Jen Air: Out There, Part Five
Time to get on with this. I was actually a little hesitant to do so because of the recent death of the great David Bowie and the villain in this story being named Major Tom, pretty much. There were a couple of a little Bowie references earlier, and will be at the end as well. But, in this part, Kaya and Jennifer discuss the Fermi Paradox while Tenley is still suffering from being poisoned by some kind of dog/triffid thing…
Jen Air: Out There, Part Four
Kay shot a mean glance at him. “Wouldn’t get used to it, bub. And you might wanna stand back a bit from the door,” then after an exasperated sigh, she turned quietly to Jennifer. “Was he right? You said yourself you didn’t know where this technology came from, and, I mean, it’s not actually impossible is it? Space is so, so big, and old, and there are probably billions of planets out there.”
“No,” Jen gently smiled, “It’s not impossible.” The technology used by Stag Corp to create those creatures was far more advanced than anything else she’d heard about, and Titania had mentioned it had, at least in part, been stolen. “But all other contingencies must be ruled out first, and humans are occasionally capable of being brilliant without extra-terrestrial interference.”
Tom was evidently over his fallen comrades, and listening with interest to the conversation. “You know about these things?” He asked in a way that made it clear he expected an answer, and that the answer had best please him.
“Well, not those things exactly,” Kaya admitted.
“They’re ELF’s,” the blonde elaborated. “Engineered Life Forms.”
“So,” Lionel peered, “those creatures are, what, dogs crossed with triffids?”
“No. They might have been inspired by such, but they weren’t created by any splicing or modifying an already existing organism. Stag Corp invented technology to allow them to code a genome from scratch, like coding a computer program, and then growing it in a lab. There are virtually no limits to what can be designed that way.”
The mercenary was unimpressed. “What does any of that shit mean in English?”
“Well,” Lionel gulped, pulling down his cap, “to put it in your sort of vernacular, my good man, unless someone thinks of something very clever, we’re fucked.”
Kaya gasped, slapping her hands over Tenley’s ears. The girl flinched and squirmed but remained seated while despite her indignation Jen started to examine some of the consoles in the room.
The mercenary leader’s neck muscles tightened as he growled, “None of you thought to mention any of this before coming down here?”
“The original project was shut down a long time ago. We had no idea Stag had created any other creatures,” Jen explained. She then considered quietly to herself, “If the lights are what’s been feeding them, then maybe there’s some way we can use that to lure them out of the corridor…”
But Tom had a much broader perspective than merely escaping here with their lives. “Just a minute there, missy,” he said, suddenly lurching forward and taking her by the wrist. The blonde gasped, but it was Kaya who reacted most strongly to his sudden assault on her friend.
“Hey!” The punk yelled, bounding and shoving him away. “Back the hell off, zounderkite!”
‘Zounderkite’ was one of the words from her book of archaic insults (one of the few books Kaya had ever read all the way through) that Kaya was trying to bring back. Tom, like most of them, had no idea what it meant. What he did have was a shotgun which he slowly raised to menace her with as his throat rumbled, “you know, I’m starting to like you less…”
“Yeah?” Kaya responded by rolling her tongue. “Feelings mutual. So why don’t you put down that toy and let us see how much of a man you really are?“
“Tom,” Lionel began to plead, “be reasonable, man…”
There was a thud, crates crashing to the floor, then a groan that caught everyone’s attention for a moment. Evidently, Tenley had tried to stand but collapsed. Sayuri was kneeling beside her, trying to help her up, but the girl refused despite her muscles being tense and her arm drawn in tightly across her chest. Jen and Kaya rushed over to her as well.
“Easy, kiddo,” The punk said.
Ten continued to bat away anyone’s hand, only using Sayuri to pull herself up as she growled and grumbled, "why’d the dumb thing go straight for me, anyway?”
“You’re the smallest,” Lionel observed. “In my experience of travels around the world, predators will single out the weakest and most vulnerable members of the herd, which are usually the eldest or the littlest.” Tenley glared, the rooms lights reflecting as flecks in the dark pools of her eyes, forcing him to quickly add, “u-usually…”
“Kinda mean though,” Sayuri noted.
“As nature often is, my dear. Animals have got to feed, and ideally not be injured themselves in the process.”
“Alright, break it up,” Tom ordered, his remaining compatriots prodding the women with their guns again. “Remember we came here for a reason. That way,” they were herded toward a door on the far side, leaving the mercenary and the gentleman stood next to each other. “You too, Li.””
“What’s your game here, Tom?” Lionel asked. “How are you planning on getting out, past those things out there?”
“You said yourself Li… Those things will prey on the weak. So once we have what we came for, we send our female friends out there and while they’re getting chomped on the rest of us slip out,” he explained, Lionel’s jaw hanging open as he digested the cruelty and ruthlessness of that plan. “Nature’s cruel, right? You know the kid’s done for anyway. Now move.”
They were led into a round room, with thick heavy cables running out from the wall to a pedestal in the centre. As the lights activated, Jennifer gasped as she realised she had seen a room much like it before. Not in life, but in a memory belonging to someone else. But, there was something missing – on top of the pedestal there should have been a large amber crystal. It was an egg; an artificial womb used to grow the engineered life forms. But someone else had already been here. Already taken it…
“You okay?” She heard Kaya ask.
Jen shook her head. “Ten said she had a bad feeling before coming down here…” although Titania hadn’t been in control of Tenley, the Queen had been, perhaps, still connected to all those she had changed. Perhaps Tenley’s feeling had been an echo of something that had happened in the past… Jen shivered at the dire implications should Titania or any remaining followers of hers have gotten their hands on this technology. But then she shook her head once more. “It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing we can do about it right now.”
“Tie the prisoners up over there,” Tom ordered, “and then you two watch them. Rest of us will look around and see what we can find.”
“What about Lionel?” A man asked.
“Oh, I don’t think he’ll give us any trouble, will you, Li?”
“Erm… n-no,” the gentleman adventurer stuttered. Tom roughly punched his arm.
“Good. You stay here and wait until we’re all ready to go.”
As the mercenaries went about following their instructions, Lionel furtively twisted his hunting cap as the prisoners were being bound.
“I feel I must apologise, ladies,” he said, “for getting you involved in all this.”
“No kidding, Sherlock,” Kaya snorted just as one of the men pressed down her shoulder, forcing her to sit.
“All my life I dreamed of mystery and adventure, but… I was still just a boy playing make believe. I’m afraid, when it came down to it, I was too much of a… a…” he faltered, the others all squinting at him as he put his cap back on. “Well, once again, I’m sorry.”
As he walked away, Kaya observed, “well, that was odd.”
“No doubt Tom plans on using us as a diversion while he and his team make their escape,” Jennifer surmised. “It’s the only reason he would have to keep us alive at this point.”
“Oh,” the punk nodded. “I guess that makes sense,” she said, resting her head back against the wall. “I’ve been thinking though…”
Jen muttered to herself, “well that’s a first…”
“Nothing. Go on,” the blonde said with a facetious smile.
“Well, since the universe is so big, and so old, then aliens really must have visited earth before. So why don’t we ever see them?”
“What you’re referring to is sometimes called the Fermi Paradox.”
“The for my what now?”
“Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist who realised the same thing you just did. That there are billions of planets in the galaxy, billions of chances for intelligent life to evolve. Even using slow moving propulsion of the kind we’re capable of producing now, it would only take about a million for that life to have spread throughout the whole galaxy which is, again, billions of years old. Yet, there’s no proof of any other civilisation. No definitive proof, anyway.”
“So, this guy got a paradox named after him for saying that? The same thing I just said, basically. Why?”
“Well, he said it first…”
“So it hardly took a genius, did it? It’s obvious. Not something you need a professor to have come up with.”
Jen was confused. She had thought that Kaya would be pleased to know that a distinguished and well educated person agreed with her, but instead she just seemed irritated by it. “It’s not like that’s the only thing he did…”
“Should hope not. Anyway, there could be lots of reasons for it, couldn’t there? Like maybe a space ship did arrive, like, ten thousand years ago, but now it’s all rusted away and crumbled. Or maybe they visit all the time but their probes are too small for us to see.”
“Or maybe star ships all get eaten by the space lizards,” the blonde smiled. “Anything is possible. A scientist tries to base their opinion on what evidence is available, or not available, in this case. If new evidence is found then those opinions should change accordingly. Until then, it’s best to stick with what we know and what can be confirmed.”
Sayuri sighed. “You know, I always thought certain death would be harder to cope with. But now, what does it matter? I mean I was never going to shift these damn calculators anyway.”
“You still fretting about that?” Kaya asked.
“Well what’s the point of me even making it out of here alive if I’m not going to have a living?”
“You could sell them to students. They need them for exams and stuff, right? They’re not allowed to take in any phones.”
“I… suppose I could put together a package with some rulers and other stuff…” the drummer lit up, straightening herself against the wall. “Yeah. Okay, good… that might work. I’ve decided to live. So, do we have a plan to get out yet?”
Tenley groaned, “I need to pee.” The girl squinted across the room. Tom and two of the others had left to explore the rest of the bunker, leaving the woman and a young man of barely twenty to watch over them. They had hooked a laptop up to a terminal, likely to download data from it in order to sell later. She was standing back by the door while he was sat checking his weapons and watching over the data transfer. Tenley to push herself up on her elbows, then addressed the man. “Hey you! Major Minor or whatever…”
The young man exasperatedly turned away from what he was doing and huffed, “what?”
“I need to pee.”
“Jesus…” the man stood, frowning and shaking his head. “Alright… fine,” he slammed his handgun down on a case as he marched forward, past Lionel, and yanked the girl to her feet. “Come on…” he prodded her to shakily walk herself across to the centre of the room, where the woman marched out to meet them.
“We should probably just put the little brat out her misery,” she suggested as they turned their backs on the others to follow Tenley. They were all quite firmly tied, after all.
In the relative quiet of their surroundings, they all heard the click. The mercenaries turned around to find one of their own guns being waved at them by a very shaky and nervous gentleman.
“Please,” Lionel stammered, “I have no wish for further violence, so, both of you, drop your weapons.”
The mercenaries exchanged looks, each dropping their guns to the floor as they slowly raised their hands.
“What are you doing, Li?” The young man said, taking a little step forward. “I thought we all had an understanding here. You really ought to give me that thing before you get yourself hurt…”
“St-stay back!” Lionel demanded, furiously shaking his hand to remind them it was holding a weapon.
“All right,” he backed off a bit. “So what’s next, hmm? You got a plan?”
“I… umm…” obviously he hadn’t, and the others being still tied weren’t able to help either.
Tenley, stood in the middle of the room with her hands bound behind her back, eventually rolled her eyes. “You should shoot her,” she suggested, nodding to the female mercenary.
“Obviously they’re both going to try and rush and disarm you, so since the glamazon here seems like she’d be a tougher opponent than pretty boy, you should shoot her.”
The mercenaries and Lionel all looked agape and the strange girl who smiled and shrugged helplessly. The mercenaries then turned their heads at the gentleman whose eyes widened fearfully as he realised the girl was absolutely right. He pulled the trigger just as they started to run, the woman taking a hit to the shoulder and falling. Lionel had no time to turn his weapon on the other one, as he was tackled to floor and curled up helplessly as the mercenary rained down his fist.
Ten winced and grimaced as she started to pull her arms apart, straining until the ropes binding her wrists snapped. The glamazon was getting up to help her ally, only to be tapped on the shoulder and then sent spinning back down into the murky depths of unconsciousness.
Lionel kept letting out little yelps in response to every punch he took, until suddenly it stopped. He opened his eyes to see that the young mercenary who had been beating him was still there with his arm raised, but some kind of whip had coiled around it. He was suddenly yanked off Lionel and pulled back across the room to meet Tenley’s foot flying in the other direction. As the girl landed gracefully on both her feet, the young man fell in a heap joining his comrade.
“So,” Kaya said, watching from the side still with Jen and Sayuri. “You’re feeling better, then?”
“Yes,” Tenley beamed, stretching and cracking her knuckles, “much better.”