Jen Air: Asterion – Like Having a Cat

This is an excerpt from the sequel I’m writing to this.  It does contain some spoilers for that, so if you were ever curious about reading it you might want to put off reading this excerpt.  The excerpt itself is still an early draft so is still subject to a lot of change before the final novel is finished.

Jen Air: Asterion – Like Having a Cat

Jen lived in a lighthouse on top of a hill.  For a long time it had been her own private sanctuary, a calm little oasis shielded from the turbulent and nasty world outside.  The young blonde woman lying in her bed made some peculiar noises as a ray of sunshine came through the window and tickled her nose. It was a Saturday.  On Saturdays she stayed in bed.  That had always been her way and so was what she did, for a few more minutes.  Then she remembered that things were different now.  She was no longer alone in this oasis.

She forced herself up, rubbing her eyes as she padded across the floor like a zombie.  In the bathroom she splashed cold water across her face before washing and dressing herself and finally descending the stairs to the kitchen.  There she found Kaya already awake and dressed in her usual punkish attire.  Today she had let her hair down and coloured it mostly blue, with a little stripe of natural brown on her fringe.  Jennifer didn’t know what that meant, if anything at all, but she kept looking to see if there was some sort of pattern to the coloration Kay chose.

There were times she wondered if it had been a mistake inviting Kaya to stay here.  After all, they hadn’t seen each other at all for several years and when they had last parted Kay wasn’t exactly a desirable person for Jen to be around.  She was quite a mean, nasty bully, to be honest. But she seemed genuinely repentant about that now, and in any case she was currently jobless and with no place else to go.  Other than back to live with her parents, but she knew that would be the last thing Kaya wanted and likely not good for any of them.  There were reasons.  Jen didn’t know exactly what they were, but she knew that Kay had always hated her home life.  She also knew that she was quite glad of the company, that she had proven a reasonable house mate so far, and that she was going to need a lot of help with the third person now sharing the premises with them.

“Good morning,” the blonde yawned as she poured herself a cup of milk and sat at the breakfast table.

The blue haired punk looked sternly at her.  “Not good, Jen.  Not good at all.  Have you seen this?” She slid a crumpled copy of The Irongate Investigator across the table.

Jen had forgotten she still had local newspapers delivered.  There was a mailbox at the bottom of the hill that she ventured down to a few times a week but usually just discarded the papers in the nearby trash cans or else recycled them in some creative ways.  What she hardly ever did was read it.  But as it was obviously important to Kaya she did so now. At first she did see what bothered her friend.  A local sports team had reached the final of something, a college performance of Frankenstein left the audience charged and invigorated, children had raised money for charity by doing a sponsored silence… this all seemed like good news, surely? But then she saw… a little headline at the bottom of the page.  Stag Corp was reopening, although under a different name.  Most of it had been owned by a larger company, Meridiem, and with Stag gone and no heir in his will they had just bought the rest of it.

Jen shrugged.  “It was bound to happen.  Hopefully they won’t put another total lunatic in charge.”

Kay leant back across a dining chair, saying bitterly into her coffee cup. “Should have just burnt the whole place to the ground.”

“They’d have just rebuilt it,” the blonde sighed.  She understood her friends anger.  Stag Corp had created the creatures that had tried to kill them both, and had savagely murdered… there was no way of knowing exactly how many. Her own father had helped to make Titania, but Jen was certain the reason it had gone so badly was because of Alvin Stag.  He had pushed the scientists and researchers to create his perfect humanoid, without allowing them to take proper, littler steps, so that they were leaping blindly and largely guessing at what they were doing.  With a more competent person at the helm there was no reason to believe the same mistakes would happen again, but the truth was it out of her hands anyway. Beyond the physical destruction that had taken place, and the introduction of a rather ravenous virus to destroy most records to do with Titania and her creation, there was nothing more she could do.  “Some of the work they do does benefit people.  You should just forget about it for now,” she was thinking in particular of Jana Sarkis who still worked there.  The doctor had started out as her father’s assistant, years ago, and was currently the closest thing she had to a real family.  The only person in the world she trusted… present company excepted, of course.

“Kind of hard to forget about it,” Kaya groaned, “especially when ‘the little queen’ is across the hall from me playing her music box all night.”

‘The Little Queen’ was the title Titania had given her.  It was all a charade of course – The Little Queen was never anything more than another weapon in the true Queen’s arsenal.  Now, as far as any of them could be sure of, she was all that was left of the legacy Jen’s father and Alvin Stag had started all those years ago.

“Tenley,” the blonde said, looking around the kitchen.  “Where is she, anyway?”

“Hell if I know,” the punk shrugged, “she just said she was going out. And so she did.”

Jen’s eyes widened slightly as a wave of panic swept over her, but at least it was only a small wave at this point.  “And you just let her go off some place by herself?”

Kay looked slightly puzzled, and shrugging again explained, “not like there’s much I could do to stop her.  Last time I tried to tell her not to do something she picked up the refrigerator, the big one over there, and said she would force me to eat the whole thing. Trust me, that kid can look after herself.”

Jennifer shook her head while taking a swig from her cup.  “She may have changed physically,” she said after and then raised a finger to her forehead, “but she’s still a child here.”

“Yeah,” Kaya sniggered, gesturing to her upper lip.  “And we’re big ol’grown-ups.”  After Jen figured out the visual cue and wiped the foam moustache away from her own lip, she went on.  “Look, if you’re gonna let her stay here, which I still think is a bad idea by the way, then I think you’re going to have to get used to her doing her own thing. Coming and going as she likes.  It’s like having a cat.”

The blonde frowned, “she’s not a cat.”  Of course she understood Kay’s concerns about letting Tenley stay here.   Tenley had done some bad things, although her reasons for doing them were understandable as well.  She had responded to her mother’s murder the only way she had ever been taught how – by seeking violent and bloody vengeance on those responsible.  Only Jen knew how much the girl had been worn out physically and psychologically by the whole ordeal.  She didn’t believe Ten would ever kill again.  Not without provocation.  Not deliberately, anyway.  But with her power and strength… it was all the more reason they needed to keep an eye on her.  And like Kay, there was really no other place Tenley could go.

Resolved, Jennifer finished her milk and immediately headed for the front door. Kay sat confused and stunned for a second, before leaping up and running outside after her.  “Hey, where are you going?”

“To find her,” Jen said as pebbles crunched under her feet.

“Look, if you stifle that girl too much she might just decide to leave and never come back.  Not that I’d complain, but you… you need to stop fretting any time she’s out of your sight for five minutes.  You know she couldn’t possibly be in any danger.”

“She’s strong, but not invulnerable.  There are lots of things out there that could hurt her.  Perhaps only a few things physically, but…”

“It’s hardly been any time at all, and you’re already turning into a helicopter parent.”

“Am not!”

“Are too.”

“This…!” Jen raised her shoulders and clenched her fists, her pale face flushing red.  “This… this isn’t some silly soap opera.  This is real life, and I am right to be concerned,” she said, turning to open the lighthouse door as a rat scurried away carrying a magnifying glass.  “Hull!” She yelled as loudly as her lungs could as they stepped inside.  The massive computer began, green circles flickering to life around where the lighthouse windows would have been.

“Yes, Miss Airhart?” Hull’s voice boomed.

“Where is Tenley?”

The green circles spun round a few times before he answered, “Miss Tych is located approximately two hundred metres north east of this position.”

“Thank you.”

“Wait,” Kaya stopped her before she could leave, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. “How does he know that?”

“I tagged her,” the blonde answered matter of factly.

“Really?” Kaya blinked. “What, with a microchip?  Did you tag me too?  Did you do it in our sleep.”

Jen’s nose wrinkled as she shook her head, a small smile on her lips. “Her phone… I gave her a phone,” she said as if it should be obvious.  “She almost always leaves it off though.  I’m… I’m just going to check that she’s okay.”

Kaya seemed to have given up at this point, merely following her friend out into the woods and occasionally commenting on a nearby plant or animal. Jen responded by enthusiastically telling her the thing’s name in English and Latin, and what ancient people might have used it for or thought it signified.  But they didn’t find Tenley.  As perhaps they should have expected, the girl found them first, startling the pair by falling gracefully from a tree just after they had walked under it.

The eleven year old girl stood with her feet together, straightening out and flicking some of her black hair away from her face as she asked, “why are you two out here?” She sounded a little annoyed.

Jen approached, explaining, “we just wanted to make sure you were okay. I wish you would tell us where you’re going before you, well, go anywhere.”  She realised of course that when she was even younger than Tenley she often didn’t tell her parents what she was up to as she went about exploring, and she didn’t possess mega strength.  It was only now she was starting to realise just how incredibly wrong and selfish that was of her.

Tenley tilted her head, her dark eyes squinting a little as Jen knelt in front of her.  “You were worried about me?” She asked, and Jen nodded.  That seemed to please her, for some reason.  She closed her eyes and rolled her head toward Jen’s hand as the blonde brushed her hair back more, seeming even to purr slightly.  But then she looked hard at Kaya, who was stood back with her arms crossed.

“It’s true,” the punk said, rolling her eyes.  “She and Hull were really worried about you.”

Ten responded by looking grumpy and sticking her tongue out.  But it only lasted a few seconds.  She seemed a lot more cheerful today than she ever had been before.  “Anyway, you needn’t have worried.  I’ve just been out here exploring.  I found this old baseball in that tree.  And over there I found these old coins.”

“Oh,” Jen blinked as the coins were dropped into her palm.  The baseball was something of a mystery, given how far they were from any playing field.  But the money was rusted, worn, and probably of no value whatsoever.  “Wonderful.”

“There was a man as well.”

Jen arched an eyebrow.  Not that it was unheard of for other people to walk through these woods, but it wasn’t very common.  “A man?”

“Hm-hmm,” the girl nodded curtly.  “He didn’t see me.  But he had a camera and was taking pictures.  I thought about breaking his legs and dragging him back so we could question him, but he didn’t get too close and I figured you wouldn’t want the blood and the screaming since we just cleaned yesterday.  Was I right?”

“Yes,” Jen was looking past the girl now, although she was still worried for all of them.  It could have just been someone trying to get pictures of wildlife but it wasn’t a great area for that.  She supposed she should see if Hull’s cameras caught anything.  “You were right,” she said, standing up and brushing the dirt and leaves from her knees.  “Let’s all just get back and have a proper lunch…”

The blonde was already leading the way, but Tenley hung back a little bit, whispering to Kay, “you did tell her not to fret all the time, right?”

“Yeah, I told her,” the punk sighed.  “I think… I think she’s just afraid of losing people she cares even a little about.  Even annoying little brats like you.”

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