Chapter 3, 40: Third Gust Sends You Over
Oh, Good Lord, Charlotte thought. The reanimated stone statue of some ancient Dark Space Elf god (or possibly starting quarterback, it’s hard to tell the difference), was wedged into the fractured timber of the funny, house-like building in the middle of the cavern three levels below the CBI Building. One massive foot had plunged through the floorboards into the foundation, while one hand was ringed with a solid piece of plywood, that it was trying to pry off with its free hand and its teeth.
Who knew that reanimated statues even had teeth? It looked a little silly as it gingerly levered at the over-sized, structural friendship bracelet. Though it would stop being funny when it got free and started doing its “Statue Smash!” routine again.
Distantly, from the other side of the building, Charlotte could hear crackly CBI voices. Agents John and Kieran, or Smith and Hernandez, it turned out, were escorting Ken towards the elevator while the giant struggled. If they could just keep the giant statue distracted for a few moments longer, the agents would have Ken out of the cavern. And then something something. If Ken were even the point of all of this.
If the statue had not been brought to life to interrupt Ken’s interrogation, the team would be stuck a hundred feet underground with a giant rampaging statue with some other motivation. Seriously. In stories, Charlotte thought, the point of these setups was always that you had to figure out what the statue was on about, and then beat it that way. Because giant stone statues were not to be beat down with main force. The figuring out thing was way harder in real life than it was in a story, though. Maybe they should try to beat the statue, after all?
Charlotte cricket jumped to the roof of the little house in the middle of the cave. Excellent! Now she was at head level with a giant angry stone statue that had just pulled what looked like a hundred pounds of plywood of its wrist. It flung the wood chunk in Charlotte’s direction.
Charlotte dodged. Easy-peasy, really. “Is that the best you can do?” She asked, looking at the statue. A stone fist came at her from the side. Charlotte dropped on her left hand and swept the Pearl Harmony Sword in a slicing parry.
Slivers of stone peppered the back of her neck as the fist swung over her. The wind of its passage tickled. Note to self, Charlotte thought: Maybe not so much with the taunting. It was rude, and rudeness could lead to being decked by oversized stone piledrivers. Bullet point summary: Which would hurt.
Then the giant cocked its head at Charlotte and turned away, vaulting the house in its own little jump. There was a flutter, and a great square of one of the white sheets that had been draped over ithe statue floated down, cut free by a quick twist of the wrist to the Pearl Harmony’s hilt as the giant passed over. Charlotte stepped aside to avoid a chunk of falling masonry, bound tight with the masses of tape that whoever had used to stick the sheets to the statue.
A moment later, the solid rock floor of the cave shook as the statue landed on the path side, in the darkness just off from the lit carpet that led to the elevator doors. One, then two massive strides, and the statue stood on the path to the elevator right in front of the Agents and Ken, its massive stone hands outreached to scoop them up.
Oops. Charlotte got ready to jump at the giant, but, as she did, a golden light blossomed around her. With an fumphing sound like a gasoline explosion that Charlotte might or might not have seen one of her brother’s friends set off once, she wasn’t telling, no sir, not even if it means a detention. The giant stone statue went flying back into the gloom of the great cavern, hardly lit by the bright white standing lamps around the house and the path that led back to the elevator. Unfortunately, it was flying closer to the elevator. Its giant stone ass made the cave floor shake exactly as much as its feet. Conservation of momentum, science dudes!
“Lots of knock-back, not a lot of damage,” Dora said, settling beside Charlotte. “You’re looking pretty up for this.”
“What can I say? I like a good scrap.”
A blur crystallised out of the air beside them and slowed into Rose. “I thought the kung fu fighting was all about achieving serene mindfulness.”
Charlotte felt a fleeting irritation. “I told you not to muck around with that altar.”
“No-one likes an ‘I Told You So.’” Rose answered. “And there’s nothing going on at the creepy, abandoned altar.”
“Good,” said Bruce, as he swung down to land on the roof beside the girls. “Now we don’t have to go there and hang out while whisps of smoke turn into pallid, flaccid tentacles that suddenly wrap around us, constricting, drawing us into the maw of an unspeakable hell dimension, leaving just one, spunky girl to star in the sequel.”
Dora sent a golden flash down range, hitting the stone giant.
This time, it shrugged the needfire off. Looking at the group on the roof as though its eyes actually worked, it took a long, decisive step in the direction of the fleeing Agents. A loop of cable snapped off the ground and caught around its ankle, just before the front foot touched ground. Unbalanced, the giant fell. Another loop caught its neck in mid-air, snapping tight.
“Thanks for setting those for me, Rose,” Bruce said, conversationally.
“Teamwork!” Rose held out her right hand. “But you owe me a Blizzard for the fingernails I broke setting the springs.”
“Hey kids.” Agent John Smith climbed onto the roof. He was holding an antitank launcher. The statue was struggling with its cable tethers. Between the tethers and the freakishly strong giant stone thing, Charlotte knew who to bet on.
So did Agent Smith, she guessed, using her psychic powers and the fact that he was aiming a rocket propelled grenade launcher at the statue.
Charlotte looked uneasily at the rock ceiling. “Are those things even safe to use down here?”
“Completely safe,” Agent Smith said. “If we hit the target. If not, not so much. On the other hand, there’s one guaranteed way to catch the business end of a high velocity rock around here, already.”
Charlotte put her hands to her eyes, goggle-style, to block out the glare of the lamps. The statue was straining at the cables. It seemed like they were stretching. “Maybe we should think about watching Giant Rocket Adventure Time right now?”
As the words came out of her mouth, Bruce and Rose went missing beside Charlotte. Down on the floor of the cave, more cables suddenly appeared around the giant statue. Rose must have carried Bruce down there. For some reason, the thought bothered Charlotte.
“How much freaking cable is there?” Dora asked.
Rose appeared out of empty space. “There’s a whole spool of the stuff loggers use down in the corner. Bruce cuts off lengths and ties knots, I loop it around Big Igneous Meanie. Should be enough to hold it now, even if the rocket cuts some loops.”
Agent Smith put his launcher to his shoulder and fired. The glare of the motors actually hurt Charlotte’s eyes, but not enough so that she missed the rocket striking square on the statue’s chest, thrust defiantly half-vertical as it struggled against its bonds. Another explosion, much louder, echoed through the cavern, and the statue’s chest seemed to fold aside as rock flew in all direction. It stopped moving. Its head collapsed on the pavement, and disintegrated, too.
Where the statue had lain a moment before, there was now a matrix of green, glowing crystals set in golden wires looped in patterns that reminded Charlotte of her bracelet. Clearly in the stygian air, the teens heard a sharp multi-voiced moan, just not-quite human, but clear as a dozen divas competing to hold a synthesizer note. As the note died away, the light of the crystals went out, one by one.
“Well,” said Agent Smith. “That is definitely a thing that we learned today.”
“On another topic,” Dora asked, “If it’s an unspeakable dimension, where do all the adjectives come from?”
Rose looked up from trying to pull a phone wire out of the ruined roof. “Another dimension?”
“Exactly,” Bruce said. “It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s non-Euclidean.”
“What does that even mean?” Dora asked.
“A three-dimensional space with a non-zero curvature,” Rose answered. “It’s just technical geometry, but it kind of weirded old-timey people out. Because reasons.”
“Reasons?” Agent Smith asked.
“It’s a thing we cool kids of today say,” Charlotte explained. “When were you going to tell us that you were half-elven?”
“I kinda thought I did. Remember? Agent Smith jokes? Agent Smith of Riverdell?”
“What?” Rose asked.
Agent Smith reached onto his pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. He flicked them, and steered them towards his eyes, without actually putting them on, which would be dumb in a gloomy cavern. “Same actor played Agent Smith in the Matrix movies and Elrond in the Lord of the Rings movies.”
“Is that a spoiler?” Rose asked. “Because if it’s a spoiler, I am going to be so mad!”
“No, it’s not a spoiler,” Agent Smith said. “Sheesh. You kids have access to all the movies on Earth, not just a few DVDs, and still you don’t watch the good ones?”
“What’s a DVD?” Rose asked, mock innocently.
“It’s what the olds used, back in the day. Before streaming,” Dora explained.
“That’s not an…” Charlotte began
“No, it’s not an explanation,” Agent Smith answered. “Okay, one: you’ve got to put yourself back into the late ‘70s. Teleios is this scary, shadowy dude moving into Malachite’s territory on Earth, keeping on the low down. Then, suddenly, he strikes. Our parents are snatched away, stranded on some alien planet halfway across the Galaxy. Scary stuff. And then people, vulnerable kids, mostly, start to go wandering out into the woods at night.”
He paused, then continued. “The woods that are full of sabretooths and cave bears and dire wolves. Only they’re not getting eaten. They’re meeting unearthly lovers in deep groves lit by faerie lights. And getting pregnant. A little later on, people show up in the towns, people that no-one recognises from the transport ships, not even the clones of Teleios’s soldiers that were transported with our parents. They’re asking about . . . Well, they’re asking about strange people in the woods, and about unexplained pregnancies.”
“Wait,” Bruce said. “Teleios’s agents are investigating this. Why? What didn’t he know about this place?”
“I have no idea if they were Teleios’s agents. I suspect they weren’t, because after they gave a few people the creeps, they’d tend to run into trees in the night. The clone soldiers could be pretty tough in the early days. Then they’d disappear. Doesn’t seem like the kind of investigation Teleios would run, although who else it could be, I have no idea.”
“Eve’s dad. Fang.” Charlotte hissed it between her teeth.”
“What I was thinking,” Rose said.
“Who?” Agent Smith asked.
“I can explain. It’s complicated,” Bruce said.
“Later,” Agent Smith said.
Charlotte was not satisfied with the explanation. “About later?”
“Yeah,” Agent Smith said. “So the strangers asking questions kind of put our parents on their guard. Gave them time to think about things. Here’s the thing. The north polar continent has a big peninsula that sticks south of the Arctic Circle that kind of loops around like the tail of a comma. There’s this big valley down at the bottom of it. Great farm land, plus a big anchorage off the north shore, and right across the sound there’s an oil field big as Saudi Arabia. There’ll be a big city there one day, and no full human on this planet even knows the place exists.”
“And this is relevant how?”
“Real estate,” Bruce hissed.
“Exactly,” Agent Smith said. “I have two acres staked out on a nice bluff with a great view of the ocean. I have no idea when that town will be developed. Even though half-elven are long lived people, it could easily be my grand-daughter’s time before that land gets developed. But it will make her rich. Richer, I should say, because there’s a lot of places like that around the planet.”
“So you’ll all be rich as Rockefeller,” Charlotte summarised.
“Who?” Dora asked.
“Before your time,” Charlotte explained.
Agent Smith shook his head. “No. We won’t. We’re doing like Teleios and staying on the down low, keeping our claims restrained about this. If we took unfair advantage, if someone noticed, the Colonial Legislature would step in. We can settle for being moderately rich.”
“Hey, up there,” Kieran –Agent Hernandez—shouted. He was standing on the path, holding a squirming Ken in his arms. “I don’t think we can climb up there.”
“Wait one,” Agent Smith answered. “We’re coming down.”
A moment later, the teens and Agent Smith were on the ground beside Kieran and Ken. Agent John –Smith--, Charlotte corrected herself for the billionth time already, glared at Ken. “You know, if your lover wants you free, they can just come in and talk to us.”
“They?” Agent Kieran cocked his eye at his partner.
“Just trying to be gender inclusive,” Agent Smith answered.
“But She didn’t do anything!” There was a slight flicker of light from the direction of the pile of crystals that had been the statue a moment before. For a moment, Charlotte wondered if it were a figment of her imagination, but Agent Smith started, noticing it, too.
“All right, Ken, all right. We aren’t going to hurt you, and we aren’t going to hurt Eve. We understand that the thing at the pageant was an accident. We just need to talk to Eve about some people she might have run into, and then you’ll both be free to go.” Agent Smith’s voice was smoother, calmer, than Charlotte could ever remember it being, a nice, very male-sounding baritone, quiet, and, somehow, at the same time velvet and rumbling. You could see Ken relaxing in Agent Hernandez’s arms. Charlotte, with her Eight Spirit Dragon training, could tell that Agent Smith was relaxing, too. No more half-elven magic raising animated statues against them.
If that was what happened.
As if prompted by that thought, Agent Hernandez’s hilariously over-sized walkie-talkie crackled into life. “Agent Hernandez, over?”
Holding onto Ken with one muscular arm, Agent Hernandez reached down and pressed the transmit button. He said, very loudly, “Agent Hernandez, Over.”
“Good. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. We had a situation up here. Over.”
“Yes. The yacht’s suppression field failed for a minute, and we were busy running anti-surveillance measures. But it’s back now. Your situation? Over.”
“Also resolved. Looks like we’ve got another exhibit for the Museum of Forbidden Technologies, too. Over.”
“Awesome. Put it under a tarp, like all the others. Over and out.”
Agent Hernandez reached down and turned the walkie-talkie off. “Saves on batteries. So that’s it. When we moved the yacht down here in the first place, just shifting the suppression field off its original location activated some Drindrish magic by itself. Looks like you might be off the hook for this one, Ken.”
The distraught girl relaxed a little more. Now, Charlotte thought, if only we knew why infallible Malvan science suddenly failed, we’d be in the pink.
As they walked towards the elevators, Charlotte’s phone pinged silently.
D: W. yr. sword hilt glow red back there?