I. . .liked this book when I was 10.
Now it should be a Sci-Fi mini-series. "The Fall of Atlantis --a Tale For Our Time!" (If you're wondering about the connection, the Mandragalore sank Lemuria, so a sunken continent, if not Atlantis. Oops. Chapter spoiler. Please unread.)
Book 5, Chapter 13: Basilisk Orb And More
Check it out, Dad, Charlotte thought. I’m in the future, fighting aliens!
She wasn’t sure it would impress her Dad, though. First, she’d come all the way to the Thirty-First Century and, instead of gleaming towers and flying people in weird outfits with fins and rings, she was fighting, big, ugly, purple-skinned, headless monsters with axes in claustrophobic tunnels. Who weren’t even, really, aliens. Migdalar had been on Earth for seventy thousand years, at least. They could have come from somewhere else. The old TSR writers eventually made their rip-off monsters, the mind flayers, space aliens. (And gave them a cooler look, with octopus tentacles hanging out of their face, like Cthulhu, but that was the advantage of being able to make your stuff up, instead of going with real life.)
Frankly, having fought Migdalar before, Charlotte was ready to go the whole hog, and confuse the passageways of Omar the Just with the subterranean passages deep under her school, back in Twenty-First Century Philadelphia. They did look just the same, and you had to wonder, sometimes, if there were creepy monsters down there somewhere, like a real life sewer dungeon level.
Which just went to show the limits of all this complaining she was doing in her brain. The tunnels were cool, fighting Migdalar was cool, and her Auntie had already put her foot down and said that she and her friends had to be back from the future in an hour. So it wasn’t like she was ever going to be able to do much more than fight a bunch of aliens.
Put it that way, it would actually be better if they were back home and for some reason they’d been given a room pass to take the tunnels all the way to your basement. Or McNeely Mansion.
“Hey, Bruce,” Charlotte muttered, as she riposted, caught the head of a shiny space axe, pulled it out of the hands of the nearest Migdalar with all of the advantage of torque, and cut off the creature’s hands with a back cut.
For a monster, it looked pretty sad as it fell to the deck, ugly purple-black blood spurting from the stumps. Charlotte didn’t think she’d killed it, but she was also having trouble not throwing up.
“What’s up?” Bruce grunted out. He was fighting three Migdalar with his tonfa, and making heavy weather of it.
“Where’s your guns?”
“They ran out of ammo. ‘S the problem with guns. You go with guns, you got to have a plan that gets it done before you run out.”
A Migdalar stepped over its handless companion, axe in guard, held by the base of the handle and right under its head, so that the axe pushed forward like it he was bayonet-fighting with a rifle, while two, flanking it from behind, poked with the pointy tips of their axes to cover his flank.
Exactly like bayonet fighting. Good thing Uncle Henry’s bud, Revolutionary III, had a martial arts focus on bayonets. Charlotte had actually had a chance to spar with the old dude one time, after a cricket match in the Tiger Squad compound, next to the Summer Palace.
Let’s see, she thought. Bayonet and butt pivot on each other, giving the foe two parry circles. Too bad for the basic fighter, Revolutionary III had said, after handing Charlotte her rear-end, that there were three dimensions.
Charlotte spun, planted her feet on the deck above, and, almost seeming to float in mid-air, her action was so fast, cut down. Now it was like trying to parry a sword with a spear-thrust, almost as hard as the reverse. Charlotte’s blade rang off the failed counter, and the Pearl Harmony’s blade bit deep into the horrible membrane that stretched across the centre of the Migdalar’s shoulders, where its throat should have met its chest. The soft, nacreous light shed by the sword did not lose its Vaseline-on-lens soft focus as it cut through monstrous flesh into the soft goo of the brain.
Distantly, Charlotte’s mind heard the death cry of the creature, in what would have been a crushing ego blow were she not wearing her psi-shields. She couldn’t pretend this one wasn’t dead.
Charlotte dropped to the ground in time to block the two flanking Migdalar’s thrusts against Bruce. Behind her, she heard another space axe ring against Bruce’s tonfa. “I got your back, you’ve got mine. So what do you do?”
Charlotte was kind of surprised at just how intensely curious she was about the answer. Why did she care? Bruce had had his chance, she told herself, for the zillionth time.
“A good plan for when you run out of ammo is an extraction. No extraction, you have to push on. You improvise. You do crazy stuff. Things that you shouldn’t. Things you can’t dance around. You want a reason not carry guns? That’s a good reason.”
“Why so bad?” Charlotte asked, because the mention of dancing reminding her of dancing on the tabletop with Scout.
“Because you give in to your instincts, and your instincts can be wrong.”
“Really? ‘Cuz Uncle Henry says that second-guessing your instincts is where Wongs go wrong. Your instincts say, take it easy. Instead, you try too hard.” The two Migdalar trying to fight her together had been cautious at first, working their axes like spears, like a good bayonet fighter would/ Now they were getting cocky. Charlotte moved with them, focussing on variant soft aikido techniques for guiding the enemy, until the inevitable moment when they were just getting in each others way.
Axeheads clanged, and the two Migdalar lost the momentum in their swings as Charlotte’s blade snaked over to slash across their chests –right where there faces leered out of broad and ripped, purple flesh.
Predictably, they flinched and stepped back, and Charlotte went low, sweeping one leading ankle out from under each Migdalar with an outthrust foot before bouncing to her feet, ready to run right over the toppling foe and into the next rank of the enemy.
“Wongs aren’t so special,” Bruce said, as he followed behind her without prompting. “McNeelies can try too hard, too. Look at my Grand-Dad’s plan for dealing with Doctor Destroyer’s mind control crap, back in ’85.”
“You weren’t even alive then,” Charlotte said.
“I still lost my Grand-Dad.”
“True, that. Hey!” Charlotte paused to cut down two more Midgalar. “They’ve cut through the deck here. This must lead to the safe area!”
“Or the bridge, engine spaces, or antimatter magazines.”
“Don’t be so negative, dude!” Charlotte dropped through the hole, coming down rolling. Axes thudded on the deck, cutting slivers of metal out of it like a regular axe hitting wood. Charlotte dodged desperately around them before coming up, scything her blade through multiple ankles as she did so.
Pops of grenades exploding echoed around Charlotte, smoke, gas and fragments spalling the corridor ahead and behind of her as Bruce dropped in behind her. “It’s useless, Anakin,” he said. “I have the high ground.”
“How come the high ground is suddenly so important after three movies?” Charlotte asked. “Because, actually, with swords, it isn’t. Well, unless you’re fighting from the back of a horse, but even then, you need armour . . . “
“Your Uncle really likes putting you through those weird scenarios, doesn’t he?”
Charlotte knew better than to take that as a criticism of Uncle Henry, because Bruce was always talking crap without meaning to, but she still couldn’t resist bristling inside for a moment. That was the thing about Scout. He might be a boy-(cute)-of-mystery, but he didn’t talk too much. “Well, I do time travel a lot.”
“We all do,” Bruce pointed out. “And sometimes without even a time machine. I mean, Landing was so Old-Westy, I was expecting some gunfighters to show up.”
He hesitated. “Besides, you know, your boyfriend.”
Charlotte thought about denying that Scout was her boyfriend. He never said so, after all, and, God, it would be embarrassing if it all went wrong, after all. Like that time she was sure that Jamil was about to ask her out and it was just something casual. Ten times that she was sure, if she admitted it to herself. But she didn’t. Because if Scout was only her boyfriend for, like, one night, it was still forever and the world for her.
“So you guys getting serious?’ Bruce was, Bruce was . . . Was he trying to sound jealous? Bruce was a good actor, after all. That was the McNeely thing. Good at everything, great at not so much, and between her kung fu taining and her Eight Dragon Spirit perceptions, Charlotte could read him pretty well.
So what did that mean? Charlotte thought. Did he have a girlfriend now? Was that why he’d been acting so weird. The thought made Charlotte sick to her stomach, and at the same time angry at herself for even thinking that way. She had Scout. Bruce wasn’t hers. He deserved a girlfriend of his own.
“St. Elizabeth and the. . “ The battlecry died away in Charlotte’s voice, somehow wrong for the occasion (because she was lashing out in jealousy, duh, no “somehow” at all, she thought), as she dashed forward, dodging out of the way of a secondary beam, vaulting its gunshield, and coming down in the midst of its surprised and terrified gun crew, slashing away.
“God, Char Char,” Bruce said, as he vaulted after her. “What’s gotten into you.”
What’s a good excuse, Charlotte thought, surprised at how little she wanted to talk to Bruce about what she was feeling. Oh, curfew, right. She held out her wrist. “We’ve only got half an your left before we have to be back in the Twenty-First Century. Let’s get ‘er done!”
Another hole in the deck led down into the depths of the battleship. Again, Charlotte plunged through it. The deck below was wider, with rails set in the floor, exactly like in the pulp mill. There were even distant flashes, like when the welders were working, echoing around who knew how many twists and turns. A little further down, the passageway widened, and there were a lot of Migdalar –and a lot of secondaries. Charlotte would have bounced right back up again were it not for the human in a navy blue uniform being held against the wall below her by a Migdalar eating his brain.
“Pick on someone your own size!” Charlotte shouted, as she dropped behind him.
But the Migdalar spun, taking the blow of the Pearl Harmony Sword on his axe, and an ego blast, powerful enough to set Charlotte back even through her screen, paralysed her riposte. For a moment, it looked like the axe would cleave right through her, and she didn’t even have enough in the tank to bring up her shield.
But then, Bruce dropped into the fight, parrying the axe with his tonfa. Except that the Migdalar knew a disarm as effective as Charlotte’s, and as he pulled his weapon back, he sent the tonfa flying with a twist.
Charlotte, recovering, thrust low, only to encounter the butt of the axe, swinging into a parry, followed by a telekinetic blast that swept her off her feet and threw her back into the bulkhead, with only enough time to gather her feet under her.
“Char Char!” Bruce shouted, whipping his climbing line from his utility belt and casting it in a snare around the Migdalar’s legs. With a soundless snarl that was almost enough to check their action, the Migdalar cut down and through the line.
The diversion cost it precious moments, though, and Charlotte came in, following the Pearl Harmony Sword in a lunging thrust.
The Migdalar parried with axehead, then counterthrust with the head of the axe. But Charlotte was no longer there, having sped up to win a key yard inside the Migdalar’s parry radius. She had to give up her sword to do so, but she’d planned on that, dropping it, behind her, with that little twist that sent it home to its pocket dimension so that she could grab the Migdalar’s arm with her own, trailing right arm, pulling the creature into the arc of her righteous Eight Spirit Dragon Punch.
“Like onto a thing of iron,” Charlotte whispered, as the (not literally) poleaxed Migdalar flew to land in a pile of purple-black on the deck.
“Marvel copyright lawyers on line one,” Bruce muttered. “Er, Char Char?” He gestured at the muzzles of the secondaries lined up at them.
Oops. Charlotte thought. No dodging that many. Time to find out just how strong the Eight Spirit Dragon Shield actually was. Not strong enough, unfortunately, she suspected.
“You know,” Billy Tatum said, as he vaulted over the gunshield-to-gunshield line of secondaries, “Sometimes I think that just because I go to community college, you guys think I’m useless.” Purple-black blood dripped off the ivory blades in his hands.
“Well,” Bruce said, “You’re a bit of a goof, too.”
“Lovable goof,” Charlotte apologised.
“Fair enough. Sorry I’m late. Had to deal with the team trying to get into the antimatter arsenal. Rest of the team’s dealt with the Migdalar above, so it looks like we’re—“
“Just a minute,” Charlotte said, as she turned back to the guy in the distinctly non-combat naval uniform with the golden book badges picked out on his shoulders. “Chaplain? I’m assuming there’s a reason that Boss Migdalar there was trying to eat your mind.” Please, Charlotte, please, exposition dump me everything we need to know about the Book of Kilburn.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, young lady,” said the Navy guy, who might or might not be a chaplain, and therefore might or might not be in charge of scary ancient magic stuff.
A Migdalar device clicked and chuffed, and where, a moment before, there had seemed to be plain bulkhead, a giant, armoured door soundlessly opened. Charlotte turned towards the open door.
“Now, just a minute, Redeeming Fist,” the Navy type-person said. “that’s a secure area.”
“You know my codename?” I have got, Charlotte thought, to get a better code name. Something with daughter, and fist, that was also short.
“Of course, Worldnet told me.”
“Worldnet?” Charlotte thought. But the voice in her head was suddenly silent.
Oh, well, no-one except navy-type person who wouldn’t identify himself was saying no, and she had all of five minutes left in the Thirty-First Century before heading back to the time machine, so it was time to find out if Booker’s portents were good for anything except dropping her in the middle of a fight to the death with Migdalar marines.
Charlotte poked her head in, then stepped aside so that Bruce and Rose could have a look.
“Not what I expected,” she said, looking the incomprehensible, though distinctly Empyrean-looking gadget with an ancient book trapped, open to the middle, by one of the weird, shiny chain belts that ran from one crystal cog to the next. It was all very magico-scientifically high tech. Well, except for the big chunk of ancient asphalt still rammed onto the roof-bit that shaded the console of the mysterious machine, as though it had spent a long time being buried in a parking lot somewhere. Well, not so mysterious. Exactly which Empyrean device was a big hairy deal was a thing that they taught pretty early in the Tatammy programme, just in case you ran into it somewhere.
“The Mandragalore,” Rose breathed. You’ve got the most powerful superweapon in Earth history right here. The Mandragalore.”
“Of course,” said the naval-type person. “Defender used it to turn back Istvatha V’han’s invasion forces last year. It was time it was put somewhere secure.”
“Hunh,” said Bruce, stepping up to the thing and touching a careful, gloved hand to the pages of the book. “Hunh. So much for the Basilisk Orb being a big deal in this case. I guess. Maybe. That’s the Book of Kilbern there?”
“Yes,” said the officer.
“And it was like that when you found it?”
“Like, if we found the book of Kilburn in the Twenty-First Century, it might already be associated with the Mandragalore?”
“The FSP is worried about that, yes. Please don’t go changing history with continent-sinking kabooms, son.”
“Uhm, we’ll try not to, Father.” The Navy-type person didn’t correct her. Chaplain of the Universal Church, check. “But we also need to be getting back. Homework and piano practice, you know.”
“Gymnastics,” Dora said. “Stupid. I can fly.”
“I’m going to the library!” Rose said.
“Volunteering at the campaign office,” Twelve said.
“Cruisin’ for hot bods,” Brian said. He looked around, with a sheepish expression on his face. “What? I could if I wanted!”
“Stocking up on ammo,”Bruce said. Charlotte couldn’t help noticing Dora look at him funny. What was up with that?