Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chapter 3, 33: Comic Book Role Models

 The Second Light of Luathon is a 10d6 Area of Effect attack. Which I really should remember if I ever write these characters up.


Chapter 3, 33: Comic Book Role Models

Charlotte looked down at the hand that held her wrist. It came down from a bare arm through gold bangles. It was smooth and clean, and it had clunky costume jewelry on three fingers and a genuine rock on simple gold in the middle. Dora could probably tell her how many carats, but whatever. Way more than a fourteen-year-old should be wearing. Dora squinted and looked back up the arm. She had fought Avant Garde, the weirdo shapechanger/duplicator with the crazy fashion choices who hung out with Professor Paradigm often enough to wonder. But, no, this girl was dressed for field work. If you called a too-short white shirt done up over your chest by a single button over a black bra and tight jean cut-offs and black, tooled cowboy boots “work clothes,” that is. Plus there was the energy blast, forming oh-so-slowly in the hand of this Asian girl with the long blonde hair.

Charlotte took it in. She also took in the chaos around her. The surge of panicked pickers from the direction of the river was getting wilder as the report of pulson blasters, and now even regular guns came one after another. Here and there, a truck was racing its engines, trying to push through the crowd, while horses reared in their traces, whinnying and fighting to get free. Nearest to Charlotte, a mare looked like it was about to win its fight with the driver, the heavily wrapped kid was curled in the bottom of the wagon, crying and talking to himself. With a sinking heart, Charlotte realised that he was a special needs kid.

And worse was to come, she suspected. From the direction of the firefight, Charlotte caught a glimpse of tawny hide. Something like that, she thought, as she fancied that she smelled cat. This was more than mob scene and some gunshots. The scent of dangerous predators was in the air. She looked back at the girl, and almost negligently swatted the forming blast down with the Pearl Harmony as she pivoted and reversed to throw the girl head over tail. What kind of idiot sniper went hand-to-hand with a freaking kung-fu princess, anyway?

“Lucky you don’t get a curb stomping, come on like that,” Charlotte scolded the somersaulting, too-tightly wrapped butt as it led the rest of than Over-The-Top Paradigm Pirate Blast Girl into a collapsing canvas tent, pulled cords lashing the tent pegs through the air. Unfortunately, Charlotte had a feeling that she was going to end up regretting this a lot more. It would be nice to be able to finish a fight once in a while.

But there were things to do. She vaulted on the Pearl Harmony, sheathing in mid-air before landing astride the rearing carthorse. She could feel the sweat of a horse in panic through her jeans as she took the horse’s baffles by both hands. “It’s okay, it’s okay, girl” she said in what she hoped was a soothing voice. Charlotte hoped that the horse was more easy-going than Tellus. And that the kid, if he was listening, didn’t mind being called “girl.”

For a second, it seemed to work. Charlotte had a chance to survey the crowd and see that the four CBI backup agents had taken firing positions behind what shelter was available. Dora had taken to the air and was lashing the ground beyond the crowd with golden blasts. Rose was trying to pull someone out of a collapsed tent, and Bruce was still disappeared.

Then one of the tawny streaks broke through the crowd. It was a sabretooth, all right, but somehow it was holding a pulson blaster in its tail. For a prehistoric alpha predator, it was a pretty good multi-tasker, too, charging directly at Charlotte on her horse while firing fast and accurately at the nearest CBI agent behind his cover. The second pulson blast hit the hood of the truck the agent was hiding behind and sent it soaring into the air. A violent gust of fire swept the exposed engine, sending black smoke into the air with the force of loose pages flying out of a fallen book.

The sabretooth came on. It was definitely coming for the mare, coming around the back of that wagon with what looked like the fastest trot that it thought it could get away with without distracting the mare from her ongoing freakout.

“It’s okay,” Bruce said in her phone. “It’s a diesel. Not going to explode.”

“You’re out of position, damnit,” Charlotte answered, letting more anger leak into her voice than she would have liked, while burying her face in the mare’s black mane, hoping to somehow calm it down and get it moving in a constructive direction.

“Can’t be helped,” Bruce said. “I’ll be back in action in a sec.”

Meanwhile, horses not being completely stupid, the mare and its partner had revised their operational plan from “panic and carry on” to “cooperate and run away real fast.” As they began to move, the sabretooth went into its dash to the kill, that weirdly humping swing of both back legs right through the front paws that came up to claw ground –or some unlucky target.

Unfortunately, the wagon was jacked over to the right. Fortunately, that gave Charlotte an idea. She pulled the mare’s baffle to her left. The mare instinctively pivoted, leading her partner. Behind them, the wagon began to whipsaw.

Desperately hoping that the unguided horses wouldn’t trample anyone, Charlotte somersaulted back onto the bed of the wagon, sticking the landing right food down. Keeping her balance on the swinging wagon took all her grace, but she managed it, pulling the blubbering kid up and over into a fireman’s carry just as the sideboard of the wagon took the sabretooth unexpectedly with its full weight. The big cat went in one direction, with a surprised meow like a frustrated housecat. Charlotte went the other.

She felt absurdly heavy and graceless as she hit the ground, grunting like some macho weightlifter. Part of that had to do with the fact that the kid was way bigger and heavier than he seemed, and Charlotte briefly wondered just how much of what he was wearing was really padding, and how much just looked that way. More importantly, it was because she was acting like some macho weightlifter. But what were you going to do when horses and kids were in danger?

Speaking of which, Rose didn’t seem to be winning her wrestling match, and, above her, Dora’s golden nimbus flared as she took a direct hit from a pulson blast. That was only going to end one way, so, hoping that she hadn’t saved her charge from the runaway wagon only to have him break his neck from being dropped off her shoulder. But this situation was very close to being out of control. So drop him is what Charlotte did.

Freed of the burden, Charlotte ran over to help Rose. A powerful, male hand extending from under the collapsed ttent had Rose by the wrist, and Fashionista Diva Energy Blast Douchegirl was lifting herself from the billowing folds with one arm and setting up a finishing shot in other hand.

“Yeah,” Charlotte said, running by, “None of that.” The sheathed Pearl Harmony came down, hard but firm, on the girl’s head. Then Charlotte had the overcoated arm of Rose’s mystery assailant in an simple disabling grip. That was at least one thing. Charlotte thought, that was under control here today.

Until, that is, her hand closed on smooth metal. Her fingers just had time to feel the weird tracery of some kind of florid decoration before it vanished from her hand and Professor Paradigm, free of tent and overcoat and the encumbrance of either Rose or Charlotte rose into the sky.

Charlotte lashed out with the sheathed Pearl Harmony, but it went right through the horn-and-flange decorated armour as though it were immaterial. Because it was immaterial, of course. That was right in her briefing. Burato could, amongst other things, do desolid. Didn’t stop it from being cheating, though.

Charlotte growled in frustration. Above her, free in the air, Paradigm was taking up a dramatic pose and getting ready for some monologuing.

The rest of the pickers’ camp, Charlotte saw, was a deserted tableau of knocked-down tents and strewn debris, with a few injured pickers on the ground. The rest of them had either gotten away clean or at least found good hiding spots, because there was no-one moving out there. That being thanks to the ongoing firefight between the CBI field agents and the sabretooths, all of whom seemed to have pulson blasters clasped in their tails.

Fortunately, numbers seemed to be about equal, and the CBI agents had the advantage of air cover from Dora. Unfortunately, that couldn’t last, and, as Charlotte watched, didn’t. Dora took one pulson too many and was blasted to the ground. Fortunately, she retained enough control to plant her butt on the ground with a shuddering impact right next to Charlotte and Rose.

Unfortunately, unless Professor Paradigm was completely nuts, he was about to cut loose with his science-magic take on a classic spell, the Second Light of Luathon, which was classic for a reason. It was quite enough to take out the entire group. Unless some more, he’d managed to research up something even deadlier.

But then Bruce finally decided to make himself visible, darting around from behind a particularly high stack of snarled tents and throwing a Goblinarang at Professor Paradigm’s back.

It missed. Professor Paradigm turned around, and with a casual wave of his hand, let Bruce have the entire force of the Second Light. For a moment, Bruce was limned with magical light. And then he just disappeared.

“That’s odd,” Professor Paradigm’s voice boomed across the camp, in that musing talking-to-yourself voice that particularly eccentric teachers had. “Unless you children are really underprotected.”

Then he switched tones, as though he had just thought of something. “You know, the rest of you can surrender. There’s no harm in failing if you’ve tried your best.”

Charlotte would have taken some time to answer if she hadn’t been busy getting Dora up over her shoulder and out to the edge of the camp and into the alder brake. She hoped that under the cover of the scrubby, green trees, Professor Paradigm wouldn’t be able to target them. As she did, Charlotte took the gadget that she had hoped to use in a situation like this from her belt, but at a touch of her hand she could tell that it had burned out already.

Oh, well. She tossed it back into the middle of the camp, not really expecting very much from the action, but Professor Paradigm disintegrated it with a sizzling blast.

“Great,” Charlotte muttered. “We’re fighting an ADHD supervillain.”

“We knew that already,” Rose answered. “You didn’t have to waste the—“

“Confirmation,” Charlotte hissed back.

There was a stirring in the brush to one side. Charlotte waved the now-unsheathed Pearl Harmony at it.

“Oh, crap!” The voice torn from the brush from the direction of the sounds was familiarly bro-like. “It’s one of those magic swords again!”

“Professor doesn’t need our help bad enough for me to get my jaw cut off again. Let’s go search the tents for beer.”

At least, Charlotte thought, we’re not going to have those chicken-ass werewolves to deal with. It was a major consolation, given that the sabretooths, now free to move around, had already taken out one of the field agents and were closing in on another. Meanwhile, there was a rustling from the brush to the lakeside, too, and Charlotte didn’t expect that to be someone, or something, or some alien, who would be easily deterred.

“Um. I planned it that way,” Dora muttered.”

Next moment, the trees and branches around Charlotte were picked up, as if by a fierce wind, and swept back. Branches cracked and entire tree trunks snapped. In a straight line of pulped wood and scattered leaves, the girls could see through the brush and into the air to Professor Paradigm, who held out his bulky gauntlet.

And that, Charlotte thought, was what the Second Light of Luathon did to trees that got in its way. Okay, Charlotte thought, priority list, third revision. First we deal with Professor Paradigm. Meanwhile, Rose deals singlehandedly with the scary sabretooth-with-blaster that was sneaking up on them through the brush. The one that might even be the same scary thing that had almost killed her the week before. Then, together, we deal with all the other sabretooths. Easy-peasy! “Okay, Dora. You ready? Rose, can you delay Sneaky Cat?”

“This it’d be a lot easier if you hadn’t thrown away the—“

“It was burned out, anyway. Now!”

Rose sprinted to the side while Dora’s nimbus clicked on again. Charlotte sighed with relief. They would have been screwed if Dora had run out of oomph to call the needfire. Then, she cricket jumped for all that she was worth.

The two superheroes soared into the air, bracing Professor Paradigm from either side. Charlotte was aiming down the Pearl Harmony like a swordsman in a martial arts poster, while golden effulgence built up in front of Dora like a wave. Thought was that Paradigm’s power effects might be vulnerable to magic. Of course, in the comics, Superman was vulnerable to magic, but it never seemed to stop him in the end.

Best not to think that way, Charlotte scolded herself, as she hit the apex of her leap, which took her as high as the nearest orchard, one bench up from the picker’s camp on the hillside away from the lake.

Paradigm scooted back, avoiding Dora’s golden wave easily, but to do so, he had to line up on Charlotte’s blade.

Closer, Charlotte thought, closer, and I’ve got you. She was already braced for impact, and, quite likely, the feeling of the Pearl Harmony sword’s razor-sharp, magical blade sliding through the soft human flesh beneath the armour. Briefly, horribly, Charlotte remembered her brother stabbing her, and the tip of her blade wavered.

And at that last moment, Paradigm pulled up and away from it, clear to pivot and blast Dora, powerfully enough to go right through the Maid of Gold’s defences in a single shot and put her down, unconscious, all over again. .

Not much chance, Charlotte thought, as she began to fall, of Dora calling the needfire a third time in a single day. They had failed.

As she fell, Charlotte watched Bruce emerge from behind a tree on the edge of the orchard above. He was moving slowly, because that was the only way that you can move when you’re pushing a minigun on a wagon. Just as Charlotte hit the ground, the gun opened up, and four 5.56mm slugs spun off Paradigm’s armour.

The second four rounds just vanished, passing through Paradigm’s dimensional warp. The third? Not so much. That was the advantage of autofire, Charlotte thought, as she hit the ground rolling and came up running, heading for the hairball that was Rose taking on the sabretooth.

A claw was coming down on the blur that was Rose as Charlotte reached her friend, interposing the naked blade. That was when a very surprising thing happened. While the sabretooth pulled its paw back with a scorching yowl, the special needs kid bellowed almost as loudly. Charlotte spared him a glance before turning back on the cat. He was staring at the fight, transfixed, eyes wide in his clammy-pink pale skin.

That kid, Charlotte thought, seems familiar. But then minigun fire began to walk the ground, driving the sabretooths back from the CBI agents. “About time,” Charlotte muttered into her phone.

“This thing is butt-awkward,” Bruce answered.

“You could have just driven it to the edge of the orchard.”

“What if someone heard the truck motor?”

“Fair point,” Charlotte conceded.

“Always pre-empt!”

“You said.”

“Hence my plan. My holographic projector?”

“Our plan.” Though it was Agent John who had actually made it happen.

Then, “Burned out,” Charlotte answered the question. “Too bad. I wasn’t done using you as a decoy.”

“Probably a field effect from Paradigm’s magic. How is Mr. Burato, anyway? Is he—“ Bruce’s voice caught. ‘Is he dead?” Charlotte finished for him, in her head.

Also a good point, Charlotte thought. She hurried over to where Rose was already standing, above the fallen drama teacher.

“Crap!” Rose said, as Charlotte came up.


Rose pointed down. Professor Paradigm’s armour was stiched through by four neat bullets down one side. On the other side, they were much less neat, having burst through in exit wounds, the way that bullets are supposed to do. But instead of revealing gross, horrific human flesh, robot parts and lubricating oil stood revealed. “It’s a goddamned Doombot!”

“Doctor Doom isn’t real, Rose.”

“I know he’s not real. It’s an example. A whatchamacallit. Paradigmbot? The point is, this is cheating! We won fair and square, and now we can only say we beat a stupid robot double. And you know what the worst part is?”

“The dead field agent? This mess? My headache?” Dora asked.

Two field agents going by with a stretcher looked up. “Wounded, actually,” said the one at the head end.

Charlotte felt a wave of relief, and Rose put her hand to her forehead for a moment before continuing. “It’s the oldest trick in the world. The Doombot alibi! It wasn’t me, Mr. Burato can say. The real Professor Paradigm built this robot to frame me! While the robot was impersonating me, I was back on Earth. Preparing my 2012—2013 syllabus. Which I will be teaching in September. Because you guys can’t arrest me or fire me for something that a robot did.”

“Good,” Dora said. “I was thinking about taking drama next year. He really seems to know his stuff.”


Dora, Charlotte assumed, was just kidding. No-one would want to take Drama with Overdressed Stupid Energy Blast Bitch. Who, it turned out, had escaped in the confusion. That’s it, bitch. See if we give you a ride back to Earth.


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