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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