At this time, I wish to disavow negative opinions about Scott Pilgrim Saves the World, a movie which I haven't seen. I have kind of a gut feeling that it's not very good, but what do I know? I will own my opinions about hacky sack and Ultimate Frisbee. Carnival, the Fool's Parliament, and the Shadow Cabinet are Dean Shomsak's invention, and if I've made them slightly less surreal than in his conception, Babylon is large, and contains multitudes.
As for what this is about. . ..
Chapter 4, 50: Sing To the Morning
It was getting crazy. The flash mob kept getting bigger, the music louder and more triumphant. The people still looked –not casual. That wasn’t the word that Charlotte would have used. They looked like they were trying to be casual, but they’d dressed just a little too well, put on a bit too much makeup.
And the guy now standing next to her clanging a triangle had foundation on. Okay, in some cases, way too much makeup. Charlotte looked him up and down, from his brown two-tones to his skinny jeans to his white shirt under zip-up windbreaker and just-right-now length and thickness tie. Without the glasses, he could be Michael Cera.
And, grossest of all, when he noticed that she was noticing him, he gave Charlotte a total “Hey, babe, how you doin’” look. I’m, like, ten years younger than you, creepy-face, Charlotte thought at him, hard. Then she turned her eyes back at the immediate problem, the patrolmen she’d have to hit very hard if she wanted to proceed with her plan. (Which was not the world’s most brilliantest plan ever, being mainly to get into the fire escape stairs inside the concrete shed in front of her, and down to the Understate, to stop a bunch of supervillains and some Migdalar who were trying to ambush and assassinate this street-hustlin’ dude they knew. For some reason. Sense make not! Charlotte thought to herself.
“Hey, babe, can I have your number?” She didn’t even look at the guy. He even sounded like Michael Cera. Honestly. Charlotte might not be as much of a size queen as her Cousin Jenny, but at the very least she wanted a guy who was taller than her. Shallow? Sure, but she wasn’t going to apologise, either. The heart wants what it wants. Heart, or whatever.
Okay: the situation, in the time she’d taken to side-eye Mr. I-want-to-be-Andrew-Garfield-When-I-Grow-Up had gone from bad to worse. The gun-zeppelin that was still hovering overhead, for one thing, had grown a buddy. The light of the rising dawn was coming in so low to the horizon she hadn’t even noticed it flying up.
Also too, the police standing around the door in the vent shed that led to the Understate were becoming more numerous, now, flocking around Director Nazfre and Doctor Nebel. Charlotte looked intently into the eyes of an officer who clearly didn’t quite get the whole, “It’s an innocent misunderstanding in which we inadvertently prevent the superheroes from saving the day thing.” ‘Cuz he looked ready to throw down with the Tatammy team, the kind of ‘roided-up police jerk Charlotte knew only too well from the trailer park. (Which was back in the old days, long before police took steroids, but some druggy friends once told her that it was actally bennies, anyway.)
Nazfre and Nebel weren’t making eye contact at all. Like they knew they couldn’t explain themselves, and weren’t going to try.
“’Scuze me,’ scuze me,” Charlotte heard from behind.
“Oh my God, it’s Scott Pilgrim,” Rose gushed.
“For the love of . . .”Dora trailed off, unable to think of what thing people might love that might make up for the fact that her friend liked that movie. Or those comic books. Whichever.
Charlotte looked over, and right into the glasses of the Michael Cera lookalike. Which, as she watched, sprouted ridiculously fake, giant, half Ping-Pong ball eyes on springs.
Director Nazfre stepped in front of him. “Really? You people are going to make an issue of this?”
A dancing motion in the sky caught Charlotte’s eye. The balloon man had come up, surprisingly quickly. And not all the people in the group below it were holding trailing wires.
Some were carrying bagpipes.
This, Charlotte thought, was starting to get weird. And not just because their kilts were fluorescent orange shot through with metallic green. The orange, she thought, actually looked pretty good, drawing her eye down to some impressive legs. The rest, though. . . .
“Hit it, guys!” Michael Cera said. And they did. Apparently, you could do London Calling on bagpipes. Charlotte would not have guessed that that was a thing that could be done before she heard it, but, there you go, and went.
The Michael Cera lookalike did some very-unpunklike dance moves at Director Nazfre.
“We do not—“ Director Nazfre began.
Michael Cera lookalike held his finger up to his mouth in an exaggerated shushing motion. As if summoned, two dozen of the flash mobbers nearest simultaneously shed their ever so-decorous winter coats and tied-just-so scarves to reveal the tight, clowny clothes that Charlotte associated with mimes.
Because, of course, their faces had, in the interim, somehow turned the painted shock-white of mimes. Clasping the trademark little bowlers on their heads as they advanced, the flash-mobbers-turned-mimes formed up in a straggly dance-off line behind the Cera lookalike and began advancing, with disco-boogie style spins and flourishes, towards the police. It was all out of tune, and style, with the punk bagpipe music behind them.
And, in the sky, the balloon man’s jiggly, random, windblown dance had somehow brought him and his trailing lines into a tight embrace of the police zeppelins.
With dancing mimes somehow penetrating their lines, the police began to fade backwards, towards whatever stop position they had, far behind the emergency exit, Charlotte was glad to see.
“I do not recognise your, your, lack of authority here!” Director Nazfre yelled.
“The Shadow Cabinet will hear of. . .” Continued Dr. Nebel, but whatever else he had meant to say was lost in a sudden gust of wind, one that, somehow, blew through the ever-rising, ever more triumphant orchestral music of the flash mob, sweeping it into discordant oblivion. In the midst of dancing mimes, fleeing police officers, and now bagpipe players slam dancing without breaking what passed for the tune, Director Nazfre and Doctor Nebel stood straight and impassive, as though hoping that a solid, impassive glare would save the day.
The Michael Cera lookalike swept into the air, pulled down a Power-Up and karate-kicked them flying into the air like in some lame movie.
Oh, right. Scott Pilgrim. She wasn’t very impressed with his moves, either.
And he landed, looked over at Charlotte, and said, “Can I get your digits now?”
Charlotte looked over at him and narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, no. I don’t think so. Shouldn’t have dumped Knives in the first place.”
“What?” He said. “She’s crazy!”
“You bad-mouthing my cousin? Sure, to Scott she looks that way. Now bugger off!”
“Hey!” Brian shouted. “How come when I do that joke about all the Wongs being your cousin, I get glared down?”
Charlotte gave him a quick glare down.
Dora wrenched open the emergency door with a golden, extended forcefield hand. “I told you we just needed to relax and listen to the music!”
And then Charlotte was in the lead, her feet slamming on the first landing as she vaulted down the entire first flight of the steel-lattice steps of a spiral fire exit that wound down a concrete shaft. “What the heck was that?” She yelled behind her.
“No need to kill yourself, Char-char,” Rose said from in front of her. “Action hasn’t started below. It’s just some crazy traffic jam. It’s Carnival.”
“It’s what?” Charlotte said, take a more normal step off the landing down onto the next flight.
“What happened upstairs. See, there’s two official political conspiracies in Babylon. The Shadow Cabinet is the conspiracy of order, authority, and maybe oppression; and the Fools’ Parliament is the conspiracy of revolution, riot and maybe terrorism. The Shadow Cabinet is popular with government and the police, and is pretty much in charge where things are all organised and professional.”
“Your kind of people, Rose,” Charlotte said.
“Yeah, like you’re little Miss Wackypants. Anyway, wherever the Shadow Cabinet is getting a little too high on itself, like, I guess, when it tries to stage an assassination in the Forbidden City, the Fools’ Parliament declares a Carnival, which is like Mardi Gras on steroids, and everything falls apart.”
“I told you we just needed to relax and enjoy the music,” Dora said from behind them.
“You knew this was going to happen?” Bruce asked.
“No! Well, had a feelilng. Did you?”
“Actually,” Bruce said, “Yes. Once I figured out who Mill was, and what this was all about.”
“Anyone can figure out who Mill is,” Twelve interrupted. “He’s Tupac Shakur.”
“No,” Rose answered. “That’s what he wants you to think –Well, it’s who he is, looked at in one way.”
“Okay, okay,” Charlotte said. “Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s get the heck down there before Tupac dies for our sins again.”
But even by the time, moments later, that they reached the roadbed of the Understate, there was no sign of an assassination. There, under the stadium-style track lighting in the enormous tunnel, big enough to hold the six-lane, west-bound throughway of Understate 69, underneath the green highway signs that marked the exit to the City of Babylon Administrative Employee’s Parking Area A and the exit lane that led off to it, was the traffic jam from heck.
Every vehicle in sight to where the tunnel dipped to go under the river to the northeast, and where it gently curved to the northwest to miss the docks and connect the Forbidden City with the Beaches and Islands suburbs, traffic was stopped. Semis and sedans, scooters and trucks. Everything. From here and there came car horns, almost plaintive in the mass.
But most of the commuters were getting into the Carnival spirit. Right below the fire exit door, in the space left between the white caution line that marked off the fast lane from the rough, raised, Sleeper pavement that led up to the central median wall, a group of kids in plaid jackets buttoned at the neck, with Caribbean-style hairnets to hold in their White kid dreads and way more facial hair than would have flown even in the 70s, were playing hacky sack.
Because of course they were. Charlotte was not unaware that her disapproval of hacky sack and Ultimate Frisbee went with her whole not-exactly-Miss-Wackypants persona, but as far as she was concerned, if there was room for hacky-sack, there was room for ball hockey.
A fat, slightly waddly, middle-aged Golden Retriever lethargically lunged for the hacky-sack a few times as Charlotte led her team down into the stopped traffic, then gave up and plopped down underneath the open side door of a battered old mini-van, presumably the one that the would-be reggae band was travelling in.
Because of course they were a would-be reggae band. Charlotte didn’t even need to show her work.
“Do you mind if I stand on your car for a moment?” Charlotte asked the nearest kid.
“Hunh?” He said, usefully.
Charlotte jumped on the roof of the minivan, feeling it give a little under her. Stupid van. She wasn’t going on a diet just because a Dodge Caravan that was older than she was (but not really, because time travel) said so. Anyway, from here she finally had a decent view. Decent enough to see Mill’s bread truck, stuck in the middle lane in the middle distance, and that Carnival was bringing more people out onto the lanes between the cars. Rackety music like sounds could be heard, and now some teen girls were out, dancing arm-in-arm in a ring, all folk-dancy, but looking like fun.
But, somehow, Charlotte didn’t think it was going to be an All-Night, All-Rocking Interstate Traffic Jam Dance Party for very much longer, and a louder string of more persistent horns that began sounding down the road in the direction of the river tended to confirm her opinion.
Rose appeared underneath her. “Zombies!” She yelled.
“Zombies?” Dora asked, from as much midair as she could grab, flying under the tunnel roof. “That’s lame.”
“Hollywood elites satirising the voiceless masses by portraying them as the mindless consumers upon which the lords of entertainment depend in the first place? I think so.” Twelve’s booming, Empyrean voice-of-god was less impressive when he wandered off into tirades, Charlotte found.
Dora did a Tinklebell zoom, leaving golden sparkles behind. At the bottom of her arc, where she was close enough to the ground for Charlotte and Dora to hear, she muttered, “the next bit is where he defends Miley Cyrus.” As she flicked over, the fairy sparkles turned into genuine Kirby sparkles, just like the ones her boyfriend produced.
Serves him right for getting into that territory, Charlotte thought. Out loud, she yelled, “You go, girl!”
“Hey!” Twelve protested, booming loud. “I didn’t say anything!”
Bruce alighted on the roof of the van. “Not real zombies. Migdalar mind thralls.” Charlotte moved towards him, only to stop as he gave her a bleak, brooding look. What was up with him.
To cover her confusion, Charlotte tried to be the leader she needed to be. “Worse. They’ll kill the drivers, if they can get at them, and we can’t use lethal force on them, because they can be recovered.
“Not to worry. Got a plan,” Bruce answered. He reached around his back, pulling out a long, wide gun case. Charlotte looked at it, her eyes popping. Was Scout -- ? No, that was impossible.
And, then coming up from below, in the lanes between the cars, came the moaning, shuffling mass that every zombie movie ever had taught everyone to know was bad, bad news. Doors slammed shut and engines started, although it was not clear that the thrall-zombies couldn’t open doors, and there was certainly nowhere for the vehicles to go.
Barring the few scooters now running down the lanes between the cars.
Rose and Brian jumped up on the roofs of the cars next to them as the zombies shambled on. Now there was one right below her feet, a guy with a pink, sunburned patch in the middle of his receding hairline scalp, a long, strand-y beard like someone trying to grow a ZZ-Top and not being able to get it wide enough, and short-shorts so short that Charlotte could see his underwear. He looked up, and his pupils were rolled back, his eyes milky.
“You deserve to be a zombie, just for dressing like that.” Charlotte said, down at him. Before reconsidering, because that wasn’t actually very nice, and what if he was conscious at some level, and, anyway, she didn’t want Bruce to think of her as some kind of Mean Girls snarker. “I mean, not really, you probably live alone and don’t have anyone to tell you how silly you look, and that’s actually said when you—“
“Charlotte? Stop trying not to hurt the zombie’s feelings and put these in.” Bruce’s hand prodded her’s with something, and, momentarily, her fingers closed over his, strong and long and smooth.
They were ear plugs. Nice thought, she realised, but not really enough for when Bruce started shooting. Except that what was in the bag wasn’t a gun. It was an electric guitar.
Really? REALLY? No, no, Charlotte wasn’t going to put in ear plugs for this, not if Bruce was the loudest, saddest rock guitarist in the world. Instead, she looked him dead in the eyes, and gave him her sweetest smile, and dared him to hold that brooding disdain that had come over him yesterday, right after they’d almost kissed.
Was there a flicker? A sign of the old Bruce? She wanted to believe there was, in the brief moment before he flicked his guitar, and hidden amplifiers spread all around the tunnel came into clattering, scene-shattering life with the first notes of. . .
“Hate Myself For Loving You?”