Monday, September 2, 2013

3, 20, Concert in the Park

I know, I know. Lucas meant it as a call back to Empire Strikes Back. It's just a really bad call back.

3, 20, Concert in the Park

Charlotte could feel it on her back. A dark sense of foreboding emanating from twin holes where a powerful and malicious energy beam was boring through her, seeking her innermost soul to express its rage.

Yeah, that’s right, she thought back. You’re stuck in there until we come and let you out. You’ve been a bad boy. She gave a quick look over her shoulder, and stuck her tongue out.

Or did he? Far away from Charlotte and her friends, across the green grass that surrounded the central gazebo in the Lakeside Park just south of Geithner’s Strike, was a public stable. And in that stable were their horses. It was a very nice little stable, with a roof in case it rained, which it wouldn’t, and open sides so that they could feel the breeze off the lake, and a tinned trough full of pure, sweet water, and straw on the ground for lying on. But it was still a stable.

And maybe Tellus did understand. Because across the distance, when Charlotte’s eyes crossed his, he gave a wicked shake of the head, and his sandy, unruly forelock danced in front of angry eyes. “Too bad,” Charlotte mouthed. “Bad horsey.” And then she regretted it. It was crazy. Tellus couldn’t even hear her, and Charlotte felt guilty. Maybe it was because Tellus didn’t have a mom, either.

“Did you say something, Char-Char?” Dora was still straightening her blanket, rocking her butt back and forth as she pulled it to the right and then to the left, to straighten out wrinkles that would turn into sore spots before this night’s concert was over.

“Testing, testing,” came the voice of one of the band members, with a squealing roil of feedback. Charlotte chanced a look at her wristcomm before answering. Still fifteen minutes to the show. She couldn’t wait. “Just sending, what you call it, subliminal messages to that four-legged J.D. back there.”

“I don’t think it’s ‘subliminal,’ Char-Char,” Rose said from her other side. “Subliminal messages are like how you start smiling like a maniac when you start talking about Scout.”

Dora rolled her eyes, just barely visible in the evening gloom. “Oh, you should talk. Dark Ninja Dark Ninja Dark Ninja.”

Charlotte could also just make out the blush that flared on Rose’s cheek. “It’s not like that!” She protested unconvincingly.

Without giving Dora a chance to response, Rose bored on, obviously determined to change the subject. “And you shouldn’t provoke Tellus, Char-Char. What if he gets away again It took us half the afternoon to catch him in the woods. If we have to do that again, we’ll miss the concert, and this whole field trip will be for nothing.”

“Except for discovering that at least some of the smart sabretooths are aliens of some kind, and seeing the site of the new mall, and finding that archaeological site that the construction company was trying to hide so that they could sell all the statues to Mr. Diavolo, and, uhm,” Charlotte couldn’t think of anything else they’d accomplished that day, but she gave it one more try, “And driving Dr. Cambridge to drink.” She waved a hand in the direction of the beer garden tent, where the grownups were gathered to watch the concert.

Dora called her bluff. “Oh, yeah, like that’s a big achievement. Sheesh. These people are dumb. The adults should sit with the kids. Who knows what kind of trouble we’ll get up to unsupervised during the concert?”

“I don’t know,” Rose answered, her voice silky with menace of a wet-blanket Rose-style lecture if Dora came up with anything that Doris Day would find socially inappropriate. Of course, Charlotte couldn’t use that example, because her friends didn’t know who Doris Day was. Actually, come to think of it, Charlotte didn’t really know who Doris Day was. Except an example of a goody two-shoe.

“Well, I can see I’m in the wrong crowd, today,” Dora answered. “Maybe I should go find the cool kids.”

“Yeah, no,” Rose answered. “They are not a thing that exist in this town. Unless you count Brittany’s crowd.”

Dora shuddered. “I think I will enjoy this excellently wholesome concert with my two BFFs and then get to bed early, in case church group is meeting tomorrow!”

“Hello, Geithner’s Strike!” Boomed the sound system. Patsy Kane (if that really was her name, Charlotte added to herself) was upon the gazebo. She was wearing rock-starrish tight black jacket over a pleated yellow dress, with a tight and high, pulled back up do for her long, black hair. “Are you ready to rock?”

The hundred or so kids, which, to be fair, was everyone age appropriate in Geithner’s Strike, yelled back, “Yes,” gamely. Muffled, from the treeline where the park gave way to the woods, a few more, much more childish voices echoed them. The junior brigade was representing, too, even if they were breaking curfew.

Town curfew, that is. Geithner’s Strike had a dusk-to-dawn curfew for under-17s, a thought that made Charlotte roll her eyes. Just how far out in the boonies were they? Anyway, the curfew had been relaxed for the concert.

Then the music began. A cover, but an old one. Kane did country rock, covering Patsy Kline, Linda Ronstadt –the young Linda, anyway, when she really let it rip.

“Oh the wayward wind/is a restless wind/a wind that yearns to wander. . .” came rolling out of the amplifiers. It was a song that Charlotte had listened to again and again in the last few days, since she’d heard it on Geithner’s Strike only rock radio station. Oh, sure, if she were home she probably wouldn’t give this corny stuff the time of the day, but she wasn’t home, and it seemed like the song was speaking to her. “In a lonely shack by the railroad tracks…” She could totally imagine Scout being born out in the boonies in a shack. Maybe he was even “next of kin to the wayward wind.” See, Charlotte thought, as though she was arguing with someone: Corny.

Somehow, Charlotte found herself on her feet. The kids in front of them were waving lighters, and somehow it was now dark enough that that was the only thing she could see. So Charlotte cracked the Pearl Harmony’s seal with its scabbard. Perlescent light bathed Charlotte, Dora and Rose. Dora squealed.

Patsy stopped singing for a moment. “Hey, Geithner’s Strike! Let’s see you jump!”

Charlotte jumped. Dora jumped. Rose gave them a look, as if to say, “Yeah, I’m with them.” Then Patsy started singing again, hitting and holding it until Rose squealed and jumped into Charlotte’s arms. Patsy stalked the gazebo to stand behind her base guitarist. The singer let her arms drop, the mike dangling from her hand on its sparkly cord as she wrapped them around the guitarist.

The base shook his shaggy, incredible long hair, snuggled back just a little into Patsy’s arms, and then cut loose with a solo that lasted a good minute. Patsy let it go on, and the girls in the audience began to scream as the guitarist’s hair snapped back and forth. He was seriously hot, Charlotte thought to herself.

Finally, Patsy finished the song, and let silence go just a moment, as she collected herself, then walked back to the centre of the gazebo and stuck a pose. After another moment, the band played the opening chord of “When Will I Be Loved?”

Something was wrong, though, Charlotte thought. There was someone watching her. Not her horse. That was a joke. Someone else. This was for real, her Eight Dragon Spirit-honed senses picking up . . . not hostility. Intention. As though someone was watching her intensely, and didn’t care a bit about her.

Hmm. Charlotte sheathed the Pearl Harmony. “’Scuse me, guys. Gotta go to the loo.”

“Okay, Char-Char,” Rose said. Dora hardly looked back.

Charlotte had to edge her way back out through the crowd. There were a lot more people around by now then just the teens. And no wonder, because the band was rocking now, moving on from Ronstadt to a hard rocking version of “Little Joe the Wrangler.” And that made her think of Scout, too. Did he have a home? Or was he alone ahead of the remuda, too?

Finally, she was through the mass. Charlotte dropped low, letting her instincts lead her into the woods. Someone was ahead of her. Charlotte put her hand out, and gripped a thin, boyish neck.

“Hey, we ain’t done nothing,” said a thirteen-year-old boy.

“You’re breaking curfew,” Charlotte pointed out, trying to hide a little grin. He was only two years younger than Charlotte, but right now it seemed like an eternity. His little sister just looked at Charlotte, eyes big. It was enough to melt Charlotte’s heart. Please don’t tell me you don’t have a Mom, either.

But he didn’t. He just turned around and gave Charlotte a defiant glare. “I ain’t worried. I brought my rifle.” He held up a .22

“Okay,” Charlotte said. “Now everyone’s worried except the sabretooths.”

“They’re afraid of guns,” the boy answered.

“I kind of doubt it,” Charlotte answered.

“Unh-hunh, they totally are,” the little girl piped, sticking up for her brother.

“Yeah. But no. But I’m not busting you. In fact, I’ve got a toonie for you if you’ll do something for me.” Charlotte held up a two-dollar silver coin.

The boy’s eyes gleamed. “What do you want, Ma’am?”

Oh, jeez. Charlotte wasn’t ready to be a ma’am. Not by a long shot, but she wasn’t going to take the kid’s head off for trying to be polite. Charlotte gestured in the direction of a prominent grove of tall shivering pines, rising on a knoll to break the line of the heavy-leaved cottonwood. There’d be a good view of the parkground from there, Charlotte thought.

“Just walk down towards the lake along this line.” Charlotte pointed towards a big old cottonwood right beside the bank. The line would take them right under the pine grove. “And don’t get yourselves drowned.”

“D’ja think we’re stupid?”

“I think you’re kids. Here.” Charlotte handed the boy the coin. “Now. Get. And make some noise.” She tried to shoo them on with the sheathed Pearl Harmony.

The boy’s eyes went wide. “That’s the sword.”

“That what?”

The sister answered instead. “There’s four superheroes in town. A magic girl, a speedster, a gadget guy like Darkwing Duck, and. . .”

“A king fu girl with a magic sword,” her brother finished. “Can you show me a kung fu move?”

“Sure. It’s called a diversion.”

“Is there a supervillain watching the concert?” The boy asked.

“Yeah. Exactly. Now move!” Charlotte actually shoved the boy. They began moving towards the river. Finally!

Charlotte moved out behind, going low and stealthy, as silently as she could, cutting behind the grove, and then turning into it. Meanwhile, the boy and the girl made way through the nighttime woods, crashing like they were project kids who had just heard of the concept of “vegetation.”

Sure enough, a big form came ghosting through the woods. Charlotte waited until it had almost reached the edge of the grove, and then stepped out, directly above it., cracking the Pearl Harmony again, just to show a light. She was not surprised to see that its gem did not glow red, and that there was no black line down the runnel of the blade. “Give up, Dark Ninja. I have the high ground.”

The Dark Ninja spun, obviously surprised, drawing his sword in one hand and palming a grenade with the other.

Charlotte held her pose.

Finally, the Dark Ninja relaxed. “Stupidest part of a stupid movie.”

“Are you sure?” Charlotte asked. “There was a lot of stupid in those three movies.”

“Yeah,” the Dark Ninja answered. “But if having the high ground is such a big thing, you don’t wait till the climax to make the point!?

“It’s not much of a climax,” Charlotte pointed out. “We know what’s going to happen to Anakin. He’s going to get wrecked, and turn into…”

“Hey, spoilers,” the boy shouted. “My sister hasn’t seen the movie.”

“Everyone knows Anakin turns into Darth Vader, Billy!” His sister answered.

“But you don’t know how!”

“Um, can you guys get lost? I’m trying to talk to the supervillain, here.” Charlotte shouted back.

“You’re not supposed to talk, you’re supposed to fight!”

“No, they’re not. They’re girl superheroes. They’re supposed to, like, convert him. With their planet power. Like the Sailor Scouts.” His sister contradicted.

“Yeah, let’s go with that,” Charlotte said. “Now get lost.”

“I’m not going to backstab my boss for you know, love. . .” But like a boy will, the Dark Ninja’s voice choked on the emotion he was trying to hide. Charlotte let that go for the moment. He was on the hook. She could tell. Now she just had to reel him in.

“So, hey. Enjoying the concert, Dark Ninja?” Charlotte asked.

“Well, I’m more of a metal guy, but this band is pretty good. I’d like it more if I wasn’t crouching on a log in the middle of the woods.”

“That’s the ninja way. All stealthy like.”

“I’m not a ninja!”

“You look like a ninja.”

“There’s only so many ways that you can do a jumpsuit and a full face covering without looking like a ninja.”

“And you have a ninja sword.”

“That was Mario’s idea. Asshole.” Charlotte had to agree. Her brother’s nemesis, the Decurion, was an asshole.

“And you use grenades. Like ninjas.”

“Like everyone. Grenades are useful.”

“But you’re not a ninja.”

“No. I’m a brick.”

“No you’re not. You’re from the future. Come to prevent the future from being changed. So you’re a terminator.”

“Okay, even if I concede that. . .”

“It is totally true,” Charlotte said implacably.

“Even if I concede that, I am not a terminator. I’m like the hero of the movie. Your buddy, Rose, is like the Terminator.”

“And you want to reprogramme her.”

“No. Yes! No! I mean, I want her to stop trying to change history. The people of the future deserve to live. Besides. It’s not like changing the past will wipe out her future. It’ll just wipe out her.”

“And that’s important to you,” Charlotte said.

“Yes! No! I mean, it’s important to me like saving anyone’s life is important to me!”

“Because you are totally into saving lives, what with being a member of a supervillain team and all.”

“Stop twisting my words.”

“I didn’t twist anything, Black Ninja. Dark Ninja?”

The man in the mask sighed. “Okay, if we’re going to be that way. Dark Ninja. Sounds better. Yes, I I want to help Rose. And if that means working for Professor Paradigm, that’s the breaks. I am not backstabbing the Professor!”

“You don’t have to backstab the Professor to come down and enjoy the concert with us.”

“And, what? Have your buddies down my throat the second I come down?”

“I promise we won’t do anything like that.”

“Uhm, okay, I guess. . .” The Dark Ninja relaxed, letting the sword tip dip towards the forest floor. “I guess that. . .”

Then, there came the sound of branches breaking from the park side of the grove. “Char-Char? Are you there? I thought I heard some familiar voices? Ow! Oops!” Dr. Cambridge sounded a bit tipsy, even before the crashing of a grownup body through the brush let them know that she had tripped.

“Damn you, bitch!” The Dark Ninja growled, his voice thick with something more than anger. Disappointment, Charlotte thought, as the grenade struck the ground and burst in smoke and light.

When the smoke disappeared, the Dark Ninja was gone. Charlotte walked back to the front of the grove, picked up Dr. Cambridge, and walked her back to the park. Voices, plural?

It seemed that the Dark Ninja hadn’t given up all of his secrets.

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