Friday, November 22, 2013

Chapter 3, 31: Round That Ancient Wreck

A little late because I'm on vacation time! And badly formatted because I'm posting from my ultrabook. Oh, well, I'll fix it Monday. Or Tuesday. Tuesday's good.

Chapter 3, 31, Round That Ancient Wreck

Walking on the Moon was way harder than it looked. In the half hour since the team had landed from Rosa’s launch, Charlotte had more than enough chance to learn that.

First, there was the spacesuit. Oh, Charlotte’s spacesuit was way better than the crap the Apollo astronauts were stuck with. Except for those gold-tinted visors. That part of the old suits was kind of awesome, you had to admit. Otherwise, they were big, bulky, and designed by an engineer who had heard of fashion once, but never seen it. Because he wasn’t looking.

Whereas the suit Charlotte was wearing was kind of nice, and you could even pick the colours, which was why her’s was bright mustard-yellow with black trim at the belt and shoulders and accessorised black space boots. Not too much trim, mind, because, you know, space. But it was still a spacesuit, all tight and bind-y, without any of the advantages that you got from wearing regular clothes that might be a little tighter than Auntie Ma would strictly approve of, on account of being all thick and rubbery. (And, again, not in a good way.)

Second, there was the gravity. Sure, you could just bounce around like an idiot, exactly like you were in one of those trampoline-castles. That’s what the Apollo astronauts did. The problem, Charlotte thought, is that I’m a God-damn kung ful princess, and I’m supposed to be all about the grace and the agility, and I’m a credit to my people. In her head, Charlotte blew a raspberry at that racist crap, and wondered what it was like to be her cousins Amy, Jason and Jenny who weren’t stuck with totally stereotyped super powers. 

Anyway, point was, Charlotte was supposed to be the graceful one. Oh, Rose and Dr. Cambridge were blundering around and bouncing, but Dora walked over the cinder-grey surface of Landing’s Moon like she was walking into school in the most kickass boots in the history of kickass boots. Not that, Charlotte thought, all boots weren’t pretty kickass. What else would you kick ass with? 

Plus, Dora didn’t even have to wear a spacesuit. Sure, that was a mixed blessing, in that with Dr. Cambridge around, she was stuck

And Bruce. Well, Charlotte thought, he was good at everything. So of course he was good at walking in a spacesuit in a low gravity environment. And there he was, standing next to the protruding airlock of the ancient spaceship wreck that graced the surface of this Moon.

“This sucks,” Rose said. “I can’t even run on this. Why are we even here instead of following up on the magic field that Dora picked up?”

“Because, Rosa explained over the comm net formed by their linked phones, “The magic came from the picker’s camp, and the CBI says that no-one’s in the camp during daylight. They’re all picking. So even if the Paradigm Pirates are hiding out there, you girls will stick out like sore thumbs if you try to sneak up on them, whereas the CBI patrols go through there all the time. In the mean time, it was way past due to look at this wreck. Like you said.”

“Oh, yeah, quote me back. It’s not fair.”

“Here, Tyranid, Tyranid, Tyranid. Who’s the cutest little Genestealer? You’s the cutest little Genestealer.”

Dora took off from the surface and lifted fifty feet clear on her golden nimbus. “Rosa,” came over the helmet speakers that were linked to their phones, “Bruce is summoning alien hordes from warp space again. Make him stop.”

“Golden Maid,” Dr. Cambridge snapped over the phone, ‘Need I remind you that I am in charge of this reconnaissance?” Charlotte had to remind herself that ‘Golden Maid’ was Dora’s official nickname. Redeeming Daughter, Goblin Boy, Golden Maid, Fugue. They’d had, like, thirty seconds to come up with them. Except Rose, who’d ducked the assignment ‘till this morning, to give her a chance to think about it. Charlotte wasn’t sure that it was an improvement.

Bruce tapped the metal of the spaceship. Muffled over their phone came the distant sound of metal ringing. .. “Don’t worry, I’m sure that there aren’t any spooky, ravenous hordes of galaxy-conquering aliens who haven’t invented guns yet in this mysterious spacewreck.” 

Then he staggered back. “Arggh. A brain-eating alien’s got me! Now, hurry up and get over here.”

“Yeah, tell the brain-eater not to bogart the appetiser. Dinner’ll be there eventually. It’s still sorting out this walking-in-low-gravity thing,” Rose answered. “I’m dissing you on the whole brain thing, by the way.”

Bruce stood back up. “Hey, Charlotte’s pretty much got the walking thing down.”

Charlotte fixed Bruce with her visored eyes. “Yeah, thanks, Goblin Boy.”

“Kudos all round.” Bruce jumped, landing on top of the towering, cylindrical hull of the spaceship that looked exactly like Charlotte had always imagined a spaceship would look like. 

Well, except for the gargoyle-thingies that stuck out from what looked like a catwalk two thirds of the way up the curve of the hull. That left the gargoyles hanging at a weird angle. Weirder than gargoyles on a spaceship would be, given that spaceships normally didn’t look like medieval churches and whatever.

Bruce crooked his left elbow and grabbed his left hand with his right to make a big, jaunty angle. He leaned on the nearest gargoyle. “Better view from up here. No gene-stealing, no brain-eating. Think we’re good here.”

“Bruce,” Dr. Cambridge began, letting her voice draw out like she was about to tell Bruce to get down from there. 

Oh, heck. Charlotte braced herself and jumped, heading for the catwalk of the spaceship. Dr. Cambridge’s voice came through the phone, sharp as a fingernail on a blackboard. “Charlotte! Bruce!”

Charlotte almost missed the catwalk. At the last moment, she had to pivot round and grab it in her hand, finishing a trapeze-style landing with the clang of her black boots on the ancient mesh-metal of the catwalk. The clang as the metal cleats on her boots hit the mesh rose up through her suit and spread over the comm net. “Yes, Ma’am?”

“It’s Doctor Cambridge,” Doctor Cambridge hissed. “Now get down from there, both of you.”

Rosa’s voice came in over the com. “You will be entering the wreck through a micrometeorite hole on the upper side of the ship. I have inserted a drone in a complementary orbit with your launch so that I can see about thirty feet under the hull in each direction. And, no, there’s no sign of an alien horde.”

“See?” Bruce said. “It only looks like Battleship Gothic.”

Charlotte took another look across the scenery. The spaceship must have hit the surface of the Moon at a pretty good clip. Even after fifty thousand years, you could see mostly bare Moon rock where the hull had gouged its course. There was even some metal detritus scraped off the hull in its course. Unfortunately, they had already looked at the detritus and learned exactly nothing. The spaceship was scary. In a novel, there was always something scary on a wreck like this, and Rosa had been disturbingly evasive when Dr. Cambridge asked whether that sort of thing ever happened in real life.

And Charlotte’s cousin May had told her a story about a wreck that she and her friends had explored in the 31st Century. Not only was there an evil alien horde hiding in the wreck, but they’d been infiltrated by an evil clone of Rebecca Hirsch’s Mom. Who, in one of those weird things that happened when you got into time travel, turned out to be Rebecca. But the point was that the one real space hulk Charlotte had heard about involved, sure enough, a horde of aliens.

Bruce leaned over so that his helmet touched Charlotte’s. His voice came through without aid of radio. “Jaime Neilsen told me a story about fighting aliens in a wrecked spaceship in the 31st Century.”

“You honestly think May would have missed a chance to scare me with a story like that?”

“Good point,” Bruce answered. “Want to go check the hole?”

“We should wait for our counsellor, who is an adult and responsible for us,” Charlotte answered, using her sarcasm voice.

“Yeah,” Bruce answered. “Besides, if the Tyranids come out in the open, we could shoot them.. If we had guns. I wish I had a gun right now.”

“I thought you weren’t allowed to use guns.”

“That’s part of the, like, 95% of stuff about Batman that DC editorial made up. Unless the Scarlet Archer or the Black Mask or one of the other five families can’t use guns. Gramps used to use guns all the time back in the Depression, ‘till he realised that he was just making messes that he’d have to clean up.”

“So would you be making a mess that you’d have to clean up if you started shooting Genestealers as they came climbing out of that hole?”

“Nah. They’re a lot scarier than thugs waving knives and Saturday Night Specials.”

“Saturday Night whos?”

“Cheap guns.” Bruce scowled. “They used to have cheap guns that weren’t very good. Not so much nowadays. Now, the guns are good enough that it’s all in how you use it. I wish Gramps had the right gun in 1984. I’d have had a chance to meet him. Maybe…”

Charlotte watched through his faceplate visor as Bruce’s face turned sad. She cupped her hand, fingers up, against the bottom of his visor. “Vanguard. . . .” But she couldn’t get the excuses out with Bruce looking at her like that. In his eyes, she could see real hurt instead of his usual glib humour. “I’m sorry, Bruce.”

“Aw, forget it. If he’d been alive, he’d probably have told my Mom to stay away from my Dad, and I wouldn’t be here. Or Babs, either. After his first marriage. . . ”

Charlotte noticed the huffing noise of someone breathing heavily in the comm and turned around, bracing herself against the sick angle of the catwalk. Below, halfway up the hull, Dr. Cambridge was climbing up the side of the hull with the climbing pods on their gloves. Wow. With the one-sixth gravity, Dr. Cambridge must be really out of shape to have to work that much, she thought.

At last, Dr. Cambridge made it up to the catwalk. She expressed her displeasure with its inconveniently tilted angle by sprawling dramatically across it, holding the rung of the upper safety rail while bracing her boots against a base leg of the lower rail. Why, Charlotte thought to herself, did she choose a purple spacesuit? Rose stood awkwardly behind Dr. Cambridge, her hands around their counsellor’s middle. Rose tentatively took her hands off Dr. Cambridge. The counsellor twisted around to look over her shoulder, glaring at Rose back until she put her hands back.

Gold light dusted them. Charlotte looked up. Dora was hovering over them. “No sign of movement from the hole.” She made a fast Tinkerbell swoop a little closer to the hole. this is getting old.”

“Everyone partner up! Rose, you’re with me. Charlotte, you and Bruce go check out the micrometeorite penetration.”

“Ma’am?” Dora backed up and spun round so that she faced Dr. Cambridge. “There’s five of us.”

”Can’t you summon that spacehorse of yours?” Dr. Cambridge had apparently given up on enforcing her doctorate.

Dora sounded exasperated. “It’s Charlotte’s horse that fights bad guys. Mine is just a space horse. Sparkly, fly-y, eats polonium instead of hay, but still a horse.”

“Tellus isn’t my horse, really. He keeps trying to throw me.”

“Yeah. Like that that’ll lost if you keep up like you’re going, Char-Char.”

Dora’s confidence cheered Charlotte up. She vaulted the railing, headed for the jagged hole where the tiny, long-ago meteorite had smashed the hull of the spacewreck. Maybe even caused the wreck? 

Reaching the edge of the hole, Charlotte dropped lightly into it. A rope ladder unrolled behind her, but Bruce didn’t use the rungs, just slid down, landing at a crouch. At the exact moment that he came up again, a Goblinarang in both hands, the lightglobes that he had dropped behind him touched down, forming a perimeter of light around them. The Pearl Harmony sword sprang into Charlotte’s hand as she saw what the lights exposed.

Weak as it was, the lambent yellow glow showed a circular corridor. Like the tunnels that connected Tatammy High to their superbase beneath West Philadelphia, the base of the corridor was filled in to form a flat walkway. But, of course, because the ship was crashed at an angle, instead of being flat, the deck was tipped up, and Charlotte and Bruce were standing on it at a weird angle, one foot braced on the deck, one on the corridor. 

Awkward. And she didn’t mean being alone in the dim with Bruce, either. What would people say?

But awkward thoughts weren’t what had made Charlotte gasp. Because in all the things she had imagined the inside of a spaceship might look like, she had never imagined that its walls would be covered with fluid twisty, silhouette-style paintings of animals.

“Wow,” Bruce said. Well, this ship was on Earth 50,000 years ago. I guess it figures that it’d have cave paintings in it.”

The rope ladder began to stir and then slide downwards into a pile on the “ground.” Charlotte looked up. Dr.Cambridge was clinging to it, while Rose lowered her down. Rose bent down to put her head into the corridor tunnel and a light sprang on in her helmet.

I wonder if my suit has one of those, Charlotte thought. She reached up. Sure enough, it did, and she flicked it on, just as a light in the corridor announced that Bruce had found his. Eh, Charlotte thought, just because he’s good at everything doesn’t mean that he knows every little detail about a spacesuit he’s never worn before. Some things you had to learn on your own. Like Scout, who actually had to learn to be a marksman.

“Funny cavepaintings,” Rose said. “That’s a kangaroo over there. I don’t think there’s any kangaroos in the old European cave paintings.”

Rosa’s voice chimed in. “Also, 50,000 years ago, there were no cave painters in Australia.”

“That’s rather racist,” Dr. Cambridge said. “I’m sure that the Aborigines would have done cavepaintings if they needed them to get in touch with nature.”

“Uhm,” Rose began.

“But Rosa’s voice came over the comm first. “Actually, the earliest ancestors of the Aborigines were participating in a low-magic urban civilisation 50,000 years ago. The Valdorian Age, it’s called in the magical community, though I think that archaeologists refer to it as the “First Intermediate Localised Magic-Based Cultural Horizon. So, no, they wouldn’t have been making cave paintings. They would have been doing paintings and pottery and sculptures and what not. There’s quite a nice interpretative centre at an archaeological dig in Melbourne if you ever want to go see what we know about it.” 

“But when magic declined and the climate changed, and the ancestors of the Aborigines were stuck back in the Old Stone Age, all those old paintings and sculptures would have been around to inspire them.” Bruce paused. “Maybe some Valdorian wizards built this ship..”

Charlotte stamped on the hull beneath her. “I dunno. This doesn’t feel like a magic-based spaceship. It feels all solid and science-y to me.”

“Guys?” Dora said from well down the corridor. “Maybe we can ask this guy.” Charlotte peered into the gloom. Dora’s golden light was cast over something massive.

“Hold on, Rose,” Dr. Dr. Cambridge’s feet spasmed as she tried to climb back up a rung. “Bruce, you and Charlotte go check it out.”

Charlotte put her sword over her shoulder without sheathing it, while Bruce put away one of his Goblinarangs and drew a truncheon instead. Then she walked over to Dora, who was hunched over a massive statue that had fallen over something. Or someone. It was hard to tell, at first, because sometime after the statue fell and crushed something, it had shifted to lie level at the new, slanted angle that the ship 

But once Charlotte was standing next to Dora, she could see the thing awkwardly and messily spilled on the ground. Wedged under the upthrust arm of the statue was a mummified head. Dora pointed down at it. “Eww. Mummy.”

“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “And look at this.” Gold light spilled over the wrinkled face of the mummy. And its ear. Its wrinkled, leathery, pointed ear.

“An elf?” Charlotte asked. “I thought the only elves left since the Old Red Aeon were in Fairyland.” She paused. “And Ms. Grey.” Tatammy High’s Esoteric Studies teacher was an elf, but that wasn’t surprising, since she’d been hanging around since the end of the Old Red Aeon, when Takofanes had been defeated at the cost of depleting the Earth’s natural magic and smashing all the spells holding back the next Ice Age.

“Not quite,” Bruce answered. “Some of them hung around long enough to terraform Landing 50,000 years ago. And--,” but he stopped himself and said no more. 

“One thing’s for sure,” Rose said. “We need to know more about the Valdorian Age.”

But except for weird statues and the melted wreck of the hyperdrive that proved that the ship had been caught by the same hyperdrive anomaly that nearly wrecked Rosa, there was nothing.

On the bright side, Charlotte thought, at least there was no alien horde. They’d have enough action when they rumbled the Paradigmm Pirates.



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