Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chapter 3, 39: Second Gust Sets You On Your Beam

 Deep vision. The Order of the Stick cartoon that I am thinking of here appeared only in print format in the limited run Snips & Snails and Dungeon Tales. So there you go.

Chapter 3, 39: Second Gust Sets You On Your Beams

Surprisingly, at least for Charlotte, Ken agreed to an interview with the CBI and was taken directly from Long Lake Regional High School to the CBI building. The patrol car left the high school parking lot just before the Paradise Valley bus arrived to pick up Brittany and Charlotte.

It was a very quiet ride home. Even Dr. Cambridge managed not to say anything. 

Brunch was pancakes, eggs and bacon. Charlotte served herself from the warming dishes, poured a heavy dash of corn syrup over the cakes, which tended to be on the dry side, and then walked over and sat down with her friends, careful to avoid Brittany, Britt, Tiffany, Tiff, and Kendra. Not that they would have deigned to notice Charlotte, anyway, but she also didn’t want to hear them buzzing over Ken’s monstrous betrayal.

Picking her spot next to Rose, Charlotte swung her long legs over the bench and sat down. Her plate rang against the wood of the table. 

Across the table, Dora stuck her cute, triangular nose in the air. “The Charlotte I thought I knew is dead. You have nothing to say to me.”

“Oh, for—Come on! I’m too tall for high heels.”

“Okay: a) the real Charlotte Wong loves shoes. I mean, remember the January sale at Panther Heights Mall, when we Rose and I guarded those boots while you ran off to get your Aunt to advance you your allowance? Ii) …”

“B,” Rose interrupted.

“b), I’ve seen you buy high heels. I’ve see you play with high heels. You do not hate high heels. C) Too tall for high heels is crazy talk.”

“She’s got you there, Char-Char.” Rose put down her knife and fork and put her hands out, palms down, over the table. “Here’s you.” She lifted her right hand higher. “Here’s the average beauty pageant contestant.” She put her left hand down closer to the table. “Now here’s your typical model.” Rose lifted her left hand back up level with her right hand. “It’s all in who you hang out with.”

“I’m not a model! And—“ Charlotte hesitated, totally unable to think of anything to say next.

Dora looked at her friend earnestly. “Don’t sell yourself short, Charlotte. You look like a model. Besides, it’s like Glinda the Good, here, says. It’s all about your social circles.” She leaned back and put her hands behind her head. “Elementary, my dear Char-Char. Case closed.” She was quiet for a moment, then pulled her hands away from her head. A strand of long, black hair came away with the left, “Yuck! Syrup! Please tell me we’re going swimming this afternoon.”

Charlotte’s phone beeped. She looked at it. “Nope. We’ve been invited to watch Ken’s interview at the Colonial Building!”

An hour later, a CBI agent named Bill Bradley came to Paradise Island to pick up the girls and take them into town so that they could watch the interview. 

Bradley was hot, in that CBI way, although he managed to look a little goofy in his suit. Or maybe it was the suit that was goofy. Charlotte noticed that it hung too low over his shoes, and that the coat was just a tiny bit too small over his shoulders. A lot of guys bought their suits off the rack, but usually the fit was better than that, she thought. Oh, well, boonies.

Eventually, their car pulled up in front of the Colonial Building. A valet who looked like he might be thirteen opened the door for Agent Bradley and took the keys. He looked at the girls with an apology in his eyes. “For some reason there’s no underground parking, so we have to put our vehicles in an open lot in the next block. That’s why we need the valet. And since we couldn’t get anybody older, we ended up getting him one of those special farm driving licenses. Now, if you’ll come with me, I’ll show you to the sub-basements.” 

Which was not exactly the first weird thing anyone had said about the Colonial Building around Charlotte. If they had sub-basements, why couldn’t they have underground parking? 

They followed Agent Bradley into the building. Bruce was waiting there, sitting in a little couch in the lobby, wearing a jean jacket and pants. When the air conditioning hit Charlotte, she envied him. She’d chosen a yellow scoop-neck blouse and white shorts this morning. Perfect for the heat of the valley outside, but not up to the Official Office Building Ice Age going on inside. The sun outside was tinted amber by the windows. It made the heat and light if summer seem distant, somehow.

Agent Bradley went up to a woman in a crisp, blue pantsuit, sitting at a desk, and signed a paper on a clipboard. Then she took the clipboard and handed Agent Bradley a handful of identification badges. “The Special Agents are already on site.” 

Agent Bradley came over to them and handed out the badges, one each to Charlotte, Rose, Dora and Bruce. man in the suit sitting in the desk, and the There were two elevators at the end of the lobby, framed by potted plants in a kind of alcove, and with mirrors to either side. It reminded Charlotte of a dentist’s office she’d once been to in Vancouver, or the lumpy office building in downtown Philadelphia that Uncle Henry had taken her to so that she could register with DOSPA and get official permission to use her super powers. Or whatever the exact deal was with DOSPA. 

Still, you had to stop and remind yourself that this was Geithner’s Strike. People actually went up to the mine to ride the elevator there! The Colonial Building stuck out just a little. Even considering that it had the town post office in it, for example. The elevator on the left opened. Agent Bradley stepped inside, fished a key ring out of his pocket, and put one in one of two keyholes at the top of the panel of buttons on one side of the elevator, and then pressed the ‘S3’ button. 

The girls and Bruce crammed in, the doors closed, and the elevator began to descend with that little lurch that made your stomach drop a bit.

It was a long trip. After a minute, Dora shuffled her red sneakers on the carpet in the elevator, and then tried to zap Rose with a static spark. Somehow, though, Rose was in the wrong place and Charlotte got it instead.

“Yeah, but no,” Rose said. “Speedster.” Then Bruce put one finger on the bare skin exposed by the arc of Rose’s bright green sweats and the other on Dora’s shoulder, left bare by a red shit, gathered at the neck. Spitz, spitz!

“Detective,” Bruce said. “Even up?”

Charlotte whirled in place and put her finger a millimeter from Bruce’s jean jacket. She felt a strange fullness in her, a fullness that could be pushed. So she did.

A tiny electric flash spat from Charlotte’s finger and grounded itself in Bruce’s chest. His eyes went wide. Spitz. “Even.” The elevator door opened.

Agent Bradley rolled his eyes and sighed.

The third sub-basement of the Colonial Building. That was the part where the building started being unexpected. That was because it turned out to be a great, echoing, stone-cut vault. Gloom, cut by electric lights high overhead, did not quite conceal the familiar, weird statues. Although someone had thrown drapes over them, Charlotte saw, with relief. Especially the really big one, seemingly caught in mid punch, about to swing a gigantic stone fist through someone’s head. 

Through the gloom, a carpet, staked out with heavy metal pegs, led towards a small building actually set up inside the cave.

“Remember the field trip to Tatammy?” Dora asked. “This reminds me of the Trophy Hall.”

Charlotte remembered the spooky cave, deep below Tatammy High, where the old Liberty Legion had kept the trophies and mementoes of its cases outside the entrance to their subterranean headquarters. This was kind of like that. “It’s weird that they’re doing the interrogation down here,” she pointed out.

“Yeah,” Bruce said. “Maybe because it’s Ken, and they want to shake something loose?”

“Please follow the carpet,” Agent Bradley said. “This is a working archaeological site, and interference could destroy irreplaceable evidence of Terraformer activity.”

“Doesn’t exactly look like a ‘working site’ to me,” Rose said. “There isn’t even tape cordoning off those friezes with the yucky organic stains in the corner.” She pointed into the gloom, at something no-one could possibly see.

“Hunh, I—Do you have deep vision, Ma’am?” Agent Bradley asked.

Charlotte struggled to hold in a snort. Deep vision! Agent-dude was totally a Dungeons & Dragons nerd. Of course, Charlotte had to admit that if she knew what deep vision was, then she had to be a D&D nerd, too. She tapped her phone.

“Something like that,” Rose answered. Even a goody two-shoes like Rose wasn’t going to admit to taking a high speed tour of the “working archaeological site” to a CBI agent!

A message flickered on Charlotte’s wristcomm. R: I was careful!

C: Stained altars & scary stats alws com 2 lif.

At the end of the carpet, they came to the funny-little-house-in-a-cave. Up close, it was even funnier, with an actual porch and a regular wood door with a knob and a knocker. “The carpenters had to build this fast,” Agent Bradly said. “So they just used a regular miner’s cottage as an example. There’s dozens of places like this down in the flats in Miner’s Town.”

Somehow, Charlotte thought, the explanation took the fun out of the weird little building. Agent Bradley opened the door, and they walked through.

Inside, at least, it did not look like a house. Instead, there was a corridor with blank walls and three doors on each side. At the third door down on the right, Agent Bradley stopped, and produced another key. He opened it and let them in. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t lock from the inside.”

Charlotte hadn’t been worrying. Now she was, a little. Obviously a locked door wasn’t going to keep the four of them in, but she honestly hadn’t thought of the CBI trying to lock them up. She touched the disguised handle of the Pearl Harmony Sword and strained with her mind to hear the familiar call of a crow. 

Distantly, it echoed inside her head. Wherever Ginger was, frankly, whatever Ginger was, the little crow was watching. 

Inside was a small, bare-wall room with a linoleum floor and slightly chipped green paint. A cheap table crammed on both sides with chipped wooden chairs, and one of those Honest-to-God one-way mirrors like they always had in interrogation scenes in movies. On the other side were Agents Kieran and John, and Ken. A fuzzy intercom speaker mounted on the wall transmitted the interview. Kieran and John were asking Ken about her parents and her childhood.

“I—“ Dora began. 

Bruce held up a finger to his lips. Dora glared at him, but stopped talking. Clearly Dora didn’t see the point of conversations that revolved around imaginary friends and pets and what Ken remembered of the house in Geithner’s Strike where her family lived before they moved to Landing Town. Bruce seemed to find it pretty interesting, though.

At last, he said, “Don’t you think it’s weird that Agents John and Kieran won’t give us their last names?”

“Agent John’s last name really is ‘Smith,’” Rose said. “And it’s Agent Kieran Hernandez. What? I snooped!”

“Yeah, and before anyone asks, Agent Kieran is Mr. Hernandez’s cousin,” Bruce said. “I snooped, too.”

“Small towns,” Charlotte sighed.

“Okay, here’s the thing, Rose began.”

“Shhh,” said Bruce.

Over the intercom came Agent John –no, Agent Smith’s voice. “You said you visited your grandmother last summer instead of Paradise Island, Ken. Was that your father’s mother?”

A pause. “No. I don’t know what this has to do with Evan.”

“Evan is what she calls Eve when she’s pretending to be a boy,” Bruce whispered.

“Yeah, got that,” Charlotte answered. “But thanks.”

“You haven’t told us much about your maternal grandmother, Ken,” Agent Hernandez said.


“Your mother’s mother.”

“Not much to tell,” Ken answered.

“Where does she live?”

“I… I don’t, I, I don’t remember.”

The sound of chair legs scraping came over the intercom. Agent Smith stood up. “While we let that sink in, I think it’s time for another coffee. Ken, would you like some more soda?”

“That’s so she’ll need to pee. It’ll make her more cooperative,” Rose whispered.

“Oh, hey, Brainiac Girl, Brainiac Boy, everybody watches those shows on TV,” Charlotte whispered back. “What the heck does that mean, she doesn’t remember where her grandmother lives?”

“So here’s the thing,” Rose repeated. “We have a genealogical mystery here. Mr. Suzuki was trying to piece together family histories. Even Agents Smith and Hernandez were trying to keep their family names secret.”

“But,” Bruce continued, “That’s crazy. I mean, we know the history of this place. Back in the 80s, Teleios kidnapped some towns so he could turn them into bases for his operations. One in Canada, one in Honduras, one in American Samoa. Take all the people, leave behind clones with the exact same genes and memories, but genetically programmed to obey him. Then he dumped the people here on Landing. Or maybe the people here are clones, too. Then, over the year, he sent copies of all the soldiers and techs and whatnots that he sold to supervillains and organisations. As experimental controls or something. Then they all made lots of babies.”

“Yes, yes,” Charlotte interrupted.

“So it stands to reason that there’s extended families here on Landing. Like, cousins might have lived in those towns, and now they’re a generation back, so there’s even more relationship stuff going on.”

Now it was Rose’s turn to interrupt. “But none of that should matter! Teleios knows about all that stuff. The Earth’s health care system knows about all of that. Well, not Teleios’s weirder experiments, but that shouldn’t be something Mr. Suzuki needs to research!”

“There’s gotta be an ‘X’ factor,” Bruce interrupted om turn.

“Natives,” Rose said. “People who lived on Landing before Teleios started dumping his experiments here.”

“Elves,” said Charlotte’s phone, in Rosa’s voice. “Drindrish. No-one else could escape my sensors.”

“Like Ken’s Grandma,” Rose said.

Bruce pushed forward to the table, his body angled in, eager to demonstrate that he had figured this out for himself. “Or Brian Ferguson’s Mom.”

In the room, Agent Smith sat down again opposite Ken. He put his coffee down in front of him, and a red can of Landing Cola in the middle of the table. Ken reached out and popped the top. There was silence in the room. She lifted it and began to drink.

“We don’t want your Grandma, Ken. We do need to talk to Evan, but what we’re really worried about is that you might have a . . . relative in town who is in real danger.”

Ken opened her mouth, but whatever she was about to say next was lost to the commotion that naturally follows when a giant stone fist smashes through a wall and just misses two frantically dodging CBI agents.

“Told you so,” said Charlotte, drawing the Pearl Harmony Sword.





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