Chapter 2, 48: Build a Better
Kumi was a good dancer. Chris wasn’t surprised. Girls danced for practice. Chris danced because Master Lee made him. At first, anyway. Dancing was a big deal for the Eight Spirit Temple. They moved, together, Kumi following Chris, keeping a constant, careful distance on the left from Eve and Jameel. Kumi glanced left, and left again, and Chris could see the gears turning in her mind. Or he hoped that he could, as cold sweat dripped slowly down his ribcage underneath leather jacket and T-shirt. They were trying to con a con-man here, one who might be a hundred thousand years old. As dumb as adults often were about stuff, Chris had to respect that much experience.
The band stopped, switching up the music to a slow number, and Chris came in to Kumi for something closer to old people dancing. He took the lead, but stared into Kumi’s eyes, waiting for some sign that she had an idea for the next step. A moment, and Chris felt himself falling into a tango time. It worked with the music, and he wanted to dip Kumi, anyway. As he led her back, she got into the spirit, throwing her head back like someone doing the tango on TV.
And stopped for a long second. Chris looked where she was looking. Don. Because? Well, let’s put this together like Kumi has. Might have? Chris thought, as they came out of the dip and he began to move Kumi back, step by step. People were watching them now, he noticed. So what. He thought. Dancing wasn’t gay when you had a girlfriend.
Damn. Of course. That’s what Kumi was seeing. Say that Jameel was gay. Who was he gay for? Don, that was who. Don was a Jesus Freak, and Jameel was an organic android battleship avatar from the 31st century. Honestly, his sister would eat that up faster than Twilight if someone good was writing it. All love triangles going out to infinity, and Eve had stepped into the middle of it and said, “Oh, yeah, hey, guys? Just let me stand in the middle here for a while.” Talk about tire marks on your back potential, Chris thought.
Chris put his head across Kumi’s shoulder and whispered, “Hey. Eve wants to be Jacob.”
Kumi’s sweet skin slid across his cheek as she leaned in to whisper into his ears: “Can do. Should do?”
“Yeah,” Chris answered.
Without waiting for an answer to her question, Kumi caught Chris’s hand and led him off the dance floor to stand right next to Don. “Hey, Don, this is Kumi Konoye,” Chris said. “She’s transferring into the programme. From the drama stream, you know?”
Don didn’t seem to register that. He was even more intense and focussed than usual, and Chris could see that his eyes were following Jameel and Eve. Well, of course: a lot of guys were, because Eve’s skirt was really short, and somehow the straps of her top kept falling off her shoulder. But then there was Jameel, his body almost triangular under a tight shirt that reminded him of the apricot trees behind the Golden Dynasty. Yeah, Don, I can tell what’s drawing your eyes, dude.
Oh, well, It wasn’t up to Chris to explain to Don that whatever Republican Jesus said, he went for boys. It was up to Chris to spring a trap on someone so dangerous that he couldn’t even explain himself to Kumi in case some nano-probe or cyborg ear or whatnot was listening.
“Jameel and Eve are amazing dancers, aren’t they?” Kumi asked.
“So are you and Chris, Ms. Konoye,” Don answered.
Ms. Konoye? Seriously, dude, Chris thought. Wait ‘till you’re old to be old.
But Kumi just answered, “We look good because Chris is a junior wuxia master. I’m just along for the ride. But Eve is some kind of super huntress shaman, and Jameel is a cyborg, right? King and queen of the prom right there.”
“Whatever,” Don answered. “I don’t care. Say. Do you go to church, Kumi?”
Kumi shrugged, “Not really my thing.”
“But you’ve invited Jesus into your life, right?”
Once again, Chris could hear his Dad explaining in his mind. Sometimes, people wanted to be rejected, wanted you to go away, but couldn’t say so. That’s when they started talking about the stuff that always made people go away. Sorry, Don, Chris thought, we can’t leave you to wallow. We’ve got a world to save. Maybe two.
“I guess you could say,” Kumi answered. “I mean, I was raised Buddhist, but Father Asplin at Saint Elizabeth’s was always there for me growing up, so I guess you could say I’m a Buddho-Catholic. Catholics believe in Jesus, right?”
Don frowned, but didn’t say anything, but then pulled out his phone, the frown relaxing as he did so. “Maybe. See this? It’s a picture from HolyMartyrs.com.”
“Ooh,” Kumi answered. “I guess he’s been martyred? Or is it a she?”
“Father Oskar Wrede. I mention him because he’s a modern Catholic who used to translate Buddhist sutras before going to New Guinea to be a missionary. So these tribesmen were sacrificing him to their tribal deity when the German colonial police showed up. Apparently the Death of the Ten Fluids involves removing your bile and thigh bone marrow out while you’re still alive. Among other things. It’s like that Buddha who sacrifices himself to the animals, kind of like the Buddha feeding himself to the tiger.”
Don didn’t sound horrified by that. Don sounded weird, like he always did when he was talking about martyrs being tortured. Oh, well, at least it wasn’t Romans getting their guts ripped out by lions for a change. Or Christians being ripped apart by Roman lions? Something like that.
“Yeah,” Kumi explained. “The Guatama was feeding a past incarnation of Kaundinya. It's more of a metaphor than anything.” Don frowned again. He didn't like it when Bibley-stuff got turned into 'metaphors.' “But martyrs are martyrs,” Kumi continued, brightening up. “Do you want to be a martyr, Don?”
Don looked at Kumi for a long second, so intensely that Chris held his breath, before he said, “More than anything.”
“Why don’t you, then?”
“Because there are no hungry tigresses around?” Don answered.
“You’re getting hung up on the whole gore thing, Don. What’s the most awful thing that you could do right now? Right here, right now, in the middle of high school?”
“Jump off a bridge because the cool kids are doing it instead of out of faith in Jesus,” Don answered quickly.
“Yeah, okay, but say a cool kid that you liked wanted to be queen of the Valentine’s mixer instead of that skank, Eve. And you could help her by, you , know, martyring yourself.”
Don looked at Kumi. And then he looked at Chris. And then he looked at Kumi, and, for the first time since Chris had know him, he laughed. “I do like you, Kumi. And Chris is okay, too.” And then he walked onto the dance floor.
Out in the middle of the floor, space had opened up around Eve and Jameel. They were doing the Lindy.
“Could you do that?” Kumi asked.
Chris shrugged. “Of course. Tango’s more fun, but I’m ready to show off if you are.”
“Yeah. No thanks. That’s a bit more than me and my girlfriends ever got up to. I’ve watched Avant Garde do it a few times, but he only dances with himself.”
Chris shrugged. “Well, if this is a competition, guess we shouldn’t have tangoed so early, Kind of let the cat out of the bag.”
“Yeah, Kumi said, “On the other hand, it’s swing dancing. That’s so Y2K our phones should crash. Oh. I get it.” And her eyes flared green as she talked to Yggdrasil. Chris watched, amazed at how pretty she was when she was distracted. And no wonder, because Don was stepping up to the couple on the floor.
As he noticed Don coming up beside him, Jameel’s arm dropped off Eve’s waist and reached over to take Don’s arm and pull him closer, almost tenderly. They talked for a moment, while Eve stood, suddenly motionless, awkward in the music. It looked like Don and Jameel were arguing. And that Don was winning.
Then Jameel turned to Eve and leaned close to talk to Eve. Chris tried not to stare as Eve’s face collapsed. For a moment, it looked like she was going to cry. Then she stalked off the floor as Jameel took Don by the shoulders and drew him close. The band switched into a cover of “No Woman, No Cry” that was somehow in an insanely fast waltz time, and Don and Jameel began stepping along in time.
Chris barely paid attention to that, because his attention was as much on Eve as he could afford. This was when girls went to the bathroom with their BFFs and cried or ate chocolate or whatever it was that girls did, and they couldn’t let her get away.
Fortunately, Kumi had figured that out, and took Chris by the hand, leading him into the crowd towards the disturbance where people were drawing aside and looking at Eve. God, Chris thought. This must be the worst night of her life, and even the fact that Eve had tried to break up Tyrell and Babs, and probably didn’t give a damn about Jameel didn’t help very much. He tried to push the feelings down. This was too important.
Speak of the devil, as Kumi and Chris came up on a solid wall of teens, including Babs and Tyrell. “Wow. Eve dumped for a boy,” Babs said, marvelling.
“What comes round, goes round,” Kumi answered. “Uhm, guys, can we get through? Eve’s getting away and we need to go rub it in.”
“What?” Babs answered. “Oh.” She held her watch to her mouth for a second. “Yeah. Got ALB on it.”
“Bruce?” Chris asked. “Uhm, Annoying Little Brother?”
“You guys are good dancers,” Tyrell said. Or, rather, yelled over the sound of the music, which was going crazy trying to follow Don and Jameel.
“Yeah. We’re going to dance again, too,” Chris answered. “In a minute,” and he slid his shoulder between a French robot and a Tokyo Super School boy and a Tiger Squad girl trying out for the lead roles in “Romeo and Juliet: The Makeout Years.”
“You feel as much a creep as I do?” Chris asked.
“Nah. I don’t have daddy issues about being trained to be a sociopath, and Eve pisses me off,” Kumi answered.
“Dad’s not a sociopath. He’s realist, and that’s what he taught me to be.”
“Yeah, no. You wouldn’t feel guilty about it if you thought that. Walk the path of the Dharma, Chris. Wow. I can’t believe I said that. Don must be rubbing off.”
And just like that, they were through the crowd and in a little circle around Eve, who was sprawled on the floor, something black and shiny wrapped around her feet. Bruce McNeely was down on both knees fiddling with the black line, and only Chris’s wuxia-trained ears could pick up the conversation over the band and the crowd.
“Oh, wow, I’m so sorry, Eve. I was just fiddling with my Goblin Snare and it got loose, somehow. I’m so sorry.”
“Get me loose right now you little shit! Everybody’s looking at me!” But if no-one else could hear the words, everyone could hear the anger. That’s probably why they were hanging back, most expecting something terrible to happen to Bruce in the next few seconds.
Well, can’t have that, Chris thought. He’s just doing what we asked him to do. Propelling Kumi by the waist, although she needed no push, Chris came out of the crowd to stand next to Eve, and then kneeled down.
While Kumi bent down to talk to Eve, Chris squatted next to Bruce. “Can’t get it loose, Bruce?”
“Yeah. I’ve done some improvements. See it’s a no-stick surface? I figured out how to knot the stuff, but now I can’t untie it!”
“Hunh,” Chris said. “Well, good thing I brought a very big knife.” Chris straightened his leg behind him and lifted his body a bit with his right leg, flexing to extend the knee a bit, sliding the the Blue Tranquility straight behind him, so that he could pull it out and cut the cord. Bruce shifted similarly, both hands going to the utility belt hidden where his white dress shirt met his slightly over-sized Hugo Boss pants. Must be nice to be rich, Chris thought, with what attention wasn’t focussed on Kumi as she said, sounding completely casual, “Who knew anyone would think that Don was prettier than you are, Eve?”
A howling, enraged scream broke over the dance, over the music, over the sound of a hundred teens and a few adults trying to talk at once. At first, people looked at Eve, amazed that she could make so much noise.
Not Chris, though. He was watching Eve transform, suddenly standing, spear in one hand, shield in the other, wearing her fur bikini instead of skirt and haltertop, spear plunging down at Kumi. Only to meet the Blue Tranquility. The bluelit lightening of the blade arced through the shadow, matching Chris’s rise out of his Crane readiness position.
Forced back by the sudden parry, Even shifted her grip for an underhand thrust. Uh oh. Spear beats sword in these kinds of fights, Chris knew, unless you were really fast on your feet. He wasn’t worried for himself, but this wasn’t Kumi’s strong point.
Of course, he didn’t need to worry, as the far doors into the garden sprang open, letting the starlight of a Lythrum night in to reach farther into the shadows than ought to have been possible, like all Lythrum light. A surge like a water serpent snaking through the water brought green vines from four directions, one each to take the raging shamaness by arms and hands. The sword and the spear clattered to the ground.
“Red heads sure have tempers,” Kumi said. “Let the record show that we were not the first to resort to violence. Too bad you couldn’t finish it.”
Eve looked mad enough to spit. “You want it finished, you little bitch? Yeah, we can finish it right now.” And one hand wiggled free of the vines to reach into her medicine pouch, pulling out a little round thing.
“A Pokemon ball?” Bruce whispered. “Didn’t Order of the Stick do that joke?”
“What’s Pokemon?” Chris asked.
The ball fell to the floor of the dance with a clatter. And, just like that, a very, very pissed-off sabretooth tiger stood in the middle of the room.
“Oh,” said Chris. “That’s what Pokemon is.”
“High concept,” Bruce explained.
“You didn’t know what Pokemon was?” Kumi asked, coming up beside them.
“I’m old-timey,” Chris explained. “All I know is cartoons.”
“And Happy Days,” his girlfriend pointed out, one hand lightly on his leather-jacket clad arm.
“And Happy Days. But the point is, I know that the cat never wins.”
“And cartoons are so realistic. Because we have a cat, and it leaves mouse bits on the doorstep every night. Watch where you’re going in the morning, or you’re going to step in a mouse liver, laid out like a friggin’ anatomy slide,” Bruce answered.
“Uhn-hunh. Now stop thinking of yourself as a mouse, and start thinking of yourself as a baby kangaroo,” Chris answered.
The sabretooth reared, roaring, and, somehow, they all heard Eve saying in their heads, “You guys are so dead, and I’m just going to watch.”