Chapter 2, 47: Double Mean Girl
Chris and Kumi walked into the gym. It looked completely different when the violet light of Lythrum’s evening percolated through the high windows and down through the decorations onto the floor. There were disco balls hanging from the ceiling, but they glinted like sunset and lit people’s faces with a glow, instead of glittering on the floor. The coloured chains receded mysteriously in the murk, and the band members, flaunting their tattoos in shirtless vests, were backlit on the little stage set in one wall of the gym.
“Hey, Chris. Who’s your date?” Chris looked over at a strange, skinny, vaguely Eurasian-looking guy that Chris didn’t recognise, but who apparently knew Chris. He had weird gold eyes with vertical stripes.
Chris did know David Wong, who was standing nearby, with someone vaguely familiar between them. It was the way that Chris imagined that Secret Service agents would stand beside some guy that they didn’t want to look like they were arresting. Chris looked at the guy again. He had met a lot of people in the last three months, but he wasn’t going to forget a tall man with dark purple skin and wild hair. What was the name again? Grenshol something. The sketchy sorcerer dude who hung with the Crusaders of Infinite Realities and fiddled with Elder Worm magic.
“That’s Kumi Konoye, Py,” David said. “She works at the Golden Dynasty. Congrats! had no idea you guys were an item!” David leaned over and punched Chris in the shoulder in that slightly awkward way he had.
“Thank you, Mr. Wong,” Kumi said, dimpling.
“Mr. Wong is my Dad,” David said, then, after a long pause, “I’m Doctor Wong.”
Chris just looked at his cousin.
“You know, because of that stupid joke about how people shouldn’t call you ‘Mister,’ because it’s their Dad’s name?”
“Uhm, David?” Py, the tall young man with the reptile eyes said.
“Sorry. I get distracted,” David explained. “Doctor Argelan, here, has an apology for you.”
Chris looked at him, not at all surprised that it wasn’t a coincidence that someone started using Elder Worm magic on him right after he met Grenshol Argelan. This was the big bad?
“Hello, Christopher. I am afraid that I might have inadvertently assisted your enemy.” Argelan was making a lot more sense this time than the last time they’d talked. See? Chris thought. If you try, you can make sense. Now if only everyone would learn that lesson. But Chris didn’t say anything, just waited for Argelan to explain some more. If you let people keep talking, eventually they said more than they intended, Chris heard his Dad say in his head. And it’s way easier then actually talking with them. Shut up, Dad, Chris thought to himself.
“I have . . . contacts. . . in the antiquarian community,” Argelan continued. “Five weeks ago, one of them, an individual from your Earth, contacted me with a most intriguing offer. Quite an interesting case. Completely lacking magical talent but a most extraordinary knowledge of the location of Elder Worm archaeological sites. I was offered me a site in return for one of the classic Elder Worm techno-sorceries, a particularly powerful mind control magic.”
Argelan shrugged. “So we made a deal. I emailed him a script, and he gave me GPS coordinates. The technology of your dimension is so charming, in a bespoke sort of way.”
“And you gave it to him?” Kumi blurted. “You’re supposed to be a good guy!”
“It is a means to an end, young lady. Elder Worm magic is one of the few things Istvatha V’han is afraid of, and the Empress of A Billion Dimensions is a blight on all spacetime. What she fears, we must master, even if it is a dark and tainted sorcery, which I admit, the principles behind it offer us clues to the final defeat of the Empress. Besides, the spell that I sold my anonymous contact is useless.”
David and Py exchanged looks, Chris noticed. “Why?” He asked.
“You see, Elder Worm sorcery is technomagic. That is, as you may be aware, the ambient level of magic on a given spacetime node varies with its manifold membrane permissivity. Their magic uses technological means to modulate membrane tension parameters“
“Dr. Argelan?” David said.
“Ah, yes. Time is fleeting. The up[shot is that the spell is too powerful to cast on your Earth today safely.”
“But he cast it,” Chris pointed out.
“How was I supposed to know that he had a time machine? Do you have any idea how closely that technology is controlled, and not just by the Empire?”
“I’m lost,” Chris said. “How does a time machine affect things?”
“Is it because the Earth’s, uhm, permeability thingamajig was higher or lower or whatever back in the old days?” Kumi asked.
“You’re a very bright young lady,” Dr. Argelan said. “Indeed. In 1938, the Germans. . . .”
“That’s one theory,” David Wong said. “The point is that Argelan’s contact took the spell and some components, maybe something as compact as a Bluetooth phone and a thumb drive, downloaded it and effectively executed it back when it was safe to do so, and then left it in a bank vault until now.”
Chris thought about that for a second. “Well, it’s good to have details and confirmation, but I knew all this. What about this afternoon, when it was cast here in Lythrum?”
“Ah, that is completely different. . .” Argelan began.
“What Argelan means is that when you cast that spell in a high Assiatic dimension, it’s even more dangerous. Not to the caster, unfortunately, but to everyone else. The Junior class and Black Rose has been trying to deal with that all this afternoon. Fortunately, Py and I arrived in time with Doctor Argelan. Who is going to be a little more circumspect about who he shares his hobbies with from now on. Right?”
“So we missed a fight with rampaging wild magic?” Chris asked.
“You did. I just wish that we were able to arrest your hidden enemy,” David answered.
“Well, we won’t miss our next chance,” Chris said. I have a plan, he almost added, but it wasn’t completely true. He still couldn’t quite figure out where to start. Fortunately, there was a party, and had the prettiest girl in the room to show off to his friends.
Babs, Tyrell and Billy were standing with Max Zerstroiten, just inside the gym to the left, surrounding the punch bowl. Chris guided Kumi up them, his arm hugged tightly around her waist. “Hey, guys, this is Kumi.”
“Like, Dr. Konoye’s daughter? I thought you were a supervillain,” Tyrell said.
“A hot supervillain,” Billy clarified. “Well, the hottie part’s true.”
“Thanks,” Kumi answered. “Yeah, she’s my Mom, and I hung out with the Paradigm Pirates. It was a phase.”
Babs looked at Kumi carefully. Like she was sizing her up, Chris figured. “So does that mean that you’re going to be transferring into the Programme?”
“Learn to be a superhero with the veterans of the Liberty Legion? It sounds awesome.” Chris glanced over at his –he could think it now, ‘girlfriend(!)’--.He thought he’d heard a trace of sarcasm in her voice, but her face didn’t crack. Maybe Kumi did think the programme was awesome, and that made Chris happy inside, because although he would never admit it, he thought it was awesome.
Max nodded, “Hi, Kumi. I love your dress. And do I smell green tea? It’s a nice scent.” Then, addressing Chris, he asked, “So, what’s the deal with your cousin and that new guy, Py?”
Chris shrugged. He had an idea, but he’d leave it to David and Py to explain. “I don’t know. Dave has been up to the old adventures in space and time stuff, so who knows what’s gone down.”
Max smirked at that for some reason, and Kumi gently tugged on Chris’s arm. “We still have to meet the rest of my new classmates, Chris. Even the mean girls. Is the redhead allowed to wear a skirt that short?”
Babs rolled her eyes. “Dr. Cambridge is proctoring. She tried to get Eve to change. . . .”
“Oh. I know Dr. Cambridge,” Kumi answered. “She gave Professor Paradigm his blood pressure test last month.”
“Teachers get blood pressure tests now? From counsellors?”
Kumi threw herself at Chris’s arm, wrapping her hands around his biceps and leaning in close while she mimed putting one of those strap things on. “Professor Paradigm does. I bet some of the other profs would, too. You know. The ones that take the extra-large cuffs.”
Babs didn’t say anything, just rolled her eyes. “Anyway, watch out for Eve, is all I’m saying. But I see you figured that out, anyway. Savannah isn’t a bad girls, though.”
“The duplicate?” Kumi asked.
“It’s more complicated than that. I hear. ‘S why I put the ‘s’ in front of girls.”
“Hunh,” Kumi answered.
“Never mind,” Chris interjected. There was some kind of cricket thing going on at the other end of the hall, and the serious jocks were drifting off towards it. As the cluster of boys opened up, it looked to Chris like they could actually get to Eve, Savannah, two other girls that Chris didn’t recognise, and the Ravenswood telepath. “I think I can explain. Now if we’ve got to go talk to Eve, we might as well go talk to Eve.”
“I don’t want you looking Eve, Chris,” Kumi said. She had that tone in her voice of someone who was trying to sound like she was being funny, but not quite making it.
“Don’t worry,” Chris answered. “You could see better at any given trailer park beer garden, and those girls were a lot nicer than Eve.”
They began to thread their way through the crowd, Kumi leaning her head up to Chris’s shoulder so that she could ask, “Is Max gay? No other guy except your uncle ever mentioned my perfume, and he’s old.”
“Uhm, I think so,” Chris answered. “Mostly it’s not a secret around here.”
For some reason, Chris was suddenly bursting with the one secret he did have. “Well, the middle Savannah there?”
“The duplicator. I’ve fought her, you know.”
“She’s gay. But she doesn’t want her sisters to know.”
“Oh.” Chris looked over at Kumi, followed her eyes as they swept the crowd, and watched as they came to rest on Rebecca Hirsch, picking up the attention that Rebecca was giving to Savannah3. Chris felt happy and proud all at the same time. God, his girlfriend was smart. “A duplicate with secrets? You know there’s one in the Paradigm Pirates, right? Avant Garde? He’s weird. I’m just, you know, imagining him having secrets from himself on top of all the hipster crap.”
“I thought Avant Garde made fun of hipsters?”
“Nah. He’s the kind of hipster who makes fun of hipsters.” Kumi explained.
“I’m confused.,” Chris answered.
“Not as confused as I am about duplicates with secrets.”
“Not duplicates,” Chris began. “Duplicate.” And that’s when he finally realised. “Oh. Oh.”
“I said that.” Kumi pointed out.
“But I’m having one of those moments, too. I should be allowed.”
“Oh,” Kumi answered. “I guess we really need to talk to Savannah.”
And then they were through the crowd. “Hi, Eve, Savannah, Savannah, Savannah. Hey, girls. This is Kumi. She’s going to be joining the Tatammy programme next week.”
Eve raised her eyebrows. The other girls drew in a breath. “But this week you’re still in the drama club. Hence the cosplay?”
“I’m sorry?” Kumi answered.
“Why you’re dressed up like Sailor Moon.”
“Oh, no, that’s not the cosplay at all,” Kumi answered. “I came as the Lady. Now. Where’s my tramp? Oh. Right here.”
“So you came as a dog? Is that what they call typecasting?” Eve replied quickly.
“I had too,” Kumi explained. “Someone else was already Sailor Mooning the crowd.” She jerked her hand down at Eve’s impossible short skirt.
Eve opened her mouth, but, for a moment, no sound came out. And then a broad, black hand came down on her shoulder. Jamal stood there. “The dancing is about to start, Eve?” He made it sound like a question, but even Chris could tell that it wasn’t really. Jamal already knew what Eve was going to say. Once again, Chris was amazed. How could anyone be so smooth and confident around women?
Then Jamal looked over at Kumi. “And you must be Kumi Konoye. I’d love to stay and chat, but my dance card is full. Keep fabulous, girl.” Chris looked over at Kumi quickly enough to catch a flash of knowing look, and then back to Eve in time to catch the last of a flare of hatred directed at Kumi, and a furtive glance back over her shoulder to see check if her skirt really was riding up, followed by an even more blatantly attempt-to-be-not-obvious flick of her hand back over her seat as she turned around to be guided onto the dance floor by Jamal’s gentle touch. Chris gave Kumi an extra squeeze.
The other girls seemed newly wary as Kumi made her introductions, names that passed Chris in a blur. “So, Savannahs,” Kumi said. “It must be cool to be a duplicator. You always have a date. Go to the movies, go to dinner, go to the dance, there’s always someone to go with you.”
Savannah1 smiled. “Yeah, well, it’s not all ice cream. Someday I’d like to take a hottie, instead. Know any duplicators? Preferably one with three main forms and 9 bodies?”
Kumi shook her head. “I know one guy. He’s a six-form, and all his forms have the same personality. Would that work for you? He’s a shapeshifter, too, so if you like different types?”
Savannah3 laughed. “Yeah, when we take those quizzes together we definitely like different types. But how far does that go? Does this guy you’re talking about have, you know, different favourite bands?”
Kumi shook her head. “Nah. As long as it’s before they’re famous, he likes pretty much every band.”
“Well, I definitely have my preferences,” Savannah3 said. Chris could hardly stop himself from tapping his feet in impatience. Yeah, yeah, Three, you’re just going to keep on dropping hints ‘till your sisters work it out for themselves. That’s fine for you. You’re not the one with the important secret here.
Just then, someone bumped into Chris’s back. He looked over. It was his sister, with Rose close behind. What were they? Chris began to think, before the obvious answer came to mind, so that when his sister began to talk, he was ready to interrupt.
“I heard the dance music start again,” Charlotte said. “Is Eve dancing with—“
“That smooth, big, black guy?” Chris asked? “For a moment she looked like she was going to dance with someone else, but of course she is.”
“That Tyrell,” Kumi began, letting herself trail off. Of course Kumi could figure out that Chris was doing a misdirect on Tatammy’s only other tall, smooth, Black guy. God bless tokenism, Chris thought.
“Not Tyrell,” Chris began, because he could afford to, because Savannah2 had already turned violently around in the middle of her sisters to look at the dance floor, before turning around, her face cherry red.
Savannah1 looked at her duplicated. “You have a crush on Tyrell, Two? Why didn’t you tell us?”
Angrily, Savannah2 flung out, “Because you were all shipping him and Babs! I hate you!” Savannah3 put her hand on Savannah2’s arm, but her duplicate shook it off. Not at all restrained, Savannah3 said, “But why were you standing by while Eve kept making plays at him?”
“Because Eve is, Eve is….” Savannah2 floundered, before finishing. “Is. And I asked her to do me this one favour, and. . . “
Step one, check, Chris thought. He looked at Savannah2 as she began to cry, and asked himself why he felt like such a jerk.