Book 4, 42: Rock Falls, World Ends
Charlotte dropped from mid-air, from an energy platform that had just stopped supporting her. Like her knees would have, if she had to stand.
Thank Heavens Telus was there to take her fall. And Ginger, too, materialising from nowhere to land on her shoulder and wind her beak in Charlotte’s hair as Noatar spoke again.
“It would be amusing to hear more of your wild speculations, boy detective. But I think that this matter is closed now. Eve?”
Eve had landed more gracefully than Charlotte’s slump into Telus’s saddle. With Madison draped over her arms and Auralia held as a prop, she knelt before her father like some kind of old-time knight. “Yes, Father?”
“Do please give Professor Paradigm the sword.”
Eve looked up at her father, the ancient Empyrean geneticist. “He can’t hold Auralia unless it chooses him as his champion. Even Takofanes couldn’t handle it.”
“Ah,” Noatar answered. “This is a matter of magic. I gather that the good Professor has found a solution.”
“Indeed. I have successfully mechanised the legendary Twelfth Light of Luathon, which will permit me to manipulate the Sword of the Dawn. An accomplishment of science which transcends the thaumaturgy of Takofanes himself!”
Eve looked uncertain. Charlotte was more than uncertain. Professor Paradigm was always sure of himself, even when he was wrong. And if he seriously thought he was better at spellcasting than Takofanes, well, Charlotte knew she wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she wasn’t that dumb.
Behind her, Charlotte could sense, rather than see, her team getting ready for action. Except for Bruce, who clearly wasn’t done talking. And, on the other hand, Paradigm wasn’t dumb, either. Charlotte wanted to see how this played out. She especially wanted Bruce to explain what he meant about them getting together. Wanted it with all her heart.
Eve put Madison down on the pavement of the Understate and lifted Auralia, cradling it in her palms as she lifted it towards Professor Paradigm.
Auralia did nothing. Was Professor Paradigm’s spell that effective? Or was the sword not worried?
At the last second, though, Eve did something, pulling back as Professor Paradigm reached out. “No! This is wrong! Auralia knows that the spell won’t work!”
“Are you going to be disloyal, daughter? I told you, I had to wipe your mind so that you would be the daughter of the dawn, and could hold Auralia. Everything I do is for the plan. You know that.”
“About that plan. . . “ Bruce began.
“I told you: enough from you.” Noatar threw his hand out, open-palmed, and a flash like an Empyrean’s energy blast shone out. Bruce ducked fast.
But there was no need, as the ionic power of the Empyrean’s deadly fire splashed against an invisible wall in the air.
Out of nowhere, a woman in an orange-and-purple uniform with a long cape stood beside Professor Paradigm. Charlotte gasped. It was Tesseract, Paradigm’s most powerful lieutenant. A lieutenant who normally operated independently. Paradigm had really brought out the big guns here.
“I,” Professor Paradigm said, “Think we have time to hear the boy out.”
Bruce strode out into the middle of the car’s length of open space on the thoroughly stalled fast lane of Understate 69. “One thing I’ve learned about Noatar in the last year. He loves manipulating other people. Especially his daughter, which is pretty sick, I think. And not the good kind of sick, I’ll throw down for the Nineties kids out there. Also supervillains, which is stupid deadly. Hey. Just for your sake? Play Takofanes straight, dude. ‘Cuz, him? you don’t want to cross.”
“Bruce?” Charlotte said.
“Yeah. So. First thing we learn about Noatar. He’s behind an attempt to breed an Apocalypse Plague, which he’s to Professor Paradigm as a way of cleansing Istvahn V’han’s empire of pesky humans, one dimension after another. And he’s also sold it to V’han, as something to be used in deep prehistory, to wipe out cave-men, I guess. Only he plans to use it right now, or in the winter of 2012, on our Earth. Bang. Rock falls, everybody dies.”
Charlotte’s eye was on Noatar, but he gave no sign of reacting to what Bruce was saying. No sign that she could see –but she could also see Professor Paradigm and Tesseract tensing, like they thought Noatar was going to act.
Bruce drew in a big breath. “Yeah, you watch the big guy. ‘Cuz he backstabs everybody all the time, and, yes, he backstabbed you with the Apocalypse Plague, Prof. Biggest backstab, though, was the misdirect. The Plague was never meant to kill everybody. It didn’t kill everybody in Rose’s dimension, and it wasn’t going to kill everybody in ours, either. Empyreans are immune to it, of course. So is the Wong family, and their Dawson cousins, and so are other people, the ancestors of Rose’s people. It’s not a genetic immunity, though. It’s meta-genetic. Like the meta-genetic variations that give the Empyreans their powers. Empyrean ancestry. That’s what makes you immune to the Plague. If the Apocalypse had happened on schedule, a hundred thousand years ago, there would be no non-Empyrean human beings around. ”
Bruce pointed an accusatory finger at Noatar. “But you didn’t want that, did you? You would hardly have taken so much trouble to get so many of your kinfolk killed in the Battle of the Darkspire if you wanted the Empyreans around. Were you disappointed that so many got away from Takofanes? Or were you waiting for him to find Arcadia and finish off the rest of your kin? See, I know what you want. You want a new Empyrean race. One bred back out of their human descendants. Ones you can control. Like you control your daughter.”
Was there just a flicker of reaction, Charlotte asked herself, staring closely into Noatar’s face? She thought so. Even the ancient Empyrean couldn’t fully control himself at that.
“Oh, yeah. It’s pretty obvious when you look at it. The Wongs are a treasure for you, aren’t they? Why, Charlotte’s cousin even expressed enough Empyrean characteristics to be a super-soldier, back in World War II, didn’t he? Strong, smart, good at everything. You know? Like a McNeely? Only more so? Were you disappointed when my Grand-dad and Charlotte’s aunt never got together? Do you curse her father’s name, like everyone else does? Was there more to it than sibling rivalry when Kwan Wong killed his sister? Is your little breeding project still on track?”
Charlotte gasped, could barely stop herself from slapping Bruce.
“but what I couldn’t get was the other side of the story: the genes you’re trying to get rid of. Not ‘till Charlotte resisted the Shining Darkness when the Overbrain tried to use it to control her mind. Just like her brother does.”
“Bruce! Shh!” Dora interrupted.
“I’m sorry,” Bruce answered. “Talking about the Shining Darkness never helps, does it? But it’s in us. In our genes. Or our metagenes. Well, the metagenes of everybody except the ones who express Empyrean traits. Am I right?”
Definitely a reaction, there. “That’s the Plan, isn’t it? How you explain things to people like your daughter, to get them on your side. It’s all to purge the Shining Darkness. Well, dude, that’s b.s. Because you wouldn’t be killing your own people if that was your real plan.”
“Daddy?” Eve said. And flinched back a little further from Professor Paradigm. But not enough, as, somehow, Paradigm took a small step that turned into a large step, and reached out to seize Auralia.
Only for the naked blade to break into a light as bright and as rosy as the dawn, and vanish, leaving a hole in your eyes like a welder’s torch. Only one that felt like your Mom kissing you.
Paradigm, maybe, didn’t feel it that way, though, because he jumped back , grabbing for the gauntleted hand which had just closed around Auralia’s naked blade with the other, just like he’d been burned. “What treason is this?” He yelled, or, rather, squawked, because his deep, drama teacher’s voice was cracking with emotion.
Paradigm gestured, and he and Tesseract vanished.
Charlotte was just glad to see that someone or something had a plan.
Noatar laughed. “I see that Paradigm was overestimating himself again. Not surprising. You know what is surprising? That you children expect to be allowed to live after that little speech.”
“Just a moment, please, Empyrean.” The familiar voice came from behind Charlotte. She peeked back. There was Mill, and a bunch of Babylon police. Only Mill wasn’t dressed like Mill, any more. He was dressed in one of those elaborate uniforms that princes wear, like an army dress uniform, but with extra sashes and medals and big bling at the neck and a sword.
“Ah, the Emperor has new clothes,” Noatar replied.
“These children are, of course, under Our protection. And you have abused the hospitality of Our city for the last time. You are hereby banished from it, by word of the Emperor of Babylon. We shall be having quite a stern talking to with your brothers and sisters of the City of Silence.”
“Go ahead,” Noatar answered. “They are too far gone into decadence to believe a word of the boy’s ridiculous story about the Darkspire and my daughter? The rest? A hobby. Immortals need hobbies, just to pass the time.”
Charlotte gasped. He had admitted to wiping his daughter’s mind in front of all these witnesses. And still he expected to get away with it?
But that was a fleeting thought, because Noatar disappeared on his last word, and it was all over. All over except for Bruce.
Who strode over to Telus, and took her hand, and looked up into her eyes, and said, with such a sad face that it made Charlotte cry inside. “I love you, Char Char. I love you, and I can never be with you.”
To Be Continued in Book Five