With an Obvious, Accessible Focus to channel his powers, and, more importantly, a girlfriend to get him out of trouble, yes.
Girlfriend? Dunh dunh dunh.
Chapter 2, 23: Chaperone
Chris slid his hand down over Morning Glory’s hip, gently cupping it and lifting to bring her soft lips closer. He could hear her heart through his own chest, beating faster, as she came up on the balls of her feet. Her hair filled his face with a smell that mixed green grass, tea, and some kind of flower. Like a fighter or a dancer, he looked down into her eyes, looking for clues about what to do next. She he ducked her glance so that he couldn’t see behind her eyes, but he also felt her hands, soft and warm, gliding across his back in opposite directions, one towards his shoulder, the other down towards the curve of his hip. This was crazy, some part of him warned. They were on a battlefield.
The little voice could be ignored. The blinding flash and shocking boom couldn’t. Chris and Morning Glory broke apart. She gasped, and Chris noticed that he was sweating. Looking east, they watched the flaming wreck of the clone trooper’s gunship hit a rooftop two blocks away.
“I hope Twelve made it out,” Chris muttered.
“Who?” Morning Glory asked.
“One of the clone troopers that I met in that department store over there. Chris gestured with his jaw, as his hands were still wrapped around the girl.
Morning Glory put her head to his arm. Again he caught the floral/tea/grass smell of her hair. “I hope so. Poor kids. Do you realise that they’re bred for these stupid fights?”
“That’s what they’re told, Glory. It doesn’t have to be true, unless we let it be true.”
“Are you saying they have a choice? Look at them! They don’t know anything! They came out of the vats last week!” He could feel her muscles stiffen next to his.
Chris felt that he needed to defend himself. “It’s not about them. ’m criticising their teachers.”
Glory relaxed against him. “Well, that’s Teleios the mad genetic scientist, and those crazy training tapes of his. Not exactly Moral Philosophy 101.”
Chris looked into the distance as he let his thoughts shape themselves. “We all teach, Glory. Fathers, mothers, instructors, yes, but also friends and bosses.”
Glory pulled away from him, her eyes raked across his, angry, but then went wide. Chris spun around, looking for the threat. But there was no threat. Instead, the street below had silently filled with menace. Four tall figures in familiar spacesuits were gathered around a singed-looking clone trooper and an even more beat up guy in the ripped remains of a HAZMAT suit. Both humans were kneeling, their hands pinioned behind their backs. Around the scene, writhing black tubes formed a circle, ends sliding up over their barrel-thick curves and opening up into those awful grey-green flower ends.
The clone trooper looked like Twelve to Chris, although admittedly he had no idea how to tell them apart. He had no idea who the HAZMAT guy was. Perhaps a local? The lead spacesuit thing gestured, and a light pulsed from the front of its helmet. It shone vomit yellow on the crumbling cement walls behind the captured clone trooper, washing out the fading sun. Black, suggestive spots swam in the light, gradually gathering around the shadows that the clone trooper and HAZMAT guy cast on the wall. As soon as the spots formed a continuous blotch around the shadows, the HAZMAT guy fell straight forward on his face, and began to scream into the ground while writhing. His feet, which were tied as well, began to beat the sidewalk. As Chris watched, the exposed skin around his wrists began to turn an earthworm pink, and his head began to stretch. The clone trooper watched for a long moment, an increasingly horrified expression on his face. Then it turned into something else, a combination of shock and pain.
Chris felt an urge to motion through his body. He couldn’t let this go on. Instead of standing, though, he looked over at Morning Glory, and the restraining hand that she had put on his sword arm. “Just a second, Chris.”
Chris paused. She continued. “Nitroglycerin is an ester. It’s not that hard to get the buds on the trees to release it. But…” She took her hand off his arm.
Chris stood up. “Down!” He yelled, as loud as he could. He was amazed at how loud that turned out to be. His word echoed off the concrete. The clone trooper threw himself flat on the sidewalk next to his writhing fellow. The spacesuited things turned as one to look at him. They were the most horrifying thing yet. Underneath their transparent facemasks was a long, thin head, pink like a worm in the middle and blotching off to colours of old-man-grey and bottom-of-the-crisper brown at the edges. They had no mouths, but their eyes were the same vomit yellow as their magic, and gemstones in their foreheads pulsed with a somehow dirty colour. Chris felt the beginning of a flood of yellow water in the basement of his mind before the nitro went off in a massive fuel-air explosion that swept the street from right to left, scything through the black tubes and knocking the spacesuited things over.
Well, there was no help for it now. Chris yelled again, “St. Elizabeth and the Holy Sangha!” He jumped for a car on the street below, drawing his sword from its scabbard as he plummeted, bouncing with the slide rebound of the car’s roof and rolling to come up amongst the spacesuited things, only inches from one of the chestnut trees that lined the street. Their reactions seemed glacially slow as Chris began the Eight Dragon Spirit sword exercises at top speed. Two, then three of the snaking blossom things were falling, severed, simultaneously, before he put the flat of his blade to the facemask of the first spacesuited thing, skipping across the cracking glass and redirecting the blow to cleave the mask of a second, holding the blow just short of its disgusting, gelid face.
Chris hoped that Earth air wouldn’t kill them, while being really bad for them. He didn’t like the idea of killing things that could think, even things that looked like Earthworm Jim, if he were real and disgusting, instead of a cartoon and funny. But he would be in real trouble here, very quickly, if he couldn’t put them down. A third spacesuit thing tried to draw back, and Chris stepped in, sweeping out his ankle to the rear and pushing it in the shoulder while guarding against a lashing pink tongue-thing with his sword. As the severed tongue fell, he guided his point, out of the corner of his eye, into the side of the fourth thing’s helmet.
Oops. The thing didn’t have an ankle, bouncing back like a rubbery action figure to grasp Chris’s arms. It was unexpectedly strong, although not nearly as strong as Chris with his qi concentrated on his strength rather than his speed. As Chris bunched his muscles, however, his eyes filled with yellow light. He stared in the direction that it had come in, into the pulsing gem on the head of the fifth spacesuit thing. A searing pain filled Chris’s mind. He felt the strength draining out of him. It was everything he could do to hold onto his sword. A tube writhed around his legs, then began inching up his thighs.
An eerie voice sounded in his head. “Another resistant? What are the odds. Well, I meant to offer you the glory of belonging to the Great Race; but you will do just as well as food. The Family will eat well tonight.”
“I . . . resist?” Chris managed to ask.
“Yes. My Talisman is usually quite enough to make one of your feeble kind over into an Elder Worm. It’s a pity. You have a strong mind for a slave race. Though that will make you taste better, so I do not mourn unreservedly. I …Lords of the Shining Darkness!”
The last mental curse was a reasonable response, Chris thought. Who liked having a napalm bomb set off ten feet behind them? Chris, stared, helpless in the freezing grip of the powerful Elder Worm sorcerer, into the licking flames. More shapes writhed in the flame, but now they were clearly tree roots, grabbing and rending the black tubes.
A moment later, in that disorienting way that teleportation always had, Chris was standing in a grove of trees, the bare lattice of their naked branches casting an openwork shadow on the waxy green leaves of perennial shrubs and the green grass below. Morning Glory was standing, facing him. “Don’t get me wrong. I like being rescued. But I’d be letting the girls down if I just let some hunk do all the saving. You guys okay?”
“Crap. Better than the alternative, anyway.” Chris looked to the familiar speaker on his left. Twelve, or his identical clone trooper brother, was kneeling there, still tied. Chris bent over to and began to untie his wrists.
“I thought I was going to be able to get the other guy, too. But he was too far from a tree.” She sounded sad, and Chris almost went to her instead of getting Twelve –or whoever’s—ankles. Focus, he reminded himself. Get one thing done before you move on to the next.
The clone trooper turned, gingerly, to look up at Chris once the ankle ties were gone. “Oh! Oh! Circulation. It hurts. Thanks, Kung Fu Boy. Consider us even for you not saving my brothers.”
“Dude,” Chris said. “You guys have been shooting at me for two weeks now. There is a limit.”
“You’re also a superhero,” Twelve pointed out. “You fight supervillains. You know? Like Wormy McWorm there? Maybe you’ve met? According to your job description, you’re supposed to be kicking his ass so he can’t get any more of my brothers.”
“Pro-tip,” Chris replied, as he moved around beside Glory. “You want superheroes to help you? Don’t chase them and shoot them with pulson blasters. It distracts us.” He put his arm around Glory’s waist, and she snuggled in beside him.
“Hey! Hey!” Twelve protested. “Fraternisation. Superheroes in one corner, supervillains in the other. And does your boss know?”
“No! And you’re not telling him! I just saved your life!” Glory protested. But she also pulled free of Chris’s arm and stepped one stride away.
“Sorry,” Twelve said, not sounding sorry at all. “I’m programmed with total loyalty to my employer. It’s part of the Teleios Instant Army Customer Service Package.”
“B.S.!” Chris protested. “That treatment didn’t work on you and your gang! It’s why you’re so cheap!”
“Jeez. Where’d you hear that? Sure, the Boss’s so-good-it-should-be-patented genetic loyalty treatment doesn’t work on our germ line, but we do still have his full Code of the Mercenary conditioning. And we’re not cheap. We’re expensive.”
“Because of that immunity to the Apocalypse Plague thing. Which isn’t much of a selling point, because there’s only one kook out there trying to weaponise it.”
“Hold on there, Chr- KFB,” Morning Glory interrupted. “The Professor isn’t trying to weaponise the Apocalypse Plague. It is a weapon. Istvatha V’han’s weapon.”
“That’s how my Mom got involved. Three years ago she tried to publish a paper about a commensal disease in Mollusca. Someone had a look at it and told the journal that it was actually a V’hanian war plague. She hasn’t been able to get funding for her research since.”
“But the Professor wants the Plague. Why?”
“So he can use it, Chris.”
“What? Oh my God!”
“Just as a demonstration. We’ll hand over the cure the moment the Empress gives us her medical data. And when the Professor has that . . . .”
“He’ll rule the Multiverse!”
“Whatever. I just want to know who finked out my Mom and stuff. So she can get her grant application moving.”
“I thought that you thought it was your Dad.”
Morning Glory shrugged uncomfortably. “Dad was . . . Dad was trying to do some kind of deal with Wayland Talos. Talos is the kind of guy who’d sell that kind of info to anyone, and pass it on free just to start trouble. But Dad knew that. He wouldn’t . . .. I mean, he did. Mom says that he’s the only one who could.“ Her voice trailed off at the end, and she wrapped her arms around her body as though she were cold.
Twelve stuck up his hand. “Okay, we’ve covered the hot teen action, the expository dialogue, and the emo crap. Can we, maybe, get back to watching for horrifying monsters and King Slug-For-A-Butt?” Twelve asked, sounding annoyed.
“I’ll feel any intrusions into this park through the morphogenetic field. And there’s a pond down past the trees there if you’re feeling like a third wheel,” Morning Glory answered.
Chris asked, “Seriously. How much Earthworm Jim did they put in your training tapes, anyway?” Chris only knew about the worm superhero in the spacesuit and his enemies because his cousins had mentioned it after seeing the tape of the Slug’s rampages in San Francisco.
Twelve gestured dismissively. “Pff. Tape training counts as sleep, mostly, and you can only do it for, like, six hours a day. Eight hours down, six hours in the gym. We had plenty of time to watch the Cartoon Network..”
“Geez,” Chris said. “Why don’t I get to be a clone?”
“’Cuz you’re some weirdo norm. Except for the superpowers.”
“Technically, KFB doesn’t have superpowers. He has a mastery of a mindful practice that looks like superpowers. And he has a sister.”
“With Kung Fu powers. Yeah, I read the briefing notes. Blah blah, big class of teenaged superheroes. Fight evil, date each other, mope about how life sucks. Your school leaks like a sieve, just FYI, Kung Fu Boy.”
Chris smirked. “Oh, I see what this is about. There’s no-one for you to date at your underground lair! Well, except for your brothers.”
“Gross,” Morning Glory said, sticking her tongue out.
“Well, there’s one. Clonette. No-one’s sure how Teleios made her, but she’s the only female clone in our entire lair, and---“
“Oh, come on! They probably had the Smurfs back before KFB got in the time machine.”
Chris shook his head. He had no idea what they were talking about. And there was something bothering him. “Uhm, Glory, how do you know that Professor Paradigm isn’t just going to release the Apocalypse Plague on the Empire?”
“You don’t know the Professor, KFB! He’s kind and thoughtful! He even remembered to get me a present for my birthday last month! No-one else did except my Mom and my boss!”
Two thoughts crossed Chris’ mind. First, that Morning Glory’s boss actually sounded nice, and second that when she said “no-one,” the person she actually left out was her Dad.
“The Professor may seem nice, but he’s not your Dad. He’s a supervillain, Glory,” Chris protested. “And look at some of the guys he hangs with. That Decurion creep would drop the Bomb on V’han in a second, just because he could.”
Morning Glory’s face went white. “You think you’re so smart, Chris! But you’re not! I can’t believe that I did that scabbard for you!”You’re just jealous. Of Decurion! And you know what? You should be! She reached out her hand, and the ribbon on the scabbard belt undid itself and flew to her fingers. “I need this now.”
Twelve made a throat-clearing noise and gestured at the brush where Glory had said the pond started. It was moving. “Uhm, guys? What’s the morpho-whatever thingie say about that ?”
Morning Glory’s head snapped in that direction. “That whoever it is very strong.”
A tall man with a bare chest and six arms like a Hindu god, (and a caste mark on his face, although, let’s face it, you noticed the arms first) stepped through the underbrush. Beside him was Telantassar the Grey, wearing her Lincoln green outfit and black mask, and carrying her bow, instead of, as usual, generic hippie teacher duds. “This is your truant student, Miss Grey?”
“Ms. Grey, please, Rashindar. If you’re so determined to compromise secret identities, at least you could get the courtesy right.”
“It baffles me that one of your ancient race should be so willing to conform to the decadent ways of the West. What would you like done with the other two?’
Telantassar looked at them for a long moment. “The weave of fate is that if we apprehend them, the boy commits suicide, and the girl turns to the darkness. No equal ill is done by letting them go.”
“Wait,” Chris said. “Can you find your way to safety with Twelve if we leave you here, Morning Glory?”
“Leave me alone! I’m not talking to you. Yes,” she answered, her face set and angry (at least, below the half covered by her mask), and her arms crossed.
“It’s some small credit to you that you’re worried about your playmates, boy, but you should be more worried about yourself,” the Indian mage observed.
“What do you mean by that?” Chris asked, remembering after a moment to add, “Sir.”
“I gather that you tried to use mind control magic on your counsellor. There will be consequences.”
Chris looked at Telantassar. She winced, and nodded.
“What? That’s stupid. You’re stupid!” It sounded stupid as soon as it was out of his mouth, but Chris couldn’t help it. He was on fire with anger. His sword suddenly dragged, inconveniently, against his leg, and he pulled it off his waist, the scabbard belt parting as easily as a dying branch. He flung the whole thing into the shrubs as hard as he could. A moment later, there came a distant splash.
“You won’t help your case with theatrics, young man,” Rashindar scolded. “Your school is fatuously lax in its discipline. I’m sure that after a modest suspension, you will be allowed to attend again, subject to supervision. At least, I hope subject to supervision.”
“Rashindarji, you’re not helping. That decision will be made by our faculty.”
“I hope not, Miss Grey. This sort of thing is the reason that I insisted that your government appoint a liaison to Tatammy in the first place. And asked for my current advisory role.”
“This sort of thing only ever happens in your head, Rashindar. Honestly!”
“Ah, Miss Grey. Shall we test the question of whether DOSPA will listen more closely to a retired adventurer a generation out of practice, or the world’s foremost supermage?”
Telantassar shook her head, looking defeated. “Good,” Rashindar said, sounding enormously satisfied with himself. And just like that, they were standing in Principal Guzman’s office at school.
“My sword!” Chris shouted.