Jeanette didn’t get more than five feet before her father (with superior leg length and reach) had grabbed her.
“Just what do you think you’re doing, young lady?”
“Dada!” She held up her white-gloved hands. “He’s wearing these!”
“Good enough. But we’re all in on this chase. Everybody! Catch that kid!” He picked her tablet off the street.
She was off. She had noted the turn he made—which he had done almost immediately. He would be making a lot of them, as well as jumping up and down levels on these transparent platforms. But he wasn’t going to shake her: She could tell by the reactions of the other people, and the directions they turned their heads, where he had gone. And once she caught sight of him again, it would be all over.
(There was the possibility he was leading her into a trap. Pretty high, actually. That was why she wasn’t upset at the others—particularly Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone—joining in.)
She bounded up two platforms and then did a right-hand jump since that was the way she could tell he’d gone. It wasn’t a maneuver she was used to, even though she understood it in theory: the floating platforms were surprisingly firm and non-skid, but she realized she could very easily twist an ankle if she wasn’t careful. The Asian boy was no doubt a past champion of these moves, and he’d no doubt use them to his advantage.
“Thyrsis! Antithyrsis! Are you tracking him?”
“We’re right over him,” answered one of the crows through her jewelry. “He’s zigzagging all over the place, but you’re only a block behind him.”
“Right turn at the next intersection, kiddo,” said the other. “Down two levels, toward the center.”
She didn’t like ‘kiddo,’ but it was better than ‘little Yahoo girl.’ She pushed off the platform to another one going right. It was slightly higher than she had anticipated, and had to get down on her hands and knees for a second. Focus, little Yahoo girl!
“He just took a big jump. Two steps over to the other side, and into a store! Careful!”
“I have this.”
“He may be trying to double back. There’s a back exit, but it’s out on a narrow alley that looks like it’s one-way. If you hold off, maybe you can sucker him.”
“I don’t think so I think he’s trying something else.”
She jumped across three lanes in three steps rather than one, but made a good landing on the platform. The store sign was beginning to adapt to English, but she was through before it could finish swirling.
Once in, she could again tell the Asian boy’s path by the reactions of the patrons. He was definitely heading for the back. She was ready to pick up some speed, when a big tall not-quite-woman in a flowing gown stepped in front of her, said, “What’s the matter, little girl? Why are you in such a hurry?” Very kind, but said in the voice of adult authority. That was the trap he’d set.
Jeanette Ransom was by and large a well-behaved responsible girl, but this was not the first time she had been in this situation. She looked up at the salesperson’s cat-like and much-decorated face, adjusted her mental age about four years downward, got red and shouted “that boy stole my THING!” Leaving the adult to process that, she immediately took off, back to front, because she had heard him bump things behind the pedestals advertising who knows what.
She had him! Just a flash of that black suit, making a daring left-and-down turn at the intersection they had just left, but she had a lock on him that she was not going to lose him again.
He had been relatively agile, avoiding the other (she guessed she could call them pedestrians), but now he was knocking people down, trying to throw roadblocks in her way. One of them he hit hard enough that she got a pulsing yellow Sims-like light as she lay upon the platform. But that didn’t stop her gaining on him. She could hear something like an emergency beacon trying its best to be pleasant sounding, but she was now focused with a vengeance.
“This will be a tricky one, kiddo. Something like a main intersection. Six converging paths, and it looks like there are lights limiting one’s transitions. He’s in, and bouncing all over the place.”
“Our advice is not to follow, but to let us track him and tell you when he leaves. He’s trying to confuse you, but he’s also jeopardizing his lead,” Antithyrsis said.
“He’s good, I’ll say that,” Thyrsis said.
“I’m better,” Jeanette said in a voice of iron.
He was causing enough commotion that soon all the lights in the intersection were blinking. The platforms hadn’t stopped moving, and people were still hopping from platform to platform, but it was headache inducing. There were carousels like luggage things in airports, and they had slowed down with complex signals flashing, but the principal roadways proceeded smoothly.
“Got him. Two levels up and to your left. He’s trying to hide from you. “ and their was an untranslated crow-squawk over her bracelets.
She bounced up, causing a little commotion herself, and had him in view again. This way was less heavily traveled, and he was trying to open the gap up by just plain speed. But although she had hiked all morning and her breath was pumping hard, she was not in the least tired.
I’ll show you it, you little twerp. I’m the original it girl, she thought.
It looked like he was leading her away from the central city. Now comes the time for the trap, if there is one. It struck her that. He was having fun; of course, so was she. Was this a test of her capabilities? Was he trying to separate her from her companions? Or was he just enjoying his work. Whatever it was, now that there were fewer pedestrians, he was speeding up.
“H-he might be using this to check on trackers,” she huffed.
“No problem, We’re not flying overhead.” Thyrsis said. “Don’t talk. You’re doing great, kid, but you’ll be surprised how quickly talking will exhaust you. Over and out.”
Before he reached the edge, he doubled back, now two levels below her.then they were in a sector with large buildings but fewer people: there was even something that looked like a stadium—if a stadium had uplifted wings. But now the boy had jumped off the platform network entirely and was running for one of the biggest of the buildings. It had been bugging her all along that she had zero communication with her dad and the others, and wondered if it would work after all—if the trap came before they showed up, should she hold back?
The boy ran underneath an arch which had carven writing on it that wasn’t even vaguely like English or any other writing she’d seen. He slowed just a little—which convinced her not to go under that arch. Duh.
He continued running—right into the majestic form of Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone. When he bounced back (he actually did a back flip) he was greeted with Grandmère Hutan swinging down from an inner wall.
The tiger said, “We were clever enough to follow the crows, in case you were worried, Jeanette.”
“Dopey me,” she called back.
With the Asian boy enmeshed in long orangutan arms, Senhor Capoeira came chuffing up behind her, carrying her father on his back.
The capybara seemed to be beyond speech, his tongue hanging out, but Dr. Ranyon slipped to the ground. He was holding Jeanette’s tablet. “According this, the inscription on the archway seems you be ‘Progress is our Most Important Product.’ Hm.”
Still careful not to go under the arch, Jeanette turned to the little Asian boy, who was still suspiciously not upset.
“All right, you, what’s this all about?”
Grandmère turned the boy’s head to face her directly as easily as if she could screw it off. That finally put a bit of apprehension onto the boys face.
“All right, I think I can explain everything.”
And that was when Jeanette noticed that she was becoming transparent.
“OH NO YOU DON’T!” came the voice of her father as everything went sort of vague.