Chapter 6 (or, “Rhiannon’s Code”)
“Dude. Tama. Why are you over that girl’s shoulder?”
Tama jumped as Jason put his hand on his head. He turned. “Just doing some research.”
“Research, schmesearch. I’ve never seen you get this close to somebody, except for maybe when Rifka hugged you after you bought her those Russian pancakes. And that was a long time ago, man.”
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Rifka pointed out.
“Six months, by regular timeline standards,” Isabel noted from her seat in the Green Room. She was tapping something into her cell phone communicator. “But those are mere details. Tama, you’re putting the notes right into your phone, right?”
“That I am,” Tama said as he held his own communicator in the hand he wasn’t propping himself up with. He took a few more pictures of Erika’s tablet, noting the yellow rabbit bouncing across the screen. Some things about Japan never change, even through different dimensions.
They had gone straight to the Cerulean Tower after watching the broadcast -- thankfully the Cerulean Tower was in the same place in this dimension as it had been in Tama's Tokyo. Upon arriving, they had found their suspect -- Tomoyaki Erika -- already there, and Tama had wasted no time trying to grab clues about her. There was no denying he was just trying to do a good job. This was, of course, his first big mission with QWERTY.
Then again, he was also trying to make up for the fact that he had royally screwed up earlier. Bumping into Erika had made him drop his communicator, which had temporarily switched off his invisibility function. The resulting thirty seconds or so had embarrased him...and made him curious. That had been their girl, which had made it even easier to get to the Cerulean Tower...considering Tama hadn't kept his eye off of her.
Of course, Isabel had nearly chewed him out for messing up the invisibility function. But details, as Jason often said. Details.
He continued to take notes on everything Erika did, from the way she held her tablet to the way she spoke to her best friend to how she sat. She seemed pretty normal and adjusted -- which would make her a great candidate for guardian. He would have to find a way to convince the others, but apart from Isabel, they had agreed with him to come to the Cerulean Tower.
Isabel, though? Tama knew she might take more convincing.
There she was now, over his shoulder. "Come with me for a minute."
She led him across the room to the front, where a huge screen was sitting propped up against the wall, ready for the presentation. "Are you okay?" she asked. "I'm sorry I gave you a hard time about the communicator."
Tama sighed. "I'm all right. I just want to make sure I do this perfectly."
"Nothing's going to turn out perfect the first time around. You're making more initiative than the other members, anyway. Jason's goofing off with Rosa, Jen's too scared to do anything, and Rifka's trying but she doesn't even know where to begin. You really are a good leader for them, and Sarah did the right thing, putting your first mission in Tokyo. You'll be fine. Although I have to ask, what's the obsession with Miss Baseball Cap over there?"
"She made a good impression on me. She said she had saved the world a lot, but she doesn't seem maladjusted or anything like that. I mean, look at her." Another person had just come into the room, a tall Korean boy with spiky dyed hair, and Erika was talking to him without a pause. "She's not scared of anything. I wish I could see her in more settings, to get a better idea, but if forced to pick someone today I'd pick her."
"Good observations, kid. You're gonna go far with this organization."
"I suppose. I don't think I'm deserving of all this praise. You're the one who's going to put through the request for guardian status this time, right?"
"Right. You don't have that capability yet on your phones." Isabel turned toward the door as another Korean girl came in. "Pay attention. I think she's the girl running this show. You wanna sit here and observe?"
Tama nodded. "Sure. Hey, guys, come over here."
Jason was still sitting by Erika; he moved over to where Tama was. Rosa stopped making faces in the mirror long enough to get Jen and Rifka to follow her over. "We'll watch this conference," Tama said, "and we'll make a decision later."
"Sounds like a plan," Rifka said with a smile.
Tama took a quick survey of the room. There was a mix of people inside, a good portion Japanese but some Korean and Chinese. The ganguro girl who had done the interview earlier had set up a huge camera in the back and was starting to record the event. The Korean girl in front plugged her tablet into a wall, and an image written in Korean showed up on the screen.
“Thank you all for being here today," the Korean girl with the tablet said. "As is customary of these events, I have invited the press and the most prominent players to this conference. However, this is the first time others have been allowed a look into my world. Arashi, Henry, and Liana, thank you for your presence today. It will be just a minute as I set up, so your patience is --”
An American kid stuck his head into the room and asked a question; the spiky haired Korean got up to talk to him. Tama let it fly over his head as the Korean girl went to type her password into the tablet. Once, twice, then "Why isn't this working?"
There was a pause, then the image on the screen changed to a huge green apple, and a familiar voice came out over the speakers in clear and bright English. "Long time no see, Dealey Five!"
Tama's eyes widened, and he turned toward the source of the sound. "Dvorak?"
"You got it!" the voice said, booming over the loudspeaker for the Dealey Five -- and all in the room -- to hear. "Well, aren't you guys lucky that I just keep an eye on you at all times?"
"What's going on?" the Korean girl asked in English, and Tama realized she was fluent. She then changed back to Japanese for the people in the room: "Everybody stay calm. I think I've tapped into a strange feed --"
"Not a strange feed at all, Miss Rhiannon Noh Kee Moh! Look at you, pretending to be all strong and calm in the face of adversity. Just like you did five years ago from the comfort of your computer room, am I right? Some savior of Asia you are! You can't even keep your tablet going for one piddly little conference."
"Dvorak!" That was Isabel. "They can't hear us, but you can. What the heck are you doing here?"
"Yeah, dude, what the --" Jason tried to retort, but he was still stuck speaking Japanese. "Damnit!"
Tama assessed the situation. He didn't know what Dvorak was doing in the sound system of this Rhiannon's press conference, but if Dvorak was here, they were in trouble. As the substitute guardian for the other world, world B, Dvorak was a spontaneous and cunning member of QWERTY who never played by the rules. Before Dvorak really messed anything up, they needed to complete their first mission.
"Isabel," he said, trying to get your attention. "Do it. Now." He hoped Isabel understood what he was talking about.
Isabel reached for her phone, unlocking it. "Claro."
"Oh, I wasn't aware that this was about you, Miss Invisible Isabel Gonzalez." Tama could almost hear Dvorak smile. "This is about me and Rhiannon. Go ahead, Rhiannon. Try to unlock your tablet again. I dare you."
"Why are you mocking me?" Rhiannon yelled out loud, reaching back over to her tablet and punching the code in one more time.
Tama tried not to be afriad and took this minute to glance back at Isabel. "Did you --?"
The image of Isabel nodding stayed in Tama's mind as the world began to warp around him. He remembered the stories Isabel had told them, of how she had lived peacefully in New York City until things had glitched out in the world. She and her best friend Carissa had looked for Dvorak, trying to stop the world from ending, but all Dvorak did was practically end the world anyway. It had taked Isabel all she had to stop Dvorak from ruining the world she had come from -- an act that had earned her her place in QWERTY.
The same man had come back to haunt Tama and his friends as they formed the Dealey Five, using Jen to recode the world and using the interdimensional power of Jason's boombox (which still hadn't been fixed) to try and mold the world to his image. Thankfully Jen had realized what was happening and had stopped it with a little recoding magic of his own, but Tama had known Dvorak was on the loose and not happy with the Five or Isabel.
He just hadn't been expecting him to show up this soon. And without a guardian, they stood no chance against him. And so, as a frustrated Rhiannon tried to unlock her tablet for the third time, unlocking Dvorak's plan instead, Tama hoped Isabel's nod meant the request had been put through, and they had their guardian.
Otherwise...this mission was over before it had even started.