Jen Air: Out There, Part Three
Last time, Jennifer, Kaya, Sayuri and Tenley were out in the woods to do some stargazing when they stumbled upon Lionel, host of a local paranormal radio show. He claimed there were people after him, but no one took it too seriously. Until, as they were driving away, their van was ambushed by a group of rogues and mercenaries.
Jen Air: Out There, Part Three
Outside the women and girl were shepherded together away from Lionel, the muscular leader coolly inspecting each of them. “Here now, what’s this? You girl’s his groupies or something? And one’s a kid too. I’m shocked, Lionel, shocked,” he turned about, thrusting his scarred and taut face into that of the radio personality. “Well, not that shocked actually.”
Tenley sidled up to Jennifer, head tilting to the side as she hissed, “He’s being weird…”
“Just hold off a while longer,” Jen whispered back.
The leader didn’t hear, or didn’t want to, as he just carried on, “did you tell you all some crap about the government chasing after him, or the evil corporations?”
Lionel drew himself up to his full height, closing and turning his sweat trenched eyes away from the man’s neck. “Whoever you work for, sir,” he said, “you will get nothing from me.”
The thug leader expired the word, “really?” Then, standing back, said, “Well, that’s a pity. Guess I’ve no use for you if that’s the case. So, shall I start by blowing the kid’s brains out? Maybe while you watch with a smile on your face, eh?” He suddenly unsheathed a knife, pressing the tip on Lionel’s cheek to draw a tiny trickle of blood. “Ear, to ear?”
As Jen instinctively put her arm over Tenley, the other’s all turned their eyes to Lionel, whose body was quaking like jelly. That wasn’t what their eyes were drawn to however; it was his feet, and in particular the puddle forming around them as everyone’s nose wrinkled. Tenley thought it was at least slightly funny, although no one else did.
“It’s… n-not here,” the gentleman adventurer murmured.
Kaya coughed, and still with her hands raised asked, “Er, can anyone explain what this is all actually about?”
“Suppose I can,” the leader snorted. “See, Lionel here has been telling tales so long I doubt he even remembers which bits are true and which are bullshit. He’s too gutless to be a real hero, so he makes up all these fantasies about ghosts and aliens and conspiracies so in his mind he can be. But all he really is, is a thief and conman.”
“Yeah, I get you don’t like him. But what is it you want him for?”
The leader turned to face her, the punk lowering her hands to her hips. “You’re a cocky bint ain’t ya?” He astutely observed. “All right. Alvin Stag, ex-CEO of Stag Corp, was a filthy rich paranoid bastard. Before his untimely demise, he had a vault built in secret to house his… I don’t know. Gold, inventions, blueprints. I mean, whatever it is, it’s gotta be valuable, right?”
“If it was a secret then how do you know about it?”
“Well, that’s where Lionel comes in. Usually he’s full of piss, but on this occasion his prying actually managed to turn up something good. Got the plans, the location, codes, even photos of the thing being built. Photos I’ve seen, but I’m still waiting on the rest. Guess he figured he would loot the place himself and do a runner.”
“As I a-alluded to,” Lionel uttered furtively, “I do not have it here. But I’ve hidden it close by. I can lead you there… naturally easier if my external and internal organs are still intact.”
“Don’t worry, Li – we’ll be keeping a very close eye on you,” although despite what he just said, the thug leader then turned away to address his followers. “Kill the girls.”
Barrels all turned on the group, Sayuri standing in stunned silence as Jen covered Ten even more. The girl didn’t appreciate that one bit, her body tensing as she readied herself to pounce, but she couldn’t possibly stop all those bullets. It was left to Kaya to think quickly, suddenly yelping, “Wait! You don’t want to kill us. We can help you!”
“My friend here, her dad once worked for Alvin Stag. She knows how to get past all their security systems.”
“That,” Jen swallowed and quietly confirmed, “that is true.”
“Lionel bumping into us is kind of lucky for you, really.”
“Really?” The leader wore a crooked grin as he spun at the punk, head thrust ahead as he stepped into her. “Suppose she might be useful. But then, why do I need you?”
Kaya stood her ground, arms folding over her chest as she answered. “Well, she’s not gonna help if you kill us now, is she?”
“That is also true,” Jen nodded affirmatively.
The leader continued to leer over Kaya, who continued to hold her ground, meeting his gaze until he finally broke, snorting, “Heh. I like her. All right, bring them along.”
Lionel remained silent as the group was marched through the forest, occasionally glimpsing the stars twinkling through the canopy. Kaya was ignoring those, her attention focused instead on the solemn gentleman in front of her. “So,” she said, rolling her tongue, “gentleman, purveyor of mystery was it? There is something I’m mystified about now, seeing as how you’re obviously such a distinguished adventurer, what exactly was the plan back there? Were you hoping by wetting yourself the enemy would succumb to crippling laughter while you bravely escaped?” He still remained silent.
Jen was quiet too, although that was considered inconsequential by her friends. The blonde had a tendency to shrink into herself whenever there were strangers around. But while no one was concerned about her, she couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Lionel. Obviously she’d known from the start that he was, at best, delusional, but now to see him broken like this, like he’d been torn out of some wonderful dream and violently dragged to earth… “It’s not all his fault,” she muttered, “no sense blaming him for all this.”
“Oh, I don’t,” said Kaya, “I blame you.”
“M-me?” The blonde arched an eyebrow, gasping. “Why me?”
“If you hadn’t dragged us all out of the house to go stargazing we wouldn’t be in this mess now.”
“We weren’t stargazing. It was a space station. And it’s not like astronomy is always this dangerous. I’ve only ever had run-ins with criminals twice before.”
Sayuri sighed, “This is why I prefer astrology. My horoscope just said I was going to meet a man walking with a stick.”
“Well, it wasn’t wrong,” she turned and grinned at one of the men walking beside them, who responded by butting her with his shotgun.
“Don’t have to suffer this indignity you know,” Tenley grumbled with her head low, “should just let me kill them. At least one. I can do it without any of the others noticing.”
“Can’t risk it,” Jen whispered back, “not all of us can self-heal after being shot in the heart.”
The black haired little girl sighed wearily as she raised her head. “Yes… I suppose I forget how much you all need protecting. It’s tough having to be responsible all the time.”
The girl picked up her pace, marching up into the middle of the group as the armed men and women kept their position flanking them. “You know,” Kaya said to her, “Jen wasn’t always so rational.”
The girl instantly became curious. “She wasn’t?”
“When we were your age, she had us draw a circle on her patio so she could summon a demon.”
“Just to study,” Jen said, a hint of protest in her voice, “I’d have let it go free afterwards. I’m not a monster. Anyway, what we were doing was actually science – mother had all these rituals recorded in some of her old books, so we were seeing if there was any validity to them.”
“Like when you tried to bring that golem to life?”
“We never made a golem.”
“Oh right… sorry. It was your teddy bear we tried to bring to life.”
“Teddy Woolsfelt…” Jen sighed as she recalled her old companion. He remained only ever alive in her imagination. Likewise, the summoning experiment only resulted in some scraped knees as they were forced to scrub the patio clean.
Tenley asked, “I take it none of that stuff worked?”
“Well, Kaya wasn’t willing to be a sacrifice, so we didn’t entirely invalidate all of the rituals …”
The punk swiftly changed the subject, “Hey, remember that time you took apart your dad’s computer to try and build the space ship from Explorers?”
“I was six when I did that,” Jen rebuked, “and anyway, I think Ten has heard enough.”
“No,” the girl grinned and shook her head, “I like hearing what you were like as kids. It makes me feel even more superior.”
“We had fun though,” Kaya looked back, a sad lost smile on her face.
Jen was aware she could be a little bit oversensitive in these matters and read too much into things – one time she heard Kaya say that something in Jen’s room smelled funny, and the blonde hadn’t forgotten about it for fifteen years – but this time she was sure of what was being implied. “W-we have fun now,” she insisted. “Like, the other night you braided my hair and we consumed alcohol and I shower every day now.”
“Er… sure,” Kaya looked strangely. “I just mean its different now. Back then, everything was magical and exciting. Now, it’s all dangerous and scary.”
“Hey!” The thug leader, who during the march they had ascertained went by the name of Tom, yelled back at them, “Pipe it down back there. And Li, this raid had better be worth it. I mean, just to break even after buying all of the guns, ammunition, explosives, not to mention lunches for everyone… let’s see…” he began to count on his fingers.
“Ooh!” Sayuri’s eyes suddenly lit up. She reached into her jacket, skipping ahead a few paces. “Do you need a calculator? Because I can sell you this one for a very reasonable…”
“Give me that,” he said, the group halting as he snatched the mathematical machine from her. The drummer backed off a little.
“All right… consider that a free sample. Just remember, after you strike it rich, or your time in jail, or however this expedition ends, you’ll find plenty of bargains at Oshiro’s Discount Depository.” The shop mascot, which appeared to the right of the name on the sign, was actually a sphere with arms and legs and a drunken expression.
“You!” Tom thrust and singled out a member of his party who instantly starting to squirm and avert her eyes to the floor. “You were supposed to have searched them. They got any other gadgets I should know about?”
The mercenary shrugged her shoulders, meekly answering, “Just wallets, keys, phones, some kind of iPad…”
“You took all that from them, right?”
“Sure. O-of course.”
“What about the brat. Did anyone search her?”
“Well, we didn’t think that was really necessary…”
“Not necessary?” Tom’s head rolled to the side. “People, you are supposed to be ruthless mercenaries. You can’t get stymied just because of a kid.”
Tenley, with her hands behind her back, took a small jump toward him. “It’s really not necessary,” she said, “I’ll tell you exactly what I have under this duffle coat. About a dozen throwing knives, dagger, a whip, berretta, three hand grenades, darts tipped in various poisons, and the most deadly weapon of all,” she said puffing her chest as her arm stretched around to rest her hand on it, “adorableness.”
There were many confused stares and crunched faces, until Kaya confirmed, “It’s true about the knives.”
“Jesus…” Tom eyed the girl who eyed him back. The others all waited tensely, even his own mercenaries seeming unsure what he would do next, although anticipating that they wouldn’t like it.
Lionel’s round little eyes looked worriedly between the man and the girl, then his jowls flapped as he spat out, “we’re nearly there…”
“Alright,” The leader nodded as he slowly turned around, “lead on, Li.”
The march resumed, with less chatter this time. But that just allowed Jen time to worry. She had set out tonight hoping to share some of her passions with her friends, but other than Tenley, they hadn’t seemed too enthused. Kaya kept making fun of her, arguing for no reason… maybe they were just too different. Was she really a lot less ‘fun’ now because she had embraced rationality and reason over stories in old books? She still loved and was fascinated by those stories, but she had grown to understand they couldn’t be relied upon to plug gaps in actual knowledge. You had to observe, form hypotheses, test them, and above all question everything. It was harder work, but in the end much more satisfying and uplifting.
There was a clearing ahead into which Lionel was shoved, Tom swaggering after him. The gentleman adventurer froze, eyelids peeling back as he turned raising his hands immediately to defend from the scowling thug leader.
“What the hell is this?!” Tom snarled, punching and eliciting a helpless yelp from the gentleman. “Where is it?”
“I-I don’t understand!” Lionel cried out. “It should be here…”
But Tom didn’t seem keen on listening, continuing to rain his fist down on Lionel’s arm. “This another of your con’s, huh? You think you could just take my money and run?”
“No! Look…” Sir Baker reached into his long coat, pulling out an envelope and shakily holding it out to the other man. “Look at the photographs. This is the place!”
“More photo shopped garbage,” Tom hissed, “what I see is that there’s nothing here!” He punched again, Lionel dropping to his knees as the leader stepped back, swivelling his gun around his chest to point at the gentleman’s head.