Chapter 2, 32: Fly to Her
Chris looked up at the shadowy, slanting ceiling above. If he could see through the midnight darkness, he would be looking at a blow-up poster from the opening credits of Battlestar Galactica. It was Grace Park, doubled on a split screne: Athena, the good clone; and Boomer, the bad one, but he couldn’t see in the dark. He could reach out and touch the ceiling with his Eight Dragon combat sense, buy it was just paper, not a real girl. Whereas the actual three girls on the other side of the thin partition wouldn’t shut up, even though it was past 10.
So he gave up and whispered the question that he’d been mulling over. “Did you guys put my note up today?”
“For, like, the thousandth time,” his sister asnswered, “Yes. We’re on your side.”
“Really? When did you guys start shipping Morning Glory and me?”
Through the thin wall, down by the curtained door, where her cot was set up, Rose answered. “I ship everybody. I’m a romantic.”
“And I think that you’re cute together,” his sister continued. “Plus, Morning Glory is so short that she can’t look down her nose at me.”
Dora Guzman went last. “So if you two get together, that’ll be one couple around the Yurt that isn’t freakishly big. ‘Excuse me, Little Sis, but Henry and I are going to need this airplane hangar for a PDA.”
“I know!” Charlotte agreed. “Nita and Henry are like people, only a lot bigger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Chris.”
“You really think that I’ll be as tall as Cousin Henry?”
“Uncle Henry says that boys are like puppies. You can tell how tall they’re going to be by the size of their feet. And you, big brother of mine, have very big feet.”
“So do you, sis. And smelly ones, too.”
“Is that the way that he sweet talks Morning Glory?” Nita asked. “Because I think I might see the problem.”
A thunderous knock came from the door. “Girls. Sleep over.” Uncle Henry put heavy emphasis on the ‘sleep’ part. Only this time it did. It must have been a long day at school, Chris thought, trying to contain his jealousy. Who ever thought that he’d be jealous of his sister for getting to go to school?”
Which thought reminded Chris of how wrong it was that he was suspended. They’d better not expel me, he thought fiercely. I’ll take them too. . . . Where did you expel suspensions? Was it like that Bugs Bunny cartoon, where the hare and Yosemite Sam went to the” highest court in the land,” and it turned to be on the hundredth floor of a skyscraper?
Chris threw himself around fiercely, feeling his body heat rise. He wished for a moment that he could open the window, although he suspected that he was hot because he couldn’t sleep, rather than that he couldn’t sleep because he was hot.
As he turned, he saw the face of his phone. It was glowing. He had a text message. Chris looked at his phone. Besides his sister and his Aunt, and sometimes his cousin Amy, who were all asleep (at least, Amy had better be asleep, and not out with her boyfriend, or she’d be in so much trouble, Chris thought), only Billy and Tyrell ever texted him, and certainly not at this hour. He picked up the phone. It read:
>What’s this about my Dad –YKW?
>YKW?< He texted back.
>You Know Who. Spill.< There was a happy face icon after the ‘please.’
Chris fingered out a message, laboriously. >Billy Tatum has your Dad’s m/c in storage. We found something on it.<
>What what? What what What what What what? OMG, this better not be for lulz.<
>What’s a lulz?<
>LOL only meaner. Mr. Born-in-1959.<
>What am I? A jerk?<
> Mr. Jerkypants. Ha autocorrect doesn’t know about pants. It’s from 1959 2.<
>BCuz I don’t know l33t?<
>And should stop trying. Maybe get T-shirt, reads, “Born in 1959, Take it Easy?”
>I’m sorry about what I said about you and . . .< Chris couldn’t finish. He didn’t want to remind her about it after she mentioned taking it easy on him.
>Jerkypants< But there was a happy face icon again. >Now, about that thing.<
>What? It’s a medallion, with a motto?<
>”Oh sisters too, how may we do”<
>What some more?<
>Line from Coventry Carol, refers to Bible stuff, Massacre of the Innocents. Painting by Poussin., I need to talk to you.< Chris was dying to see Morning Glory and talk to her instead of texting, but he didn’t want to have to explain that leap of logic to her. Tyrell had been sarcastic as Hell when he mentioned it. “Well, there’s another mysterious motto in a painting that I heard the other day. It has nothing to do with your Dad, but it’s, like, mysterious and a motto, so they’re probably related!” But Chris knew that he was right. The mysterious motto on the painting in El Professore’s office was somehow related to the mysterious motto on the medallion. Or, at least, it was a theory.
>Can’t right now. Busy infiltrating.<
>That big old barn at Sinclair Orchard that no-one’s allowed into. Think they’re related.<
So he wasn’t the only one around making a huge leap of logic. >Txting while infiltrating?<
>Tots safe. Waiting for evening guard to be relieved. I O.<
>Nothing. Shoot me. All OK.<
>Not OK. No shooting.<
>Not hurt bad. Get away easy. Later.<
>Where are you?<
While waiting for a reply, Chris jumped up and put on his fatigues, just because they were the fastest way to get dressed, then grabbed the Blue Tranquility from the bed post and strapped it on. Done, he looked down a the phone screen again. There was no new message. The phone just stared back at him, blinking from one corner, unhelpfully. He tore out of the room, shouting, “Uncle Henry! Auntie Ma!”
He took the stairs in one bounce, because he was in a hurry and because he liked doing it. The house, for all the armour hidden behind the pasteboard walls, shook with the impact. He wrenched the door open, and was on the second floor. His aunt and uncle were standing at the door of their bedroom, tying their robes.
“What’s wrong, Chris?” Uncle Henry said, his voice low and authoritative.
“Morning Glory’s in trouble!” Chris said, thrusting his phone at his aunt and uncle.
Auntie Ma took the phone and quickly scanned it. “I see. Why didn’t you tell us about the medallion?”
“Because, I mean, Morning Glory’s a supervillain.”
“That you care about.”
“You’re not mad, are you, Auntie?”
His aunt rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, Chris. That stuff about the mistletoe? How much more direct do I have to be? Now what are we going to do about this, Henry?”
“See the blinking icon here? Why not let’s look at it?” His uncle reached over and stabbed the phonescreen with one muscular finger, then took the phone and turned it around to face Chris. It showed a Google Maps display of the Osoyoos-Oroville area. A location pinpoint blinked just above the border, next to the Osoyoos campus of Okanagan College and the dark, unmarked blotch that was Chinese Bar bog. “Looks like she’s turned on some kind of locator app,” his uncle said.
“She’s in Osoyoos. I knew that. What can I do?”
There was a knock on the door below. His uncle looked at Chris, and said, “Go answer that.”
Again, Chris was flying down stairs, this time to the kitchen on the first floor, to the back door. Chris wrenched it open, and the huge, flapping figure of Old Crow came hurtling into the room.
“Your pet bird owes us a date,” Rebecca Hirsch said, as she followed it into the room. Outside, a girl stood on the porch, ducking her head and looking embarrassed. Chris looked at her for a moment until he was sure he recognised her. It could be very hard to tell the three apart. “Savannah Three? You’re. . . “
“There’s nothing wrong with being a lesbian and I’m not ashamed of it, and don’t you dare tell my sisters…” Savannah3 said it all in one long rush.
Chris stopped, staring. “I thought you were the same person split into triples?”
Savannah just tossed her head. “You singles don’t know anything.”
Chris sensed someone behind him, and turned. Uncle Henry came out of the kitchen, wearing his ancient, 70s style uniform with the rearing horse logo and his broad kerchief-style mask. “I see that someone was a little ahead of us on the warning call,” he said.
“Stupid bird landed on the hood of the Fairlane and pecked the window until I gave up and teleported over here,” Rebecca answered. You’re coming, too, Mr. Wong?”
“I’m retired, not lazy. And it’s ‘Furious Fist,’ tonight. But don’t count on me for anything but healing. This whole getting old thing isn’t just about the looks.”
Chris knew what to do by now. He stood in close to Rebecca, and, in an instant, the cold, humid East Coast air of Philadelphia was stripped away by the familiar dryness of the Okanagan. They were standing on the frontage road that ran beside the highway, just before the turnoff into the college parking lot. So the big building over there must be the barn that Morning Glory was talking about, Chris decided.
With that, he was off, clearing a high chainlink security fence with an easy leap, and landing softly on the hard frozen ground of the tractor road that ran around the outside of the great orchard of dwarf fruit trees inside. Chris took off running, his every sense open to the night, but his eyes on weird, over-sized spider-like creatures mechanically stalking the night down towards the barn.
Suddenly one of the creatures went down, a writhing mass of roots pulling at one of its legs. It wasn’t a tactic that Chris gave good odds of success, even before the sudden, eye-blinking blast of flame from the thing. It stood up, silhouetted against the Okanagan stars, but by that time Chris was in the little opening in the close-packed trees that it had been approaching. A tractor road ran out of it directly towards the barn.
Now, where would I hide if I was a smart but overconfident, incredibly cute girl, Chris thought. And there it was: a half-circle of shiny metal where an aluminum ground pipe ran under a berm. Chris leaned down and put his hand in, and a soft hand met his.
He pulled, carefully. Morning Glory followed her hand out. “Ow,” she said, softly, but then relaxed against his chest. The green tea smell of her loose hair filled Chris’s nose as he did a quick cricket leap to get clear of Morning Glory’s pursuer.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy to escape the rest of them. A line of the big things had formed facing the road. Chris could hear the sounds of combat. Savannah and Rebecca were mixing it up, maybe his uncle, too. The Steelhead power suit troopers of the RCMP would be in it in a minute, too, Chris thought. The question was, he asked himself, as he touched ground again and pivoted, the muscles of thigh, calf and gluts all protesting as Chris absorbed his forward momentum and redirected himself with qi-quickened speed, whether they would be in time?
Then he flung himself back the way he came, the Blue Tranquility coming out of his sheath and into his hand in one fluid motion as he flew at the pursuing creature. Its flame blast was close enough to scorch hair –literally, from the smell of it. Open flame was a lot hotter in real life than you ever thought it could be when you were watching a movie, Chris thought, irrelevantly.
As he hurtled towards his enemy, Chris finally got a good look at it. It was a mecha, an oversized fighting robot with an operator in the cockpit. Chris pointed the sword directly at the operator, but only to spook him, since Chris was planning to try to cut the control cables directly below the cockpit. Better tactics, he thought, and no killing. As soon as his feet touched the swelling curve of the chest machine gun turrets, the Blue Tranquility cut through the armour steel to chew through the cables, and Chris was airborne again with a further leap.
Still in mid-air, Chris heard the mecha crash to the ground behind with a vast relief. He could focus on sticking the landing, instead. His soft, precious burden was stirring, and Chris could feel hot blood soaking his shirt. If he had a choice, Chris wouldn’t let this landing go bad for anything.
The landing was good. In spite of the hard, icy, frozen ruts, his feet found purchase, and his body folded around Morning Glory as he cushioned the fall, her body held between his chest above and his thighs below as Chris let the shock of the landing coil through his compressing body. She whimpered, but said nothing.
Chris looked down. There was a lot of blood. On the ground. “Glory?” He asked. But her eyes stared back at him, unfocussed. “I hear drums,” she said.
“That’s your heart, silly,” Chris said. “Being shot is bad for your health.”
She didn’t answer, and when he tried to put her on her feet, she collapsed into his arms again. For a moment, Chris felt helpless. Then, he realised that he wasn’t going to let this happen. Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu was about technique, whether fighting or healing arts, and Chris didn’t know what he didn’t know. But while he might not have learned the medical applications, he did know how to channel qi. How hard could it be to give Morning Glory a share of his vital energy, instead of directing it to his muscles or nerves? Surely he could find her life in the Perfection of Wisdom. Chris put his hands to the bloody wound on Morning Glory’s abdomen. “Saint Elizabeth and the Holy Sangha,” he pleaded, before chanting, “Gaté,gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté. Bodhi, Svaha.”
Then it felt like he was bleeding instead of Morning Glory, all the world rushing out of him and leaving him too dizzy to keep his head up. Helplessly, he laid it on Morning Glory’s chest. He hoped that he wouldn’t mind.
In the moment before he lost consciousness, he felt light fingers stroking his chin. And when he woke up, in the warm living room of the beach house, its surroundings still half familiar in spite of forty years passing, she was still beside him.
“Chris?” She whispered. “Are you okay? Your uncle says that was a very dangerous thing to do, and you should be very careful who you do it with.”
“Uhm, yes?” Chris asked, because that was a bit much to take in, and because with the first sound he made, he realised that he had the worst headache that he had ever had. One that somehow went beyond just pain to the feeling that someone was digging away at his brain with a knife.
“Here. Your uncle says you have to take these.”
Chris took the pills and glass of water gratefully, but when he put them in his mouth, he gagged, suddenly so nauseous that he couldn’t even swallow. Morning Glory took the glass from his hand and held it to his mouth while supporting his head with her other hand while the impulse to vomit slowly subsided, leaving Chris with the bitter taste of bile in the back of his mouth to go with his agonising headache. The pills, sluiced down by warm water, found his stomach.
At first, it made no difference, and he lay on the couch, his eyes tightly closed, listening to Morning Glory breathe. At last, she said, “Are you feeling better?”
Chris nodded. “Good, because my Mom is coming to pick me up in a minute, and we have to talk.”
Chris’s eyes shot open.
“No, not that kind of talk, silly. About the medallion.”
Chris nodded, but his attention was elsewhere. He put his hand up over Morning Glory’s mouth and drew her down to the floor. She didn’t resist. When it was too late, it would occur to Chris to wonder what she was thinking at the moment before she, too, saw the looming, monstrous, fanged shadow of the thing outside in the momentary light of a distant houseboat.