to go to Babylon tonight….”
“I don’t see what the big deal about Babylon is,” Chris protested.
“This is what I love about being your sister, Chris. See, I enjoy eye-rolling. And that’s some fine eye-rolling,” Charlotte said, dramatically looking at the sky. “It’s the biggest human city in all the multiverse. The city. ‘The City of Man and Art.’”
“Isn’t that a little sexist?” Chris asked.
May started to say something, and Charlotte hushed her. “Don’t provoke him. He’s been quoting Spinal Tap nonstop for a week now.”
May picked up her phone and quickly texted a message. “We’ll see what she says. Emily Neilsen might have the juice to get you there, too. Or maybe Anne Fay, if we can get through to her right now. In the meantime, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask. Did you really see Aunt Elizabeth’s body at the Institute morgue?”
“Uhm, yeah.” Chris said.
“But it’s also buried at the cemetery on the Bench.”
“Maybe the grave is empty,” Chris said.
“No, it’s not,” May said, severely. “We’d know.”
“I guess someone is going to have to take it back in time and bury it. Yet more time travel in the Bench’s future. Or past. Or future past. Or, never mind. Stupid time travel. I can’t even talk about it without getting confused,” May said. A sadness passed over May’s face, and the Captain whined and put his head across her lap. May’s hand fell, almost absent-mindedly, across her dog’s head and scratched in long, slow, but strong strokes through the dog’s long, silky winter fur. Her phone played a short blast of electronica, and a moment later, Rebecca Hirsch popped into existence in the middle of the room.
“I’m only doing this because I like your Aunt Sandra,” Rebecca announced.
Chris thought about saying something smart, but managed to clamp down on the temptation. Apparently this was a big deal, and right now he just wanted to make sure that Aunt Sandra was all right.
“Can I go? As a wingman? I’ve got a sword!” Charlotte got up to go to her room to get the Pearl Harmony.
“No!” Chris said, and May echoed him. Chris shut up. His cousin could probably put it better.
“You’re too young, Charlotte. Besides, I already thought of that and cc’d Billy Tatum. He’s ready to go already.”
“But she’s my aunt, too!” Charlotte said, sounding mad.
“That doesn’t somehow make you sixteen all of a sudden,” May pointed out. “At least graduate from elementary school, first! With the Steelheads, and Rebecca, and Billy, and Chris, your aunt will be fine.”
“Just a minute! I’ve got to get dressed, and there’s a million girls in my room!”
“Okay,” said May. “We’ll be in the rec room when you’re ready. But before you go fixing your hair or whatever, remember that she’s your aunt.”
After that warning, Chris got dressed in no time flat, before running down to the rec room to find the girls watching Youtube videos. “No weapons?” May asked.
“I’m hoping that stupid sword will show up again,” Chris admitted.
“Not ‘till you figure out why it comes and goes like that,” May said. “Sometimes, to go forward, you must first go back!”
“Just because you’re a cousin, and a girl, and you like the same movies as I do, doesn’t mean I won’t clock you if you keep that up,” Chris warned May.
“You can try, next time we spar, kid,” she said smugly.
“Hey, Chinese Waltons,” Rebecca said. “I’m wasting my Sunday here, and my juice.” Chris walked over to stand at Rebecca’s shoulder, and a second later, they were in Billy’s room. A moment after that, they were standing on Boundary Point Road in the January cold, looking down through the gaps in the willow trees at the lake.
Billy Tatum and Rebecca were standing next to Chris in their winter jackets. They were right in front of the big mailbox that served the beach house and the five newer houses that had been built on the old property back in the late 50s, when Dennis the Menace was hilarious, and TV shows happened in little black and white boxes.
Chris pulled his key ring out of his pocket and checked the mail key in the big mailbox. After four years and 36, it still fit. He pulled out a handful of flyers and a National Geographic, and led Billy down the walk to the beach house. A mile up the lake, he could hear chanting through the feeback weirdness of an electronic bullhorn. “You. Can’t. Spell. Ecological. Without. Logical! Leave Chinese Bar Alone!”
“Scientist hippies,” Billy said. “You get them at the Institute, too.”
“Dr. Konoye was at the Institute, too,” Chris pointed out.
“Yeah, but she was with the programme back then. ‘Knowledge that humans were never meant to know is the best kind of knowledge!’ Now she wants to save a bunch of slugs?”
Chris shrugged. “Maybe she just wants to save her job. I hear there’s more scientists than jobs, these days.”
“Which is why it helps to have taking over the world as part of your thesis plan,” Billy pointed out. “There’s money in that.”
“Or at least a comfy cell at Stronghold Prison,” Chris said, opening the gate for his friends.
Rebecca snorted. “That’ll be us in four years, you know. Looking for jobs that don’t exist anymore.”
Chris led them up the walk through the front lawn, the grass still ridged and uncomfortable with the roots of the big cherry trees on either side. At the stoop, he reached up to ring the doorbell. It, at least, had changed, and so had the ring tone. Chris guessed that raising children in a house would be hard on those kinds of fixtures, and wondered what his little cousins would be like.
Only they wouldn’t be little. They’d be older than he was. Time travel. Chris still wasn’t sure that he was grateful for it. But before he could follow that thought very far, his aunt opened the door, just as Chris’ Eight Spirit-trained hearing heard something creak in the backyard.
With a wave to his aunt, Chris led Billy and Rebecca in a dash around the side of the house, between the long garden sloping down towards the draw to the left and the stuccoed side of the old house on the snow-slicked flagstones that he’d once hopped down on his barefoot way to the beach. They were older now, too, and little trees were big now.
They turned the corner of the house. The snow sloped down to the beach, which was rimmed by a hard edge of ice. The wharf was empty at this time of year, of course, and there was no-one in the yard, or the neighbouring yards, just trees’ willows waving their tendrils, and leafless fruit trees whistling in the slight wind. Across the lake, Chris could see up the hill to the ridge line that marked the bench on which Genesee stood, and, to the north, the long clearing slash that marked the international border on the far side of the lake.
“It’s quiet,” Billy said.
“If you say ‘too quiet,’” Rebecca warned, I’ll teleport you into the Sun so ---“