Jen Air: Asterion – Stop Believing

Only a few days left to use that Smashwords coupon now (’ND72U’, in case you’ve forgotten, gets you 100% off until May 31st).  In the meantime, another extract from the sequel being worked on.  Kaya has stolen money, gotten drunk, gotten into a fight, and gotten arrested, and no one really knows why she’s on this self-destructive rampage, and she might just be about to do something even more stupid:

The gates opened themselves as
the van approached, trundling over the gravel to the garage underneath the
lighthouse.  Kaya stumbled out, singing
loudly, but at least there were no neighbours up here who could be disturbed by
it.

“Home, home, home from the sea!”
Kaya bellowed as she swayed to and fro on her way to the cottage.  “Angels of mercy, answer our plea…”

Jennifer was a little slower
getting over the courtyard.  Her legs
were stiff, her face lowered and her eyes narrow as she watched her friend
collapse through the door.  She shared a
shrug and sigh with Tenley and when the two of them reached the living room
Kaya was shooing Sparks away, watching him roll off toward the kitchen as she
sat back with her arms spread all over the sofa.

“Hey!” Kay said happily, rolling
and stretching her neck.  “Thanks for
helping me out.”

Jennifer mumbled, “didn’t really
have a choice, did I?”

“Yeah.  You’re a real girl scout.  You always were.  Do they do badges in robots and hacking?”

Robotics, possibly, although Jen
was never literally a girl scout so didn’t know.  She suspected Kay didn’t really know what she
was saying either, so although Jen was mad there was nothing to be gained
discussing it now.  She turned, heading
to the stairs, but Kay didn’t want her to leave.

“Hey!” The punk called
again.  “Where’re you going?  Stay up and watch TV and chat for a bit.”

Jen swallowed and bit her lip,
her fist clenching at her side.  “I…
can’t talk to you right now.”

Kaya seemed confused, but
shrugged and accepted it.  Then she turned
to Ten.  “What about you, killer?  We can put on one of those Dinosaur programs
you like.”

The girl stood on the other side
of the room, her arms crossed and her nose turning up.  “My mother used to get drunk like this,” she
said.  “You should just sleep it off.”

“Think I saw your mother
once.  She chased us when we were
kids.  She looked crazy.”

“Lot of idiots came to the house
on a dare or something,” Tenley looked down, a wince appearing and disappearing
in the corners of her eyes.  “It drove
her mad…”

“Way you talk about her, sounds
like she was just a real bitch.”

That last comment that anyone who
knew the woman, including Ten, would probably agree on.  But even so, upon hearing it said out loud
the girl turned to face the punk on the sofa, the inner corners of her eyes
wrinkling, the bridge of her nose tightening so that her eyebrows formed a
V.  “What did you say?” She hissed.

Jennifer sense the tension
emanating from the child like a dark cloud, and gently reached out.  “She’s just drunk, Ten.  She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

And so, Kaya informed them.  “I’m saying she wasn’t exactly a great human
being,” she said, and Jen looked enraged at her, not believing that even a
drunk Kay was this stupid.  “Chasing
people away, beating the crap out of you every day… come on; a part of you must
be glad the witch is finally dead.”

If Kaya had been trying
deliberately to provoke the girl, then it worked.  Tenley’s rage suddenly erupted, launching her
across the room to land on top of the punk.
“She was mine!” The girl screamed, one small hand locked over Kaya’s
throat, her dark eyes flashing and watching the woman’s weak struggles and her
face slowly turning the same colour as her hair.  “Do you understand?!  Mine!”
She pulled her other arm back, cocking it deliver a likely fatal below
while the sudden outbreak of violence had just left Jen too stunned to react.

Something crashed.  Tenley glanced up to see Sparks recoiling
from her, having just trundled back from the kitchen and dropping his
tray.  She looked from him to Kaya, her
eyes widening fearfully.  She let the
woman go and jumped back, taking deep breaths.

“Ten,” Jennifer tried to reach
out again.  But the girl shook her head,
then sprinted out the door.  “Ten!” The
blonde ran out after her, but it was already too late.  The girl could move so fast there was no
chance of Jen being able to catch her.
“Dammit…”

She marched back inside,
shoulders hunched, fully prepared to explode herself all over Kaya.  But when she got back to the living room, Kay
was lying on her side with a wet face, and Jen’s anger immediately fled when
she saw her old friend just looking so sad.

“Do you remember,” Kaya mumbled
softly, “we used to make tents out of bedsheets in your living room and stay up
with a torch all night telling stories?”

“I remember,” Jennifer
sighed.  She was starting to feel tired
too, so dropped herself into the armchair.
“You never got any sleep.”

“Well some of your stories were
scary.  And teachers always said I had a
good imagination.  Made up for not being
good at anything else, I suppose.”

“You just never tried to be good
at anything.  Apart from your guitar.”

“You’re nice,” Kaya smiled
briefly.  “Do you remember the story
about the Ant’s adventure?  She was
carried away on a leaf by the wind, and the spider caught her but when she saw
how sad the ant was decided to help her get home.”

“And the Queen welcomed her, and
the kingdom rejoiced.  And then she told
her story and was never left alone again.”

“Yeah,” Kaya blinked, her eyelids
were becoming heavy.  “Why can’t we live
in a world like that?  Why can’t there be
friendly spiders or whole towns and cities that celebrate whenever a single
person that was missing is found?”

“You want to be an ant?”

“I want people to be good and
help other people even when they don’t seem important.  I want everyone to be happy, but… they’re
not.  It’s like, you hear all these stories
when you’re young about respecting other people, not judging, understanding
everyone’s differences, but… as soon as you grow up, you forget how the world
should be, how you wanted it to be, and just… stop caring.”

Jennifer had separated herself
from the world.  She wanted no part in
it, so in a few short years made it so she could live up here by herself and
never be bothered by what was out there.
All of that, only to find that she did, and it was Kaya who had gotten
her to come out of hiding and to feel that there were things she could do to
make some small difference.  She got up
and then knelt down by the sofa, holding Kaya’s hand.  “I care, about you.”

The punk looked her in the eye,
shedding a tear as she blubbered, “I’ve been horrible…”

“I know.  And we’ll talk about it.  Tomorrow.”

“I can’t help myself…”

“I’ll help.”

“You promise?”

Jen didn’t know what the future
would bring.  She didn’t like to promise
anything unless she literally one hundred per cent certain she was able.  But there was one thing she could
promise.  “I promise,” she said, raising
her right hand and three fingers, “I will try my best.”

Kaya choked and snorted, just
before closing her eyes.  Once satisfied
that she was asleep, Jen covered her with a blanket then went outside.  She went into the lighthouse and climbed the
helix stairway to the very top, where she could stand outside and feel the cooling
night breeze brush over her.  Could
listen to the rustle of the forest, see the light of the moon and stars above
and Irongate below.  From here it all
looked so serene and peaceful.  She knew,
of course, that somewhere out there were crimes happening, people suffering,
humans and animals caught up in the same struggle for survival they had been for
millions of years.  But for a moment she
could let herself believe that nature was one harmonious whole with every
creature playing an important, valuable role.

But believing wasn’t enough.  There was a time you needed to stop
believing, stop seeing only what you wanted and see things as they were.  And if you didn’t like how they were, do
something about them.  For Jen, that was
difficult.  She’d shut herself out for so
long that getting back in was like climbing a mountain.  She wasn’t going to make the whole world a
better place, but perhaps that wasn’t necessarily.  Perhaps she could just do what she could for
her friends and people around her, make her little corner happier.

She put on a little earpiece and
started to talk.  “Hull?  Are you still tracking Tenley?”

“I am,” the answer came.  Jen looked down at her pad which showed the
girl’s current position.  She was moving
fast, but Jen saw where she was going.
It was pretty obvious, really.  “Would
you like the van ready to go after her?”

Jen supposed the chances of
Tenley encountering any real danger to her were small, as young as she
was.  So although a part of her wanted
immediately to go check on the child, in the end she answered, “no.  Not yet anyway.  Let her have some time alone to work things
out herself.  I think we all need that.”

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