The next morning, Kit rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. The day before yesterday certainly had been a long day; he was still tired. He briefly considered calling Khan to see how he was doing, but thought he might let the man alone. In the plane Shere had told him that he would be amply rewarded.
Well, he hadn't seen any of it.
He went out into the main office of Higher for Hire in his pajamas. There was a knock on the door and he opened it to reveal Molly, wearing her usual pink dress and a blue coat. She held a telegram in her hand and her face was a paler shade than usual. She was shaking.
"Molly!" Kit exclaimed, taking her by the shoulder and leading her inside. "Are you sick? What's wrong?"
"G-g-get dressed, K-Kit. G-go get d-dressed."
"Why? Molly, what is that in your hand? Will you please tell me what's going on?"
"J-just g-go get dressed. Go, Kit. NOW!"
"Okay, okay!" Kit scrambled into his room and put on his shirt and corduroy jacket.
Molly looked him over. She seemed more composed. "Okay, um, now we're going to calmly walk over to East Dock Hangars. Calmly. Follow me." He did, and those were the only words she said the entire walk there on that lovely morning, the salt so rich in the air, but she would not tell him what was going on no matter how much he pushed.
Finally they got to a hangar. Baloo was there in all his fat gray glory, a stupid smile on his face the likes of which Kit had never seen. "Little Britches," he said handing Molly a pair of keys ,"you're not going to believe this."
"Where did you get those?" he asked. "Papa Bear, what's going on?"
She held the door closed and smiled. "Kit, you know how you said a while back that you'd like to expand Higher for Hire, so we could keep up with the competition, you know, make more deliveries per hour and such?"
"Yeah...?" She looked about ready to explode. "Well," she said slowly, "we've just expanded."
And she slid open the hangar door to reveal what was, at first, a jumble of meaningless colors. But they soon formed themselves into the shapes of planes.
Just like his, but all different colors.
Kit's jaw dropped. He was paralyzed where he stood.
"A-a gift from Mr. Khan, apparently," she said. "He says he wants you to meet the Ballistic Squadron."
Kit choked, disbelieving. "Hgn-k-hunh?"
"We've got the, um, the Red Girl Ballistic, The Purple Girl Ballistic, the Blue Girl Ballistic, the, uh, heh heh, Yellow Girl Ballistic, the Orange Girl Ballistic, and the, m-m-heh, Pink Girl Ballistic. They're all for you, Kit. He also has six pilots and he's gonna, heh, pay thier s-s-s-salaries...they're not here yet."
Kit almost fell to his knees and then lifted himself up by grabbing the wall, unable to utter a single sound. His eyes were like dinner plates. Baloo smiled at him and walked into the hangar to check the planes out.
Molly's hand shook the telegram as she read it. "It s-says thank you or a f-favor rendered. Heh heh. Um, Kit?"
"Hggn-yeah?" He was almost hyperventilating.
"I meant to ask you...why you were so LATE yesterday..." and Molly suddenly broke into peals of melodious laughter. And so did Kit. And he stood and picked Molly up around the waist and swing her around and around and around as they laughed and laughed and laughed...and came to a stop
Shere and Sarabi sat at the breakfast table. Her hair was a perfect white halo around her head.
He was the first to speak, the situation being a little on the odd side. "What you did back there, Sarabi, I can honestly say that I don't know..." he shook his head. One side of his face had a large, stitched-up gash in it. His eye was bandaged.
She shrugged. "Well, father, I suppose we have to face the facts. The legends must be true. I do, in fact, have supernatural abilities. How about that?" She was smiling.
He rolled his eye. "I gleaned that already, Sarabi. It became quite apparent when you were glowing blue and causing a multitude of unsuspecting pirates to suffocate."
She shook her head. "They said that I wasn't supposed to do that. After I did it, they said that I was only to use my powers for life. That sounds incredibly trite, but it's what they said." "Who?" Shere asked, alarmed.
"The eighteen other white-haired tigresses, of course! The Entity, Father!" Sarabi made herself sound way more exasperated than she really was. Now that she had the knowledge she found herself wanting to tease him with it. "The last one was born one hundred and eighty years ago, one hundred eighty, you know, the births coincide with the degrees of a half circle. One eighty, three sixty, one eighty, get it? She was a Khan too, I think." She turned to her father, pretending not to notice that he was giving her an incredulous look from his one good eye. "They work with numbers a lot, you know. For example, I was killed and brought back to life (therefore coming into my power by slipping into their dimension, actually MY dimension but I'll explain that later,) and, oh, what was I saying? Oh yes. Eighteen. Adds up to nine. I received my power when I was eighteen, which adds to nine (eight and one, get it?) and nine is the number of eternal life...it all works out in the end."
Shere blinked. "Excuse me?"
"Pardon me for saying this, but what you just said was so terrifically Greek to me that I believe I actually tasted pesto."
She nodded. "I have that effect on people."
"What I wonder is this: you have these abilities. What are you supposed to do with them?"
"They only said that I was to 'heal a great multitude'. But I don't know how to heal yet, which is why my powers faded when I tried to heal that Arson woman. She...oh, the gouges and tears in that girl's mind. You simply wouldn't' t believe it, father."
"I'd believe it."
"So they say I have to learn to heal. And I want to learn. And since I came here by choice, I guess I have to."
"How do you mean, 'by choice'?"
She took a deep breath. "Well, all the white-hared tigresses that have existed and will exist are part of a collective called The Entity. I'm part of that collective, and I chose in my otherworldly existence, which I don't remember, to come to this planet at this time...to this family, so that I would be in the best position to do my work. Everything that happened to me, the accident and such, I planned beforehand and then promptly forgot when I entered this plane. That's why I was so scared when I was involuntarily moving glasses and plates and such. I had to shock it back into myself, so to speak."
"Then, if you received your power at eighteen, why did you move that plate when you were seven?"
"Fluke," she replied, laughing. "Even The Entity makes mistakes sometimes. You know, father, everybody is part of The Entity. Even you. It's not just women like me, they're saying, it's everybody. The only difference is that we know it. "
Shere nodded. "I suppose so."
They were both silent for a moment.
'Well, my dear," Shere said, turning to his daughter. "I'm certainly glad that you chose to be my daughter." He kissed her on the forehead. "Please stay as long as you like."
Orly and Gabriel sat on the porch and watched the sun go down on the west balcony. She hadn't told him about Sarabi's burst of power yet, because she didn't quite know how to explain it yet. She would tell him eventually.
In the meantime, she had told him everything else.
"You ACTUALLY hit her over the HEAD with her own FLAME-THROWER!" Gabriel exclaimed. "And after you shot her in the ear! Wow! Remind me not to tick you off!"
She made no reply, only pulled her knees tight to her chest. He looked over Orly, her face glowing orange in the sun. Her lower lip was quivering. "Orly...?" he asked. "You okay?"
Her face contorted in anguish and tears fell freely down her face. She doubled over, sobbing quietly.
'Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Gabriel said. "What's wrong?"
She reached up and clutched Gabriel, pressing her head into his shoulder. "I was so scared," she whispered. "Oh God, Gabe, I was so scared! I thought I was going to die. I thought I had killed her for a second. I thought I had killed someone, Gabe! But I had no choice. I was so scared."
He put his arms around her and rested his chin against the top of her head, rocking her back and forth in a motherly manner. "I understand. I'd be scared if some psycho chick with a flame-thrower was trying to kill me. Wearing all leather, too, geez! Doesn't that get hot?"
Orly laughed a little.
"I mean, of all the fashion faux pas! Leather and fire! Sheesh! You'd be melting in that! Gracious me, let's get that girl into some nice silk and linen, hmmm? She'd be a lot cooler. And a lot less smelly, I bet. Do they have bathrooms on the Iron Vulture, you think?"
"I didn't see any," she replied, laughing.
"You didn't? Well you obviously didn't look hard enough. I mean, what? Do they just unload themselves directly out of the Vulture? Talk about bombs away, gee gere! Whoo-hoo! It's like, hey Orly, did you feel that? There must be pirates overhead!"
Orly shrieked in laughter and smacked Gabriel in the arm. "You're gross." She looked at him for a moment. "What am I thinking? Of course I wasn't going to die!" She sniffed and wiped away a tear. "If I did, I couldn't come back for your jokes."
He gave an-overly effeminate sigh. "And Lord knows that's the ONLY thing worth coming back to."
Her entire body ached as she lay on a flat slab of metal in the brig of the Iron Vulture. LaRoca and Karnage had locked her in there until she "calmed down a bit". Asked her what the heck was she thinking, trying to kill the ransom.
She didn't care about their stupid money. She just wanted 'em all dead.
All of 'em.
She touched her damaged ear underneath the haphazardly applied bandages. Great. Now she looked like Karnage.
That little kid, Orly. Arson thought of her, and a tiny part of her, a tiny, humane part of her, was glad she hadn't killed her. That kid had been pretty ballsy, shooting her, knocking her out.
"Girl after my own heart," Arson mumbled to herself, her voice dripping sarcasm.
But, then again, she hadn't gotten her long-awaited revenge on Khan.
At least, not yet.
"Rat fink scum..." she growled softly as she rolled over to go to sleep.
Late one night Sarabi sneaked out of the apartment with a picnic basket she had prepared earlier.
And, two hours later, came back with someone in tow.
And had anyone been awake at that ungodly hour, they would have seen Sarabi peek from around a corner and, seeing that it was all clear, scramble across the hall to her room with James holding her hand, open the door to her bedroom, draw him inside, smiling, and lock the door behind them.
Two months later, most everything in the Khan household was back to normal. Except Sarabi. She was moving about and doing things with a joyful intensity that matched Orly's everyday nuttiness. It was as if her new power had enlivened her, and the change was remarkable. He wondered if this woman really was the same stoic, frigid girl whom he had raised for eighteen years. Perhaps her personality had been switched somewhere along the line? For the first time since the girls were children, they were laughing together. They even had some odd private joke that he wasn't in on. Orly would yell in a lightly slurred tone, "Are you looking at my headgear?" and Sarabi would burst into laughter.
It was strange.
Orly came into his office and looked at the black stitches that ran from the cheekbone down to his chin. "Papa, when are they going to take those out?"
"Next week, dear."
"I hope so. They're awfully ugly. No offense."
"I don't think that highly of them either," he replied, running his finger along the stitches. What was odd was, when he touched them, it made his entire face tingle. The doctor said that some nerves had been sliced, or something. He couldn't remember. But if he turned on that side of his face when he slept, it jerked him right awake.
Something possessed him to look down at Orly's feet.
"Orly," he said softly, "Where are your boots?"
She was wearing some light blue, glittery shoes. "Oh, yeah. I don't know. For some reason, I just didn't want to wear them anymore. They're kind of old and uncomfortable."
Shere looked out the window sadly. "I see."
"Is something wrong, papa?" she asked.
No, he wanted to reply, nothing but the fact that those boots were your innocence, Orly, and now they're lost in that cluttered room of yours, now they're shut away never to be taken out again, just like your childhood, because that was stolen from you by pirates, wasn't it, and you'll never be the same - and I never wanted you to take those boots off, Orly -
But instead, he only replied, "No, my dear. I had just come to like them, is all."
"Hmmm." She came up to him and put her arms around him. "I love you, papa."
Shere heard the door creak open.
It was Sarabi. "Hey, what are we doing?" she asked lightly.
"Come over, my dear, watch the sun set with us," he said.
She did, looking over the city. "Father, remember when I was a little child, and you told me all of this was going to be mine one day?"
"It still will be," he replied, "if you want it."
She took a breath and nodded her head. It would be hers, she knew, but not hers to toy with. Cape Suzette would be hers to take care of and serve. She blinked. How odd this was. And how wonderful it was that she had finally broken away from thinking of everything in analytical terms. Now she felt whole. That missing part of her had been filled by the one terrific force, the force that brought every living thing together and kept the threads of the universe itself from unraveling-
Sarabi put her arms around her father and sister. "I love you two," she whispered. They nodded in reply. And Sarabi felt a presence suddenly, and smelled something - some lost scent - the light waft of her mother's perfume - and she smiled.
And together this family of four watched the sun go to sleep over the gleaming sunset rooftops of Cape Suzette.