Something I'll be thinking about this week as I embrace the joys of mad overtime. Here's something a little more now, by the way.
Book 5, 5: Wisdom of Age
Dora Guzman looked up from the stretcher the team had improvised for her. Her eyes, for a second, lost that beady, dazed look that Charlotte knew from the last days of Mrs. Lee, who used to clean their trailer and cook dinner for Chris and Charlotte, when they were kids.
Well, more of kids than now, Charlotte recognised, inside, so that some horribly ironic justice didn’t hit her on the head like some old lightning bolt made of mixed-up metaphors and similes and whatever.
Because that was the thing about Dora right now. She was old. And she was talking, as her withered old hands touched Rose Ely’s face. “Rose. It’s been so long. And you’re so young, again. Are you time travelling? Am I?”
Trust a superhero kid to think of time travel as an explanation first. Or a superhero old person. A retired superhero person? If there was one thing that made being a high school superhero fun instead of horrible, it was the fact that most superheroes retired in their thirties. It might be forever away, but at least Charlotte knew that some day, when she was out of school and had a job and a house and kids, her life would be normal.
If she wanted that. Sometimes, she didn’t.
“Not time travel, Ms.—Dora. You got hit by Timelapse.”
“Oh. That. That happened so long ago. Is Twelve here? Can I see him?”
“I’m here,” Twelve rumbled. He stepped over carefully, to put himself in Dora’s field of view. Timelapse’s unconscious head swung against Charlotte, leaving a trail of blood from his scalp wound that her Tatammy Universal Fatigues shed with their brisk, high-tech fabric-y efficiency. Too bad that, as fashion went, they sucked. Though less so with Charlotte’s accessorising. Even in this solemn moment, she couldn’t help admiring her new, high heel boots, as athletically efficient as flats or bare feet thanks to the gyro-stabilisers in the heels.
“Oh,” Dora said. “You’re as handsome as I remember.” She took her hand from Rose’s face and gripped Twelve’s outstretched hand. “You’ll take care of me, won’t you? You always did. I’m sorry. That sounded selfish, didn’t it? But I’ve got so much to tell you about –about your future and ours, about the elves and the beginning of the galaxy and the Basilisk Orb, and Charlotte’s Dad, about . . . I, where am I?”
“Hush, Dora. You need your rest,” Rose said. “We’ll have you back to normal in no time.”
Dora’s eyes closed, and Rose looked at Charlotte and added, “I hope.”
“We’d better,” Twelve said, his voice filled with anger. “Or I’m going to do something to this asshole that—I.” His voice trailed off in exactly the same way that his artificially aged girlfriend’s had, and Charlotte could see that he was crying.
Well, that made two of them. Or three, counting Rose, or five or six, she thought, noticing the slicks in Brian’s eyes, and even Scout’s, although the mysterious stranger didn’t even know Dora that well.
They were in the parking lot of the local Denny’s, not five blocks from Charlotte’s house, and one block over from Tatammy High, and they were waiting for an actual time machine, one disguised as a pink 1955 Cadillac owned by a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays, when the fate of the world was at stake. A car that, being a time machine, was never late.
But was. Charlotte remembered the last time that she’d waited for it, although then she hadn’t known she was waiting for it. She’d been sitting in the hospital waiting room, trying to process the fact that her Mom was dead, not even stopping to think what would happen to her next, when, after what seemed like forever, the woman she know knew as her Cousin Jenny, and her fiancé, Brad walked in to take them away. There were lots of similar names in Charlotte’s life, just like a real comic book. And that was what Charlotte was thinking right now, so that she didn’t have to think about her best friend maybe dying just like her Mom, right here and right now.
The familiar old car pulled into the parking lot and slid up to them. Both doors opened, and two people got out. On the driver’s side, Mrs. Crudup, of course, because the car was a present from her son, from thirty years before he was born, because of, in some way Charlotte didn’t understand, time travel.
In the other, a very familiar figure, one Charlotte had never seen in the flesh. Slim, trim, in a silver lame body suit with skintight hood, wing-y ear pieces and goggles that covered almost the top half of his face, flared boots, flared right glove and a thing on his left arm that looked like sixteen watches blended into a laptop.
“Children,” Mrs. Crudup said, “An old acquaintance of mine, Captain Chronos.”
“An acquaintance you just met!” Captain Chronos’ voice sounded uncannily like Bill Nye the Science Guy’s, like a guy who was used to answering questions, not giving orders.
“Can the act, Hzl,” Mrs. Crudup said. “These kids aren’t rubes. They’ve time travelled before. Haven’t you, Tagalong?”
Charlotte blushed at hearing Kumi’s hated nickname for her. “I had to stowaway! That girl is going to get my brother into—“
Brian cleared his throat, and Charlotte shut up. If there was one thing she hated about him, it was the way he kept defending her brother’s girlfriend. But this was so not the time.
“Enough of that,”Captain Chronos said. “Here—“ He flung shiny things in the air. Instinctively, Charlotte snatched up the one headed for her. A watch. A very nice watch, gold to match her ancient Ur-Elven bracelet. She looked at it for a second, because, really, come on. Charlotte was a time traveller, so she knew that in the old days, everyone wore watches. Heck, for most of her life, back in the Sixties and Seventies, she’d been the everybody who wore watches. But nowadays? Just weird, thanks very much.
--“Chronometers. Hang on to’em. They’ll save your lives when Sovereign finally pulls his head out of his ass and comes for you in twenty-twenty –I, forget I said that. I’m not supposed to be telling you about your future, and I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that—“
“Hzl—“ Mrs. Crudup cleared her throat.
“Yes, yes. Now, get Timelapse bundled into the back of the car and we’ll deal with him for—Wait.” Captain Chronos paused, just long enough for Charlotte to try to count how many sentences had been interrupted in the last three minutes. A lot, she figured, as Captain Chronos started again. “There’s a temporal standing wave anomaly here. Did Timelapse hit one of you?”
“Is there another reason we’d be carrying the Maid of Gold around on a stretcher?” Twelve paused, for a long, significant moment. “Asking for a friend.”
Brian snorted and elbowed Twelve, and Rose (and Scout) glared at the boys being boys.
“Crap!” Captain Chronos said. “Crap! Crap! Crap! Did she say anything to you? About the future?”
“No worse than you just did,” Rose answered.
“That’s different! I have the best chronometer ever made, and my Chronogoggles. I can do that sort of stuff. You can’t let just any amateur come along and muck up the timeline! Surely you must understand that, Ms. Eley, with your past!”
Rose was quiet, as you’d be, if you had a past-future plague apocalypse on your conscience, over in the parallel timeline from which Rose had come, all Terminator-like, to change the past, only to find out that in a multiverse of parallel timelines, it didn’t necessarily work that way.
“Okay, okay. Now, we have two alternatives here. First, and safest, we can move Ms. Guzman into palliative care. She’ll have good quality of life for the rest of her time, and nothing she says to the nurses can—“
“No.” Twelve said. “We have time machines. We have Timelapse. Somehow, we’re going to fix this.”
“What do you care?” Captain Chronos said. “You’re immortal. Eventually—“
HZL!“ Mrs. Crudup said, loud and angry.
Captain Chronos slapped his head. “Why do teenage hormones always get in the way. Why, if certain ‘scientists’”—Captain Chronos used him some air-quotes, 2010s style, to let the team know what he thought of those scientists—“Anyway, not the point. Yes. I can fix Ms. Guzman, by unravelling the cause-and-effect chain around Timelapse. He’s out of phase with the timeline, so his actions are always unstable and easy to probability-collapse in self-cancellation.”
“Meaning that he’ll get away, right?” Rose asked.
“Yes, he will get away. Do you really want that on your consciences, children?”
“A lot more than I want Dora being dead,” Charlotte answered. “And, honestly, do you? She’s a channel for the needfire!”
“Fine, then,” Captain Chronos answered, and his fingers darted over the device on his left wrist like one of those writers who wrote on their phones must do it.
A surreal, golden flash, and Dora was standing amongst them. Charlotte’s residual bruises from falling through the roof of the building weren’t gone, though. Time travel, everybody.
“Hey, what’d I miss?” Dora asked.
“Timelapse hit you,” Brian answered. “You were all old. Like, ninety or something.”
“And get this,” Rose said. “You were all wise and stuff, like, with laugh lines and good advice and stuff.”
Dora turned on her friend and gave her a play-shove. “I did not, so shut up, liar-face!”
“Actually. . .” Charlotte put it out there.
“You’re so dead to me right now, Char-Char. As for you, Speedy . . .”
“Do I look like I shoot arrows?”
“Children. Please,” Mrs. Guzman said. “Some gratitude?”
Charlotte looked Captain Chronos in the goggles. “Thank you for saving my friend’s life, Captain Chronos.”
Rose and Dora chimed in, and then Brian and Scout, but the would-be timeline saviour from the future didn’t react, on account of bear hugged by Twelve.
“Young man—“ Twelve put Captain Chronos down, and the Captain collected himself and looked at his chronometer. “And to think we almost had a teachable moment there. Unfortunately, the chance is gone, so please do try to stay out of the way of stray entropic attacks in the future. After all the trouble I took, telling NASA about the Martians—“
“Hzl!” Mrs. Crudup was either still cross, or cross about something else.
“Yes, yes, yes. Well, as I was saying, the moment is past, and what have we to show for it? Some cryptic foreshadowing, some irrelevancies. I shall see you children again, not long before the end. Until the wedding, then.” Captain Chronos bowed, and winked out of existence.
“I hate cut scenes,” Dora announced.
“It’s not a cut scene,” Charlotte said. “We still have to figure out dinner and sleeping arrangements. It’s past midnight, and the whole reason Auntie Ma asked Mrs. Crudup for this favour was so that we could get some sleep ahead of school.”
“Two hours of sleep is more than enough for me,” Twelve said.
“Me, too,” Brian chimed in.
“Ah’ll live,” Scout said.
“And the car’ll sleep two, comfortably. I can cram the three of you girls in and hit a drivethrough on the way to morning town,” Mrs. Crudup said, “Or. . .” And she let her voice trail off.
‘Morningtown.’ What were they? Five? Charlotte thought to herself, exasperated, even as she heard the old lullaby in her head.
And then stopped thinking about anything else, as Scout said, “Ah’d be glad to see Miss Wong fed up. Ah don’t know if the Sandman Express is running late, but if it is, Ah’d be sure to have her back for it.”
Anvils drop, lightning (bad metaphor lightning or not) strikes, sky explodes, Charlotte thought. Scout was asking her out on a second date. No, this was not a cut scene. Not at all.
“Char Char. You can call me Char Char.”