but the look I'm stealing for Charlotte involved doing up the hair on one side rather than trimming it short. I think. Look, I'm not an expert.
Chapter 3, 49: Curse Your Unexpected But Inevitable Betrayal!
Charlotte was in mid-air, thinking, too bad that gravity is a thing. I mean, she went on, I think I know what’s going on here, that this is the right move. But, fact is, I’m going where I aimed, and that’s that. Kind of committed here. Commitment was scary. It reminded her of her Cousin Amy’s boyfriend, John trying to explain why it took him so long to ask her out. You did something, and there it was, a great big lump in your stomach ‘till you found out how it turned out, and sometimes it turned out wrong, and what did you do then?
Big thoughts to think as you did a slow somersault in mid-air while flying through the big, weird control room of some alien spaceship. Hey, you know what, John? Man up. Her brother had no problem with that crap, and neither did Charlotte.
Charlotte’s feet touched the rail that surrounded the gray-suffused pit in the floor of the control room where the navigator-dude was supposed to be, and where, presumably, when the ship was working right, there wasn’t a scary rift into hyperspace.
Charlotte was twisted, now, looking down at the yielding black rubber-inlaid-with-gold metal floor. She was almost directly above Eve, who was lying on the floor. The cave girl’s long, curly red haid splayed around her pale face, and her tiger’s tooth necklace lay curled on the curves of her chest, which rose and fell with the even rhythm of the sleeper. Somehow, she had managed to crash to the ground without her bikini riding up, down, or sideways, as these things did.
Beside her, still clenched in her hands, were her flint-tipped sword and hide-covered, wood-framed shield. The shield, Charlotte reminded herself, was a weapon, too. At least in the movies.
Still, Eve’s eyes were firmly clenched. She was out like a light, no threat right now, her face said.
Unh-hunh, Charlotte thought. Ahead of her, rebounding fast from the mid-air collision with Eve, was Rose’s still unconscious frame. Above Charlotte, she could see Sovereign hanging in mid-air.
Charlotte searched the evil mastermind’s face for signs of pain again. He should be hurting. He had a freaking sword sticking out of his shoulder.
Charlotte’s sword. The point was, if he was distracted, that explained why someone so wicked smart was paying so little attention to what was going on. Charlotte had her own ideas about that. It wasn’t like she didn’t have something to go on, because Boyfriend John was Sovereign’s clone, and for someone so smart, John was pretty easily distracted by questions like “Which Pokemon is strongest?” and also a bit of a goof, considering that he still cared about Pokemon at his age.
As for Sovereign not using his mental powers, well, Charlotte had her theories. Sovereign was supposed to be able to absorb damage from physical attacks and channel it to his strength, but the sword sticking out of him was an ancient holy weapon, the Pearl Harmony Sword, and it probably had other ideas about that. And if having the Pearl Harmony sword sticking hilt-length out of your shoulder affected your physical powers, why not your mental?
Charlotte felt her knees touch her calves. Full flex, time to decide whether she still wanted to go through with her plan. Easy to say “man up,” she thought to herself, when you still weren’t committed.
Oh, heck. She jumped. Sovereign had a moment for his eyes to go wide, and Charlotte felt the vice of his mental pressure on her brain for a moment, but she had no problem brushing it off in the second it took her to close, flipping again, and “land” with both feet on Sovereign’s armoured chest, her hands on the hilt of the Pearl Harmony Sword.
Now her mind filled with the sweet song of her sword, instead, like a vaulting voice singing a mantra or a hymn. Stupid religion stuff, but what you got when you wielded a holy sword, Charlotte guessed.
Gravity pulled at Charlotte. She pulled at her sword, kicking against Sovereign as she did so, twisting her blade as she pulled, because Sovereign was an asshole.
And then the blade came free, and Charlotte was falling back towards the floor, aiming to land just in front of the incredible canopied bed with the blonde, silk sheets that Drindrish thought was a good substitute for a captain’s chair.
Above her, Sovereign’s face was contorted with pain, but his eyes were glowing. Bad sign, Charlotte thought. Please be right, please be right, she thought.
Her feet touched ground, and without even looking to the side, Charlotte let her instincts guide the Pearl Harmony Sword up in a parry.
With the ring of flint on metal, it took the vicious thrust of Eve’s spear. Charlotte twisted and stepped, still without looking, and was gratified to feel the spear fly free of Eve’s hands.
Without taking her eyes off Sovereign, Charlotte hissed, “So betrayal! Maybe you want to do whatever anti-Sovereign thing you’ve got in your pocket instead?”
Above her, Sovereign held his hand in front of him. “I said I was going to kill you, girl, but now I have a little amendment to announce. I am going to break that sword in front of you before I do.” The fingers of his right hand contorted in a way that made Charlotte’s eyes hurt to look at them.
Oh oh, Charlotte thought. No-one told me that he was into sorcery. Did Mandaarians even bend that way?
Evidently, this one did. A shining black aura erupted from Sovereign’s hand, starting wide and round but slimming down to a tentacle at its end. The tentacle wavered in the air, as though smelling for something. Then it split. One end clamped to Sovereign’s shoulder, while the other began to stretch towards Charlotte.
Bilious yellow pustules crawled in the shining black, first rushing upwards towards the end of the tips, then crawling backwards in vomitous curls. It was amazing, Charlotte thought, just how much detail you had time to pick up when someone was casting evil, evil magic at you.
She also had long enough to have the kinds of thoughts you had when a conversation was going on in front of you that you didn’t really know how to join. One of those I-don-t-know-where-to-put-my-hands-or-where-to-stand moments that ended when Charlotte finally, in desperation, began doing her Uncle’s breath exercises.
Calm, at last, washed over Charlotte as she breathed out through her nostrils. Hunh, she thought. That actually works. The Pearl Harmony Sword came up in front of her in parry, bidden only by her hands, moving in the way of the wuxia. Sure, she thought, the magic was presumably aimed at the sword, but Charlotte had a feeling that Sovereign was overestimating it. Her sword had been forged to oppose Takofanes and kill his lieutenants, after all. Charlotte had seen spells like the one that Sovereign was using right now, and she knew that—
Blade touched tentacle, and, above her, the shining black nimbus instantly spread to surround Sovereign. A soundless scream filled her mind for a moment, and then the time-and-space spanning Mandaarian mastermind blinked out of existence.
“Crap,” Charlotte heard Eve say beside her.
Charlotte, turned, her foot stamping, and looked over at Eve. “Your Dad should stop selling spells with Trojans if he’s not up for dealing with angry customers.”
And then brutal, smashing pain erupted from her right wrist. The Pearl Harmony Sword fell, bouncing at the hilt on the rubber while the blade clattered on a gold stripe. Moving as though on its own, the sword flew across the floor towards the far wall.
Charlotte’s instincts screamed a warning. She rolled away, reflexively taking the floor on her right shoulder and remembering to guard her hand at only the last moment. It was too late to prevent it from brushing the ground. Pain, brutal pain, filled her as she came up on her feet, looking for—
Nothing. Eve had disappeared. A sourceless voice echoed in the room. “Yeah, well, unfortunately, Dad buys them from a contractor, so it’s not like he has a lot of choice in their effects. That’s why he got this invisibility gadget from someone reliable. Good thing Big Brain thinks he’s always the smartest guy in the room, or I’d have to kill him and you straight up with it.”
“This spaceship that important to you?” Charlotte dodged as she felt a wind, not fast enough to avoid all the crushing weight of Eve’s thrusting shield.
“The spaceship?” Eve laughed. “Dad doesn’t want the spaceship.”
Charlotte circled left, leading with her elbow. It landed on air in the place where she thought Eve might be. A laugh rang out in the control room.
Charlotte was so angry that tears were starting. She flung out words, careless of their truth, wanting only to hurt. “What does he want? Besides to screw with you, girlfriend?”
But Eve didn’t have a good comeback. “You don’t know anything, Wong! I’m eighty thousand years old, and for all I remember, I’m just some stupid teenager. My ..cousins, my family, whoever they are, they don’t have any time for me. Only my Dad does. So if he wants some big secret. I get it for him. If it means scragging some too-tall, straggly-haired freak to get it, that’s a bonus.”
Oh, girl, Charlotte thought. My hair is fine. Charlotte loved her hair. Sitting with her Auntie and her cousins Amy and May and Jamie Neilsen, choosing it, on that first night in the Yurt was her happiest memory of the 2000s. She was getting to Eve. “You’re full of crap, Eve, and you know it. It was your Dad who wiped your memory, and your Dad who kept you secret from your family.”
Although, come to think of it, maybe it was time for a change. The asymmetric look wouldn’t work for much longer if Charlotte let her hair grow much longer.
“What? You’re just pulling that out of your fat ass!”
Charlotte kicked low, and was rewarded with the slightest brush of firm flesh.
“Yeah, I am. But you’re thinking it, aren’t you? Face it, girl, your Dad’s an asshole.”
A smashing, ramming blow took Charlotte from behind. She fell, this time too stunned to guard her wrist. It landed with a snapping sound, and white pain filled Charlotte’s mind as her training took over and rolled her to her feet.
“And you’re too dependent on that sword, Wong. I’m going to kill you, and take your scalp to my Dad.” Over where Charlotte had thrown Eve’s spear, the Stone Age but deadly weapon suddenly disappeared. Eve had her weapon again.
Charlotte backed up, slowly, from the place where the spear had disappeared, casting a trying-to-be-casual look at the Pearl Harmony Sword, but Eve was too careful to let Charlotte manoeuvre towards her weapon. So far
Time to make her angry, Charlotte thought. Angry people make mistakes, etc, etc. “So my hair is at least nice enough that your Daddy will finally love you?”
Eve screamed. Charlotte scrambled. Yeah, right, mistakes like putting their spears right through you. Charlotte’s wrist throbbed into agonising life again as she moved She looked down. Her hand was hanging wrong, and swelling already. It flopped with every move she made, and hurt evey time she moved it. Crap.
Oh, well, if she’d learned anything from adventure movies. .. Charlotte pulled at the tearaway panel on her Tatammy fatigues, and used her left hand to shove her right hand into the cross body sling that pulled out of her suit. It left a little bit of distinctly undress-code cleavage showing, but the designers knew what they were doing.
That’s what happened when a girl made bandages and such out of her blouse. Even stupid regulationary one-piece blouses.
A little wind, and Charlotte stepped back. She needed something, some edge. “Uncle Henry?”
“You don’t have to ask me,” her phone said. “The techniques exist in Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu.”
“I can’t even do them properly with my right hand!” Charlotte snapped. She jumped back again. Hard.
“What about your Daddy?” Eve asked. “Is that precious Uncle of yours just going to replace him? Where’s your loyalty?”
Again, tears started. That wasn’t fair. Charlotte’s Dad had taught her practically everything she knew about Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu. With Uncle Henry, it was all just practice, meditate, practice some more. Instead of learning to focus her ch’i better, he made her focus on relearning the same moves on her weak side, or to do them while doing yoga breathing at the same time.
It was nice to spend time with Uncle Henry, Charlotte had to admit, and he’d certainly sharpened her technique, but, when you got right down to it, it was basically a year wasted. If she hadn’t lost her Dad with the whole time travel thing –and Dad dying—she would know so much right now.
Well, she knew enough. Charlotte looked down at her left hand as her fingers formed into the Dim Mak of the touch of death. In her ears the wind of Eve’s approach softly sussurated. I am going to end this now, Charlotte thought.
And then, above her, Charlotte heard the croaking click that a crow made when she was preening her babies. Her eyes flew to the air, while, somehow, her body twisted out of the way of Eve’s rush. Ginger looked down at her, tender care in her eyes, reflecting the red glow of the jewel in The Pearl Harmony Sword’s pommel. Uncle Henry’s voice, or the voice of the app that simulated him, said something, tinny with the sound of her phone, the details unimportant and unheard.
You’re here just in time, Mom, Charlotte thought, as she bent back into Eve’s motion, her hand coming up for the Dim Mak blow.
You’re going to be so proud of me.