Friday, December 18, 2015

Book 7, Chapter 16: Revelation in a Hangar

Kristen Kreuk in Legend of Chun-Li, everyone.

Part of the moral of the story is probably that it is very hard to make Chun-Li's haircut look good in real life. The other moral is that Kristin's had to work very, very hard and take some awful roles. 

Book 7, Chapter 16 Revelation in a Hangar 

The bell was still ringing in Charlotte’s ears as she walked into the locker room. She couldn’t believe that it had been so easy to get permission from El Professore, just a minute after class to explain, and he’d written her a note and handed over the access card. She put a bit of a swing in her hips, she had to admit to herself. Like she was looking for attention. Because she was. She totally was. 

Besides, if she didn’t change the focus from Rose’s date, the poor girl would probably melt through the floor. If she didn’t want to tell Charlotte and Dora what had happened between her and Mike at the Dairy Queen, that was her right, and they needed to let it drop until Rose was ready to dish.

“Did you get it?” Dora hardly even bothered to finish the sentence. “You got it! You got it!” Rose just looked, but Charlotte caught relief on her friend’s face.

“Of course I got it. Well, part of it. We still need Bruce’s card.”

The rest of the team, except Bruce, naturally, was already at their lockers, cleaning up after a hard session of tactical training, all Zero-G combat according to “the book,” as El Professore put it. Three days late, he’d admitted. But, as he’d said, sometimes you just had to “review the exam.” 

The locker room was one of the places in the Special Annex where you didn’t care you were a hundred feet underground. What locker rooms have windows? Well, locker rooms designed by pervs, sure. But that was the point, right? Bad enough that it was unisex, and you had to change in the girl’s washroom, through the it-looked-like-every-girl’s-washroom-door-everywhere door.

So with that thought in her head, instead of admitting that she had the access card, Charlotte looked around her, all cool and stuff. She hoped. “You know, for a top-secret, high security PRIMUS training facility under the west side of Philadelphia, this bit looks pretty low budget. If Kristin Kreuk jumped out and wanted to fight me, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

“God,” Dora said, “What did Street Fighter ever do to deserve that movie? We popped the DVD out after Bruce started crying. You cannot ever tell him I told you that he cried when he saw what they’d done with Chun-Li’s costume. And Kristen Kreuk. Just FYI.”

“Well, I know he complains about it, but, yeah, okay. But my point is, this is all pretty . . . cheap, you know?”

“It’s a locker room,” Brian pointed out. “We even have them on Landing. You know, lockers, benches, linoleum, coat hangar. As it is, you guys decorate the lockers better than we do at school back home.”

“In dark, post apocalyptic future, there are only One Direction stick-ons,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” Dora said. “That was Jenny, May said. Brad put it on for her with his powers, and she couldn’t scrape it off for anything before graduation. Which, you may recall, got a bit crazy, anyway.”

Charlotte looked around. “Nope. Not one of us was here when Jenny graduated. Just Bruce, and we’re still waiting for him because—“

Dora stuck her hand up, sarcastically. “Because apparently he doesn’t know how to use a phone?” 

“It’s not really a big deal,” Charlotte pointed out, still going for cool, because it totally was a big deal to be allowed down past the security checkpoint into the really secure areas of the facility.

The hall door swung open. Bruce was behind it. His shoulders, Charlotte noticed, fit the door almost as snugly as Twelve’s. “Got it,” he announced. “Got yours, Char Char?”

Charlotte held up the card in her hand. “Two element security verification, got it.”

“I still don’t understand why you need two cards.” Brian said. 

“The space we’re about to enter includes, among other things access to the Goblin Deep under the McNeely mansion. Security on that is Need-to-Know, and none of you guys need to know. Sorry.” Bruce looked a little sheepish at that. Charlotte had to wonder. Eventually, something was going to come up, and they were all going to go into a Goblin Deep, and what would all this secrecy have accomplished, exactly?

“It’s not that hard to figure out, Bruce,” Rose pointed out.

“And you will keep that super-smart brain of yours disengaged from that mouth of yours,” Bruce said, sternly.

“And, of course, what we’re going down today to see, which is Rosa’s hangar.”

“Yeah, thanks for that, Exposition Girl,” Twelve said. “Charlotte, isn’t this another seems like another wild goose chase? Even if we admit for a moment that it’s important that some time-travelling instance of Worldnet somehow encountered Charlotte’s brain and implanted the subroutine calls that allow 31st Century people to interact with their personal partition of the ‘Net, it’s still a huge stretch that it has anything to do with our case.”

Charlotte shrugged. “El Professore says that it’s only in comic books and movies that an investigation leads directly to a conclusion. In the real world, you chase down one false lead after another. Is this a false lead, Bruce?”

Bruce cleared his throat. “Charlotte carries one of the Twelve,” Charlotte drew the Pearl Harmony an inch out of its other-dimensionally pocket to emphasise Bruce’s point, but it wasn’t in a drama queen mood, and no light spilled out. Stupid traitor sword. “I’m It’s linked to Auralia, and Charlotte is fifteen—“

“And a half,” Charlotte interrupted. Well, closer to a third. Point was, she wasn’t a kid, any more!

“And a half,” Bruce continued even though he knew when her birthday was, and could count, “She really hasn’t done much in life besides getting the Pearl Harmony and looking for Auralia. So there’s that. Also, there’s the personal journey stuff. You know, her hero’s journey? Least thing us sidekicks can do is help with that!”

Charlotte blushed as Bruce gave her a quick, gentle poke to show he was kidding. “Look, if you guys don’t want to tag along, you can see the Trophy Hall another time.”

“Yeah,” Twelve said, “But no. We’ll tag along, because we just want to see the Trophy Hall—“

“And because there’s the bit where we bug you about it being all about you, Char Char,” Dora finished for her boyfriend.

And that is how Charlotte ended up leading her team to the big, round, airtight door at the end of the hallway that was either the bottom level of Tatammy High’s Special Annex, or the top level of the the secure facility, either way.

It was propped open with a wedge, of course. “So this is how May turns up in class in her pyjamas,” Rose said.

“I thought you knew that?” Bruce asked. 

“I was actually imagining her ninja-ing around the neighborhood,” said Rose, who was perfectly capable of turning up in class in pyjamas because she forgot to change –and then going home to change and coming back in the blink of an eye, because, Oh My Heaven, it must be so great to be a speedster.

“She does that, too?” Bruce growled.

“May sneaks out?” Dora said, in mock amazement. “Get out of town!”

Charlotte looked over at her friend. Not only did May sneak out, on one occasion, she’d helped Charlotte sneak out. Charlotte tried to remember if she’d ever told Bruce about that. Her memory wasn’t clear, which was odd, because that wasn’t the kind of thing that normally slipped your mind, not like the right word for some algebra thingie. Oh, well, it couldn’t be that important. 

Beyond the door was a landing with doors on three sides, all leading off to the major cross-neighbourhood tunnels that led to various basements, just as advertised. On the fourth side was an open stairwell. Charlotte led them down that a flight, to another security door, this one carefully and properly locked. Below, the stair went down and down into the darkness, but they weren’t allowed down there, and Charlotte had no idea what was down there, so far below Philadelphia. 

Mystery for another time, she guessed, as she opened the door and stepped into a corridor. “Okay, guys, long slog now.” The Liberty Legion’s old headquarters was part of the same excavation as the Panther Heights Mall, which was three blocks from the school. 

Bruce, who’d swiped his card right behind Charlotte’s, stumbled in behind her. That put Bruce really close to Charlotte. She knew she moved aside, telling herself not to be a tease. It was hard. 

The walk was, well, it was three blocks, down featureless, metal-walled, circular tunnels, occasionally showing stencilled number marks, and closed access doors leading who knows where. AlthoughPRIMUS had taken over supervision of the old complex, they didn’t have any people down in it, and it was all quiet, empty and lonely. And dusty. So much dust. 

So, one heckuva lot of footprints in the dust later, they were through into the atrium that overlooked the Trophy Hall, and, beyond it, the door that led to the old Liberty Legion headquarters. And, in it, John Roy and Denver Stone’s 60s style bachelor pad. Not that Charlotte was jealous or anything. They had to live underground and everything. 

Okay, it was cool, and Charlotte was totally jealous. But not nearly as cool as the Trophy Hall.

“Oh, my God,” Dora said.

“What?” Bruce answered. “You’ve been here before, and there hasn’t been a new exhibit since 1984.” 

“I was getting into the moment,” Dora explained, pushing Twelve in the shoulder for emphasis. “Besides, it’s still cool.”

“Not cool,” Brian corrected. “Amazing. Is that a giant coin? Like, somebody reading Batman comics?”

“Yeah,” Bruce said, “It’s a giant Maria Theresa thaler, from the time the Liberty Legion stopped a coup in Ethiopia. in. And before you ask, Bill Finger got the idea from us, not the other way round.”

“What’s that tree?” Brian asked. “It looks . . . ominous.”

“Wait, what?” Dora asked. “Like, active?”

“Active how?”

“Do you magically sense that it wants to eat the universe, kind of active? ‘Cuz I’m not getting anything, and I have a panic button on my phone right here if you do.”

“Uhm, no. Is that a thing that trees normally do?”

”That one does. I’m told. When it’s active. Don’t worry, though. Eldritch is on the case.”

“So that’s what he was doing in the forestry section of the Library of Babylon,” Rose said. “Interesting.”

“Whatevs,” Dora said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Wait, I’m allowed to think about this? It’s not like the Shining—“

“Shh!” Dora said. “Yeah, not like the, the other thing. It only wants to eat this universe. Not all of them. Think away.”

“Does just-built Stonehenge over there just want to eat the universe?” Rose interrupted. “Because that could be why they’re hiding it down here instead of showing it to astronomers.”

“Oh, come on,” Bruce replied. “How can a girl as smart as you fall for that stuff? Every ancient monument has a million astronomical alignments, because there’s a billion of them to make.”

“Science!” Rose said. “Science is awesome. Any Mesolithic tribesman who could drag those big old stones around had to know that. Mark my words. Those old henges are going to turn out to be observatories.”

“No,” Dora said, “Just-built Stonehenge does not want to eat the universe. It’s just lots of stones piled up. The British government said that they’d have to take it down, because it was taking up space, and maybe the super-druids would come back and try to sacrifice virgins in it again, and so the Liberty Legion brought it back here and set it up in their Trophy Room. Easier to clean that way, and no virgins down here, at least in those days. Well, okay, Mr. Stone for a long time, you get the feeling, but, you know.”

“Ooh, watch out, breeders!” Brian said. “Sorry, low hanging fruit, couldn’t resist.”

Charlotte wacked him on the head, playfully. “Look, just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re not just as much a virgin as the rest of us.”

“Sadly,” Brian said, “True. But I like my chances. Now, can we go down and look at the dinosaur?”

“Extraterrestrial invaders, actually,” Dora said. “From that bunch that attacked with kaiju? The, oh, I forget the name.”

“The Qularr,” Rose said, quickly. “Uh. Bruce?”

“Yeah, the Qularr. Look, mansplaining is a man’s job, okay, Rose?”

“Yes, we can go down to floor level,” Charlotte said. “Otherwise, we’d have difficulty getting into the hangar.” She gestured at the door opposite the Liberty Legion HQ. “But don’t touch anything. You don’t know where it’s been, or what universe it’s eaten!”

By the time they were through it, Charlotte knew how a kindergarten teacher at a dinosaur museum must fell. The Liberty Legion had been active for forty-five years, and there were a lot of trophies crammed into the hall. She also knew how an asthmatic must feel, because there wasn’t anyone dusting down here. 

Once again, the door answered to the double cards, and they were in the hangar space. This was the overhead gantry, and also the access to other spaces through solid steel doors, through which Charlotte was sure she could faintly hear a diesel engine idling very loudly. Well, not everything in this complex had to be fantastic.

So instead of watching guys unload pallets of potato chips and soda pop, they walked across the gantry to the high airlock of the interstellar spaceship that was either Rosa, or Rosa’s body, depending on how you imagined AIs working. 

Not quite knowing what to do, Charlotte knocked on the steel door, before Dora wedged her aside, tapped a quick code on a keyboard panel that materialised on the empty metal when Dora touched it, and barged right through the opening door with a loud, “Auntie Rosa, we’re here!”

“Hello, Schatzi,” said Rosa’s voice through the intercom speakers inset into her tight corridors. “I’m always glad to have company. Please proceed to the meeting room. I’ve baked a little something.”

Sure enough, there was a German strudel cake and some pastries set on a table in the middle of the meeting room, with carafes of coffee. No wine, though. Auntie Rose was known for taking a European approach to entertaining teenagers, and Charlotte didn’t know how she felt about that. 

Sternly disapproving, probably, if she’d actually been tested. Yes, Charlotte admitted to herself, you are the wet blanket. 

Cake and coffee took from end of school to the beginning of real cartoons, in Charlotte’s personal geography of time, from 3:30 to 4. In theory, better cartoons came on at 4:30 on KVOS TV Bellingham, but they were usually reruns of the same few Aquamans. Just when the King of the Seven Seas would be using his telepathy to summon a seahorse, Charlotte finished her cake and coffee and directed a question at the air, “Auntie Rosa—“

“Yes, Char Char. I’ve been probing you, and you do have a space prepared for Worldnet, just like your average 31st Century citizen. It was put in on your second birthday, and the subroutines were called once before last week. Last summer during your visit to that Elven tree city.”

“I—“ Was as far as Charlotte got.

“How did you get all of that information when Worldnet couldn’t?” Rose interrupted.

“Worldnet is a very powerful computer, but it doesn’t know all the tricks. Just a little thing I picked up from a Mandaarian ship. It’s an interesting date, your second birthday. That’s when families in the Thirty-First Century usually do it. First birthday after a kid learns to talk, sort of thing.”

“Lots of kids start talking before their first birthday,” Dora pointed out.

“It’s a social thing, Schatzie. You had a more serious question, though, I can tell.”

“Yes,” Dora said to her Spaceship-AI “auntie.” “It’s for Charlotte. Char Char, I guess you wouldn’t remember anything about your second birthday, but what about your brother or your aunt and uncle?”

Charlotte could feel her forehead wrinkling at this unpleasant line of conversation. “Chris was only four and a bit. He probably wouldn’t remember. My aunt and uncle, maybe, but it was fifty years ago.” I am not old, Charlotte thought to herself. I am not old.

“What about your Dad?” Brian asked.

“Oh, come on,” Bruce said, long before Charlotte could think of anything to say. “He’s a lich, bound to serve the, the King of Ivory.”

“He’s dead, but he got better, yeah, been there, heard the jokes, got the post-apocalyptic T-shirt.” Brian sounded irritated. 

Silence lengthened. Charlotte darted her eyes around her friends. Why weren’t they saying anything?

At last, Brian continued. “Look, I know Charlotte doesn’t like talking about her Dad, but he’d be the one who’d know, if anyone would.”

“And,” Bruce answered, “If he weren’t a, you know, evil undead thing, he might have something to say on the subject. But, oh, hey, if you want to submit a Freedom of Information request to the Throne of Human Ivory, you go right ahead. I’ll be over there. Or maybe way past over there, behind something solid, all scrunched up, not making any noise.” 

“Children,” Rosa interrupted. “We have a security situation.” On the bulkhead in front of them, a monitor screen appeared. On it, two blue-skinned warriors, dressed only in loincloths, battle harness, and helmets in spite of the bitter winter weather, were crouching behind a pile of plastic pallets in what looked like a big, concrete garage. A semi-trailer, with the Piper & Norton logo on it, was in clear view beyond. Wherever the flying blue sharks they’d ridden in on were, they were out of sight. 

“That is the loading bay of the Price Rite, which is right through the far wall. I think we’re screened against their probe, but it would be nice if someone went and distracted them before they found an access door.”

No comments:

Post a Comment