Chapter 3, 3: Pirates Don’t Need Rescuing!
Bruce was moving alongside Charlotte, gliding along to match her speed on his retractile rocket skates. “Looks like Professor Paradigm and the Yarr-Birds.”
“You figure?” Charlotte asked. Because that was what she thought, and she felt pleased to be keeping up with The World’s Fiftieth Best Detective, or wherever Bruce ranked currently. There were a lot of masked detectives out there these days.
“Look Out!” Charlotte felt herself being pushed to the ground. She reacted, sliding down into Mantis stance, Pearl Harmony out, but not cutting. A violet ray sliced across the air just above her. Charlotte was glad to see that Bruce had rolled out of the path of the blast, which was emanating from a medium-sized guy in a blue jumpsuit with gold trim, who was throwing eyebeams around with pretty impressive accuracy.
“At least he’s playing fair,” Charlotte muttered.
“What?” Bruce asked.
“Look! He’s shooting at the Paradigm Pirates, too.” It was true. The blurred figures that had piled out of the burning mini-van were legging it towards the cover of a line of trees along the edge of the county road, except for one flying guy, who was just starting to do the villain-gives-a-lecture pose in mid-air above the road when the violet ray caught him square in the chest. It was a powerful blast, Charlotte figured, and that poor oak tree in the middle of the field over there probably agreed.
“I’ll get him!” Dora shouted, swooping overhead in a glittery trail of spun gold.
“No—“ Rose yelled, but too late, as the violet ray hit Dora smack in her golden energy shield.
Dora slammed into the pavement.
“That’s Oculon,” Rose finished. “He can knock Doctor Destroyer down at full power!” As she finished speaking, Rose blurred up again, and Dora seemed to stir and move herself out on the asphalt. Until, that is, a black streak extruded itself from the treeline on the other side of the road, and, well, Charlotte would have said something about it creeping or oozing, except that that was foreshortening with distance, and it was moving bloody fast, intercepting Rose’s black-and-white streak and sending her and Dora flying through the air.
“Oof,” Bruce said, behind Charlotte, as he caught Dora. Charlotte hardly noticed that, because she was busy trying to put a legsweep on a superspeedster. This works with Rose, Charlotte thought. And, amazingly, it worked with this guy, too. The black streak rammed her leg with enough power that she would have confused it with her principal or her uncle, and the streak abruptly turned into another medium-sized guy with a mustache and shiny machinegun thingies on his wrists. Who was in mid air. Going very fast. Towards her. Charlotte let her chi flow, ducking at superspeed. This is getting to be a habit, Charlotte thought, as she measured out some cover in the roadside ditch.
Mr. Sleazy Speedster, meanwhile, slammed into a telephone pole and fell to the ground. “Serves you right for your grooming alone,” Charlotte said.
“I was going to say ‘manscaping,’” Bruce answered, as he dropped beside her.
“That’s because you’re a goof,” Charlotte supplied in the way of an explanation. “Rose, these are Dragon Branch dudes, right?”
“Viper’s finest,” Rose agreed.
“Seriously?” Bruce asked. “Oculon and Sidewinder?”
“Okay, Viper’s B-Team. At least we haven’t seen Draconis yet.” Rose swept her hand at the road, where Viper agents in their green-and-gold masked bodysuits were spreading across the road, headed towards the burning mini-van. For some reason, they were giving the Tatammy team a wide berth.
“He’s the one who does the Darth Vader choke all the time, right?” Charlotte asked.
“Especially his team-mates. Like I said, B-Team, not C or A.”
“We’re one letter grade above average!” Charlotte said.
“That’s what a ‘B’ means where you come from?” Bruce asked. “We need to send Rose there.”
“Hey. I earned that straight A++ report card, so you shut up about your stupid ‘grade inflation’!”
“And why are they attacking the Paradigm Pirates?”
“I don’t know,” said Eve.
“I can think of scenarios,” Bruce said. “But some facts would be nice. You know, a nice, crunchy topping of empiricism on creamy speculation?”
“Ready for lunch already, are you, Richie Rich?” Charlotte asked.
“Hey, I’m a growing boy. I need my nourishment. Gloria.”
“Yeah. Like I’m your girlfriend.”
“I-I’m sorry, Charlotte.”
Charlotte glared at Bruce. He was such a drip, sometimes.
Charlotte’s wrist phone vibrated. She held it to her face. It was her cousin Jennie. “Hey.”
“Hear you’ve got Dragon Branch horning in on Paradigm Pirate action.”
“Think they’re the Pirates.”
“No proof?” Jenny sounded disappointed.
“What’s with the Dragon Branch?”
“Er. . . “ Charlotte’s cousin spoke unusually slowly, like she was embarrassed. “You know that Mrs. Neilsen runs a Viper Nest somewhere up here in the Lehigh, right?”
“I thought she divorced Mr. Neilsen?”
“Focus, Charlotte. Last Fall, someone ambushed Emily and Jamie Neilsen and their buds just a few miles from here and damn near aced them. I think VIPER’s got a watch on the neighbourhood, these days.”
Charlotte knew about that. ‘Someone’ was her Dad, she knew, but what she didn’t know was what she felt about that. She also knew that Jenny’s fiancée was Emily and Jamie’s big bro. In-law trouble for Cousin Jenny! No wonder she sounded embarrassed. “So. Overprotective mom says what?”
“Hi-larious, Char-Char. You guys get out of there, and let Dragon Banch and the Pirates duke it out.”
“They’re not duking it out,” Charlotte said, watching the VIPER agents spread out around the mini-van. One of the blurred possible-Paradigm-Pirates tried to make a break for it, and was intercepted by a black streak that sent the blur flying towards the oak tree that had just cushioned possible-Professor-Paradigm’s trajectory.
“I can’t believe I beat that guy,” Charlotte said.
“Well, I did shut down his wrist blasters with my cyberpathy,” Rose pointed out.
Jenny’s voice rose an octave, calling their attention back to the phone. “I’m not kidding. Stay out of their way. VIPER is not the good guys, no matter what they’re doing this very moment.”
“But what about the Pirates?” Bruce asked. “They’re going to get slaughtered!”
“Where am I?” Dora asked, her voice thick.
“You were knocked out again, Ms. Maid of Overconfidence,” Rose explained.
“Wiedersehen, Schatzi.” A new voice broke over into the conversation.
“Auntie Rosa?” Dora asked.
“Ja bitter. I just had my teleporter tuned up, and I have fixes on you guys. Now I just need a fix on the Pirates.”
“No prob,” Bruce said. “I’ve got autonomous mini-drones with localisers on all six of them. Hoped I’d get some usable pictures, but the drones will only handle so many megapixels.”
“Can you upload your location fixes?” Rose asked.
“Done,” Bruce said.
And, just like that, the four of them were standing on Rosa’s bridge. They were aboard the Liberty Legion’s sentient starship, the one that used to belong to Dora’s grandfather. It was as awesome as Charlotte ever imagined, with a line of comfortable swivel chairs facing desk-mounted computer-monitory thingies, and Earth turning in the wall-sized viewscreen, lazily, as though not wanting to rotate through the first day of summer vacation too quickly. Or, because it was awfully far away already.
It was perfect. Except that they were standing in front of Doctor Beverly Cambridge, Tatammy’s Department Of Superpower Affairs liaison and Tatammy High guidance counsellor. Charlotte’s heart sank. First day of vacation, and they were saddled with this wet blanket?
“Hello, children. I was just taking Rosa out for a spin, and who do I find, in over their heads and in unauthorised possession of Tatammy combat fatigues to boot? Dora, if you’re going to wear the fatigues, no accessorising with jewelry. It can be a handhold for enemies in a fight. Char-Char, that scabbard is distinctly unregulationary. And Rose, those boots.”
“We were not in over our heads, and we had every right to be—“ Dora nudged her, hard. Okay, let little Ms. Trouble take the lead then, Charlotte thought. I can’t trust myself to talk right now, anyway. She was just so angry.
“Ahem, Gnadige Damen und Herr, if I could just have your attention for a moment, please?”
“Yes, Rosa, what is it?” Dr. Cambridge asked.
“I have your erstwhile playmates in a detention cell that I have rigged in ‘D’ Hold.”
“D Hold?” Dr. Cambridge asked.
“It seemed appropriate. In any case, the prisoners are trying to communicate.” The viewscreen changed, resolving into a blank, metal room filled with six blurs. The foremost one gestured, and a long sequence of numbers and symbols appeared, glowing in the air.
“What?” Charlotte asked.
“It’s an orbital trajectory,” Rose explained.
“Yeah! Of course. There’s the azimuth, and there’s the declineations, and that’s the velocity function” Bruce said, excited. “Weird.”
“I take it back about Rose being a keener,” Dora said. “You’re both keeners.” Charlotte felt left out for a second.
“It’s an antigrav drive,” Rosa explained. “Rather higher tech than anyone on Earth is capable of. At least on that scale.
And. . . There it is. Taking off from . . .Oh, goodness, someone has bad taste in isolated locations, just outside of Kenora, Ontario, Canada. Nice cloaking function it’s got. No match for my sensors, but nice.”
“So why should we care?” Charlotte asked, addressing the screen. The numbers in the air blurred, turning into a single word: “Phocion.”
“What?” Charlotte asked, politely.
“Uhm, downloading,” Rose said, absently. “Uhm. Okay. Phocion was an ancient Athenian general, blah blah hero of moral virtue and stuff like that. Plutarch compared him to Cato the Younger.”
“Oh, Plutarch. That explains everything!” Charlotte said, brightly.
“Point. There’s a couple of Poussin paintings about Phocion.”
“You mean that French painter whose paintings are all clues about what happened to my brother’s girlfriend’s Dad for some lame reason?”
“That’d be the guy.”
“So what’s the clue today?”
“They’re all about the exile of Phocion.”
“So that spaceship is going where Dr. Suzuki is?”
“That would be the huge leap-of-logic of it all,” Rose answered.
“So we can follow it and find out and save Kumi’s Dad?”
“Yes,” Rosa said. “We can. If we follow it closely enough, we can model its hyperspace transition and come out right on its trail.”
“No.” Dr. Cambridge said. “Not on your life. You kids should be in summer school right now. Tatammy’s test scores last year were a tenth of a percent below National Merit Scholar rank. You know how few public schools are on that rank?”
Which would earn all the teachers a bonus, Charlotte knew. A big bonus. As if drawing double pay from DOSPA and the Philadelphia School Board wasn’t enough for her.
“But if we don’t follow now, we won’t be able to get the coordinates of wherever they’re going,” Rosa said.
“No!” Doctor Cambridge said.
“It’s a local jump. Less than a hundred light years. We’ll be there and back overnight.”
“Ooh. We need to do this!” Dora shouted.
“No, we don’t. This is grownup business.”
“I’m sorry, I’m programmed to obey Major von Wrede’s descendants, unless doing so puts their lives in danger.”
“You are?” Dr. Cambridge asked. “That’s remarkably stupid.”
“Nevertheless,” Rosa said. “Unless it’s just a programming glitch. Which, I’m sure, I’ll get sorted out when I get back to Goblin Deep. Tomorrow. After our trip.” Rosa’s computer voice made a very human-like giggle. “You know us computers, always glitching up.”
“It’s true,” Bruce said. “Have you seen that Youtube video with the flying Skyrim mammoths? That’s some weird pathing there.”
“Which one?” Eve asked.
“The funny one.”
“By your standards, or mine?”
“Okay,” Dr. Cambridge said, sighing melodramatically. “We’ll follow the alien starship. But, rest assured, Rosa, your programming is going to get a thorough going over when we get back.”
“Yeah, like that’ll happen,” Dora whispered.
In the mean time,” Doctor Cambridge said, loudly, as though to drown out the whisper that she could not even here, “I think the children would be more comfortable in the passenger lounge.”
As Dora led them out, she muttered, “Yeah, don’t think that sending us to the ball pit is going to stop Rosa from talking to me. Bitch.”
“So, why are we helping your brother’s girlfriend, again?” Rose asked Charlotte.
Charlotte shrugged. “Sure, she’s a stuck-up bitch, but we get to go to space.”
“And we even have our own Jar-Jar!” Bruce said.
“Char-Char. Don’t start with me, McNeely,” Charlotte hissed.
“I can’t help it. Your nickname is funny.”
“No, it’s not. It’s sort of a Chinese thing, and I like it.”
“You don’t like it when Dr. Cambridge calls you that,” Bruce pointed out. “I could see you tense up.”
“It’s for family. She hasn’t earned it,” Charlotte explained.
“Fair enough,” Bruce said, shrugging. “I won’t call you Jar-Jar again.”
Charlotte didn’t say anything more until they got to the lounge. Which, it turned out, wasn’t an actual ball pit, but might as well have been. Their first, awesome space trip, and they ended up sitting around in brightly coloured lounge furniture watching Wall-E and then some movies. By the time Battleship ended, Charlotte was so fidgety that she could barely manage to sit in a chair. Rosa put on a nice lunch and then a nice tea, but she was ready to chew her way out the hull of the spaceship.
“I don’t understand how we could screen Battleship. It’s only been in theatres for a month-and-a-half,” Bruce said. “Are we videopirates?”
“Yarr!” Dora said. “No. The pirates are five decks down in a power-suppression field. Rosa wouldn’t steal a movie. Even a Taylor Kitsch movie. Yowsers.”
“Oh, come on, Dora,” Rose said. “Taylor Kitsch? He’s a boy. You know who’s hot?”
“. . .Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice," Dora finished for her friend. “God. Things happened so slowly in the old days.”
And at that very moment, a slow, grinding shudder broke through the hull, and a siren began to wail.