It turns out that "weirdo on a unicycle" turns up a lot of images.
Book 4, 10, Plots, Plans, Plays
Charlotte could barely lift her sneakers up to climb the steps onto the back porch of the Yurt. With the rain falling on the eaves above, she finally had room to think about how tired she was.
For some reason, her Uncle Henry made no move to get out of the Lexus and follow her onto the deck.
Charlotte reached out to touch the knob, but before she could touch it, Auntie Ma opened the door. The blue door opened with the slightest hint of protest from the screen still mounted on it against the last remnants of Philadelphia’s summer insects.
Charlotte practically fell into the Yurt. Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic, but Charlotte was seriously tired, in that place where it was like you were up above the back of your head a few feet staring down at a doll that was trying to be you, and not doing a very good job of it.
Auntie Ma, Charlotte noticed, was dressed in a styling black jacket over a white blouse with a black floral print, and her tweed fall jacket over that. She was going out.
Oh. Charlotte remembered that now. And couldn’t believe how disappointed she was. She really wanted to talk with someone right now about Babylon, the City of Man. Or maybe just chill. Talking seemed like a lot of work right now, something that the body down below her was going to have trouble with. She was a little worried that it wouldn’t be able to walk right!
“Dinner’s hot, Char Char,” her aunt said. “It’s on a TV tray on the counter. We’ll be down at the school, then we’re catching a show with the Guzmans. Home by 11.”
Cool. That was Auntie’s way of saying that she could eat in the TV room. Also, school. Charlotte wondered what was going on. And who was responsible for the house right now. Not that she couldn’t figure that one out.
Charlotte slipped in the door, pausing long enough to take her sneakers off and put them by May’s, red sneakers next to yellow. Just as she thought. Charlotte hung her jacket, and, because she was too tired to go to her room right now, the Pearl Harmony Sword on the peg underneath it. Looked like she wasn’t the only person in that mood, either, because now her sword dangled next to May’s bow and quiver. Whatever. You couldn’t rule out trouble coming for them in the Yurt, but if that happened tonight, Charlotte planned to sit in the CIC in the sub-basement and shoot the roof turrets. Hopefully, the neighbours wouldn’t complain again.
The tray was waiting, just like Auntie Ma said, with a great big load of sesame noodles with chicken and veggies. Charlotte squinted at the heap. It looked like more than she could eat. It also looked like she’d enjoy trying. it wasn’t quite what Charlotte would call comfort food. Her Mom had been more the meatloaf type, and her Grand-Dad used to do the “Chinese and American” thing at home, from years of habit at his restaurant. But Auntie was a northerner, and she liked her fat, green barley noodles. When the smell of the sauce and the hot chai beside it hit her nose, Charlotte realised that she was seriously hungry. Picking up the chopsticks, she grabbed a mu shu pancake from the side and wrapped it around a sliver of cucumber and preserved egg, and pushed it in her mouth to hold her while she walked down the stairs to the TV room.
It didn’t. The buckwheat pastry practically dissolved in a rush of saliva before she was halfway down the stairs. Then she heard the familiar wrinkling below. Someone was hurt. Oh, heck, it’s not like it was a mystery. May was hurt.
Charlotte came to the bottom of the stairs. Adventure Time played, muted, on the screen. And there was May, sitting on one of the disposable pads that they used to keep blood off the furniture, because in a superhero family, that was an issue. May was still wearing her duster over her Tatammy fatigues, but with the right arm brushed back and a fresh, white bandage running half the length of her forearm.
Her eyes were black and shadowed. “Hey, Tagalong.”
Charlotte scowled. She hated that nickname.
May’s face softened. “Oh, hey, sorry, Char-Char. Bad day.”
Charlotte waved her chopsticks in the direction of the bandage and waited for May to say something more, because it was kind of like carrying on a conversation, and you still got to chew as much noodle as your mouth would hold, all washed down by sweet chai. God, she was hungry.
May held up her arm. “Oh? This? It’s nothing. Ran into some Migdalor trying to run guns to V’han’s network in Babylon.”
Charlotte nodded, because she was probably supposed to do that right now. Actually, she he had no idea who “Migdalor” were. She’d have to remember to ask El Professore on Monday.
“Weird psionic dudes,” May elaborated. “Tough. Not tough enough.” Then, with a rush, “I had a fight with Jamie.”
Jamie Neilsen. Dora’s cousin. And May’s absolute bestie, and a pretty sweet girl. Charlotte nodded, swallowed, tried to think of something supportive to say. “Jamie can be…”
May interrupted. “It’s okay. Jamie is—“
--‘Like a sister to me,’ Charlotte recited in her head.
“Like a sister to me.”
-‘She and her brother and sister even lived at the Yurt for three years,’ Charlotte continued in her head while taking another huge bite of the fragrant noodles, hard on the heels of a mu shu wrap.
“Jamie and Brad and Emily even lived her for three years. You know that?”
“So why would she--?”
“She must have—“ Charlotte began.
“It’s my fault,” May said, suddenly, interrupting her cousin.
Charlotte raised her eyebrow. It was awesome that she could be in this conversation and still cram her face, because these noodles were good.
“I can’t believe I said Book wasn’t human.”
Charlotte didn’t say anything, because she couldn’t think of anything to say. Obviously Booker wasn’t human. He had his own Brialic realm! He was some kind of dimensional god, reborn as a human. These things happened. It wasn’t like it would make any difference with his relationship with Jamie. If there was a relationship. It would be kind of creepy for a guy who was out of college (aside from being probably ageless and immortal) dating a girl in Grade 12, and people figured that Booker was waiting.
Problem was, you could also spin it that Booker just wasn’t as into Jamie as he seemed. That was something that you didn’t want to say or imply around the poor girl. And that was the kind of say-it-before-you-think-it thing that might come out of May’s mouth. Charlotte’s cousin was awesome and wicked cool and was the fashion bomb, but she could be pretty hotheaded, too.
“I have to apologise. Thanks, Char-Char. Glad we had this talk. I –Hey, what happened to you?”
“What didn’t? You heard we were in Babylon, too, right?”
“Oh, sure, yeah. Becky was totally jealous that Eldritch managed to put a portal through right into the city. She hardly ever manages to nail that without help. And a permanent portal? Talk about big leagues.”
“It’s not actually permanent, just a couple months—“
“I know. Same diff, though. So you guys were at the Library of Babyon, right? What’s that like?”
Charlotte shrugged. “Big, confusing building, lots of books, lots of people studying. Hey, did you know there’s a major highway right under it?”
May nodded. “The Understate. Not just the Library, either. Goes practically everywhere in the City. Good way to avoid Carnival. You just don’t want to get lost down in the service tunnels. There’s scary stuff down there.”
“Migdalor, for one. And albino crocodiles and outcasts and a freaking lost city of dinosaurs.”
“There’s a dinosaur city down there?”
“I don’t know. If I did, it wouldn’t be lost, would it? But you hear rumours. So how did you guys end up on the Understate?“
“Friend of Eldritch named Mill gave us a ride back to the portal when we were going to miss curfew.”
“Baller,” Charlotte said. Not actually a baller. It wasn’t like he played for the NBA or anything. Just had that urban cool style thing going on like a rapper. At that point, it belatedly occurred to Charlotte that she was probably thinking of Mill in terms of Black stereotypes. Not cool, Char-Char, she thought to herself.
“Okay, then.” May’s face suggested that she was thinking the same thing. “And?”
“We ran into an SUV full of toughs who tried to take us down.”
“What happened to them?”
“Bruce shot out their tyres.”
“That was all it took? Doesn’t sound like they were all that serious about it.”
“Probably not. We’re trying to figure out whether they had something to do with the Paradigm Pirates.”
“Wait. Back up. Burcato’s kids are involved, too?”
Charlotte paused for a moment while she ate. “Ran into Madison and Eve at the Library, and Avant Guarde tried to spook us at the place where we’re staying.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. Eldritch lined up your own Victorian mansion to stay at, right? What, exactly, did Avant Guarde do?”
“What’s your comic nerd buddy say about that?”
“Bruce says that it’s like something out of the old Ostrander run of Grimjack, where a lieutenant of Dancer shows up before Dancer comes back to start his rebellion and the Demon War all over again.”
May put her chin to her right hand, wincing a little bit as she moved the wounded limb. “Hunh. Book’s bosses at Piper & Norton are afraid that V’han’s organisation in Babylon is going to try to mobilise an army in the Rookeries and stage a coup. That’d be kind of like the Demon War. Problem is that Avant Guarde is such a clown that he just might be Deadpoolin’ it. ‘Hey, look, everyone, it’s like I’m in a comic book!’”
Charlotte nodded. “That’s what Bruce figures. That the Pirates are doing their own research in the Library, and when they heard we were on the way, Avant Guarde decided to throw a welcoming freakout. Honestly, that mansion is pretty creepy to start with.”
Charlotte thought about it for a moment while she swallowed. There were, she noticed in amazement, no more noodles on her plate. She was even thinking about going back for more.
“No, not really. But it’s a Victorian mansion, with stables and gaslights and an heiress and servants and mysterious guests. You keep expecting Jack the Ripper around the next corner!”
“Scout showed up.” For some reason, Charlotte’s face uncooperatively blushed as she said it.
“You saw him?” May knew who Scout was, of course. That was because Charlotte couldn’t stop talking about him.
“No,” Charlotte admitted. “But when Dora came along and extracted me from a fight with Madison and her Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots, a sniper backed us up, and he was really good.”
Charlotte paused for a moment before admitting the obvious, because it hurt her inside. “I think I just wanted it to be Scout so bad. There’s no way, is there? He lives more than a hundred light years away.” Now she was fudging..
“Well, it could be,” May said.
Charlotte’s heart leaped in her chest. Please tell me that Brian has a secret, May, please tell me that.
“Babylon is one of the imaginal parterres. It’s linked to our world through the shared human consciosness, not by a transdimensional geographic convergence. Wherever there are people, there’s a connection to Babylon, even in different solar systems.”
“One thing’s for sure, Charlotte. If Scout is in Babylon, he must have a heck of a reason for being there.”