Chapter 3, 44: Frenzy
Charlotte felt the fabric of her Tatammy uniform stretch over her muscles as she ran through the firelit darkness. It would have been nice to be able to do this fight in the white gown Rose had made for her, but it really wasn’t suited for superhero combat. Not like her fatigues.
A thrill rose in Charlotte’s stomach as her legs pushed against the dark ground. It seemed as though she were weightless and that tiredness did not exist. Every push of her foot threw her body forward across the dark, hard ground. She was going towards the sounds of people yelling and blasters and regular guns firing down at the waterfront.
Someone was attacking people that she cared about, and they were about to find out why that was a bad idea.
She was running down the trail that the kids took through the vacant lots below the school down to the houses along the lakeside road. It switch backed through the shrubby, second-growth alders in tight corners, but the more impatient kids had cut shortcuts at each bench. Charlotte took the first of those, her right foot bracing off the first like the jump step at the long jump pit. And then she was flying, soaring in the warm, night air that smelled of fire and lilacs.
At the bottom, there was a short run through a triangular patch of trees that walled off the Gonzalez Eszo Station from the land side. The station faced the lake, so that boats could moor in the little canal that cut in off the lake, and cars could turn right off the ferry ramp into its pumps. The trees, Charlotte knew, ended at a little concrete berm that marked the edge of the paved area around the pumps.
It would be a good place, Charlotte thought, to set on fire on a night like this. Whippy tendrils of alder branches and other small bushes flicked by Charlotte as she ran towards the berm. The light of the Pearl Harmony Sword adjusted itself, somehow, just low enough that it did not blind her. She felt the concrete of the berm under her feet, and launched herself.
It would also be a good place to deal with some mind-controlled sabretooth cats, or Mandaarian cultists shapeshifted into cats. Or were-sabretooths, or whatever. The crucial point was that the Pearl Harmony was now arcing through the air, trailing its white light, as Charlotte soared over the heads of two of the big cats, which were stalking forward towards the pump area with that weird, stiff, urgent motion that cats have when they have their prey in sight.
Mr. Gonzalez and his son, Charlotte could see, were hunkered down at the pumps, firing shotguns at the cats. Mr Gonzalez, Charlotte thought, was a brave man. But also kind of dumb, at least right now.
Or maybe smart enough to figure out what was going to happen next, as Charlotte landed on her right foot and brought the Pearl Harmony down through the neck of one cat, another.
Ancient predator blood arced through the night air. Charlotte was very glad to see that the cats did not change into aliens when she cut them. At least she was only killing big cats. A part of her suspected that she would feel bad about that in the morning.
Across the lot towards the lake, a cat screamed, and a pulson blaster fired as Charlotte dodge. Okay, she thought, that one is a Mandaarian. A Mandaarian who was about to regret giving away their position, she thought, as a golden flash lit the stand of bushes and swatted the heavy shape of a cat into the air, headed towards the lake at high speed.
It screamed as it flew. Behind the teens on the road, Charlotte could hear CBI agents, and note the muzzle flash of machine guns and heavy pulson blasters mounted on cars. This time, law enforcement had the firepower they needed. She moved forwards towards the lake, sword out. She flicked it to clean it of blood, eager to find more cats.
Someone in a CBI windbreaker appeared next to her. Agent Smith. “Thanks for the help, Miss Wong! Unfortunately, I think that this is only a diversion.”
“So what are you guys doing down here being diverted?” Charlotte asked.
“It’s a diversion that’s going to blow up Geithner’s Strike if we let it. Mayor’ll be pissed, and people will be dead. Doesn’t change the fact that the baddie A-Team is hitting the Colonial Building..”
A wind came out of nowhere, so strong that Charlotte was almost blown off her feet. Rose. “Not yet, Agent. But the sabretooths are coming out of the lake all along the town front.”
“Stupid cats,” Agent Smith muttered. “Supposed to hate water.”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “Cats are funny that way. Wait till you get the Internet here, and you’ll understand.”
Dora landed beside Rose and Charlotte. “So what now? Secure the perimeter?”
From behind them, a snort, as Bruce emerged from the darkness.
“I want you guys to go back to the Colonial Building,” Agent Smith said. “And if someone could call Mr. Diavolo with a full and frank apology, that would be great. You don’t have to mean it, but still.”
“Crap,” Charlotte said. “Crap, crap, crap.”
“Such language, Char-Char,” Bruce said.
“But this is my fault!”
“No, it’s not,” Rose answered.
“I drove Mr. Diavolo away!”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Bruce yelled back from the trail, where he was already running towards the Colonial Building. “Come on! Explain later!”
Sure enough, there was no sign of an ongoing attack on the Colonial Building. The incongruous skyscraper stood silent. They were on the back side, at the edge of the Colonial Post receiving docks. They were strangely naked without the delivery wagons, which were all sleeping in the Post Office livery stable. There would be nothing for them to deliver until the day’s mail coaches and air mail float planes began to arrive, and that would not happen until dawn.
Or not at all, today.
“What’s so complicated?” Charlotte asked. “I won the beauty pageant, Mr. Diavolo got mad, and now he’s gone to Earth to sulk.”
“If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else,” Bruce answered. “He pretty much set himself up, and Sovereign took advantage.”
“All Sovereign had to do was lean on the other two judges. Which he was going to do. This way, instead of him kidnapping someone or stealing Mr. Hernandez’s favourite toupee and holding it for ransom, you just got to win the pageant.” Rose pointed out.
Charlotte’s phone chimed. “Although someone,” Rosa said through its speakers, “Had to spend some rather boring time eavesdropping on phone calls. Honestly. By the end of it, I was ready to murder Mr. Hernandez myself.”
“You listened in case Sovereign made threatening phone calls to Mr. Hernandez? Space alien mastermind, high tech armour, mighty psionic powers? That Sovereign, doing the whole ‘Don’t do anything you might regret’ thing ” Charlotte held up her hands like she was holding a wad of Kleenex over a phone receiver, and talked with her best breathy, villainous voice, to illustrate her point.
Which was, Charlotte thought, that that was as crazy as Darth Vader making anonymous comments on a message board.
“Yes,” Rosa said, flatly. “He did. And he is not very good at it. He keeps forgetting his point and talking about himself, instead. I am not entirely clear that Mr. Hernandez even realised that he was being threatened. However, I am sure that Sovereign would have managed to get his point across eventually. If not by editing himself down to the point where he could make a comprehensible point, than by leaving a body on Mr. Hernandez’s doorstep. Fortunately, after the bikini contest, his interstellar brain realised that he didn’t have to do anything of the sort..”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Charlotte was beginning to feel upset that she had been left out.
“That was my fault, Char-Char,” Rosa said. “I thought that you deserved a chance to win legitimately, and without feeling guilty about promoting the enemy’s schemes. So I told your bright young detective friends to keep quiet about the matter.”
“I’m sorry, Char-Char,” Bruce mumbled.
“Me, too,” Rose echoed.
“I can’t believe you, Bruce,” Charlotte said.
“What? I said I was sorry!?”
“That’s what I mean. I can’t believe you apologised.”
In the light shining through the windows of the Colonial Building, Charlotte could tell that Bruce was embarrassed. Good. Charlotte did not like it when her friends kept secrets from her. A silence stretched on.
“So you really think,” Charlotte said into the silence, “That we should just hang out here when we could head directly for Sovereign’s base?”
“Well, maybe if we knew where it was—“ Rose began.
But Charlotte’s phone interrupted. “You have figured out where Sovereign is, Char-Char?” Rosa asked.
“Yes.” Silence again, but this time expectant silence. Oh, I have figured it out ahead of the smarty-pants, Charlotte thought to herself, and felt more than a little proud of herself. “The Geithner’s Strike gold is all in an alluvial deposit, washed out by debris from the creeks and gullies of the mountains, right? And the prospectors are all looking for the ‘mother load,’ the veins that are being cut by the creeks, right?”
“Un-hunh,” Bruce began.
“Sure,” Rose said. “But it can’t be that cliff we found with the gold flecks, because it’s a slip fault. All the gold is on the Cliffside, and it hasn’t eroded enough to produce the gold we saw. I know. I looked it up.”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “So did I. But you’re missing something, Rose.”
“The hyperspace anomaly in the planet. There’s a giant cave with a spaceship down there, flying inside the planet. And all the rock carved out of that cave had to go somewhere.”
Bruce stiffened as though he had been hit by lightning. “Wait. What? Is that even possible?”
“Wait just a moment, I need to run some calculations. Yes. Yes it is,” Rosa said. “With good piloting, you could hover a very large spaceship in place inside a planet like that. With gravitational resonance effects, it wouldn’t even have to be very high up in hyperspace to produce the observed anomaly. Sovereign would be able to get in and out with his known teleportation powers.”
“Knowing where he is doesn’t get us in there, though,” Rosa pointed out.
Charlotte looked at her Hispanic friend. “What about you, Dora? You can can travel to the other side of space and time.”
“Yeah,” Dora,” But not in any useful way. Hey, maybe if we let Sovereign steal the laptop, we can just follow him?”
“Hunh.” Bruce said. “Thing is, if Sovereign would just think about things, he doesn’t need Mr. Suzuki’s laptop any more. Crap!”
“Oh! Crap!” Charlotte said. “That’s why there’s no attack on the Colonial Building! He’s finally admitted to himself that he made a mistake, and he’s after Brian Ferguson!”
Rose vanished. Charlotte waited for her to return with a report. And waited.
Any moment, Charlotte thought to herself, as the moment stretched out. And then, she accepted. “Crap. He’s got Rose. Come on!”
Charlotte had not even begun to run when a gold light surrounded her, and Dora’s levitation bubble swept her and Bruce up into the air. A moment later, they landed in the front lawn of the Ferguson home. “These guys are getting to be kind of like our Lois Lane,” Bruce pointed out.
“And the trap is?” Charlotte said, picking motion out of the darkness of the garden hedges and between trees.
Bruce threw a handful of Goblinarangs, as Charlotte, reacting to a tingle in the handle of the Pearl Harmony, threw herself out of the way of a dark bolt from the night. Dora was not so quick, or lucky. The darkness limned her golden forcefield for a moment, before it collapsed around her.
Dora slumped to the ground. “Dora!” Charlotte shouted, jumping towards her body just in time to encounter another of the great, bear-shaped aliens. It was holding something that looked like a medieval mace, onlyl glowing with a lethal red-orange. It swung down at Dora as it came, and Charlotte parried with every ounce of strength she had, sending the weapon flying.
A bright nozzle raised itself from the bear’s fur coat, and Charlotte dodged an electric flash with desperate speed. Taking a risk, she looked around. Bruce was on the ground, wrestling with another of the bear-thingies.
Charlotte came up, cutting at the bear. There was a flash as a forcefield activated along its body from the Pearl Harmony’s blow. It seemed to rock under the shock, but not enough to affect it seriously. This could be ugly, Charlotte thought.
Then came a whistle from the darkness. A shuriken blade sprouted from the bear’s forehead. Charlotte ducked into a ball, just in time for her body to take the blast of the shuriken grenade, instead of her face and eyes.
The space-bear was not so lucky. When Charlotte uncurled, she saw it, lying, unmoving, on a burned patch of what used to be lawn. Not wasting any time over the victim, Charlotte jumped towards the second space bear, which was now trying to strangle Bruce.
A third space-bear hurled itself from cover at the spot from which the explosive shuriken had come. From that direction, the Dark Ninja came flying, short blade out.
The two passed in mid-air as Charlotte was landing beside Bruce. The Dark Ninja finished his battle-lunge with a neat landing. The space bear did not, cartwheeling like an action figure heaved by a petulant toddler. Whatever space-bears used instead of regular guts trailed behind the bundle of flailing limbs and loosely flopping head.
Two down to the rescue-dude, Charlotte thought. Now for a blow from Woman’s Lib! The Pearl Harmony came down, neatly evading the space-bear’s desperate attempt to use a boneless Bruce as a shield. With the smoothly silky feeling of an especially sharp knife going through a cucumber, the tip of the magic blade found its way through the flesh and bone of the space-bear’s wrist.
As Charlotte hoped, for the next step would have been a lethal blow, the space-bear’s death grip on Bruce’s throat sprang free. Bruce came alive twisting around in its grip and pushing something into the fanged muzzle of the great beast as he lifted himself away from its hairy chest with the other. The pellet gave a little pop, and the space bear collapsed on the ground.
The Dark Ninja walked over to them, his sword held out so that it could drip alien blood safely away from everyone. You never knew when that stuff was acid or poison something, Charlotte thought. “Where’s Rose?” He demanded. He sounded excited, and unrestrained, and very familiar to Charlotte now. He sounded like –it couldn’t be.
“We don’t know,” Charlotte began.
But Bruce pointed down towards the lake. Floating well above the town, undisturbed by the combat below or the scene behind, was a glowing object of some kind. Bruce held up his hand and gestured at his wristcomm display. “I don’t know why he wants Rose, but he’s got Rose and Brian Ferguson, and he’s headed back to the mountains.”
“Charlotte,” Rosa said from her phone, “You have to stop them. If he takes that spaceship out of that cavern, there will be an explosion that will blow this continent off the planet.”
The sentient spaceship paused. “Or it’ll just disintegrate if he does it wrong. Let’s call that the best case scenario. But the odds aren’t very good.”
"I don't care about that. I care about Rose!" The Dark Ninja waved his sword in the direction of Sovereign's disappearing form, as though a good, solid sword waving would let him fly.
"Yeah," Bruce said, "But maybe we need to screw with those odds so that everyone can live?”
"We need to go dice cheat our way to victory.”
Charlotte looked over at Bruce. “Remind me to never play Heroclix with you again, Bruce.” Then she paused for a second “Also, bud, if you’ve got any location beacons on me like you do on Brian and Rose, you are in so much trouble.”