Jen Air: Asterion – Like Having a Cat (Ver 2)

I’m well into the next draft of this story now.  A lot of what I’d written before has been scrapped or moved around a little bit.  I’ve had mostly positive feedback about the first book.  It would be nice if there were more reviews, but I understand I’m supposed to send it to people and bloggers to read, which I haven’t done much of.  I’ll likely only worry about it when this second novel is nearer completion as I’m spending a lot more time on it and I’ll likely send it to be proofread before initial publication.  Anyway, here’s a new layout for the first scenes with the main characters:

There was a lighthouse on top of a hill.  The hill wasn’t anywhere near the sea or any really large bodies of water yet there it stood, lonely and strange and out of place.  It was a misty dawn, the sun’s rays scattering into a soft yellow glow blanketing the forest and hills.  Tenley Tych stood up on one of the highest branches in the tallest tree she could find, breathing in the sweet damp air.

She liked it out here, away from the city and all its noise and the stench of polluted air.  Here the air and her mind were clear.  She closed her eyes and felt at peace, feeling the birds morning chorus refresh her tired little body.  All those chirps and whistles… wait, whistle?

Her dark eyes flashed in the direction of the lighthouse, observing a trail of smoke and fire making a tall column into the sky.  She tilted her head curiously as it arched and began to fall, roughly in her direction.  The bent her knees then sprang from her branch into another nearby tree as a slab of metal smashed through the canopy she had previously been.

Looking back to the lighthouse, Tenley sighed wearily and sprang into the sky once more.

*****

Kaya Cade was woken by the loud bang, jumping out of bed and rushing through the cottage and out into the gravelly courtyard just under the lighthouse, of course grabbing a robe and some slippers on the way.  Outside she shielded her eyes from the smoke while trying to find the source of the burning oil smell.  A great deal of smoking debris lay strewn across the yard leaving the punk guitar player, whose hair was long and blue today, completely unsure of what way to go.  There was a hastily constructed metal platform in the middle, and a quite large crane in one corner of the yard.  In another corner, a sheet of steel had been erected as a sort of barricade.  It fell forward, thudding to the floor revealing two tracked robots stood behind who had been holding it up, their cylindrical heads and single mechanical eyes twitching side to side.  Between them knelt a young blonde woman wearing a slightly dazed expression as she rubbed the top of her own head.  She coughed, “that… wasn’t supposed to happen…”

“No kidding?” Kay looked hard at her.  “What exactly did happen?”

Jennifer Airhart stood while brushing some of the dirt and dust from her clothes and hair.  “Last night I couldn’t sleep,” she explained, “so I stayed up with cartoons and hot chocolate.”

Kaya glared, “What was it?  Looney Tunes?”

“I forget,” Jen shrugged.  “In any case, I had a few ideas about how I could more than double Fred’s horsepower.”

“Who’s Fred?”

The tinkerer pointed to the stable that had long ago been converted into a garage on the other side of the courtyard.  “The van.”

“You have got to get a real boyfriend,” Kay shook her head as Jen just looked confused as to why that would be.  “So I take it your test was a failure?”

Jen put a finger just under her lip, her body shuffling nervously.  “N-no… not a failure.  I mean, it definitely did work.  But… t-the power output was far greater than I’d anticipated.  Even so, it shouldn’t have gone flying off like that…” She skipped out from between the bots, leaning close to Kaya and whispering, “the only explanation is that HBJB and LO9 didn’t secure the engine properly to the platform.”

“The robots slacked off?”

“I fear so.  It’s not the first time they haven’t performed to specification either.” Jen hung her head guiltily as she sighed, “I promised I wouldn’t, but I may have to consider a software update on all of them.”

“What’s so bad about that?”

“It would have to be a clean install,” the blonde explained sadly.  “They would lose some of the memories and experiences they’ve gained already and have to start over.”

Since most of their experience was of doing odd jobs around the lighthouse, and not very well, Kay still didn’t see what the problem was.  But she felt that Jen saw her bots a little more than just machines.  She supposed they were the only company she’d had up here for a long time.  “Look,” the punk sighed, “could you just maybe warn us in advance whenever you’re thinking about doing something like this?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Didn’t mean…?” Kay could only respond by letting her jaw hang open again.  If she was going to stay around here, her corpse might one day be found wearing that expression.  “Jen, that bang could have woken the dead!”

The tinkerer shifted more uneasily and guiltily.  “I’m sorry… I-I forgot.  I guess I’m not used to sharing the place with other people.”

“Okay, look, I’m going to get dressed.  You just… try not to blow up anything else.”

“Okay,” Jen softly smiled.  But it quickly turned to a frown as her eyes darted all around.  “Where’s Ten?”

“I don’t know,” Kay shrugged, “she probably skipped out a few hours ago.  She does that.”

Jen narrowed her eyes a little accusingly.  “She does?  And, y-you just let her go?”

“I was asleep, and not like there’s much I could do to stop her anyway.  Last time I tried to tell her not to do something she picked up the fridge and threatened to force the whole thing down my throat.  I don’t see what you’re worried about.”

Jen furrowed her brows more deeply.  “She may be powerful physically, but she’s still just an eleven-year-old girl.”

“An eleven-year old girl who was shot through the heart and slept it off.  I reckon she can take care of herself.  Don’t worry.  She’ll be back.  It’s like having a cat – she’ll disappear every now and then but she’ll come home to rest when she needs to.”

“She’s not a cat,” Jennifer grumbled.  She would have probably grumbled more, but they were quickly faced with more pressing concerns.

The crane Jen must have used to raise the engine she’d been testing onto the platform in the centre of the yard must have been damaged in the explosion.  Something – a screw or bolt; Kaya wasn’t really sure – must have come loose.  It had been holding on, but choose this moment to snap completely.  The huge metal arm suddenly screeched and swung around and down, it’s shadow falling over Jen.  The tinkerer turned and tried to step out the way, only to trip on some of the other wreckage.  Kaya had no time to react, flinching and closing her eyes as the metal object lurched toward her friend.  She was expecting to have a heard a crash or crunch or possibly a scream, but… there was nothing.  After a few seconds, she risked opening her eyes.  Jen was sat up exactly where she had been, staring wide eyed at the crane hanging over her.  But now it was being held aloft by a small, black haired girl.  Barely human anymore but, Kaya supposed, not that much like a cat.  A cat wouldn’t have cared if it’s owner was crushed, beyond it being free food.

The blonde gasped, her heart starting up again.  “Th-thank you…”

Tenley snorted disapprovingly. “Hmph.  You’re welcome.”

“Jesus…” Kaya gasped, rushing and kneeling by her friend.  “Are you okay?”

“Y-yes,” Jen answered.  “Just a little surprised.”

“Well, that’s it!  These experiments have to stop!”

“This has… never happened before,” Jen protested.  Kaya was about to shoot back, but Tenley coughed to get their attention.  “What?” The punk asked the girl who had rested the giant metal arm on her shoulder.

“This thing is actually a little heavy, you know…” Tenley explained.

“Right.  Sorry,” Jen said, rolling and standing up a few feet away so that Ten could lower the arm to floor while rolling her eyes.

Moments later the trio sat around the breakfast table inside the cottage.  On the TV, the local news was broadcasting a conference from outside of Stag Corp, the research and development firm that had caused so much trouble recently.  Or, what was formerly Stag Corp.  For years it had been half owned by a conglomerate, Meridiem, and with the recent departure from this world of the CEO, Alvin Stag, they had used the opportunity to buy out the rest of it.

There had been a great deal of speculation in the press about the deaths, creature sightings, and explosion at the facility, but there was little evidence left for anyone to find and Meridiem evidently saw it as not in their interests for the truth to get out.  The official story was of a chemical leak causing mass hallucinations.

The new man in charge on TV now, Victor Crane, seemed a lot younger than Stag had been, with blond hair and bright dimpled smile which he used to assure everyone that the situation was under control and there was no danger to the public.  He then went on to recite the story of Daedalus and Icarus and their flight from Crete.  Icarus got so carried away with the sensation of flying, of what he could do with his new wings of wax that he failed to heed Daedalus’ warnings not to fly too low or too high.  And so, Victor maintained, it had been with Alvin Stag.  He flew too high, too soon, and that had been his undoing.  But Icarus’ mistake should not discourage the rest of us.  With proper care, experimentation, and the right materials, there were no heights humankind couldn’t reach.  Victor told the journalists that Meridiem would continue Stag’s vision of turning dreams into reality, but they would learn from the mistakes and sacrifices of those who had gone before – casualties were to be expected when exploring any new frontier – but together they would build a future those men and women would be proud of.

The journalists seemed to take it all pretty well.  Kaya however did not.  “Should have burnt that whole place to the ground,” she grumbled while going through some envelopes in front of her.  Tenley had been good enough to fetch the mail from the box down the hill, and now was stood by the oven.  Jen’s cooking was handled by, of course, more robots.  Several steely hands bolted to the kitchen counter and above the stoves, preprogramed so a single push of a button prepared one pancake.  Naturally Tenley just kept her finger pressed against said button.

“But he’s right,” Jen shrugged sheepishly.  “Much of what they do does ultimately benefit people.  New medical treatments, clean energy, efficient recycling…”

Kaya formed a V with her blue hued brows.  “You know those are the people most likely responsible for your parents disappearing.  I can’t believe you’d defend them.”

Jennifer sagged and sighed sadly.  “I’m just saying it’s not as simple as them all just being bad guys.  I’m sure some of them genuinely want to help.”

“Good intentions get buried pretty quick when there are big bucks involved,” Kay continued to grumble while going through the mail.  She idly tore open one envelope, her eyelids peeling back as a figure suddenly jumped out at her.  “Speaking of which… how the hell did you get so rich?!”

“This and that,” the tinkerer shrugged.  “Apart from inheritance, I licensed a few inventions and bits of code I’d written.  The royalties are okay.”

“Okay? Jen, this is more than the GDP of some countries.  You could at least hire someone to take care of the pests around here.”

“What pests?”

“Apart from Tenley?” Kaya jabbed.  The girl would have struck back, probably, but she was occupied with over a dozen pancakes drenched in syrup. “There are those creepy rats.”

Jen meanwhile was indignant.  “How are they creepy?”

“I saw one of them wearing a red cape the other day.  And another using its teeth to carve itself a walking cane…”

“But they don’t come into the kitchen.  I’ve told you before not to worry – we have a truce.”

Jen wasn’t going to back down on this.  Despite being quite small in stature compared to most other adults, her determination was unshakeable.  Besides, strange as it sounded, she was telling the truth.  The rats never entered the kitchen.

“To be honest,” Jennifer sighed, “I’m much more concerned about you wandering off by yourself in the middle of the night.”

It was Tenley the remark had been directed at.  The girl swallowed the pancake in her mouth, shrugging innocently, “I have to wander by myself.  No one else can keep up.”

“That may be,” Jen answered patiently, “but it’s beside the point.  The point is that anything could have happened to you and we’d have no way of knowing what or where you were.”

“So,” Tenley said ponderously while chewing another mouthful, “you were worried about me?” She seemed rather pleased by the idea.

“Of course,” Jennifer admitted.  Tenley’s dark eyes then turned to Kaya.

“It’s true,” the punk shrugged.  “She was.”

The suddenly sour child stuck her tongue out.  She then apparently decided just to ignore Kay for the rest of this conversation.  “Anyway, you need not worry.  I can handle anything around here.”

“You’re tough,” Jen admitted, “but you’re not completely invulnerable.  Perhaps it would be wise for you to have a phone of your own.  I’m sure I’ve some in the lighthouse that I was going to break down for parts.”

“Do you have any that can play that monster capture game?”

“Er… I don’t know.  I expect so…”

Kaya squinted at the girl.  “Thought you didn’t care about dumb video games?”

“I…” Tenley’s cheeks flushed red for a second.  “I overhead some children talking, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”

Did she want to be able to join in, Kaya wondered.  Feel normal?  Unfortunately, it was something Ten could never be.  But perhaps she was overthinking and Ten really just wanted to play games for fun.  It was likely preferable to anything else she might get up to if she was bored.

“Alright!” Jen announced, suddenly standing up.  “Let’s go see what we can find.”

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