Monday, February 4, 2013

Chapter 2, 44: Two of Eight: Right Perception, Right Action

We live in a post-religious age, but I think that some subtle religious symbolism is still okay in fiction. That was subtle, right?

Chapter 2, 44: Two of Eight: Right Perception, Right Action

The dawn was breaking over Anarchist Summit, on the other side of the lake, when the girls crossed the Sinclair property line. They slid between strands of barbed wire while Chris held them apart. When Kumi was through, Chris straightened his sword under his long duster and then vaulted the fenceline, landing nimbly in the brown bunchgrass and thistle on the far side.

It was cold, this November morning, and they had learned two things the previous day. Chief Daniel was the man he would become, opening his house to them without any comment except to say that Ogopogo had told him they were coming. Which was something that Chris didn’t doubt for a second. He even had a feeling that he knew the lake serpent by another name. It made his head swim to think of the old Okanagan legend as a time dragon that carried the Crusaders of the Infinite Realities into battle with the forces of the V’hanian Empire, but, really, why not?

The other thing that they had learned was that the concrete barn was actually there, and that not everyone who knew anything about it had talked over the years. “Oh, the smuggling barn,” the Chief had said.

“The what?” Chris had asked.

“There’s a tunnel underneath. Leads to the lake. Boats load up where no-one sees them, then scoot down to the Point, other side of the White Man’s line. The Triads used to bring opium in. Then the bootleggers moved whiskey. Now it’s the Triads again, sending Celestials through.”

“Who?” Chris had asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Chinamen,” the Chief had explained. “Coming from Fukien and Canton to work for the Yankee dollar. There’s always work on Gold Mountain for someone with the right talents, even in this Depression, if you don’t mind sleeping twenty to a room and starving to pay your debts to the Brothers.” He paused, and looked meaningfully at Kumi and Charlotte. “And if you can’t,” he stopped, and then made a throat-cutting gesture. “Or,” he continued, “You cut them yourself. There’s talents, and then there’s talents.” And he took another meaningful look, this time at the pommel of the Blue Tranquility, sticking up at Chris’s hip.

So here they were, in the cool dawn, sneaking up on a barn. From this angle, they could see past the barn to the big Sinclair house to the north, and across the highway at an angle that let them see past the trees that marked the rise where the Chinese Bar slough ended, to the bar itself, hidden from the highway. A sleek, black, European sport tourer was parked up on the bar. It would be a nice place to watch the sun come up over the lake, if it weren’t so close to the slough, with its weird smells and creepy atmosphere.

Apparently, someone didn’t care.

Chris turned his attention back to the barn. The field was cleared. There was really no cover here for stealth. They just had to get to the barn while the few farmers that were up were concentrating on feeding rambunctious animals waking to hunger.  Fortunately, they had a teleporter, even if she could only move herself through the Yggdrasil Road.

Chris and Charlotte could take care of themselves. Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu taught the right way to move, fast and natural, almost invisible. It had not been an aspect of the art that Master Lee had been good at, but Uncle Henry was a master, and in the last two months Chris had run miles and miles through Philadelphia parks with his uncle, sister and cousin. It was almost as fun as riding Mike Suzuki’s motorcycle.

“Over here,” Kumi hissed, as they came up to the wall of the barn. She was plastered against the rough concrete blocks, wedged in between it and an evergreen shrub at one corner. Chris instinctively looked up, but he knew that the roof was almost completely flat, just slightly sloped in case someone had to shovel snow off it. He would just stand out up there. Thinking about it, Chris wondered why they hadn’t tried this at night.

“Chris, come with me!” Charlotte hissed. Chris looked at his sister. She tugged at his wrist with her hand. “Kumi can merge in with the bush and watch for trouble. We need to find a door, and I saw one just around the corner.”

Chris looked at his sister for a moment, then followed her. He hadn’t seen a door. At least, not a small door that they could open without letting the animals inside out. And, sure enough, the moment they got around the corner, she pulled him flat behind the fence that closed off the big paddock at the back. It was wide plank, peeling olive green paint, not barbed wire, and it would hide them, at least until someone came to let the cows inside out.

As soon as his head was down level with his sister’s, she hissed, “Why are you letting that bitch come with us?”
Chris shrugged. He thought he could explain himself, but he wasn’t sure where to begin, and his sister seemed to have something to say. He decided to let her say it rather than try to answer the question.

“She knew that Black Ninja dude was sneaking up on us, and she didn’t say a thing until Battlecomp warned us!”

“She’s conflicted,” Chris answered. He’d noticed, and didn’t care. Kumi knew as well as anyone that the Black Ninja’s ambush wasn’t going to succeed.

“No shit she’s conflicted! She works for Professor Paradigm! You know, the guy who wants to let the Apocalypse Plague loose through the dimensions to destroy the V’hanian Empire!”

Chris shrugged again. That’s who Kumi thought she worked for, sure. “Kumi is sorting things out. Her Mom backstabbed 
her Dad, I figure. Working for Paradigm is her way of sorting that out. Look, she’s going to do the right thing in the end, or our Aunt and Uncle wouldn’t trust her.”

“You’re just making up stories because you want to get into her pants!”

Chris grimaced. That, he had to admit to himself, was true.

“Boys. You just let some pretty face take advantage of you. But, anyway, you see that touring car? You know who is in it?”

Chris nodded. He knew. But his sister ignored him. “That’s Aunt Yili and Tom McNeely. What do you want to be that he’s going to pop the question this morning?”

Girls, Chris thought. Girls, and weddings, and marriages, and rings. Everyone was crazy about something.

“And just as they’re getting all snuggly, boom! In comes the Black Ninja to finish them both off. The Sinclairs get the land, they put a bit of dynamite in the Bar, and the Apocalypse Plague is released.”
Chris stared at his sister, long and coolly. It didn’t make a lick of sense, of course, but she was amazingly close to the truth to be so wrong.

“Well, I’m not going to let it happen! I’m going down there to protect Aunt Yili, and if you love me, you’ll come with me now!”

“What,” Chris said, “And ditch Kumi?”

“Which you should have done long ago!”

Chris thought about it for a long moment, looking down the corridor to what could very well be about to happen, and knew that, whatever the consequences, he just couldn’t stand by. “Okay.” He was betraying his best girl, and his earlier words echoed back to him. Why was right action so hard?

A moment later, they were lying in the wet grass just below the top of the bar from the land side, their heads cautiously poked up out of the sedge. And they could hear voices: one, the raspy McNeely baritone that had helped inspire Chris Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman. (Either that, or the last Black Mask’s post-tracheal reconstruction-voice, as Dr. Cambridge claimed.) The other was familiar, too. Chris glanced over at his sister for a second to check whether she was still there, and had not slid into the car.

“Oh, Tom, don’t worry about that. I can live with marrying into wealth. It’s not some penniless waitress, you know.”

“You could have fooled me, Yiyi.” Chris grimaced. Tom McNeely really was ready to marry a Wong. He was already using Chinese pet names.

“Well, I was kind of trying to. We were all trying to. You know Doctor Dawson?”

“Your landlord at the restaurant?”

“He’s not our landlord. He’s our business agent. He looks after our properties. And my cousin.”

“Doctor Dawson is your cousin? Of course, it makes so much sense! You’re both part-Okanagan Indian. Wait. The Hudson’s Bay Company land grant. It was to your, your…”

“To my grandfather, Jason Wong, and his partner, Henry Dawson. But it was like a lot of old land grants. It just confirmed a band grant to our grandmothers.”

“So you own twenty-five square miles of the south Okanagan? That’s a lot of land.”

“Not twenty-five square miles, no. We’ve been selling and leasing as far back as the Gold Rush. This bar that we’re standing on belongs to the Wongs, if you dig deep enough in the land registry to find out, but was made over in a 99 year lease to the Sinclairs in 1913.”

“We can have our 77th anniversary on this shore, sweetheart. Or, more likely, our grandchildren can. Unless your brothers. . .”

“David is a monk in China. He’s signed over his rights, not that I want them. Kwan, on the other hand, .  .  . Kwan is a problem. He’d sell this land to a ragman for a dollar, just to spite me, if he ever had a chance.”

“You can’t let this happen. This is where we kissed!”

“You’re such a romantic, Tom! Fortunately, Kwan’s not a big problem, but he is an immediate one.”

“You mean that’s him out there in the boat, Yiyi? He’s been stalking you? I thought it was just your cousin flitting in and out of sight.”

“No. It’s Kwan, too. And he’s got something bigger to mind here in the Valley then spying on me. Probably smuggling Red spies into the country or such. And it’s time someone had a talk with  him.”

Chris looked out at the lake. Through the dawn fog, he could just make out a low-slung motor boat. His blood went cold. 

His view down the tunnel into the future was coming true. “What?” Charlotte said, beside him, and he gently put his hand across her face to hush her.

A big body stirred within the cab of the tourer. “The cad! I’ll give him a piece of my mind!”

“Certainly. But not today, honey. Kwan doesn’t go anywhere without a bodyguard these days. He’s a Big Brother in the White Lotus Triad.”

“Quite the achiever for someone so young,” Tom McNeely said. “I’m not worried about some White Lotus torpedoes. 
There’s things about me that you don’t know.”

“Maybe,” Yili said. “How about Chinese magic? Have you seen enough of the world to be afraid of that?”

“Yes,” Tom McNeely answered. “But for every spell, there’s a counterspell.”

“And on our land, that’s true. We’re protected. Out on the lake, we won’t be. It will be Kwan who is prepared.  Honey, you always say that preparation is ninety percent of victory. Well, Kwan is prepared. Please, if you love me, let me handle this.  I’ll call him into the shore, away from his bodyguards, and you can watch and protect me while Kwan’s only sister tells him to get the Hell out of this valley. I’ll even get him to sign over his rights to our land before he leaves. Now where’s a piece of paper?”

There was a long pause, but, of course, it was a girl’s feet that stepped out of the tourer, her boots breaking a half-wet twig as they touched the rough roadway of the berm at the top of the end of the Bar, built by long-ago gold panners.
“Would a court really respect a deed written on the back of a napkin?” Chris muttered, his stomach cold and painfully empty.

Shut up, Chris.” Chris looked at his sister. She’d finally figured it out. “Dad is going to kill Aunt Elizabeth. He’s going to give her a Dim Mak touch that will cripple her when the Klansmen ambush her.”
Chris nodded. He wondered how long his father had been waiting for an excuse to get close to his sister. He’d probably arranged the lynching, too.

“We have to stop her!” The look in Charlotte’s face said that she was doing everything she could not to wail.

“No, sis, we don’t. What is done is done.”


“Think about it, Char-Char. If Aunt Elizabeth lives, and knows that Kwan tried to kill her, do you think that Dad would ever be allowed to get close to Mom? It’ll be like what Rose is trying to do. Our future will be gone, and we’ll never have existed, and the past will be edited to create this outcome. Shorter: you’ll be gone, and I. Will. Never. Let. That. Happen.”
“Too bad. My life, my choice. I’m going.”

“Over my dead body.” And as though he was watching a movie of himself, Chris rolled over on his sister and carried her down to the bottom of the berm, where there was sword room, and drew the Blue Tranquility.

Charlotte looked at him for a long moment, and then drew the Pearl Harmony, sending out with a smoking lick of pearly light, bright in the dawn gloom down here below the lip of the sun. Chris parried the tentative cut easily. Another came in.
There was a flaw in his plan, Chris thought. That whole “dead body” thing was literally true. He wasn’t going to cut his sister, and that meant that there was only one way this fight could end. He didn’t think that his sister would put her sword through him, but he didn’t know how far she would go before she saw reason.

“Let me go!” Charlotte shouted, striking at him furiously, the Pearl Harmony’s blows landing harder and harder, faster and faster, making a oricalchum cage around Chris that never quite closed. “Let me go!”

Chris adjusted his position, jumping into one of the trees, landing perched like a crow, waiting for the Sun. Old Crow was standing at the top, watching, seemingly unperturbed, but, he reflected, he hadn’t seen Ginger for  hours.

Charlotte landed beside him, and Chris did a backwards somersault through the high branches, landing on another. His sister, running just as lightly through the lattice of bare November branches, cut at him from the side, and Chris parried easily, noticing the counterstrike that would have put the Blue Tranquility right through his sister’s side.

Would she have survived that cut, he wondered idly, if he had angled it low, to miss the heart? He might, he thought, have missed his chance, if she got mad enough. Instead, he jumped down, towards the floor of the woods, just a thin screen of brush and a fence away from Highway 99. Maybe his sister would get . . . embarrassed or something if someone drove by.
She landed next to him, sending a whistling, sloppy cut at his head, as though she were inviting a counterstroke. Instead, Chris parried, dropping low to swing his feet into a trip that his sister easily cleared with a two-step, neat as dancing.
“Have you considered your motives, Char-Char?” He asked.

“Don’t call me that, you bastard! Let me go!” Again, the Pearl Harmony swept in from above, this time so sloppily that it just invited a clinch. Chris took the blade across the pommel of the Blue Tranquility, and white light flared against blue, bright as the dawn.

Two crows flew overhead, cawing. Chris didn’t have to look at them to know who they were. “Give up, Charlotte. I am the stronger one here.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, brother.” Charlotte let go of the Pearl Harmony with her left hand and formed the Dim Mak grip for the Touch of Pain.
“No, Char-Char. Use that and….”

“Blah blah, turn to the Dark Side, Charlotte. Well, I’ll deal with that after I’ve saved Aunt Elizabeth. I can’t believe that I’ll be damned for doing the right thing.”

Except that his sister wasn’t going to do the right thing.  All Chris’s fears had come true.

Kumi! He yelled, but only inside his mind.




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