Chapter 3, 35: Storm Is Coming
Charlotte twirled on the wooden floor. The dark, grooved wood tickled her bare soles. She was up en pointe. I’m a ballerina, she thought. And for a moment she was sad, because her music box dancer had been the best thing about the last Christmas they spent with Grandpa.
It was dark in the bunkhouse. Power was out in the valley again, and a Coleman Lantern was fighting the darkness of Colony Day night. It was the end of the first week of Space August (August 5th, 2012 on Earth.) For the teens of the valley, it was half-way from school’s end to the first day of the new year. And close enough for Charlotte, Dora and Rose.
But I am so not going to think about that, Charlotte promised herself as she gave a flirty little shake of the bikini bottom. Just like I’m not going to think about doing that in public. This is crazy. I’ve worn swimsuits before, she thought. But not like the two-piece yellow number that Lisa had designed for her, a classic two-piece with straps going just here and there to flatter every one of Charlotte’s curves.
Dora looked down from her bunk. Her head was silhouetted by the flickering lantern, casting a weird shadow on the floor. “It’s awesome cute, Char-Char.”
Rose, already in her white pyjamas, was braced against the frame of the bed on the lower bunk. A reading light was clipped to a wooden cross frame, casting the cool white light of Modern Science on her book, steepled on the coverlet where she had put it down. “I honestly can’t see how you can lose, Charlotte.”
“The boys’ll be drooling,” Dora answered. “But they don’t vote.”
No, they don’t. I’ve got to impress old people. Enough with the flirting, already, Charlotte thought, going over into a handstand and then springing lightly onto the top of one of the unfurnished bunkbeds across the aisle from the pool of light filled by her friends.
From the height, she could hear the sudden rattle of rain hitting the roof. Outside, the trees roared in a west wind, and even the west-facing wall of the bunkhouse seemed to moan. “And Brittany will probably wear something even skimpier.”
“Which will tell against her with the judges,” Rose pointed out.
It was hard to argue against that logic, actually. Except, “But she’s blonde.”
Dora sighed. “And we come back to the whole thing, again.”
Charlotte felt a draft against her back. She jumped down and rolled into her own bunk in one motion, flinging the coverlet over herself as she did so. “Brr. Cold draft, icy bitch. What else is cold today? Rose?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Dora dangled her head down so that she could look her friend upside down. Her auburn hair dangled. In the lantern light, it was a spooky sphagetti monster. “So why aren’t you off sucking face with the Dark Ninja?”
“It’s not, I’m not, why are you talking like that, Dora?”
“Hello, Rose? You’re the only one of us who has a boyfriend right now. And you’re the uptight one! It’s not fair and we’re jealous!”
“Uhm, investigation?” Charlotte added.
“Yeah. And he’s totally our inside source for the Evil Plan of the Evil Mastermind. So spill.”
Rose paused for a long moment. Then, finally, she answered. “He still won’t let me see his face.”
“It’s okay, Belle,” Dora answered. “The Monster will turn out to be a handsome prince. Or at least well groomed.”
“He…let me feel it. He just won’t show it to me.”
Dora flipped over to land, spinning down to land on the bunk next to Rose. They both bounced with the impact. “Can you kiss in the dark?”
Rose paused again for a long moment, and the rose flushes on her pale cheeks grew and brightened so that you could even see them in the evening light. “I . . .yeah.”
Ooh, Charlotte thought. Juicy. Then she wrenched her mind back from that awesome gossip to the important stuff, which was that that was very, very weird. “I . . .wow. Clearly we have no idea what is going on there. But what about the investigation?”
“So, Eve won’t say much.”
“Duh,” Dora answered, and Rose reached out and pushed her hard on the shoulder.
“But we were right about at least this much. Her Dad used some kind of gadget to shapeshift into a sabretooth and another one to hide himself away in hammer space or wherever. She had the shapeshifting gadget, and gave it to the aliens when they first contacted the Pirates up south. So that’s how they’re pretending to be sabretooth tigers. There’s also big snakes that hang out with the aliens, but he doesn’t know anything about them.”
The rafters rattled again. From out on the lake, the mournful sound of the foghorn at Geithner’s Strike sounded.
“Who’d be out on the water in this weather, anyway?” Dora asked.
“It’s Colony Day,” Rose pointed out. “There were probably a million people down the lake at barbecues. They’ll be out there trying to get home right now.”
“I think,” Charlotte said, “That this’d be one of your superhero-type situations.
“Yay! You can wear your new bikini,” Dora cheered.
Charlotte just looked at her. “Yeah, no. Costumes, weapons. I do not like this power outage.”
Minutes later, they were out on the bluffs overlooking the lake on the west side of Paradise Island. Far below them were the deep waters where Charlotte had first seen one of the snakes. But in the darkness, she could barely even see the water itself. Farther out, in the choppy water, boom towboats were out, lights shining from their cabins.
“They must be looking for pleasure boats in trouble,” Rose speculated.
“Yeah,” Charlotte said, focussing on the far shore, where a towboat had just stopped suddenly with its lights out. “And maybe finding it.” She pointed.
“Shapechanging aliens looking for The One?” Rose asked.
“Or snakes. Or something. It’s pretty crude and blatant, but, yeah. You’ve got to figure that they’re running out of options short of just coming down and taking over town, and if they haven’t done that yet, maybe they’re working themselves up to it.”
“We should go do something about that,” Dora said. “I’d be doing it already if the whole ‘golden comet lighting up the sky’ thing wasn’t maybe the wrong approach just slightly.”
“I can push across the lake,” Rose suggested. “Superspeed kicking? I’m not sure how fast I can go before I start cavitating, but it should be pretty quick, I think.”
“Science talk make Dora feel stupid!”
“I’m sorry if you weren’t paying attention in fluid dynamics class, Dora.”
“Grade 9. We’re going into Grade 9! No fluid dynamics. Bad Rose. You know what your problem is, Rose? You don’t play enough video games. They’d kill that annoying brain of yours and you’d be one of us.”
“One of us,” Charlotte echoed.
“One of us,” Dora finished.
“I love you guys, too,” Rose said, as she led the way down the path towards the beach on the lakeside of Paradise Island. There was a rowboat pulled up on a painter there, and, sure enough, with Rose hanging onto the back and kicking, they could make a good ten miles an hour before the water started frothing and bubbling.
The fact that they were under way in a white-topped chop that made the rowboat lurch and roll in a distinctly frightening way that almost made Charlotte forget the embarrassing sounds around Rose’s thighs.
At that speed, they were across the lake and at the towboat in a matter of minutes. The prow of the boat tipped the towboat, grinding with a dull, wet sound. Charlotte took the wet gunwale in her hands and vaulted aboard. Then she crouched down below the level of the cabin window. Through her hands, she felt the deck vibrate with the even pulse of people breathing in sleep. Now, Charlotte waited.
And waited. Finally, she looked back. Rose and Dora were clinging to the thwarts on the plunging, rolling rowboat and looking uncertainly up her.
Oh, right. Normals. A thick, manila yellow rope was hanging from the towboat next to the old tires of the front bumper. Charlotte untied it and threw it down to the rowboat. Rose grabbed the end of the rope gingerly in one hand and began, awkwardly, to pull herself up it towards the towboat. Dora followed.
Charlotte’s wristcomm tickled her silently. She looked at it.
R:So here we are.
R: You saved, like, one word with that abbreviation.
R: Your face is going to freeze that way.
C: Kids? Look.
Charlotte pointed at the prow of the towboat. The name of the boat was written there: “Ferguson’s Hope.”
R: Like the kid that got the disease that makes you a space elf from the statue at the excavation? You know, when I say it like that, it sounds weird.
D: Can 4low on Twitter?
C: Yeah. That kid.
Cautiously, Charlotte stood just far enough to look into through the window. In the very faint light cast by the old fashioned LED displays scattered around the cabin, she could see two people slumped on the floor of the cabin.
Rose’s masked head came up beside her to take the scene in.
R: Brian Ferguson’s parents?
R: But his sister?
C: Maybe at home?
R: You don’t think that. I don’t think that. Genetics, remember? Well, metagenetics. I mean, the tendency to express space elf characteristics like green skin and pointy ears is heritable, kind of like whatever special powers and stuff that Eve inherits from her Dad and his gang of Eternals or whatever they are. It’s just not in DNA, exactly.
D: Def 4low on the Twit.
C: Don’t think that. On shore.
Charlotte scrambled around the towboat and dropped from the deck on the land side. Sure enough, it was grounded in less than two feet of water. She thought for a second about drawing the Pearl Harmony, but its whole “glow in the face of danger” thing seemed like it would be a liability when they were sneaking up on the Big Bad. You had to wonder how Frodo and Bilbo did it. Come to think of it, what if Sauron had installed metal detectors at the Mordor borders?
Charlotte stepped out of the water onto what hardly counted as a beach, basically a step in the shelving rock that she sensed more than felt in the darkness. Fortunately, her hands met a convenient branch at mid-height, and she pulled herself into the trees that came down almost to the water, wedging her feet between two trunks to give herself a secure place to stand. She looked back at her friends.
Dora and Rose were picking their way across the water. Charlotte looked back, searching for a place to climb up and forward, and finally finding one. She pulled herself past two trees and then another.
Soon, Charlotte was full-on climbing up the sharp slope, pulling herself from one handhold to the next. Behind her, Dora and Rose were trying to mark her path and follow. She wondered for a second how the Big Bad did it, before deciding that he could probably fly.
Heck, they could fly, carried all free and easy by the Maid of Gold, if they weren’t trying to sneak up on the Big Bad. If you’re watching us and laughing right now, Big Bad, Charlotte thought, I will hate you forever.
Well, more than I do right now.
Then Charlotte crested he rise and entered a clearing, formed by a windrow of fallen trees. It was open to the clouds and the blowing rain, and in its middle, there was a glowing ring inscribed on the ground.
In the middle of the ring, a girl in jean shorts and a plaid, tied-off shirt floated in mid-air.
R: Obviously he wants us to think that we’ve stumbled into a fairy ring deal.
D: 8te. 2 cliché.
R: Cliché or not, if you hear music and feel like dancing, don’t. Also, watch out for. . .
Charlotte watched the ‘waiting’ dots blink at the end of Rose’s message with the lazy feeling that she really should be doing something else. Like getting out of the rain, for example. For in some distant part of her body that might be her upper lip, rain was needling her in what ought to be an uncomfortable way.
Dora sat down beside her onto a log. It was rotten, and Dora’s butt fell right through it, leaving Dora flat on her back in the rain. She giggled. Loudly.
Charlotte considered reminding Dora that they were trying to be quiet. But that would be awfully mean, and why was she the one who had to be mean to Dora all the time? It was an awful lot of work, compared with, say, having a nice sit down right about now. Should be safe, right? It wasn’t dancing.
Kinda opposite, really. Charlotte sat down, picking out her spot more carefully than Dora had.
Rose, still standing, swivelled towards the southern edge of the glade. Charlotte looked in that direction.
An elf walked out of the woods into the light of the circle.
He was not, Charlotte thought, what she expected at all. Oh, he was tall and had spooky eyes and a weird haircut and stuff, but he didn’t have pointy ears, and his skin was a golden shade rather than green. And he looked amazingly like her Cousin Amy’s boyfriend, John Roy.
Somewhere in her brain, as distant from anything important as the feeling of rain needling her lip, some part of her screamed at that realisation.