Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book 5, 1: The Happy Occasion

Rodarte boots, Fall 2012, via Jacky Tennyson's Pinterest
In the comics, you can have powered armour, magic rings and web shooters, but, apparently, you can't have high heels you can wear while doing kung fu. 

Because that would break suspension of disbelief. 

Book 5, 1: The Happy Occasion

“Deep thoughts, by Taylor Swift.” Rafaella sounded sarcastic. Charlotte knew she was being sarcastic. Charlotte didn’t care.

“Shh!” Cousin Amy said. “She can hear you!”

“What, over that?” Rafaella asked.

“Yes. Over that. Tell you about a time we tried to short-sheet Amy’s bro. Henry didn’t get the better of us often, but. . .” Emily had that tone. “Let me tell you some war stories.” Two months ago, Charlotte would have thought they were hilarious. Now? She opened her eyes and tried to stare daggers at the poster of Taylor Kitsch dressed as John Carter, Warlord of Mars. She liked being able to look up at Taylor. He was so nice. Not like real boys. And she could share her deep feelings with him. Deep feelings like, “I don’t care!”

“Why were you pranking Junior? He’s so nice!” 

No he isn’t, Charlotte thought. He’s a boy. Okay, man. And getting married to her Cousin Jennie in four months, which apparently made this D-120 Bridesmaid Emergency Day. The new national holiday, Charlotte thought, trying to be psychically sarcastic at Poster Taylor. Not fair, though, because Henry was nice. For a boy. Man. Had she been around this loop recently, she asked Poster Taylor? Charlotte had had a very bad day.

“Tries too hard,” Amy answered. She was whispering now, but Charlotte could still hear her over Taylor Swift blasting “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.” That was the power of Eight Spirit Dragon training, right there. If only it had the power to make certain boys realise what idiots they were. So that Bruce would come and apologise and beg her to go out with him, and she could actually tell him that it was never going to happen. 

Oh, would that be sweet. 

“Yeah,” I can see that, Rafaella answered. “Okay, forget the conspiracy crap. We’re not here to trick Charlotte into being fitted for her dress, anyway. We’re here to be respectful of her issues, and then get her fitted. And her issues aren’t stupid teenage crap. It was first day of class, right? So she saw Bruce for the first time since the Christmas break, right? This isn’t some weird relapse to the way she was feeling in December. There’s a trigger. We’re sympathetic, right? She needs space. We get that. So we synch, coordinate, time it, have the dress fitting, slam, bam, thank you ma’am, and she’s back in her room listening to Taylor and playing Skyrim again.”

Assassin’s Creed, Charlotte corrected, inside her head. But not too loud, because she liked listening to Rafaella. Rafaella was a leader. The way Charlotte tried to be. 

“Point of order,” Cousin May said. “We going to run into Bruce at the mall? Going to be like, ‘Oh, awkward?’”

Charlotte held her breath, hanging on the answer. But Rafaella only cleared her throat, paused, as Charlotte’s breath held, and held, long enough for her to become uncomfortable at it, waiting for Rafaella to talk. 

What was keeping her? Oh, Charlotte thought, tactics. It was like Rafaella was looking at her, had her figured, knew she was hanging on the answer. 

“No,” Rafaella answered, at last. “He’s hanging out in his room, listening to 70s rock and playing Assassin’s Creed.”

Emily snorted. Charlotte didn’t know why. Cool music and a cool game. For a loser. Loser Bruce. Because Bruce was a loser. She had no idea what she’d ever seen in him, either. There were better looking guys around, better built, smarter. And more charming, that was for sure.

“Hey, guys,” Cousin Jenny said. “This a special meeting of the Conspiracy to Get Char Char Out of Her Room, or can anyone join up and point out that she can hear every word you’re saying?”

“No conspiracy, Jen Jen,” Rafaella answered. “Emily’s already said. I think we’re negotiating, now.”

“Well, let me add to the results,” Jenny said. “Séance over. As far as we can tell, Auralia’s not in Elysium or Hell. So that lead didn’t pan out. There might be a higher force concealing it there, but with Paradigm rampaging around the higher planes, he’s going to smoke out any angelic or demonic forces pretty quick on his own.”

“I don’t care,” Charlotte mouthed at the ceiling. Let someone else take over the investigation. A grown-up who wouldn’t get stabbed in the back by one of her own team. Or the heart. Back, heart, heart was probably worse. 

“Hunh,” Rafaella answered. “But Paradigm still thinks that it was someone with access to the school who sabotaged his gauntlets and set things up for Auralia to be teleported out of his grip.”

“Of course it was,” May answered. “Tatammy High’s got super-security. That’s why we go there!” Tatammy High’s magnet programme for superpowered youth was about as well known a secret as there was in the superhero community, thanks to PRIMUS and UNTIL recommending it to parents. And with the responsibility of training a new generation of superheroes went the responsibility of keeping their secret identities safe. And that was before the master villain, Professor Paradigm, with his own reasons for keeping the programme secret, managed to get a job on the faculty.

“Yeah,” Jenny answered. “We’re working on the assumption that it was a student, parent or teacher who did it. We’re just having trouble narrowing it down from that end, which is why we’ve been looking for it in all the obvious places where someone would hide a powerful magic sword infused with ancient powers of Good and Light.”

“But you guys have to go back to school, soon!” Amy said. “And our team is in the middle of our investigation of this Doctor Destroyer clone at Ravenclaw Academy. We can’t handle that and the Auralia case at the same time. We have home work. And cricket!” 

“Don’t look at us,” May said. “Istvhan V’han’s up to something in the Babylon plane, and she’s turned to allies I don’t think she understands. If her dimensional empire were taken over by the kinds of beings we think she’s messing with, our dimension would go down like nothing.”

A heavier, familiar tread on the stairs. Her Auntie Ma. “Is Char Char ready?”

A pause, then five girls talking at once, then, through it, Jenny. “Not yet, Mom.”

“No hurry,” Auntie Ma said. “We don’t have to be there for an hour. But we have a package for her. From Mill, in appreciation.”

Mill? Mill? Charlotte was out the door of her room without another thought.

Behind her impassive, north Chinese face, Charlotte imagined her auntie smiling at her. “Do please turn the music off before you come down, dear.” 

Moments later, they were gathered around a giant FedEX package on the polished wood of the great kitchen table where Charlotte had eaten so many excellent meals, beginning with the terrible night thirteen months ago when she and her brother, Chris, (aka “The one who was off adventuring in space and hadn’t invited her along, even though he took his skanky girlfriend, Kumi.” Except that Kumi wasn’t really skanky, it just comforted Charlotte to think of her that way) had arrived in the Philadelphia of late 2011 from the Hope, British Columbia of 1975. Going to live with relatives when your Mom died worked differently when your family had access to a time machine, it turned out. 

Charlotte reached out with the box cutter her impassive Uncle Henry had handed her, and cut the seal along the top, pulling out a box wrapped in incredibly tasteful, gold-embossed paper, with a simple card on it that read, “In Gratitude, Babylon.” Because that was how the Emperor of Babylon signed himself.

Frankly, Charlotte would have been happier if he’d signed it “Tupac,” but Mill was very cagey about whether he’d been the real Tupac Shakur before he became Emperor of Babylon, City of Man, or whether he was just some kind of dimensional twin. Point was, her friends would be a lot more impressed by a present from Tupac than from the Emperor of the extradimensional ideal human city. 

Or they would be if Tupac weren’t dead. Probably. Charlotte opened the box. The very long box. In one corner, padded up with a Styrofoam former (because even in the City of Man and Art, boxes didn’t fit everything), was a pair of awesome under-the-knee, high heel, laceup black boots with white trim that might have been made to go with her Tatammy Universal Fatigues, the black-and-white uniform super suits inspired by the old X-Men school togs from the comics that all the Tatammy teams had to wear. 

Too bad about the heels, Charlotte thought, as her friends squealed at the incredibly cool footwear that Charlotte was now dying to kick the ass of evil with. Except –what was this little card tied to the right heel? 

Charlotte pulled it, felt the elastic give in that new-clothes packaging way, and the card was free in her hand. She read it. She read it again. She put her hand to the boot, pulled it up, looked at in wonder

“Are they gyro heels?” May asked.

Charlotte couldn’t find words, just squealed.

“So, basically, they’re like wearing flats in combat. So why not just wear flats?” Rafaella was the only one who sounded unimpressed.

“The butch thing isn’t fooling anybody, honey,” Emily told her girlfriend. 

“Whatevs. Is that what I think it is, under the boots?”

Charlotte drew the simple, tasteful scabbard-and-belt out from the bottom of the box. It was, of course, an Emperor’s gift –a pocket universe storage space for Charlotte’s weapon, the Pearl Harmony Sword. Wear it at the hip for looks, put it out of the way when you needed to do triple backflips off a ten story building. Not as sweet as the boots and the gyro heels, which could be applied to any other boots in Charlotte’s wardrobe, but, she had to admit, practical.

“Mill owes you at least as much for saving his life and exposing the traitors in the Shadow Cabinet,” Auntie Ma said. 

Charlotte couldn’t help noticing the look that passed between Amy and her mother. Amy was sharp so what was she –Oh. Had Auntie Ma been saving this, somehow, for today? It would be just like Auntie Ma to know the Emperor of Babylon and arrange for his presents to arrive on the first day of school in January.

Probably. Charlotte thought about that. How did she feel? Manipulated? Sure, that was Auntie Ma’s way. But in a good way, or a bad way? It showed that Auntie Ma knew how Charlotte would be feeling this afternoon. That Auntie Ma understood. As much as Charlotte took comfort in knowing that no-one really understood what she was going through right now, it. . .

You know what? Charlotte didn’t really know how she felt. But she was wondering if Auntie Ma was operating on Bruce right now. Would she see him at the Mall, after all?

Now Charlotte super-plus extra didn’t know how she felt.

“Okay,” she heard herself say. “Let’s get to the Mall for the dress fitting.”

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