Book 4, 21, Tactics of Ambushes
“You’re dumb,” Dora announced. Just for good measure, she kicked Twelve on the hip. Not very hard, though, Charlotte noticed. She would have interrupted, but she was busy texting Rose and didn’t want to call attention to it. Obvs.
Twelve hardly stirred from his position, lying on the roof of the gallery under the Babylon sun. “I’m a wounded soldier. A hero! In fact, where’s my medal?”
“You are not wounded. Look! Your cuts are closing up already!”
“You’re just discriminating against rapidly-healing people.”
“It’s not discriminating if you’re just milking it!”
“I’m milking it?”
“Then how am I dumb?”
Dora drew herself up to her full 5 foot two and put her hands on her hips with an exaggerated ‘hmph.’ “You let yourself get ambushed by that chala lion. That was dumb.”
“I was just drawing it out!”
“By turning your big, fat backside to it.”
“I work out!”
“Okay, your curvaceously tasty rump to it. Point is, you could have been hurt!”
“That’s what I said!”
Bruce stepped between them. “Guys, debate team tryouts are later. Twelve, if you’re okay, maybe you could stand up before things go pear-shaped?”
“Uhm, what?” But Twelve levered himself up on his elbows with exaggerated care.
“Ditto uhm?” Dora, on the other hand, actually looked worried.
“Honestly, do you ever pay attention in Tactics class?”
“Pay attention to my Dad? That’s un-Constitutional, right?”
“Actually,” Twelve said, very seriously, standing and doing his best to look ready for anything, “There’s no Amendment covering being a teenager.”
Dora tensed for a moment, and then the nimbus of gold flickered over her. The Maid of Gold was ready. “Should be.”
Charlotte was having trouble seeing the far roof across the gap that she had almost fallen in. The afternoon sun was glaring off brightly reflecting, green tinted windows set in pink(!) aluminum plates. “Shh,” she said, distractedly. “Ambush tactics.”
“So what’s up?” Twelve asked, trying to sound unconcerned.
“That hussy, you lunk-head.” Dora answered.
“Dr. Water? She smelled like tea.”
“When she leaned over you like that.”
Dora looked at Charlotte, as if expecting to be shushed. Charlotte didn’t say anything. Kinda waiting on things here, Dor’, she thought, hard as she could. How long was it going to take Rose to search the vantage points from which Dr. Water might be watching her ambush unfold?
“So, uhm, it’s a caper.,” Twelve said, his voice speculating. “The burglar gives the inspectors a hint to prove his or her intellectual superiority over them.”
“Her,” Dora corrected Twelve.
“We don’t want to resort to sexual stereotypes of cat burglars. . .” Twelve began.
“It’s Doctor Water. Let it go.”
“So the caper is over. The jewels in the case are a decoy.”
“The ambush. Why did she ambush us? To test us? That must mean it isn’t over. She’s…” Twelve stopped talking abruptly.
There. A flicker of motion between two hyperbolic, upswept pieces of green glass on the far roof. Rose slowed to a stop, becoming visible, holding Doctor Water by her cuff and right elbow. Doctor Water was now wearing a skintight white jumpsuit with pants tapered down the calf into high, white, hand-tooled leather boots with sky-high heels, the lines of the suit smoothly flowing into two jodhpurs on either thigh.
Oh, God, Charlotte wanted.
Rose had the cat burglar’s high collar in one hand, right wrist in the other. Brian popped into existence on her left, grabbed Doctor Water’s left hand, and brought it to the right, smoothly cuffing the bogus academic, just like they’d trained. A golden bridge materialised, joining the two roofs, and Rose pushed Doctor Water firmly onto it.
“That took forever,” Rose announced as she stepped off onto the high-arched roof.. “Ten milliseconds at least.”
“The Esharra Choker?” Bruce asked. Dr. Water said nothing. Brian opened a flap on her right jodhpur and pulled a strand of jewelry, winking lemon fire, out of the pocket within. Charlotte felt her breath go at the beauty of it, but also noticing tiny, familiar script engraved on the silver filigree that held the gems. It was familiar work, reminding her of her own bracelet, she started to put her hand up to take it, then let it fall back to her side. What if she damaged it? So fragile, so beautiful. . .
Squirrel, Charlotte thought, sarcastically, at herself. Don’t get distracted by the shiny. We need to know . . . Fortunately, Bruce was a guy and didn’t get these things. Instead of being impressed, he took the Choker, held his phone to it, and then dropped it into a case pulled out of one of his belt pouches. Standing beside Bruce was a strange man in an immaculate suit with one of those earpieces that security dudes wore.
Charlotte started. Where the heck had he come from?
“Kim. Library Security,” he announced. Oh, Charlotte thought, filling in the rest of the story for herself. Some of the Library’s security guys must be ninja dudes with that appear-out-of-nowhere thing that Bruce had going on. People thought it was funny in Batman comics, had no idea how annoying it was in real life.
Bruce put his phone to his ear, then turned directly to stare at Mr. Kim. “Yeah, we’ve recovered the original. From Doctor Georgia Water. I’m handing it over to Security Officer Kim. . now.” Bruce said it slowly, making no effort to offer the case to Mr. Kim, waiting for that thing where the guy on the phone said something about there not being any security on scene, and who was this Mr. Kim, anyway.?
A long pause. Nothing. Bruce handed the case holding the choker over. Mr. Kim put his hand to his face, a half-salute. “You will want to debrief the suspect in private?”
“Yes,” Charlotte nodded. Obviously Mr. Kim thought this was all as weird as she and Bruce did. Mr. Kim nodded, and, being directly in view of everyone, settled for dropping through the open window and out of sight.
“Okay, what’s this all about?” Charlotte snapped at Dr. Water.
“Also,” Bruce asked, holding a thick piece of metal from the chala-lion up. “Why the fake Lemurian tech?”
Charlotte looked at Bruce. “Whatcha got, Goblin Boy?” Remember the codenames, Charlotte thought. Remember the codenames.
“This armour’s about three times as thick as a real chala-lion. People used to put the real thing down with 9mms back in World War II.”
Dr. Water cleared her throat. “It’s a real chala-lion. Just modified a bit. You are right, though, Miss Wong. This was a set-up.”
So much for codenames. Oh, well. It took forever to say “Redeeming Fist,” anyway.
Doctor Water poked her hand into Twelve’s chest. The Pearl Harmony flew high in Charlotte’s hand before she even consciously realised that the captured cat burglar had escaped her restraints. But as the moment drew on with no attempt to escape, Charlotte pulled up so that the tip of her orichalchum blade pointed in a vaguely non-threatening direction. “You I am disappointed by.”
“Me?” Twelve asked, sounding incredulous.
“Clues! Clues everywhere for you to figure out the score, and you let these, these, Mayflies do the heavy lifting. I never thought there could be another of my kin as dense as my beloved nephew, but I guess that’s the blessing of cloning for you.”
Twelve scowled. “I’m not dumb,” he said, sounding offended. Funny, Charlotte thought, that he should get upset about being called dumb now. “Neither is Archon, I hear. But what we’ve both learned is that some of our friends are smarter, ‘Mayflies’ or not.” With either hand, he pointed at Rose and Bruce. “And,” he continued, “Some of us are better leaders.” And he pointed directly at Charlotte.
Charlotte felt a flush rising in her face.
“Archon is our captain, the leader of our people!” Doctor Water protested.
“But never of the Sentinels,” Twelve pointed out.
“He slums with the Mayflies!”
‘You keep saying that,” Twelve said. “What is so special about our people? It’s not like being able to fly and throw energy bolts makes you a better person!”
“You know nothing of the Silence! The Veil is closed to you! And it will remain closed to you, cloneling, until you learn some respect!”
“Cloneling? I am not my origins, not my genes, not some overman hiding behind some precious Veil, wrapped in your sacred Silence! I am who I make myself by my actions! Isn’t that what you came to test?”
Doctor Water relaxed visibly, smiling. “Foolish boy. You cannot deny the glory in your gene plasm, the stamp of the Progenitors on your nature. You see what I have done here, the test. Even if you do not yet understand its purpose, at least we know that you are not a complete fool, as you are not a complete villain. I have something I can take to your king and gene-father.”
“I have no king!” Twelve blazed. But Doctor Water smiled and held up her hand.
“Wait!” Charlotte interjected.
Doctor Water held her hands in mid-gesture, turned to Charlotte. “What, girl?”
Charlotte looked at Bruce. He was the detective, after all.
Bruce nodded. “You wanted to direct our attention to the Charteris-Howard correspondence.”
Doctor Water nodded.
“Which didn’t exist on our world, because on ours, Robert E. Howard didn’t even know the creator of the Saint.”
Doctor Water nodded.
“But which did exist on Aloysius Taurling’s Earth. The one where Robert E. Howard seems to know what happened to Takofanes at the end of the Old Red Age, and what happened to Auralia. Because the person who introduced Howard to Charteris knew about it. You. Or your alternate-Earth twin.”
Doctor Water nodded. “She is dead now. Killed by the V’hanian Empire, as the Empire kills our people on every Earth they conquer. I wonder if she died remembering the First Light of Dawn.” Doctor Water paused, breathed, as though carried away by an old memory. “That sword. I held it in my hands once, you know. A merely magical bauble, but beautiful nonetheless. I had to Haggle over its worth with a decadent Drindrish sorcerer-prince. If only I’d what it was.”
“Ah-hah! So you stole it from Takofanes’ grave and sold it to a Drindrish, and they took it off planet with them!”
Doctor Water shook her head. “No! I recovered all the treasures I sold them from the Towers of Tears in the chaos of Valdor’s Revolt, while they were preparing to flee on their dragon-ships!”
So Auralia wasn’t one of the ancient Drindrish treasures left on Landing. Charlotte felt a little disappointed. She’d been kind of hoping for an excuse to go back to the frontier planet next summer. It might not have Internet, but it did have horses. So many horses.
“So you have Auralia?”
“It’s not in.. We don’t have it. Something had happened to it by the time of. . . By the difficult times that came after the fall of Atlantis.”
“So the traitor, Fang, took it, then?”
Doctor Water scowled. “We have heard this insane theory of a traitor in our midst. Put your minds at ease. Whoever this immortal manipulator is, he does not live beyond the Veil.”
Bruce shook his head. “Then who betrayed you at the Darkspire, that fatal day when you tried to overthrow Takofanes?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I have answered quite as many questions as I choose.” With a quiet implosion, Dr. Water disappeared.
“Got it!” Brian shouted. “She’s teleported to the …dark side of the Moon, our Earth.”
“Where the Silent city behind the Veil is hidden,” Charlotte announced.
“Unless she’s, you know, a highly experienced, multi-thousand year-old cat burglar who is perfectly capable of feeding us exactly what we want to know and spoofing our teleportation-tracking spells,” Bruce pointed out.
“Unless,” Charlotte agreed. “But! The important thing is that she’s watching Twelve, so, in theory, all we need to get another session with her and maybe get some more info out of her is for Twelve to do something impressive. Quick, Twelve, be exceptional!”
Twelve scowled. “You know that I’m ideologically opposed to being exceptional, Char-Char.”
“Yeah, I know. Do it for me?”
Seriously, why had Charlotte even thought that would work? Maybe Dora would have better luck?
Mr. Kim’s head appeared above the window rim. “Our instruments show that the burglar just teleported away to the Amazonia of Earth 7965. I hope that you kids are ready for a world where disco never died.”
Charlotte shuddered, while her friends looked at Mr. Kim’s head like he was an alien from another planet. (The most alien kind of alien.) “I think we’re going to assume that that’s a spoof and a red herring, sir.”
“Can you afford to take that chance?”
“With disco involved, I’d say we have to take it.”
Mr. Kim smiled. “You have the Library’s gratitude for foiling the theft.”
“Good,” said Charlotte, watching another white-clad would-be stealth figure clamber around on a distant roof top. “Because I might need some brownie points soon.” Between the Pirates, Twelve’s mysterious, immortal relatives, murderous mannequins, vampire-thingies in black SUVs, Migdalar smuggler gangs, Fang, the King of Ivory. The story of Auralia was attracting a lot of very weird, very complicated attention, and if there was one thing Charlotte had learned in Tactics class, it was, always simplify. And if she could simplify by kicking Madison Cho’s chaos-causing ass straight into juvie, it would be like extra icing on a birthday cake.