Monday, October 22, 2012

Chapter 2: 31: Oh Sisters too, how may we do?

Scary Christmas music. Who knew?

Chapter 2: 31: Oh Sisters too, how may we do?

“Charlotte!” Chris yelled. Or tried to, because his voice cracked, and it came out as a scream. Lifting the Blue Tranquility above his head, Chris leaped for the bow of the boat, soaring over an astonished kid that Chris could hardly think of as Master Lee. The sword’s blue jade glow seemed to shift, casting a light of death over the deck of the little pleasure craft as Chris realised that he was shifting his wrists to present a killing stroke. What are you doing? He thought to himself. Haven’t you learned your lesson? As he came down, Chris shifted the stroke. His father, below, reacting in slow motion, had brought his machine gun up to ward off the blow, and Chris brought the sword down the weapon, which broke into pieces, flying in all directions as Chris alighted on the bow.

From here he could look down into the water. Or, rather, where the water should be, because an almost-solid curtain of unfurled lakeweed leaves confronted him, instead. Distantly through it, he could make out the glow of the Pearl Harmony sword.

Chris faced his father, who had grabbed up a boat hook and now held it in front of him in an Eight Spirit Dragon fighting position. “Who are you?” His father rasped.

Of course he doesn’t know me, Chris thought. I haven’t been born yet, and I’m wearing a mask. But then how had he recognised his sister?

“My beloved sister I know from her blade. But you can’t be my brother. He doesn’t have what it takes to wield the coward’s sword you bear. And neither do you, from the look of things. I think I’ll take it from you and throw it in the lake. It can keep company with my father’s legacy.”

“Long winded,” Chris said, lashing out with the sword to cut the handle of his father’s weapon. But the handle of the boat hook came up and around the blade, catching Chris in the temple. Stunned, Chris felt his legs give way underneath him, and the Blue Tranquility went flying. He only barely caught the bow rail. He rolled over, trying to gather his wits and get back into action, but his father was already overhead, the hook poised for another blow. His face felt wet. And warm.

Then a huge, floating turion unrolled into a stretching tendril that grabbed the hook from behind. The force of the wet tendril slapping the metal haft sent cold lakewater drops spuming into Chris’s face. “Dude, the jerk deserves it. But you shouldn’t have tried to shoot Tagalong.” Morning Glory was standing on the water, or, rather, on the biggest water lily bloom that Chris had ever seen, hands held in front of her at chest and waist height as she balanced on the slippery surface, her long hair waving in the lake wind.

“Three? Do I see four?” Chris knew enough Chinese to know that “four” was death, and look to the handle of the boat hook. Giving no sign that Morning Glory would see –no sign that anyone but an Eight Spirit practitioner could see—his father was shifting his grip for a throw. Chris felt almost too dizzy to stand. Where was his sword? He wondered, but in the same moment, his scrambling hand closed on the handle of a pistol. Desperately, he through the weapon up and unloaded the clip in the air beside his father’s ear, hoping that the distraction would interrupt the throw.

It didn’t. In blurring motion, his father launched the boat hook at Morning Glory’s head. Chris felt his heart lurch, but from the midst of the weeds came the Pearl Harmony Sword, leading his sister up onto the bow of the boat to stand above her brother, the blade, glowing, cutting the boat hook out of the sky as she passed. “I don’t think so. Update 1: my brother likes that girl. Update 2: I ain’t no 1930s girl.”

Wong Kwan Li faced the daughter that hadn’t even been born yet for a moment, his hands slowly circling. Chris caught the deadly stink of dim mak power gathering. Then his father spat, ostentatiously, on the deck. “Elizabeth Wong or not, you’re dead next time I see you. Come, Lee.” He hurled himself backwards in a cricket leap so powerful that it took him to the beach below the cannery. In the sudden silence, Chris could hear the future Master Lee splashing through the shallows after the man that he would follow to bloody treachery and death.

Chris held the gun in front of him as he painfully rose to his feet. It was a pistol, but with a magazine in front, like an automatic rifle, and a broken clip on the handle. The clip must have attached a stock. This was the submachine gun his Dad had fired at Charlotte, and he must have been reloading when Chris jumped. “What the hell happened to you, Chris?” His sister asked. “You can fight better than that.”

The boat sank a little lower in the water as Morning Glory stepped on board. “Geez, Chris. Are you okay? Um, I mean, Kung Fu Boy. That was your Dad, right?”

Charlotte nodded. Chris didn’t say anything, because he was afraid that if he did, he would lose it in front of his sister and say something dumb to Morning Glory. Stay cool, he thought to himself. “Well, there you go. Who’s got the Daddy issues now?”

He couldn’t control himself. “That’s stupid.” But somehow it didn’t come out the way he meant it to, so that it sounded in his head like, “I missed you so much,” instead.

“No, you’re stupid,” Morning Glory said. But her tone wasn’t as angry as before, either, she reached her hand up towards his face. Chris could read concern in the set of her mouth. “You—“ A bright light flared from the dock where they’d left the fight. “My life sucks. Your brother--” She added, with a look at Charlotte. And she was gone.

“Cool, bro, cool,” his sister said to him. “Now if you want to just sit down for a sec so I can look at—“

“Yeah,” Chris said, feeling defeated. “Never mind. The fight’s still on. You see my sword anywhere?”

His sister reached into the darkness, and her hand came back holding the Blue Tranquility, dark and quiescent in her hand. “Father Asplin’s sword, you mean.”

“Yeah. Seemed like we had a bonding moment, as long as I was fighting that Decurion jerk instead of Dad. Let’s do it more.”

“Yeah,” his sister said. But she bit her lip. Chris’s head still hurt. He summoned his qi, let it wash over the hurt.

Feeling good enough that his legs seemed finally felt ready for a cricket leap of their own. A moment later, they were soaring through the air, landing on the dock behind Billy, Tyrell, Babs, Eve, Rose, Fang and Bruce, all surrounding Springett, still tied up and lying on the dock and facing Decurion, who’d recovered his sword and helmet, Black Ninja and Morning Glory. Charlotte landed beside Springett and knelt to untie him. Between the two groups, the October darkness was deep as midnight.

“Looks like we have you outnumbered,” Billy was saying as Chris landed. “Like, a lot. You want to give up, get a deal? Tampering with the timestream is probably worth three years in juvie. Pretty boy like you? Don’t risk it.”

“You’re hilarious, you overaged punk. We’ve got a time machine and a target, now. Think you can protect him from one end of his timeline to the other?”

With that, as Chris kind of expected, the darkness began to take the solid, purple form of One Who Passes Time. “Oh, that’s just the living end. We are so going to have a talk with your Professor Paradigm. Now shoo!” With that, the Paradigm Pirates disappeared.

“Springett, young man, I hope that this experience has left you with more questions than answers?”

“Are you a dragon? In goldarned Oroville?” Springett sputtered.

“Exactly,” One Who Passes said. Springett disappeared.

“And now that we’ve all accomplished what we’ve come for,” One Who Passes Time continued, “We need to cut off this timeloop and get you back to your present. Especially Chris.”

“What?” Chris said. “We haven’t buried my aunt!”

Babs added, “And we don’t know who planted the CD? Our bug just started reading it, right in front of us!”

“Chris, I hate to be an asshole about this, but if you take a moment to check your pack, you will see that I left your aunt’s remains were left behind when we shifted up from 1862. And, yes, Babs, your ambush didn’t work out the way that you expected. The class will occasion to reflect on the meaning of it all. Now hop on up, please.”

There was a long moment of silence on the dock. Chris wondered if everyone else was as mad about the runaround as he was. “Hop up or find your own way back to 2012. I’ve already taken care of your car.”

“You wouldn’t really maroon us in 1934!” Chris said, putting his hands on his hip.

“I don’t need to,” One Who Passes Time said. Chris was standing on the Second Bench. It was incredibly hot. Late summer in August hot. He could hear a vehicle on the road. Chris looked around. He was screened from it by the familiar old pine tree that separated his grandfather’s plot from his aunt’s, and he was looking straight at the memorial plaque to his aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother that his grandfather had put up. Below it was another one. “For Mary of Sorrows, Dawson-Wong,” it said. It was for his mother. Chris felt tears coming on. Then he heard a branch break in the dry summer heat behind him. He whirled.

Between him and the tombstone was his cousin Jenny. “Who are you?” She asked. She was holding a familiar vase.

“Um, your cousin, Christopher Wong?” That’s a stupid answer, Chris thought. “From 1975. Where’d you get the vase?”

“From 1863. A bunch of stuff happened, and someone left it there. Are you okay like that?”

“Like what? I left the vase there.”

“Um hunh. It was in 1975?”

“No. 2012. My sister and I were in 2012. Well, end of 2011.”

“How’d you get there?”

“Is this going to be a paradox? You brought us there. After our Mom died.” Chris thought about it. “Wait. I guess my aunt and uncle know, so it’s not a paradox, after all. You know them. Have they mentioned it?”

“The Dawsons? Not yet. But they did say I’d have help here. So I guess you’re okay for that, no matter how you look. Which is good, ‘cuz I’ve got, like, five seconds to dig a hole for this before all hell breaks loose here.” She held out a shovel.

Chris took the shovel, aimed it at the dirt in the roots of the old tree, below plaques, and summoned his full qi. A single stroke into the root-packed, stony, needle-strewn ground was enough to open up a hole. His cousin dropped the vase in the hole. “Now you need to get to cover. We’re about ready for a serious fi—“

Chris faded out again. Now he was standing beside a shimmering, purple dragon in the middle of the Tatammy Park. His friends were getting off. In the parking lot, the grownups were still walking away towards the cars, although, strangely, they were caught in mid step, unmoving, like some cheesy timestop effect in the movies.

The dragon turned its head on its long, sinewy neck to look at them. “I’m sorry that your trip seemed like such a screwup. You’ll understand when you’re older.”

Chris didn’t feel like understanding right now.

“My name is Pyandur,” the dragon said. Out loud. The sound resonated in the strangely syrupy air. “And I’m serious. Do think about what happened to you today. Or the last three days.”

The dragon disappeared, and the grownups began to move again. Billy put his fingers to lips and blew, and a shrill whistle broke the peace of the park. Uncle Henry, Auntie Ma, Graydon, Annie and Father Asplin turned around. Chris saw concern breaking on their faces. He had no idea why, but it seemed like a good time for his legs to quit trying.

His uncle was under Chris’s shoulder before his knees could bend double. His aunt –two of his aunts, actually—looked over Uncle Henry’s shoulder. Well, not really two of them, because the faces seemed to be growing out ofo the same body. Or something, because he really couldn’t see the body, and, he noticed, he had a headache all of a sudden.

A warm hand took his sword as Chris relaxed his suddenly-too-hard-to-hold grip. His uncle whispered in his ear, ”It’s just a concussion, Chris. We’ll have you up and about in no time.

“Oh, good,” Charlotte said. “I can stop feeling guilty about how much I want a shower.”

“We’ll take Bruce and Babs home, and drop Rose, Tyrell, and Billy off, if you like,” Graydon said, from somewhere out of sight, like a character in a video game where you haven’t quite figured out how to work the camera angle yet.

“I’ll go with the Wongs, if that’s okay,” Rose answered. No-one else said anything, and from the depth of his headache, Chris thought, well, that’s settled. Let’s go home.

He woke up in his bed, some time later. The pillow under his head felt rough, like a blanket, and a little crusty.

His uncle sat on the bed, looking down on him. “Are you hungry, Chris?”

Chris thought for a moment. “Yeah.”

His uncle sagged with relief. “If you’re not too nauseous to eat, you’re going to be okay. The temple’s a bad place to take a punch like that. Who did it?”

Chris took his time answering. “My Dad.” He rushed on. “He didn’t know it was me.”

His uncle smiled sadly. Chris was amazed at how much his Uncle Henry looked like his Grandpa Henry right now. “Of course he didn’t. You weren’t born yet. Heck. Your mother wasn’t born yet.”

“I tried to stab him and shoot him. Not very filial of me.”

“What did the Duke of Ch’i say to the Sage about kingcraft?”

“I don’t understand?”

“Not even close, Chris. Hmm. Think your Chinese is up to starting the Analects?”

“I don’t know.”

“I guess there’s only one way to find out.” He reached over and lifted something into sight. “C96 Mauser. Nice gun. Your grandfather always did wonder what happened to it.”

“It was Grandpa Henry’s?”

“Technically, it belonged to the Black Baron. Grandpa just took it from him.”

“I bet that’s a story.”

“I’ll tell it to you sometime. At least, as I had it from Grandpa. Now, there’s still blood in your hair, so let’s get you showered and ready for supper.”

Supper, it turned out, was a massive plate of crackle and salad, followed by glazed ham with scalloped potatoes and roast vegetables with crusty rolls, chased by huge glasses of full fat milk, eaten in front of the TV for a little peace and quiet, while their cousins monopolised the kitchen upstairs. Apparently, their three-sided fight with agents of Doctor Destroyer and the Slug had been very exciting and not at all painful and draining and involving three days of trying to sleep out rough in the October cold. Chris, Charlotte and Rose sat around the TV, balancing on beanbag chairs, demolishing plate after plate as quickly as Auntie Ma could bring them down.

Eve, of course, ate in her room.

“You look better, Chris,” Charlotte said, when they had finally had enough to eat.

 “I feel better,” Chris answered. I’ll feel even better after I’ve eaten and had some sleep. Too bad I have so much yet to do today.”

“Can’t it wait? You still look awful pale.” Said Rose.

“Nah, I still have to figure this out.” Chris answered, holding out the heavy bronze medallion. “Billy and I found this in the junk that was left when we dropped Mike Suzuki’s old motorcycle.”

“Wait,” Charlotte said. “Mike Suzuki as in Dr. Konoye’s husband? Morning Glory’s Dad? Billy’s motorcycle used to belong to Morning Glory’s Dad?”

“No,” Chris answered. “It’s another motorcycle. That Billy is keeping for Suzuki. If he ever shows up again. But, otherwise, yes.”

Charlotte held out her hand. “So what’s the deal with the thingie?” Charlotte asked.

Chris handed it to her. “There’s an inscription. But it’s weird. I can’t read it.”

Rose took the medallion from Charlotte. “Not that weird. It’s English Fraktur in mirror image. Says, ‘Oh Sisters too, how may we do--” No question mark, though.”

“Well, that’s cryptic,” Charlotte said.

“Um, maybe if you lived before Google,” Rose answered. “Siri: Find ‘Oh sisters too, how may we do’ on the Web.” A pause. “It’s a verse from the Coventry Carol, a traditional Christmas song about the Massacre of the Innocents, whatever that is.”

“Um, okay, then,” Chris said. He reached around, scrounging in the mess on the floor, until he found a pen and paper. Fortunately, Amy liked to do crafts with some of the kids she babysat. He thought for a long moment, then wrote out: ‘Have a lead on your father.’ Then he thought for a long moment. Clear, cool, no hint that he was desperate or anything. It would do. “Could you guys pin this to the thorns of the old blackberry bush beside the door to the Institute that you go into to get to Billy’s room tomorrow?”

“This is some kind of “message for Morning Glory?” Rose asked. “What’s it say? I want to read it!”

“Rose!” Charlotte said. “Give my brother some privacy.”

“Thanks, Char-Char.”

“She glared at him for a moment. “It better be sweet, though!”



Chris opened up the note again. He drew a smiley face next to the message, thought about it, and then crossed it out. “I need to see you,” he wrote. He handed it to Rose. “Please,” he said. He had no idea who he was talking too, now.

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