|By DC Comics, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18299786|
Book 5, 35: He Will Go No More A-Wandering
A giant disc of red filled the window that Rosa had opened in her wardroom. Ridgelines and depressions stood out, a darker red in the red dust of Mars. Just looking at it made Charlotte feel tired, somehow. Also excited, because, even though she knew perfectly well that she wasn’t going to meet Taylor Kitsch down there, she was thinking about him.
Stupid girl, she second thought herself. Stop mooning over boys. This is a whole planet. And we get to go there! “So that’s Mars,” Rose said. “Best thing to happen to us in days, right Char-Char?”
Speaking of mooning over boys, Charlotte’s eyes darted over to check out Bruce’s expression, without even showing a permission slip. Stupid girl, stupid eyes. Although they did have a point, registering the stricken look on Bruce’s face, like he was worried about something or something. So: stupid boy, stupid eyes, stupid girl. Maybe the awesomeness of Mars would cancel it out? “Okay, brain trust, what are we looking for here?”
Bruce shook his head. “Well, what I’m hoping for is that we’re going to find an old Martian temple that’s the same as the Temple of the Forgotten God in Vale, and we’re going to walk right up, and read the secret password is going to be written on the door, and it’ll be the same as for the Temple, and we’ll be able to just kick it over to Vale, and drop in on the Temple, and say, “Oh, hey you guys, you know that the Forgotten God is just Kilburn and PS can we have our sword back? As for what actually happens?” Bruce shrugged. “We get red sand in our cracks and have to grow potatoes in poop to live?” He paused, stared around, took in the blank faces. “It’s a good book. About an astronaut stranded on Mars, and he has to grow potatoes in, you know, soil.”
Rose nudged Bruce. He nudged back, and Charlotte felt a tinge, watching. “What? That’s not a spoiler! It’s not like I’m saying that Ned died!”
“Never mind that,” Twelve said. “You’re not expecting us to violate social conventions in Vale, are you? In a multiverse without God, all that is left of the awe that humans feel before the Transcendent is the ritual that re-enacts it.”
“Ahem,” Charlotte said.
“It’s okay,” Twelve said, sounding awfully smug. “You do a great sense of awe, Charlotte.”
“So, uhm, yeah,” Bruce said. “We probably maybe are going to kind of bend the rules a bit to get into the Temple of the Forgotten God. Look, no harm, no foul, right?”
Dora grabbed her boyfriend’s head in a mock headlock, her elbow straight up almost to the ceiling to give her the angle. “My sweet Occupy Wall Street patootie isn’t going to answer that one, on account of being on armpit hiatus.”
“How could the Forgotten God be Kilburn?” Charlotte asked. “Or an ancient Martian god?”
“Gods change their names and personas over time,” Bruce explained. “A god that’s worshipped as, uhm, you know, the Great Gazoo on ancient Mars could change into the Forgotten God by 600 Million Years BC, and Kilburn by 70,000BC, and so on.”
“How’s he the same god, then?” Charlotte asked.
Bruce shrugged. “This isn’t exactly my field, and Rose won’t waste her time on the subject, but I think they can remember being the old god if they try? Or, you know, whatever, because they can turn into demons and angels and stuff, too.”
Charlotte nodded. The Buddha had taught the Dharma to demons and gods, after all. Although it was kind of depressing thinking of it going the other way. “And if none of this pans out we still get to see Mars? Beats playing Hearts at lunch.”
A spot of glistening white slid into the image on the window. “Is that Marsbase One?” Rose asked. “Are we going there, Rosa? ‘Cuz you said you had a cargo for NASA.”
Rosa’s voice filled the air. “It is Marsbase One, and you’re not going there. In fact, you’re going about as far from it as you can be and still be on Mars.”
“So why are we up here?” Brian asked. “Why not just land at The Mars Court Trailer Park right away?”
Charlotte glared at Brian. She got it. He was joking that the farthest point away from Marsbase One was like the total sticks of Mars, so of course it would be a trailer park. She just didn’t want to dignify the “joke” with a reply.
“Just because I’m an anti-gravity propelled FTL starship,” Rose replied, “Does not mean that I am immune from the laws of physics. We went very, very fast to get here from Earth in under an hour, and now I have to slow down so that you can land and hand you off to your field trip guides. After which, I’m going to be delivering some cargo to Marsbase.”
A moment later, they were plunging through the atmosphere, and not five minutes later, they heard the clank-and-hiss of the landing legs settling. Although it seemed like forever before they were finally lined up in the airlock, their exoatmospheric bubble helmets over their Tatammy Universal Fatigue cowls. As lame as the 60s X-Men only-in-black-and-white design of their costumes was, Charlotte never stopped being amazed that they worked as space suits. Kind of convenient when you were hanging out in space a lot. Or Mars, which was sort of space.
Down the ladder, just like Bugs Bunny chasing that carrot in that cartoon with Martin the Martian. And, at the bottom, two aliens with the kind of golden bottle tan that you’d make fun of on Jersey Shore if it wasn’t their real skin colour, plus also perfect, sandy-gold hair, only done up in dumb old Wolverine peaks, all under bubble helmets and future-y costumes like, you know, space and stuff. (The guy was in a mottled red digital-camouflage-only-for-Mars look, while the girl was rocking a black-and-tan outfit, like that strong guy in the Legion of Superheroes, speaking of Wolverine rip-offs.)
A path, marked by little glow-patches in the surprisingly dim Martian sunlight, led in a direction that couldn’t possibly be relevant.
“Geetings,” said the female alien, over the pre-set group radio frequency. “I’m Trine, and this is Kelvar. We are going to be your guides around this excavations, while Kelvar provides general background and tries to keep his dumb jokes to himself.” Then she turned to lead them down the path.
Charlotte was going to burst with the obvious question, before Rose got to it first. “Excuse me?” Rose said.
“Yes?” Trine answered.
Rose gestured at the near horizon, at the giant, forbidding walls of Martian sand and rock, gathered up and fused into glass by some mighty power, over which floated a dome of white metal that blocked half the sky, at the mighty and forbidding portal that stood open towards them, and the high, minaret-like towers that rose from the ramparts to cast thin silhouettes of half-shadow against the dome. “Shouldn’t we be going that way?”
“Oh, no,” Trine answered. “That’s just an old Sirian base. Nothing interesting there. You’re here to see our excavations. We haven’t dug here in a while, but we’ve been told that you’ll find it particularly interesting.” Trine gestured at a series of ditches in the foreground, all carefully roped off with brightly-coloured ribbons, and with standing flags to show where there were particularly interesting rocks and, presumably, broken pots. This wasn’t the first field trip to an archaeology site that Charlotte had been on, and, incredibly considering that it was on Mars, it looked like it was going to be just as boring as looking at some old Colonial junk dug up by road crews on the side of the hill below the McNeely mansion.
“Yeah. For a certain value of interesting.” Bruce seemed to agree.
And that’s why Charlotte was actually relieved when she spotted a flicker in the corner of her eye and felt the touch of mindfulness rising in her as she drew the Pearl Harmony Sword and moved into a Wind Dance deflection move.
Arrows, fletched in saffron, flew into the incarnadine sky (that’s a Shakespeare way of saying “red,” she couldn’t help editorialising to herself) as Charlotte’s sword swept them from their lethal trajectory. “Incoming, guys,” she said, remembering to trigger her radio in time, just as a host of warriors armed with swords and other kung fu weapons, dressed in saffron spacesuits and wearing the familiar imperial dragon on their chest, came scrambling out of a hiding spot in a nearby crater and rushed them.
“What the Hell are Yin Wu’s ninjas doing on Mars?” Dora asked, as she raised the Maid of Gold and set an aureole shield in front of herself.
“Language, Dora,” Charlotte couldn’t help saying, nerdly as it came out. “First let’s make sure that everyone has stopped waving sharp things round. Then we ask questions.” To lead by example, she threw herself at the lead warrior, a big guy with a thug’s queue visible under his bubble helmet. He threw up his shield, so Charlotte launched herself higher into a Slanted Flying move, feet first, taking his neck and throwing him to the ground, being careful not to twist the joint.
Charlotte came down in Arrow Boxer stance, sword up, deflecting the raining blows of a Plum Blossom Double Axe practitioner, well delivered and almost simultaneous. Dude was strong.
Graceful, not so much, Charlotte thought, as she came in under his weapons, swept his legs, and boosted the unbalanced fighter over her shoulder.
The last guy was a butterfly sword wielder, game to try to disarm Charlotte. She’d done this drill a million times with May, though, and was careful not to let the Pearl Harmony get bound, even if it would probably just power through her opponent’s weapons. Best not to take chances.
Speaking of, she thought, as she deflect, parried, and thrust, this is going to end up with this poor dude getting skewered if Charlotte didn’t watch it. So she went close, helmet to helmet, giving her a chance to shout, “What does the Devil Mandarin want with Mars?”
Yeah, she thought, now who was being pompous? Worse, the guy just stared at her. “Oh, come on,” Charlotte continued. “My Mandarin isn’t that bad.” But it apparently was, as he still stared, trying to disengage his weapons.
Irritated, Charlotte thrust her knee between his legs, swept him, and followed him down with a Harmony Fist punch to the solar plexus. Qi crackled. She wanted him to stay down while she threat assessed.
Charlotte stood, and looked around. Threat assessment was: No threat. The six superpowered teens had gone through Doctor Yin Wu’s fighters like a thing that went through things really fast. They hadn’t even managed one of those shocker moments where the informants get killed just before they can talk. Trine and Kelvar were still standing back there on the lit path, looking half-irritated and half-shocked.
“I cannot help noticing that the ninja dudes came from the direction of the Sirian base,” Bruce said, beside her. He was holding one of the warriors by a handful of the surprisingly stretchy nape of the saffron spacesuit in his left hand, while in his right he held his Goblinstick, ready to clobber some more submission into the guy. “They don’t seem to understand my accent, though.”
Whew, that was a relief. Bruce spoke good Mandarin. Of course. So probably the reason that her prisoner didn’t understand her was that these guys were from Yin Wu’s secret valley in the backwoods of Sichuan or Shaanxi or wherever. Stupid dialects. Also, where was Rose?
Even as she thought that, her eyes narrowed as she checked out the horizon towards the Sirian base. Because you didn’t even have to ask that question, any more than you had to be surprised that suddenly the familiar lash of a pulson blast tracked the path of the running speedster. Instantly, Rose stood in front of Charlotte and Bruce. “There’s a whole siege battery down in a crater over there!”
“I know we’re probably a long way from a wall jack, but there’s got to be better ways of keeping your phone charged than—“
Rose shushed Dora with a look. “Technical term for a bunch of artillery you use to shoot the walls of a castle down.”
“The Sirians attacked Earth in, like, old radio show times. You know, with the soap commercials and the Wheaties and the Orson Kane dude,” Brian pointed out. “That’s an awful long time for them to play possum. Also, why are they fighting wuxia astronauts again?”
Charlotte shrugged. “Don’t know, but if Yin Wu is trying to do something, we should probably try to stop him from doing it before worrying about what comes next.” With that, she headed off across the ground towards the crater Rose had pointed out. And with every footstep, her boots puffed billions-year-old red dust, and she thought to herself, “OMG, I’m on Mars.”
The pulson blasters got in two shots at Charlotte as she approached. The first was easy enough to dodge, the second she didn’t even have to, thanks to Dora, who was otherwise distracted guarding her boyfriend, who probably figured that he could take it, anyway.
Then she dropped into the crater. And, as it turned out, neck deep in it.
Charlotte was ready enough to take only a fraction of the strength that Li Chun the Destroyer put into his mighty kick, thank the merciful Heaven, because she didn’t even want to think about what a full—strength blow from the demonic monk might feel like. “Back off, guys,” she managed to croak, as the white glow of the Pearl Harmony Sword lit in the presence of demonic evil.
The warning was enough for Bruce to evade himself, and, like Charlotte, take just a glancing blow. With no holy sword, he came up with his crossbow instead, firing a single bolt.
Unexpectedly, Li Chun reared back, roaring, “You!”
Well, not completely unexpectedly. Batman always wins the second fight, they say, because he’s prepared. And Scout had fought Li Chun once before. . .
Charlotte took advantage of the demon’s distraction to dart in and slice her sword across the Destroyer’s ankles, severing the tendons that connected him to the Earth. Well, Mars.
Li Chun wasted no more words. Hopping up on one foot, he steamed exactly like a kettle and expanded his head twice over as his taloned hand swept out, raking Charlotte, fortunately only scratching her through her uniform as she dodged.
Behind them, where the Yin Wu’s gun crews were scrambling around trying to achieve, well, whatever it was they were trying to achieve, the Kirby crackle of two Empyrean flyers burst a glowing track through kinetically disassembled machinery to end in a joint impact with Li Chun’s back.
The demon monk seemed to shrink back two sizes as he flew into the rocky wall of the crater.
“Okay, guys,” Charlotte said. “This guy is super tough. More than powerful enough to hand everyone one of us our butts if we don’t do this right. So: bricks, forward. That’s you, Twelve, and that cousin of yours, wherever he came from. Maid of Gold, I want you doing protective buffing; Arcana, in charge of exotic attacks, as long as you don’t get yourself in a skill-on-skill contest with this guy, because he’s got some serious Chinese sorcery going on. Goblin Boy, Rush, you’re with me, flankers. Bricks soak up damage, we deal it.” Now, Charlotte thought, all they needed was for the world to be enough like World of Warcraft for her tactics to actually work.
Instead, Li Chun looked around, and disappeared.
Figured, Charlotte thought. That was how he made so much trouble for Tiger Squad in his last attempt to burn mother-effing China down. Fight until the Squad had enough strength in one place to take him down, then teleport somewhere else and make trouble there. Good thing that her team wasn’t trying to stop Li Chun from whatever his goal was today. Not that they probably shouldn’t be. But if Li Chun wanted to burn mother-effing Mars down, stopping him might not be the super-highest priority in the multiverse, on account of there not being much on Mars to burn down.
Speaking of, Charlotte walked over to the strange Empyrean and held out her hand. “Hi. I’m the Redeeming Daughter, and we’re the Grade 9 Tatammy High Field Trip? You maybe heard of us?”
The Empyrean was tall, like all Empyreans, and old somehow, even though physically as perfect and handsome as any other Empyrean. Older than most she’d met, Charlotte sensed, although not as old as Noatar the Breeder. “Greetings, Miss Wong, I have been expecting you. I am Deloss the Wanderer, though never again shall I wander.”