Chapter 3, 22: Yellow Fever
The clinic was depressing. Doctor Kahale finally let let Charlotte and John see Kieran just after eleven.
“He’s running a fever of 101,” Doctor Kahale said, sucking on a cigarette like the president of the Doctor Cottle fan club. Not that anyone on this planet had seen Battlestar Galactica. Heck, Dora didn’t get most of those references. It also smelled awful. There apparently wasn’t a heckuva lot of choice for tobacco on Landing. “I’m amazed that he’s coherent. He’ll tell you that he doesn’t remember anything, and I’m sure he doesn’t.”
“Why?” Charlotte asked. “Does he have amnesia?”
“What is this? A comic book?” Doctor Kahale snorted. Charlotte glared. John had eaten the mysterious glowing jewel out of the hand of an animated statue in an ancient temple. If not a comic book, then, at the very least, they were living in a Conan novel.
Even the doctor seemed to realise that, and, after a moment, he relented. “No, sorry, that was uncalled for. Technically, I would not expect amnesia without brain damage, and, Thank God, his fever isn’t nearly high enough for that.” He looked down at the second bed in the Disease Ward of the Geithner’s Strike Hospital, where Kieran and the boy, Brian Ferguson, were being held, because, who knew, Glowing Ancient Jewelitis might be contagious. “The boy’s coma hasn’t broken, though, so I guess there could be some kind of transient impairment of mental function by analogy. What the Hell. It’s not like I can look this up in a book. Frankly, in Agent Kieran’s case, it looks more like quartenary fever than anything else. ”
Charlotte looked at the doctor. Why did that sound so familiar? But before she could ask any questions, John’s eyes snapped open. “Hey, John. Hey, kid.” He rasped.
“We’re here for you, Kieran,” John answered, reaching down to grip Kieran’s hand.
“Hey! I might be contagious, you know!”
“Sorry,” John said, sounding a little lame as he put his partner’s hand down.
“Better,” Kieran said, smiling up from the pillow. Charlotte remembered visiting her mother the last few times in the hospital, and felt tears sneaking out of her eyes, no matter how hard she squeezed her eyelids to keep them in place. No one seemed to notice. “So. In anticipation of questions, I have prepared some remarks. “I don’t remember nothing, copper.”
“Hmm.” John said. “Okay, look, Kieran, if you find yourself turning into a world-threatening monster, could you press the call button and let Doctor Kahale or the duty nurse know? He’s got our number, and, look, he’s even got his haircut just like Reed Richards in the comics.”
It was true. Doctor Kahale was rocking a Pat-Boone-is-still-cool buzz cut, complete with distinguished white around his temples, so thick and snowy in his curly, Polynesian hair that it looked like he might dye them. He could be Reed Richards, from his old monster fighting days, or any of the Challengers of the Unknown, for that matter.
“So he’s got my number, you’re saying.”
“Secret scientific weakness and everything,” John answered, and something in his voice made Charlotte’s tears start again.
“Well, then there’s no point in even trying to conquer the world, is there? I’ll just lie here and watch DVDs instead. Hey, look! They’ve got a copy of Battleship! That’s such a weird concept, it must be good!”
Charlotte almost opened her mouth before deciding that Kieran would have to discover the truth for himself.
Later, as they rode down the hill towards town, Charlotte asked John what ‘quartenary fever’ was.
“It’s a fever that comes back every four weeks,’” John answered. “. I think. Because I’m mainly going from Latin class in high school. Because the word sounds like ‘four.’ Unless it’s a trick, and it means ‘three,’ or something. Anyway, it’s an old fashioned way of saying malaria.”
“Wow,” Charlotte answered, so astonished that her knees slipped for a moment against Tellus. The big horse’s head flicked, and Charlotte glared fiercely at the curl at the top of the stallion’s mane. I’m on to you, she thought at the horse. He’d already tried to throw her twice this trip. “Wasn’t there an outbreak of malaria in the Valley a few years back? One of the campers is a local girl, and she had it.”
“I didn’t know that,” John said, thoughtfully. “Was that Ken?”
“What about Ken?” Rose asked, nonchalantly, from the back of her horse, where she’d just appeared, with a big McKenzie’s bag in one hand.
“She had malaria,” Charlotte pointed out.
“That’s not gossip,” Rose snorted, a little disdainfully.
“Who said anything about gossip?” Charlotte asked.
“I did!” Rose said, her tone suddenly turning excited. “Guess who was at McKenzie’s when I picked up my order? Ken and Scott! And they were all lovey dovey in a corner booth, too!”
“Really?” Charlotte’s total surprise drew the word out of her like the air going out of a balloon. Scott was Brittany’s red-headed boyfriend. It wasn’t a complete surprise, just, say, a 96%. The kind of mark that only Rose would complain about.
Rose paused for a second. “Well, no. But they were about to start canoodling. I could feel it. In the air.”
“Ken cheating with Brittany’s boyfriend. No way! She doesn’t have it in her!”
“Girls?” John asked. “As much as I like gossip on my own time, this is CBI time. Ken had malaria?”
“She did.” Charlotte answered.
“And she’s giving it to Brittany’s boyfriend, right now, one hickey at a time.”
“It is theorised,” Charlotte pointed out.
“It’s a good theory.” Rose pointed out. “Anyway, breakfast delivered. I’m off to drop the bomb on Dora.”
Rose vanished again, as Charlotte grabbed the bag.
“Malaria isn’t infectious, is it? You get it from mosquitoes?” Charlotte asked.
“Yes to the question?” John asked.
“I can barely get a word in edgewise with you kids,” John protested. “No. Malaria is not infectious. Yes, you get it from mosquitoes. That doesn’t meant that Kendra had actual malaria, though. Not when there are magic jewel thingies that can apparently give you malaria-like symptoms.”
Charlotte held up her bracelet. “Scout found this bracelet for me. It has designs a lot like the ones on the ruins where we found that jewel. And Ken has a bracelet just like it.”
“Interesting,” John answered.
“Do I have to stop wearing the bracelet?” Charlotte asked, anxiously.
John shook his head. “I know that it’s important to you, Char-Char, and if you were going to be infected, it would have happened by now. That doesn’t mean that that’s not what happened to Ken, though. Now what’s for breakfast? I’m hungry.”
Charlotte reached into the bag. “Egg MacMuffin, Egg and Sausage MacMuffin, three hashbrowns, Breakfast Burrito, coffee, orange juice. Two muffins.” Charlotte scowled. Apparently, she wasn’t getting coffee, because she wasn’t grown up enough, or something. Stunt your growth, Agent John would probably say.
“Egg McMuffin?” Agent John said, holding his reins loosely in one hand and unwrapping the breakfast sandwich with the other.
“Mmph,” Charlotte answered. Not being a complete idiot, she was unwrapping hers with her teeth, so as not to give Tellus an opening. Then, “MacMuffin. MacKenzie’s does that Engrish thing, where everything’s just a little different from McDonald’s. I’m sure it’ll totally get them off the hook at the First Interstellar Court In Charge of Ripping Off Copyrights.”
“Don’t be too hasty, Char-Char, I can see you as defence counsel at the trial.”
Charlotte blushed. She desperately wanted to go to law school, like her Cousin Henry, even though he warned that it was a total ripoff unless you had major contacts. “Whatevs,” she finally said. “I’m just glad that they decided to launch the breakfast menu two months early. These are almost as good as McDonald’s.”
Which wasn’t exactly true, because Charlotte couldn’t tell the difference. Next she’d have to try the griddle cakes. Ha! Like anyone would do that. Total burn, Mickie D’s!
At the bottom of the hill, they put their horses in the stables at the back of the Colonial Building. Ginger settled on a cornice above them as they waited for the light to turn and a forty mule team to pass, so that they could cross the street to the agent’s apartment. The menu must have changed at MacKenzie’s, because the little crow had already found herself a mouth full of white, shoestring MacKenzie’s style fries. She leaned her head down and pointed her beak at Charlotte, as though to say, ‘Yeah, I’m eating junk food again. Whatcha gonna do about it?’ Then Ginger tossed back her head and the fries disappeared.
In the apartment, with Ginger walking back and forth across the open window sill, Charlotte modelled the yellow dress and sheer gray stockings John had found for her. Somehow, with a fancy updo and dangly earrings like the ones that her cousins Amy and May rocked, she looked, miraculously, sophisticated.
And, just like the last time she tried them on, that lasted until the moment she put those shiny pumps on and felt the subtle wrongness of their set against the ground. “I hate these shoes, John!” Charlotte protested.
“Really? They’re pretty swank, I think.”
Defeated, Charlotte took another tack. “Okay, I like them, but they make me walk wrong.”
“But that’s the point. We’re sending a message to the judges. You’re trying too hard.”
“Okay, first, that’s totally a racial stereotype.”
“Which we’re playing to. People on Landing fall into four categories: they’re from the Canadian, Honduran, or American Samoan towns that Teleios abducted, or they’re the usual lot of Heinz 57s. Asians are exotic. They’re seeing you through all those stereotypes, and we’re playing them.”
“Asian pride?” John asked. “You want pride, or do you want to win?”
“Mr. Diavolo promised to help us if we won. And he threatened to blow up Rosa. And he doesn’t believe I can. I want to make him eat his words. And I’ll die if Brittany beats me.”
“So you want to win.”
Defeated again, Charlotte took another tack. “And ‘try too hard’ is like the official motto of the Wong family.”
“Now who is about the stereotypes?”
On the table where Charlotte had piled it, her phone sparked to life, and her Uncle Henry’s voice said, “To master Eight Spirit Dragon Fist, first breathe in right nostril, then breathe out, left nostril.”
“Isn’t that a line from Karate Kid?” John asked.
“Miyagi-San very wise man. Backstory very sad. Sadness makes you so wise, you can even put up with Ralph Macchio.”
“That’s the scripted coaching programme that’s supposed to teach you kung fu, right?” John asked.
“Yes.” Charlotte answered.
“Your uncle actually bothered to record those lines?”
“He thinks he’s funny.”
“I think that I’m trying to get across so pretty damn important things about the way that the perfection of technique arises from spiritual mastery, Char-Char. I calculate a 98% probability that you will need the Eight Spirit Dragon Fist before the end of this adventure,” her uncle’s voice said.
“Really?” Charlotte asked, intrigued despite herself. “What else do you calculate?”
“Nothing,” the phone answered. “I was just blowing smoke again. People think computers are magic. They aren’t. Not even the 128 bit quadruple core processor in this custom job. I don’t need a computer to tell me what my niece needs to learn. I could use one that could tell me how to get through that thick, stubborn Wong skull of yours, though.”
“But your uncle thinks that you need to master the Eight Spirit Dragon Fist,” John said. “What’s holding you up?”
“It’s hard!” Charlotte protested. “There are all these exercises. And half of them are pointless. Like that breathing stuff.”
“How do you know that they’re pointless?” John asked.
“They’re just Buddhist mumbo jumbo!”
“Says the girl who healed her friend with a blessing and a mantra.”
“No exercise of discipline is pointless, even if you choose not to see the spiritual in it,” her phone said.
John bored in. “You know what? You need to master the Eight Spirit Dragon Fist. If you can find the discipline for it, you can find the discipline to do a million things with your life.”
That was no fair! They were ganging up on her! Charlotte felt her tears start again. “Yes! Yes I can!” But, inside, she drew comfort from realising that the Eight Spirit Dragon Fist was miles behind her father’s Dim Mak teachings. She had too many things to do with her time to bother with her uncle’s superstitions when she had deadlier techniques to draw on.
“And we need to wow the judges at the reception tonight. What about that? Can you do it? Can you make them believe that you’re trying too hard? Can you make them want to take you under their wing and teach you to be a woman?”
Charlotte’s phone beeped, but her uncle had nothing to say.