You know what's terrible? Casting a Black man as Johnny Storm? You know what's not terrible? Riffing on Zorro with a character named Lazarus Lane.
Book 4, 34 No Moon Shining
It was hella cool being delivered to the door of the Library in a police car. Well, not the door, because the Library had a million of them, but a big wide, door that led off a big old driveway of the kind where you could totally imagine big wigs in limousines getting out onto red carpets. Or whatever colour carpets were for the kind of celebrities who visited libraries. J. K. Rowling/ Charlotte actually had no idea what kind of carpet J. K. Rowling would have, except that the last bit would be too long.
And have Neville being awesome. Go, Neville!
Of course there was no carpet for them. They were just a bunch of teenage superheroes, one researcher, and a horse in a trailer that was headed back to the Smythe Mansion, because Telus was lazy. Or because he was saving the special effects for high impact moments. Charlotte had to accept that her horse was a drama queen.
Speaking of guys who liked drama, behind their group came another police car, with Bruce sitting in the passenger’s seat. It stopped, and he got out. “Thanks for waiting up, guys,” he said after walking up to them. “Hey, Mr. Taurling.”
“Howdy, Goblin Boy,” Mr. Taurling answered. He was pretty good at respecting the cowl, not so good at remembering to talk like a cowboy when he was distracted. “Ah reckoned your friends had to keep with the chase, figured you’d catch up.”
Dora straightened up, talled out, and spread out her shoulders so that no-one would mistake that she was pretending to be Bruce. “Actually, it was all part of my plan. I can’t tell you my plan right now, but it’s so awesome, all the other plans just want to hang out with it.”
Bruce scowled at Dora, but Charlotte could see a blush spreading along his cheeks. He didn’t say anything, probably because it would be just dumb to talk about having a plan, now.
So he turned to Mr. Taurling, instead. “So what’s your plan.”
Mr Taurling reached over and touched the handicap button on the side of the glass double doors, which opened so wide that even a gaggle of six kids and a grown-up could mingle and mix through it into the carpeted, well-lit lobby beyond. To make his point even more clearly, he made shooing movements with his hands. “Git along here and I’ll show you.”
A bank of elevators faced one side of the lobby. Mr. Taurling stopped at the third one on the left. It had a beady, glowing eye in it. He leaned up to it, putting his own eye against it, so that the red light washed across his face in the pale, while fluorescent colour of the lobby that reminded Charlotte that it had been a good few weeks since anyone had got much sun. More importantly than revealing washed-out flesh, the elevator sensor was obviously reading Mr. Taurling’s retina, kind of like a fingerprint for the eye.
The elevator chimed, and opened. Mr. Taurling ushered them in. “See, guest researchers can get study carrels on the Reading Room levels of the Restricted Stacks.” He punched a button, and the elevator began to move, first up, then sideways, and then down for a moment, before resuming its upward movement.
“The carrels ain’t really restricted. In the day, you could just mosey on up and invite a researcher over to wet their whistle. Then there were some problems. Now, you got to have an invite from the researcher. Nothing all polite-like. It’s fine if I want to take you up there, for example. Not so fine if you guys go barging into other carrels when you’re there, but they’d have to call a security guard. Ain’t a federal case, I’m saying. But if I don’t invite you. Well, the University isn’t allowed to tell someone who just walks up and asks.”
Bruce spoke into the pause. “And the Overbrain wasn’t invited, and he didn’t fight his way inside. No-one even knew that there was a supervillain loose in the Library until he the Brain Trust ambushed us.”
“Yep. Just showed right up outside mah carrel. Means someone in the Library Administration told him where Ah was.”
“Shouldn’t we be checking out the Administration, then?” Charlotte asked.
“Will do, soon as Ah check mah carrel. Ah’m real curious-like about what part of mah research got the Overbrain all het and bothered.”
“I thought Paradigm just lied to the Overbrain about that. That’s the kind of thing those kind of overpowered bullies do,” Twelve said, skeptically. “It’s all about the joy of manipulating people.”
Mr. Taurling shook his head. “Kid, Ah admire yer gumption, but you ain’t never sat across the table from the Overbrain. Paradigm put him on the case with the truth.”
The elevator chimed, and opened. They stood in an open area of black polished linoleum that was fronted by ranks of bookshelves that converged on it from three directions. Mr Taurling led off with a confident stride that quickly left the team completely lost, as he moved through a maze of book shelves intersecting with the open walk way at funny angles, until at last he came to a sort of internal balcony, three steps above the floor, with impressively solid concrete railings. On the narrow balcony, another walkway led past a series of doors that let into tiny little offices, all crammed with books. Some of the doors were decorated with cartoons, other with art, and one had a schedule on it.
Finally, at a door decorated with a poster of El Diablo on a rearing horse, Mr. Taurling pulled out a key and opened the door. He turned around and smiled. “Ah’d invite you in, but. . . “ He gestured. The study carrel was smaller than a broom closet. “Just a moment and. . Hah! Well, that’s unhelpful.”
“What do you mean?” Rose crooked her head in to look. “Empty spot right there. They took . . . two books.”
“A book that Ah don’t even know what it’s about, except that a copy disappeared from a nightclub called the Venus M’Amour, across the street from where they found Edgar Rice Burrough’s body, on the night he was murdered,” Mr. Taurling pointed out.
“Liturgies of Vondarien, Volume 8, Liturgies of Vondrien, Volume 11,” Rose read out. “I’m no rocket scientist –which is actually a total lie—But I’m guessing that the Overbrain stole Volumes 9. Here,” Rose continued, pulling the first volume out, skimming through it with superspeed, and then the last one. “Ha. Contents on the last page of Volume 13. Number 9 is Gifts of the Seafoam, Number 10 is the Catalogue of Arms and Armour.”
“The what now?” Mr. Taurling said, sounding puzzled.
“Twelve volumes, twelve Olympian gods, plus an introductory volume at the end. Liturgies are something like religious duties. Each god gives gifts, each god receives services in return for the gifts. Volume 9 is basically the gifts of Aphrodite –Venus. Volume 10 is the gifts of Ares, tho’ it gets more complicated, because there really aren’t twelve Olympian gods. Like, Athena is involved in 10, and Hecate, goddess of the Moon, in Volume 9.”
“Or Aurora, the Goddess of the Dawn?” Charlotte asked.
Rose put on her not-impatient-at-all impatient face. “Sure, yeah, that’s a good point.”
“You got that from the titles?” Mr. Taurling said with a disbelieving tone.
“I got that from reading two whole volumes. Speed reader, dude. Well, skimming, actually. My Atlantean isn’t that good yet.”
Bruce gave a tiny shrug of his shoulder, the first outward sign of his own impatience. Charlotte was impressed, despite herself, with his restraint. “Catalogue of Arms and Armour. Like swords?”
“Like swords,” Rose confirmed.
“What could we learn from it?” Bruce asked, again. “Like, oh, say, what temple Auralia was stored in?”
“Like that,” Rose confirmed. “Maybe where it still is.”
“Okay, Team Brains, explain me this,” Charlotte interrupted. “Vondarien was the God-King of Atlantis. Right? Kept all his stuff on an Island-continent on the big riftie-thingie in the middle of the Atlantic, like Iceland, only better weather? Sank in a gigantic cataclysm 30,000 years ago? So isn’t all his stuff scattered on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean?”
“No,” Dora answered. “The Atlanteans got around. On Earth, even off it. Auralia could be anywhere.”
“Oh. Oh!” Rose shouted. The team looked at her.
“Venus m’amour! Now I get it!” She announced.
Charlotte crossed her arms with as much comic exaggeration as was in her. “We surrender, Rose. You’re smart. Explain.”
Rose looked smug. “In the myths, Ares and Aphrodites are friends with benefits.”
Gross, Charlotte thought. “What does she see in him?”
“Jock!” Dora announced, cheerfully. “Muscly, good hair, he’s a Greek god, after all. Probably all cut, too. He’s a vet, so he’s got the cream and the clear.”
“Doesn’t say much about the Goddess of … Oh, forget it,” Charlotte said, shaking her head. “Forgot who we’re dealing with. So the point, Rose?”
“Only that Auralia is associated with Aurora, so it’s probably listed in both volumes.”
“So, basically,” Dora summarised, “You’re just showing off your Greek mythology 411.”
“My myth-fu is strong. Stronger than that Percy Jackson dude.”
Twelve growled for attention. “So we look for another copy of those books. If the police haven ‘t got the ones the Overbrain stole.”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said, squeezing past her friends to lead the way back towards the elevator. “Right after we deal with whatever library worker let a bunch of supervillains right in the door to kidnap Mr. Taurling.”
“Sounds like a swell idea to me,” Mr. Taurling answered. “This way.” He led off in the opposite direction. “You kids look mighty spry, should be able to handle a couple flights of stairs, I reckon. We’ll go down to the Restricted Circulation Level and catch a direct elevator from there.”
With that, he opened a fire door, and ushered the group into a wide stairway, with washrooms on each landing. Two stairs down, he opened the door into an unexpectedly bright space that gave a person the feeling of people doing important stuff, not just looking at books. Cutting across the middle of the tower was a big wall of circulation kiosks, with librarians sitting in them, looking bored. As they watched, another came out of the backroom, holding a bundle of books, which she put in front of her on the kiosk desk. A borrower, who had been waiting behind those big rope-things that they have at banks, stepped up. Charlotte assumed that he was going to sign out the books.
To their sides, Arcing around the rim, was a brightly-lit corridor floored with high-gloss tiles, or maybe even stone, with doors leading off. The nearest one was open, so that Charlotte could see a room panelled in glossy wood, with plush furniture in front of sleek, black, ten-minutes-past-tomorrow monitors. It was like the McNeely Mansion sitting room, if the sitting room was actually a computer lab. Swank. Charlotte was impressed.
Mr. Taurling led them towards another bank of elevators, which, as confused as Charlotte was by the layout of the place, might be the ones in the central core of the tower. They were also right beside the circulation desk, so that they practically ran into the patron picking up the books as he turned away.
It was Peter Delver, still in his brown tweed smoking jacket, with its comfortable elbow patches, and another of those horrible corduroy ties, in another of those just-off-neutral earth colours that Charlotte thought she just might be able to pull off if she ever decided that she wanted to fade into the background like a potted fern.
“Ah, Mr. Taurling! And I see that you have picked up an escort of youth adventurers, whom I have most certainly not met before!” Mr. Delver beamed an absurdly conspiratorial smile at them as he spoke.
“I see that your researches have broadened a bit, Mr. Delver,” Mr. Taurling answered.
“Not really,” Mr. Delver answered, flipping one of the big, bound volumes in his hand with somewhat surprising strength, so that they could see the title on the spine. It read, Mechanix Weekly, 46—7. As I said, something has happened to the patent records, and it is not easy to see just what. Fortunately, my researches have uncovered the fact that this old journal did a roundup of new patents in the field by local office and date, rather than by issuing number. Which is how the entire back run came to be classified at the outbreak of the Korean War. It turns out that I am the first borrower to request it since, and the Library had to bind them for me! Hopefully, it will turn out to be worth the effort, and I will be able to track the patent down. But never mind me, how go your researches?”
“Hopefully,” Mr. Taurling answered. “That is, until I was kidnapped by a bunch of supervillains who tried to brainwash me.”
“Well, as one researcher to another, let me assure you that when that sort of thing happens, it tends to mean that you’re on the right track. Or that you’ve uncovered evidence of a new doomsday device. One or the other. What was the brainwashing like, if I might ask?”
“Like my brain was being flooded by vomit,” Mr. Taurling answered. “With black specks in it.”
“Ah,” Mr. Delver answered. “Shining specks?”
The question brought back memories for Charlotte, and she felt herself shiver at her core.
“Yes,” Mr. Taurling answered.
“Oh. Bad news, then. Bad news indeed.”
“Can we not talk about this?” Dora asked, sounding more than a little upset.
“Ah, yes,” Mr. Delver answered. “Ignore it. Maybe it will go away.”
“Guys?” Bruce said. “Guys?”
Charlotte looked at Bruce. He was half turned away from a a woman with purple hair pulled back in a severe bob that did not hide the vivid blue skin that showed above her high collar, as though he had just interrupted himself talking to her so that he could alert his friends.. Probably because that was what he was doing.
Helpless, with a developing sense of dread, Charlotte waited for Assistant Vice-Director Nazfre to turn around. This was not, she suddenly suspected, going to go well.