Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book 5, 23: Be Prepared

The look for today is apparently an All Saints Cropped Leather Biker Jacket. (Also known as, "that thing jacket Skye (I think-- no Daisy haircut yet--) was wearing on Agents of Shield.")

Today's old-person musical reference:

I assume everyone's heard the original. This is the same year that he had a hit with "Mack the Knife" btw

Book 5, 23: Be Prepared

Charlotte and her cousins were having a good talk. Amy was siting, cross-legged and demure, wearing powder blue sweats and a DKNY hoodie, next best thing to hanging out in your jammies.

Took a bit to get used to the fact that she was sitting half way up the wall, though.

May’s powers weren’t for showing off like that. Well, her super-powers., because May’s fashion powers were built for an alpha strike. Which is what, Charlotte was sure, any boy who saw that black tank top she was wearing over her gray jeans would be feeling. Well, maybe not when May was basically owning Charlotte’s bed, her head hung over the side to talk at her cousin upside down.

Casual. May was good at casual. Charlotte, not so much right now, but, she was beginning to think, with enough time, with her cousins’ help, maybe she’d talk her way back there before lights out. 

Amy looked down earnestly. “Parents are supposed to be embarrassing. If I could count the number of times they’ve embarrassed me, I’d tell you. But I can’t, because I didn’t get a high enough grade in Math to make my Mom happy.”

Charlotte squinted up. “You got 98.5%, Amy.”

“Was joke, Cousin. In America, you make joke. In Soviet Russia, joke makes you. . . I can’t think of a way out of that one. Anyway, I was trying to make some kind of point about how my Mom sets high standards.”

“Actually,” May said, “I believe that Char-Char has become aware of that. Look, Dad may have laughed when Mom dropped the word that they’d heard about your date with Scout.”

“Which, by the way, they did not hear from me,” Amy said.

“Why would you even have to say that. You are like, the Secret Asian Woman.”

“The what?” Amy said, and it was Charlotte’s turn to explain a joke.

“Secret Agent Man? It’s a song. And ‘Agent’ sounds kinda like ‘Asian.’ You keep secrets real good, cousin.”

“And me not so much?” May asked. “Okay, I can accept that. But they didn’t hear from me, either.”

“No, I’m sure they heard from Father Asplin or Mr. Stonechild,” Charlotte said. “That doesn’t make me feel any better at being laughed at.” It didn’t either. Charlotte didn’t feel embarrassed. She felt humiliated.

May rolled over on the bed, and took a long look in her cousin’s eyes, giving it a long moment for Charlotte to wonder what she was going to say, and also how she’d look in May’s awesome, dangly crow feather earrings. Finally, “You feel humiliated.”

“Yes, yes I do,” Charlotte answered.

“But not so humiliated that you’re hiding in your room listening to Taylor Swift again.”

Charlotte blushed. “You got me.”

“This is how family works, girl. Mom puts the heavy expectations on you. Dad laughs to show that it’s no biggie. Your sisters –okay, your cousins—march into your room to explain what should be obvious.”

Charlotte felt herself flushing, angry. What was so obvious about this?

Now it was Amy’s turn to put her head forward like she had something deep to say. “The reason you’re not getting it is that you don’t dare get it. Because what my parents are saying, you know, without actually saying it, is that they approve of Scout.”

Charlotte couldn’t say anything, but she figured that her face said it for her. 

“No, it’s true,” May said. “They can get weird about boyfriends, God knows. Hell, even David’s first boyfriend got something besides Mom and Dad getting used to having a gay son. With Jenny, she felt like she couldn’t even bring a boy home, because he wasn’t Brad, and Mom liked Brad, and meanwhile Dad was all about Brad being the Antichrist or something. So Mom and Dad were having a super-war, and whenever I was around, Dad would glare at me like it was my fault. Super weird. Turns out, though, there was some heavy stuff coming down that Dad couldn’t talk about with anyone. I guess the moral of that is that everything gets weird when time travel’s involved, which you never read in Teen Cosmo.”

“What my sister is trying to say,” Amy translated, “In her ever-so-slightly-self-involved way is that our parents have strong opinions about who are boyfriends should be. Mom usually picks a boy and tries to push us together, and Dad knows how it’s all going to work out, because of the time travelling he did back when he was in the life.”

“Oh, easy for you to say,” May said. “You liked the boy Mom picked out for you. Even Jenny did, eventually. If she’s setting me up with Mr. Dream Lover, I’d settle for knowing who it even is.”

“Sure,” Amy said. “You have two sisters in this room, Char-Char, and we’ve had very different experiences with boys and our parents. Which is good. May’s a rebel, I’m not. May would never date a boy her Mom picked out. Mom knows that.” May didn’t like to be reminded.

Then she picked up again. “Question is, which of us, is you? Has Mom picked out a guy she thinks would be perfect for you, and is she now trying to smush you together like Ken and Barbie, smoochie-smoochie?”

“GI Joe and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer action fig more likely,” May said. “Or, are they going to give you a little credit, and let you make up your own mind?”

“Or,” Amy said, “Are you going to date guys based on them scoring a 10 on the ‘How Much Will Mom Hate Them’ Scale?”

“Sister, you can forget borrowing my jacket for the Valentine’s Dance,” May growled.

“Which one?” Charlotte asked. “The bomber? Ooh! Me! Me!” Honestly, Charlotte hadn’t given a moment’s thought about an outfit for the Valentine’s Day dance that wasn’t frilly. She’d even bought a short floral-print skirt, in a moment of supreme bravado. But if she wore the skirt over black leggings, with the jacket. Hmm. Yes. 

Oops. May was looking at her. Well, looking at her with one eye, the other on her phone. “You guys can fight to the death for it for my amusement, later. After that, I think I’m wearing it to the dance. So to finish this line of thought, because I’ve got to go bale Jamie and Rebecca out, their little performance today is their way of saying that they’re fine with you dating Scout. He’s not going to turn out to be the mutant clone of a supervillain or a mind-controlled agent.”

“Maybe he’ll even be a good kisser,” Amy said.

“Sure, why not,” May said to the air, as she stood and put her hand to the door. “Dream big.”

“Oh, he’s a good kisser, all right. I mean, as far as I’d know.” Charlotte could feel her face blazing as she said it, almost unable to believe that she had.

“What?” May said, turning around, even though already halfway out the door. “Why didn’t you say?”

“Look at her!” Amy said, having jumped down from the wall. “You could roast chestnuts off her cheeks.” Amy patted Charlotte, imitating some maiden aunt, just before she gave the kids candy from her cardigan pocket. “We are definitely going to talk about this breakthrough, later. Also, I just got a text from Emily. She and Rafaella are in trouble.” She did her spacy thing where she talked to John telepathically. “Uhm, it’s kind of a strange coincidence that both our teams would get into a mess at the same time at 9:30 on a school night. You keep on the alert for trouble here, Char-Char.”

Diversions. That was the trick. Charlotte couldn’t relax to study for the long five minutes it took before the silent alarm went off. Of course they were diversions.

She thumbed the intercom. “You getting this, Auntie?” She whispered. 

“Yes,” her Auntie said. “But whatever it is, it’s cloaked. We’d have to shoot up half the street to get him, and the neighbours don’t like that. Feel up to making a recon? You don’t have to. Henry can go out.” 

Charlotte didn’t even give that a moment’s consideration. Uncle Henry was out of the life for a reason. “I’ve got strong kung fu, a magic sword, and I can run back inside and hide under my bed if I have to. I’ll do a run.” Ginger, not even pretending to be a regular crow this time, materialised out of nowhere on her shoulder. “And a spirit guide,” Charlotte finished into the intercom.

A moment later, in her Tatammy Fatigues, her Eight Spirit Dragon senses extended, Charlotte was out in the late January night, the bitter cold in her nose, the hard rims of too-many-times-thawed-and-frozen snow under her gloriously stylish boots. Much nicer than the boots that swayed, like some forgotten prank, from the overhead cables strung from pole to pole in city thickness.

It wasn’t late by most people’s standards, and light spilled out of kitchens, and TVs blared with whatever was on Netflix and Hulu. Heck, maybe even network TV, for a few people. Not that they needed to worry. If there was someone sneaking around out here with what it took to beat the Keprizothian sensors that the Peacekeepers had given the Wongs, you had to think that they were interested in the Yurt, not the dentists and lawyers and such who made up the rest of the street’s inhabitants. 

Someone blue and shark-riding, Charlotte assumed. 

A sword swung, lethally, from the darkness. 

Or, it would have been lethal, had Ginger not tightened her talons just before, so that the rising arc of the Pearl Harmony met the blade in bind. Charlotte pivoted into her foe.. “It’s that how you won fourth sword of Aphasium?” Charlotte asked. “By ambushes in the dark?”

The Fourth Sword sprang away. “If you can’t counter a move that obvious, you’ve no place in the Trial of Blades.”

Charlotte went at him, a quick passage of arms. The Fourth Sword backed up before her, and blades flashed and rung from the bed on one side of Professor McCallum’s lawn to the other. 

“It’s been a busy day for you,” Charlotte said. “I wasn’t sure you were recovered from having the Pretender own you like that.”

The Fourth Sword reversed his casual retreat and came at Charlotte, fast and dangerous, driving her towards the middle of the lawn. “I slipped!”

Charlotte took a high stroke in parry. “Lame excuse. Can the Captain-Subadar of the White Fleet beat you with the blades? What does the Second Sword of Vale think of a Fourth Sword who serves a man too fat to fight? The man who let his old Captain’s blood out with a dagger in the back?”

“Who cares what some Valeite thinks?” The Fourth Sword gritted out, flicking a cut in at Charlotte’s chest. But she could see that his wrist was wobbling.

“You?” Charlotte asked. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know. You’re a warrior, she’s a warrior. Love has its ways. The question is, what kind of a warrior is the Pretender? The Captain-Subadar? What kind of a warrior are you?”

The Fourth Sword didn’t answer. Not with words. It seemed as though he was done bantering, and ready to fight, instead, for his blows came, faster than ever, and Charlotte had to call up all her qi to stand her ground.

A window opened. “Good Evening, Charlotte. Should I call the Liberty League?” Mrs. McCallum said.

“I got this!” Charlotte insisted over her shoulder, not daring to look away as the Fourth Sword came in, high and fast.

“Honey, do you have the Liberty League on speed dial?” Mrs. McCallum was very proud of being the last person on the block without a cellphone. 

Charlotte didn’t object. It would be dumb when she had to dodge and jump just to get out of the way of a thrust that had somehow found its way through her blocks. Fighting the Fourth Sword was the best sword training Charlotte had ever had. Her Uncle might be good at exercising her in the round, with point and edge work, but he wasn’t trying to kill her.

The Fourth Sword, she thought, as his blade slid along her ribs, was. “First blood,” he announced. 

“Second!” A moment later. This one was worrying, across her scalp. It would have been the end for a regular swordsman, blinded by the blood, but Charlotte could, and did, heal herself before following the retreating blade –and plunging the point of the Pearl Harmony through his shoulder. “Third!” She announced.

The glow of one of the arcane devices on the Fourth Sword’s harness, followed by the rapid healing of the wound, was kind of deflating. “Two can play that game,” the Fourth Sword announced. “And, due credit to our technology, probably better than you. You’re getting better, girl. But not quickly enough.”

Uh-oh. This was the moment when Charlotte had promised her Aunt that she would run away. She just wasn’t sure that she could. And then a dart stood out of the Fourth Sword’s shoulder. Without even dropping his guard, he reached around, gathered something in his hand, and, with incredible speed, yanked on it.

From the invisible darkness, Scout staggered, only barely bringing his rifle up in time to stop the Fourth Sword’s blade. Again and again, so fast and so hard, that when a desperate parry brought the steel shoulder into the arc of the blade, it was kicked free so hard and fast that it flew straight through one of the overhead cables, which dropped to the ground as Scout tried, desperately, to recover his defensive stance by pivoting the barrel around.

With barely a movement, the Fourth Sword’s blade was slipping under the barrel, but Charlotte was there, reaching out to take his blade in bind. 

“The Liberty League heard you might be in trouble, and Ah was in the neigbourhood, Redeeming Fist. Now you might want to look lively in a moment.”

Scout fell back, to Charlotte’s left and behind, so that the bayonet on his rifle presented in the same horizontal plane as her sword. 

“Well, the boys do come when you call, young lady,” The Fourth Sword sneered. “Too bad it’s when you’re in trouble.” He seemed to have recovered his composure.

Thrust and parry again, then a brief bind. Over it, Charlotte looked at her opponent. “Friends help friends.” A drying smear was the only sign that the dart had drawn blood, but a blinking light on its tail had a sense of something being almost ready.

The Fourth Sword’s saw where Charlotte’s eye was falling. “It’s a slightly upgraded taser, for the Azoic’s sake, girl. You don’t think that the White Fleet hasn’t an answer to that?”

Behind her, Charlotte could sense Scout’s muscles bunching to jump, and did the same. She was still six feet above the ground when the light on the dart went blue for ready, and she sensed, rather than saw, the electric current that ran, not down from the dart into the Fourth Sword, but up, from the grounded cable and through the Fourth Sword, and, circuit completed, through the dart.

The Fourth Sword fell, as though poleaxed. Charlotte tensed as she landed, but the ground didn’t reach up and electrocute her. 

“Not bad, considerin’ how long I had to come up with that plan,” Scout said, sounding more than a little pleased with himself. “Blue fellow with a sword. Seems as though this is where we left off last time.”

Charlotte landed, spun, facing Scout. “Really? Is this where we left off last time?”

Scout stepped closer to her, leaned in. Then stopped. “Ah. . . Miss Wong. We shouldn’t . . . Ah shouldn’t. There’s things. Things you don’t know about me.”

“I’m all ears.” Charlotte answered. Though it was her lips that tingled. NO, that wasn’t true. There wasn’t a part of her that didn’t tingle. Her lips. She was going to focus on her lips.

“Ah can’t tell you. Ah shouldn’t be here, Ah shouldn’t be . . “

“Shouldn’t be?” Charlotte asked.

Scout groaned. And then he reached out, and took her in his arms.

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