Chapter 3, 36: Eye of the Storm
Charlotte stood, unable to move in the rain-swept darkness of the strangely-lit little grove on the west bank of Long Lake. She felt as though her mind were packed in sticky cotton candy, unable to move, just trapped in a sweet, rose-coloured carelessness. Rose was to her left, Dora to her right. Rain was trickling down her chin. It was exactly like her brother said. Mind control was really annoying. Stupid, creepy, psis.
The stupid, creepy psi stood in the middle of the grove. He was a typical Mandaarian, with the upswept do that was exactly like some grody old bachelor decided to never have a haircut and then slept on his sticky hair all wrong until his widow’s peaks turned into real peaks, crests overshadowing his head on both sides.. Only not actually gross, Charlotte had to admit. She was just riding him on account of his being a stupid, creepy psi. Actually, he looked kind of smart, even hot, a bit, with his strange eyes and golden skin that was perfectly set off by his golden headband. Charlotte could get why her Cousin Amy was dating his clone. His outfit was kind of cool, also. Admittedly, shiny silver space armour with shiny silver gauntlets and big, flared boots weren’t the biggest fashion trend of the summer of 2012 (well, okay, flared boots aside), but Sovereign made it work. The cloak buttoned to it by great, gold clasps was a nice shade of red, and managed to flutter in the storm wind, ignoring the rain. Charlotte reflected that if she weren’t a kung fu princess, she would definitely have to consider getting a cloak. Maybe her Cousin Jenny could make it work?
In front of Sovereign, Nadia Ferguson still floated in mid-air, lit by the blue-white light circle that surrounded the grove. The Mandaarian, easy in his armour, examined Brian Ferguson’s little sister with a gadget thing that looked like someone melted a Star Trek tricorder and added a big screen. Lightning flickered overhead, which, Charlotte had to admit, was perfect for any or all occasions involving future-science gadgets.
That’s right, Charlotte thought. Be facetious. Don’t sweat how serious this situation is, girl. Mr. Stupid, Creepy Psi over there is Sovereign, the Mandaarian renegade who was a single-handed match for the Champions 3000 up in the 31st Century. Of course, Charlotte thought, he probably levelled up a few times over the next thousand years. Or whatever tense you use to refer to future things that happened in the past, or whatever. Add to the list of things that are stupid after psionic mind control, Charlotte thought: time travel.
A hard, pointy thing gently nudged Charlotte’s back, and she felt relief flood through her. Ginger.. Charlotte tried not to wonder what her little crow could do in a situation like this. Ginger was here. Everything would be okay.
The stupid, creepy psi finished looking at his gadget and bent over Nadia, reaching out to lift her eyelid with one finger and peer closer. He sighed, more like a human than a Mandaarian. Unless Mandaarians sighed a lot, which Charlotte didn’t know, since she’d hardly met any Mandaarians. John Roy, her cousin’s boy friend, was some kind of weird science-clone who was also human.
Unless Mandaarians were actually humans pretending to be aliens. That’d be your classic twist. M. Night Shama-Lama-Ding-Dong call your office! If Shyamalan still had an office after all the sucky “twist-ending” movies he’d made.
Focus, Charlotte, she thought, sternly. It was hard, though. She couldn’t feel her body, couldn’t move a muscle, and, somehow, it was making her sleepy, her mind drifting. And she wasn’t afraid, like she should be. That was probably the effect of the mind control: taking away her muscle control and her emotions. Dora and Rose, she noticed, were both slumping, as though they were falling asleep.
Ginger’s beak touched Charlotte again and again, half way between needling and nudging, like a kitten kneading with its sharp, little claws. Don’t drift, Charlotte, she could almost hear Ginger say. Help is on the way.
Though I shouldn’t need help, Charlotte thought. There’s something I can do. Something Chris does when he’s attacked with mind control. I just wish I could remember what.
Sovereign looked up. “I cannot believe that that mewling educator had so much trouble with you three. All the fighting, all the fumbling, just to find the one pathetic primitive who is setting off my detectors. You see, you children? The incompetence that I have to deal with every cycle? I have a plan, a very simple plan, to make this galaxy a better place. To make it more like Andromeda. My own people could take the lead, you know. If they only chose to do so. They have spent so long rejecting that path, even though they see no other, and at every turn, my simple effort to lead them back onto it are thwarted.”
He turned and fixed Charlotte with his weird gaze, amber eyes with floating specks of gold revolving into a tight pinwheel directed straight at her. “For example, I am told that your father betrayed me and took my son away, six hundred years from now. Your friends seem disposable, Ms. Wong. But upon you, I shall have a measure of revenge.”
Oh, crap, Charlotte thought. So much for getting what he wants and letting us go. Soft feathers stroked the back of her neck.
Sovereign turned back to the floating girl and put an almost gentle hand on her shoulder. “Since I have gained by nothing else tonight. Such a pity. This girl is the most likely candidate we have left. Ah, well. That was based on certain assumptions we made about her genetics. And, fortunately enough, I have her parents on hand.”
Shambling like movie zombies, two figures broke into the weird, almost faerie light of the storm-shadowed grove. As the two people walked through the light ring, Charlotte recognised Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson came first, stumbling to the middle of the ring and then lay down in mid-aid in front of Sovereign, like someone getting onto an invisible examination table. Bizarrely, he stretched out in mid air, relaxed, and closed his eyes. His wife followed suit.
Sovereign pulled out his device. “First, the husband. Ah. How regrettable. Nothing but another of Teleios’s genetic soldiers. A little dash of SEAL, a handful of Spetsnaz, a bit of Commando, throw on a deep learning tape to turn you into a pseudo-American. And then off you go to fight in the Eurostar-VIPER gang war. Or, rather, I see from the Interpol database, off goes your clone-father to carjack and driveby and eventually die in a car bombing in some squalid Polish slum. And you came here, to be part of this great, genetic reservoir of his. But does even Teleios know what genes he is preserving on this planet?”
Maybe Teleios will if you tell him, Charlotte thought. This guy really loves to hear himself talk.
“But, no nothing but what’s on the surface. The most pedestrian of genes, give or take some commendable efforts at eugenic hygiene. No diabetes or multiple sclerosis for you, Mr. Ferguson. Too bad that your stirpal destiny has put you in the way of something far more dangerous by far. For I suppose that if you are not the carrier, that means that it is your wife who will be my little cladistic treasure box.” Teleios turned his gadget to Mrs. Ferguson.
Charlotte wasn’t that surprised when the gadget was shot out of Sovereign’s hand. Ginger had been on the scene for an awfully long time, after all. Sovereign staggered, bullets spalling off the silvery armour. That’s what happens, Charlotte thought, when you take a tight bunching of 11 9mm Glock rounds.
Sovereign staggered, gauntleted hands going to armoured knees. He remained hunched in position for a long second, but then stood up, his eyes glowing dangerously. “Impudent pup. Your mindshield will not preserve you long. I shall pierce it as I did these infants’ defences.” From his outstretched hand, a blast of energy lacerated the rain-soaked, dark foliage. Charlotte hoped that Scout had had the sense to move.
He had. A clink from the undergrowth, and another blast of fire caught Sovereign from the side. The Mandaarian master villain turned, instinctively putting his foot out to balance himself on the new facing. As his foot crossed the ground, Charlotte saw a silver thread.
A moment later, the foliage bloomed in fire. Charlotte recognise a claymore mine –a load of steel bearings embedded in the face of a block of plastic explosive and triggered by the tripwire. The mine, of course, had been oriented so that the scythe of high speed ball bearings missed the girls and the Fergusons.
But not Sovereign. Most of the balls struck his armour, to little obvious effect. A few, though, struck his head. A glowing, red nimbus licked up around Sovereign. “Fool!” He shouted. “What does not kill me, makes me stronger!”
You may be a master villain, Charlotte thought, but you are also a goof. Quoting Nietzsche is so pompous even Grade 8 boys don’t do it any more, Charlotte thought. And speaking of Grade 8 boys, Charlotte felt the soft loam of the forest floor give slightly under her feet as a familiar weight was placed upon it by someone’s feet coming up behind her. Charlotte’s heart leaped, just as she caught a flicker of from behind Sovereign.
Then Sovereign reached out his hand in Charlotte’s direction. “Come out, boy. Your gadget yields.”
Through the ground, Charlotte felt Scout stiffen. A muttered “Damn-“ was cut off as Sovereign’s control settled on him.
Almost too fast for Charlotte to keep track of it all, Mrs. Ferguson rose on her invisible table, lifted a concealed hatchet over her head, and brought it down on Sovereign’s head. The Mandaarian, sensing the motion, was already twisting to put his hand up. Desperately, he groped in the darkness, and, somehow, his armoured gauntlet found the hilt of the little axe. Charlotte felt panic rising in her. Everything was going wrong! The blue light of the circle flickered and dimmed.
For a moment, Sovereign and Mrs. Ferguson wrestled over the hatchet, but he was far too strong, and a flash of light from his alien eyes showed that the struggle was not just physical. The middle-aged Mom’s eyes rolled up, and she collapsed back onto her invisible examining table, no longer faking unconsciousness.
Charlotte felt her fear begin to subside as Sovereign reasserted his control. A little too late she thought to herself, as she felt Scout’s grip tighten on her own right hand, and a gentle pressure pushing it down. In the moment before the Mandaarian’s control was fully reasserted, the boy’s hand pushed her own down on the hilt of the Pearl Harmony Sword. The cotton candy vanished as though blown away by the coldly wet storm wind. The world was hers to grip, again. The Pearl Harmony flashed from its scabbard, shedding its warm, white, undersea light on the world and flashing gold from the bracelet that Scout had put on her arm. “In the name of Saint Elizabeth and the Holy Sangha,” Charlotte found herself shouting as she lunged forward in Tiger stance to deliver every inch of her strength behind the cutting sweep of her sword, aimed precisely at the “Be still!”
The Pearl Harmony struck the metal of the headband and sheered right through it as though it were just gold. Mandaarian blood, at least, Charlotte saw, was human. Or, at least, red. Wow, there was a lot of it. And Mandaarian bone was white.
At another time, Charlotte would have thrown up. She did not like gore very much. Right now, though, she was a lot more worried about the fact that she still didn’t know what colour Mandaarian brains were. Even the Pearl Harmony evidently didn’t have the juice to cut through Sovereign’s force field entirely.
Meanwhile, the mighty Sovereign, master villain, he of the galaxy-shaping, millennium-long plans, fell firmly on his rump, hands spread-eagled on the ground like a little boy who had lost his footing. His science thingie fell, unheeded, to the ground behind him, and his magnificent amber-and-gold eyes looked at Charlotte’s exactly like a little boy who was shocked to learn that gravity would hurt him.
Behind Sovereign, the three Fergusons fell, heedless, through the air to land in puffs of broken, dead twigs and lichen moss. The Mandaarian had well and truly lost control of the situation. What else, Charlotte wondered, had he lost control of?
“Did ums have a boo-boo?” Charlotte heard Dora ask. “Needfire hear me! Have another!” Golden light met white as the Maid of Gold’s energy blast limned the Mandaarian. Meanwhile, like a thing alive, Sovereign’s thingie poked up from the broken twigs and lichen of the forest floor and discharged its battery –at least that’s what Charlotte assumed was going on—directly into Sovereign’s dignity-offended backside.
Charlotte smiled. Rose was not going to let slide her first opportunity to use cyberkinesis this whole adventure! Charlotte swung at Sovereign, and he desperately threw up his arm, even though it was his telekinesis that intercepted the Pearl Harmony’s swing. Trying to fight Sovereign’s mental power felt like wrestling a magnet, with the same almost-greasy feeling of power in empty space resisting the movement of her blade.
As Charlotte struggled, Scout stepped by her. He levelled his two Glocks in Sovereign’s face, and unloaded another two magazines. Sovereign’s entire head disappeared in a haze –a haze of light, unfortunately, showing his power at work, and not of more blood. They would not be rid of him that easily.
Behind Sovereign, the Fergusons disappeared, one after another, as Rose superspeeded them to safety. As Sovereign’s glow subsided, it was replaced by gold. Once again, the Maid of Gold was trying to contain the Mandaarian’s power.
I guess, Charlotte thought, that the finishing stroked is up to me. Too bad that I’m not actually a paladin, Charlotte thought. A real paladin would be unleashing Smite Evil about now –focussing her ki into pure power of faith. Too bad, she thought, even though, for a second, she wondered if she actually could do that, if she only tried.
Never mind that, though, Charlotte thought. She might not be able to Smite Evil, but she was not without other resources. This was the perfect moment to find out if she could extend the power of the death touch of Dim Mak through her sword.
As if reading her mind, Sovereign fixed his amber stare on her. “This has become rather too messy, Ms. Wong. No matter. I have what I came for, and this is by no means over.” And he disappeared.
“God Damn it!” Dora shouted. “Not another stupid teleporter! Stay here and lose, Lose-Boy!”
“Yeah,” Rose said, “See, I think the issue is that he actually probably doesn’t want to lose. Just saying.”
“Not to mention that he might not actually lose,” Charlotte said. “That is one scary dude. He might even have enough mind control mojo to overpower the Pearl Harmony if he tries.”
“Charlotte,” Scout asked, “Why is your sword glowing red?”
“I don’t know,” Charlotte answered, but she suspected that she did. She looked at Mrs. Ferguson, still lying, apparently unconscious, on her Sovereign said that he’d figured out what he’d come for. That Brian’s tests results had been faked, that he was The Chosen One. That he’d inherited Chosen-ness it from his Mom. His Mom, the Space Elf.