Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book 4, 36, Conspiracies

With the whole Lars Andersson thing going round the Intertubes, lets see how the 1950s handled it!

The rifle used here to kill 120 men, all of whom were asking for it, which makes it all right, is a black powder .44/40, the same round used in the Colt .44 revolver, but with barrel rifling to make it more accurate, and, of course, the rifle sights that are so useful when you're firing from the hip while lying on the ground.

This is not to say that Scout's lever action rifle fires a pistol round.

Book 4, 36, Conspiracies

Charlotte held herself for just one second above her own, familiar bed, with the gray and black muted Hudson’s Bay blanket coverlet that went so well with the landscapes that she’d bought at the thrift store. 

Because, that sarcastic part of her said, your taste is so awesome. Look at yourself, a complete mess after a day that had been at least 48 hours long! Sarcasm voice was making her work. Sarcasm voice wasn’t fair. Sarcasm voice didn’t know how tired she was. 

Oh, wait. Sarcasm voice was her, and sarcasm voice was as giddy and as flighty as she was. The team had managed to catch the evening portal back to Philadelphia just before it closed, and Charlotte had dragged herself back into the Yurt just after midnight, to find Uncle Henry and Auntie Ma sitting at the kitchen table in official More Sad Than Angry mode.

The kicker was that Charlotte couldn’t even muster up the energy to explain to herself why that made her mad. It was totally, screamingly, unreasonably fair for them to be worried that the team had missed curfew, and just as fair that they were concerned that Charlotte hadn’t been able to shut down the hot pursuit over in Babylon faster, and just as fair that the anger they were feeling about having to wait up three hours past their bedtime for her was hidden behind sad eyes. 

Charlotte didn’t want “fair.” She wanted –well, it wasn’t sympathy and concern over the fact that the Library had confiscated the Pearl Harmony Sword from her, because she had that sympathy, and a promise that her Auntie and Uncle would file a protest in the morning. It was something else, she realised. The chance to yell and vent that she hadn’t had with Assistant Deputy Director Nazfre.

And those were the thoughts that whirled around her head, chasing themselves off into the corners of her mind with all kinds of other random thoughts, like thoughts about what Scout looked like under his mask, thoughts that told her that sleep was coming. 

Which was why she was holding herself here, trying to summon up the willpower to change out of her white blouse and jeans into pyjamas. She really shouldn’t sleep in her clothes. That was just rank. That was what sarcasm voice was really trying to do, trying to hold her to some standards of self-discipline.

Stand and think, roll it around, the luscious thought of the sleep that she could have if she just changed and got properly under the covers, and the thought of just how much work it would be to take off her clothes and brush her teeth and all that stuff before she went to bed. 

So that was what she was doing when something plinked on her window. 

Charlotte paused. A moment, two. Another plink. She reached inside, found mindfulness, summoned qi to banish fatigue. She would pay for this in the morning, she knew. Sunday was already a write-off, but now it wasn’t going to be the kind of write-off where you binge watched Doctor Who and made fun of David Tennant. It was going to be the kind of write-off where you were too tired to sleep, never mind watch TV. 

A crappy yuck day, but that was for tomorrow. Charlotte lifted her window and poked her head out into the chilly, Philadelphia November. Her window faced the front street, as all the girls’ bedrooms did, by Auntie Ma’s old-fashioned insistence that their honour was un the hands of the community. Or, in other words, no sneaking off into the back alley after curfew. That was where the boy’s windows faced. Like her brother’s. .He was probably off canoodling with Kumi right now. Grr. 

Of course, for all her talk about honour and propriety, Auntie Ma had run away from home before her sixteenth birthday, and before she ended up in a nunnery, there had been real heck to pay. And so it went here. Whatever the front of this little street not far from Bryn Mawr had looked like to begin with, now it was an avenue fringed with massive trees, shrubbery, hedges and fences. After dark, even with all the leaves gone, you had plenty of privacy.

The main reason that Charlotte wasn’t climbing down right now was that the Yurt’s security was up. Put one foot out there, and the whole Philadelphia superhero community, up to, and including the vigilant artificial intelligence at the Liberty League headquarters would know that a Wong girl was on the loose. It was, of course, turned off for Chris’s room, on the whole “boys have to learn how to raid” rationale that sounded so cray-cray when Auntie Ma explained it. But Charlotte didn’t particularly feel like sneaking through the house and her brother’s room. 

Another pebble plinked against the side of the house, below her. There was a stir from behind the hedge. Someone was definitely down there. Okay, maybe she did feel like sneaking around the house. . .

“Psst.” Charlotte jerked her head around, startled, to see lustrous, long black hair flashing in the streetlight. Cousin May, of course. She was hanging from her window by her elbows in a black padded jacket over black jeans that emphasised her colours and her slim hips. She was also wearing her dangly, raven’s feather earrings, perfect for style, perfect (thanks to the protective spell they carried) for trouble. “Looks like you’ve got a caller,” May whispered. She tipped her head at the bush. “There’s a security cutoff behind the panic button. “Above your bed. Lever, throw the toggle. You’ll be good to go.”

Charlotte hesitated for a moment..

“Don’t worry. I’ll wait.”

That was all that Charlotte needed. The pebble thrower wouldn’t wait forever. She went round to her bed, took a pen off the nightstand, jabbed into the crack at the bottom of the ivory panel with the ivory toggle that looked just like a light switch, and pried it up. It came away surprisingly easily. Behind sat a familiar knife switch in an imposingly you’re-not-supposed-to-see-this-bit socket of metal and plastic with wires leading in through holes. 

Charlotte threw the switch, turned around, and was through the window almost without thinking about the fact that she couldn’t grab the Pearl Harmony Sword as she did. A moment later, her legs took the two story fall to the lawn with a flex. 

May dropped down beside her. She gestured at the shrub, wherever whoever waited. “Is he going to come out?”

“How should I know?” Charlotte answered, realising that she sounded more hostile than she intended. “And who says it’s a he?”

May shrugged.

Charlotte would have asked whether that was what May was up to, except that May had lost her boyfriend in battle with Sovereign and his ally the summer before last. From the look on May’s face, May was imagining the conversation going that way, and feeling very relieved that it wasn’t. “Figured. Look, enjoy it if you can. Look at me. I’m sneaking out to run a mission. Everybody fight now!” She shrugged, calling attention to the bow and quiver over her shoulder.

“What’s it involve?”

“V’hanian forces invading an alternate dimension, basically. We think they’re overreaching, and any battle the Empire loses is good for Earth. But there’s an idea out there that there might be more to this dimension than being one more alternate Earth.”

Charlotte really wanted to head over to the thicket, where she could hear the sounds of impatience in motion, scrunching, squirming in the winter foliage. But May wasn’t done talking. “It’s an old Earth, red sun, desert, crumbling ruins. And spaceships. Very Leigh Brackett. I –never mind. Here I’m telling you to go have fun, and being the wet blanket. Remember that the security system resets at dawn. I’d say something sarcastic about how Mom sets these things up, except that I’m pretty sure it’s on purpose.”

May reached over, pulled Charlotte into a hug. “And be careful, Char-Char. You’re the first little sister I’ve ever had that wasn’t a member of a monstrous conspiracy against my sanity.”

A bit of an exaggeration of Cousins Amy and Jason, but not that much, Charlotte conceded to herself. Char-Char hugged her cousin back, wishing that she could just take everything that made her cousin special inside her, so that it could be with her always. “Thanks, May.” Then she turned and walked over to the thicket, crouching to see who was inside.

It was Scout. She’d figured it would be Scout, for all that he was supposed to be over a hundred light years away. That didn’t make her think about the hug she’d just given her cousin and wishing for another one, but for very different reasons. 

“Hey,” she said.

Scout looked at her for a long minute, like someone thinking about the first thing he was going to say, and then not saying it. “Hey.” Finally.

“What’s up?” She asked.

“Need to talk.” He paused, while Charlotte’s heart skittered. “About your case,” he finally said. 

Charlotte tried to control her disappointment. 

Scout looked at her, like he was reading her like a book. Goddamnit, Charlotte thought. Why did all the boys she liked do this to her? “Got an hour or two?” He asked.

Except maybe this was some kind of pretext. Maybe he was just waiting for the right moment to ask her out on a real date. She couldn’t let the chance go. “Sure,” she answered.

“Ain’t much of a date,” Scout said. “I’m in costume, so unless we hide in the bushes. Which, by the way, I’m not invitin’ you to do, you’ll have to be in costume, too.”

Charlotte nodded, deploying her Tatammy fatigues, in spite of how tired she was of wearing them. That’s why they were called fatigues! Well, actually, it probably wasn’t. She was, Charlotte noticed, getting giddy again. But given that she couldn’t stop smiling all of a sudden, it probably wasn’t because she was tired.

“I hear you have all-night restaurants in the big city,” Scout said. “Crazy, but I s’pose if there’s enough people. Anyway, tall order to find one that sits superheroes?”

Charlotte shrugged back at Scout’s shrug. “Not crazy at all.”

Scout duckwalked back onto the sidewalk, then stood to his considerable height and threw his leg over a motorcycle leaned at the curb. “You ever ridden on one of these?”

Charlotte nodded.

“Okay, so you know it’s kinda loud. Squeeze my shoulder left if you want to go left, right if you want to go right, both at once to stop.” He gestured for Charlotte to mount the pillion seat, which she did.

It was one of those loud, rumbly machines that kids couldn’t afford, not the smooth Japanese numbers that, Mr. Vezina used to say, were just shaking themselves to pieces. And it was loud. When Charlotte boarded, she was planning to just yell directions to Scout, but it turned out that his instructions were necessary. 

Five minutes later, more or less, they were pulling into the Denny’s parking lot. Charlotte looked at the place that she’d just walked out of three hours before. After all, ‘superhero-friendly,’ he’d said. The downside was that the waitstaff would know her costume. The upside was that they wouldn’t know who she was, so they wouldn’t be able to rat her out to Auntie Ma. Yay, secret identities!

They slid into the booth. April appeared at the edge of the table as soon as they were seated, although for some reason (Charlotte couldn’t think of a way to ask) she was wearing Pam’s nameplate. “Would you like to see menus?”

Scout shook his head. “Not unless Redeeming Daughter needs one.”

“Pancake Puppies Sundae,” Charlotte said.

If not-Pam was feeling judgemental about ice cream for breakfast-at-1-am she managed not to say anything about it, unlike, say Bruce, who’d made fun of her last time.

“Breakfast special for me,” Scout said. “And java, please. Black.”

“We have a lot of breakfast specials, sir. “

“The first one,” Scout answered, pointing to the menu board that they could just barely see from the booth. “Please. Joe, Redeeming Daughter?”

Charlotte nodded, thinking once again that she needed a much punchier codename. Especially if she was going to hang around with ‘Scout.’” Which would be a much better codename if it weren’t a six-year-old girl’s name in a novel. And glad that there were still Westerns when –stupid time travel, when she was fourteen, which was back when. Because, point was, she knew what “joe” was. Coffee. She was also thinking that some coffee would completely finish ruining Sunday for her. Oh, well, in for a penny….

As soon as not-Pam left, Charlotte leaned close over the table, like she’d seen girls do in movies and hissed, “What the heck are you doing on Earth, Scout?”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a complicated device of gyros and cogs, almost like the gizmos that Emily Neilsen used to do her technomagic, except made of a metal that looked like blackened copper, and decorated with what she now recognised as Ur-Elven art. Scout carefully situated it on the table and gave the spinning part a very careful turn.

For a moment, it seemed like the whole world was going down a swirling drain, until she felt a sense of place radiating out of her bracelet.

“Long story short,” Scout answered, “I followed yer bracelet. Short story long, I was tryin’ to find out why an army of zombies done tried to invade Long Lake Valley through Triple Gap the week after the archaeologists dug this out of the ground. Colonials’d like to know where they came from. When I tracked ’em, the road somehow led to Babylon, which is where it started tippin’ and pointin’ at ya.”

“So when you figured that out, naturally the next step was to follow me home.”

Pam slid coffee in front of them. Scout dumped sugar into his, but not cream, and drank it anyway, without giving a sign of it not being just the way he liked it. Cowboy-style for reals. 

Scout shrugged. “Sorry ‘bout that, but I’m not the only guy stalking yer remuda.”


“Well, first, that Dark Ninja guy.”

“He’s just –he’s—“ Charlotte couldn’t quite find the words.

“I get it. He’s got a crush on yer speedster buddy. But there’s also a shapechanger.”

Charlotte nodded, glad of the confirmation that Avant Garde was shadowing them. “Same team, but more serious trouble.”

“And vampires.”

Charlotte nodded again. “They’re with the Tattered Man. You know? The guy you shot? We figure that he’s looking for the same magic sword that we’re looking for.”

“Just the sword?”

Charlotte put up her elbow to show her bracelet. “I don’t know. Something with the whole Ur-Elven angle doesn’t quite add up right.”

“Any time you guys want to come back to Landing to dig up Ur-Elven stuff, you know you’re welcome, right?”

“And the V’hanian organisation in the city.”

Charlotte nodded again. “I’m guessing they think we’re working with my cousin’s team, the one that’s investigating hijackings of Piper & Norton trucks to smuggle guns into Babylon.”

“Are ya?” Scout asked.

“I don’t know. You tell me.” Charlotte stuck her tongue out at Scout, to show that she was teasing.

Scout shrugged. “Well, if y’are, maybe ya could get them to help look for the sword, too. ‘Cuz yer remuda has one heckuva job in front of it.”

Pam put their dinners in front of them.

Scout looked at his. Obviously you couldn’t tell what his expression was under his bandanna, but he didn’t seem shocked as he turned and said to Pam, “I just wanted one of them.”

“This is one All-American, sir.”

“Wow. I jest figgered that it was, y’know, smaller in real life. Like a McKenzie’s Burger Meal.”

“Sorry?” Pam wasn’t as familiar as she might have been with McDonald’s knockoff restaurants on distant, top-secret backwater planets.

“Okay, guess it isn’t. Eh. Anything I can’t finish, y’all can just put in the scraps bucket an’ it’ll come right back to being bacon, right?”

“Denny’s is a proud participant in –“

“Is there a speech ya gotta give about garbage?”

“Yeah,” Pam answered. “It’s dumb. There’s a brochure, too!”

Scout looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry to bust yer chops about it, ma’am. Breakfast looks great, and the cookhouse plates are even bigger. I--” Then he picked up an entire sausage with his fork and poked it –somehow—under his bandanna, pulled a wallet out of somewhere, and dropped two twenties on the table.


Scout pointed at the table. The mounting frame thing that the whirling bit of the device was set in had somehow gone vertical, and was pointing directly to the back of the Denny’s.

Scout reached into the same mysterious place that the wallet had come from and pulled out a Remington rifle that he put on the table. “Just wanted one bite before whatever is coming through the portal behind this joint, comes. Pam, you guys might want to evacuate the restaurant. Redeeming Daughter and me’ll contain the situation ‘till some grownups get here.”

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