The Little Queen – Prologue, Part Two

Part two of the prologue as I’m rewriting my first novel. As I explained last time, this is the bit in which, toward the end, Jen’s dad basically just explains the main theme of the series, and other things that will be talked about and referred to later.  This part is shorter than the first part as well. So here it is:

Prologue, Part Two

The children were guided out to a world more baffling than the underground one they’d left. There was a mad flurry of activity with white vans parked all along the road and around a nearby field, men and woman rushing to and fro shouting orders while the silver suits poured in and out of the tunnels, the entrance to which they had erected a plastic tent.

Jennifer couldn’t focus on anything being said, although she recognized the logo on the vans – Stag Corp. That was where her father worked. Even so, the noise, the strange people, the flashing lights… it spun and spun around her so she hung on tightly to Kaya’s hand, terrified that they would be separated.

Those fears did not come to pass. Instead they were shepherded into another tent where a woman who said she was a doctor asked them all sorts of questions and wanted to look at them. She seemed very concerned with the cut on Kaya’s palm then jabbed a needle into her and then Jen’s arm extracting a small amount of blood, congratulated them both for being brave and took the samples to some machine. At least it was a little quieter in here, and whatever was happening out there seemed far away.

“They give you a lollipop for that in school,” Kaya moaned as she rubbed her sore arm. “Freaking assholes.” Jennifer frowned. Kaya’s legs swayed slowly over the edge of the table they’d been seated on as she furtively averted her eyes. “Sorry,” she said.

Jen forgave her. Unfortunately there wasn’t much either of them could do for the time being but sit and fidget awkwardly. Jennifer guessed that by now her dad had been called and was on his way here, seeing as he worked for the company out there. She had a head full of questions about what she’d seen and why they were destroying it. She assumed there had to be a good reason since her father always told her how important it was to be a good person and wouldn’t be involved with anything bad. Of course he would have questions too about what she was doing and why she hadn’t come home at the time he told her she needed to, and she needed to figure out a way to frame it in such a way that she would be allowed out to explore in the future. Unfortunately she hadn’t finished working that out when he did arrive.

He rushed into the tent looking tired, scruffy, and a little damp. He told the doctor lady that he would look after them from here then, when she had left, he turned off the blood machine and removed one of the vials, slipping it in his pocket as he said to the girls, “It looks like neither of you has an infection, at least, but I was worried sick. You’re lucky your mother is away or the scolding we would both get, that we’ll probably still get…”

“I’m okay,” Jennifer assured him.

“Me too!” Kaya grinned.

Jonathan, Jen’s father, turned to face them, exhaling as if releasing all the worry and anger he’d been keeping inside all evening. “Well,” he said, “I suppose that is what matters. Come here.”

Jennifer hopped down and ran into his arms. Kaya didn’t join in the hug – just wrinkled her nose and looked away awkwardly.

“I’m glad you’re safe,” Jonathan said. “But I might have to consider grounding you.”

Jen immediately pulled out of the hug and looked up at him aghast. She’d expected it, but it was still shocking to hear due to the unjust nature of it. He was the one who encouraged her to explore and investigate the world around her so in many ways this was his fault and if anyone he should be grounding himself. “You wouldn’t!” She gasped.

“I would,” he assured her, then sighed, “the real question is whether I could. Just please don’t scare me in future and don’t stay out after dark.”

Jennifer sagged as her indignation dissipated under her father’s gaze. “I’m sorry,” she said. Then she remembered her own questions. “But, why are all these people here? Why are they burning all the mushrooms?”

Jonathan squeezed his eyebrows together. It was clear he was thinking about whether he could or should explain. “What you saw down there,” he said slowly, “was something we developed in the lab that a fool let out some time ago. Don’t worry – it’s harmless. Except that if it’s just left to grow like that it will force all the other fungi and plants out of the area.”

“Who let it out?”

“It doesn’t matter now. They’re long gone. We’re safe now.”

That seemed to be a relief to him, but only left Jennifer more confused. What were they safe from? Was the glass spider from the lab as well? Why would anyone have done all this? But given that she had managed to avoid a severe telling off and still had to face her mother when she returned, Jen didn’t want to push any more. Her father had said they were safe, and she believed him.

Kaya yawned a little theatrically, obviously tired of being left out. “Mom says scientists shouldn’t screw around with nature,” she said. “She saw a documentary about modified food and she said we’re only eating natural stuff from now on.”

“Your moms an idiot,” Jen told her. “You know she wouldn’t be able to sit and watch TV all day if someone hadn’t figured out how to make all that work.”

Kaya didn’t rush to her mother’s defense, but Jonathan did say, “no – she’s right. Science is understanding nature and working with it. But Alvin, he thinks he can conquer it, control it, make it do what he wants. I told him it was too soon, but he…” he paused as if he just noticed the two girls blinking up at him. “I’m sorry – I was just rambling. Let’s get the two of you home.”

And so they all went back to Jen’s house where they had tea then played blackjack for a while. Every time Jen said ‘hit me’ she yelped as Kaya then did exactly that. It was a terrible joke but to Kaya at least it got funnier every time. Jennifer didn’t know that in casinos gamblers just used hand signals for exactly this reason – there was always a joker. So she just started saying ‘tickle me’ instead, and once that hilarity had ended, it was time for bed.

Jennifer found herself alone in the woods. The sky was Grey – she couldn’t tell if it was night or day. All she heard were whispers being carried by the wind, but knew not what they were saying. Just gargling voices that resembled speech but with no words, until from the chaos one formed:

A i r h a r t

Someone, somewhere, wanted her to follow, but she didn’t trust its chill and wanted to run. And so she did. She ran and she ran, the shadows trying to grab, but there was no end to the forest and eventually she could run no more, and then…

Her body jolted and she awoke in her room covered in goosebumps and short of breath. She knew it had to be her imagination, but why? Why did she keep having this dream? Now she was losing sleep because of it and that was annoying. It was like a part of her brain wanted something but instead of just saying what it was just kept sending cryptic clues and now she was exhausted and shivering and hadn’t the energy to negotiate with it.

Kaya was sleeping peacefully, which slightly annoyed Jennifer as well. But she slipped out of the room as quietly as she could. In the black hallway her heart jumped at every creak and shadow, but downstairs she knew was a place that was safe.

Her father was in the study poring over a monitor and notebooks when she arrived, weary and bleary eyed. “What’s wrong sweetie?” He asked. She didn’t answer. She just padded across the floor and onto his lap. “Bad dreams?” He guessed. Jen nodded. “There’s nothing to worry about. It was just a nightmare.”

Jennifer knew that. She wasn’t five anymore. It didn’t change how she felt or that the dream gave her goosebumps. Her father’s chair rotated side to side, gently rocking her. Eventually she felt secure enough to ask him, “what are you doing?”
“It’s just work,” he said. “It’s not important. Not so important as you anyway.”
She remembered the giant glowing mushrooms, the spider, and silver suits with flamethrowers, and that she’d never really got answer to why any of that had happened. “What is it you do there, at Stag Corp?” She asked.

He chuckled and asked rhetorically, “how to explain?” The chair spun round to his desk and on it was a wooden statuette of an owl with its wings spread that he picked up and handed her. “You see, long ago, people used to look at the birds in the sky and dream of what it would be life to fly up there with them. People couldn’t just grow wings, but eventually they learned how to rise above the earth in balloons, and then to glide and fly in planes and then in rocket-ships higher than any bird could ever reach. And that’s what we do – we take a dream and try to turn it into something real, or as close as we can get.”

Jennifer’s eyelids were getting heavy as she thought about the owl. She’d seen an owl catch a mouse once, gliding and descending silently through the air so neither she nor the mouse knew it was there until the very second it struck. It was an ethereal and hypnotic thing to behold, although she felt very bad for the mouse. She supposed that was its nightmare which came true. Jennifer yawned, resting her head on her dad’s shoulder. “Some dreams are scary,” she said.

“I know,” her father said, holding her close. He stared through the window, into the inky blackness beyond, and he shivered. He couldn’t take his eyes away even as he patted and kissed his sleeping daughter and held her tighter. “I know.”

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