Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Book 5, 41: Digging For Answers

A one an'

an a two

I'm going with a Community reference because I'm old enough to remember the Seventies and I am not going to do anything that might be perceived as endorsing Journey. 

Book 5, 41: Digging For Answers

Giant bats, it turns out, aren’t big on technique. Swipe-flap-jump-bit-skreek was all they knew. Too bad they were so good at it. 

Charlotte dodged one sonic screech by rolling out of it, and came up on another as it unfolded its wings and reared to give her a good, old-fashioned bat hug. Charlotte guessed that she should just be happy that they apparently needed some time to recharge their sonar attack. Her calves stung from the shards of concrete thrown up from the shattered floor hit by the last blast. 

She hoped that the mall could afford the repairs. Maybe there was insurance? Anyway, no hugs for Charlotte, today. Not that she couldn’t use a hug, just not from something that kind of drooled while it rabies-bit you with yellow fangs. Because, ick. So she came up, unfolding, into a lunge, the Pearl Harmony Sword thrusting at the bat’s belly.

As she’d hoped, the bat stepped back, stumbling, as not being all that good at the whole walking-on-two-legs thing, and left itself open as she jumped forward and gave it a solid whack on the side of its batty head with the flat of her sword. The soft white light of her sword flared, for a moment no longer soft at all, and the bat collapsed.

Interesting, Charlotte thought, as she landed. The bats were Evil. She would have pursued that thought a bit further if it weren’t for the way she’d just landed right in front of a bat that hadn’t used up its sonic blast. 

What hurt more, Charlotte wondered, judiciously, a moment later? Being hit square in the chest by sonic blast that could shatter concrete, or being knocked back into the counter of a long-abandoned Russel Stover's? 

Trick question, they both hurt, and the feeling of not being able to breathe was distinctly not nice, and got in the way of scrambling back into action against the bat, which had done one of those silly half-hops half flutters that birdy-things do, and was now standing over her, out of special attack charge, but apparently down with eating her, instead. 

Standing on the shattered, up-ended counter, Ginger screeched defiance at the bat.

“Go for the eyes, Ginger,” Charlotte said, although it came out as a strangled whisper. Her bird cocked an eye at her, as if to say, yeah, no, let’s not go crazy here. 

Bat stooped, Charlotte tried to will her muscles into action. 

Then, just in the nick of it, sparkly Kirby dots filled the dim air of the abandoned mall level, as Twelve flew out of nowhere, smashed into the bat, grabbed it by both wings and. . . Gross. Super gross.

“You know,” Twelve said, “I’m not entirely sure that this is a level-appropriate encounter.”

Beyond them, whatever spells Brian was flinging looked to be solid anti-bat stuff. Scout’s bullets and Rose’s fists worked equally well, and Madison was still at, and evidently losing, her blasting duel with Dora. 

With a whoosh, the air finally got back in Charlotte’s lung. Oh, that was nice. She stood up, walked over to where Madison’s shadow would probably be on the mall floor if it were bright enough for that, and she looked up. And not over, at sexy, sexy Scout, who was standing next to her, both hands full of pistol, which was totally not a double entendre. “I don’t think,” Charlotte said, looking up at Madison, who could evidently fly now, “That you should have brought bats to a gunfight.”

Madison put her hands up, and flew down to ground. “It wasn’t my call. I was totally possessed by mystic forces from beyond. No choice at all. Honestly, if I had my choice right now, I’d be at school, practicing for Glee Club! ‘Just a small town girl/’,” Madison warbled. “See, Wong? I’m learning your song.”

“Yeah, like I’m a Journey fangirl,” Charlotte answered.

Behind her, Rose said, “Actually, she is in Glee Club. I saw her going into practice last week.”

“See, my alibi checks out!” Madison said. Beside her, Charlotte knew from the sound of feet on concrete that Scout was squirming, and not from the way that pressure waves of heat flooded that side of her body in synchronisation with his movements, because that was just her imagination. It had to be. 

“For it to be an alibi, it would have to be a reason not to accuse you of being at this fight. Whereas,” Charlotte paused and held up a finger, “The fact that we just caught you at this fight is still a bit of a problem.”

“Possessed,” Madison said. “I was possessed. Vast mystic forces. That’s my excuse.”

Brian stepped in front of them, gestured grandly for attention, held up one of the golden collars they’d taken from the bats. (Which vanished the moment you removed the collars.) There was a vaguely familiar symbol on the front, on the plate that covered the latch. 

Vaguely. Charlotte did the thing where you stare blankly, because, frankly, she didn’t know what the symbol was, and Brian was busting to tell them, and why not give him the chance, because, you know?

Brian took a moment to look all smart and stuff, and said, “It’s the symbol of Kilburn Skyfather.”

“See?” Madison smirked. “The head of the pantheon of Good, Blue gods. Does that sound like my wheelhouse? Nope, chaotic evil, that’s my jam.”

“Yeah,” Charlotte said, and, because she couldn’t help herself, “You are so totally fetch, Mad.”

Madison didn’t answer, but with the way her eyes slitted at the ref to Gretchen in Mean Girls, she didn’t need to say anything. 

Charlotte continued. “So what in the non-wheelhouse, non-jam related world were you doing down here?”

“Besides trying to kill me,” Scout added.

Madison shrugged. “Yeah, about that. You hang with Wong. That’s so much worse than being d ead, you should be thanking me. And what was I doing? Duh? Digging a hole? It’s right over there? You can tell because of the bit where there’s not something else. Complicated, I know. I was reaching for a way of explaining a ‘hole’ that doesn’t go. . . “

Scout growled. Charlotte wasn’t sure why, but Madison missed a beat before continuing. “I don’t know about all that big old supervillain stuff. Just goes whoosh right over my head. I’m here for the making trouble. You know, I used to hate mind control, but this whammy got me out of detention.” She changed tone a bit. “Ravish me, you big brained mind-master!”

“That’s sick,” Rose said.

“Not as sick as cleaning up the girl’s washroom in East wing. Which is totally against my constitutional rights, I might add.”

“You wouldn’t know the Constitution if they invented a ‘Slutty Constitution’ Halloween costume,” Dora pointed out, reasonably enough.

“If there isn’t a bit in it about principals not being allowed to make girls scrub around the sinks until you can’t smell cigarette, those constitution guys need to go back to rewrite.”

“What?” Charlotte asked. “Is there anyone in school now even who smokes in the washrooms except you and Eve? I mean, you’ve got the superpowers to fox the smoke detectors, right? You can’t think they don’t have suspicions.” And of course Mr. Guzman would know that, and Madison probably knew that Mr. Guzman would know, but, if she didn’t, it wouldn’t be Charlotte giving away her principal’s secret identity. 

“Wasn’t your asshole Dad, Finding Lame-o,” Madison snarled in Dora’s direction. “It was that stuck-up Elf bitch of a French prof.”

“Really? Ms. Grey? How do you know?” Scout said.

“God!” Madison said, exhaling approximately an oil tanker of exasperation in one word. Or trying to, ‘cuz she worked so hard on her act, Charlotte felt. “Who else casts Turakian clairvoyance spells around Tatammy?”

Out the corner of her eyes, Charlotte caught a flicker, like when the lights almost fail, only in reality itself. “Don’t say that name!” she said. 

“Turakian,” Madison smirked. Kal-Turak. I’ll say whatever I want to say. Takofanes. . “ And at that, her eyes went wide, and she actually put her hand to her throat. 

Trying not to think that it served Madison Cheung right, Charlotte touched her ring, where her rosary, with the rest of her clothes and stuff, was super-sciency compacted, and began to sing the Hope Sutra under her breath. It was either that or assume prayer posture and recite the Ave. Fusion religion was hard!

Hard or not, though, either it worked or, more likely, there was a limit to Takofanes’ influence, because Madison’s face relaxed, and her hand felt from her throat. “Weird,” she said. “I thought your goody two-shoes spells were supposed to sting or something.”

Charlotte shrugged. “Pretty sure that if it’s your dharma to sting, I’ll just shove a sword through you. That’ll sting.” Only Charlotte couldn’t even begin to imagine making there be no more Madison with the Pearl Harmony Sword, no matter how much she hated the girl. She’d already stabbed someone once.

Booted feet scrambled a little on the shards of concrete behind them. Charlotte looked over her shoulder. It was one of the Philadelphia PD MARS response teams. With Officer McNulty, the super-nice community resources officer at Tatammy that Madison hated with the fire of a hundred blazing suns. 

Charlotte was pretty sure that “Officer McNulty” was an alias.

“What have we here?” Officer McNulty said, because he liked to tell salty jokes about London bobbies saying that, and he was all about the self-reference.”

“Hey, officers,” Charlotte said. “Vandalism in progress, possible violation of the Superhumans Registration Act, but the girl we apprehended was probably being mind-controlled.”

The sergeant in charge of the MARS team signalled for her people to stand down, while Officer McNulty took a fat, oversized phone out of his pocket and began to take pictures. “Just another Monday, then. “ He hunched down and looked into the hold. “You guys good, or do you need to follow up with Spook Boy down there?”

“Hunh?” Charlotte said. She, well, she actually hadn’t forgotten about Bruce so much as she’d been thinking circles around the subject, as in, how was he going to pull off an excuse for being here dressed as Scout? But, sure enough, down there at the end of the hole, which led to a tunnel, which pointed directly at the secret access tunnels, in the distance, was Bruce, doing something with a flashlight kind of thingie. 

As Charlotte watched, he put his hand to the rubbled wall, and a door opened, spilling indoor light. Bruce walked through it, and vanished in the unseen space behind the still open door.

“Guess this investigation is still open,” Charlotte said. “Am I allowed to hand Ms. Cheung over to you guys?”

“Sure,” Officer McNulty said. “Why not? She’s a juvie, and digging in the foundations of a practically abandoned building wouldn’t be much of a crime even if there weren’t some kind of master villain bullcrap plan ongoing. You kids run along, now.”

Charlotte jumped down into the hole. Then she looked up, squarely, at Scout framed in the dim lights of the abandoned level, first of her team to move to follow her. “I’m sure glad Bruce has his holographic projector with him. He could get into real trouble if he couldn’t cast convincing illusions of being in two places at once.”

But Scout just looked down at her coolly, if you could be cool and smooth while at the same time being absolutely smoking, and gave nothing away. God damn him.

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