Let's be honest here: I know this song because I heard it on the in-store music system at work.
I still like it.
Book 4, Chapter 7: In the Groove
Charlotte counted two three staircases, two escalators and one elevator ride before the last shooshing, automatic door opened and revealed a vast atrium, lit by vaulted windows with panels the size of small cathedrals. The light, as in the rest of the library, was just off perfect sunshine.
She said that, as the group came up to the top of the latest escalator into a sunny elevator atrium with two banks of three elevators on either side of closed, double fire doors.
Eldritch looked over his shoulder. “It’s because of the ultraviolet filters in the glass. They do that in libraries and schools these days. It’s what makes you kids today so apathetic. Well, that and wearing clothes all the time. Natural ultraviolet stimulates the skin, causing it to produce consciousness-altering hormones.”
Eldritch’s eyes glanced around the group. According to her Cousin Jenny, Eldritch was a pretty normal professor in class, which just made him more eager to get his freak on when he was out and about. Oh, well, Charlotte, thought. Might as well help him out.
“Drugs are bad,” Charlotte said, trying to be straight-faced and guileless. A single, suppressed giggle escaped Bruce, at her side.
“Exactly,” said Rose. Though she was probably taking Charlotte seriously.
But Eldritch just sighed, acting as though the younger generation was beyond help, anyway. Charlotte was beginning suspect that it was an act, though, and about as transparent as her Uncle Henry’s tough guy act.
Then Eldritch came to a stop in front of a bank of elevators. “I’m afraid I have to leave you here. Rose? You’ve put your plan together?”
“Yes, sir. But I was hoping that you would help us.”
“I’m sorry, brothers and sisters, but I only have a single day in the library, and we may well all be in great danger. I have faith in your research abilities, Rose, and so do your elders.”
“Whatever,” Brian muttered, putting every ounce of meaning he could pack into his opinion of the cluelessness of the Rents.
Eldritch walked up to an elevator and slid into it as it opened, as if it had been waiting for him. Which, knowing Eldritch, it might have.
“Arboriculture Centre?” Dora asked, reading the plaque beside the elevator door.
“Maybe evil trees are about to attack.” Rose speculated.
“Hunh?” Charlotte honestly didn’t know if Dora didn’t know what arboriculture was, or whether she was just teasing Rose, but before Rose could answer, Bruce did. “Arbor. Like trees. Or,” Bruce continued, reading the floor designations on the plaque, “He could be going to the MARC, CRIAS, or ILORD.”
“Ack! Roynym!” Rose ruined her joke by giggling.
Ahead of them, a pair of identical twin sixteen year olds blondes, dressed head-to-toe in lustrous brown leather with flared collars, pleats on the back of the jackets that hung just above their butts, and boots that came up over their knees, opened a big door next to the elevators. A babble of noise filled the atrium. They were a little too far away to see through the crack, but Rose..
“I guess we’ve found the caf,” said Rose, without even appearing to move.
“Awesome!” Said Dora, darting forward to grab the doors before they closed all the way. She shoved them open, and beckoned for the five other kids to follow her.
The vast hall beyond filled with tables, and wall, at an impossible distance, by the bright signs of food court kiosks. Rose squealed. “New York Fries!”
“Tots don’t get it with you and New York Fries,” Dora answered.
“In the dark, post-apocalyptic future, all fries are baked sweet potato fries. Too bad we can’t stick around the caf.”
“What? Why not? Mr. Guzman’s little girl got some fashion to scop!” Dora gestured at the long tables, cluttered with teens, studying everything from utrabooks to wax boards, and wearing, it looked like, approximately 67% of the outfits in the multiverse. Case in point: the girl on the next table left, wearing a pink, broad-brimmed hat wrapped in taffeta halfway up to the top of the green bear stuffie sitting on the crown of the hat. Which she was wearing with a strapless tube, a Y-thing and pink, fuzzy leggings. It was an outfit that shouldn’t work, and, go figure, didn’t.
The girl shot a hot look at Charlotte that suggested that she could read minds. Except when those people were thinking, “Oh, God, why are you wearing that?”
Oops, not time to tune out, because Rose was nerdsplaining to Dora. “Did you even read the brochure they handed us?”
“Sure: Us Peach-grade users have access to blah millions of volumes and blah millions of documents and blah blah parts of the online catalogue. Good thing we’ve got a total research brain with us, or we’d never get anywhere.” Dora snapped her phone. Megan Oliver’s “Turn IT Up” came pouring out. “She drops the mike,” Dora added over the beginning of the vocals.
…Hey D.J., turn it up right now…”
“Oh. My. God.” Rose tilted imaginary bifocals at Dora. “Are you saying that I’m, like, a total party girl, only for the Library?”
“Fair point. Could you turn that off? People might start staring if they ever get tired of the capering guy in the in the dinosaur suit.”
“You’ve got to give him credit as a shopper, though. I bet there aren’t a lot of dinosaur suits that are that tight in the crotch.” Dora muted her phone. “So why can’t we just hang out in the caf and chillax while you download the catalogue into your gigantic brain.”
“I am not chillaxing. I’m just not,” Bruce interjected.
“Chill,” Dora began.
“Ax, rich boy,” Brian finished.
“This is clearly the key late adolescent social context of this milieu,” Twelve pointed out. “We need to learn to chillax here, or we risk alienation from our culture.”
Dora looked at Twelve, trying to figure whether he was supporting her or not. “What?”
“We need to learn to fit in.”
“You make it sound so cheap. Like, bridges, friends, jumping?”
Charlotte couldn’t help smiling with Dora, and added. “Not if it means wearing gold lame overalls.” Complete, she thought, looking at the obviously sweaty Black girl trying to rock the look, with an engineer’s cap. There were more hats in this one room than Charlotte had seen on the street in her entire time in Philadelphia and the 21st Century.
Rose stepped in front of the group and stopped, swinging around to address them all. “Okay, everyone, axing or not, you need to chill. I can’t just dump the catalogue in my head, because a lot of stuff isn’t in the catalogue. The Library has been trying to digitise its holdings for over a hundred years, and it falls a month behind every year. Also, it sounds like a lot of it can’t go into the computer. Like, magic spells can’t be digitised. Not to mention that we want is very unlikely to be available to us at Orange level.”
“So why are we even here if we can’t get at it?” Brian asked, annoyed. “Eldritch has an unlimited card, right, Ultraviolet grade? So do a bunch of other people. They can just look it up for us.”
“Because the information we need won’t just be there in some book somewhere. It’ll be buried in allusions and cross-references and footnotes. It’s like…like a deer or something, and we have to sneak up on it if we’re going to catch it.”
“That’s not how you hunt deer, you know,” Brian pointed out.
“Whatever,” Rose said, sounding annoyed. “We actually have a lot of resources in this group. Brian can read Elven and Drindrish, and he’s magically aware. That means that he can read any Turakian or Valdorian history written in those languages, and see esoteric texts. Dora, the Maid of Gold has a universal translator, right?”
Dora nodded. “That doesn’t mean that I can just read any old text you put in front of me. It’s not that simple.”
“Didn’t say it was. But if we can read it out loud, you will understand it, right?”
“Charlotte, you read Chinese, right? And not just Chinese, Classical?”
Charlotte nodded. Let’s just not ask how well, she thought.
“Well, a lot of the earliest Chinese stuff actually comes down from the Turakian Age. Ancient history, Mahayana teachings of the Boddhisatvas. Like the motto on your sword. And if you get stuck with some weird bit, you can, you know, you can…”
Rose trailed off as Charlotte stared at her. “I am not a paladin. I can’t just stare at some Buddhist scripture from the Turakian Age and read it by power of sheer enlightenment.”
Rose nodded, but didn’t say anything, on account of her using her official “I am Curious (Skeptical) Face” to say it for her.
Twelve snorted. Charlotte whirled to glare at him. She didn’t want to be mad at her bestie, but Twelve was annoying Charlotte. He looked levelly back at her and rolled his eyes.
Charlotte let a little growl escape her. Honestly, her friends could be so annoying. But also right. This was Rose’s turf, and it was time for her friends to back her up. That was fair. Everyone got their turn to be special. Listen to you, Charlotte thought. Trying to make the world fair for everyone. Are you sure you’re not a paladin?
Anyway, that was how the gang ended up at a table in the Ancient Pre-History Reading Room, reading massive guides to Atlantean guides to sources for Turakian history. Or, Charlotte was, because the guide had been produced in the Kangxi Emperor’s court of an alternate universe. As she used a set of tags Rose had given her to find citations in the Atlantean concordances, Rose read them aloud to Dora, who handed off page references in the colossal Monumenta Turakia Historia, a marching series of red leather volumes published in the alternate Nineteenth Century Germany just before unfortunate experiments with broadcast power reduced it to a giant-insect-haunted postapocalyptic world of railroad pirates in renegade locomotives and airship cities.
Or so Rose said. It sounded like history class was probably a lot more interesting in that world. Or depressing. It was also crazy that a bunch of students from a suburban Philadelphia high school were getting their hands all over books that a hundred fifty years, three centuries, and thirty thousand years old, respectively. Charlotte couldn’t’ even look at the Atlantean volumes without shivering.
Though, truth to tell, they weren’t much to look at. The Library had rebound them a few years ago. From the outside, they were about as exciting as telephone books.
“Drios kenta peradaliminos su motras.” Rose read aloud, or, rather, muttered, so that they wouldn’t fetch any more obnoxious looks from the next table over.
“What?” Dora said, crossly. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, it almost makes sense. What was the first word again?”
“That’s not a real word in Atlantean. And could we have a few less of those? I’m getting a headache trying to think through the needfire. It keeps blazing up in my brain.”
Twelve looked up from where he slouched at a table, staring at giant prints of beggars with horrible diseases from Lerat’s Curious Histories of Elweir. Elweir was the ancient name for Melbourne, and Aussies were just as weird back then as they were today. Only with more disgusting diseases, which was always interesting, and, plus, Twelve was bored, and also pretty smart, which meant that he could multitask while listening to “Teach Yourself Mitharian” tapes. “Danger signal?”
“You think?” Dora snapped back. Then her face softened. “I’m sorry. It’s just that this place is full of very dangerous people. It’s just that they’re all doing their own thing. Rose?”
“Uhm, there’s a couple lines here and a couple other places on the left margin. Maybe somehow the first letter got cut off? Is ‘Edrios’ a word in Atlantean?”
“Yeah, that makes sense. Uhm, ‘Dawn is the gift of the mountain.’”
“Great. Well, scratch one citation to the ‘first light of dawn.’ Sounds like poetry.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Bruce, who was speed reading a modern history of the Turakian Age by some crazy dude from two dimensions over, and apparently looking for a distraction. He’d already dragged the other two guys off to the bathroom twice. Knowing Bruce, he was looking for tails as well as hanging out. You didn’t get to be Mr. Prepared without spotting surveillance, and Avant Garde’s stunt was a pretty strong sign that they were being followed. Probably too strong, but that was one of those “They suspected that we suspected that they suspected that we suspected” rabbit holes that you could only go down so far.
“Yeah, maybe not. But at this point it goes to a lower priority pile. Eldritch isn’t the only one on a time limit. We have to be back at the portal in two hours.”
Charlotte started and looked at her phone. (Good thing there were no roaming charges in Babylon!) Where had the time gone?
And, reflected in the phone, Charlotte spotted them.
Charlotte, carefully controlling her emotions, put her phone on the table and hissed at her friends. “Don’t look up, don’t do anything suspicious. Just pull out a mirror or something and scope out the group two tables over.”
Bruce looked at his watch and stood up. “Gotta make one more pit stop before we hit the bus. Coming, guys?” As he did so, he flicked a thumbs up to Charlotte, Charlotte sent it back. Brian and Twelve followed him.
Meanwhile, Rose nodded to Charlotte, while Dora fumbled with her compact. Rose, of course, could just haul out a mirror or her phone and take a good, long looky-loo at the very familiar blonde Asian and statuesque redhead across the hall who were very inconspicuously trying to hide under some stupid-ass cloak of invisibility.
“Everyone’s seen what they need to see?” Dora asked, finally. “Char-Char?”
“Light ‘em up,” Charlotte said, firmly. Either way, they’d just be letting Madison and Eve know they’d been spotted, or, best case scenario, spooking the two Paradigm Pirates so that they would run to their handler and the gang could force a showdown with Eldritch around to back them up.
In response to Charlotte’s instructions, a barely visible golden nimbus danced radiantly over the two junior Paradigm Pirates.
Eve and Madison jumped up and headed for the far exit. Okay then, option two, Charlotte thought. Things didn’t look good for the two of them –they’d already let Bruce, Brian and Twelve get out of sight. Twelve had boringly unstealthy superpowers –the classic strength, flight, power blast suite—but Bruce was ultra-stealthy, and Charlotte suspected that Brian had hidden reserves of sneakiness, too.
Charlotte got up and followed, glad of her wedge heels and practical jeans, blouse and jacket combo. Eve had some sense –she was wearing jeans and sneakers and had a white tee on, but Madison hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to go too cool for school in a white scoop top, short skirt one-piece with dangling bead necklaces and white leather high heel bondage pumps. Never mind moving fast, girl practically had to hang on with both hands so as to not flash boobs or underwear.
Or, well, should have had to hold on with both hands, because in actual fact, Madison was booking it. Must be awfully used to running around in outfits like that, Charlotte thought to herself. Though if Charlotte caught up with her, it might turn out that she would have been better off practicing her chaos blasts.
Charlotte was through the door in a moment and looking around. A flicker of gold to her right directed her attention down a blind corridor ending in a little seat ledge in front of a window. Which was open.
Which shouldn’t be. The Library was climate controlled. As if to make the case, a breeze sprang up around Charlotte. She ran down the hall, diving for the window. As she did so, she noticed the name on the office door next to the window, “Doctor Shatterack,” and filed it away for later.
In moments, Charlotte was falling through mid-air. Turned out that the window opened up on the side of a tower. She’d honestly had no idea. The interior of the Library was totally confusing. Actually, so was the outside, probably.
Anyway, point was, she was in mid-air, falling the better part of six stories towards the old-fashioned roof o an old fashioned building, covered with the doors of little utility sheds and air vents and such like building-related things.
Better do something about this, Charlotte thought, as she slid around in mid-air until she could reach the rapidly-moving concrete-and-glass wall of the tower with her feet. Aiming at the concrete, she delivered a testing kick. The force bounced her up, slowing her fall.
Perfect. In a moment, Charlotte was rope-free rappelling down the outside of the tower. The roof below was still rushing towards her, but at a manageable speed now.
All too quickly, she bounced off the roof in a three pointer, Pearl Harmony Sword free and clear in her left hand.
“Show off,” she heard someone say, flatly.
Charlotte’s eyes followed the sound of the voice. Madison was standing in the shadow of a big air vent.
“Why are you following us?” Charlotte asked.
“Why are you following us?” Madison answered, sounding like a cross ten year old.
“Oh, come on!” Charlotte said, letting her irritation show. “One of your olds tried to spook us last night. This is not us crashing your party.”
“Whatever, Kung Fu Princess,” Madison answered. “This is for setting the race back.” She threw something with her right hand.
Oh, Charlotte thought, bringing up her sword to guard the throw. It is on. No-one called Charlotte a kung fu princess except Charlotte. Besides, Cousin May was the real kung fu princess. You just had to look in her closet to figure that out. Not that Charlotte could do that anymore. Not since the shirred wool skirt incident last month. Even though Charlotte had paid for the dry cleaning!
Belatedly, Charlotte realised that the things that Madison had thrown weren’t aimed at her. They were aimed at the ground, wherever there was enough free space for tiny figurines to grow into seven-foot tall, shiny metal killbots with spikes and blades all over them.
Oops, Charlotte thought.