Chapter 3, 30, Ancient Jurisdiction
The next morning, Dr. Cambridge was dithering. “You girls are going to keep notes of your meeting, for a change. I may be out of my jurisdiction as a liaison, but I am your guardian on this trip.”
Charlotte looked at the Tatammy High guidance counsellor, carefully putting her sweetest expression on her face. Of course, the real reasons that Dr. Cambridge wasn’t sticking around Camp Paradise for the meeting with Agent John is that, first of all, Agent John was gay, and, second, Mr. Diavolo was throwing a tea party for the parents of the pageant competitors, including the camp counsellors. No-one exactly knew what Mr. Diavolo meant by a “tea party,” but it was surely going to be more fun than another boring police briefing. “Sure will, Bev,” Dora answered cheerily. “Three sets! Or four, if we can get Agent John to keep notes!” Dora mimed holding an old-fashioned notebook in her hands, and scribbled imaginary scribbles for a moment, tongue held in the corner of her mouth. “’Agent John, that’s me, says that Agent John will keep complete notes on what Agent John says!”
Dr. Beverly Cambridge scowled. “Dr. Cambridge,” ignoring the joke in the way that adults did to suggest that you weren’t just not funny, but totally feeble to boot. And this is why, Charlotte thought to herself, that Rose always said that it never hurt to learn how to laugh. Unless you’re trying to be mean. Which, Charlotte reflected, was probably what was up.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Dora used her just-south-of-sassy tone.
“Good, then,” Doctor Cambridge answered. “We should be back by mid-afternoon. If you’re not called away on an investigation, you have a scrapbooking assignment. Brittany and the girls are in the dark room working on theirs already. And, please, for once, respect the camp rules. No-one wants to notice a shoeprint on the table when they’re eating dinner.”
“Can you believe they still use film cameras on this planet?” Dora asked, as soon as the adults left.
Charlotte pulled herself up out of her seat and leaned her but on the table, then slipped down to lie on the sanded wood planks. On the ceiling, she could clearly make out the smudge where she’d landed her right foot the night before. “Dancing on tables is too part of the curriculum,” she announced to the air.
“No,” Rose said, in a kind voice, “It is not. It is what you call an extracurricular. And, yes, that was an amazing tumble. Are you going to do that move in the bikini contest?”
Charlotte thought about it for a moment. “Well, either I use a lot of very painful double-sided tape, or I’ll be up on indecent exposure charges. So, I think, no.”
“What are we going to tell Agent John?” Dora asked. “I mean, about what Dark Ninja had to say?”
“That he should take him aside and give him a man-to-man talk?” Rose answered, sounding hopeful.
“The problem with you, Rose,” Dora answered, “Is that you’re boy crazy.”
“I’m not boy crazy. You’re boy crazy. Who has a giant poster of Justin Bieber in her room?”
“It’s ‘cuz he’s dating my homegirl, Selena Gomez,” Dora explained.
Charlotte snorted. “Yeah, like that’ll last.” She wiggled her way upright, sitting on the table, and pulled her red sneakers up on the table into a tucked position. “But Dora’s got a point, Rose. Dark Ninja will man up and ask you out eventually. It’s just not what we’re here to talk about right now.”
“Okay,” Rose conceded. “I’m crazy about a boy. You’re right, though. We have a situation.” Rose paused, pulled her left hand down through her red-blonde hair to pull it sternly back from her face, then put it out in front of her with index finger up for a countdown, taking a straight-shouldered pose that let you know that if she had glasses, she would have pushed them down on her nose like a librarian. “We have a group of criminals, who might just be a bunch of Mandaarian shapechangers, or Mandaarians plus their shapechanging allies, or Mandaarians, shapechangers, and smart sabre cats. We know that they came here on a spaceship that may or may not have been carrying some Aliensy-monsters. We suspect that they’ve kidnapped Mr. Suzuki, and we’re pretty sure that they’re after genetic data in his laptop that will lead them to the Chosen One. And we’ve got a spooky ancient ruin and a spooky ancient disembodied oracle-voice. Although that goes without saying, because whenever you have a Chosen One, you have a Movie-Trailer Guy voiceover that’s all cryptic and stuff.”
Rose’s tone changed for a moment. “In a Dark Future of Total Violation of Laws of Thermodynamics, one man is the Chosen One. And you’re stuck with Keanu Reeves.”
Dora shuddered dramatically. “My sister made me sit through Matrix Revolutions. She said it was because Trinity was cool, but I know that she just wanted to make me suffer through Ted Saves the Dystopian Future.”
“Hey, leave our genuine Canadian acting treasures alone!” Charlotte protested.
Rose’s superspeeding fingers danced across her phone. “Wow. You knew that Keanu played Ted in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?”
Dora shrugged. “Smarter than I act. Also, for the record, Charlotte is Canadian today. Anyway, go on, Miss Dark Future Smarty-Pants Expositationater.”
Rose giggled and waved her hands in front of her to show that she was revving up for a second round. “We know that the laptop is in the vaults of the Colonial Building downtown, and that the Mandaarians won’t try for it there. But Agent John won’t explain why.
“No big mystery. Mr. Diavolo’s spaceship is parked down there,” said a deep, male voice said from the entrance of the hall. “Your criminals, whoever they are, don’t want to mess with a Malvan.” Agent John wouldn’t admit that the bandits in the hill were Mandaarians. Charlotte thought it was for legal reasons, like when the police won’t name a suspect, although there was also a theory that he was trying not to provoke them before the official Mandaarian SWAT team got to Landing.
“Agent John!” Charlotte exclaimed, throwing herself off the table with a but wiggle, trying to nonchalantly check to see whether she’d left a shoeprint this time. Not that Agent John would care, Charlotte thought. But she didn’t want him to think that she was wrecking the place, anyway.
The girls’ phones chimed together. Rosa was on the line. “Hi, Rosa,” Charlotte answered.
The warmly female, slightly German-accented voice of their spaceship answered. “I have some bad news on that front. The Star*Guard just called. The Mandaarian authorities have just refused to release any information about the spaceship you found.”
“What?” Agent John walked over to the table and looked down into Dora’s phone where it sat on the planks, giving it a cranky look, as though he expected that to change the answer. “I thought that they cooperated with the space police!”
“Not in this case, it looks like,” Rosa answered.
“Why? Are they protecting someone?”
“Quite possibly. In the 31st Century, Mandaarian authorities always refuse to talk about the activities of the supervillain, Sovereign. We have some indication that time-travelling Earth heroes have smoked Sovereign out here in the Twenty-First Century. If that spaceship was carrying some of his gang, or even Sovereign himself, it might be the same thing.”
“Crap.” Agent John said. “Do we have any idea what they’re doing on Landing?’
“They’re stranded, same as us. Hyperspace anomaly.”
“So that’s three spaceships wrecked in this system,” Rose said, softly. Agent John looked at her with a startled expression. He had forgotten about the ancient Terraformer shipwreck on the planet’s moon.
Charlotte sat down in her chair and then whirled around, noticing in passing that her phone was still open to notebook mode. Oops. Oh, well, they were recording this, in case Doctor Cambridge actually cared. “So Sovereign might be stuck here, waiting for the Mandaarian cavalry to show up?”
“Might be,” Agent John conceded, snagging a cup of coffee and then lowering himself straddlewise into a chair.
“You know what might be nice,” Charlotte continued. “Is if we had a space archaeology team to look at that wreck on the Moon--
“Oh!” Rose put both hands over her mouth, embarrassed at interrupting Charlotte.
“Go ahead, Rose,” Agent John said.
“There’s Mandaarian space archaeologists on Mars!”
Agent John’s eyes widened. “Why?”
Dora shrugged massively. “Blah blah ancient ruins?”
“Haven’t you heard? There’s ruins of a two billion year old civilisation on Mars!” Charlotte answered. “Spacefaring and everything.”
“Well, so Captain Chronos said. But he’s crazy.”
Something about Rose’s tone suggested she knew more than she was saying. “You know Captain Chronos, Rose?”
“Yeah,” Rose answered. “Time traveller, remember? The Liberty Legion actually set up a seminar so I could go get lectured by him about blah blah no interference with history or I’d break the universe.”
“Well, break the universe is a bit of an exaggeration,” Dora began. “But the involutions will eventually—“ and then she interrupted herself. “Sorry. Breaking character there again.”
Agent John breathed out, slowly. “There are two billion year old ruins on Mars? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Yes?” Charlotte answered. “I mean, no? I mean, why so serious?”
“Because the oldest intelligent life in this galaxy that I knew about before exactly thirty seconds ago was the Progenitors, about thirty million years ago.”
“Is this going to be important for the investigation?” Charlotte asked.
Agent John spanned his eyes with his hands and gave them a solid rubbing. “No. It’s just kind of cosmically mind blowing, is all. Two billion is a lot of years.”
“And they did elven charms in their décor,” Dora pointed out.
Agent John looked over at Dora. “What?”
“My cousin Emily said.”
“Okay, this is a pretty massive derail,” Rose observed. “Do we have a plan?”
“Two plans,” John answered. “If we can put together enough information to identify the person the criminals are looking for, or just shadow Professor Paradigm’s gang while they snatch the kid, we might be able to arrest them. Otherwise, we wait for them to make their move and hope we’ve got what it takes to arrest them then. Any hope of help from the Mandaarians or the Star*Guard, Rosa?”
“No,” the girls’ phones said in triple stereo. “The Mandaarians won’t be here in weeks, and the Star*Guard is leaving it to them. Valak the World Ravager is loose, so they’re stretched a little thin right now.”
“I take it that a Valak the World Ravager is a bad guy?”
“Yes,” said Charlotte’s phone, while Charlotte nodded mutely, remembering the video clips they’d seen of Valak’s escape and subsequent attacks. The very heavily edited videos. No dead people on Youtube. It was a rule.
“So what do we know about Paradigm’s gang?” Agent John asked the air, but looking Rose squarely in the eye.
“Uhm, that Dark Ninja faked Brian Ferguson’s blood sample. So he could be the Keanu. Otherwise, it’s someone we haven’t IDed yet.”
“I was getting tired of saying ‘Chosen One.’
Agent John rubbed his eyes again. “Well, at least we have the medical records, so we know who had malaria in the valley. That narrows the suspects down to everyone on the list. And everyone who isn’t.”
Charlotte shrugged. “Maybe Paradigm has better info. We just need to find him again.”
Agent John’s attention turned to Charlotte. “You kids up to following Ken again?”
Charlotte shook her head. “she made us first time. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work any better the second time. Come on! He’s a stranger in the valley with five or more kids with him. Surely the CBI can find him. Or maybe Bruce has found them by now. Or Scout.” But Charlotte was sure that she would have heard if either boy had run into the Paradigm Pirates.
Agent John shook his head. “Nothing. Just vanished into thin air after they left their last hideout. It’s like magic or something.
“Magic!” Dora said, brightly. “Charlotte, can you use your sword for Detect Magic?”
“Detect Evil,” Rose corrected her friend. “Paladins have an at will Detect Evil.”
Charlotte curled her lower lip as dramatically as she could, to show her feelings. “I’m not some Buddha-Jesus freak paladin!”
“Give in to your touchy-feeliness, Charlotte.” Dora’s voice dropped two octaves as she did her best Darth Vader. “Come over to the light side.” Then she jumped out of her seat, drawing her hand dramatically down through the air as she did so. It looked as though the gesture cut a gash through the air, and a trail of gauzy gold light followed her hand. In mid-air, her jump paused, as more golden light lifted her feet. “Never mind about stupid Warcraft rules. The Maid of Gold does have an at will Detect Magic. So let’s go see if we can find Professor Paradigm and feed him some reality!”