Book 4, 2: Secret Plan
The next day was Friday. Friday Friday Friday, count it out on your hands, just like Katy Perry, Charlotte thought, remembering the hilarious video of Perry doing that awful song and smiling to herself. At school, Charlotte, Rose and Dora took their spares together in the library. “Information Center.” Whatever. This was the second month the girls had been at Tatammy High, the Big Boy School. Because school starts in September, duh.
Charlotte could not get used to it. Down here in the States, school was like in Archie. There were four grades in senior high, with Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. Charlotte was still trying to get that straight. Why would you call Grade 11s “Juniors?” To Charlotte, that meant young, and seventeen year-olds were, well, old. Duh again, she thought to herself. It was, like, “Stay Cool and Carry On” for those girls, who were all totally together, almost like her Cousin May and her buds, Jamie and Rebecca, the total queens of the school.
And meanwhile, here she and the other kids coming up out of Pemberton Elementary were, totally spaz. Charlotte was the tallest kid in class back last year at Pemberton, but that meant all of squat there. Lots of girls in Grade 8 were taller than the boys, and in the ceiling-scraping Wong household, she was never the tallest, not even amongst the girls. (Take that, Chinese stereotypes, by the way, she thought.) But here? Here where she was the youngest class, the class that was always messing up their outfits, who laughed too loud and got looked at like this, and not like that? Here she felt like a freak, all big and gangly, with her hair frizzed out like a clown’s.
It was hard to believe that just two months ago she’d been winning a stupid old beauty pageant. A beauty pageant, the nasty part of her brain reminded her, in the back of beyond in Long Lake Valley on the planet of Landing, the lost world the Fifties forgot.
I have got, Charlotte thought, to stop thinking like this. Across from her, her brother’s girlfriend, Kumi, got up from the table where she’d been visiting with Savannah and Babs. Noticing that Charlotte and her girls had come in while they were talking and texting and talking, Kumi waved. “Hi, Charlotte, Dora, Rose! Catch you guys later!”
Charlotte held a smile until Kumi turned her back, then let the frown out to play. Dora, across the table, mouthed, “OMG.” Charlotte glared back. Kumi could act all nice, but Charlotte knew that inside she was all, like, “I’m dating the best looking guy in Grade 10.” Kumi just didn’t get Chris. Charlotte was sure of it. What made it worse was the way the girl had infiltrated her family. She was even boarding with her aunt and uncle!
The other aunt and uncle. The ones who lived in Orovile, way up there in Washington State, a whole country away. Because superheroes. Kumi could teleport. Which, Charlotte reminded herself, was another reason to hate her. Cool as it was to be a mistress of Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu and have a magic sword and stuff, Charlotte had to walk, just like normal people. Except when she was on her magic horse, of course.
Rose nudged Charlotte, elbow to arm. Hard. “Sorry to interrupt the Five Minute Hate, but Boys alert, 10 o’clock.”
Rose got an extra helping of scowl. Honestly, Kumi even had her BFFs fooled. Nevertheless, Charlotte looked where she’d been directed, excited and frightened at the same time in case it was Jameel and Don. I mean, they said Jameel was gay (that is, a gay android from the future, because superheroes), but what if that was just a robot-phase? He was honestly the best-looking guy Charlotte knew. A few degrees Hot-Enheit above even Brian Ferguson. Charlotte looked, and then she wilted inside. “False alarm.” It was just Brian (admittedly, squee), Bruce and Twelve.
The boys sauntered over, the way that boys do, and gathered at the other end of the table from the girls. Fair enough, because as Frosh, the girls were already relegated to the back table right next to the door to the monitor’s office on the one side and the washrooms on the other, the wobbly table perched on a little notch of dirty Formica left over at the edge of the forest-green carpet of the Information Center from the last renovation.
If there was a perk to being in a nasty corner right under teacher’s eye, it was that at least they had a reserved table, and could hang together.
Twelve pulled out a chair and sat down with a thump. Bruce held the edge of another, looking tentative, as if he meant to ask for permission, before realising that it would make Twelve look rude, and just long enough so that everyone could figure out why he was doing it in the first place. Read you like a book, Bruce, Charlotte thought. Before Bruce McNeely could figure out what to do, Brian slid his long, sinuous leg over the back of a chair and sat down astraddle, his arms wrapped around the shoulder rest. His long, elfin, smooth-skinned face, with giant, wide green eyes balanced atop a perfectly shaped, long, but just too-wide-to-be-narrow chin, which balanced on his fist.
Bruce gave up trying to figure out how to be polite and slid into his own chair. “Hey, girls, meet Richard Roe!” He nudged Twelve.
Rose arched her eyes. “Thought you were going by “John Doe?”
“Decided to change it up,” Twelve answered.
“That’s, uhm, not how we do things in the real world, you know.”
Twelve raised his hands. A sparkle of energy crossed them, just long enough for the girls to notice. “And I’m not a real boy.”
“Oh, Twelve,” Rose began, but Twelve cut him off.
“I’m a clone soldier! Bred in the lab to fight for my maker! I’m not a name, I’m a number!”
“Teleios has no time for you, though,” Rose pointed out. It was true. Whatever the reason that the mysterious clonemaker had for creating his corps of Archon-clones, the youthful supersoldiers were not allowed to mature. Teleios had Twelve’s brothers euthanized when they reached eighteen in biological years. Twelve, who had been captured last year by Charlotte’s brother and his buds, was enrolled in Tatammy because …
Reasons, Charlotte thought, as her other Enemies Forever chose their moment to walk into the library. Eve the Cavegirl and Maddie Bing were both enrolled in Mr. Burcato’s Drama class. And, of course, they were totally members of the youth division of his Paradigm Pirates, even if Mr. Burcato had pulled the wool over the teachers’ union’s eyes about being “reformed” from his days as a master villain.
“Now there’s trouble,” Dora whispered. As though hearing them, Maddie Bing flipped her long, blonde hair at them. Charlotte glared back. Blonde hair could work on an Asian. Her Cousin Jennie looked pretty good in pictures of her from back when she was rocking that look. Madison made it look trashy. Though, on the other hand, she probably meant to look trashy, because that was the kind of girl she was, from the denim vest to the skin-tight white jeans. In October.
“No wonder she throws “Chaos Blasts” around in her super-identity,” Rose whispered. “Her style is as messed up like an entropy flux in a superbattle.”
“That be the nerdiest analogy from you, ever,” Dora whispered.
“What about that ‘Tannhauser Gate’ thing?” Brian asked. “That was pretty out there. Starships crying something something?”
“Don’t worry. You’ll know when Rose is being nerdy. That was just a movie quote. You never saw Blade Runner? Bruce was annoyed at something, Charlotte noticed. She looked at him, holding a question in her eyes.
“I’m hearing through the grapevine that we’ve got a supermission?”
“What?” Brian asked. “I barely even know what my superpower is!” Now it was the turn of the rube out of Landing to let a flicker of power cross his palm. True to form, though, it was just dancing lights.
“Look it up. You’re in the friggin’ Monster Manual,” Bruce answered.
“I am not a Dark Elf. Mr. Piccolo said so. I have a natural aptitude for High Elven magic. He said. That’s why I’m enrolled in your stupid school, and not back home at Long Lake.”
“Woah, boys,” Charlotte said. “Yeah, we have a mission.”
“We’re too young to have a mission,” Bruce pointed out.
“Maybe they’re being flexible?” Twelve asked. “After all, you guys fought Professor Paradigm and Sovereign and Fang this summer. And I’m tots a veteran.”
“My Dad,” Dora said, trailing off the reminder that she was the principal’s daughter. “It’s an easy mission. Just going to go look stuff up in a library.”
“Cha’right,” Rose said, and then burst into scarlet blushes across her cheeks as everyone looked at her. Rose! Using slang! “What? We’re going to the Library of Babylon, and Dora set it up. Best bud ever!”
Her friends kept staring. Well, we all know Rose. Even Brian and Twelve, by now, Charlotte thought. She’s going to Heaven, and I guess we all get to come along for the ride. The nerdy, nerdy ride.
That evening, home at the Yurt, the girls, and the boys, got the bad news. The barbecue table had been set up on the wide back porch so that their visitor from San Francisco could sit in the open, the cool October air enveloping the veteran super-wizard, Eldritch, with Mr. and Mrs. Wong at either end of the table. As was apparently usual for Eldritch when he went visiting in other people’s homes, he wore a tattered old bathrobe over what looked like a shapeless, sleeveless shirt and mid-calf pants that went down just far enough to be caught by the worn loops of leather sandals. They were both made out of potato sacking.
Not that anyone around in 2014 knew what a potato sack looked like, Charlotte thought, update your references, girl, like you do your wardrobe. Which tonight consisted of a bright orange top over a tan tee and black yoga pants. Perfect for hanging out of the dormer window of her brother’s room for some subtle eavesdropping.
Around her, it seemed that the very air was dripping with October rain. A little drop got onto the mirror with which Charlotte was watching the scene.
“What’s going on out there?” Dora whispered.
“Are we going? Are we going?” Rose asked.
“Shh.” Dora wiggled in the crook of the porch roof and the wall of the Yurt to position her mirror for a better view. I’m a ninja, she thought. And, as she did so, she nervously checked for signs of her Cousin Amy, who was a ninja –well, more or less, from the martial arts and hiding in plain sight point-of-view—and who was not above the occasional practical joke. But it seemed as though Amy and her gang were still off on their own, on some kind of mission involving the supercrime gang known as the Ultimates, Charlotte understood.
Eldritch was explaining the facts of life, while Charlotte was trying to imagine him at his day job as a professor at Berkeley University, or whatever they called it. University of California? Wasn’t that in Garfield? If that was a place? Why was she thinking of a comic strip? Anyway, point was, he taught class in a department that was crammed full of White House advisor-type-guys. Economics, of all things. I guess, Charlotte thought, that teaching Very Serious Things to Very Smart Young People made up for the fact that he dressed like a hobo’s embarrassing cousin when he was out of class.
At least, it helped when the aging supermage was trying to sell nights away for Charlotte and her buds to Auntie Ma.
“No.” Charlotte’s aunt looked as severe as her words, with her hair up in a bun and a black blouse.
“I’m sorry, Sister. I can arrange for a direct portal to Babylon that the children can use for their research, but it only opens one way, reversing every twelve hours. It’s the best I can do.”
“Which means that they will have to stay over Friday and Saturday night in Babylon with no adult supervision. No. and please don’t call me ‘Sister.’”
“I’m an adult,” Eldritch protested, sounding almost hurt.
Charlotte’s Uncle Henry cleared his throat. “The last time I was in your apartment, the only thing in your refrigerator was a tub of coleslaw and some LSD.”
“Yeah, that was a pretty lean weekend. Look, they won’t be staying with me. My pad in the City is for swinging bachelors only. They’ll be staying with one of my Babylon contacts. Doctor Smythe is as nice an old bachelor as you could hope to meet, and his housekeeper, Mrs. Marigold, is absolutely proper, and Doctor Smythe’s ward, Jane, is a very proper young lady.”
“I’m amazed they put up with you, then.” Auntie Ma crossed her arms.
“Doctor Smythe owes me some favours. Why don’t I take you two across tonight? You can meet the doctor and his household, check out the place. I think that you will find that it meets your approval. Honestly, the Doctor is as square as you are.”
Auntie Ma snorted. “As though I can spare the time. You know that I have a double wedding and my husband’s retirement party to plan, and the garden to put down for the winter, and…”
“Not to worry,” Eldritch answered. “I can bring you back tonight.”
Auntie Ma pounced. “Then why can’t the children go and come back on Saturdays?”
“Because I will be needed to cast the spell. The point of the portal is that it will remain stably open, whatever I am doing or not doing.”
“All right, then,” Auntie Ma answered. “We will meet this Doctor Smythe and his household, and, if they meet with our approval, the children can stay there overnight and spend their Saturdays at the Library of Babylon. Oh, and Charlotte, get inside before you catch your death up there.”
Charlotte wiggled back up into the room. There was only one reason that Auntie Ma would put up with Charlotte eavesdropping. “We’re going.”
Rose jumped up. “Yes!”
“Is there a point when you’re going to stop being excited about this?” Dora asked.
“No.” Rose answered.
“Awesome secret plan, Dora,” Charlotte said.