Well, at the last minute, two of the four players couldn't make it but the other two were already at my place. Instead of the big set piece I had in mind, we did a flashback. There were only three previous days of superhero experience to choose from, so we invented this sequence from Saturday...
Episode 8: Everybody, Flee! The Homecoming Queen is a Tree!
(Apologies to Julie Brown)
The car wouldn't run because it had no engine. Where the engine had gone was not obvious, but Ninety-Nine Percent was willing to bet it had something to do with the hole under the car.
Ninety-Nine examined the hole with her remote senses. The hole—well, tunnel—was rough and unfinished, and headed all the way down to the sewer system. "Gotta be a big person to carry off an engine block like that," she said. Whoever it was had made sure that the car looked okay.
"This is going to make me miss the reunion," said Vieno's mother. She stamped her foot. "Dammit. Tommy Moynaghan said he'd be there." To Ninety-Nine Percent, she said, "I dated Tommy, all through senior year. He was on the football team."
"But who?" said Vieno, ignoring the comment. "They could have just taken the CD player and probably got more money."
"I'll look." Ninety-Nine searched the area, walking back and forth to extend her range by a little bit. "A walking tree. Out of range, now. Booking it, while carrying an engine block."
"A walking tree in the sewers?"
"I know what I saw."
"But the reunion—"started Vieno's mother.
"We'll fly you," said Ninety-Nine Percent.
"We will?" asked Vieno.
"An engine block is not a casual theft. Someone's trying to keep her from the reunion. You live in the abandoned warehouse district, so even if we could get a cab to come here, what are the odds it would be attacked before she got to the reunion?" said Ninety-Nine Percent.
"Property's cheap here," muttered Vieno.
"Silver Storm," said Ninety-Nine. "Superpowers for several hundred people who didn't have them before. And in a small percentage of cases, getting powers makes you nutso for a little while."
"Really?" asked Vieno.
"Really?" asked Vieno's mother.
"I can cite you references," said Ninety-Nine.
"If that's how it has to be," said Vieno. "Mother, would you like to stay for dinner? I've already ordered a few things."
* * *
They sat around Vieno's dinner table with Korean food for six. (Vieno ate the equivalent of four people.) The apartment was redolent of spicy food: three different kinds of kimchee stood open.
"So you think the little black dress?" said Ms. Lipponen asked Ninety-Nine.
"A classic. With the jade. For your eyes."
"Tommy will love that look. He always liked my eyes."
Vieno said grumpily, "Isn't Dad…worried?"
"About what?" Then the penny dropped, and Vieno's mother looked aghast. "I'm not like that. Good Lord, have you no faith in me? I'm not some swinger, like Strom Thurmond. God, if we'd only known that in the eighties, along with the daughter… No, your father doesn't want to go because he only knew them for the one year. When he was an exchange student."
"And you fell in love then?" asked Ninety-Nine.
She snorted. "Not at all. I was dating Tommy. When Vieno's father decided to immigrate to the US, he looked us up. I was just graduated from university and single, so I agreed to squire him around, and, well…" She smiled.
"I don't want to hear this," chanted Vieno in a sing-song voice.
"Yes, child. You're so sensitive." Ms. Lipponen rolled her eyes.
"You're my mother. And ancient."
"Not even fifty! And I can tell you every person in my graduating class." She started to list names.
"It's okay," interrupted Vieno. "We've heard. They're all you've been talking about for three hours. It's like a soap opera."
"You have to know the background," said Ninety-Nine. "Now, Karen was the one who had the affair on Mark?"
"Yes! So Mark decided to date—"
"Oh, God," said Vieno, and put another helping of galbi on the plate in front of her.
"I'm very hungry now, mother. I just keep…eating. Fighting supervillains will do that to you."
"Ninety-Nine fights supervillains and she doesn't eat like that."
Vieno looked daggers at Ninety-Nine, who smiled angelically. Vieno didn't say anything, but attacked this helping of food viciously.
"Time to wash your hands and get your face on," said Ninety-Nine. "You don't want to be late."
"What about the car?" said Vieno.
"Insurance will cover the damage. They said so," said Ms. Lipponen.
"You leave it in my parking lot until the adjustor comes on Monday, and it's going to be stripped."
"Is the roof strong enough? I can put it on the roof," said Ninety-Nine.
"Perfect!" said Ms. Lipponen.
* * *
The reunion was at the high school, on an estate by the edge of town. Saint Claremont's School was private, with the gates open to allow cars. The school was Edwardian, with a large walled estate surrounding the campus, and trees around the school itself. Two other buildings were off in corners. None of the trees near the school looked ambulatory or familiar.
Besides protecting Ms. Lipponen from the wind, Ninety-Nine decided to use her untested illusions skill to make everyone look just a bit better. She spruced them up and then set her old hoverbike down on the grass median separating the two halves of the parking lot. Some attendees shrieked and many ran up to meet them.
"Boopsie!" A big man in a tan blazer met them. He helped Ms. Lipponen off the hoverbike and gave her a big hug. Then he and Ms. Lipponen looked at each other, smiling.
"Right," said "Boopsie." "Ladies, this is Tommy Moynaghan. Tommy, this is Vieno, my—" Vieno looked at her. "—child and her friend, who goes by Ninety-Nine Percent."
"Nice to meet you," said Ninety-Nine.
Tommy looked her up and down and then focused on Vieno. "So this is the famous Vieno. You've been on the news."
Vieno shrugged, and then said, "Why is there an engine block behind that car?"
Everyone looked. Tommy Moynaghan swore. "Now I can't get out."
"I'll move it," said Ninety-Nine. With a bolt of lambent red energy, the engine block floated onto the grassy median.
"What kind of car is that from?" asked Vieno, dreading the answer.
One of the men said, "Mercedes," and named the model of Ms. Lipponen's car.
Ninety-Nine said mentally, %I'm going to scout the grounds. You escort your mother inside. I'll keep the link open so you can tell me if there's a problem.%
%Don't worry.% Vieno looked again at Tommy Moynaghan, who had his arm linked with "Boopsie's". %I'll keep her safe.%
* * *
The two other buildings on the property were a headmaster's house and a groundskeeper shed, but neither of them looked suspicious. Ninety-Nine made another pass over the roof. Roofing material was scattered there: a pile of sand, two buckets of tar, and three broad brushes. Ninety-Nine looked at it, found a certainly-dry patch, and landed. Next she'd check the inside of the school, starting with the top floor. Assuming the door to the roof was unlocked—
A thread of sand snaked out along the roof and tried to close on her ankle. She floated up until she thought she might be out of range.
%Animate sand on the roof,% she said mentally. %Might be trouble. I'll let you know.%
"Hey," said Ninety-Nine. "You want to talk?"
"Hey," said the sand, and reformed into a humanoid shape, dark as obsidian. Ninety-Nine recognized him now: Jet, one of a group of five who styled themselves after the five Chinese elements. It tilted its head and looked closely. "There's what, two of you? Yeah, we'll talk. Why don't you both come up here? We can talk lots."
%Stay with your mother!% she said to Vieno.
Jet said, "You look familiar. Do I know you?"
"I thought the compact was there so that people wouldn't, you know, shit where they eat?"
He shook his head. "Personal. Eden's got this hate on for some woman. Only chance to do something about it and show some guy from high school...yadda yadda yadda. I agreed to help, but I didn't agree to listen." He shrugged. "With the Silver Storm, the compact will probably end anyway."
"You think so?" said Ninety-Nine. "So do the job after the compact collapses." %Ask your mother if there was anyone named 'Eden' in her class.%
"Promised. We got a job after that. Busy time of year."
Ninety-Nine sighed. "You do your thing and I'll try and stop you."
"That's life," agreed the man. "I promise we'll try not to hurt anyone else. Probably won't even kill this other woman, just rip off a limb."
"Dude. It's my teammate's mother."
"Dude," echoed Jet, "it's my teammate's obsession."
"Couldn't she just, you know, show up with a fancy car and a boob job?"
"Kinda hard when you're a tree," he said.
%There was an Eden,% said Vieno, %and she was, I quote, 'Kind of a loser.'%
"Nothing personal," said Jet as he grabbed for Ninety-Nine. He missed, but she made a note that he could reach much farther than she had thought. She dropped over the side of the school, heading for the front door.
* * *
%Gah. She doesn't want to leave the conga line!% Vieno looked around. The gym was decorated in faux Amazon jungle style, with green crepe "vines" tree half-pipes decorated with papier mache. A couple of real-looking vines stood out from the obvious fakes. Vieno spotted them starting to reach down to Vieno's mother.
Vieno dove forward, knocking Ms. Lipponen out of the conga line. "Vines…after you!"
"My wrist!" Vieno heard from behind. "I think you broke my wrist!"
"I'm a doctor!" came a bass voice.
"Get outside!" shouted Vieno. Uh, out in nature, with a plant controller. Not a great idea, thought Vieno, but it was too late to unsay it. Fortunately, Ms. Lipponen didn't weigh much, and Vieno started carrying her outside. "Middle of the parking lot!" That was as far from plants as possible.
Ninety-Nine floated into the gymnasium in time to see early opening of the "coconuts" that were probably supposed release confetti. Seeds started to fall and she quickly threw up a telekinetic wall that held them against the ceiling. "Everybody get outside!" she said, her face contorted with the effort of keeping all of them up. Were some of them sprouting?
"There's a sandstorm in the hall."
One of the papier mache trees crashed to the floor and the bigger tree hidden behind it shuffled out. She (it?) ignored Ninety-Nine and the door that was now blooming sandstorm, and instead walked out through the wall, going out of its way to cuff an ash-blonde woman in an expensive dress. The wind whipped up the dust and grit from the broken wall.
"Can't get out!" someone shouted over the wind and sand.
Jet had found her. The sandstorm flowed into the gymnasium.
Ninety-Nine kept holding the telekinetic wall against the seeds. Instead of sending people through the sandstorm that was Jet, she created the image of blinking lights and arrows that pointed to the hole in the wall. THIS WAY OUT and EXIT read the signs.
"This woman is hurt!" came the doctor's voice.
"Get! Out!" screamed Ninety-Nine. If Eden was gone, maybe she could dump the seeds at one end of the gym, maybe on the proscenium stage—
* * *
Vieno ran into the wall instead of the crash door, making her mother shriek. Vieno tried to remember what the foyer looked like, then found the door. Plants were already waving out there, grasping at air.
The middle of the parking lot, away from the grassy median. Vieno dropped her there. "Call 911!"
"With what? My purse is inside!"
Vieno thrust forward a phone as the wall burst open, revealing a walking tree. Fragments of brick fell to each side and dust coated the tree.
"You made me hurt," growled the tree. At Vieno, or Vieno's mother?
Vieno spread the wings and launched at the tree…to no effect. The blows bounced off it like dandelion seeds blown by the wind.
Branches from other trees flexed and tried to grab Vieno, who easily dodged them all.
* * *
Having dumped the seeds on the stage, Ninety-Nine took a moment to go invisible. If she was right, if the invisibility was in onlookers' minds instead of elsewhere, Jet wouldn't notice that sand was flowing around her. She put her back to a wall—she had lost direction—and looked at the sandstorm.
If she couldn't get the crowd away from the sandstorm, she'd have to get the sandstorm away from the crowd. Outside would be best, but any door would do. She groped for an exit, and slipped out.
* * *
A wooden fist crashed against Vieno's body, and Vieno lost breath for a moment. Over in the parking lot, Vieno's mother was trying to figure out how to use the BlackBerry instead of her iPhone. Vieno made a feint—
—and the plants in the lawn sprouted and grew tall…maybe ten feet tall. The grass was more like bamboo and hit Eden from sight.
A chance to recover. Good, thought Vieno dimly.
* * *
Ninety-Nine was in a change room. Showers and toilets over there, door to hallway there. No urinals, so girls' change room. No windows. Sand started flowing under the door.
All right, Jet, I am crushing your head. Wherever it is.
"Ow!" said Jet. "All right, you know how this works, right? I go back out there and start hurting people one by one until you give yourself up. Just so you know it's your fault."
What? For making myself hard to hit? He would see the door open, but maybe she could use that to lure him into the hallway—
She slipped out the door and stood on the other side of the doorway, shielding herself with the door.
The sand flowed under the door again and reformed faster than it had before. "Two choices, one at a time," said Jet. One hand expanded and became a slab as big as the hallway. His arm extended and the slab-hand shot down to the other wall, where there was a T-intersection. His slab rang against the lockers there. "Not on that side."
I'm crushing your head. He was unprepared, or stretching his hand like that had done something because his slab suddenly turned into a hand again and he clutched his head, as he fell to his knees.
She pulled out her phone. "Mom? Someone make sure that Eden takes her meds again…" Then she kicked him again, mentally, while he was down.
"Nothing personal," she told him.
* * *
There! Vieno launched a furious attack at the motionless Eden; the final blow split Eden in two, and Vieno looked on, horrified. The look of horror was interrupted by a scream from Ms. Lipponen.
Vieno looked over. She had been grabbed by Eden-the-tree.
Vieno headed over and hit the tree as hard as possible.
The tree-person looked at her. "You. Just like your mother. I don't like you, either." The light in the eyes dimmed.
"Nobody home," called Ninety-Nine from the front steps. "No brain there. She's left. You don't have to hit again."
"I do if I want to get my mother free," said Vieno. It was the work of a dozen hard hits, and Ms. Lipponen tumbled to the ground. "Thank you," said Vieno's mother.
Several other classmates rushed to help her, and the woman in the expensive dress leaned and spoke in her ear. Vieno's mother laughed.
"Can you give me a lift home?" she asked Vieno.
Vieno looked at Ninety-Nine, who nodded. "We can. What was that about?"
"They're grateful, but you're not invited to future reunions."
|Previous session internally||Next session internally|