Chapter 3, 8: Paradise Valley
The bunk house smelled new. Because it was. Charlotte looked around while she pulled clothes out of her steamer trunk and arranged them on the top mattress of the bunk bed she had to herself, looking at them in the flickering light cast by a kerosene lantern. The door was open to the forest air, but she could tell that would change soon. The air was full of pine and the slight scent of evening blossom, but it was also cooling quickly. Red light filled the long room, spilling through a window on the far wall that faced west towards the mountains across the lake, and flowing over the newly varnished planks of the ceilings and wall. It was not quite bright enough to see anything by, and the sun would be setting in minutes.
It was already past curfew, according to the Camp Director, who had directed them to their House after briefly telling them to call her “Miss Jane,” before leading Doctor Cambridge off to the “Counsellor’s Lounge,” wherever that was.
Rose was poking a log burning in a huge fireplace midway down the north side of the wall. “And you just oxidise biomass in this for heat? How is that safe? Even the Morlocks wouldn’t put a contraption like this in a crèche!”
“You were fine with Old Smokey,” Dora pointed out.
“Because the bio-reactor was contained!”
“And are you saying that you’ve actually seen a Morlock base? I thought they were cannibalistic dwellers who only came to the surface to eat regular people.”
“No, they’re just called that because of the novel. It’s a thing. But you’re right. They are scary. And I’ve never seen their caverns. They don’t like regular people very much.”
“Isn’t that basically because they’re trying to seal off the Apocalypse Plague, and they’re pissed that you’re trying to use time machines to make them not exist?”
“Well, I, um,” Rose sputtered. “I, you know, there’s rights and wrongs on both sides.”
“Yeah, heard that one before. From people who like to say ‘self-deport’ a lot.”
“Before we all learn something very important—“ Charlotte began.
“In a very special episode—“ Dora interrupted.
“Smart ass,” Charlotte pointed out. “Can’t we just turn off our brains and stop backbiting? Because I’ve got a feeling we’ll get enough of that when camp starts tomorrow.”
“I never turn off my brain,” Rose announced.
“Except when it comes to cutting Morlocks any slack,” Dora pointed out.
“Enough!” Charlotte shouted. Ginger exploded from her roost on the right bunk bedpost and flew to the rafters, squawking loudly. “What the bird said. Dora, today is not the day that we all agree that Morlocks have a human right to not be time travelled out of existence.”
“Actually,” Rose said, “I . . . Dora’s right.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Dora answered. “You know I’ll show you how to turn off your brain any time you like. ‘Cuz of me being an expert at it, I mean.”
“That is total bullshit, and you know it,” Rose answered.
“Did you just swear? That is so unlike you.”
“I’m not sure if “b.s. counts as a swear,” Charlotte interrupted. “So what do you think of Paradise Valley?”
“Did you notice how many kids we’ve seen in the last two days?” Rose answered. “They’re everywhere.”
“Oh My God! That two year old on the baby seat on her dad’s bike on the Geithner’s Strike Ferry?” Said Dora. “With her own little helmet? So cu-u-ute!”
“Faster, Daddy! Faster!” Replied Charlotte. “Also, what’s that got to do with the camp?”
“Simple,” Rose answered. “Look at this place. Nice long walk down from the wharf, dinner hall above the lake, space for, what, 10 of these bunkhouses, three building, two finished? Another clearcut area on the other side of that big field of dried mud that’s supposed to be the playing field? The Lounge, up on top of the hill, towards the other side of the lake? It’s weird, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Charlotte answered.
“No, it’s not,” Rose answered. “We’ve just never seen this kind of thing before. This place is, like, half-finished. Not even. Because of demographics and stuff.”
“Dora’s brain hurts!” Dora announced. “Talkie Girl explicate!”
“Look at it this way. If you’re, like, fifteen here on Landing, you were born in 1997.”
“Math is hard!” Charlotte couldn’t help herself. She giggled along with Dora as the half-Hispanic girl ended one of the Simpsons quotes that Mr. Piccolo loved so much.
“So,” Rose ploughed on, determined not to be sidetracked, “That was back when the population of the planet was 515,000. Taking birth rates as constant, there were just about half as many kids born that year as this year. And if you were sixteen, you were born in 1996, when the population was 480,000, and so on. Basically, this camp has only been able to get enough campers to make money for the last five years or so, and it’s going to get more kids every year, for, like years to come. That’s where we come in.”
“Uhm, I don’t know about you, Rose, but I’m not sure I’m ready to have kids yet,” Charlotte said. “I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“What about Sco-ut?” Dora crooned. Charlotte blushed.
“That’s not what I meant,” Rose said, sounding a little exasperated. “I’m talking about your viral marketing. Word of mouth. We’re rich, snotty kids, right?”
“We are?” Dora asked.
“Uhm, I’d like to say that you can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the girl,” Charlotte began, “Except then Auntie Ma would pop out of the floor and tell me to stop slouching, chew with my mouth closed, and have I finished my homework, ‘cuz no-one tells Auntie Ma what she can’t do. So. Yes. We’re snotty rich kids. Semi-rich kids. Kind-of rich kids. Well, you’re the principal’s daughter, and that’s close enough. But that’s not what Rose is talking about, because our secret identity is, you know, rich kids.”
“Exactly,” Rose said. “And we’re supposed to go back to Extra-Snotty High and tell everyone what an awesomely excellent time we had at Paradise Valley, and how all the right kind of people go there, and everything, and it’ll be, like, a self-fulfilling prophecy, and years from now, when we’re all at the Charity Thing for the Tragic Thing, we’ll, like, high-five Brittany and Britt and Tiffany and Tiff and Kendra and Ken, and it’ll be, like, ‘Paradise Valley, represent.’”
“You shouldn’t try to talk ghetto, Rose. It’s not you,” Dora pointed out.
“Of course not. Extra-Snotty High girls only try to talk ghetto.”
Charlotte mimed catching a puck out of the air. “Nice save.”
Ginger fluttered down from the rafters to perch on top of the hanging lantern. Her talons skittered on the metal, and she slipped for a moment, her right wing coming down over the glass. While the girls had been talking, the sun had set behind the mountains. The shadow cast by Ginger’s wing was vast and dark as it slid over the south wall of the bunkhouse. Ginger recovered herself and flew back to the bedpost, and a smaller shadow, still dark, could be seen as she flitted. A breeze puffed through the open door. It was surprisingly cool, and Dora moved towards the door.
Charlotte looked at Ginger. “Yes, Ma’am,” she said, ironically. “Attention, campers, my spirit guide has sent a vision. A vision of us getting some sleep.”
“I must be more spiritual than I thought,” said Rose. “Because I find her ideas interesting, and would like to subscribe to her newsletter.”
The next morning, as Charlotte was discovering the terrible drawbacks of camp life, she got her first chance to test Rose’s theory. Brittany, Britt, Tiffany, Tiff and Kendra walked into the dining hall and stood around her table. They were all wearing white tees with matched “Eagle’s Nest” logos, after their bunkhouse, which was the original one, up on the cliffs on the northwest side of the island. Their pastel shorts were matched by style, not colour, but their friendship bracelets were new, and identical. Quick work on that, Charlotte thought. She listlessly poked the horribly bland oatmeal one more time, then looked up at the girls. Oh, swell, she thought, on top of someone who cooks oatmeal without salt, it’s Mean Girls time.
“This is our table,” Brittany announced.
Not likely, Charlotte thought, thinking of Rose’s theory. But what she said, was, “That is not how it works.” “Hey, do you Old Girls know where they keep the salt around here?” The five girls glanced around in all directions, because, of course, they’d never been in this dining hall before, and Charlotte tried to hide a smile. She could see where this was going. And, for a second, she thought that Bruce would be proud of that deduction.
“This was our table last year,” Tiffany clarified.
Charlotte took a meaningful look around the dining hall, all newly-varnished wood and glass so new that it shone like polished diamond, so that the whole place looked even newer than the bunkhouse, and asked, “Was this place even built last year?”
There was a long pause, then, just as Brittany opened her mouth. Kendra interrupted. “It’s like our table last year,” Kendra explained. “It’s the third table on the left, just like our table in the old dining hall.” Brittany glared at Kendra. Oh, great, Charlotte thought. It’s not enough that they’re all blondes. One of them even has two brain cells to rub together.
“But it’s not your actual table?” Charlotte said, sweetly. “It can be, you know! That can be a rule from now on! The girls in the Eagle’s Nest get this table! Us Pony House girls can be over there. But just for today, we can all sit together and get to know each other!”
“Where are your friends?” Brittany asked.
Well, Charlotte thought, Dora had been called by the needfire, and was probably going to have to defeat a warp demon invasion before breakfast, and Rose was off on her morning run, which with her speed and curiosity meant she was probably going to end up checking out Geithner’s Strike from one end to the other, but I can’t tell you guys that. “They’ll be around. Where’s Ken?”
“The doctor. . .” Brittany began, before Kendra nudged her.
“There’s a doctor on the island?” Charlotte asked.
“It’s nothing,” Brittany said.
“Malaria,” Kendra explained. “She caught it first year at the camp. When it was still tents and the old farm house. But don’t worry. There were only a couple of cases in 2008, and no-one in the valley’s had it since. It comes back once in a while. She gets to drink tonic water.”
“Well, in that case, I’m not worried,” Charlotte said. “Except that someone might make me drink tonic water. That stuff’s gross.”
“It’s good with gin, though,” Tiffany said. Everyone looked at her. “I’ve heard.”
Just before Tiffany could explode with embarrassment, the cook came into the room from the kitchen, pushing a trolley cart. She stopped at a table set up on the other side of the room and began to put hot dishes on it. The other girls hurried over to it, and Charlotte was not surprised that, somehow, when their plates were loaded with whites-only scrambled eggs and sliced fruit and a single slice each of toast and bacon, they somehow ended up at the other end of the hall from where Charlotte was left sitting, alone.
She was still sitting there, trying to drink her coffee like a grownup, when Dora and Rose came in the front foor together. They headed straight for the buffet. Dora grabbed a plate, but Rose just drew a cup of coffee before coming over to join Charlotte. She took her first sip in mid stride, and Charlotte watched her expression change with a slight smile.
“I brought extra cream and sugar,” Charlotte said, gesturing at the table when Rose arrived. “In case you need some.”
“For this coffee?” Rose asked. “I don’t think cream and sugar’ll begin to cut it. Is there HP Sauce?”
“No, no, there is not,” Dora said, crossly, as she materialised at Rose’s side, holding two plates, crammed with enough egg, potato and pork related product to make up for five beauty queens. Saving worlds, even on the other side of space and time, was hungry work, Charlotte thought. “Just ketchup. And not very good ketchup, either.”
“I can understand the coffee,” Rose said, “There’s one coffee plantation on the whole planet, down in the Southern Isles. They advertise for pickers in the paper all the time. I guess their coffee trees aren’t very good. But ketchup? How hard is it to make good ketchup?”
“I don’t know,” Dora answered, “But look.” She held up one of those McDonald’s style paper cups and squeezed the rim slightly. Ketchup juice came out of the improvised spout and splattered on something brown and fried-y that Charlotte thought might be a potato pancake. “Watery.”
“The Geithner’s Strike McKenzie’s has good ketchup,” Rose said. “And their fries were almost as good as McDonald’s.”
“That’s where you had breakfast?” Charlotte asked.
“I was in the neighbourhood,” Rose explained.
“You can hit Mach One,” Charlotte pointed out. “You’re always in the neighbourhood.”
“Well, I had to try it! It’s fast food. They need a breakfast menu, though.”
“They don’t have one?” Dora asked. “This backwater doesn’t even have McGriddles?”
Charlotte made a face.
“They’re launching it in the fall,” Rose said, defending her choice of restaurants.
Did you happen to see Bruce? Charlotte wanted to ask. But she didn’t.
“So. Did you get to play Snotty Games with the old girls?” Dora asked.
“All of them except Ken. She’s got malaria.”
“The what now?” Rose asked.
“Malaria. It’s a disease.”
“I know it’s a disease,” Rose said. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
“Well, it’s not as if it’s the Apocalypse Plague,” Charlotte pointed out.
“Close enough,” Rose said. “It’s like the Plague in that it has animal and insect vectors. Very hard to get rid of, short of draining all the wetlands where mosquitoes breed, and they’re not near ready for a project like that in this valley.”
“But no-one’s caught it in the valley since 2008,” Charlotte explained.
“Okay, now that’s weird,” Rose answered. “Not like they could hide it, either. Makes your face go all yellow.”
“Oh, we did not just go there,” Charlotte said.
“Jaundiced,” Rose said. “Like hepatitis.” Charlotte watched as the blush spread across Rose’s cheek.
At last, she took pity on Rose. “It’s okay. I was only joking.”
After breakfast, Miss Jane showed them around the island. It was a little disappointing. It was big enough for a farm, but there wasn’t that much to do on it yet. The camp rented horses on the mainland, but they couldn’t canoe over today due to a big boom being due down the lake the last of the timber cut up the Big Southern River over the winter, which would be held north of Geithner’s Strike until the water in the river rose. The girls ended up hanging out in the bunkhouse all afternoon. Rose had picked up a bunch of “Jerry” comics in town, and they read those. “Jerry” lived in “Rivertown,” and had two girlfriends, rich Vanessa and poor Lacey, a rivalry with Chandler, and a friend named ‘Jughead.’
“I guess towards the end of their business plan, they weren’t even trying,” Charlotte said. The jokes were mostly lame, and the ink rubbed off on your hand, but the comics even had letter columns, like in the old days, and some of them were okay. Also, and more importantly, they were wiped. Just after dinner, the asteroid where Rosa was repairing herself came up in line of sight, and she downloaded some email from Earth into their phones. There were letters from her brother, and all of her cousins, even short ones from Jason and her brother’s awful girlfriend. Charlotte was surprised to find herself brushing away a tear as she read them.
“I wish I had some family in the 21st Century,” Rose said, although she had letters from her boarder family, the Washingtons. “I feel alone, sometimes. Like there’s nothing of my world left.”
Charlotte thought about that. If Rose went through with her plan to go over to the period of the beginning of the Apocalypse Plague in her home timeline and stop it, there wouldn’t be anything of her world left. Not even Rose. So she just said, “You’ve got us, Rose.”
“Aww,” Rose answered.
In the rafters above, Ginger managed to make a cooing sound. Charlotte hadn’t even realised that a crow could make that kind of sound.
The other kind of sound, though. That she recognised, as it blasted Charlotte from her sleep into the darkness. Charlotte dropped lightly onto the floor of the bunkhouse, feet spread in Monkey posture, the Pearl Harmony in her left hand, held ready for drawing, all her senses acute.
Second take: it hadn’t been that loud. Rose’s breaths came lightly from the next bunk to the left, and Dora was still snoring. Or had it? This was the last dark of the morning, Charlotte realised. The time when the enemy came, because everyone was sleeping most deeply. Her senses strained, and were, at last, rewarded, by the distinct sound of a distant splash coming from the direction of the wharf. Someone was either
For a moment, Charlotte considered waking her friends. But they were trying to sleep, and she didn’t know there was any trouble. If anything came up, she would just use her signal ring to alert them. Speaking of which, Charlotte deployed her Tatammy uniform as she headed out the door. It was just way easier to have a secret identity when you remembered to put your mask on.
As she ran lightly down to the dock, she felt herself relax. In the light that spilled out from the gas lights that lit the road intersection uphill from the wharf on the mainland, she could see that the water was full of dark, floating shapes. The log booms were passing, and any of them could have caused the splashing sound. Then Ginger, flying overhead, croaked again, and Charlotte watched as something climbed out of the water and onto one of the logs, momentarily silhouetted by the distant lamp, so dimly that probably only Charlotte’s keen senses could have spotted it.
Fun! Charlotte vaulted off the dock, landing on a log that a sixth sense told her was there. It flexed and rolled in the water, and she made a steadying move with the Pearl Harmony to keep her balance, then jumped forward to the next log. Keep your momentum up, girl! She thought to herself.
Charlotte caught sight of the silhouette again. It showed no signs of having seen Charlotte, just kept heading towards the mainland. Not so fast, Charlotte thought. Treacherous, rolling, slippery log after log, Charlotte ran across the half-mile channel between Paradise Valley Island and the shore. Only the last few strides had to be made through the cool lakewater to the beach shore beside the wharf. Ahead of her, Charlotte could see the silhouette, still running. Not running as fast as an Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu adept could run, though. She smiled to herself, and, above her, Ginger cawed, triumphantly.
Until a spear came hurtling out of the darkness from along the shore, straight for her bird. “No!” Charlotte yelled. Ahead and above her, the silhouette turned a weirdly alien, long face, complete with big eyes, pointy ears, and an unearthly cast of skin towards her. And, out of the darkness, another weapon swept. A ninjato, Charlotte was not surprised to see, as she parried with a slipping strike, wary of the expected, massive strength behind the blade.
Above her, Ginger did a barrel roll at the last minute, and the spear missed, before looping back to its mistress. Charlotte jumped. She knew who she was fighting, now, and that the Black Ninja liked to use grenades. She had to keep moving. The elfin thing that she had been following vanished into the bush as Charlotte soared towards a convenient branch. Get the high ground, she thought, and maybe the director will decide that that’s the killer advantage in these kinds of fights, just in time to wrap up the trilogy.
No, that would be crap plotting, she thought, as a strange girl appeared from the darkness and aimed some kind of blast at Charlotte. Three big wolves padded out of the shadows after her. Oh, great, Charlotte thought. The Paradigm Pirates have been recruiting, as well as jailbreaking. She touched her signal ring.
“Yes?” Dora answered.
“Trouble,” Charlotte said.
“Be there in a minute, Char-Char. Hold on.”
One of the wolves jumped at her, soaring through the air. Charlotte swept the Pearl Harmony down on it, but as soon as she had committed, one of the other wolves jumped for her wrist. Stupid werewolves, with their stupid team work, Charlotte thought.
At which point the darkness was torn by two muzzle flashes, and the trajectory of the two wolves suddenly changed, as though they’d been hit by bullets.
Charlotte couldn’t help grinning, as she jumped herself, in the direction of the flashes.
It was a boy in a black jersey, buttoned up like pyjama flaps, dark denims, and a dark hat. Somehow, though, Charlotte knew that it was Scout, and not just from the straight shooting.
“Trouble, ma’am?” He asked, as she landed.
“Supervillains. Supposed to be in prison somewhere. Might be a little out of your league, cowboy.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
Charlotte lifted the Pearl Harmony into guard, as the Black Ninja, Eve the Cave Girl, three werewolves, and the unidentified girl loomed out of the darkness. Oh, great, she thought. Now I have to protect the rube, too. Except that he had other ideas, drawing what looked like a Winchester over his shoulder and saying, “Might want to plug your ears, girl.”
“Bullets aren’t going to help at this point,” Charlotte answered.
“Don’t underestimate bullets.” The night split again, louder this time.